Under the Cloak of the Self-Evident – A Diary of ARC’s Metanoia: Practices of Exhaustion

By Tiana Reid Monday, April 14th, 2014 Categories: Features, Reviews, Updates
 

In ‘An Invitation to Reflexive Sociology’, Pierre Bourdieu writes:

There is no risk of overestimating difficulty and dangers when it comes to thinking the social world. The force of the preconstructed resides in the fact that, being inscribed both in things and in minds, it presents itself under the cloak of the self-evident which goes unnoticed because it is by definition taken for granted. Rupture in fact demands a conversion of one’s gaze and one can say of the teaching of sociology that it must first “give new eyes,” as initiatory philosophers sometimes phrased it. The task is to produce, if not a “new person,” then at least a “new gaze,” a sociological eye. And this cannot be done without a genuine conversion, a metanoia, a mental revolution, a transformation of one’s whole vision of the social world. (emphasis in original)

Metanoia: Practices of Exhaustion panel at VOLTA NY 2014. Photograph by Jamaal-Malik Levine.

Metanoia: Practices of Exhaustion panel at VOLTA NY 2014. Image courtesy David Willems Photography.

In Bourdieu’s theory of a practice of sociology, we can see one version for defining “metanoia,” an organizing principle in ARC’s Volta NY artists’ panel, Metanoia: Practices of Exhaustion, which then spawned a one-night art exhibition at Grace Exhibition Space in Brooklyn. If Bourdieu urged for the growth of a fresh tool, the sociological eye, what practices emerge out of ARC’s own reading of metanoia?

To start, the second part of the same book from which I quoted, co-authored by Bourdieu and sociologist Loic Wacquant, consists of a conversational dialogue between both authors. If we think about the form of the book and as an invitation to critical thought, it could be a model not only for collaborative work, but also for an interchange that gets exposed and stripped down as a way to track and break down arguments and ideas. Thought is not origin but a naked skeleton.

Metanoia: Practices of Exhaustion, co-moderated by ARC’s Editor-in-Chief Holly Bynoe and ARC’s Junior Arts Writer and Editor Blake Daniels, differed from last year’s roundtable discussion, “Curtailing Anxieties I: Boundaries of Defining Art in the Caribbean.” That panel included institution-builders, educators and museum administrators, and thus focused more explicitly on the art industry itself, and especially on the role of recent major exhibitions on Caribbean art in defining, dare I say, a common Caribbean sensibility or aesthetic.

Moderator Holly Bynoe and panelist Ian Deleon during Metanoia: Practices of Exhaustion. Photograph by Jamaal-Malik Levine.

Moderator Holly Bynoe and panelist Ian Deleon during Metanoia: Practices of Exhaustion. Image courtesy David Willems Photography.

“The idea behind this panel is in many ways very simple — it was very important for us to start thinking about healthy practices and their manifestation across the various spaces that we inhabit—from pedagogy, to curatorship, social activism, to the establishment of a fine art practice or, larger to that, effectively developing projects that involve cross-disciplinary action and mobility,” Bynoe started off the discussion. “Within the production maze, we are in effect always looking to find new ways of working, forging new organizations and practices of work which are open, collaborative and interdisciplinary. “

And if practice itself crystalizes one approach into conceptualizing Caribbean art, then, this year the focus was on artists. Panelists John Cox, Joiri Minaya, Ian Deleón, Olivia McGilchrist and Jayson Keeling came together to meditate on their own work in relation to the concepts put forth by Daniels and Bynoe. What are the themes of that which we call Caribbean art? I mean, does a sterilizing word like “theme” even get to the mere edge of it? Still, for the most part, the themes of Caribbean art will exceed collective resources, this panel included, and no doubt an investigator or group of investigators will only scrape the surface, sometimes to its own end. That is simultaneously a challenge and a failure.

Panelists Joiri Minaya and Ian Deleon during Metanoia: Practices of Exhaustion. Photograph by Jamaal-Malik Levine.

Panelists Joiri Minaya and Ian Deleon during Metanoia: Practices of Exhaustion. Image courtesy David Willems Photography.

If Caribbean art is partly described by the space it occupies – and Caribbean people described partly by the space they were historically forced to occupy – then a shared stake or system must be colonialism. “Coming from the Caribbean and its diaspora has a special implication in this act of production, as we were one of the first ‘modern,’ globalized spaces on earth,” as Bynoe put it, gesturing toward the riches of language at the pits of slave ships, and the slave quarters as a New World proto-cosmopolitan site. Surely we’ve lived the insistence that colonization is more than a system of ideas, an “ism.” Just see one pseudo soft power example, Caricom’s newly formulated 10-point plan for reparations from European nations. The transatlantic slave trade, then, was but one of the hauntings underpinning the panel at large.

