Words from the Listener…

by Nicole Armos

The gifts of socially-engaged art emerge not only from the culminating artistic product, but particularly from the process of creating together. Similarly, this compilation of vivid audio and video interviews with socially-engaged artists invites us into a process of learning through listening that embodies the relational, creative, and activist tenets of the work itself.

These interviews form a sort of ‘living textbook’ that does not present a static, objective, or singular understanding of this diverse practice, but rather allows ideas to emerge from the lived experience of the artists working in various contexts. In this textbook, theory is formed from praxis as expressed through story, centering story as a mode of learning through reflection. Like socially-engaged art itself, no interview is quite like the other, each tracing its own constellation of ideas unique to the teller and their relationship to Patti Fraser. And, as we listen, we may find new meanings emerge each time we revisit them at different points in our life.

Learning through listening is embodied. Listening calls us to slow down, and grounds our senses in the present moment of the speakers’ embodied way of being and expressing themselves. Unlike written texts or prepared lectures, these interviews allow us to appreciate the gems of the “thinking-as-speaking process” (Tilley & Powick, 2004) of conversational language, rife with the subtle and implicit understandings embedded in our colloquialisms and non-verbal sounds and gestures. We learn from the way breath shapes pauses; and the way intonation, tone, and rhythm color thoughts. And in return, we can come to recognize our learning through our embodied reactions: the words that make us laugh, or cry, say “mmm,” or gasp; the tug on our sleeves as we listen. These voices and rhythms echo in our minds long after we hear them.

In a sense, these interviews constitute a critical pedagogy and enactment of social justice. In one interview, media educator Corin Browne describes the danger of the work of “an entire generation […] of mostly women, who are now mostly middle-aged, who have worked for basically no money [being] rendered invisible because it’s not public, it’s not permanent, it’s not collected in academic institutions.  Community engaged artists don’t show in galleries, they don’t write papers, people don’t make documentaries about them. They do these incredible projects that live on forever in communities and are never memorialized in any kind of official institutional capacity.”  This living textbook joins an effort to fill the gaps, honoring and voicing the important legacy of work made by artists working outside the commercial art industry, including many female and First Nations artists.

In presenting these reflective conversations with artists, the interviews capture the relational nature of the work, and the experiential and mentoring nature of teaching and learning in this field. We learn from these artists while hearing about the artists that influenced them, and listening to Patti and the interviewees learn from each other in dialogic exchange. Further, as a compilation of artist interviews online, not bound within the covers of a book, the project seems to invite more perspectives…perhaps listeners will begin to reflect on their work, start conversations with mentoring artists in their lives, begin to collect the stories of senior artists in this field.
We invite you to listen…

Tilley, S. A., & Powick, K. D. (2004). Distanced data: Transcribing other people’s research tapes. Canadian Journal of Education, 27(2), 291-310.