Filmed by Fenia Kotsopoulou
And the fortune went to Madonna. I’m not sure why this sentence stuck with me but my goodness it did. I think it reveals something unjust and sad whilst being tongue-in-cheek humorous at the same time. As I go further into my ongoing research about ambivalence, I understand that such sentences are loaded with opposing thoughts; sad but funny, angry but light. In 6 words at the end of a paragraph (and now at the beginning of mine), the queer academic icon Jack Halberstam captured this feeling of ambivalence.
This is one of the eye opening conclusions from the critical encounters week with fabulous workshop leader Astarti Athanasiadou, that language when played, decontextualized, re-imagined and then paired with spontaneous physical movement, can contain power. Power in the oppositions it creates. Power in the angst of tearing up texts. Power in absurdity of putting a chat bot side by side with godmother-of-camp Susan Sontag. Power in giving them the same weight. Power in the writing of queer phenomenologist Sara Ahmed when her words are danced rather than spoken. Power in opposing a traditional way of handling academic text.
“Academic texts are usually treated with care, respectfully quoted, they should be referenced in the correct way, readers should know exactly where quotes have come from and who is being quoted” (O’Shea, 2023)
When an academic text is quoted it gains a power, an importance, a significance. By putting two little lines or “quotation marks” around something, it gives it emphasis, a priority, a usefulness, a value. To disrupt this way of quoting in order to unlock knowledge from academic texts can be seem as something of a faux pas.
Astarti’s workshop, which encouraged us to unlock knowledge from texts without quoting them, was therefore something of an academic faux pas.
Personally I find academic texts a bit intimidating for this reason – I feel like I should be wearing white gloves when I capture a sentence and imprison it with quotation marks. Sometimes I feel the rules of academic text writing (the authors surname must be followed by comma, and the year in this very specific way) can alienate me from what I want to say. These quote marks can become barriers for me. While typing this I accidently used the word ‘righting’ instead of ‘writing’ but this slip was quite revealing. Academia is just that sometimes: text righting.
That’s why the encounters of the critical encounters week felt so critical for me. By taking these esteemed, acclaimed texts and tearing them up, by not being precious, by following instincts, by collaging, by collaging things that aren’t normally collaged.
Text righting became text wronging which became text freeing.
Style over substance is faux pas within academia. However, in the context of camp, style over substance is not a faux pas at all; it’s a déclaration de mission.
Through the work on the CE week I understood that I can write, that I can perform in a camp manner when I lean further into in to style, when I truly embrace it.
My camp performative actions became contentions in the final presentation of the CE workshop. I was performing movement whilst another person was reading the text they had produced from the week. The exercise was to ‘let the words penetrate your body’. The exercise was about dealing with the sound of the words rather than dealing with the meaning of the words.
My camp actions were providing humour and laughter to the audience but this felt dangerous for some in context to the harrowing, heartfelt, political meaning of the words being spoken by the person who wrote them. There was ambivalence at play: there was camp in my performative, stylistic, humorous gestures and there was seriousness coming from the text. The contradiction of this ambivalence was so extreme that it caused one member of the audience to intervene and take me away from the stage. If campbivalence is becoming my artistic discipline then I understand now that it can be a powerful, and possibly divisive tool. The audience were laughing while hearing horrendous, harrowing words.
After the CE workshop I understood some of the academic texts in a different way: The fierce feminist professor Donna Harraway’s Cyborg manifesto gained an ironic resonance when the text is rubbing against a conversation that I had with an AI chatbot. This is an important lesson for me within my artistic research: what you put around the academic text is more important the quote itself.
I need to go back to the methods I utilise in the studio: for example playing with collage by making an image with my body and pairing it with a sound, and take tis into my academic writing. I need to embrace text wronging. I need to embrace style.
There was also importance in bringing other people into the writing in a playful way. The final presentation with Astarti contained many elements (pictures projected with subtitles, the text prepared that was spoken into a microphone, improvised movement created by letting the sounds of the words penetrate the body). This created unknowns and harnessed the imaginations of others in way that would be impossible on ones own. Dance the texts: let Jack dance with Susan and Astarti dance with Donna and my fellow students dance with Ahmed and let Madonna dance with me.
