Monday, March 03, 2014

Supposium @ MoMa

I'm trying to aim for brevity these days, so let's see if I can adapt. 

Yesterday at MoMa I attended the Supposium, an interactive "thought experiment," aimed toward moving "beyond default geometries of attention," which comprised "[Six Thought Experiments Beginning with 'Suppose']." That is the way the flyer announced the event and the way it unfolded. Before I describe it in greater detail, I want to thank Chris Stackhouse for forwarding the announcement to me, which allowed me to sign up and attend.

The Supposium announcement
The Supposium was a refreshingly simple but provocative and generative participatory event, of the kind I don't take part in enough, and that should be available to more people, more frequently. There were a sizable number of Bard College, MoMa people, and upstate New York art world people involved, but from what I could tell, there were also people who did not have as direct links to the principles, who included the author and critic Joan Retallack, and Adam Pendleton, very the talented young artist. 

The Supposium worked like this: Pendleton thanked folks and Retallack delivered her intro, which invoked among others John Cage, the first half involved 6 “thought experiments” based on the word and premise “suppose"—a video, by Sandi Hilal, architect and co-founder of DAAR-Decolonizing Architecture Art Residency, based in the West Bank, on architectural forms and discourse in the refugee camps in Palestine; author Peter Krapp talking about simulation and the history of the “thought experiment” going back to Thales; Pendleton riffing on “suppose to choose," with detours through African American Vernacular English (AAVE); poet and critical polymath Fred Moten doing his dazzling thing, letting a long early 1950s piece by Miles play without saying anything, which made some people uncomfortable, before he provide a sideswerve of exegetical lyricism; and finally poet, critic and scholar Anne Carson presenting 73 conditional sentences (If x….,) based on a drawing of a seated figure. As they spoke/performed we were supposed to take notes in reporters' notebooks provided to us, and I did, and then after each finished we had 2 minutes to write down further thoughts, questions, etc.

We broke for 15 minutes of food and drinks. During this period I ran into a number of friends I hadn't seen in a while, as well as others I knew would be there. Then we resumed the project, and the entire room was reconfigured into a giant oval. From this we then broke down into smaller groups, mini-ovals, of varying sizes, to undertake instructions that were on the back page of a handout we all received. In my oval were poet Erica Kaufman, art historian Micah Pollack, two famous artists Lorraine O’Grady, whom I've written about enthusiastically before on this site, and Beverly Sims, Beverly’s husband Henry, and one of Pendelton’s friends, a former Bostonian named Karsten C. As a group I felt we interacted well and fluidly. One common thread for several of us involved having lived in Boston and its environs. I was one of the few who could say much positive about my time there, though it was also often quite difficult in multiple ways.

The instructions from Joan were based in part on Cagean procedure. We had to take six quotes from our notes, write them on notecards, read them to each other. Then we had to shuffle the cards so that we only had one of our cards. We ended up creating an “exquisite corpse” style piece (a cento, really). Each group performed them. Some sang; some presented multichannel-style readings; others spoke in unison; others chanted their words in sequence; one group recreated a “thought experiment” using words from the “thought experiment” presentations. I gather that the goal was for there to be more unscripted exchanges, for people to respond individually too, but perhaps there were too many of us and perhaps many people felt a bit shy. It was great nevertheless to hear all the ways people interpreted, processed and performed what they took from the presentations and the concept of “suppose.”

By then it was 6:30 pm, so everyone said goodbye but we passed in the cards and have until April 1 to return something more for a forthcoming book. I have some ideas that I plan to tinker with. In terms of the event overall I found it a wonderful way to spend a Sunday, a fascinating new mix of people to create something with, and really special for the time I had to chat with the members of my group, not least among them the amazing Lorraine O’Grady. I hope more such events are happening soon!

The room after the break
Joan Retallack, showing us how
to configure the groups
The oval, to the right of me 
The oval to the left of me
Lorraine and Karsten 
Erica and Lorraine
One of the groups (Anne Carson
and Fred Moten at left)

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