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Conf #3: Wed 11th June – Public Talk

The full day Bloomer Making Workshop was followed by the second event on the Live Transmissions program – A Public Talk by Jackie Orr, Associate Professor of Sociology at the Maxwell School, Syracuse University.

I was delighted to have Jackie perform her piece Slow Disaster at the Digital Edge as part of the official launch of the conference. Jackie’s work has long been inspiring for me and for many as it is brings together cultural critique, performance, the politics of bodies and the poetics of knowledge. She calls it ‘performance sociology’. What I especially like is the idea that it is a ‘sociology that insists on its own undoing’ and ‘a sociology that sees itself as a social practice, and a form of public culture’.

Slow Disaster at the Digital Edge (with digital artist Dovar Chen) – a live 40 minute digital performance that assembles together the ‘deep time’ of petro-capitalist fossil fuel extraction, with the slow catastrophe of ordinary time and its exhaustion through everyday practices of repetition, accumulation, and disposability.

The performance constructs a series of five digital formats, each attuned differently to the re-distributions of image, body, disaster, time—and performance itself—rendered through the binary plasticities of digital media.

Having Jackie at Goldsmiths as part of the Transmissions and Entanglements project was really exciting for me as her work doesn’t just talk about it but actually explores and plays with re-presenting social knowledge, performance and creative sociology in multi media dimensions.

We booked one of Goldsmith’s cinemas in the Richard Hoggart Building; a low lit atmospheric space that was ideal for a multi-media performance. Rachel worked with Jackie prior to the start to ensure the light and sound levels were just right; the positioning of Jackie’s body, a black music stand, clip on mic and video projection were all synchronous. I mention this setup as I found it fascinating to observe the detailed rehearsal and performance preparation. I too have been extraordinarily focused in the build up towards the exhibition launch of the Bikes & Bloomers project – from specific decisions about buttons, to Victorian hem details, matching thread and trim and specially digitally printed silk twill linings for each garment. Details matter.

I started the event with an overview of the conference program ahead and thankyou to supporters (Intel, ESRC and Goldsmiths). Nina Wakeford followed with a more detailed introduction to Jackie’s work and bio. The event also included Michael Guggenheim who formed part of a response / q&a session. I was delighted to have Michael involved in the event as his work has been very inspiring in its experimental practice in the areas of disaster, interdisciplinary collaboration and sensory methods.

We did not record the performance. Partially this is because it was billed as a LIVE event and also because it would be very difficult to do justice to such a rich, embodied and multi-faceted multi-media event.

After the 40minute five part performance the panel gathered on stage. They generated a terrific discussion. Following are just some of the themes that emerged:

- the pleasure of trauma, the pleasure of terror. The 2010 live unrelenting footage of the BP oil spill was compelling viewing for many. Similarly, here, as viewers of the performers we were seduced by the beauty of the terrible images.

- scale. Nina talked about the pixel as a unit of analysis, how it changes between different forms of media (ie. VHS and digital) and how it operates in relation to privacy. The latter related to the idea that it is becoming increasingly difficult to disappear in this digital age and yet it is still possible to be lost in pixels. The multi-scalability of oil was also discussed – the global scale of oil disaster, the temporal scale of oil as a millennial product, the personal scale of responsibility in sustainability movements.

- the gaze. Jackie watched us during the performance, occasionally catching viewers eyes, as we watched her on screen. This triangulation of the gaze added a rich, live, embodied element to the visuals on screen. We were made to be responsible for our gaze, to be conscious of it and to be dedicated to the screen in front of us. So often we multi-task with digital media – we are able to turn away or close the screen if we don’t want to watch something. Yet here, we were captivated but also made aware of the seduction of terrible images – such as the live underwater footage in 2010 of the gushing oil leak.

- looping. Is the performance a loop or a five part piece? The performance ended with breaking news ticker tape style imagery. Michael related to this to concepts about disaster. The everyday is full of a particular imaginary of pre-formatted disaster – there is no escape from it – which is why it is difficult to enact other kinds and why it is critical to find new ways of doing disaster. Jackie talked about deliberate decisions to loop her language (chanting), to repeat bodily gestures and visual cues.

- improvisation and choreography. Michael asked questions about the use of the term ‘improvisation’ in the performance given the script and impressive choreographic intertwining of bodies, sound and visuals. The panel discussed a reflection of this in BP’s live feed of images. While BP gave the impression it was responding in real time to the disaster, there was undoubtedly a complex choreographed PR performance in play.

- speed. There is a strong morality in slowness – slow food, slow travel etc. What is slow disaster? How does it change our understanding of disaster? Does it give us time to intervene, to respond, to do something about it?

- bodies. There were no bodies in the piece except for Jackie’s (on screen and in the room) and the audience. Yet we were invited to think about the impact of disaster on the body, to be responsible for our response.

- ooze/ the occult. What is the role of non-human elements – ooze, gloop, waste, ghosted shapes? Why are they so compelling?

- the labour of sociological knowledge what kinds of knowledge matter? Is this performance a sociological text? How does it compare to the conventional value of an article? Why don’t these kinds of ‘outputs’ matter in sociology? How do we publish ‘liveness’?

public talk panel

Many thanks to Jackie, Nina and Michael and also to the terrifically mixed audience who asked some great questions.

public talk panel 2

The group dinner was held at nearby New Cross House which proved social and tasty.
dinner

it was also handy to 310NX Road where we were holding the workshop and the symposium and where Rachel, Britt and I continued to work to finish artefacts for Friday’s launch!

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dinner - after

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