Monday 06/01

(Temporary) Collection of Ideas around CHOREOGRAPHY

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Participants from “New Museum Seminars: (Temporary) Collections of Ideas around CHOREOGRAPHY” meet in the space of the New Museum Theater for an exercise led by the dancer and choreographer Jmy James Kidd, who was invited by the participants to develop a solo dance for their culminating multipart public program on February 7, 2015. From left: CHOREOGRAPHY Seminars participants Chaeeun Lee, Alicia Ritson, Taraneh Fazeli, Emily Baierl, Todd McQuade, Olga Dekalo, Lauren Bakst, and Jmy James Kidd. Photo: Derek Wright

Six Degrees editor and New Museum Seminars co-organizer Taraneh Fazeli introduces the series “(Temporary) Collection of Ideas around CHOREOGRAPHY” in relation to the forms of impassioned study and asynchronous temporalities being developed within the Education Department’s R&D framework and New Museum Seminars. Also suggesting that the R&D thematics function as keywords (à la Raymond Williams), Fazeli introduces a series of seven successive perspectives by artists, choreographers, curators, dancers, and scholars who were invited to define the term “choreography” vis-à-vis their own work by participants of the last Seminars program.

We’ve been explaining the R&D structure a lot lately on Six Degrees, due to the fact the programming structure is relatively new (it was launched in the fall of 2013) and with the assumption that not every reader will be familiar with an institutional logic that seems rote at this point to those of us “inside” of it. For fear of sounding like a broken record, it is worth clarifying the conceptual and temporal parameters of the grounds for our programming: these biannual Seasons are organized around themes and operate in a public/outward-facing manner for six months at a time, as a way of making legible the ideas and various practices in development throughout the Museum that might not be otherwise visible. Truth be told, while the Season’s artists in residence take up a physical presence at the Museum for a set duration—through their use of the physical studio space next door to the Museum, the programming they generate for the galleries and Theater, or even their participation teaching, learning, and researching as part of our postgrad seminars and Experimental Studies program for teens—for the Museum staff members who work with the artists on these projects, writing and researching often far exceeds this public-facing container.

The New Museum Department of Education and Public Engagement’s R&D Season framework accommodates the development of sustained research and ideas through various exhibitions, events, and pedagogy-based formats that are created, framed, and understood within the visual arts realm. Notably, the R&D structure attempts to carve out a supportive space for the development of artworks and projects at an intentionally offbeat or expanded spatial and temporal register distinct from traditional exhibitionary formats. Anchoring these Seasons are two in-depth residencies with artists selected by the Department that, so far, have generated affectively and emotionally intense investments between the artists, curators, and communities involved long after the residency ends. While this might not be legible when looking at our programming calendar, we are researching the next Season behind the scenes as we are producing the current one—all while editing and publishing texts produced during the last. This means that the Season thematics naturally blur, overlapping and informing each other in a manner that is not simply successive. For example, currently, visitors to the Museum can see programming that is part of our Spring 2015 R&D SPECULATION Season. At the same time, on Six Degrees we are in the midst of sharing texts we’ve been working on related to CHOREOGRAPHY: with this post, we are launching a seven-part series around the term that comes out of last Season’s Fall 2014 CHOREOGRAPHY Season Seminars.

In articulating the activities and composition of the New Museum Seminars here, I’d be remiss if I did not openly recognize my singular perspective and particular set of investments—as someone who was an institutional facilitator with a hand in initiating the program, was responsible for representing its activities outwards on Six Degrees and other platforms, and was a participant who contributes with her own set of interests and experiences during each round. Starting with how I’d articulate the program in my institutional voice, in the description of the Seminars that Johanna Burton, Keith Haring Director of Education and Public Engagement, and I cowrote for the program here on the Museum’s website, we emphasize that the title “New Museum Seminars: (Temporary) Collections of Ideas,” “directly references the Museum’s history of ‘collecting’ ideas, rather than art objects.” Going into further detail on how we conceived of the program, we wrote:

The goal of the Seminars is to provide a platform for discussing, debating, and enacting ideas as they emerge, in real time, and to develop scholarship or other forms of joint creative production relating to art’s place in culture. The Seminars utilize some recognizable graduate-level and reading-group pedagogical strategies, such as syllabi and weekly closed, peer-led reading sessions, but are distinguished by their context within the contemporary art museum. In addition to the weekly sessions, there is institutional support for some form of group production to grow out of the shared course of study (conferences, performance residencies, online publications, Resource Center exhibitions, etc.)….

