Playful zoom-thinking with water by Dr Helen Clarke and Dr Sharon Witt

 

Our first blog post follows our October CEEN workshop: ‘Thinking-with water: engaging with flows’, in which we invited participants to dip their toes into playful and artful collective experimentations. In response to Kerry’s blog (September 2020) and the continued social distancing requirements of Covid-19, we sought to ‘do zoom communications differently’ – thinking and creating ideas and spaces bodily. Keen to slow down and pause whilst paying attention to participation, sensorial encounters and material engagements, we invited participants to share experiences through the chat box, as a place for lively conversations. We worked online with the provisos that silences were generative, blank spaces on paper were fine and any decision to turn the camera off was part of the flow of the workshop. We were grateful for the spirit of generosity as participants took up invitations to collage and engage in co-production, co-composition, and co-experimentation (Koro-Ljungberg 2016).

In recent months several online events have shown us that there may be other ways to engage digitally – through meditation, soundscapes and lively chat. We were unsure what was going to emerge from this participatory event, which was uncertain and new territory for us. Outcomes were unknown and open, yet we were confident and trusted that something would happen in lively entanglements of water, participants, and theory.  This blog is a reflection and development of our experience preparing, delivering and reflecting on our workshop.

 

Preparing for the workshop: identifying the source of the flow

Zoom worlds seem very distant to the ‘South Country’ landscapes (Thomas 2009) which have become a focus of our research attention: the Hanger at Selborne; the ancient Yews at Kingley Vale; the chalk cliffs at Freshwater Bay; the Solent at Salterns Beach; Little Horsecroft Copse.

THE SOUTH COUNTRY

Inspired by Country et al. (2016: 456) these places have ‘enabled our learning, our meeting, the stories that guide(d) us, and the connections we discuss(ed).’ Places have significantly impacted on our pedagogical endeavours, mutually co-constructed our thinking and informed our reading and walking practices. Serendipitous encounters with water have presented themselves and we have become entangled in fluid assemblages. Water has been a constant refrain in our work. We have found ourselves immersed in watery intra-actions, including paddling in chalk streams, meteorological rain mediations with students, caught unexpectedly in rainstorms on fieldwork and curriculum-making   with Masters’ students and a watery glitter vortex. Emotions have been stirred: humility, curiosity, care, respect, and response-ability.  We are in no doubt of the need to avoid romantic notions and to consider the messy realities of watery worlds, the troubling specificities of water: water destroys, floods, contaminates, eludes. Water can be troublesome, it can be scarce, cold, and can strike repeatedly and violently.

wateriness is everyday … it accompanies us ….

wateriness is a refrain …. in life, in research, in us…

water led us to a workshop theme …

water accompanied us to a workshop

Delivering the workshop: in full flow

An introductory question at the workshop placed participants in relation with water – How have you been with water today? It was a very watery day. In Hampshire, water lashed at the windows, puddles hindered the drive to present. All participants had become entangled with water: walking the dog, washing hands, children at the beach in wetsuits, noticing the height of the stream, taking bins out, drinking water, cycling through the rain, rehydration.

 

Our zoom space was to provide a ‘simultaneity of stories’ (Massey,2005:9); a multiplicity of layered and complex tales, which flowed across the digital space from Nottingham, Birmingham, the Peak District, Bath, and Devon. Outside, it was raining – across the country. On screen, we gathered as an online assemblage of desks and chairs, people in their everyday lives, water experiments, on screen chat, papers, and a watery collage.

From a torrent of zoom chat emerged found poems and lyrical thinking to invite readers to participate and engage with ideas, feelings and realities shared (Janesick: 2016). These poems are our attempt to become more playfully rhizomatic in the ways we approach theory and sharing knowledge-in-formation. For example, ‘What does water do?’

Water ripples

Water caresses

Water flows

Water quenches thirst

Water sustains

Sometimes petrifies me.

Water rushes

Water gives life, cleanses

soothes

drowns

submerges

refreshes.

