Like many projects, this collaboration grew out of circumstance, chance, and congruence. We had been friends for many years after working together as art animators at Spiral Garden in Toronto, Ontario. We had applied, separately, to the Homework: Infrastructures and Collaboration in Social Practices conference hosted by Broken City Lab in Windsor, Ontario, Canada that took place in October 2011. When we realised that we had been placed on the same panel, it seemed only natural to do something together.
Our mutual interest both in social practice arts and in interviews as a research methodology led us to wonder about the form of the interview and its potential for radical education. At the time, Amber was in the midst of a Master’s degree in art education at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC); Heather had just finished a PhD in communication at Concordia University on community-based art. We both used interview methodologies to research arts and education spaces that advanced progressive pedagogies or alternative social infrastructures. These methodologies exemplify the blurring of boundaries between the humanities, social sciences, and the arts, evidenced in community based theatre, social practice art, and in the ‘educational turn’ in contemporary curating.1 This cross-disciplinary work, which brings interviews – traditionally an ethnographic tool – into the realm of art and curating, expresses a desire to ‘address education, or curating, [or art], at those points at which it urgently needs to be shaken up and made uncomfortable’ (Rogoff 2010, 33). By taking the strategies of one disciplinary form and applying them within another, we might re-envision the processes, performances, and procedures of education and knowledge production. We were curious about what drew us to interviews as a form of creative engagement and a site of learning and about what might be opened up through the process of investigating these dialogical structures in a more formal manner.
Amber had been reading Gregory Bateson’s chapter on metalogues in Steps to an Ecology of Mind (1972) after being introduced to the concept through an essay by Clémentine Deliss (2009) on her Future Academy project. Amber began thinking about educational collaboration in metalogic terms, where the participants, process, and product of a group’s work evolve in a recursive relationship to one another that informs each. For Heather, the metalogue seemed to provide a way to think through how knowledge is structured, as ‘the creation and interaction of ideas must necessarily exemplify evolutionary process’ (Bateson 1972, 21). That is, knowledge, through the form of the metalogue, could be understood as a feedback system, one that might provide openings for more democratic and less hierarchically driven education. More generally, we became interested in the relationship of form to content, in this case, in various forms of verbal engagement and how they might influence an educational setting. In other words, our project sought to address the question, Can different forms of dialogue, such as interviews, conversations, or metalogues, influence how we learn or teach, or what we are able to convey in an educational setting? To answer this preliminary question, we began setting up different structures for these three forms of verbal exchange.
From the beginning, the project was conceived as an open-ended exploration of different modes of dialogue as they relate to education. The loose structure of the project, and our own interest in form, created a space where the project itself seemed to begin to ask questions independently of our original intentions. In each iteration of the project we would find ourselves circling back, not to arrive at an originary point, but to reinscribe our commitments to certain ideas and questions that could not be answered and that seemed only to ask for further questions and call for further investigation. It was remarkable how much the project reflected our concerns about education, art, and social justice, and how much of the content retained a fidelity to these themes, despite the differing forms and shapes that the project moved through.
In fact, the project took many shapes. The first was our presentation at the Homework conference, where we played with the form of our presentation. Instead of a straightforward talk with images, we planned to interview and converse with each other about the role of interviews in arts-based radical education. As a result of this presentation, we were invited by Peter Aeschbacher to teach a week-long workshop on interview-based community research methodologies in March 2012 at the Department of Landscape Architecture, Pennsylvania State University. In addition to the workshop, we delivered a public lecture on the topic of metalogues, conversations, and interviews, again experimenting with the form of our presentation and incorporating conversation and interview modes into our address. The third iteration of the project was presented at the Open Engagement: Art and Social Practice conference in Portland, Oregon, in May 2012. We worked towards this next venue with a wish not simply to discuss and present, but to put into practice the three modes of dialogue. With an acute desire to enact a metalogue, we created a small booth in which to interact with conference participants on the basis of their choice of conversation, interview, or metalogue.
The following excerpts of writing, sound, and image document the evolution and various moments of this project in its winding and sometimes amorphous investigation of the three (overlapping and continuous) forms of dialogue and their connection with radical arts-based education.
1. See Paul O’Neill and Mick Wilson’s Curating and the Educational Turn (2010) for an excellent overview of the central discussions and concerns of this shift in contemporary practice. Interviews and dialogue have become increasingly important in contemporary art – for example, Grant Kester’s Conversation Pieces (2004) and the two volumes of Hans Ulrich Obrist’s Interviews (2003, 2010); for community-based theatre see Sonja Kuftinec’s Staging America: Cornerstone and Community-Based Theater (2003).