MdG and AP: Initially, “In the pause of a gesture there might be an echo” was conceived as a symposium that was bound in time and space. Composed as a collaborative artistic practice, it was due to take place from May 1 to May 3, 2020, in the exhibition space of our partner puntWG. Working towards the symposium, when the title was yet to come and the list of participants was in flux, there was already the question of how the audience would be sited/seated. Not knowing yet that these physical arrangements were soon to be off-limits, we dwelled on the idea of breaking the row-like structure typically used for public events, wondering if chairs could be part of the program instead of silent bystanders. Later when we had to transform the symposium into an online platform, we had similar discussions about the structure of the online space, and how to put this online structure to use. We did not like the ramifications of having a live, real-time audience, so instead we focused on creating a backstage-like platform for our participants to mingle and exchange ideas and to open up these processes of art-making, writing, and dialogue to our audiences. While reworking our program under high time pressure, we sort of stumbled onto the complexity of the structure of spaces.

In your book Reclaiming Artistic Research you start by describing how the structure of writing forces you to order things in one direction and how you miss, when writing, the freedom of drawing; how your word processor marks your creative use of words, spaces, and letters with punitive red lines. “The Art of Zoom” also describes a structure, this time the structure of an online Zoom lecture. You take the reader, step-by-step, through the experience of giving a Zoom lecture. How it feels to have an obscured audience represented in changing numbers on your screen and the worth of your words instantly calculated. In these reflections you show a deep awareness and knowledge of how the structure of spaces affects thought and the spatial formation of thought.

LC: As we all know, how we set things up cocreates what happens next, whether it’s a spatial configuration of people at a talk or a performance or the format of a text. Yet we can rarely grant ourselves the freedom to take that knowledge to its logical conclusions. In my recent writing, I’ve been experimenting with letting the subject matter dictate the form of the text, shifting between voices and formats that range from the poetic to the theoretical. I start to see all of these ways of writing as a spectrum that can be moved across fluidly, rather than compartmentalizing art critical writing, creative writing, academic writing, poetry, etc. I’m also interested in the physicality of speaking, which produces different thoughts than writing. I’ve always felt the need to move as I give public talks. I walk around as I speak and I enjoy the oversized dimensions of a projected screen as a physical entity to interact with. Zoom has shifted these dynamics. I’m trying to figure out how this affects the content of the work, which partly prompted me to write “The Art of Zoom.” It’s a short spontaneous text, but I hope it might also prompt further questions on the structural position of working in this format in the art world.

MdG and AP: On your website you state: “I like to chew ideas like pieces of gum, watch them stick onto each other, stretch, and make new shapes; materiality and words meeting on equal grounds...” In this sentence you depict ideas as substantial things with a tangible presence. A similarly sculpted image is created in “The Art of Zoom” when you refer to Roland Barthes’ description of how ideas vocalized in words tend to “hang in the air, that they smell; that there is a residual odour.” Could you tell us more about the “equal grounds” where materiality and words meet?

LC: Like many artists and creative people, I’m a visual and material thinker. I often come to an image when I’m trying to articulate a thought, or I picture an aspect of a material process I’m familiar with as I’m grappling to name a phenomenon. Yet I noticed that I rarely allow myself to name those intuitive interventions as I’m writing. Without knowing it, I often set aside this material and image-led vocabulary as I made the transition into language, despite seeing the material and the linguistic on equal terms. Recently, I made a commitment to myself to start naming these things as I experience them because I realized that this way of thinking needs to show itself more often if justice is to be done to how artists’ intimate knowledge of materiality and media gives rise to thoughts and ideas. My experience is that the value of this hands-on knowledge remains largely unrecognized by people who do not have this close working relationship with materials or media. They don’t fully understand that, for example, the medium of video gives rise to ideas that would not emerge otherwise, or that could not be thought in this way through another medium. This misrecognition has a lot to do with the dominant position of linguistic thinking in the academic world, which in turn imposes certain value systems in wider society.

At the moment, I’m doing some research into neuroscience and artificial intelligence because I see that we are living in a time in which human intelligence and the nature of consciousness are being redefined. These new definitions are driving the development of AI technology, which will increasingly affect every aspect of our social structures. Researchers in AI expected to have created the equivalence of human intelligence by this point in time, but it turns out that they based their definition of intelligence on linguistic and computational abilities. Now they realize that robots also need a comparable sense of materiality and spatiality to be of any use in the world. They have also discovered that linear thinking has limited use in the real world, where things unfold in unpredictable ways, so the role of chance has become a central concern. Neuroscientists are also finding out that human thinking progresses mostly through metaphors, so linguistic thinking is of secondary importance. Human intelligence actually revolves around image-making. All of these factors are foregrounded in artistic thinking. It’s also artists, such as Stephanie Dinkins, who are leading a critique of the racial bias inherent in the datasets being used to program AI; which, if they go unaddressed, threaten to undermine much of the current movement towards racial justice and the decolonization of knowledge.