The Seminars launched in late February 2014 with a semester devoted to VOICE in all of its valences: from inquiries into the political agency inherent (or not) in speech, to embodied practice, to the possibility that meaning is located outside of language. Brought together by mutual, if not always compatible, interests in VOICE, the inaugural group of participants was made up of artists, scholars, curators, students, radio show hosts, advocates, activists, enthusiasts, and others. Participants met weekly to discuss the Seminar material, which included foundational poststructuralist, feminist, postcolonial, and queer theory texts alongside other fields of thought and practice, such as opera studies, communication theory, and critical animal studies, in order to pursue questions about the disembodied voice, acoustemologies, political speech, and radical forms of subjectivity.

The VOICE semester culminated with an evening of discussions, performances, and lectures. The group invited four artists and writers whose practices were fundamental to the concepts explored during the semester—Daphne A. Brooks, Christine Sun Kim, Chris Mann, and Robert Sember—to present new works or ideas in progress. The day following the public event, participants engaged the invited speakers in a private roundtable, responding to the presentations.

The Spring 2014 VOICE Season Seminars participants were: Genji Amino, Johanna Burton, Lisa Dent, Amalle Dublon, Nick Hallett, Alhena Katsof, Theodore Kerr, Chelsea Knight, Angel Nevarez, Jeanine Oleson, Alicia Ritson, Samita Sinha, Kaegan Sparks, Wendy Vogel, Benjamen Walker, and me. After the VOICE Season, over this past fall and winter, the New Museum’s Education Department spent a great deal of time addressing, broadly, the movement of bodies in space over time and how language shapes and responds to such movements. While those of us working in the Museum must consider how bodies and subjects move through art spaces on a daily basis, and the editors of Six Degrees and co-organizers of the Museum’s postgrad Seminars (Johanna, my coeditor Alicia Ritson, Research Fellow, and me) utilize written language much of the time to do so, our six-month-long R&D Fall 2014 CHOREOGRAPHY Season provided a particular occasion for us to focus this thinking.

Seminar participants were often situated around the seminar table but, at other times, intentionally disrupted and deviated from the typical form of discussion. (Top) From left: VOICE Seminars participants Amalle Dublon, Alhena Katsof, Ted Kerr, Lisa Dent, and Taraneh Fazeli meet to talk, theorize, organize, and speculate. Photo: Kaegan Sparks. (Bottom) In past New Museum Seminars, the Theater served as a vital space for both the public-facing and more inward activities. Here, Jmy James Kidd leads participants in the CHOREOGRAPHY Seminars in an exercise during the culminating session. Photo: Derek Wright

