I’ve really enjoyed my first month as the Editorial Fellow here at the ICI. I’m glad I’m getting this chance to write a little bit about what I’ve been doing here, because every time I try to explain it to friends and family in conversation, they walk away looking delighted but confused. The ICI is a unique institution — intellectual but playful, making meaning through action rather than just heady philosophizing — and so much of the fun has been just holding on and trusting that we are building towards something fantastic even when we can’t see beyond the next step of the staircase.
Much of my work has been focused around our Monkey Head project, which aims to “build a theory of visual research by examining eight to ten actual studio-based projects undertaken at the ICI within the last 5 years.” The project is at least partly in reaction to the rise of the PhD in studio art and its attempt to codify an academic canon for visual art. The ICI’s perspective is that the most interesting forms of knowledge grow from the feet up, not the head down, which is why we are using the real life projects and processes made and used by our artists-in-residence to try and build our own theory of visual research.
I was able to see this in action during the Interlocuter discussion in our library last week for our latest participant, Amy Kazcur. The ICI staff and interns joined Amy and her colleague Bonnie Porter (from the Museum of Contemporary Art) at the table for a winding, vibrant discussion about Amy’s experience at the ICI and what the process of the project looked and felt like. It was a fascinating couple of hours to sit in on and participate in, as our circuitous conversation took us into realms personal, embodied, theoretical, and affective. I was struck by how we returned again and again to the idea of stepping forward into a question without the answer, of directed action as its own form of knowledge-creation. Amy collected, created, cut and sewed for this project, attempting to bring a long-lost relative into physical embodiment through the performative process of making, and we discussed the power of cumulative action, the knowledge that can only be produced by doing — taking “footsteps into the theory,” as my scribbled notes suggest we termed it.
The experience was deeply rewarding and helped me understand what I’m doing here, even when I don’t know exactly what it is I’m doing here. Monkey Head has been termed “a mutual unfolding” between the ICI and the artists, a project we all throw ourselves into without quite knowing where it will take us, and every day working on it looks and feels different. The perspective on knowledge percolating at the ICI has absolutely informed the way I approach this fellowship and my own life beyond it; it’s helped me get out of my chatty, critical head, which demands answers to every question before it acts, and instead trust in the transformative power of doing.