'EXCHANGE          ART.'

A short investigation into the collaboration process and conviviality during a global pandemic.

Calum-Louis Adams

As a prelimenary springboard into the adaptation of practice during an age in which the everyday is now an online phenomena, my research guided me in search of information regarding conversation, and its importance as a learning tool, not only in education but within the creation of art and convivial attitudes inpractice... a concept of great importance during a time in which the art of the everyday (education and conversation) is being threatened. I have hopes of embarking into experiments which take me into collaborative art projects, and how I found them as tools of exchange, and into chatty investigations into the now prevalent online meeting rooms and how effective they are during this strange time.

Dialogical art practices (as defined by Grant Kester in Conversation Pieces) allow for art to enter a phase of duration, reacting to current environments factors which would otherwise not be considered in the immediate gratification model of modernist art. It's this idea of duration that interests me most, as this allowance for extended periods of time, allows for the art works to flourish and breathe (especially seen in postal art projects, which I will hopefully take part in during this investigation 

As we find ourselves in this global pandemic, which has subsequently altered our placement scenario, I wanted to explore how I can still analyse conversation and community. I found myself with a keen interest in linguistics, exploring language (in particular silence) when attending lectures at Brighton University Social Sciences department. During my (albeit short) intervention in the department, I was exploring teacher pupil relationships both in lecture and seminar settings.

Although my time was cut short in that department, I still think that using this time to explore conversational dialogue in alternative settings as procured by the pandemic relevant, in fact, it would be a workable scenario to investigate further. 

Does adapting to a virtual, distanced conversation hinder dialogue? If so, why? And how do we adapt conversation in this time to savour the educational and meaningful aspects of dialogue.

Source: Kester, G. Conversation Pieces. Pg. 84-85

Before undergoing experiements within my own art practice and making any attempt conversation adaptation, I find it necessary to still pass through research channels as I would have done if the situation had differed.

A research material that I have afore mentioned and one which was brought to my attention when the pandemic had started  was Conversation Pieces, by Grant Kester. The duration of this book focuses on dialogical art practices, providing an insightful overview of art history and dialogics during key art periods (such as 18th century art and Abstract Expressionism during the 1940's). 

Although most, if not all, of this book was extremely enlightening for furthing my practice as a whole, there were a few small passages that stuck with me for understanding the importance of conviviality and communication during this pandemic.

Kester is a keen advocate for collaborative art practices, working with others (not essentially artists) as a 'conciousness raising' of sorts, highlighting relevant social contexts, pulling both artist and participant out of the scenarios / self and looking back on it critically. As stated in the page above, collaborative, dialogical art practices encourage.... 

"A de-centering, a movement outside self (and self-interest) through dialogue extended over time"

Its this extended decentering, a movement which is a necessary catalyst for change (as Kester would believe) that I find will not only be difficult for me, but also very rewarding. My role within this placement as an artist will be shed, and I will adopt a role of co-creator with others in projects that put 'finished art object' on the back burner, and open up long durational conversations as a 'practice'.

I dont want to use the term 'facilitator' here. I think to call myself a facilitator is to still admit that I created these conversation scenarios, when I didn't. Any project that is on this page is been made possible through discussion, which is thus continued throughout the work shown.

Source: Freire, P, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, page 52-53

Before the Pandemic, I was reading this text as some preliminary research for my placement. This is an extract from a chapter discussing banking methods of education and a call for change. Although my placement now isn't strictly involved with Teacher-Student relationships, If I replace the titles in this book to 'artist and collaborator', it illustrates a very interesting point,

"The teacher [artist] is no longer merely the-one-who-teaches, but one who is himself taught in dialogue with the students [collaborators], who in turn while being taught also teach."

You see that as soon as some phrases are switched and made relevant to my current context, it suddenly becomes enlightening to this placement. Freire harks that by surrendering the authority status during dialogue (specifically educational, but in this sense convivial and conversation 'art' based), it allows for a cognitive 'object' to emerge and be the thing that mediates teaching and transformation. I see these mini experiments to be said object, working side by side as collaborators to pick apart the object (whether it be spoken word chats or letters) to investigate its transformative and calming effects, liberating our practices from purely surface based, to something much deeper and engaging.