Queer theorist Elizabeth Freeman’s concept of chrononormativity, as articulated in her recent book Time Binds (2010), was a working mantra we returned to again and again in the CHOREOGRAPHY Season (and by “we,” here, I mean various participants in the Season’s Seminars, including the artists in residence Gerard & Kelly, Season Fellow Lauren Bakst, and other participants). Freeman defines chrononormativity as the use of time to organize individual human bodies towards maximum productivity. In opposition to this impulse felt by all under a capitalist regime, she draws from queer theory to offer temporal drag as a viable oppositional force, or “with all the associations that the word ‘drag’ has with retrogression, delay, and the pull of the past on the present.”1 Freeman positions her own work in a genealogy that departs from a progressivist historiography, instead emphasizing opportunities for rethinking historical consciousness in erotic terms by cultivating “queer asynchronicity” as both a lived experience and a method—a temporal heterogeneity required to revisit unfinished histories in a manner that accounts for the disenfranchised and disavowed. Freeman suggests that this disjunctive temporality, while a common symptom of the creation of a modern subject, is most pronounced in the bodies of gay men after the AIDS crisis. As a move away from representation towards affect, the temporal turn in queer theory has methodological implications for the historical and archival work we do in the Education Department. A less evident application of Freeman’s idea of asynchronicity could be the cognitive dissonance required in the bodies of the curators, researchers, and educators performing institutional critique—i.e., the necessary willingness to find ways to work out of sync with ingrained production and reception tempos that prove unsustainable or at odds with the values such institutional agents would like to enact without secession.2 One might even go so far to interpret administration as a type of institutional choreography: those who have worked in institutions of various kinds know the continual negotiation of an organizational body’s mission with the technology in place to enable it. Without overextending this application, Freeman’s work also suggests a reconsideration of not only how we do things, but why—she emphasizes an amorous drive, one that values personal passion, intuition, desire, and even impulse.

The second Seminars semester, organized as part of the CHOREOGRAPHY Season, was devoted mostly to inquiries into the current role of dance within the visual arts. Participants included Emily Baierl, Lauren Bakst, Johanna Burton, Olga Dekalo, Brendan Fernandes, Brennan Gerard, Ryan Kelly, Chaeeun Lee, Emily Liebert, Raul Martinez, Todd McQuade, Ricardo Montez, Kameelah Rasheed, Alicia Ritson, Jess Wilcox, and me. In an attempt to mediate the weight of my voice as public mouthpiece for the group, I’d like to offer a statement about the CHOREOGRAPHY group (that was adapted from a text originally written for the preceding VOICE semester) entitled “The ‘We’ Creating this Syllabus/Bibliography.” The statement frames the syllabus/bibliography that came out of our time together: this document articulates who the group was before presenting the framing questions by each week’s presenters and the set of resources used to think through the concerns. The overall document is intended as an affectual archive of our activities as well as an implementable teaching tool for anyone wanting to examine similar questions in their classroom or reading groups. (Please click on the image below to be taken to the full PDF.)

What stands out to me is not necessarily how the conceptual frameworks for thinking about our joint examinations of CHOREOGRAPHY cohered amongst a group of people with relatively diverse backgrounds and practices into a surprising syllabus, nor was it the group’s deep investment in the topic. It wasn’t even the innovativeness of the structure of our weekly meetings. These sessions largely hewed to the standard discussion-based seminar format rather than experimenting with structures for learning as one might expect from a group that spent a good deal of its time critiquing the mind/body dualism that has historically plagued discourse around the concept of choreography and conventions of language and speech in relation to movement. Rather, what is evident to me in this joint statement is an earnest articulation of desire—to be together in a dialogic space, to examine art together, to read theory together, to sit in a space together face-to-face, to be an essential part of a learning community, to be a “we” (even if we were not in agreement on what exactly bound the group) that learns together somewhat outside the conditions of the outside.

Students and staff from Middlesex University staged a sit-in protest over the closure of the philosophy department in 2010. Photo:
This desire must be situated within the contemporary moment of neoliberalism in late capitalism, within a context of privatization concurrent with the “democratization” of culture. Within pedagogical structures, that includes rapid privatization (along with privatization of other public services); movement towards the media-saturated digital classroom, with little dialogic exchange (à la MOOCs and TED Talks); the truncation of degree terms (with one-year MAs now proliferating, a free “super senior” year no more); the removal of entire humanities programs from universities (notable examples are the philosophy department of Middlesex University in 2010 and the German, philosophy, and world languages and culture programs at Edinboro University of Pennsylvania in 2013); and the dispossession of faculty and their structural support through the installation of a precariat, the adjunct and graduate student workforce. One might argue that the primary relation that students now draw to education, as they are driven deeper into debt, is one of individualized consumers, with the Enlightenment-era quest for knowledge, largely to become a better citizen, a thing of the distant past. Within the arts, this translates to the demands of neoliberal funding strategies on cultural organizations: to quantify impact through metrics; to offer unfettered access to vast publics; to provide “experiences,” which can often result in the creation of programs that lack in commitment (duration and infrastructure), that emphasize participatory or interactive structures (hewing to demands of experience economy), and that tout “newness” and “innovativeness,” as well as an increasing investment in administration and development in order to survive. In this broader context, the adoption (or at least invocation) of the forms of public pedagogy abounds in the arts, both by artists and curators. Many “public” institutions, like art museums, organize programs that resemble postgrad educational programs or the public forums of yore. Discursive forms, such as lectures and “public programs,” are now deemed valuable real estate in the cultural arena. Seemingly a dime a dozen these days, reading groups and discursive programs are often only temporarily seated within organizations. Those that occur extra-institutionally, without accreditation and the attendant legitimation, tend to accrue power primarily for organizers.

