interview A. + G. + S.

G So, “Can you recall a moment in the project when an issue/problem came up?”

S So we are going to discuss the collective feedback session that happened during the HDK-Valand workshop week in June 2020?

A Yes.

S How about, we together try to reconstruct this moment? I will speak about my own experience. The session was called for the off-days during this workshop week, whereas just the week before we had all agreed that we wouldn't do all five days, only three. And then there was this urgent call — via email — for a feedback session on Tuesday and Thursday, the original off days. But it was obvious that we would come to it, and that this would be important. And it was on some kind of online platform, and on a collaborative writing pad. And I sat on the balcony of my apartment.

G It was an urgency from some participants, including myself. In the smaller groups, we started having conversations, like how we felt. I remember me saying that I felt uncomfortable for not understanding what was going on. And then that opened the door for others also sharing why they felt uncomfortable.

We wanted to share that with the Gothenburg group and open it up for discussion, because we thought it was very relevant for the project itself. This conversation started on Facebook. We had identified specific problematics and wanted to open up to the entire group and talk about it. Because we needed to feel somehow safe, or I don't like the word “safe,” but if our intention is to create a space to include everyone, how can we do that?

A Can I add that there was a concern? We started noticing as we divided into smaller groups that, on the one hand, we didn't have enough time to set a collective commitment, and, on the other hand, we didn't have enough space to share and discuss what happened in these smaller individual groups. The problems that were encountered, how could those be communicated into the bigger group? There was a lot of noise or friction; things were said but not really contextualized. That really created some friction. So the group meeting aimed to reset the collective sharing, a check-in moment to really discuss the unforeseen things that happen when one starts working with one another.

S In the Gothenburg group we were approximately twelve in the beginning. And we split into six, maybe seven smaller groups, and some of us were in multiple of these. Most of us started off in several and then slowly focused on just one. So we became more and more segregated due to time restraints. This might also have been the backstory why this urgency was coming up.

G So for this feedback session, we created a collaborative writing pad.

A On the TTTT cloud, and each group made a small check-in, basically, saying what they were doing, where they were at. And then also a meeting moment.

G I remember the writing was anonymous. And afterwards, I remember that we read that together, one person at a time, reading the different voices.

S Yes, that was beautiful. I remember.

G Yeah. And at the end, I felt that we never did anything with that material. And that material was an exercise of honesty, vulnerability, trying to share things that were not safe to say before.

A Indeed, we tried to situate what we were doing. But then there was this anonymous moment to be able to deal with things. Anonymity helped to make people feel secure in their capacity to disclose how they really felt. And also to own that collective problem. The problematic aspect of that was that we had little time for discussion of all those things. We picked several elements up as something important to be looked into, but we didn't really plan a time for it. We would have needed a moment pre-planned for the possibility that there were problems and for the need to tackle them.

G We did have two sessions, the reading and then the discussion.

S They were each three-hour sessions. It was very intense… Then at the end no one wanted to, or had the capacity to volunteer towards solving anything. We started thinking about doing a note-taking of the entire process, like retrospective notes…

AIt was the suggestion to make a compilation of all of these different experiences as a testimony of the entire experience, that would also form part of the reflection. Very similar to what we're doing right now…

G Exactly.

A But it didn't happen. I think perhaps also because I went down.

G It was summer. We were exhausted.

S It was the week of all the Black Lives Matter protests. So I think June 2020 was hot in many ways on this subject. And then, we were not really hosting anyone, we were hosting them online with no opportunity to share the physical space. It was early in the pandemic. I never left home. Some sat here in the building at Valand, but I was still, like, “No, we don't do that.”

G My question is, did you experience what the participants shared, the comments, as a kind of attack instead of an open conversation?

S I wouldn't use the word “attack.” That's quite aggressive. But what I felt in this project from the beginning, the word “urgent,” or the word “crisis” — which are kind of common in art talk —had a different intensity. It was almost a whole other psychological strategy or game. So being called for an urgent feedback session, no, it's not an attack, but it was definitely a call to act, to be responsive, or you're in trouble… not like you're “in trouble,” but you wanted to be held accountable.

I didn't feel like I had space to actually participate halfway. Even if I had planned something else that day, because we were supposed to have that day off. I was getting more and more concerned that this project was going to double its length because moving online was allowing it to stretch and stretch in time. I was very conscious that I had the extra privilege of having... 5% of my job going towards TTTT. 5% is a very small amount of hours, but still. If we had met everyone that week physically, it would have been a timeboxed week. My opinion was that we need not deliver to the EU, under a pandemic, the same level of output. I was concerned that going online would mean we would double our efforts, and my strategy was to keep us from meeting too much online. So, that was my opinion, but then, once we got going, I thought it was very important work. And it brought up really good things, like, white fragility was something that became tangible and in a way that I could start to unravel in myself. So, it wasn't an attack, but it was urgent, it was like, “oh, I better go.” And I think it was beautiful that the participants who sent the email claimed the space, and for the first time, so strongly. And it was so beautiful this happened that I was of course going to take away whatever I had planned that week. So I didn't feel attacked, but I did feel called. This is both beautiful and, of course, a thing to wrestle with.