The mini investigations to follow function as this necessary and therapeutic conversational 'object', something to explore and work with to help understand and utilise our current situation. For the purposes of this research, the cognotive object being the pandemic is allowing for new coping mechanisms to emerge, and to be learnt not only by me but by others I collaborate with.

Thus, Paulo Freire's teaching has began to inform my practice in many ways. It has directed the importance towards an almost 'informal conversation' tactic as a form of information gathering or 'artistic creation' of its own. This 'information' might not necessarily be in the form of a formal biography, but more of an informal survery of the person and the place.

Adapting verbal conversation into online format.

As a direct response to the questions raised in the extracts I found interesting in Conversation Pieces, I decided to recentre my practice into the discursive realm through virtual meeting rooms.

One of my close friends and fellow Brighton based artists Taylor Lyttelton was willing to have these bi-weekly 'chat' style conversations. These conversations often lead to topics regarding online teaching, artist's place on social media platforms and how to crit 'absolute' artworks. 

As time passed, these conversations lead to online crit's on projects that we had undergone whilst in quarantine. What I found interesting about this was the topics that arose from these friendly investigations into each others work, often lead to extremely insightful and helpful analogies.

These analogies felt like a positive addition to my current curriculum and highlighted the importance of conviviality and relationship building in the pursuit of education.

Engaging in these conversations with Taylor was very enlightening for me and my practice, and helped springboard me into some post-studio research which I was hoping to gain from discussions in my placement seminars and lectures. However, I found there were some key differences in the way this format panned out in comparison to a physical exchange.

The main difference was the loss of fluidity in the conversation, we found each other talking over each other and there were long periods of connection lost due to technological mishaps. Thus, it might be valuable to deduce that actually, something might have been 'lost' alongside this fluidity; channels abandoned once the conversation was halted. 

However, it was still useful and lovely to have a platform to discuss current issues and develop relationships.

GIF detailing zoom call recorded by Artist Taylor Lyttelton dated 3/4/20

You will see below some notes taken during the first Zoom call I had with Taylor in regard to her opinions on discursive art practices and the emphasis now placed on art, art education and working as an artist on online platforms.

- "what platform is suitable for viewing work?"

-"[due to covid-19] loss of engagement, less communication"

We discussed this catastrophe has manipulated people into believing we are all virus carriers, stripping conviviality and conversation from everyday interaction. It is up to these alternative forms of communication (whether it being a virtual conversation or letter writing) to fuel our need to 'be social' 

As questions of 'appropriate methods on how to view work' arose, we began to challenge the very notion that work made during this crisis should utilise other mediums in response, this would ensure that the artist wouldn't need to be concerned with how and where the work is viewed, because it would have been made for the context that we found ourselves in. It was at this point that I had a moment of enlightenment and began to explore other alternative systems other than these lovely chats which would be appropriate.

Utilising Postal art, non-verbal conversations.

As a progression from the adapted virtual conversations that I was having with Taylor, I thought it would be interesting to utilise the postal system, as an attempt to explore other non-virtual options of traditional communication methods. We frequently mentioned to each other about the prevalence of the postal system as a prominent figure in 'mimicking the everyday'; we are able to shop online, buy food to be delivered and subsequently, talk through post.

As it happens, I live below a very talented artist who's practice often involves the depiction of memory through colour, form and gesture. As a painter myself I thought it would be both calming, challenging and informative to use posting to try to have our almost daily interaction (before the pandemic) by utilising our painterly skills. They are an abstract artist, so we thought it would be fitting to partake in commentary and exchange through a 'penpal-esk back and forth' conversation through the mark, as opposed to the written word. We challenged ourselves to depict our lived experiences and immediate surroundings, rather than reflecting on memory (as they would usually)  to illustrate our time spent in isolation. It will be interesting to see how we decide to relay information to each other based on the experience of the same building during the same time span ... will marks end up similar in demeanour considering this factor, and will they translate as desired?

The context of us being immediate neighbours makes this project even more fascinating. Usually, neighbourly interactions are done almost daily, with face to face spoken word being the chosen communication channel. Coaxing us into a non-verbal and non-visual territory for us to communicate our experiences will surely have some amazing results.

