In The Between: At the Intersections of Writing, Art-making and Politics
Instructors: Jen Hofer & John Pluecker
Class meets in the Saleri Studio at Blaffer Art Museum in Antena @ Blaffer
What is digestion? It is the ability to assimilate proteins. What is a protein? I don’t know. Is everything inside the body a kind of liquid, a way of taking information from site to site?
. . .
These are the wrong questions but they pass the time. They make a body real. This is a text to do that. Vivify.
Bhanu Kapil, from Humanimal: A Project for Future Children
(Kelsey Street Press, 2009)
When I think about the kinds of people whose work matters to me, and the risks so many of them have taken in adverse situations, it makes me very aware, as a writer, of who it is I actually want to address. Given the state the world is in, blissful ignorance is beneath contempt. Polite discourse of any kind merely feeds the war machinery. By making words and languages reorient themselves across time and face each other under new conditions, my intention is to re-awaken the ancient force of poetry—as fact and testimony.
Ammiel Alcalay, from from the warring factions
(Beyond Baroque Books, 2002; UpSet Press, 2012)
[T]odos somos un solo cuerpo para destrozar el pensamiento reaccionario, la ideología burguesa, el individualismo, la seriedad y la angustia, la manera blanca, europea, capitalista de existir. [All together to destroy reactionary ideas, bourgeosie ideology, individualism, solemnity, all white european, capitalist ways of existence.]
Cecilia Vicuña, from SABORAMI
(untranslation by Felipe Ehrenberg, Beau Geste Press, 1973; ChainLinks, 2011)
And if it becomes necessary for intellectuals to turn into snipers, then let them snipe at their old concepts, their old questions, and their old ethics. We are not now to describe, as much as we are to be described. We’re being born totally, or else dying totally.
Yet our great friend from Pakistan, Fayiz Ahmad Fayiz, is busy with another question: “Where are the artists?”
“Which artists, Fayiz?” I ask.
“The artists of Beirut.”
“What do you want from them?”
“To draw this war on the walls of the city.”
“What’s come over you?” I exclaim. “Don’t you see the walls tumbling?”
Mahmoud Darwish, from Memory for Forgetfulness: August, Beirut, 1982
(translation by Ibrahim Muhawi, UC Press, 1995)
In The Between examines writing and art practices that engage public space and social relations with the aim of using aesthetic work to imagine and enact the potential for a more just and wondrous world. We will investigate contemporary innovative poetry from small press publishers, site-specific and community-based art and writing projects, responsive interdisciplinary practices, DIY bookmaking, and translation as a generative strategy, among many other modes.
Poetry is vision, re-presenting our world and experience through language, and poetry is visionary, re-imagining a world-yet-to-be and actualizing that world in the space between the page and the writer, between the page and the reader. Socially engaged poetry and art-making re-imagine, yet again, the space between the page, the reader/viewer, and the public space in which the work reverberates. Innovative, interrogative and non-normative uses of language have the potential to reconfigure the structure of our relationship to language, the tool of our most everyday common currency. In The Between addresses some of the central philosophical and formal questions poetry and art-making pose, especially in relation to contemporary politicized art practice.
- What kinds of seeing, vision, and perspective are made possible by the attention poetry invites and incites?
- How do artists who present a radically re-imagined world view as a foundational aspect of their writing open spaces for new ways of seeing? And what might we “see” there?
- What worlds do poets and artists create in our work, and what is the relationship of these worlds to what we think of as the “real world”?
- How do the particular spaces poetry and art-making open, in consciousness and in culture, provide a ground for considering contemporary social and political struggles from alternative perspectives?
Working as writers and artists here and now—regardless of the focus or processes of our work, regardless of genre, regardless of the specifics of our aesthetic, poetic or political stances—we are working in a context of near and distant atrocity: brutalities abound, in the daily spaces through which we move and in faraway sites perhaps more vivid in imagination and newsprint and the blogosphere than in our visceral experience. Art may not function to galvanize direct legislative change—our writing may never house the homeless, halt drone attacks or mass surveillance of civilians, or insure that the great wealth of first world countries is spent first and foremost to provide gracefully for the basic needs of all people—but art can certainly function to construct alternative sensory and intellectual worlds and models for modes of being. If we can think our context differently, we can create a different context. Or at least we have the hope of doing so. And if we cannot think our context differently, creating a different context is unlikely in the extreme.
Most questions bear asking again and again: the response is the question, again and again. In this class, we can expect to define, redefine and undefine terms like “poetry,” “art,” “political practice,” “public,” and “the between” multiple times throughout the semester. We will very likely end (that is to say, continue, or begin again) in a very different place from where we initially began. It is probable that our questions will remain the same, and also will change radically: these two modes—sameness and change—are not necessarily opposite.