Because I had to redo my whole schedule, which is just a personality problem of mine. I had to, like, let go of some other meetings and tasks.

A I think this is really important. This notion of “being called to something” really manifested very strongly, this logic between “calling” and “addressing.” We really highlighted that something is there. But then, because we didn't take it further, it feels that we were making the situation more naked, by leaving it naked. This walking away, I don't think it was intentional. I also don’t think it was out of laziness. It was definitely a misplanning or misevaluation of the of importances... I think this applies to the entire project. And as someone who was involved in the drafting of the project I also see myself responsible for that. [...]

But particularly in these moments, when urgencies are screaming to be cared for, that is where, actually, we really needed to be better at taking that in. Many stressors came up at that point: the stressor of actually being productive, of delivering something; the stressor of having your own individual time, and the commitment to this project going beyond the initial expectation due to the extension; also, we don't know how to deal with these emergent subjects and needs. I think this was a huge learning, but, of course, it also remains to be solved.

G As it was not solved… I wonder, was there a problem with how it was raised?

A You mean, how it’s been received?

G Maybe there was a lack of attention, or a lack of care?

S Well, I felt like when we were doing it, the methods that were used from calling us to action to writing all the feedback, to reading it out, all of that worked performatively well. So the problem that I see that we needed to solve… Sorry, I'm going to “solution mode”… I don't think we'll have a solution today in this recording because I think this came across in all the versions of TTTT – small group, big group, medium group —is “who”, “how” and even the question we just had 15 minutes ago, “Who would like to be part of the editorial team?” So it is about minimizing the volunteering and coming up with some kind of framework that could capture what happened in session two. It's never going to be perfect or enough because what we uncovered was nothing that can be unpacked in one two-hour thing. But we could, at least, come in and say, we're going to record this conversation that we reflected on last time. Even if it's just a third round of recording, discussion, or recording dialogue, this would lessen the stress of, like, “How are we going to get this in the documentation of the project?”

A I think there was, at the same time, an anxiety to return to normal. For example, when there's a cyclone, when there is a disaster, things actually stop. And then you can't really continue where you left. It was such a moment. I also see it through its repercussions, as people started to disengage more, feeling less trust in the project. I'm just making assumptions now, but that’s my reading.

At this moment, I think, we actually had to be braver and more aware that this is where we can make a difference by saying, “All the things that we were doing were important to actually get us here. Now they have to stop. And the project becomes this, something else.” And then the entire remaining project would be informed by this urgency. What took place, I think, was a very classic economy of feeling hurt and feeling the abuser. And we are all seeing ourselves through this lens: how am I complicit with creating these moments that exclude? And, how am I being generous with my time or others are being generous with their time; am I actually more accustomed to my privilege?… All these concerns. And, am I being put in the position of the victim? Why do I have to be the one to raise these claims? Because I'm an already racialized, identified, subject in some other way? I mean, that was very problematic. We were all negotiating with this differently. And then, I think we missed something there. But this is learning.

S But I do think that there were some things that happened. Maybe due to this, for example, the small sharing of the money later… This is my assumption, but I think I know for a fact I started fighting for that more for my small group.

After that, there were moments when I started acting differently in the Gothenburg group, like where I wasn't as brave as I could have been. So if we get to the “what we could have” questions [in this discussion], we could have done what you're suggesting, we could have realized we're not doing the seven different things any more. That would have been such a relief, because what I ended up delivering for my small group was exactly what we said we were going to do in the beginning. This was actually a bit of a disappointment. That's where we ended with, because we had gone to some place, but then it wasn't a place that we could care for in the same framing or mechanisms we needed for the end result. We reverted to, we just cut the fat, but the fat was beautiful. I'm gonna stop here [laughter].

G I think I need to disagree with one comment that has been said today, that people were not generous. I think people were really generous in creating that space and wanting to change things. But then it was a disappointment also.

A I think they could have been more [generous]. I think people were generous, but there could have been more generosity if there had been more time to unpack that and to care for that. Perhaps the word “generous” was unfortunate, I guess it was more about “frankness”. It didn’t feel totally frank, such an emotionally charged situation… I think the process of writing anonymously allows for that; certain things pop up “frankly,” and create some confusion, like, “What does this mean?”

S If we had taken up the Friday session and turned it into “Feedback Session Three”… that’s what I would propose to do in retrospect. I understand why, at that moment, we didn't. Some groups would not have gotten to share what they'd been working on. And that’s quite not-inclusive, or, you know, like, it's so out of the norm of academia – like, all participants need to be able to have had the original space to share. Thus, I completely understand why we ended up not doing this impromptu change of plan. But next time, I guess I would design a third session for two weeks later, like, let it sit and start to grow inside each of us. I think some check-in sessions during the Brussels week did similar things, brought up such amazing emotions, where certain voices were taking space, but we didn't have the afternoon to deal with what was brought to the surface. And we should have just shifted in that sense. So having space for that, and also cancelling guest lecturers… I mean, doing this is super against our norms, I understand why we didn't do that at the moment, we were like, “No, we have to go with the plan. We've hired these people…”

A But we ignore the sense of urgency…

S Oh, I think they're talking to us from the main room?