MdG and AP: In “The Art of Zoom” you describe how you’ve experienced feelings of foreignness and disorientation, while anticipating that soon Zoom will be a familiar place. Subsequently, you speak of the tendency of art to stay with these moments of unfamiliarity. Have you, in the meantime, encountered artists or artistic practices that employ Zoom within their work, not as a mere instrument for reaching out to the public, but rather as an embodied tool that exercises the unknown potentials of such environments?

LC: One of the most interesting artistic uses of Zoom I have seen was in a recent artist’s lecture/lecture-performance by Pope.L, conceived as a response to an invitation to speak on “the role of the artist when the world has always been on fire.” Instead of accepting the interface of the screen as a transparent portal and thus no barrier to communication, Pope.L covered it in plastic sheeting and projected colored lighting on it. From the very first moment, the lecture offered an unexpected encounter, starting with an image of an urban parkland seen through the milky plastic, flooded in orange light. Pope.L created this opening moment to acknowledge the wildfires burning in the region of Berkeley, the organizing institution. This insistence on place amid the placelessness of Zoom, as well as the political gesture of solidarity with those beyond the comfortable confines of art discourse, was really powerful. The subsequent lecture oscillated between absurdity and analysis, always veering between the poles of a standard artist’s lecture that overlooks its conditions of production and a sited, staged performance. At one point Pope.L, whose face was never visible during the lecture, stretched his hand towards the audience and rolled an object slowly across the screen. Initially visible only as a blackened shadowy presence, the object soon revealed itself to be a simple orange. As it turned, the hand-written word “ROL” could be read on its surface, which gestured back to Pope.L’s subtle rewriting of the prompt in his lecture title: “Notes on the Roll of the Artist as the World Has Always Been on Fire.” This simple but profound gesture insisted on physicality and play. It also refused to naturalize the role of the artist, pointing instead to the performativity of the artist’s structural position and that of the art world, which cannot assume to separate itself from the world that has always been on fire.

MdG and AP: In the introduction above we briefly refer to a part of your essay in which you reflect on the way Zoom exposed you to the experience of being human capital. The meanings of your output were determined through calculated numbers of the comings and goings of the live audience. Do you think something good, something playful, can come from these kinds of digitized structures?

LC: I identify with Michel Feher’s thoughts on human capital when he says that we need to recognize and understand our contemporary subject position as human capital to find our agency within that situation. I have done several public talks by Zoom and each of them has been seen by over two hundred people. That’s far more than would attend a physical talk in most art institutions, which points to an increase of agency on a very immediate level. But there are many layers to this situation. I envisage that it will become difficult for institutions to secure the higher budgets necessary for in-person visits if attendance numbers for online encounters have far outweighed their in-person events. Yet in-person visits have other difficult-to-quantify benefits that have much to do with important but difficult-to-quantify aspects of art. In the text, I also raise the question of intellectual property rights concerning Zoom’s ownership of content. We can also speculate on how the future use of such numbers might exacerbate the precarious working conditions of freelancers and employees alike.

There is certainly scope to play with current conditions in ways that are provocative and that might lead us to new ways of working. I was fascinated by comedian Hamish Blake’s infiltration of corporate and educational Zoom meetings during the lockdown. Blake prepared for these meetings with some subject-specific research, enabling him to participate in the meetings, asking apparently legitimate questions. The footage of these encounters highlights the performativity of the contemporary work environment and its molding of human labor into more or less predetermined forms. It playfully manifests aspects of David Graeber’s insightful critique in Bullshit Jobs: A Theory and points to the agency of this moment in reimagining the relationship between how we work and what we work on.

Zoom is currently a major tool in restructuring how we work in the art world, far beyond the scope of discursive programming. On Saturday, I visited a solo exhibition at a local gallery, featuring an artist sourced online; a first for the curator in question. I am currently curating an exhibition that includes several organic wall-sized works that, thanks to a travel ban, I have only been able to see by Zoom. There are clearly ecological benefits to this reduction in travel. Yet it obviously affects my relationship to the artworks and it will change the course of the forthcoming exhibition in ways I cannot foresee. These shifts within our practices have come into place as pragmatic solutions, yet, as we’ve already discussed, how we set things up cocreates what happens next. We are only starting to grasp the significance of this further dematerialization and disembodiment of practice for future living and working conditions as well as for experiences of art.

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