In light of this, one moment I’d like to recall from the inaugural VOICE Seminars was when, grouped around a cluster of tables on our fourth evening together, we embarked in a meta-exercise about what we sought, individually and as a group. Unfazed, and quite possibly animated, by the rather cinematic cast from the house lights in the New Museum Theater where sessions often convened during “off” hours, we engaged in a discussion that deconstructed the institution we had chosen to commit to. Appropriate to the topic being considered (VOICE), the group addressed the foundations of discourse and language as well as the very constitution of our group. This conversation, unfolding shortly before drafting our group statement, was spurred by having just read Roland Barthes’s 1974 essay “To the Seminar,” a French poststructuralist love letter of sorts to such gatherings:

Is this a real site or an imaginary one? Neither. An institution is treated in the utopian mode: I outline a space and call it: seminar…. One might put things differently: that the (real) seminar is for me the object of a (minor) delirium, and that my relations with this object are, literally, amorous….

The seminar—this seminar, ours—is not based on a community of science but on a complicity of language, i.e., of desire. It is a matter of desiring the Text, of putting in circulation a desire for the Text….

In the image of the hanging gardens (where in fact does this myth, this image come from?), it is suspension itself which attracts and pleases. A collectivity at peace in a world at war, our seminar is a suspended site; it is held each week, after a fashion, sustained by the world that surrounds it, but also resisting it, gently assuming the immortality of a fissure within the totality which presses in on all sides.3

This 3-D animation imagines the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, considered to be one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World and purportedly built in the ancient city-state of Babylon (present-day Iraq) during the seventh century BC. While they were documented by ancient Greek and Roman writers, no definitive archaeological evidence has been found of these gardens. They were most likely not “hanging” as their name indicates, but rather were cascading off of terraces

Barthes defines the seminar in opposition to “the crude geometry of big public lectures,” as having three key spaces within its topology of corporeal relations. The first is an institutional one: a joint desiring of “the Text” and a complicity of language that determines a structure for meeting/gathering. The second is transferential: traditionally between the director or leader of the seminar and its members, or, as in our case, a peer-to-peer circulatory space. The third is textual: the written text that a group is charged with producing together, or—and Barthes emphasizes this interpretation—if the manner of being together is the Text, texts that are “not products but practices.” He argues that, in a seminar, none of these spaces can prevail and, through the reproduction of roles and discourses, the seminar’s essential work is the production of differences.

