If We Carry On Speaking the Same Language to Each Other, We Are Going to End Up Repeating the Same History

Extract from Syklus 2013, Michala Paludan, image courtesy of Abejderbevægelsens Arkiv og Bibliotek.

Extract from “Syklus,” 2013, Michala Paludan, image courtesy of Abejderbevægelsens Arkiv og Bibliotek.

This Monday, 10 November 2014, I am going to lock myself in a room with eight other people overnight in the spirit of feminist consciousness-raising sessions of the 1970s. Organized by Mikaela Assolent and Flora Katz, the experiment is part of a larger project entitled If We Carry On Speaking the Same Language to Each Other, We Are Going to End Up Repeating the Same History. The title is incredible; the sentiment sharp. What is the shape of change? And what do we agitate for? And what form do our tools take? In an exciting way, I have no idea what to expect, but here’s how Assolent and Katz have framed it:


At the end of her book This Sex Which Is Not One (1976), Luce Irigaray addresses another woman and imagines what their experience could be outside of a social construction created by men, for men. She observes, “If we carry on speaking the same language to each other, we are going to end up repeating the same history.” For Irigaray, women’s liberation is not only about deconstructing imposed roles and identities, but also re-appropriating and/or inventing a language of our very own, that allows us to invent and live entirely new stories. To do so, we must start from scratch and independently rebuild what was previously confiscated.

In the spirit of  collective encounters, as conceived by Lois Weaver (The Long Table) and Malin Arnell (The Oncoming Corner) and inspired by texts which reflect on art as a space for a community to come (John Roberts, Art, ‘Enclave Theory’ and the Communist Imaginary, Third Text, July 2009) we will further investigate the questions evoked above through a series of collaborative evenings taking place at PARMER in November 2014. We would like to experiment using the sharing of experiences and knowledge to undo the inherent power dynamics of the groups assembled. Thus, we aim to consider these sessions as a space for the collective production and exchange of singularities.

Participants in the November sessions include: Maia Asshaq, Arlen Austin, Corrie Baldauf  & Megan Heeres, Lindsay Benedict, Amber Berson, Maibritt Borgen, Sara Constantino & Rochelle Goldberg, Catherine Czacki, Leah DeVun, Alaina Claire Feldman, Ariel Goldberg, Saisha Grayson, Joseph Imhauser, Liz Linden, Kylie Lockwood, Jane Long, Jordan Lord, Jacqueline Mabey, Trista Mallory, Anna Ostoya, Michala Paludan, Rit Premnath, Chloé Rossetti, Julia Trotta, cheyanne turions and Wendy Vogel.

Each person is invited to bring an element, prepared beforehand, that is as close as possible to their own area of expertise. The element, such as a text, anecdote, performance, video, object, et cetera, will be up for discussion according to the conversation format and staging chosen by its presenter. Listening, commenting, and contributing will be open, with participants being free to speak spontaneously, whenever possible. Each individual will thus be able to negotiate their own contribution to the session.

With the aim of questioning even the parameters of  these sessions themselves, the procedure used to compose the participant groups will also be discussed. As a space open by invitation, PARMER seeks other strategies of  inclusiveness to redefine the boundaries of  what is public. What defines the level of accessibility of  an artistic space? How this ephemeral community that we will constitute during the session can have strong common grounds and the right level of openness?

The sessions will conclude with a public reception on November 23rd that will include material collected and developed over the course of the sessions.

For more information please visit the website.

A series of  sessions following the same protocol took place in Paris, France, at the artspace Chez Treize, in Fall 2013. 
See documentation here (in French).

This project is supported in part by the Danish Arts Foundation and the Visual Arts Department at the University of California San Diego.


My contribution will depart from my on-going project No Reading After the Internet and its concern with collective forms of knowledge production. My interest specifically is in non-institutionalized learning, particularly methods that de-emphasize scholarship and prioritize improvisation, intimacy and a multiplicity of meanings. Given the notion of expertise at the heart of If We Carry On…, I wonder if these methods are in opposition to one another, or if there is the potential for a productive, mutual implication between a stance of knowing and a stance of engaged not-knowing. There’s something also about the way that ideas move, about translation and adaptation, that I hope to bring to the conversation by way No Reading’s history: an itinerant project now collectively supported and transformed, rhizomatic, producing strange but related fruit in many places around the world. How does knowledge begin and end? Inspired by the different forms that the No Reading project has produced—like its life in Vancouver with Amy Lynn Kazymerchyk and Alex Muir out of VIVO Media Arts or its translation into No Looking after the Internet with Gabrielle Moser—I will use the opportunity of If We Carry On… to think through methodology as substance. Quite aside from any of our singular fields of expertise, I imagine the result of our evening of *not* carrying on will be a thing that none of us can yet anticipate and hopefully that the orientation of No Reading will be one way of registering whatever collective thing will transpire.


