What Now? 2015: The Politics of Listening

Conference Fri 24 Apr 2015 - Sat 25 Apr 2015 The New School, Anna Maria and Stephen Kellen Auditorium
66 5th Avenue
New York City
Free admission: please RSVP to vlc@newschool.edu.
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What Now? 2015 is a two-day annual symposium, organized by Art in General in collaboration with the Vera List Center for Art and Politics, which investigates critical and timely issues in contemporary art. Dedicated to the topic of The Politics of Listening, the 2015 symposium comprises four panel discussions spanning Friday and Saturday, a keynote delivered by Lawrence Abu Hamdan, and a program of sound installations, audio works, film screenings, and performances.

What Now? 2015 examines the idea of listening as a political act, a pedagogical process, and a protocol for engagement. Opening with an analysis of listening, the symposium considers the scientific definition of the term alongside perspectives on listening that are shaped and informed by diverse social, cultural, technological, and spatial considerations. As keynote speaker Lawrence Abu Hamdan has noted, "Listening is not a natural process inherent to our perception of the world but rather constructed by the conditions of the spaces and times that engulf us".[i]

In a world in which the production and reception of information encompasses print and digital media, spoken narratives, and the ever-expanding space of social media, the symposium considers how one can listen with agency and intent in an environment characterized by such an onslaught of data. It also explores the often complex relationship between truth and fiction in relation to interpretative listening, media communication, and acts of testimony, translation, and redaction. To what degree are we able to listen to different kinds of intelligences, and how can we incite receptivity? How do we address the fact that the right to listen is relative, and that the right not to listen, or to remain silent, is also a genuine stance? Can we press on and position listening as a political act? And how do we further develop our ability to "listen for what is left out, and why"?

Highlighting the work of artists and other practitioners interested in expanding dialogue beyond the confines of the art world, What Now? 2015 ultimately considers the notion of listening with intent, and imagines new possibilities that might arise when listening involves a more expansive state of activity. How can we take the procedures of listening—which involve disciplined attentiveness andan active questioning—as a means to assist a constituency to find its own power and solutions to diverse sets of problems? How can working across disciplines, or rethinking the processes of how we learn, expand on and deepen our understanding of an issue—ultimately enabling us to listen, and act, with a more informed mind?

The symposium comprises four sessions: An Analysis of Listening; Taking Listening Seriously; Fact, Fiction and the In-between; and Listening Across Disciplines: A Call to Action. Confirmed presenters and panelists include Anne Barlow, Director, Art in General, New York; Rich Blint, Columbia University School of the Arts; Rashida Bumbray, curator; Gregory Castéra, Co-Director, Council, Paris; Christoph Cox, Hampshire College, Amherst; Joshua Craze, University of Chicago, Illinois; Lauren van Haaften-Schick, curator, writer and artist, New York; Seeta Peña Gangadharan, New America Foundation's Open Technology Institute, New York; James Hudspeth, The Rockefeller University, New York; Carin Kuoni, Director and Curator, Vera List Center for Art and Politics, The New School, New York; Brian Larkin, Barnard College, New York; Shannon Mattern, School of Media Studies, The New School; Naeem Mohaiemen, artist and writer; Beatriz Santiago Muñoz, artist; Julie Napolin, Eugene Lang College, The New School; Mendi + Keith Obadike, artists; Laurie Jo Reynolds, University of Illinois at Chicago's School of Art and Art History; Mohammad Salemy, The New Centre for Research & Practice, Michigan; and Kade L. Twist, artist, writer and member of Post-Commodity. Participatory sessions and art projects presented by Bigert & Bergström, Iman Issa, Mendi + Keith Obadike, The Order of the Third Bird, and Wato Tsereteli, Founder, Center of Contemporary Art, Tbilisi, Georgia.

A prelude to the conference takes place on Thursday, April 23, 7-9 pm, with a screening at Cabinet of "Moments of Silence," followed by a conversation with artist Mats Bigert and writer George Prochnik. More information here.

This is the second annual symposium What Now?, organized by Art in General in collaboration with the Vera List Center for Art and Politics, as part of Alignment, the Vera List Center's 2013–15 curatorial focus theme.

A new book series relating to the What Now? symposia from 2015 through 2017 will be produced with Black Dog Publishing Ltd., a project that was made possible in part by the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

Art in General would like to extend special thanks to the key funders of What Now? 2015: the Institute of Museum and Library Services; the Lambent Foundation; and the Trust for Mutual Understanding for their generous support of this initiative. The Vera List Center would like to also thank the Center's Advisory Committee.
    • Keynote: Lawrence Abu Hamdan
    • "What Now? 2015: The Politics Of Listening" A Scientific Definition Of Listening
    • "What Now? 2015: The Politics Of Listening" Session One: An Analysis Of Listening
    • "What Now? 2015: The Politics Of Listening" Session Two: Taking Listening Seriously
    • "What Now? 2015: The Politics Of Listening" Session Three: Fact, Fiction And The In-Between
    • "What Now? 2015: The Politics Of Listening" Session Four: Listening Across Disciplines: A Call To Action
      • K Whatnow2015 Ebooklet Download - pdf (114 kB)


12:30-1:00 p.m.

1:00-1:10 p.m.

