I’ve just had an intense and delightful 4 days at the Cultural Studies Association of Australasia annual conference. It was held in Wollongong, and I booked a cheap room near the beach from where I could walk along the beach to the free city shuttle to the uni.
The theme of the conference was “provocations” and the keynotes and streams varied a lot – reflecting the cross disciplinary hosts of the conference. Probably one of the most provocative aspects of the conference was the challenges to the form or genre of academic conference presentations.
This started with the first keynote by Brian Massumi and Erin Manning – who presented a group participation rhizomatic becoming of their speech – and yes – it was just a tad ‘happening’. Their keynote started with them at the doorway to the first year art studio, inviting participants to take one or more printed fragments of their speech (my two are pictured below).
We entered the room, which was also patterned with speech fragments and wandered around – reading each fragment as an aphorism, or a pattern. They started ‘the game’ by alternating a reading of parts of their speech. Then some of their entourage ‘from Sense-lab in Montreal) also started to read sections. then tentatively, the academic participants ‘caught on’ and started to read out our sections. It was interesting at this point to enjoy the type of listening stimulated by this – listening became a type of puzzle, and we wondered where/how/if our fragments fit – or would follow the words read by others. There was a nice aural jigsaw puzzle and it reminded me of contact improvisation and it progressed into an interesting discussion of the content of the speech. I liked how the participatory and playful context created a very different relationship to the content, so I was happy to enjoy the playful approach in their senselab workshops on the last day. The room I was in reminded me a lot of the semi scripted exploratory games that I’ve enjoyed with Sari Kivinen in her 2 Screws Loose collaborations – especially the roll of pink flouro string. I enjoyed meeting someone’s back with my back, and how this provoked a very different intimacy to the heady wordy exchanges of the conference. It’s not an unproblematic approach. Performancey arty interactions even with the best intentions shift the ground of insider vs outsider and who has the physical/social/cultural competencies to join the game. Academics are used to our own regles de jeu providing a safe space for us to explore and critique our practice among peers, and this provocation was unsettling to say the least.
The provocations were peppered through the conference – especially throughout the diversity of content and form – including one presentation by Lorna Collins in a panel on sonics, consisting of a wordless movement performance dancing with a s lowed reverb throb of her recorded heartbeat. I didn’t stay for the discussion, and I missed the other sonic presentations as I was pulled towards another panel on common sense, australian values, and ethics in performance. However I made these two gestural maps, focusing on the movements of her arms and hands here:
and her feet here:
I was super happy to see the amount of artists and performers and an eclectic range of familiar faces from my various cross disciplinary travels between cultural studies, gender studies, performance studies and art history. It was a real shame that CSAA clashed with the Australian Race and Critical Whiteness studies conference in Brisbane.this impacted on the pallour of the CSAA participants, and also meant that Susan Stryker’s amazing keynote – examining Paralogical affinities as a way of untangling the mess of intersectional identity politics – didn’t have a broad enough audience with which to examine her striking and exciting ideas.
However, I was also delighted to find a group of peers – casual/semi casual academics like myself who are no longer early career academics or hopefuls, but solid crusty precarious scholars, doing our scholarship on small, variable, insecure salaries….
It was the perfect occasion to launch the para-academic handbook (in which I have a chapter) – which was enabled by Ruth Barcan’s wonderful launch speech. but it also facilitated a spontaneous collaboration with my olde blogging/radio mate Lucas Ihlein. Actually – about 7 people participated – doing quick drawings or scribbles in response to my question “what is most provoking”. The good doctor Lucazoid helped me assemble the pages into a photocopyable zine, and he then assembled Sally Evans and I into a production line over a beer in the uni bar. ..
We made 50 copies during a hot, sweaty 2 hours and then took them to a “networking event”. Yes conference networking event sounds terrifying – but I summonsed my entrepreneureal spirit and decided to push the form and use it to sell zines at $1/$2 a pop. Amazingly , we sold 40 copies! maybe everyone had heat exhaustion or they were flabbergasted to be importuned by someone seeling “a conference zine”, or just tipsy and happy from the free booze…. Or they could have been inspired by the title “clean desk!!”, or the Mad Magazine style fold-in back page….. or that it was easy to read…. The money went to a good cause. Today, after the final keynote, I caught the shuttle to the city, and got out at spotlight. I took the $50 in coins and bought some embroidery hoops and yarn. I will take these to the MITA detention centre on Friday and share them with 5 Tamil refugee women who do cross-stitch. So thank you to everyone who participated, and thank you to everyone who bought a zine. I hope it brings you a joyful contaminating sense of the amount of space and agency and movement we have even in the brutal times of the neoliberal academy.