I predict that the resulting letter will depict an ambience of sorts, a meld of gesture to form a blankness, experiences on the page forming shapes that are indescribable, yet obvious in their emotional status and reflective of both of our boredom. When there are so many marks in one small space, how will that prediction transpire? 

The response I recieved from neighbour once experiment had been described who I am keeping anonymous.

Photo documentation of the envelope of which the work was passed back and forth in.

Awaiting photo from neighbour of the piece as it stands

To conclude on this project, I found that what fluidity was lost in the verbal conversations over a virtual format was actually regained in the postal marks created with my collaborator.

The gestural paint strokes from both my neighbour and I merged very well (when I saw it), creating an explosion of fragments and colours with style boundaries being obvious (My layers were thicker and static, my neighbours were very free and thinner). There was no stumbling for stage time, and the languages fell into place well. To speak through the mark, discussing our experience of the same location was very fun and calming, yet I found the outcome to be wildly different from that of a spoken or written exchange whilst in quarantine. No words were written on the letter (aside from the envelope), so I (essentially) had to guess whether these 'fragments ', as described by my collaborator, meant...  (sorrow, boredom, happiness ect.) whereas in spoken / unspoken exchanges where I am face to face with the collaborator, It is much easier to gage emotional response and understanding.

However, aside from this, the letter that we 'wrote' was a fun exercise in working together over a period of a few weeks in order to facilitate the creation of something beautiful, containing just as much durational exchange that conversation during a spoken exchange would have done.

Something which was also rewarding was how we managed to develop our relationship as neighbours further, as we were having much more interactive dialogue than we have had prior to this pandemic, with most of our conversation being kept to a passing word of two. We actually could engage in very meaningful and soul pouring acts of gesture to create entire sentences without the use of a single word.

Postal Musing; Shared locational identity?

Promotional photo for Postal Musings.

Photo documentation of 'postal musings' which were recieved during the project

Source: Instagram. 

Something that became prevalent in the projects I have undergone so far is the attempts to represent forms of sharing experiences in a time when the very notion is being challenged.

Before the pandemic took effect, I had helped co-create an arts community in Brighton called QUILT, a dedicated safe space for discussion, learning, shared eating, locational identity and shared experiences.

When the lockdown was announced, we quickly deduced that although this situation appears to be detrimental, it was actually the perfect opportunity to explore locational identity. Through everyday objects and interactions within our 'home' destinations, we shared our experiences within our local isolation scenarios. Over a period of 6 weeks we have been anonymously sending and receiving objects and letters as a response to our daily interactions. A lot of the objects one could consider mundane, but are given a new life once used as an indicator for a given persons context.

What was fascinating about this postal project was that it was a natural progression from the intimate exploration of location through communication, to a national exploration of location through communication. I found that these both expressed very similar interests in mundane actions and objects, although we were all miles apart... we all seemed to feel closer together, something which was lost in this time. It was through this exchange of objects that we begin to learn more about each other, through the objects we choose to send.

We then asked people to share their musings through social media as to help further connect people and share the objects they received with the QUILT team.

This introduction of social media into our project highlighted how important it is during this time.  It bolstered this idea of 'travelling', becoming nomads through the post and virtual realms 'to be with each other' as much as we could be.

I found this project to be a perfect exploration of the 'conviviality' of the everyday interaction. By encouraging collaborators to send their every day in the post, giving a wonderful meaning to the mundane, it formed a positive mimicry for what is lost in our usual friendly everyday interactions. 

The fact that we have 30+ people interested in taking part, shows the need for interaction that this strange time has brought to us, creating a wonderful community of people, eager to search for meaning in what is appearing to be what some may considers a 'meaningless' time (as it stands). 

Key Concepts explored in my research so far; community, virtual nomadism, communication, shared experiences, shared location.

Proposal for 'Dinner Party, 2020' with QUILT.

