The most consistent discussion this reader has prompted has been about what designates an experience as art. Admittedly, we go through life having many daily experiences, none of which fall into the category of art for whatever reason. Fisk and I have had many discussions about why facilitating an experience within an art context emphasizes meaning in a more relevant way than experience in non art contexts. Further, we've talked a lot about dance, and how this is very experiential, whether it is art or not. This discussion was sort of perfect because then I read this essay by Adrian Piper.
Notes on Funk, I-II//1985/83
I immediately liked this essay because it directly addresses dance as an experience that can transcend our understanding (or lack of understanding) of culture. Piper experiments with the notion that shared experience of dancing to Funk music bridges a gap between black and non black culture. Here is some paraphrasing of her ideas within Notes on Funk I,
"For example, whereas social dance in white culture is often viewed in terms of achievement, social grace or competence, or spectator-oriented entertainment, it is a collective and participatory means of self transcendence an social union in black culture along many dimensions, and so is often much more fully integrated into daily life. Thus it is based on a system of symbols, cultural meanings, attitudes and patterns of movement that one must directly experience in order to understand fully. This is particularly true in funk, where the concern is not how spectacular anyone looks but rather how completely everyone participates in a collectively shared, enjoyable experience. My immediate aim in staging the large-scale performance (preferably with sixty people or more) was to enable everyone present to GET DOWN AND PARTY. TOGETHER."
Right away Piper identifies the main difference between how dance is received in white culture vs. how it is experienced within black culture. She affirms that this experience is full of meaning that can only be understood through participation, making her intentions clear, that she would like everyone in her performance to get down and party together. Piper then explains how she taught various basic dance movements to the audience and discussed their cultural and historical background, meanings, and the roles they play in black culture. Piper states that by explaining and breaking down these apparently difficult or complex movements they became easily accessible to everyone.
" Because both repetition and individual self-expression are both important aspect of this kind of dance, it was only a matter of a relatively short time before these patterns became second nature."
This is great, because it appears that the participants are simultaneously learning the relevance of these movements and the movements of their own self expression. After discussing dancing, Piper discusses funk music.
"Here I concentrated on the structural features that define funk music, and on some of its major themes and subject matter, using representative examples. I would discuss the relation to disco, rap, rock, punk and new wave, and illustrate my points with different selections of each. During this segment, except for brief pauses for questions, dialogue and my (short) commentaries, everyone was refining their individual techniques, that is, they were LISTENING by DANCING."
This, of course, is fantastic. I mean, I could argue that the way you express yourself naturally through dancing is based on your individual culture. If this is the case your just learned dance movements, combined with your own self expressive movements literally combine two cultures into one experience where both are enjoyed, embraced, and shared. No gaps. Piper goes on the discuss some results of this work.
"The 'Lessons' format during this process became ever more clearly a kind of didactic foil for collaboration: Dialogue quickly replaced psuedo-academic lecture/demonstration, and social union replaced the audience-performer separation. What I purported to 'teach' my audience was revealed to be a kind of fundamental sensory 'knowledge' that everyone has and can use."
So, all in all her lessons created conversations that replaced academic lecturing (rad) and the social experience of dancing replaced audience-performer separation. Proving that knowledge is something that can be gained through sensory experience, like dancing. This is just the beginning of most of the ideas she's actually getting at here and the essay continues for a few more pages, but this section where she talks about the concepts of her piece and their relevancy I enjoyed most.
There is an entire chapter that I have decided not to write about, it's called: Critical and Curatorial Positions. Not that I didn't find value in it, really, it's just that most the essays were too long/theory heavy to paraphrase in a concise and simple way. Of course I read them, and of course I would recommend them to you. In finishing this reader it seems that the common theme behind participating is that there is something to be gained through your direct experience. To me, the biggest concern becomes why? Why is it necessary to have this experience in an art context? What about this experience is directly related to my understanding of art? Lastly, and most importantly, how is this experience different than those experiences I am getting in my daily life? I love Adrian Piper, I really think that her Funk Lessons embody the best answers to all of those questions. After reading this, I think my favorite participatory works are ones that can concretely address these concerns.
SO NOW: What to read?? I'm taking a little break from being an MIT Press slave, and have started reading A Decade of Negative Thinking by Mira Schor. (Feminism, uh-oh and ah ha!) THEN Fisk and I are going to have some fun and read Design & Art together. Conversations between Natalie & Fisk. BTW, Fisk is in Helsinki (Design capital of the world) having all kinds of fun (all the fun) and I can't wait for him to return with his loot (photos/experiences)...