Christina M. Spiker

Christina M. Spiker

Art Historian | Professor | Digital Humanist

Crisis Logic & the Reader: Election Reflection

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]The past two weeks have been a challenge as a professor, as a mentor, as a sister, and as a friend. Although I speak from my own personal experience, I know that the election has stirred up a range of emotions in our community–from hope to fear to anger to anxiety. I am listening to my students, I am talking to faculty and staff, and just yesterday, I participated in a community forum titled “The Election, Moving Forward, & Staying Safe” in an effort to understand and hear perspectives that I might not have been exposed to otherwise. At times, I have been loud. At other moments, I have stayed silent. And as this week draws to a close, I’m left with questions, more than anything. In the spirit of asking questions, it was a treat (and somewhat cathartic) to have visiting social practice artist Sam Gould with us at St. Kate’s for the week for an experimental symposium, Crisis Logic & the Reader. He describes the project in the following terms:

Crisis manifests relationships and modes of action uncommon outside of other states of disruption. As a positive experience, crisis can highlight utopic possibilities such as egalitarianism, collaboration and cooperation, int he midst of the destruction of the day-to-day.

But along with crisis comes anxiety. The repeated boosts of adrenaline, while beneficial in small immediate doses, fractures our clarity and composure over time, contributing to the breakage of self.

Crisis Logic & the Reader, an area of inquiry to be centered around crowd-sourced questions and facilitated by artist Sam Gould, will manifest as an experimental symposium at St. Catherine University in November 2016, the week following the US presidential election. Although the project is not explicitly about the election, it aims to engage in meaningful ways with civic and civil discourse through symposia discussions, poster making, a durational listening session, and a musical concert.

Promoting the idea of the “culture of reading” as a long-term, daily alternative to the logic which arises out of singular moments of crisis, Crisis Logic & the Reader will convene students and the public as a means towards unpacking the possibilities and complications of reading culture serving as a vehicle for socio-political engagement.

 

I was intrigued by the idea of crisis as something that not only brings great anxiety, but actually forces us to pause mundane routines in order to seek actions and answers. Sam questioned us — can this potential be harnessed? Would it be dangerous to do so? How can the act of social reading serve as an antidote to the anxiety of crisis? I listened in on the symposia discussions, and my students and I made posters with our “questions” in the wake of the election. I had some of the same questions as my students. Some of their questions surprised me. But all of them came from a shared sense of living in a crisis moment. The questions were read without attribution into a P.A. system set up in the entry to the Visual Arts Building. Some students whispered their questions. Others yelled them into the void. But read together, you could feel the range of emotion and concern from both sides of the political aisle.

Sam spoke about the value of asking questions not to get answers… but to ask better questions. So in that spirit, let’s keep asking.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

A Response to Marcus Young

A clay bowl in your hands.

Touch the earth as you take your food.

Eat with friends, sensing the horizon.

Today, I walked to campus under the shade of burning red maples, and entered a bustling cafeteria sheltering a clay bowl. It made my hands look incredibly small. I circled from station to station choosing only food that would give me pleasure. Some honeydew and cantaloupe; scrambled eggs and black beans. A little sriracha for good measure.  I held the earth in one hand, while delicately arranging my selections. I did not want overlap; I wanted to enjoy each flavor. I wandered in to the seating area, where small blue place-mats were arranged across two tables, and I took my seat at a sunny corner. With the ring of a bell, we began eating in silence among friends. The conversations of the room flowed around us in one mass, and we were invited to think of the horizon and our ancestors; to make eating an artful and aesthetic experience. The sunlight played with my food, highlighting hidden textures and caverns in my eggs and making my fruit glow in luminescent green and orange. I thought about the way that my mother used to make breakfast for me on weekend mornings, and how her mother probably made breakfast for her. I wish I had slowed down to enjoy them at the time now that I am far away. I thought about the sweetness of cantaloupe and honeydew, thanking each soft piece while apologizing to those that were still hard and unripe. Taken too soon. With another subtle ring of the bell, conversation flowed and we compared thoughts and stories. We took three deep breaths, and started the day.

 

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I wrote the above anecdote shortly after eating mindfully with behavioral artist Marcus Young, who has been in residence this week living in the Groot Gallery as part of the St. Olaf Artist Series. His work, Life All Along: Instructions for Living at a Small Liberal Arts College or Someplace Similarly Wonderful, encourages participation in the activities that make up our daily life. During a community time discussion, he explained, “We are all artists creating this masterpiece called our life.” He asked if we ever really wondered if this is all that life is; if all the daily practices add up to what we think life should be. Marcus encourages spontaneity. Students have not only been “eating mindfully” in the cafeteria, but they have been dancing to their own rhythm in the quad, noticing the ringing of the bells and the dancing of pale blue fabric between the autumn leaves. They have also meditated in the gallery and performed Yoko Ono’s cut piece once a day in various locations. In various ways they have followed the instructions of Life All Along to dance foolishly, to eat mindfully, to cut revealingly, to ring regularly, to live artfully, to be quietly, and to live plainly. Small, subtle disruptions in campus routines.

Life All AlongIt has been refreshing. The conversations that have followed have been reflective and insightful: students spoke with me about the inability to slow down in our lives and about our tendency to fill every silence and every gap with a new activity or responsibility. There seemed to be a real desire to press the pause button on routine to enjoy food or company or dance or music. A will to collaborate. A wish to live authentically.

And speaking of spontaneity… Just as I was writing this post music professor Therees Hibbard and her talented students decided to conduct class in the Groot Gallery, where Marcus has been living, and their sounds just came alive throughout our entire building. A happening of sorts, and a change from the routine, but it truly warms the soul. Students stopped in their tracks to listen and faculty emerged from their offices, and it was a real treat to see Therees in her element surrounded by her students. A really beautiful day at St. Olaf.

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