When deciding on a concluding point, We (as part of QUILT)  decided to go over what had been done so far. When my placement was shocked and I was searching for somewhere to start, I found myself trailing towards virtual meetings as a form of conversation replacement. However, I didn't find this as interesting and successful as I had hoped. This was mainly because It was eerily similar to like having a physical conversation, yet something was quite 'off' about it, probably surrounding the reliance of technological advances to ensure no sentence is lost, and thus, information was confused and not received. But most of all, it felt too 'formal' in a time when formality seems to be everywhere we turn.

So from there, as part of QUILT, we decided to explore non-verbal communicative forms of conversation; this took me to postal mark making, and story telling through objects. This was a very promising exercise, and a therapeutic return to traditional art forms to help soothe communication into a relaxed format through activities during this frightening time. Ultimately, what came from this was an interesting exploration of shared experiences and how we could discuss our locational influences and emotions through non-verbal acts as mediated by objecthood, leading to a (virtual) nomadism. 

promotional poster for 'Dinner Party' 

Virtual Nomadism?


From there, we racked how we could make a mix between the nomadism found in letters, and the nomadism found in virtual realms in order to feign the physical comfort of being in an arts community (something very true to QUILT's ethos).

As we discussed further, we found that dinner time at home is traditionally a time when relaying information of what had occurred during the day, and was an opportunity to wind down and feel 'at home'. So, with this being said, we thought we could try to create a sort of 'dinner party' to convene and use this often disregarded communication channel for a 'wind down'.

We deduced that due to extensive video calling for the majority of our QUILT meetings, that the less virtual verbal conversation the better, as we felt that there are more creative and fluid modes of expression.

However, this idea of 'virtual nomadism' was still something that seemed relevant as it was a popular mode of communication during this pandemic / in general, so we decided to still utilise the internet, however through social media as experimented with our Postal Musing project. This allowed people to connect, but rather than immediately having to respond, social media allows participants to 'think - respond' (refer to beginning experiment) and curate what they wanted to communicate, something which isn't as available in spoken exchanges, due to the need for an almost instant reaction.

mock up sketch of inital idea for dinner party, 2020

The introduction of 'dinner time stories' was a concept we carried on from our Postal Musing project as well. It is our way of a 'meta-communication'. 

Collecting snippets of the spoken word about real-time scenarios to be read aloud whilst eating dinner alone could 'feign' an active 'get together' dinner, without having to actually have any physical interaction;

This lets the imagination run free, reading other's stories and putting ourselves in that situation, rather than the one that we find ourselves in.

Furthermore, this 'Lonesome Dinner Party' starts to reach the threshold of a communicative theme that I discussed in my placement proposal ... that being silence. Although during this dinner, spoken word isn't prevalent, the act of withdrawing from verbosity allows for the participant to submerge not only in their environment, but in the environment of the story that they are reading as part of the dinner... a great example of how alternative dialogue can be transformative! 

Aside from the final dinner party, collecting stories through social media was a fun little insight into others, and opened up conversation with people we didn't know to begin with, making friends when it should be considered difficult to do so. 

Placement conclusion.

Although this placement did not pan out how I initially would have liked, I feel this was still a very informative exploration of our current situation. 

I found merging both virtual and postal systems became a great way to feel closer to one another, and find some hope and fun during a catastrophe. I didn't explore linguistics how I set out in my placement proposal, yet, I don't think this hindered me either. I shifted my focus from purely educational, to the convivial and chatty conversations of the everyday that had appeared to be threatened by the onset of this pandemic, manipulating us into seeing each other as 'the problem'.

Thus, I didn't create a final piece for this and I would consider this project still a work in progress, yet I think that in itself is appropriate as it just conveys the importance of the durational aspect of this production. Working alongside different collaborators wasn't in aid of creating a final art project, but to highlight the distracting, therapeutic and transformative aspects of dialogue. Through the alternative communication channels, you can experience locations out of reach and find the emotional support needed during such a horrific and challenging period in modern history by having fun through creativity.

However, as much as I wish I could have explored even further, the time restraints meant that It didn't fully accommodate for durational practice, and thus, the feeling of getting 'lost' that can occur whilst waiting for responses. With all that being said, I think this placement has become a very insightful beginning to a much longer and detailed exploration which I will continue into my final year at Brighton University.