Crying at the Bus Stop
Test of provocation for opening session of Remora: Contextualising Creative research
A symposium at Bath Spa University Thursday 23 Feb 2017
In a time of post truth, fake news and alternative facts its important to look up, look in and look out, stop digging for a moment and consider other ways of knowing and other forms of knowledge. I was fortunate to be a student at the University of Sussex in the days of the idea of the new university and ‘redrawing the maps of learning’ and its been exciting to be pursuing a PhD here as this university starts to put some serious effort behind interdisciplinary collaboration. But both way back when and now I hear the sounds of the old academic book carts being pulled into a circle, just as the wagon trains did in the movies crossing the american west..making a defensive circle against people attacking them who they did not understand. Who they did not want not understand…
So I was alarmed when I got a questionnaire from the Bath Spa University graduate office asking me what I thought practice as research was. I thought blimey isn’t this what the Bath School of Art and Design have been doing since forever..and Creative Writing…music …dance etc. Don’t they have a model? Shouldnt they know? But then I thought there’s more to it than that, for my part I am engaging as an artist directly with the academic fields of history, heritage, geography… for me at least its not simply about doing something solely located within a creative field and writing something ‘theoretical’ about it.
The creative activity is the research and that does need articulating ……and thats what get me here…
However, I am afraid I reject entirely the shark/remora metaphor. There is something anthropomorphic in this attempt to align them with some kind of human knowledge or element of academia. Metaphorical thinking has its uses and it maybe it works here as a provocation. But as a scuba diver and thus occasional visitor to the realm of the shark and the remora I know it is another world with other rules and other ways of being.
I love the word remora however and I love the way that the hash tag becomes be sure mora. To be sure I would rather watch the fish than second guess the nature of their relationship and map that on to a typology of knowledge or enquiry. The sharks and the remora have been in the sea for longer than we have been sapiens…..
Nora Bateson, daughter of Gregory Bateson, describes how he would put her on the bus to school and as he watched the bus pull out he would cry…he thought school would destroy her mind. She argues that education and learning needs to have multiple perspectives…Schooling she argues is ‘delivering an obsolete form of inquiry that fails to engage with the dynamics of living complexity. The stakes are high, the survival of the human species as well as countless others is at hand”. School didn’t destroy her mind but she says now as a parent herself she still weeps at the bus stop and says of her generations legacy “We will have to find the strength to carry the heaviest of all burdens; an empty bag of tricks” (Bateson, N. 2014)
I dont think the bag is empty. As an elder now I want to make sure that some of the ways of knowing and learning that have inspired me get shared , there are understandings emerging that I could only have reached through creative practice.
I am just re-reading McCullough (2013) Ambient Commons: Attention in the Age of Embodied Information and he raises a whole load of questions around knowledge and learning, crucially asking questions about tacit knowlege and intrinsic knowledge in an age where more and more is coded and disconnected from the signifieds.
“when we know almost everything through documentation, and almost nothing directly, will any of us notice that something is missing?” he asks
…when a bogus WMD reports takes us to war, when alt facts gain currency and when experts are derided..is this part of the diagnosis of what got us to Brexit and Trump?
McCullough argues that underneath the freeplay of signifiers an unmediated world is out there, one that works without encoded transmissions….this resonates with the non representational approaches I have been exploring and opens up the space to consider embodiment and affect.
I walked in the rain with my granddaughter, we laughed, we both got wet. I saw some neighbourly help going on by the roadside this morning. I give blood .. We do the right thing and it feels right. We are social creatures.
So for my part I feel liberated by this debate and my discovery of an approach that validates learning and discovery through affect, emotion, feeling, embodiment, tacit and intrinsic knowledge…
as Bob Dylan sang “You dont need a weather man to know which way the wind blows”
The challenge is how to reveal the knowledge to capture and articulate it in a useful form that does not replicate the old ways….
I think the growing interest in creative practice as research indicates people are looking for new ways of thinking and that it is through those new ways of thinking we will find a way out of the terrible mess the old ways have got us into.