We are flagging. Late nights writing up our blogs, inordinate amounts of coffee, serious sleep debts, and powerful readings leading to challenging questions to the group and to ourselves are beginning to take their toll. It is appropriate that today’s readings begin with ‘Keeping Quiet’, by Pablo Neruda:
It would be a fragrant moment
without rush, without engines;
we would all be together
in a sudden uneasiness
If we were not so single-minded
about keeping our lives moving,
and for once could do nothing,
perhaps a huge silence
might interrupt this sadness
of never understanding ourselves…
Gelareh and I discuss these lines wondering out loud how everyone wants to speak, and to be heard. But if no one is listening, then what? Shouting is not an effective strategy. Ahmad reminds us all that we have three days left. He’s mixed things up a little, deciding not to enforce our normal schedule, leaving it to us to determine, henceforth, to continue to read/attend/discuss the formal sessions or to break out into individual and informal discussions as and when we wish. I’m not convinced this is the right course of action. Ahmad disagrees, and references Mario de Andrade’s ‘My Soul has a Hat’ from Day 1 – ‘We have two lives and the second begins when you realize you only have one.’ It is now up to us how to spend the rest. And so we move on.
Greg takes over the chair for the second reading, ‘Art Forgery: Why Do We Care So Much for Originals?’ by Milica Jovic. We wonder whether time is a necessary function of originality. Why is a 1920s Mercedes with 80 per cent of its parts replaced still considered a 1920s Merc, but a 2018 Merc with 80 percent of its parts replaced by older parts not constitute an older Merc (why somebody would do the latter, other than for this thought experiment is not clear, but then maybe that’s the point — it is no more than a thought experiment). I digress. At any rate, Yasmeen offers a suggestion that perhaps an original work of art is a gift, but prints and replicas are commodities. Gelareh and Estephania are aghast at Taha’s assertion that 80 percent of the Louvre’s on-display collection are not originals. What changed their experience, therefore, becomes an extended and fascinating discussion, with even the Blueman Group being drawn upon as an example.
Ahmad decides that as an academic piece, the third reading, ‘Can Machines Create Art?’ by Mark Coeckelberg falls to me to lead. I’m not sure I agree with the logic. And while I’ve read and enjoyed the piece thoroughly, I haven’t prepared myself to lead a discussion on it. Like life, however, there are limits to prep and, hey, it’s improv, a la Wislawa Szymborska’s ‘Life While You Wait’ from Day 4, right?
I start by being me. Shortly, Ahmad offers some suggestions from the floor. So I try to be Ahmad. Of course, it doesn’t work. So I decide, rather more firmly, to go back to being me. Facilitating, in any case, means speaking less, and listening more. I settle even more deeply into a second skin. For all its familiarity, however, it is always uncomfortable. I lean into it, trying to make space. I listen more intently, allow raised voices. In several moments of still silence, I return to the reading and the point at hand — if art can be judged with objective criteria, what about subjective criteria? Still, we get derailed several more times. Clearly, sometimes we need more space than we think we do. I hold and expand that space as best as I can.
Our discussions come to a natural close. We are spent but, I think, fulfilled. Ahmad asks how I feel about leading the group and the discussion. I respond that I’m not sure I led — at least in the way he did — but I think our discussions were richer. Of course, the group is the better judge. Did the men dominate? Did the women let it go? What did we mis(s)/understand? But Ahmad had made his point — each of us has a different role to play, and at different times we may need to step up, or down, or be on the side, whether at Culturistan or elsewhere.