Towards the end of Barthes’s essay, he teases out a metaphor of the hanging gardens of Babylon as analogous to the partially utopic and suspended space of the seminar—a site where the nature of dependency on the outside world is defined by a necessary distance from larger cultural forces. For Barthes, being together in search of the text is a matter of survival during impasse. Fast forward nearly forty years from his conception of seminars as an essential part of the Habermasian public sphere to ideas around study and the undercommons as articulated by economic and critical theorist Stefano Harney and poet and critical theorist Fred Moten, also examined in some of our Seminar sessions. In their 2013 book The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning & Black Study, Harney and Moten extensively take up the term “study” as a speculative social and intellectual practice. In an interview with sociologist and cultural theorist Stevphen Shukaitis on Class War University’s blog, Moten describes their commitment to “the idea that study is what you do with other people. It’s…working, dancing, and suffering, some irreducible convergence of all three, held under the name of speculative practice…. The point of calling it ‘study’ is to mark that the incessant and irreversible intellectuality of these activities was already there.”4 Here, the idea of recess as integral to study is introduced: In their argument they ask, if study is precisely the thing we are less able to do in school or other institutional learning environments, then what can a social space for study based on un-forming and the rough draft, on getting immature (or even amateurish), potentially look like and what kind of move would this require? Emerging from the black radical tradition, as well as autonomist and postcolonial theory, the social poesis they articulate can be found in the communism and antagonisms of the dispossessed—i.e., the way of being together, that cuts across various spaces and times but, decidedly, does not sync with one particular institutional life, is the undercommons they seek. These undercommons exist only in a recess and are a place where debt and dependency are no longer conceived of as merely a negative relation.

Museum Education Departments have long grappled with what public or critical pedagogy can be, considering the increasing commodification of knowledge in a post-Fordist economy and the seeming irreconcilability of the contemporary art museum’s bourgeoisie subject and the civic duty bestowed on such museums to “serve” a broad public (in the debatable absence of a public sphere). In our approach as organizers, we’ve tried to structure such a sense of autonomy within the larger institutions that support our activity—i.e., the host organization, the art context we organize under, and the various fields and disciplines with which each participant normally engages. With the New Museum’s initial invitation to Seminars applicants to participate in the semester comes not only the opportunity to shape the course of study with a group that has been selected and self-selected based on interests, experience, and the hope to constitute a diverse ecology not otherwise available in academic organizations, but also, because of the setting within a contemporary art museum, the opportunity for coproduction of some kind—the form of which is determined by the group in conversation with participating staff members. The institutional support for this comes via a project budget, supporting labor (in all stages from conceptualization to press to production), organizational expertise, the use of various arts spaces (theaters, studios, galleries, etc.), technical equipment, and a visible platform. On this final point, it is worth noting that participating staff members make a great effort to accommodate a closed and focused space for study that is not instrumental to research or programming deliverables, recognizing that some level of occlusion is necessary for pedagogy to happen and for a “we” to be negotiated and potentially emerge from it.

Last winter the CHOREOGRAPHY group also had many conversations about what we wanted to produce, starting before we even understood ourselves as a “we” or, in choreographic terms, as a social body. In discussing how to spend our time together, the group considered factors including how to best use personal time or labor in terms of the shared resources offered to us, weighing sometimes conflicting individual interests against the desires of the temporarily constituted “we” that was emerging. Ultimately the CHOREOGRAPHY semester culminated with a multipart public program in February 2015 that opened up some of the Seminars’ shared research to a broader public by putting the group in conversation with outside curators, scholars, dancers, and artists to address definitional issues in relation to the movement of bodies in space and time (in dance and visual arts spaces, and beyond). Considering that many of the Seminars’ participants themselves were dancers, artists who have worked with choreographers and other performers, or curators of dance and performance, and that those coming to the topic from an expanded understanding, like myself (identifying as educators, activists, etc.), were a smaller part of the group composition, we decided that, rather than simply facilitate presentations and discussion of past works, we wanted to use our resources to invite one artist or dancer to make a performance. We reached out to the Los Angeles–based dancer and choreographer Jmy James Kidd. This choice was partially due to the fact that we considered many possibilities but couldn’t conceive of any one artist—I fondly dubbed them “lust objects”—whose work was emblematic of our shared concerns, although we tried. Season artists in residence Ryan Kelly and Brennan Gerard had shown with Kidd at the Hammer Museum’s “Made in L.A.” biennial last year and shared Kidd’s history of founding and running numerous community-building hybrid art and dance spaces with us. These included Pieter, a Los Angeles–based arts space that holds performances, artist residencies, workshops, classes, and subsidized rehearsal space in an attempt to nourish and support creativity and experimentation; James Kidd Studio, a design, costume, and dance project; CLASSCLASSCLASS, an artist-run, artist-initiated platform for pedagogy of movement in New York; and AUNTS, a performance platform.

