Talking in Circles: Interview, Conversation, Metalogue (2014)

Amber Yared, Heather Davis

About this exposition

Can different forms of dialogue influence the way we learn and think? This was the question that Amber Yared and Heather Davis set out to explore. Drawing upon examples from radical education, we were interested in how dialogic form changes the way we approach a topic and the different kinds of knowledge that it might produce. To experiment with this question, we engaged with three different forms of dialogue: interview, conversation, and metalogue – a style of dialogue where the form mirrors the content – which we engaged performatively in various forums. In the final iteration, we set up a booth where people could come and discuss education in one of these dialogic modes. To explore creative and democratic approaches to education, this project investigates the relation of form to content.
typeresearch exposition
last modified26/05/2014
share statusprivate
licenseAll rights reserved
published inJournal for Artistic Research
portal issue5.

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comments: 3 (last entry by Siobhan Murphy - 09/06/2014 at 21:49)
Don Asker 26/05/2014 at 14:33

The submission ‘Talking in Circles’ makes a number of important contributions to the way we understand dialogue in art and education. 


It focuses on three concepts of communicative process - interview, conversation and metalogue and reflects on these terms and the types of engagements they attempt to define.  They show that as their project continued it became clearer that the form of dialogue was very important to knowledge production. Through reference to their own experience we learn of the characteristics and possibilities of particular dialogic forms, and this equips us to better understand the implications of the way we are communicating and learning.


Enfolded in and through the submission are several meta-layers of thought. The one that is more obvious is that the content of our processes of inquiry and artistic practices is reflected or reflects (reflexively) upon the structure and form.  The inseparability of these notions becomes a strategic tool and is well presented through the documentation provided of an interview, and conversation in the exposition itself. Here the researchers slip and slide between different perspectives on a range of artistic, social and educative situations.  With mostly collaborative or partnership projects as exemplars they reflect on issues arising as particular models develop and endure. The interview – a particular type of information and perspective gleaning process involving interviewer(s) and interviewee(s) - is shown to be a complex undertaking with many aspects that are often contradictory such as the need for some kind of encouragement, sounds, words feeding back to the interviewee to sustain and support their utterances, though this may influence the course or content of the interviewee. They point to limitations of traditional educative approaches, and assumptions about student and teacher roles.


The idea that conversation allows for many layers of understanding and perception to be present, without the need to be total or complete is introduced and considered in relation to assumptions that conversations must seek resolution or consensus.  The researchers destabilise such definition pointing towards notions of complexity (at least) and the co-existence of contrary perspectives, as more inclusive and reflecting individual difference.


The submission left me wondering about the implications for institutionalised research and practice? It seemed that collaborative methods and dialogues within group inquiry were being problematized in useful ways, and that their perspective on relational dynamics and complexity raised many issues of importance in developing methods.


The other metalogue is a pedagogic one – reflecting how teaching approaches and learning interact. How do we know and what is that process of knowing? How might that process be reconfigured in the light of recent understandings of learning experiences and patterns? The submission highlights a collaborative approach and questions traditional power structures and figures of authority. It raises the notion of space and I found myself extrapolating from communication as an insular inter-subjective event to consider its locational aspects. Where in space are we talking from, what is the nature of that place, its locality and how is the dynamic of my being in this place? In their example of ‘the booth’ I wondered about issues of familiarity, comfort and security for participants - interviewees and interviewers. How does this translate into galleries, so-called ‘public spaces’, classrooms and performance events?


The exposition reminds us of the need to question our assumptions about the way we seek to know things and the possibility of reconfiguring approaches and attitudes so as to optimise individual involvement in collective learning.  This has significance for fields of community arts, for those involved in collaborative processes in the arts, social sciences, and education and more broadly into communities concerned with forms of participatory practices. It implicitly invites us to reconsider our own forms of communication with others, including those within our projects and processes.


The exposition points in some ways to the interplay between artistic, cultural, learning and pedagogic practices. It speaks of diverse interests and skills and a much more horizontal shifting between and across fields. It seems that communication across fields and between differently skilled and informed individuals is challenging and full of potential. For me, the exposition raises the ontological question how might we be, communicate and interact better as a civil society? 


The simple symbolism of ‘circle’ - a looping and continuity - in regard to communication, speaks to the non finite-ness of knowing. It has other resemblances too - to being a closed entity, and perhaps the meanings attached to the title by the researchers of the exposition need more articulation. Given the accumulative nature of knowledge as the exposition espouses it seems to me that although communication may well involve a growing complexity it rarely comes back to the same place or finds communicants in the same state. It seems that communication might better be modelled as ‘talking in a helix’. So for me the template of ‘circle’ holds interesting paradoxes.


One of the insightful aspects of the exposition is that pedagogic change might be fed positively by appreciation of the complexity of things and seeking an abundance of perspectives – or as they nicely posit, an accumulative rather than reductive approach. There is much that can be unravelled here as one looks at the experiences, mechanisms and structures of community cultural partnerships.


