October 2020

A transcript of a pair of letters I wrote and posted this morning. The image below is of a recent linocut, a print of which I included in each envelope. The footnotes at the bottom give some contextual info that might be useful for readers other than Efro & Nic.

Dear Efrosini, dear Nic,[1]

I am drawing wildflowers: yarrow, Himalayan balsam, mayweed. I am printing. I am reading about corruption in Nigeria, histories of racist solidarity, and the potency of rhetorics of eschatology.[2] I am showing up (where I can), hanging out and asking questions; meeting with other PhD students in the department to figure out how we want our practices to be presented, nourished and challenged. And meeting others through Techne[3]: feeling an intense thrill and vulnerability at moments of mutual curiosity and (intellectual) flirtation.

When describing this PhD, I have often found myself using the phrase ‘the outside-inside’ to refer to the independent artist in the institution. What kinds of positioning, structures, rhetorics and obliviousness are required to maintain that tenuous construct? I guess this PhD project is ‘about’ too much, but if I want to look at the ‘outside-inside’ then I do think I need to study all three: the outside, the inside, and the outside-inside.

I’m curious about governance, and what governance can apprehend. What falls inside or outside its language and scrutiny, and therefore also its evaluation, remuneration, insurance policy, etc. Of the many forms of practice I am and will be engaged in, I wonder: what am I interested in passing by the ethics review?[4] And what will I keep secret – and how interesting or useful is it to make that secrecy tangible, loud, central? Cruising. Cash-in-hand economies. Covert epistemologies. What is it to ‘produce knowledge’ through something that officially didn’t happen? To my horror, O.J. Simpson’s book ‘If I Did It’ comes to mind. There is good reason, after all, for ethics panels, legislation, governance protocols – who am I to sneer at these?

And this stumbles into another question of the outside-inside: how to avoid getting stuck in ‘responding’ to the institution. The outside gets folded in, fully occupied and absorbed, becoming simply ‘the inside’. How – and why and for who – do we hold space in these organisations for an outside, and otherness: the promise of the outside, a new inside? I think about the autonomy of the artwork, its (continually failing) promise as something other; and how that promise is nowadays embodied in the figure of the artist. Was this always the case? Is this something new?

Everything is in crisis.[5] I am trying to be present in ways that I think are of most use. If you ever have a sense of how I can better support you, I trust that you will let me know.

With a smile, and deep respect, and excitement for our first meeting on Wednesday,
Paul

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[1] My academic supervisors for this PhD project are Efrosini Protopapa and Nic Conibere. They are both artist-researchers at the University of Roehampton, and I consider them peers and colleagues within the UK freelance / experimental dance scene.

[2] Chinua Achebe’s second novel ‘No Longer at Ease’ (1960), David Roediger’s article ‘Making Solidarity Uneasy’ (2016), and a chapter from Paul Gilroy’s book ‘Against Race: Imagining Political Culture beyond the Color Line’ (2000), respectively.

[3] Techne is the funding body which provides my PhD scholarship. Working across seven universities in London and the South East, it encourages contact and collaboration between students at different institutions.

[4] The ‘ethics review’ is a lengthy administrative process within the university at which PhD students (usually 9 months into their project) must declare what kinds of activity their research will take, and what provisions they will take to ensure the well-being of all involved. One of the problems of this is its bias towards ‘traditional’ forms of scholarly research (i.e. reading texts, writing, attending conferences, maybe doing a little fieldwork half-way through), over the more collaborative, embedded and open-ended nature of artistic research. The ethics review, as I understand it, would expect me to not undertake any artistic practice for the first year of this project; and then to be able to predict exactly what forms of activity (how I will collaborate, who I will collaborate with, and what kind of thing we will make) I will be undertaking from that point until the end of the project.

[5] A recent letter from Annabelle Mooney – the Head of School of Arts at Roehampton – has recently announced a proposal for significant redundancies across the academic staff. See a petition protesting this decision, with more info, here: https://www.change.org/p/university-of-roehampton-stop-3-2-million-cuts-to-arts-humanities-at-university-of-roehampton