Water carves, reflects, splashes

washes away

makes waves

makes us up.

Water combines, replenishes and

rushes.

Water changes – carving, bending.

You never meet the same water twice.

Water swirls and sparkles.

Water allows things to dissolve together

 

We conversed with water. This was conversation, not rooted in speech, but in the Middle English origins of the word, where to converse is to live among, to be familiar with and become intimate with. Water was the lead performer and teacher in our encounters. To consider the world and materials ‘in conversation’ requires a fundamental shift in our sense of who we are as researchers and human beings, in relation to our planet.

 

Reflecting on the workshop – ripples continue to flow

We made deliberate interruptions to habitual digital zoom practices. Participants were encouraged to experiment with materials: paper, water, mark making items. Playful practices were encouraged. Distance was mitigated by intimacy and sharing. With a desire to abandon routine ways of creating meaning, assigning merit and judging worth, we drew on our senses and more than purely rational cognition. Within playful contexts creativity bubbled up to the surface, we glided into action with different ways of building knowledge percolating through the digital space. This proved to be insurrectionary… challenging bureaucratized and silo-ed thinking and practice’ (Brookfield, 2019). One colleague shared: ‘I loved playing with the water and then playing with how it was possible to interact with the video camera as a means of playing with the audience! It’s given me food for thought in how zoom can work in other ways.’ There were serendipitous distractions too. Another participant found droplets of water on the grass, tried to carry the stalks indoors and the droplets fell … grass came indoors to the artwork … water itself resisted capture.

So, in thinking-with water what kinds of relations and responses were provoked? What was stirred up? Significant thoughts emerged – of temporality, playful interruptions, transformation and change, collaging, and water-worlding.

One respondent wrote: ‘When you ask what that stirred up – it did the opposite. It calmed me right down…being made to stop and dip my hands in water and play with pens was a great antidote. The fact that this was connected to theoretical thinking and rationales as a wider grounding for the work was extremely important – we weren’t just playing with a bowl of water!’ Perhaps seeking to do things differently can help us to keep spaces open for material encounters and create space to come to the surface and breathe.

Water prompted learning about ‘worlding’. Our watery worlding was informed through cultivating attention, active engagement, and entanglement in a water-paper-drawing-writing-materials assemblage. As Foley (2017) writes:

‘Worlding… is an active, ontological process; it is not simply a result of our existence in or passive encounter with particular environments, circumstances events or places… It is above all an embodied and enacted process – a way of being in the world – consisting of an individual’s whole-person act of attending to the world

The potential to be affected by materials was realised by participants:

‘Markings are made just with water and they change as the water spreads, evaporates etc. I was thinking of how water can hold and gradually erode our physical, emotional and mental knots.’

I wasn’t enjoying the misty rain this morning but this afternoon I’ve loved my engagement with it – playful rather than trying to fight against it.’

 

It makes me think back to the oil pipeline protests in America. The fact that water source was going to be destroyed. That is a powerful tool.’

 

Stewart (2012:128) refers to the affective nature of the world with ‘bodies literally affecting one another and generating intensities: human bodies, discursive bodies, bodies of thought, bodies of water.’ Collage aided our expression of these everyday affects.

Collaging prompted learning with water Collage is…’a way of relational knowing … which involves multisensory responses in a particular moment…. produced in collaborations (Somerville 2008:212). We began our watery collage before the workshop.

The collage changed course with a torrential wave of contributions during and after the zoom event, with emergent ideas and contributions from participants. We worked with St Pierre’s notion of a ‘cacophony of ideas’, which swished, eddied, churned and whirled in entanglements:

I imagine a cacophony of ideas swirling as we think about our topics with all we can muster—with words from theorists, participants, conference audiences, friends and lovers, ghosts who haunt our studies, characters in fiction and film and dreams—and with our bodies and all the other bodies and the earth and all the things and objects in our lives—the entire assemblage that is a life thinking and, and, and . . . All those data are set to work in our thinking, and we think, and we work our way somewhere in the thinking (St. Pierre, 2011:622).