I had, so I thought, just finished breathing out that ghost when I found in Keeling’s discussion the arousing weirdness that I was craving after spending time walking through an art fair. His work offers up pop culture as a respite, not mere ideology, and so thought and enjoyment can be sexy bedfellows. And Cox got laughs as he referenced his new position as Creative Arts Director of the Nassau resort Baha Mar. Art in hotels is like music in elevators, he joked; you don’t know if it’s really there as it is professed to be there. (Elevator music, of course, has its own name – it’s not music but muzak.) Obviously the imperatives that industry brings with it undergirds a panel at an art fair in the art business, even if the Metanoia panel sought to focus on developing and articulating visual languages of social engagement – that is, sought to put forth vision of Caribbean art—in theory and, predominantly, in practice.

Panelist John Cox during Metanoia: Practices of Exhaustion. Photograph by Jamaal-Malik Levine.

Panelist John Cox during Metanoia: Practices of Exhaustion. Image courtesy David Willems Photography.

Panelist Jayson Keeling during Metanoia: Practices of Exhaustion. Photograph by Jamaal-Malik Levine.

Panelist Jayson Keeling during Metanoia: Practices of Exhaustion. Image courtesy David Willems Photography.

Daniels drew on Minaya’s Binólogos (2013) experimental film to set the tone for illuminating different forms of intimate knowledge: the social construction of gender. The bourgeois private sphere as we know it, as opposed to the public, is not a safe haven, especially for women. The intimate can be intensely violent. And to reinforce the domestic is where its meaning lies, and its brutality. The point is that we know the toxicity of the so-called private bleeds over into the public, not that both spheres were hermetic to begin with.

During the Q&A, one of the last questions was posed as perhaps more of an invitation to practice and collaboration than an interrogation. Directed toward Deleón and McGilchrist, the audience member at once appreciated how the artist’s body and self is used as a performative technique (and in Blake’s words on Deleón, as “a decolonized space”) but also considered how that aesthetic practice, because its nucleus is in that self, works with and/or against reinforcing the very structures they attempt to disclose, for example, the machineries of whiteness. At what point do we exhaust difference? The heart of the question, I think, opens up a constellation explored in another Bourdieu text, as he asserted, “social identity is defined and asserted through difference.” Or, what others make up the night sky? Or, in other words, who are your collaborators?

Moderator Blake Daniels and panelists Olivia McGilchrist and Jayson Keeling during Metanoia: Practices of Exhaustion. Photograph by Jamaal-Malik Levine.

Moderator Blake Daniels and panelists Olivia McGilchrist and Jayson Keeling during Metanoia: Practices of Exhaustion. Photograph by Jamaal-Malik Levine.

Live performance by Ian Deleon at Grace Exhibition Space for Metanoia: Practices of Exhaustion. Photograph by Jamaal-Malik Levine.

Live performance by Ian Deleon at Grace Exhibition Space for Metanoia: Practices of Exhaustion. Photograph by Jamaal-Malik Levine.

Of all the panelists, it is in Deleón’s work where the idea of exhaustion most fragrantly appears in blood and duration. Metanoia culminated in ARC’s one-night exhibition of new media and performance art at Grace Exhibition Space on a Saturday night in Brooklyn, where Deleón was one of three to present live performances along with Nyugen Smith and Jodie Lyn-Kee-Chow. All three performances echoed one another’s in that the body was a vestibule to physical and emotional tolls. I saw pain where others saw photo ops.

Stillness was not the move; everywhere bodies, things, ideas were moving, and moved. At the root of Metanoia is a Bourdieusian social framework, a reaching for a holistic social and collaborative experience, and what’s more, a desire for rupture and an archaeology of “the cloak of the self-evident.” If practice is a doing, art is fundamentally social and metanoia, in whatever rendering, is essentially a cognitive act. We are not alone, even amidst our retreats.

Live performance by Nyugen Smith at Grace Exhibition Space for Metanoia: Practices of Exhaustion. Photograph by Jamaal-Malik Levine.

Live performance by Nyugen Smith at Grace Exhibition Space for Metanoia: Practices of Exhaustion. Photograph by Jamaal-Malik Levine.

Live performance by Jodie Lyn-Kee-Chow at Grace Exhibition Space for Metanoia: Practices of Exhaustion. Photograph by Jamaal-Malik Levine.

Live performance by Jodie Lyn-Kee-Chow at Grace Exhibition Space for Metanoia: Practices of Exhaustion. Photograph by Jamaal-Malik Levine.

Tiana Reid
Tiana Reid

Tiana Reid is ARC's Junior Arts Writer. Her work has appeared in or on Bitch, The Feminist Wire, Hyperallergic, Maisonneuve Magazine, The New Inquiry, The State, The Toast, VICE, and more. She is also a PhD student in English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University.