When Vishnu Vardhani invited me to carry out the interviews for Pixelache's 2019 Breaking The Fifth Wall, I was very intrigued by what the concept of the 5th wall is and how we could challenge it through a flat screen. I wanted to try to get to know the participating artists through conversation. Letting thoughts flow and investigate what rises. These conversations lasted one to three months through open discourse on an open google document.
Read the interviews here:
When will patriarchy end? When will there be a day when we don’t need to use a passport to travel?
On smells and the senses
Sawing, dimensioning, shaping
Incomplete manual for our living
Circle in a park
Vishnu and I took some time to reflect on my process of conversing with the artists and through that, we learned a lot about each other and where we are in the moment. Below are snippets of our dialogue:
VV: Arlene, thank you for bringing alive the conversations with the artists. It was a pleasure to read the interviews. Talking about end, For me personally, end is when we take our final breath. Until then the great collective consciousness connects us in numerous ways… Like Knots. Knots :D Amazing.I love Knots myself. I feel so empowered since I started to tie. Breaking norms I have internalised. Having courage to express, and to formulate the boundaries, as well as asking for support and to attend to my needs. It was a huge preparation process.Now I discern conflict without losing my agency. The workings of rope metaphorically and factually, inspire me to work with what need to be changed or developed in order to accommodate norm criticism. You understand ?
AT: Yes! I completely understand. It’s also a way to hold on and have grounding, but at the same time let one arm go, let one arm free and let the head dangle.
Do you think it makes a huge difference whether you initially meet somebody online or face to face?
VV: Does it make a difference ? For me, YES. I have a tendency to walk straight into the narrative that is carefully spun. Some people have exceptional online personas. I still don’t have tools to decipher these personas. In person I remark If the two individuals have the capacity and orientation to hear and see each other. Stay open to understand one another.
I am split on the question of difference.
I am inspired by an artist, who does comic books and who does a lot of political work. I followed him for years on Instagram, he always responded to my messages on insta, when I met him in person, my fantasy burst, I wish I didn’t meet him. As his ‘art’ wasn’t reflecting his ‘art-work’. That said, I am working at this year’s festival with the millennials. I am impressed, with simple online interactions. Yesterday, this person, was looking for our office, when I proposed to go find him, he counter-proposed to ‘just the share location- easy for all’. As I had walked a few times to fetch people that morning, I took note of this person’s exceptional screen interaction. That exceptionality also reflected in the hands on tasks. Also I thank the world wide web to have caught me this incredible being ‘Alaa Satir’. I follow her ‘art-work’. Recently I had the opportunity to talk to Alaa on Skype. This was a turning point for me in my life.
I have taken a lot of space with this response. Do you still follow me ? I can elaborate on the talk with Alaa, before, I want to ask you a question. You mentioned earlier about ‘bubble’ , do you feel the bubble can exists across realms ? Mediums ? Do you think it’s possible to build communities where people meet maybe only annually ?
AT: In my mind, bubbles are boundaries and borders that we create as individuals and as a society. So, yes, they exist in any possible dimension, but it’s dependant on perspective and context. I look at borders also as comfort and uncomfortable zones. Getting to know ourselves and stretching that boundary or breaking it, or just knowing we really cannot cross it. Awareness of our relationship to it.
Us talking about boundary, life and death triggered writings from one of my most inspirational figures, the Estonian Russian leader of semiotics and literature studies, Juri Lotman (1922–1993). Wilma Clark, the translator of Lotman’s book Culture and Explosion comments on his chapter ‘The end! How sonorous is this word!‘ by saying, “the notion of the ‘end’ and the principles of continuity and discontinuity are reflected in the stark boundary between life and death. Death is marked out as both the beginning and the end. Lotman speaks of the ‘special semantic role of death in the life of man’. It is the boundary which frames all meaningful activity and which, simultaneously, marks the contradiction between life in the general sense and the ‘finite life of human existence’. And yet, what is finite, is continued in the memory of the ‘son’ so that even the boundary of ‘death’, as it were, is permeable and filtered” (Lotman 1992, xiv).
One thing I noticed when I was having these conversations with the artists and something I was trying to develop these past few months was feeling their borders, being sensitive to their boundaries and timing through the computer. With all of them except the conversations with Laura, Vidha, and Samir, I did exclusively online through a Google Doc, like the one we are having now. With some people it clicked immediately and we were off talking about very deep and personal topics whilst with others, I could sense that they needed more time understanding my proposed process of opening dialogue, the point of meandering, and the importance of setting a pace in which we can safely and naturally delve into different topics. I could not have done this without everybody’s full participation. Most of the conversations lasted a good two months. Sometimes it stretched longer than that from the first initial contact as “life happens”.
With every artist, we would write to each other every few days or with some every day. It largely depended on their personality and what was happening in their life at that moment, but I tried to be sensitive to their response and how they responded. I really got to know every artist in an intimate way, which was very unexpected. I could see which times of day they were most active and how the changing of the seasons had or didn’t have an affect on them. From this, I also got to get to know myself in a different way too. Very grateful for that!
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Arlene Tucker is an artist and educator currently based in Helsinki, Finland.