 

This blog is itself a collage, of text, found chat, visual gifts, movement, image, thinking, collegiality, generosity of ideas and participation…These were ‘… arranged and re-arranged… to produce new possibilities, new ways of thinking and knowing that have not been previously thought’ (Franklin-Phipps and Rath in Kuby et al 2019:147). Co-emergent collages are generative data stories (Koro-Ljungberg, 2016). Ours is not an artistic piece, but a pedagogical documentation, a making in the moment. It includes photographs of watery encounters, lines from texts we found significant in our explorations, emerging ideas and questions, images from the workshop – of hands, intra-actions of water, paper, ink, rain … marks, patterns and traces. It is collecting, energising, intensifying, temporary and contingent. In the words of participants:

I felt the water was directing my mark making as I got into it.’

The story keeps flowing the water goes where it wants.’

For us, the collage continues to raise new questions:

How to collage experience?

How to collage dialogue?

How to collage companionship?

How to flow hands into art into paper into ….

 words into ideas … How to water wateriness?

 

The wateriness of water Merewether (2019:105) reminds us of our ‘relations of responsibilities inherent in a world where all matter is vibrant and agential.’  We appreciate that water will always elude our total knowing, and this encourages us to ponder on how we intra-act with each other.

Thank you to CEEN for the opportunity to think again with water and attention. We appreciated the engagement, enthusiasm and warmth of the workshop participants. Paying attention and going with the flow, we value the chance to extend conversations, engage in playful co-experimentation that open new possibilities through thinking-with water and respected colleagues and friends. The story keeps flowing as our collage is on-going and provokes our thinking. We invite you to respond to the latest iteration of the collage and to your own new watery encounters.

 

References

Country, B. Wright, S., Suchet-Pearson, S., Lloyd, K., Burarrwanga, L., Ganambarr, R., Ganambarr-Stubbs, M., Ganambarr, B., Maymuru, D. & Sweeney, J., (2016) Co-becoming Bawaka. Towards a relational understanding of place/space. Progress in Human Geography. 40 (4), 455-476

 

Foley, J. (2017) ‘Word the World Better’ postcard, part of Engineering Fictions box set of scores (Dublin: CONNECT) (www.engineeringfictions.wordpress.com)

 

Janesick, V.J. (2016) Poetic Inquiry Using Found Poetry and Identity Poetry to transform qualitative data. In A. Reinertsen (Ed) Becoming Earth. Rotterdam: Sense Publishers, 31-40

 

Koro-Ljungberg, M. (2016) Reconceptualizing Qualitative Research: Methodologies without Methodology. London: Sage

 

Kuby, C.R. Spector, K. & Thiel, J.J. (2019) Posthumanism and Literacy Education. Knowing/ Becoming / Doing Literacies. London: Routledge

 

Massey, D. (2005) For space. London: Sage

 

Merewether, J. (2019) New materialisms and children’s outdoor environments: murmurative diffractions. Children’s Geographies, 17(1), 105-117

Neimanis, A. (2017) Bodies of Water Posthuman Feminist Phenomenology. London: Bloomsbury 

 

Somerville, M. J. (2008) Waiting in the chaotic place of unknowing’: articulating postmodern emergence. International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, 21 (3), 209-220

 

St. Pierre, E. A. (2011) Post qualitative research: The critique and the coming after. In N. K. Denzin & Y. S. Lincoln (Eds.) The SAGE handbook of qualitative research, Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE, 611-625.

 

Stewart, K. (2012) Ordinary Affects. Durham and London:  Duke University Press

 

Thomas, E. (2009) The South Country (Nature Classics Library). Dorset: Little Toller Books.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Let’s Never Do the Time Warp Again by Sarah Campbell

 

IMAGE CREDIT By Jay8085 – originally posted to Flickr as Astronomical Clock, Prague, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8371316

Time. It’s a slippery one. It drags when we’re bored and evaporates when we’re up against deadlines. Surely there are more minutes in the Teams-meeting-hour than there are in the Friday-pub-hour? But no, we all get the same allocation each day. Since mid-March, time has felt even more warped than usual – a shadowy, parallel 2020 is passing by, unlived but faithfully planned in my paper diary; visits from family that couldn’t happen, tickets to theatre shows that were cancelled. We’ve stepped out of time, and yet time keeps happening.

