Hello strangers, friends, allies, lovers, peers,…
I am interested in small group methodology. I derive my thoughts from the conceptualization and experience of being a multiple subject or a dividual. Many white theorists have used this term to counter individualism, their names are e.g. Gilles Deleuze, Mary Strathern, Michaela Ott, etc. but theories and stories around multiple and porous self-hood exist beyond the horizon of the Global North and Academia. I am e.g. inspired by María Lugones.
Basically I experience myself as part of many relationships, instead of being centered and contained in one subjectivity. And as always being part of something I arrived quickly at an interrogation of collective practices. The small group is the place where I become myself (or my-selves). In relationships I become myself and so the specific ways in which we interact with each other in small groups influences who I am essentially.
But the small group is also the only place where we develop collective agency to alter bigger structures. It is where we organize to resist, contest and where we develop new forms of being together. However, not rarely we develop group behaviours that reproduce oppressive systems, e.g. where care work is undervalued and invisible.
My practice is based on the hope that if we knew more about practices of self-organization and applied small group methods, we will begin to develop ways of being together that challenge oppressive systems not only in verbal critique, but also in everyday practice. I often write and organize as a form of research, in my artistic work I reflect on these activities.
The medium I mostly work in is video. The use of the camera is a
difficult thing. Sometimes I use found footage. The result is never
entirely mine, as I sample, connect and cut out material not authored
by myself in the editing process. Through my work at Archive Books, I
was introduced to the concept of “aesthetics
of accountability” (Faye
Ginsburg), which is about choosing to be responsible for the relationships with the
material and people one works with, instead of merely focusing on the
sensational value of imagery. It asks about the “burden
representation bring[s] to the act of nonfiction filmmaking and the
off-screen lives of those represented”.
I am now exploring camera work from
An almost empty swimming-pool filled with green water is shown from above. The tiles are light gray and it is surrounded by smaller buildings, palm trees, bushes and grass that gradually claim space in this former public area. In the background there is more greenery, another building with a dome roof and further away high apartment buildings with concrete frames and red bricks. A pair of hands are reaching into the image frame.
I am almost naked on my faded pink sofa in my flat share’s room. I am wearing a black harness that functions as a supporting vest for carrying the apparatus that helps me to stabilize my camera. This is a still of a video in which I reflect the use of the camera in social relations.
Through presenting my ideas to my peers and tutors I understood that people
often can’t relate to what I actually mean with small group
methods. For each timescale, group size, grade of diversity, etc.
there are methodologies. The methods I am presenting here as examples
are just a very small and Eurocentric fraction of fields of practice
and research. They lack a global perspective and connection to their
indigenous and inter-connected roots. I believe that only if we
understand that there are many methods, we can develop local and
specific methodologies for our own groups that resist exploitative
logic. In the course of further collective research I hope to bring
together many more examples of practice.
Dry uncut grass is focused in the foreground, in the background there are blurry persons, seemingly kids. They are covered by scarfs and other fabric and a part of the group seems to fight with each other. In a clear hierarchical setting, over the course of a few weeks, I facilitated a process of co-developing a semi-fictional narrative around a group of kids being left alone from their parents. This can be looked at as a method for groups to become conscious of mutual narrative patterns and to disrupt them, yet this particular method relies on strong, skilled facilitation, availability of technology, a long period of time and provision of other infrastructure.
This is a screenshot of the web-representation of the “change agency”, a social movement education initiative in Australia. The image shows the resources they offer online and offline. I first became concerned with the impact of methodology on collective work in my own collective, where we had great input on non-violent communication. It helped us to overcome a deep conflict. However, it always seemed fishy that this one American Marshall Rosenberg is said to have “developed” Nonviolent Communication and the narrative does not pay tribute to the long history of Buddhist nonviolent practices that brought forth Mahatma Ghandi, who became a key figure to Rosenberg’s understanding of nonviolence. My research focuses on rendering visible connections across times and regions.
When relating group methods to one another and rendering them accessible,
I also think about its archival framework.