We have no specific expectations for the work you will generate in this class, other than to expect that you will generate work and be willing to write and make art in ways you might not have considered before. We are not expecting you to make any particular kind of work with any particular content. We are, however, expecting you to make work that in some way—and the possible ways are infinite—addresses your engagement with the things and occurrences of the world around you, your context, which might equally encompass large-scale political concerns or the personal, more atomized concerns of your daily lives, or anything in-between. We make no assumptions about your context, or about your writing or art-making. In other words, though the central question guiding our choice of readings for this course is “Which are the most compelling forms of writing-related art practice that address public political concerns?” we do not expect you to find any definitive answer to that question in the work you make. Our reading in this class focuses on different writers’ approaches to a sense of urgency or excitement around social and political phenomena in their immediate contexts. What interests us most in your work is your urgency and excitement in relation to your context, however you choose to express that and whatever you consider that context to be.
Local: Delaney Smith
Out-of-Town: Roberto Tijerina, CA Conrad, Ingrid Hernández, Sandra de la Loza (Pocho Research Society), Latasha N. Nevada Diggs
January 14 –
January 21 –
Jules Boykoff and Kaia Sand, Landscapes of Dissent
January 28 –
Kaia Sand, Remember to Wave
February 4 –
Antena, How to Build Language Justice
Additional language justice & popular education texts (PDFs).
Skype visit with Roberto Tijerina
February 11 –
Sueyeun Juliette Lee, Mental Commitment Robots
Sueyeun Juliette Lee, A Primary Mother
Brandon Shimoda, Lake M.
February 18 –
Cecilia Vicuña, Spit Temple
Initial conversation about project proposals
February 25 –
Ulises Carrión, Heriberto Yépez, A Book of the Book, Secret Location…
In-person visit with Delaney Smith
** Project Proposals Due **
March 4 –
Future Plan and Program, Book Club Book
** First Field Report Due **
March 11 –
No Class; Spring Break
March 18 –
CA Conrad, A Beautiful Marsupial Afternoon (if you’ve read this book, read a different CA Conrad book, e.g. The Book of Frank or (Soma)tic Midge or The City Real and Imagined)
In-person visit with CA Conrad
March 25 –
M. NourbeSe Philip, Zong!
Latasha N. Nevada Diggs, TwERK
Skype visit with Latasha N. Nevada Diggs
** Docent Work Log Due **
April 8 –
Sandra de la Loza, Pocho Research Society Guide to Erased and Invisible
Histories and Ingrid Hernández, Irregular
In-person visit with Sandra de la Loza and Ingrid Hernández
April 15 –
Allison Cobb – Green-Wood
** Second Field Report Due **
April 22 –
Padcha Tuntha-Obas, tresspasses
April 29 –
Temporary Services – Various pamphlets
** Final Project Due **
May 6 –
Potluck and Public Presentation of Student Work
Antena @ Blaffer Events
Schedule of Readings, Workshops, Gatherings, Performances
Note: This is a partial list. More events will be announced during the semester. All events take place in Antena @ Blaffer unless otherwise noted.
Thursday, January 16, 6:00 – 9:00pm
Opening reception featuring live performances and readings
Saturday, January 18, 12:00pm – 2:00pm
Antena opening event: Potluck + collective reading of books available in the Antena exhibition. Bring a dish to share!
Saturday, January 18, 2:00 – 5:00pm
Antena opening event: Informal writing workshop (exercises and prompts provided)
February 13 – 16; *** Mandatory for students in the class ***
Encuentro (gathering) of participating artists in the Antena exhibition featuring public readings, performances, panel discussions, open conversations, workshops, and community interventions. Schedule and registration details TBD.
March 1, 10:00am – 5:00pm
Language Justice workshop
March 22, 10:00am – 5:00pm
Interpreting for Social Justice workshop (Note: This workshop is for people who speak English and one other language with some fluency.)
April 9 – 13
Counter Current 2014, performance festival sponsored by the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Center Festival. Schedule TBD.
May 1 (7pm) & May 3 (2pm)
Performances by Autumn Knight
Book List (in the order we’ll read them; books are available for purchase or borrowing in the Antena space)
- Jules Boykoff and Kaia Sand, Landscapes of Dissent (Palm Press, 2008)
- Kaia Sand, Remember to Wave (Tinfish Press, 2010)
- Language Justice/Popular Education Texts (PDFs will be available in class)
- Sueyeun Juliette Lee, Mental Commitment Robots (PDF will be available in class)
- Sueyeun Juliette Lee, A Primary Mother (Least Weasel, 2013)
- Brandon Shimoda, Lake M. (Corollary Press, 2010)
- Cecilia Vicuña, Spit Temple (ed. and trans. Rosa Alcalá, Ugly Duckling Presse, 2013)
- Ulises Carrión & excerpts from A Book of the Book and Secret Location (PDFs)
- Future Plan and Program, Book Club Book (Future Plan and Program, 2010)
- CA Conrad, A Beautiful Marsupial Afternoon (Wave Books, 2012)
- NourbeSe Philip, Zong! (Wesleyan University Press, 2011)
- Latasha N. Nevada Diggs, TWeRK (Belladonna, 2013)
- Ingrid Hernández, Irregular (PDF of her book is on her website)
- Allison Cobb, Green-Wood (Factory School, 2010)
- Padcha Tuntha-Obas, tresspasses (O Books, 2006)
- Temporary Services, Various pamphlets (PDFs available on their website)
- Sandra de la Loza, The Pocho Research Society Field Guide to Erased and Invisible Histories (UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center Press, 2011)
* Attendance (or timely and reasonable notification of the instructor if you will miss class; communication is key!).