I have always been interested in the elastic properties of time, and especially how this relates to ideas generation and the creative process. It is something I think about a lot in delivering my role in the Arts and Culture team at the University. The mission of the Arts and Culture Strategy is to ‘activate creativity’, and that takes time – time to plan, time to deliver, time to support, time to meander, time to question, and time to try and fail and try again. Within the team, we talk about ‘holding space for purposeful encounters’ and we do this by devising programmes and ways of working that create spaces for others to enter into. These spaces are often physical (ie. getting artists and scientists in the same room) but they can also be philosophical (ie. gaining insights into different mindsets and worldviews) and have needed to be digital and virtual over the last few months. These spaces also have a temporal quality – we all need to commit to attending the meetings and workshops, to listen closely and reflect on what we hear, to be present and contribute fully, and to spend time in between reflecting on what we’ve learnt.

Time and creativity interact in so many interesting ways. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi writes about the “transformation of time” as being one of the key ingredients in ‘flow’, a state of complete absorption in a task, where a “merging of action and awareness” takes place. ‘Flow’ states are periods of intense focus, experienced over a number of hours, but creativity needs more than just the bonfire; it also needs the slow burn, experienced over months and years. James Dyson first started working on his bagless vacuum cleaner in the late 1970s; fifteen years and over 5,000 prototypes later, his design gained market success. Sometimes it takes years to hone an idea, and sometimes it takes years for a brilliant idea to find its moment. Artist Carmen Herrera, the subject of a solo show at the Whitney in 2016, had been creating ground-breaking paintings since the 1940s but did not sell a single work until 2004, at the age of 89 (patriarchy, much?).

Between these extremes lies the middle-distance of ideas generation – those days and weeks of percolation that are needed to process inspiring content and generate something new and of value. I have yet to find a shortcut across this percolation time. Have you ever tried hatching an idea before it is ready? For me, an idea isn’t ready when it is still tangled up and bogged down in the source material and is yet to find its own form. And to resolve this, more time is often the solution – either turning inwards and allowing for more unconscious mental processing, or turning outwards and workshopping my scruffy, lumpen ideas with others.

Of course, in some contexts, a lack of time is just the ticket for ideas generation. The ‘Crazy-8’ technique (fold a sheet of paper into a 2×4 grid and then generate 8 ideas in 8 minutes, one per square) deliberately applies time pressure to by-pass self-consciousness, critique and judgement. Setting a race against the clock and generating a lot of ideas quickly are efficient means of clearing away superficial and obvious thinking and excavating down to the weird and wonderful, where genuinely new ideas are to be found.

So how does all of this play out in the day job? To share one example – Arts and Culture runs an annual programme of Creative Fellowships, where we pair University of Exeter researchers with creative practitioners in any discipline. We deliver three per year. The creative practitioners are paid for a 4-5 week commitment to spend time with their research hosts, and we ask for 1-3 dissemination events towards the end of the process to share any learning. The premise is simple, but the beauty lies in the detail. This is not about the arts illustrating the science – *yawn* – but about divergent creative practices, methodologies, interests and perspectives colliding. We want both parties to come away thinking differently about what they do.

4-5 weeks is not very long, especially when there is often a lot of new information to absorb and process. This year, we conducted the selection process in July, so that the creative practitioners and academics could have some early conversations before starting in earnest in September. We made this change in response to feedback from previous cohorts who felt their creative juices were only just starting to flow as the Creative Fellowships were concluding. With the added excitement of COVID-19, we have also relaxed the time-window for delivery. We usually focus on October-March for the rich conversations and then programme the dissemination events in the spring. However, forward-planning now feels like a relic of a previous age, along with indoor eating at restaurants and attending music festivals. What used to be my bread and butter – getting people in a room for an event and inviting an audience – is currently off the menu. Instead, we are inviting the Creative Fellows and their hosts to work responsively, capitalising on moments when we can spend time together in person, and finding online alternatives when we can’t. As a team, we are learning to ‘hold space’ in new ways, and to ‘hold time’ more lightly.