Holding A Space For The Work Yet To Do

Maria Hupfield's "Present—Absence," 2013.

Maria Hupfield’s “Present—Absence,” 2013.

The silhouette of a woman crouching down, one hand on her hip, the other holding a crown, chin raised, a posture of supplication and insistence. Etched permanently on the glass doors of SBC Gallery, its material conditions reflect the aura of the piece: rooted. Commissioned as part of the exhibition Stage Set Stage, curated by Barbara Clausen (30 November 2013-22 February 2014), this work of Maria Hupfield’s, entitled Present—Absence (2013), sits within A Problem So Big It Needs Other People as an instance of institutional negotiation, a marker of what it means to encounter history head on. Although the work was not made for A Problem…, I have chosen to include it as part of the exhibition because, well, literally, it’s a part of it. Meeting the work with integrity, in the spirit of a exhibition that positions itself as a consideration of sovereignty through negotiation, it is only appropriate to acknowledge Hupfield’s figure and spirit in a way that writes upon my own project at SBC, give and take.

The title of Hupfield’s etching, Present—Absence, is descriptive, but I choose to interpret it further as an injunction to register both my knowing (that which is present) and not-knowing (that which is absent) in encountering her work. In this way, it is a reminder to bring this register to all of the works in the exhibition, and to my ways of looking more generally. Hupfield has said of the title that it “[draws] parallels with the temporal paradox of living indians expected to play dead and how, by extension, nations based on unresolved histories of domination and force affect us all fundamentally in the present.” Hupfield’s etching carries a living electricity and it is marked in one small way through a position on a map that visitors can carry with them through the gallery space. She is here amongst us and she is not. There’s not really a way to reconcile it further.

It’s strange company, but it reminds me of Donald Rumsfeld’s infamous declaration that “… there are known knowns; there are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns; that is to say, there are things that we now know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns – there are things we do not know we don’t know.”

Missing from this taxonomy (as others have pointed out), is the unknown knowns. Prejudice is an expression of this sort, and so are cultural norms and unconscious dispositions, those things of which we are unaware and yet structure our reality, the “disavowed beliefs, suppositions and obscene practices we pretend not to know about, even though they form the background of our public values.” [1] Hupfield’s etching traces a shape around these unknown knowns. It’s a little bit uncomfortable and if we care to invest in the encounter, it means we’ve work to do: how do we resolve the paradox? Not just reconciling Hupfield’s vitality with stultifying myths related to Indigenous peoples or female artists, but our living on this land with Canada’s and the US’s on-going colonial policies, among countless others situations where expressions of power are masked by invisibility in order to maintain the status-quo.

In a different tone entirely, the poet Anne Carson describes the work of charting one’s own not-knowing: “A thinking mind is not swallowed up by what it comes to know. It reaches out to grasp something related to itself and to its present knowledge (and so knowable in some degree) but also separate from itself and from its present knowledge (not identical with these). In any act of thinking, the mind must reach across this space between known and unknown, linking one to the other but also keeping visible to difference. It is an erotic space.” [2] Importantly, not-knowing is not undone through the act of reaching. Distance and difference remain.

I would like to propose a tactic for investment: holding a space. Holding a space for the not-knowing. Holding a space a not filling it. Being uncomfortable. The complexities and contradictions of our collective being-in-the-world are not going to resolve themselves neatly. The least I can do is form the part of identity that’s up for negotiation though meeting each of you as another, knowing there are other ways to see and be, whether or not I can meaningfully access them. Institutionally, what is the reciprocal obligation of SBC in response to Hupfield’s form forever on the gallery doors? A mark on a map is one way, her name on the gallery wall another, but for myself, I work to avoid further re-inscription of an absent presence through the practice of territorial acknowledgement. Hupfield has noted that the etching’s name references a term defined by Kate Shanley: “In that Native peoples are a permanent ‘present absence’ in the U.S. colonial imagination, an ‘absence’ that reinforces at every turn the conviction that Native peoples are indeed vanishing and that the conquest of Native lands is justified.” It’s simple, but focusing attention on the on-going history of the land the gallery occupies implicates the present moment. It’s probably the least we can do, as in actually the least the we can do. And in doing so, Hupfield’s absent presence in the gallery space is a charge taken up, not resolved but acknowledged. Complexity and contradiction are embraced through the resonance of different voices: there is work yet to do.

[1] Žižek, Slavoj. “What Rumsfeld Doesn’t Know That He Knows About Abu Ghraib,” In These Times, 21 May 2004. http://www.lacan.com/zizekrumsfeld.htm.

[2] Carson, Anne. Eros: The Bittersweet (USA: Dalkey Archive Press, 1995), 171.