After some conversation with Kidd about what she’d been excited about recently, we invited her to do a weeklong residency developing the solo dance piece Gateway at the Museum. This iteration of Gateway, accompanied by a live musical composition by past collaborator Tara Jane ONeil, is a work that traces Kidd’s dance lineage, departing from her early training in ballet to emphasize forms of movement and gesture instilled by technique through her daily enactment of dance as a spiritual search. Having been raised in a commune and motivated by a search for spirituality outside of organized religion, Kidd examines ritualized forms of movement and group dynamics in much of her recent work. Understanding a spiritual “search” as both personal and intersubjective, Gateway investigates the shaping of an individual body over time as well as the transfer of knowledge from one body to the next.

The CHOREOGRAPHY Seminars’ culminating multipart public presentation on February 7, 2015, included short presentations by invited guest presenters and was followed by a Q+A session facilitated by two Seminars participants. From left: Thomas Lax, Shayna Keller, Cori Kresge, Eve Metzger, Olga Dekalo, Emily Liebert, Heather Love, and Marianna Valencia. Photo: Lauren Bakst

Jmy James Kidd performs a dance titled Gateway with sound accompaniment by musician Tara Jane ONeil as the final element of the CHOREOGRAPHY Seminars’ multipart public presentation on February 7, 2015. Photo: Lauren Bakst

In addition to inviting Kidd, the Seminars participants wanted to bring in a number of others who were thinking about choreography in distinct ways. So the group invited dancer and choreographer Shayna Keller, dancer Cori Kresge, curator Thomas J. Lax, gender studies scholar Heather Love, art historian Eve Meltzer, and artist and dancer Mariana Valencia to define the term vis-à-vis their own work, thought, and experience in short public presentations that preceded the performance and open rehearsal by Kidd. The invitation was to also pen short texts for Six Degrees alongside the development of the presentations. Compelling presenters to consider the relationship of an event or performance to written language, we suggested that such a text might be conceived of as the kernel of a short lecture, or in dialogue with a primarily movement- or media-based presentation, or in any other way that these forms might productively be put in dialogue for the authors.

Ultimately choreography was taken up in quite expansive ways in the symposium as presenters brought perspectives from across disciplines—i.e., not just the field of dance or performance studies. Some of the conceptual issues taken up by presenters mirrored those addressed in co-led sessions in our private Seminars meetings. The invisible binds and social principles of choreography were examined on various scales, from the Kantian sublime in Keller’s presentation to one-on-one mirroring practices in Kresge’s movement exercise. In the Q+A session, moderator and Seminars participant Emily Liebert brought up the idea that the term was being thought of by many who presented as a way to instantiate critical visuality as tied to feminist and postcolonial theories; Love followed up with the important point that recent queer theory, some of which we drew on in our Seminar sessions, finds agency in recognizing the “script,” which interestingly relates to considering the term in relation to systems of control. The question was raised whether there was or wasn’t enough of an examination of language’s relation to dance and movement: a discussion about writing through dance, grammar, and choreography led to this closing thought, which asked how dance sits anew in the expanded definitions presented that day.

What was clear was that the term brought up rich associations and pressing conversations, and our event was just one occasion for this, as evidenced by a number of similar investigations such as the CHOREO_POLITICS event nearby at MoMA P.S.1 the month prior. The same has been true for our other Seasons of ARCHIVE (for which there was no Seminar), VOICE, and, currently, SPECULATION. While these terms all function as themes in that they involve a central narrative that binds together diverse investigations by artists, writers, and students, they go beyond simply being a kernel narrative in Season programming. We’ve been thinking a great deal about how indexes can allow us to get specific about certain issues while recognizing past futures and lost histories and accommodating multivalent voices. (See “Whose Terms?” as well as the Six Degrees series “Translation is Impossible. Let’s do it!” for information on the Dictionary of Untranslatables archive we showed last year.) In addition to their meaning within linguistic, historical, and disciplinary vocabularies, the terms that we chose to be our thematics also function as keywords in the lineage of cultural theorist Raymond Williams. In 1976, Williams’s cultural approach to understanding the shifting meaning of words went beyond the linguistic criterion of etymology to parse the multiple resonances and “correct” usage of certain keywords within a culture as indicators of value systems. He argued that words like “art,” “bureaucracy,” “culture,” and “management” were loci for conversations about broader issues in society.

