SITE + SUBJECTIVITY
The shared practices of reading, Space Sounding, Synchronic Looping and Shoaling, are grouped together under the thematic, Site + Subjectivity. This thematic emerges from and builds upon concerns and interests explored by Lena Séraphin within the wider context of her research practice.
Within this page, Séraphin presents aspects of her own current research enquiry in-and-through reading as a way of situating the 'reading on reading' project within a broader lineage of research activity. She draws on her recent projects Wording and Rewording, with specific focus on the issue of Site + Subjectivity.
In her paper From Critical Spatial Practice to Site-Writing architectural historian and art writer Jane Rendell discusses the notion of critical spatial practice and addresses criticism as movement between the unplanned and planned. Rendell writes how she “became more intrigued by the process of criticism itself, as a form of critical spatial practice, a writing practice which remakes works in the form of writing; which can write a site, rather than write about a site; and which can also write the relation between sites”.2
The site-writing that Rendell evokes resonates in the collective reading practice of Rewording as we read a site rather than read about it. During the performative readings a connection between text and site is actuated – and a site-reading is in its making. In Rewording a number of spaces were read out loud in contact with other read/listened spaces. What is the relation between the sites that have been written and are being read in the now of the performance? Where were we situated as readers and listeners during Rewording?
Jane Rendell introduces critical spatial practice as a way to connect theory and practice, and to focus on the critical and spatial aspects of public art. In this regard, critical stems from the practice induced by the Frankfurter School that Rendell extends "to include the work of all those whose thinking is self-critical and desirous of social change, who do not only reflect on existing conditions but also imagine something different – to transform rather than describe".3
A question arising from the direct experience of Wording – Collaborative Writing in Public Space is; what does the writing transform? The observed sites filled our fields of vision, but they were equally persistent reminders of everything that does not happen and, above all, of everyone who does not go across them. How can we sustain and articulate public spaces to be shared without restraints on who can cross and inhabit them?
Wording posed yet another question related to choice. Since it is impossible to write down everything that happens in one’s surroundings, the writing became a series of choices, and writing in a public space was to a large extent a matter of learning to be aware of these choices. While Wording is much about the bodily aspects and constrictions of writing, about the shaky hand that holds the pen, Rewording brings forth the subjective qualities of perception. What we hear in the space is the different tonalities of voices tuning into a text. Rewording makes the choices done during Wording public and manifest, but as a reader/writer I confront not only the choices been made but also myself as somebody else in a text written under certain conditions. This encounter makes me both agree on, and greet a self-different, a subject in flux.
Rewording in Venice took place in the warmth of the afternoon enabling the participating readers and listeners to walk, stop and move with an ease. The texts written on the site were literally read back to the site; not as a commemoration but in a loop of the everyday. The reading was like a transitional rendering, a reverberating syncword between the site and its delivery.
The reading in Helsinki played out very differently. We did two Rewordings; one at the opening night and one as a beginning to a symposium on artistic research on a Saturday morning. During the opening the tonalities and languages of reading aloud intertwined with the opening chatter and discussions. Disparate registers of speaking and talking were layered, and Rewording stroke a quality of the infra-ordinary; an induced change of situation whilst the visitors might not even have payed attention to the reading of texts. As there is no apparent concept of audience to Rewording, what happened was more an orality of text and place than a performative event. And, maybe that is a value that extends the propositional quality of Rewording towards an affirmation of site-reading.
1. GEORGES PEREC, An Attempt at Exhausting a Place In Paris, trans. Marc Lowenthal, (Cambridge MA: Wakefield Press, 1975/2010).
2. JANE RENDELL, 'From Critical Spatial Practice to Site-Writing', in Planning Unplanned — Towards a New Positioning of Art in the Context of Urban Development, eds Barbara Holub and Christine Hohenbüchler, (Vienna: VfmK Verlag für Moderne Kunst, 2015), p. 75.
3. Op. cit. p. 73.
Rewording is the collective reading of texts written during Wording – Collaborative Writing in Public Space. 50 artists took part in the workshop organised 12–14 June 2019; 16 in Venice and 34 in different locations from Medellín in Colombia to Marksjön in Sweden. This exposition is a bridge between the documentation of two Rewordings. The first being performed outdoors during the symposium Convocation – On Expanded Language-Based Practices in Venice and the second indoors at the RP#3 Info Lab exhibition in Helsinki.
Rewording was performed simultaneously on the 16 June 2019 in many of the sites where the texts were written; one of the locations was Campo de la Chiesa on Sacca Fisola in Venice. The readers at this location were Ulla Prami, Lena Séraphin, Minna Heikinaho, Emma Cocker, Cordula Daus, and from the write.in-Gruppe Stefan Krüskemper, Michaela Nasoetion, Ingo Hampe, Raphaela Gilla, Kerstin Polzin, Elke Cremer and Harald Polzin.
