For the past year and a half, I’ve taken graduate courses at the RISD Museum such as The Promise of Informal Learning and The Artist as Curator. This Spring semester I took Museum Interpretation Practices with Sarah Ganz Blythe, Emancipatory Master Extraordinaire. The seminar asked: are ideas necessary to understand objects? How are systems playing out in museum experiences? What are the visible histories, and how are they mediated? Where in the social spectrum are you participating?
We read a range of academic texts, artist statements, poems, theory, and case studies; and were visited by many museum professionals. We tackled these questions as a class, untangling meaning, situating practice, challenging authority but also looking for ways to productively push back, or work with the system. What worked for me was interpretation as a medium itself, parallel to the museum complex. Hence the approach of my blog.
So much of Joseph Jacotot, in the way he’s idealized by Rancière, I come to embrace. Namely his method of chance. It’s how learning possibilities best pop-up for me. Everything in everything. It’s just a question of will, or a limiting situation to break out of. I think of both in terms of interpretation.
Chance obliges improvisation, but also the act of learning to overcome oneself. This is how I apply Rancière’s method of chance to my current interpretation of the Paula and Leonard Granoff Galleries at the RISD Museum. Improvisation means mining archeologies of knowledge, experience, and feeling. And learning to overcome oneself is to engage in interpretive communities.
Class once discussed how the RISD Museum is structured by wealth, power, and technocracy. It was suggested that perhaps doing away with the entire collection was needed, to start from scratch. Rancière similarly reasons, “There is stultification whenever one intelligence is subordinated to another,” “Whoever teaches without emancipating stultifies. And whoever emancipates doesn’t have to worry about what the emancipated learns. He will learn what he wants, nothing maybe.”
Most recently, as a class assignment, I led a gallery tour at the Paula and Leonard Granoff Galleries where RISD displays its Modern and Contemporary art collection. Modeling Jocotot, I presented my classmates with two situations: (1) Individually wander the gallery then regroup to discuss observations, or (2) collectively move across the gallery guided by group dialogue. They chose the latter. I then presented them with another situation. The gallery is the Explicative Order, that is, it’s whole systematic arrangement, discursive. Their task was to find collective emancipation. They attentively sparked commentary back and forth, and I hastily took notes. Most striking as it relates to my thinking through interpretive communities was observing their feeling of restlessness. “Overwhelmed, I don’t know. It’s like an upscale attic, a well curated storage space.” “Too precious. I feel like opening cabinets, throwing stuff, dropping vases.”
This impulse to delete the collection, at least metaphorically, was mentioned one more time by another student in a presentation for a digital project. Well let’s just say I’m going to settle the account, if not for some in the class, at least for the Cosmic Zapotec.
Last October (2015) at the Terms of Media conference at Brown University, I heard Gertrud Koch, visiting scholar in the Modern Culture and Media Dept., introduce the notion of “performative capture” while presenting on anthropomorphism in media. Through this concept of performative capture, Koch put forward the perceptive role of technology, and how play and tech can have an epistemic role through bricolage. If I also think of play as interpretation, I can use the idea of performative capture to hypothetically, or rather, playfully, delete RISD’s collection.
Then — Poof! All gone. What’s left are three three sculptural works now aligning the Cosmic Zapotec’s latest time-sculpture.
Above: Auguste Rodin, The Hand of God; Louise Bourgeois, Still Life; and David Hammons, Rock Head.
How is the Mystic Mexican back in the scene after having disappeared way back in September of 1968? It happened like this. One evening I happened upon Andrew Martinez, the Archivist at RISD’s Fleet Library, while he was sifting through boxes of archival materials. Strewn across the desk were student newspapers from the 1960s.
I asked what he was doing, and he said, “Looking at the Mystic Mexican.”
“Who’s the Mystic Mexican,” I asked.
“Check em’ out,” he responded. He then unfolded every newspaper the Mystic Mexican appeared in, they were about 9, all published in 1968. Who is he? Turns out his name is Ricardo Alonzo, and he was a Graphic Design major at RISD from Colima, Mexico.
Ricardo assumed an alter ego, The Mystic Mexican, in the columns and advertisements of the school newspaper, where he was in the editorial board. On his column as the Mystic Mexican he spoke a jive tongue on tolerance and cosmic life cycles. He also staged street performances dressed in Eastern garments. The newspaper reported multiple sightings.
The Mystic Mexican promoting theft at the local bookstore.
The Mystic Mexican making friends with public art.
The Mystic Mexican meditates.
(The Grass Scene at RISD.)