WELCOME AND INTRODUCTIONS by Anne Barlow and Carin Kuoni

PRESENTATION by Dr. James Hudspeth: A Scientific Definition of Listening

This panel explores listening in terms of its relation to various contexts including space, media, ethics, communication, and networked culture. It considers the act of listening in terms of the orientation of the listener in relation to one that is listened to, and the process of listening as something that is "socially coded" rather than merely a physical act. How has our understanding of phenomenology, the idea of the un-learned, un-mediated, un-processed, and the related concept of "real-space" shifted with the rise of Internet based media and in particular social-media? What other approaches or ways of understanding have emerged? Surveillance is an intentional form of listening, in many if not all instances, without consent. How can we explore mythologies and norms of surveillance culture today, as personal data is constantly being acquired from Internet users? When corporations such as Facebook and Google are capable of gathering, saving, and analyzing our conversations, listening becomes the site of a power struggle, scrambling the codes of subject and object.
Moderator: Shannon Mattern
Participants: Christoph Cox, Seeta Peña Gangadharan, Brian Larkin

SOUND INSTALLATION WALKTHROUGH: Mendi + Keith Obadike, Blues Speaker [for James Baldwin] with the artists and curator Rashida Bumbray
Location: University Center, 65 5th Avenue, Social Justice Hub
Artists Mendi + Keith Obadike present Blues Speaker [for James Baldwin], a multichannel sound artwork installed in The New School's University Center from April 1 through 30. Part of the city-wide celebration The Year of James Baldwin, it celebrates James Baldwin's keen understanding of the social role of the blues. Baldwin (1924-1987) was a key figure at the political juncture of music and words in the United States. This immersive sound installation turns the entire University Center into one speaker, resonating across four floors on three sides of the new building. Conference attendees are invited to experience the sound installation before attending a panel discussion with the artists and others about how listening contributes to interdisciplinary studies of power, inequality, and social justice. Preceded by a reading of excerpts of Baldwin's Sonny's Blues (1957) by blues musician Karma Mayet Johnson at noon.

Taking its cue from James Baldwin, who was greatly influenced by sound and music, particularly the blues, this panel explores what it means to take listening seriously. How are those who are largely "un-listened to" being heard? How can one avoid polarizing discussions, paternalistic approaches, or reinforcing stereotypes in an attempt to open up channels of listening? What do different soundscapes say about class and inequality? In his important 1957 short story Sonny's Blues, Baldwin argued that attending to the blues required the listener to confront and accept both literal noise (sounds beyond the listener's understanding) and ideological noise (elements of the lives of those whose journeys have taken radically different paths.) How can tuning into literal noise help sensitize us to ideological noise? What is the contemporary role of the blues—a musical form inextricably linked to America's history of racism and oppression—and what potentialities remain?
Moderator: Julie Napolin
Participants: Rich Blint, Rashida Bumbray, Mendi + Keith Obadike


KEYNOTE: Presented by Lawrence Abu Hamdan

Friday, April 24, 12:30–7pm
Ping Pong Drawing by Wato Tsereteli
Wato Tsereteli, artist and Founder of CCA Tbilisi, leads a non-verbal listening exercise adjacent to the What Now? symposium lecture hall. Providing an experimental space for reflection and response for audience members in between and following the conference programming, artists and non-artists alike are invited to share a plain sheet of paper, leading to conversation by means of visual expression. In contrast to a table tennis game that is based on competition, Ping Pong Drawing develops a perspective built on collaboration, respect, and serendipity, and furthermore articulates the potential to have individual dialogue within oneself while drawing. This simple situation positions drawing as an extraordinary practice—comparable to yoga—that has the potential to disrupt habitual patterns. The project aims to amplify an essential quality of artistic practice as a process based upon unexpected consequences, creating new narratives in our collective consciousness and the world around us

Audio work: Iman Issa, The Revolutionary

This panel addresses the slippages between truth and fiction in relation to interpretative listening, media communication, and acts of testimony, translation, or redaction. What is the place of language and translation in this evolving narrative space? Every translation sets into play distinct vocabularies and systems of listening and interpreting, and it is in these encounters that priorities and positions are negotiated. In forensic analysis, for example, how are ideas of truth, testimony, propaganda, translation (or "untranslatability") played out? In terms of oral histories, why are narratives meant to be listened to rather than read alone, and what is the relative role and importance of accuracy, credibility, and the spinning of truth within this realm?
Moderator: Lauren van Haaften-Schick
Participants: Joshua Craze, Naeem Mohaiemen, Beatriz Santiago Muñoz

3:40–4:00pm Break

Film screening: Moments of Silence, by Bigert Bergstroem, 14 min. HD, 2014

4:15–5:45 p.m.
In what situations has listening not just been the goal, but also the means to a tangible end? What kinds of attentive actions or collaborations can advance specific issues of urgency? This session focuses on initiatives that explore critical social issues through interdisciplinary lines of enquiry, research and projects over an extended period of time. Case studies include Council that works across the arts, scholarly and scientific research, and civil society in order to propose new representations of social issues. Postcommodity is an interdisciplinary arts collective that works to promote a constructive discourse that challenges the social, political, and economic processes that are destabilizing communities and geographies; and connect Indigenous narratives of cultural self-determination with the broader public sphere. Legislative artist Laurie Jo Reynolds is the organizer of Tamms Year Ten, a grassroots campaign to close the state supermax prison in Illinois that included intensive lobbying and cultural projects like Photo Requests from Solitary.The New Centre for Research & Practice is conceived upon the idea that the space of knowledge is a laboratory for navigating the links between thought and action; their pedagogical approach bootstraps the conventional role of the Arts and Sciences to construct new forms of research and practice alongside, within, and between the existing disciplines and technologies.
Moderator: Mohammad Salemy
Participants: Gregory Castéra, Laurie Jo Reynolds, Kade L. Twist

Saturday, April 25, 2–6pm

Ping Pong Drawing by Wato Tsereteli

1. Lawrence Abu Hamdan (Tape Echo)

2. UltraRed, in Notes on the Protocols for a Listening Session (Glasgow Variation), in On Listening, edited by Angus Carlyle and Cathy Lane, Uniformbooks 2013, p.33.