The second Rewording was performed twice; during the opening of the RP#3 Info Lab on the 24 October and on the 26 October 2019 as the beginning of the symposium on the outcomes of the Research Pavilion #3. Both events took place at the Exhibition Laboratory in Helsinki, and the readers were Ulla Prami, Lena Séraphin, Minna Heikinaho, Emma Cocker, Maarit Mustonen and Bartaku.
Rewording in Venice was a presentational event based on the writing/s from the workshop Wording – Collaborative Writing in Public Space that was organised as one of the Disruptive Processes workshops at the Research Pavilion #3. The aim of this attempt at writing is to shape a public space using words and to position ourselves in shared spaces and reciprocated texts. Wording has a performative quality as the writers in public space are being observed themselves, and the question is if this collective writing experiment acts as a multilingual countertext to the commodification of our corporeal selves. Wording as a practice is about site-sensitive writing, but the subtitle Collaborative Writing in Public Space also suggests that collective writing is part of the multitude of happenings in public spaces. Writing is understood in a broad sense extending beyond alphabets into the interweaving of movements, presences and actions in public space. In other words, the title is a provocation to think about how we communicate and have an impact on each other when being in or traversing public sites.
The research on site, text and subjectivity is inspired by Georges Perec and his experimental work An Attempt at Exhausting a Place in Paris from 1975.1 His idea was to pay attention to the seemingly insignificant, and to notice what is taking place when nothing special is happening. In contrast to the ordinary and extra-ordinary Perec introduces the infra-ordinary – a noun that can stretch and act as a subtext for the quotidian. The infra-ordinary is in its unnoticeableness the formative go-between of the everyday. Perec noted down the date, time of day, place and weather, and then continued to write a list of what was happening within his field of vision. He returned on three successive days, and was himself gradually transformed into one of the recurrent figures in the Place Saint-Sulpice. His writing work, in turn, successively altered what he was observing; the square became a text and a written rendition of a public space.
A question that Perec’s work prompts concerns the quantity of observations that take place in a public site. What happens if a group writes in a public space? Do we see similar things or disparate happenings? And how do the observations differ? What kind of approach does each writer take to this writing assignment as the task is to notate rather than tell a story? Wording – Collaborative Writing in Public Space is intended as an experiment to think about how writing together in a public space can be a collaborative act.
While doing Wording, it wasn't achievable to observe and notate without lapses and postponements. Not being quick enough to note down everything that is happening reveals something about the rapidity of perception, the limits of motor skills, and about how faulty the human being is as an instrument. It is not possible to create a written register that is equivalent to a public space. So, writing needs to make do with single words, comments, excerpts, associations and forms of address, instead of employing an all-encompassing image of the site. Wording thus follows in the footsteps of Perec, and by doing so hopes to inspire continued conversation about what happens when collectives visualise public space.
The writing posed a critical question about naming and labelling, and about the way an author possesses the power to call someone something. Doing Wording is an exercise in how one can wield that power, transform, and renounce it.
Wording powers physical awareness as the senses forward impressions of the sites that are subsequently transcribed into text. The writing practice brings thus forth questions about perception. Why do I see, hear, feel, smell and taste what I do and what is left undetected? Are the senses inscribed to detect certain patterns? Wording focuses on notating the perceived rather than story-telling or describing, and the writing itself merges with perception and bodily insights.
Credits line by line from the top, left to right
1 Photograph by Ingo Hampe/write.in-Gruppe
2 Photographs by Ingo Hampe/write.in-Gruppe
Readers: Stefan Krüskemper, Raphaela Gilla,
Harald Polzin and Kerstin Polzin from write.in-Gruppe
Video by Mika Elo, edit by Hannu Kärenlampi
Reader in video: Stefan Krüskemper/write.in-Gruppe
3 Photograph by Anni Laakso
Reader: Lena Séraphin
In the background: Raphaela Gilla and Kerstin Polzin from
Video by Mika Elo, edit by Hannu Kärenlampi
Reader in video: Emma Cocker
4 Photograph by Mika Elo,
Reader in the foreground: Elke Cremer/write.in-Gruppe
In the background: Ingo Hampe, Raphaela Gilla, Kerstin Polzin
and Stefan Krüskemper from write.in-Gruppe.
Video by Mika Elo, edit by Hannu Kärenlampi,
Reader in video: Kerstin Polzin/write.in-Gruppe
5 Photographs by Anni Laakso
Reader: Ulla Prami
Readers: Maarit Mustonen and Lena Séraphin
6 Readers in videos: Bartaku, Maarit Mustonen and Emma Cocker
Video and edit by Hannu Kärenlampi
In the background: Temporary Agora by Anni Laakso &