The exposition provokes thought on the very nature of inquiry. It suggests we might tend towards particular models, and that the extremes of these might be reductive on the one hand and accumulative on the other. It suggests the latter to be a more inclusive and accurate model though it comes with implications of complexity. In keeping with the metalogue – that lurking thing within the exposition whose form and content tend to be inseparable – there is in this exposition a slippery structure, where no one notion can be dominant at the expense of others; that would be the beginning of reduction.


The exposition somewhat tacitly invites us to appreciate human-to-human communication as assuming forms reflecting the roles, perspectives and empowerment of participants. Within the broad spectrum of forms communication takes it differentiates several notions particularly interview and conversation. An example of interview provides an opportunity to consider the roles of interviewer and interviewee and the expectations of certain behaviours within the interview process is highlighted and problematized. The conversation as the researchers conduct it is an interesting example of many layers, individual interests, points of intersection and divergence. We are invited to share the complex nature of conversation in its many lights - as confusing, as multifocal, as the collision of subjectivities and as a source for emergent questions and learning.


The notion of communication in the exposition although it focuses on the form is less explicit about the embodied aspect of communication. Being present to another, be that as voice, video link or in the flesh brings many inter-corporeal considerations involving perception of the other, gestures, and relationships in space.  I was interested in the way the tone and dynamics of the recorded voices in the conversation informed on their content. In the interview and conversation recording we get to recognise some of the associated techniques of feeding back as both verbal and visual/embodied prompts. The booth project points towards embodiment concerns reflecting the ways participants engage behaviourally and physically.


The exposition contributes to a growing body of work that articulates perceptions that we have many different ways of ‘knowing’, and that ways of communicating are much more complex than we might first imagine. I was mindful of how the researchers’ work shared parallels with others concerned to expand the field of view points in areas as diverse as choreography, digital media arts, and ethnography.


It invites us to reconsider notions of complexity in communication and the idea of phenomenological reduction - that movement towards the essence of things - is challenged and we are invited to consider notions of explanation and knowing as something not necessarily to do with simplifying. The idea of consensus is problematised and we are provoked to consider how we might accommodate complexity and difference.








Eva Maria Gauss 09/06/2014 at 21:48

To make it very short: The heart of this contribution is the epistemology of a method (interview) in qualitative social research and ethnology on the one hand and in community-based-art on the other.. And this makes it so important! It is exactly this method of qualitative research having had its discussion about the epistemic value in academia itself, was then taken up by art practices and can now rise this question in a new way from the experience in the artistic work- taking into acount that the use and demands of doing interviews in the arts are others, their „epistemic“ potentials, too. (?) It makes fun to see how this topic is played through a conversation (and what characterizes a conversation: how many other topic pop up along). It is interesting to get introduced to the concept of Metalogue by G. Bateson. Does it make fun to see, how Amber and Heather try to follow Beteson's concept and to produce a „Metalogue“? Well – I understand the fascination of „Metalogues“ and of course the circle is a harmonic figure. But isn't it simply the question of the epistemic in narratives?

Siobhan Murphy 09/06/2014 at 21:49

The exposition addresses intellectual questions in an artistic manner. It enacts content through form, and resists the reification of knowledge through insisting on multiple rather than singular meanings. The circularity of the title is enacted throughout the exposition and this rhythm is akin to artistic approaches that return to a subject time and again without exhausting it, gleaning more from each iteration.


The exposition’s exploration of form, and the explicitness with which it conducts that exploration, certainly has a lot to say to artistic researchers, albeit somewhat unexpectedly. The ways in which the authors approach the knowledge-making endeavour turn out to be not at all dissimilar to how knowledge arises in artistic research. The focus on dialogue as a site for learning is a useful provocation to thought for artistic researchers – as evidenced in some recent expositions in JAR, the tacit knowledge of art-making is often usefully uncovered through dialogue with another. In this context, I think it is timely to include an exposition that focuses explicitly on dialogue as form. This is of particular interest to artistic researchers in performance which is by nature collaborative and thus already a form of dialogue. The exposition provokes a re-consideration of the solitary reflection often undertaken by artistic researchers when they are engaged in writing.


The exposition does not seek to exhaustively answer or even pose questions. What it does is to evidence a history of curiosity on the part of the authors regarding the nature of dialogue and the relationship of dialogue to education. Rather than putting everything ‘on show’ in the exposition itself, the exposition serves as a window onto the authors’ broader practices. In this context practice does not mean artistic practice per se, but rather the authors’ ongoing practices of seeking to learn through talking to others and of seeking novel ways of communicating the singularity and inconclusiveness of that learning. The way in which the authors’ ideas are unearthed in dialogue with one another such that content is not touched on without formal experimentation – content is always enacted as form – takes the exposition into the realm of the performative. It thus enters provocatively into what might be called artistic research even though art-making is not the wellspring of the exposition.

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