How to find an order that adapts through time, does not reproduce coloniality through its categories, protects vulnerable
knowledges and eventually becomes participatory? I am currently
working on a digital repository with a developer from India, who
responded to my post on upwork.com.
Scan of my drawn proposal to the designer. The repository/archive should look like a lotus flower or water lily floating in an infinite ocean. The drawing shows how users of the website would first encounter it. They would see a few leaves of the water lily, or as the developer calls it a lotus, and with certain parameters the leaves rearrange. Underwater the root system connects them in complex ways.
Relationships and consent in artistic production
Without my explicit consent, and often without other people’s explicit consent, many of my relationships become part of my artistic research (as they become part of me). Sometimes this poses difficult ethical questions. Petra, who is heading the Advanced Master program asked me to consider using a different word, f.i. care, as ethics is too overburdened with concepts. Am I allowed and under which conditions to speak about my relationships?
A dark restaurant is the setting of this image. It looks rustic, European style. Far away from the camera is a table with four persons: A man with curly hair in a pony tail, a woman with dark brown hair and glasses, a woman with light brown hair and visible earrings, and a woman wearing a white headscarf. These are my Egyptian collaborators Amr, Yasmine, Huda and me, visiting a Mall in New Cairo.
Lost in translation
Groups come into life, groups form will, groups share resources and labor, groups have conflicts, groups institutionalize, groups become closed and porous and groups fall apart. But do you understand me when I use these terms? As my collaborator Huda says: It is a crisis of translation. As there is no established discourse; so far we still have to translate praxis into theory, dealing with all the limits that come along with it. To translate the English results of this translation into our native languages German and Arabic is yet another story, as these languages lack vocabulary for non-hierarchical care work.
The image is almost entirely filled with a blue sky, on the lower edge you can see trees. Many red and black butterflies fly in the sky, two are more prominent in the foreground. I made a video on the act of starting a group (initiating) in November 2021. How do we call the conditions and people that actively start groups? How can we pay tribute to the labor involved by giving it a name? Are acts of starting a group strategic and conscious by those initiating it, or can they emerge like the butterfly effect?
This is a screenshot of most of the AdMa participants in the online
session of Nataša Petrešin-Bachelez on critical theory. Everyone is
in their rectangle on the interface of the application Microsoft
Teams. In order to create connection, we tried to touch each other
through the screen by visually touching the margins of what our
computer cameras could capture. Nataša facilitated and invited
exercises to connect to the environment, to one’s body and to one
another. Creating rituals of relating is an important task of e.g.
feminist care practices and part of the maintenance work that can
keep a group together.
A lined notepad is scribbled on with a blue pen. Differently sized circles, lines, arrows fill the page. In between there are words written like “Ideological framework”, “authority”, “communication” and “accountability”. This page served as a visual thinking aid in the conversation with my Egyptian collaborators about basing our practice on common ground.
Amelie, who is white, fat, able bodied and grew up in a non-Academic middle class household, sits on a blue beanbag chair in an expectant pose on a Cairo rooftop. She is wearing wide floral pants and a gray sleeveless top. The picture is taken at dawn in July 2021, it is quite dark, but she is partially illuminated by the Apple MacBook on the floor next to her feet. Her face is slightly blurred, but her gaze is serious.
A headshot of Amelie crying. She looks pale and her eyes are a little swollen. She wears a golden earring in the shape of a hand, her shirt is a lighter version of the skin of eggplants. This was a moment where she didn’t know how to navigate her relationships and felt touched, scared and overwhelmed.
This is a still of a video Amelie produced in 2018. She lies in a light spot in a placeless place, the background is completely black. She looks into the camera and talks about her experience as a dividual, the feeling of being composed of all the relationships she has made in her life. She strongly believes that we are multiple, interdependent identities that are temporarily held together in one physical body.
This is an anonymized screenshot of a Zoom meeting with the people connected to the publishing collective Amelie works in as a freelancer. Approximately 30 frames with heads inside are on the image. We are mostly women and are distributed across many places in the world.