We also think that urgent contemporary problems can be understood by parsing the usage and application of certain terms. Read why “choreography” is one of them in the following six posts by Love, Keller, Valencia, Kresge, Meltzer, and dancer and choreographer Neil Greenberg (who couldn’t be present at the symposium but generously wrote a text as his mode of participation). Then, after a brief pause—a recess, if you will—Six Degrees will revisit the choreography of study further, examining other speculative practices of thinking, moving, and acting together in a series of texts emerging from our SPECULATION Season. It is no coincidence that, as part of the SPECULATION Seminars now underway, we have focused on examples of popular scholarship, reenactment, animal ontologies, and para-fiction wherein looking back is often considered as just another way of looking forward to new ways of being together; in addition to valuing the ways we choose to be together in the present, there is a recognition that the manner in which we view and write history determines what futures can be enacted and who gets to envision the horizon of possibilities.

For the inaugural “New Museum Seminars: (Temporary) Collections of Ideas around VOICE,” the group invited four artists and writers whose practices informed their thinking throughout the semester to present new ideas and works in progress. From left: Robert Sember, Christine Sun Kim, Chris Mann, and Daphne Brooks. Photo: Kaegan Sparks

Convening on a Monday evening in April 2015 at the New Museum’s artist in residence studios, the participants of the ongoing “New Museum Seminars: (Temporary) Collections of Ideas around SPECULATION” discuss their intentions for a public program while waiting for the arrival of an invited speaker, media historian Orit Halpern, who gave a presentation on the history of the MIT Media Lab, interactivity, and the future of “smart cities.” From left: João Enxuto, Taraneh Fazeli, Mimi Winick, Amalle Dublon, Constantina Zavitsanos, Amber Hawk Swanson, Alison Burstein, Elise Rasmussen, Jordan Lord, and Erica Love. Photo: Joseph Lubitz


While organized around the thematic of the Museum’s R&D Seasons, the participants of the Seminars decide the content of study for the semester, and, in the specific ways the group chooses to interpret the term, they also then produce the tenor, tense, and trajectory the study will take. The collaborative space produced by the Seminars participants relies on a notion of the seminar as a primarily inward-looking dialogue, rather than public-facing production. With the hope of producing documentation of this work for others to use, disseminate, and reproduce, each Seminars Season culminates with a co-authored syllabus and bibliography that is published and distributed by the New Museum. This text comprises the discussion and activities of each session, ultimately collecting and archiving the mood and materials of that particular Season so that others might use the score for study in their own classrooms, reading groups, or self-directed investigations.

The Syllabus and Ongoing Bibliography for the Spring 2014 VOICE Season is hosted on the New Museum’s website here.
The Syllabus and Ongoing Bibliography for the Fall 2014 CHOREOGRAPHY Season is hosted on the New Museum’s website here.
A general description of the Seminars program and the calls for upcoming Seasons are posted on the Seminars page on the New Museum’s website here.

In addition to the textual research and documentation that are a part of the New Museum Seminars, each Season’s group has also coproduced a multipart public program. Intentionally lacking a preset format for the public-facing events, the Seminars participants have conceived of different approaches to the outwardly oriented nature of the discursive programming that comes out of their closed-door meetings and research.

The VOICE Seminars culminated with the invitation of four artists and writers, Daphne A. Brooks, Chris Mann, Robert Sember, and Christine Sun Kim, to present new works or ideas in progress. The listing and more information about the “New Museum Seminars: (Temporary) Collections of VOICES” public program on June 6, 2014, in the New Museum Theater can be found on the New Museum website here.

