Reflection on Session #2 by Jimena Mendizábal de Moral

Our study group is composed of a wide range of practices within the art world. We are all art agents yet we are testaments of the diversity that make up the contemporary art landscape: some of us work with the body, its possibilities and movement; some of us work with laptops, drafting documents and making schedules. When we come together to share knowledge and opinions, the exchanges can take a myriad of shapes, that not only make the sessions engaging and stimulating, but it also allows for the sudden appearance of a gap- an interruption of our usual ways of thinking and doing. We are forced to consider other ideas and to look at problems from different angles, that is not rare during an exchange, but what is different – and where the magic of interdisciplinary learning happens – is that it breaks the logic and the temporality of an encounter.

Each encounter is akin to a performance: We adopt a specific behaviour depending on the nature of the meeting – work meetings require a different language and attitude than a party with friends – and consequently each performance has its own rhythm (based on the language, purpose and expected outcome) and logical procedures (or expected rituals). We can say that each encounter has its own structure and channels of communication, this usually has the goal of facilitating the meeting and ensuring that everybody knows what to expect from a certain event. This of course makes things easy but it can also makes things predictable and can make us blind to anything that lies outside the thought structure that shapes an event.

When our sessions change from a talk to a drawing exercise to watch a video, a gap in the continuity of the event appears for a brief period of time. This rupture is when creativity takes place because is the opportunity for endless possibilities to come into negotiation. Is like if chaos would pop its head into the session for just one second before the facilitator pull one of the possibilities of the yet-to-be-seen and materialise it into being. This brief gap is sensed by the body and mind as a minor yet rich interruption of the usual ways of being, it surprises us for a moment of pure possibility before marking a detour in the path we are all following. This kind of possibility might not be exclusive of interdisciplinary exchanges but it is definitely present in every single one of them.

Where I see the magic of inter discipline coming into full being, is when the interjection of different ways-of-thinking and ways-of-doing interrupts any kind of pre-established order or design. A pre-given structure cannot hold a session that includes Power Point presentations, sound recording and dance; this kind of session requires its own structure than cannot be thought beforehand so it has to be created on the spot. The rhythm of inter-discipline then is created as a sort of improvisation where participants have to listen to each other, understand their intention and read the emotional mood of the room in order to communicate effectively. Interdisciplinary exchanges require an openness to difference that breaks up preconceived notions of what an encounter would be, and they offer the chance to create something together right there in the spot and to move to a collective rhythm that can go in any given direction. And that is how magic happens.

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Session summary written by Catherine Harrington

This session explored self-care and empathy, through physical exercises and readings – and a focus on elevating our approach to each other, through using compassion:

We started off with an exercise set by Colleen of experiencing the space we were each in – heightening our senses physically, mentally.

Candy took us through some of the thinking of Dutch historian, Rutger Bregman – We discussed extracts of his book Humankind: A Hopeful History and we shared our comments with each other using our What’sApp group voice recording.

The extracts involved:

  • “Assume the best of people” Reflections – we need to consider self protection of our ideas and our personal safety/ but yes, it is good to trust
  • “Avoid the news” – manipulation of different news feeds and the need to decipher the news we receive; also – where can news be detached from data collection? The Correspondent was discussed, and its sad demise in Jan 2021.

Jimena introduced the important differences between empathy and compassion – responding to the readings of “Against Empathy” by Paul Bloom:

  • Tainia Singer and her book Bridging Practice and Science
  • Empathy is more focused on feelings – like a spotlight it can leave much left out. Empathy can be narrow, linking people who are like-minded, with same race, same cultural background. We shared experiences of this happening to ourselves.
  • Proposed shift from empathy to compassion is wanting to help others and to listen more. Compassion can be holding a space for another and closing the experience gap; we can recognise the distress of another – listening and responding to others’ needs.
  • We agreed that being compassionate is different – we can avoid being overwhelmed. We discussed how – by maintaining our distance but closing the gap between ourselves and others – we can expand our moral imagination and create motivation and feel more powerful.
  • Art can do this too – (there was a callout for more art examples):
    • Case Study 1 – CARNE Y ARENA – by artist Alejandro Gonzáles Iñarritu. film and installation – We experience compassion for refugees, in this immersive spectacle of an encounter between a caravan of refugees and the US Border Patrol.
    • Art Case Study 2 A BRIDGE TOO FAR – by artist Tashi Iwaoka. Durational performance,
  • Resource – Centre for Empathy and the Arts Univ of Minneapolis

Colleen facilitated an amazing session based on Authentic Movement, an experience of movement, drawing and observation – where the group, in pairs, took turns enacting roles of Mover and Witness – and made drawings – improving our ability to observe each other, and to make emotional connections through movement and drawing.