Grased week: a call... and maybe a reply
In December I made a Spotify playlist based on songs that included the word RADIO or were about radio in some way for my beautiful, brilliant friend Ermis. During the Grased workshop, we spent the week investigating amateur radio embodying radio amateurs finding signals in the ether. I choose this Grased workshop because the description of the content of the workshop was poetic, vague, intriguing and it was all about RADIO.
When I think of the word radio, I think about my morning routine listening to Lauren Laverne on BBC Radio 6 Music, I think about broadcasting, I think about jingles, I think about connecting lots of ordinary people through airwaves, I think about that playlist I made for my beautiful, brilliant friend.
In the workshop, I understood radio amateurism is different to radio. Radio amateurism is interested in the radio amateur, in people dedicated to finding frequencies, exchanging on the airwaves in a small, personal, non-commercial way, experimenting for the sheer joy of it.
Our curious workshop leader Qihang identified as a radio amateur. Radio was a hobby, a method of experimentation, a question, a call… and maybe a reply.
Then there was the Werkplaats Typografie building that the workshop was located in: an old radio station. There was also a project that some students of Werkplaats Typografie established called Radio Phantom, an amateur radio station that world broadcast from a studio built by students in the empty attic space above the kitchen.
Coincidence and intuition were important elements in Qihang’s workshop. She took the signals of the space around her and combined it with her hobby, not necessarily her artistic practice, to create a workshop about listening… and maybe catching. A call… and maybe a reply.
A memory: on the third day of the workshop we ascended a dodgy, rickety ladder and found ourselves huddled in the Radio station attic, laughing at the absurdity of Qihang asking where the sheep were while a picture of Nosferatu watched us from the wall. The attic studio was built by a student and it’s setting made it feel like a secretive hideout, there was an air of illegality to it, underground, pirate, a feeling of naughtiness that had all of the workshop participants giggling with glee.
Instead of broadcasting, Qihang encouraged us to listen. We listened to the building around us, listened to what it was telling us. We recorded the noises that intrigued us, following our intuitions, listening for the coincidences. Nearly all of us were enamoured by the varied yet specific variety of noises the coffee machine offered us. The group also went out into the street for a sound walk and then gathered amongst some trees half a kilometre away. During the walk we listened through headphones and a zoom recorder to the world around us. At the trees we all tried to recall the specific sounds we heard. One member of the group didn’t have headphones so was given a small radio receiver, constantly adjusting the frequency until she heard radio amateurs broadcasting from afar. She told us she heard some ‘News from Brittany’ which my beautiful, brilliant friend heard as “News from Britney”(spears). I suddenly pictured Britney Spears as a radio amateur, sitting in an attic in LA with a Britney-style microphone trying to connect with hobbyists’ across the Atlantic. I found joy in this image, I found joy in this miscommunication. I put it at the heart of small performative presentation that I made at the end of the week. If I think about ‘finding the joy in the ordinary’ as a writing style that through this master’s programme has become my discipline, I can understand that the ordinary is embodied within the practice of the workshop about radio amateurism. The ordinary people sending signals and those who find the joy in catching them, the ordinary noises of our environments (the coffee machine, the sound of feet on stairs, the wind in the trees, bike tyres rubbing the road, the boy who never got fulfilled) and the joy in discovering them with a purpose and context.
As well as finding the joy in the ordinary, I found poetry in what the other workshop participants heard. One member of our group (after the sound walk outside) recalled the sound of ‘the boy who never got fulfilled’. I reordered this poetic line whilst we were stood among the trees
Practically, this capturing of sounds and making them poetic is something I did yesterday in the studio, I’m currently working with a smoke machine and it gave such an interesting rhythm that I decided to capture the sound with the intention of turning into a soundtrack for a performance. The smoke machines were calling me and my reply was to catch it, to use it, to make music. Qihangs workshop was about what calls us and how we…(maybe) reply.
This workshop has given me the direction to double down on my mission to find the joy in the ordinary. To follow intuition and curiosity with an open mind and with open ears. The laid back style of the workshop week, with communal lunches every day, fostered a relaxed environment where dreaming felt as important as producing. In the production of my final performance, thesis and portfolio, I want to remember this. I want to make, to write, to reflect communally, with food and an open relaxed atmosphere because I think it works for the way I work. I will listen for the calls and I will maybe reply.