A favourite COVID-19-related tweet, posted by @WhaJoTalkinBout back in May, captured perfectly my experience of lockdown: “It’s the third month of March, every day is Wednesday, and the time is either light or dark.” Tricksier than a government advisor on a day trip to Barnard Castle, time has been flouting all the rules over the past six months. But there are silver-linings to be found. In this in-between-time, it’s possible to trial new ways of working and living. Many things are more difficult but some things are easier – our Hyperlocal project, offering 10 small arts commissions to Devon and Cornwall artists to respond to their immediate domestic environment, went from idea-germ to fully-fledged final artworks in just five weeks. The disruption to normal life allowed us to move far more quickly, pull together partnerships more rapidly, and get word out to a broader audience. If there are things you want to disrupt and change, I would suggest now is the perfect time.

 

LINKS

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi – https://www.headspace.com/articles/flow-state

James Dyson – https://www.theguardian.com/culture/2016/may/24/interview-james-dyson-vacuum-cleaner

Carmen Herrera – https://whitney.org/exhibitions/carmenherrera

Creative Fellowships – https://www.artsandcultureexeter.co.uk/creative-fellowship

Hyperlocal – https://www.artsandcultureexeter.co.uk/hyperlocal

 

Sarah Campbell is the Associate Director for Arts and Culture University of Exeter

 

‘Worlding’ in a world of blended teaching and learning by Dr. Kerry Chappell

                                             Photo by Ian Cumming

Welcome to this, the first of the CEEN blogs for the 2020/2021 academic year. I’m not a hugely experienced blogger, but it’s something I’ve been encouraged to do more, and can increasingly see the value of, to create spaces for open-ended ruminations and debate. I hope CEEN colleagues and those who find a connection to our work will therefore join in with these ruminations and debates, either to step forward to write a blog, or to comment and debate on the monthly postings. So here goes……

In my first public blog, for BERA, in February of this year, I asked the question Where do we go from here with creativity and creative pedagogy? I offered insight into the principles of creative pedagogy that I had written about with my colleague, Teresa Cremin, in a recent systematic review. Little did I know that a month later, the fundamental assumption of face-to-face practice underpinning those pedagogies would be left by the wayside. We all rapidly shifted to online teaching, meetings and research – sometimes I sat for eight hours at a stretch staring at my colleagues in the virtual ether, working hard to connect, and research/practice creative pedagogy. It wasn’t always especially satisfying, but we muddled through.

When I finally got some leave my optician put me on post-operative eye drops – apparently, we stop blinking when we work on screens all the time – my corneas were like well-used chopping boards. Not only this, but I also began to identify a sense of unease[i] – about what, I wasn’t sure. As lockdown lifted slightly, and face-to-face interaction became more possible, I began to understand where this unease came from. I was speaking to people with them in ‘real’ view, albeit at a 2 metre distance; with my professional background in dance education, I was able to take on a small project working with local Dartmoor-based MED theatre company on an outdoor socially distanced performance; I sat in a room with a colleague (at a distance) as we needed to work on a physical resource together. I realised what the sense of unease related to.  It was about the connection through moving, what Erin Manning calls  ‘body worlding’[ii]:

Movement is one with the world, not body/world but body worlding. We move not to populate space, not to extend it or to embody it, but to create it.

I had lost part of this capacity to create the world and my relationships in it; I still had my movement but, on screen, somehow, I wasn’t able to fully enter into ‘worlding’; I was being pushed into a body/world divide, which as Manning articulates above is not the whole picture. I am perhaps, like other dance colleagues, more heightened to this particular source of unease, but I think when we turn our attention to it, it’s something we can all identify with.