* Actively and thoughtfully engaged participation in all group discussions, about the texts we read, about the artwork we experience, and about each other’s work; coming to class prepared with readings done and annotated; engaging with visitors.
* Reading of assigned texts with a writerly or artistic eye—i.e., attending to your vision of how these texts address some of the concerns you hold most dear as a writer and/or artist.
* Facilitation of one class, in collaboration with 1 or 2 other students (see below).
* 2 Field Reports (see below).
* Log of Antena docent work.
* Final project (see below; to be discussed in class) and public presentation (performance, reading, or talk).
No more than two absences are allowed during the semester. Coming to class more than 10 minutes late counts as 1/2 of an absence. Missing more than 2 classes results in the loss of a full letter grade. Communicating with instructors prior to missing class is enthusiastically recommended.
Facilitation of a Class Discussion
Each week two or three students will facilitate our engagement with the reading assignment. Your principal responsibility is to ignite a focused, relevant, and thought-provoking conversation in which the class as a whole participates. You’re not expected to lecture or to reproduce information any of us can find by googling the authors we’ve read; you’re expected to provide a framework to guide a collective conversation based in and around the text in question. Toward that end:
* Locate some audio/visual materials and/or supplemental content relation to the author(s) we’re reading. PennSound is a tremendous resource, as is YouTube. Think creatively about ways to expand the class’s knowledge about this writer(s). Additionally, open class by reading aloud from the book; choose a passage or passages that you feel will be crucial to our discussion.
* Focus the conversation around at least three generative questions designed to spark conversation (and also, perhaps, controversy); devise your questions with an eye toward awakening the passions of your classmates and creating the context for rigorous, vigorous debate. Come to class with substantive questions you believe will lead the class into good discussion. Bring questions that are more complex, and more textually-based, than “did you like this book?” (though that question is always worth asking, of course).
* Devise one brief (10-15 minutes max) creative exercise based in the reading, or using the reading as a point of departure.
* Refer back to the text whenever possible as a way to ground discussion.
** If you have questions about the facilitation process, please be in touch with us! **
You will be required to attend the Encuentro Antena is organizing and at least one other event Antena is facilitating over the course of the semester. After the event, you will write an essay of a minimum of 2-3 pages, in which you will think critically about the event you attended and analyze the work using the readings and class discussions as a critical frame. These can be in Spanish or in English.
Docent Work & Log
You will be required to work as a docent for at least 6 hours in the Antena space over the course of the semester; you will write a log of your time in the space (2-3 pages maximum, unless you are wildly inspired to write more). This can be in Spanish or in English. Please consider writing log entries that we can post on our website!
Final Project & Project Proposal
Your final project should be “in the between.” You should devise a project that is based in creative practice, publicly engaged, and interdisciplinary in nature. Your creative practice may be in any genre or medium, but you must include writing, text and/or engagement with language as an integral element of your project. Your project should address civic, ethical or social concerns in some way; we will encounter many examples of publicly engaged work over the course of the semester. You may use a variety of resources for this project, including but not limited to: collaboration with other artists (either in or outside of the class), the books and art in the Antena installation, the AntenaMóvil, etc.
Examples of viable final projects (the possibilities are limitless!):
- A pamphlet or chapbook with your writing or writing by a number of authors, edited, designed and produced by you
- A video-poem
- Public engagement using AntenaMóvil, documented for presentation at the end of the semester
- An art-work that intervenes in public space, documented for presentation
- A performance incorporating oral histories of people in your neighborhood, to be performed at our end-of-semester celebration
You will be required to present your initial project ideas to the class, and to write a project proposal and respond to feedback from the instructors.
Your final project should be accompanied by a 3-5 page process paper or poetics statement. We’ll discuss these more in class.
You will be required to present or perform your project at our final celebration, which is open to the public: you can perform or do a reading or exhibit objects, or you can present documentation of a performance you did earlier in the semester.
Attendance and participation 20%
Field Reports (Two) 20%
Docent Hours in Installation & Log 10%
Facilitation of Class Discussion 10%
Final Project Proposal 10%
Final Project 30%
See the rest of our back-to-school feature Syllabus-ness here.
Jen Hofer is a Los Angeles-based poet, translator, social justice interpreter, teacher, knitter, book-maker, public letter-writer, urban cyclist, and co-founder of the language justice and language experimentation collaborative Antena. She publishes with numerous small presses, including Action Books, Atelos, belladonna, Counterpath Press, Kenning Editions, Insert Press, Les Figues Press, Litmus Press, LRL Textile Editions, New Lights press, Palm Press, Subpress, Ugly Duckling Presse, and in various DIY/DIT incarnations.
John Pluecker is a writer, interpreter, translator and co-founder of the language justice and literary experimentation collaborative Antena. He has published a bunch of zines and three chapbooks, Routes into Texas (DIY, 2010), Undone (Dusie Kollektiv, 2011) and Killing Current (Mouthfeel Press, 2012).