On October 25 and 26, the Arts Research Center at UC Berkeley and the California College of the Arts partnered once again to host a live-streaming of the Creative Time Summit, an annual conference in New York that brings together cultural producers–including artists, critics, writers, and curators–to discuss how their work engages pressing issues affecting our world. To jump-start the conversation in advance of the event, attendees were asked to submit a paragraph that touches upon the topics relevant to the summit’s theme: Art, Place & Dislocation in the 21st Century City. This posting is by Kate Mattingly, graduate student in Theater, Dance and Performance Studies at UC Berkeley.
Listening to speakers during the Creative Time Summit today, a keyword emerged that was not so much repeated throughout the afternoon (like “vibrant” or “grassroots,” both of which deserve more attention and analysis) but present through the presentations’ modes and priorities: demonstrate.
I’m not sure if the format of the summit, its brief but animated snippets of projects and ideas, generated this tendency to emphasize what the artists, professors, writers, critics, and educators consider essential and worthwhile. Making the benefits of a project or concept the priority of a talk is laudable, but one after the other these presentations took on a similar tone. I started to wonder where reflection on such projects can happen, or where do we discover when things don’t end up as expected or planned? If an element of indeterminacy is shared among many projects that are grouped under the “social practice” umbrella, why can’t a sense of unpredictability exist as part of these reports? What about unexpected results and relationships?
The verb “to demonstrate” suggests a display of skills that are mastered or proof of knowledge learned. As a dancer I have watched and participated in my share of lec-dems (lecture-demonstrations) during which some technique or form of dance is explained and showcased. In public spaces, “to demonstrate” takes on an explicitly political tone: to make oneself heard and seen. All these connotations relate to what I saw today at the summit, and this makes the event an important occasion to highlight ideas, outcomes, and practices that are happening today and shifting individual and collective thinking. Demonstrations are important and can rally support for various causes.
My question becomes what does demonstrating allow and what does it foreclose? Who are we demonstrating for? Do the summit’s audiences need to be convinced of the worth of these projects and research? Could other outcomes be generated by extending the lengths of some presentations so we can learn about the arcs, blind-spots, or pitfalls of some works? If similar words appear in multiple presentations can we pause and consider their different valences?
To me, a demonstration suggests more of a pedestal to display one’s ideas than an incubator to explore a concept. When we demonstrate can we, at the same time, allow for tensions, for disagreements, for failures?
I was inspired by many of today’s speakers, particularly Rick Lowe, who acknowledged the slippery slope of “impact.” Like demonstration, the word “impact” necessitates similar questions: for which groups of people? How is it measured? Is it synonymous with a project’s value? I also liked Lowe’s response to a question about how to know if a project is working: “The project hasn’t become real because we haven’t encountered tensions,” he said. Later he added that he senses how people are responding to a project “intuitively,” which, to me, defies quantifiable analysis.
If an experience evades easy display or demonstration, how can we not diminish its value or even its necessity?