We now all face a new academic year that will be at least ‘blended’, and probably, at times, fully online again. I feel that I’m being challenged (sometimes in the extreme!) to imagine how I can, not just muddle through, but honour the creative pedagogic principles that I research and try to practice, whilst not being able to engage fully, bodily, in worlding. In the context of this blog, I’m especially wondering about this in relation to our Creative and Emergent Educational-futures Network. We have wonderful colleagues and students in the network researching, practicing and teaching in an array of areas: music education experiences through a posthuman lens; decolonising educational relationships in HE; transdisciplinary education; pedagogical innovation in religious education; student-resistance through space; experience of pedagogical change in dance education. We are all reliant on our ability to create ideas and spaces bodily. And yet, we are now all working to design teaching and research partially or wholly through screens, sometimes needing to work asynchronously through an array of new digital tools. This honestly feels challenging to body worlding.

So I find myself turning to our conversations about pluriversality[iii]. In 2019, CEEN colleagues made a shared commitment to explore this concept, as and when appropriate to our academic practices.  By this we mean that we respect, acknowledge and work with varied systems of being-knowing (including for example embodying, decolonising, posthumanising); we entangle ourselves in research/teaching from within these practices not outside of them; we often (but not always) work with dialogue, pushing ourselves into pluriversal engagements with humans and other-than-humans; we aim to see/experience/shift power differentials, continually trying to find our own blindspots, to de-centre, and not always seek consensus.

So, I’m asking how can we apply these ideas to make the best of our current predicament? I’ve come across tantalising glimpses of new solutions that embrace some of these elements of pluriversality – group visualisation techniques on Zoom using narrated scripts to draw participants into shared imaginary worlds (these are not the usual body worldings, but have some qualitative similarities); data collection methods using the good-old postal service to deliver carefully crafted scrapbooks for participants to share artefacts and arts-based responses; clever use of digital sharing platforms to offer spaces for participants to share data/ways of being-knowing in multiple media, pushing well beyond word-based formats that may have been relied on pre-COVID, and which see digital platforms as allies. These are small beginnings and they (perhaps to me anyway) always seem to come with a desire to integrate body worldings when possible. But they do give me hope that we can find new, positively emerging educational and research futures as a response to our current constraints.

I do still have unease though – amongst other things I worry that fast-scholarship style, neoliberal institutional approaches will colonise asynchronous digital delivery, will ‘package up’ academic knowledge, simplifying and commodifying it. I worry that body worlding will come to be seen as a nice ‘added extra’ rather than a necessity. I worry that pedagogies grounded in care, access, kindness, inclusion, relationality, creativity…. will struggle to translate through screens without staff given time (not just resource) to figure out how to do all of this.

But it’s early days in the 20/21 academic year, so I’m trying to stay alert to my unease, whilst exploring multiple emerging options; trying to learn from colleagues and hear their unease too. Perhaps most of all I’m trying to keep a shared sense of humour over the sometimes seemingly every-changing guidelines. I have my DanceLab colleagues to thank for this in helping to get as close as we can in our choreographic experiments to body worlding, and to use this as a starting point for any online/practice-based teaching I’ll be doing.  I’ll leave you with this example to hand, alongside the conundrums ruminated upon above.  If you would like, please respond below, and/or if you would like to offer a blog post in the monthly series, please contact CEEN PGR, Heather Wren:

Kerry Chappell is the leader of CEEN and an Associate Professor within GSE at UoE

[i] Thanks to my colleague Dr Katie Natanel for debates which helped me see this as a productive force

[ii] Manning, E. (2009). Relationscapes: Movement, Art, Philosophy. Massachusetts: MIT Press

[iii] Blair Vasconcelos, A. & Martin, F.with Wren H. (2019). Plurality, Plurilogicality and Pluriversality: A Literature Review. Unpublished: available on the CEEN website https://socialsciences.exeter.ac.uk/education/research/networks/ceen/researchprojects/pluralisingdifference/