African-American studies scholar Daphne A. Brooks gave a multimedia presentation for the VOICE public program, entitled “Engines of Modernity: Black Sonic Women & the Open Road.” Her analysis of race, gender, region, and automobility in popular music culture as it is constructed in the aesthetics of Zora Neal Hurston, Etta James, and Mary Lou Williams can be heard in full here.

Poet and performer Chris Mann understands language as “the mechanism whereby you understand what i’m thinking better than i do (where i is defined by those changes for which i is required).” His reading of the work Chewy (2014) for the VOICE public program can be heard here.

Artist and scholar Robert Sember works with the sound art collective Ultra-red, taking sound as its key point of inquiry to investigate the relationship between political organizing and experimental sound art. Titled “School of Echoes,” Sember’s talk for the VOICE public program about power, speech acts, and the cultural politics of listening focused on an overview of Ultra-red’s multisite investigation into collective listening and community organizing. The talk can be heard here.

Artist Christine Sun Kim, deaf from birth, explained how she has found her own voice through sound experimentation in her talk for the VOICE public program. Looking at the resonances she perceives between music and American Sign Language (ASL), she raised questions about linguistic authority and the social currency of spoken language through her work with visual scores. Presented in ASL, with the interpretation of Denise Kahler and Stephen Toth, her presentation can be viewed without sound and captioned here.

The Q+A session with the four invited speakers, which followed their presentations, can be viewed here.

The CHOREOGRAPHY Seminars’ culminating multipart public presentation on February 7, 2015, in the New Museum Theater included short presentations by invited guest presenters and was followed by a Q+A session facilitated by two Seminars participants, curator Olga Dekalo and art historian Emily Liebert. In addition, Seminars participants invited dancer and choreographer Jmy James Kidd to develop a solo dance entitled Gateway, in collaboration with musician Tara Jane ONeil.

Excerpted video documentation of the CHOREOGRAPHY public program will be included as part of individual entries on the upcoming “(Temporary) Collection of Ideas around CHOREOGRAPHY” Six Degrees series.

A short three-and-a-half-minute excerpt of Jmy James Kidd’s Gateway can be viewed here.

1 Elizabeth Freeman, Time Binds: Queer Temporalities, Queer Histories (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2010), 62. “Temporal drag” for Freeman arises as a term in her analysis of the differing treatments of temporality in a “disavowal” of forms of feminism in the milieu of queer studies. Chrononormative, or even queer, theoretical futurities’ privileging of progress, supersession, and the radical possibilities of the present suggests that, as she writes, “It may be crucial, then, to complicate the idea of horizontal political generations or waves succeeding each other in progressive time with a notion of ’temporal drag’ thought less in the psychic time of the individual than in the movement time of collective political fantasy. Exteriorized as a mode of bodily adornment or even habitus, temporal drag may offer a way of connecting queer performativity to disavowed political histories.” Time Binds, 65.

2 For more on how we in the Education Department have been thinking through this with others, read Janna Graham’s ongoing research project “Para-sites like us” on Six Degrees. Graham’s series of texts examines the para-sitic condition as a potential coordinated political struggle, one that might make “good on culture’s claim to social transformation” by working para (i.e., alongside), within, and as other to institutions. Her essay “What is this para-sitic tendency?” traces a genealogy of the para-sitic condition by examining practices grounded in gallery education and Community Arts practices in the UK, as well as broader radical or popular education models. Janna Graham, “Para-sites like us: What is this para-sitic tendency?” Six Degrees, Feb. 9, 2015, accessed May 14, 2015,

3 Roland Barthes, “To the Seminar,” in The Rustle of Language, trans. Richard Howard (New York: Hill and Wang, 1986), 332–42, accessed May 14, 2015,

4 Stevphen Shukaitis, “Studying Through the Undercommons: Stefano Harney & Fred Moten,” Nov. 12, 2012, Class war University, accessed May 14, 2015,

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