Wednesday, 6 December 2006

Dialogue and Disruption

A significant factor in the appeal of Bohm's vision was the promise that Dialogue could increase and enrich corporate activity – in part through the exploration and questioning of ‘inherent, predetermined purposes and goals’ (Bohm et. al. 1991). There was a clear parallel here with Argyris and Schön’s work on double-loop learning, but interestingly one of his associates has subsequently suggested that their view was too optimistic: ‘dialogue is very subversive’ (Factor 1994).
No organization wants to be subverted. No organization exists to be dissolved. An organization is, by definition a conservative institution. If you didn't want to conserve something, why would you organize? Even if an organization runs into serious trouble - if, perhaps, its market or reason for existence vanishes - there remains a tremendous resistance to change. (And, by the way, our larger culture is also an organization.) I suggest that the most one can hope for is a change in the more superficial elements which would naturally occur as an organization co-opts … some of dialogue's ethic of inquiry. And maybe that is all that is required to accomplish its aims. But any deeper change, any change that might threaten the very meaning and therefore the existence of the organization or its power relations would tend to be rejected - perhaps subtly and tacitly - because such vulnerability would not only be threatening to those within the group, but almost certainly to those who perceive from without - perhaps from higher up the corporate ladder - what this subgrouping of their organization is getting up to. (Factor 1994)
The presentation of clear guidelines, the publication of actual dialogues, and Bohm’s social and spiritual concern struck a chord. It led to the his work being used by a number of key writers especially around organizational development e.g. Senge (1990), to the formation of groups to engage in ‘Bohmian dialogue’ (and a thriving web community), and a Dialogue Project at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His particular innovation was to link Dialogue into a view of ‘reality’ as involving ‘unbroken wholeness in flowing movement’.


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Connections…

Ashok Sukumaran was one of the people Gordon Knox spoke enthusiastically about at the Diffraction conference in Liverpool when I was initially researching this HP labs residency. http://www.diffraction.org.uk/
Ashok has been artist-in-residence at Sun Microsystems in the last few months.
http://research.sun.com/spotlight/2006/2006-0102-artist_in_residence.html

It also turns out that we’ve been tag teaching over the last few weeks. We’ve been running a module together although we haven’t actually met yet. I kicked off the Srishti interim semester with the workshop on ‘conversation’ partly with the intention of opening up a space in which Ashok would be able to work. His proposal was to use cellphone technology in some way. Just before I went to Delhi for a few days my students were in the early stages of a creative explosion. A week of sensitization, trust-building and prising opening of collaborative possibilities had seemed to fire them up. I wonder what they did with that energy in the subsequent week? I’m back from Delhi now and about to find out. Ashok is finishing up today, then I take over and there’ll be a final presentation on December 2nd.

I’ve also just this morning been invited to take part in an art/cartography project at InIVA in London which it seems Ashok might be a part of. Hopefully this afternoon we’ll actually get to connect in person…



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Asking "Why?" at Sun Microsystems Laboratories:
A Conversation with Director, Glenn Edens

http://java.sun.com/developer/technicalArticles/Interviews/edens_qa.html

Q
You are quoted as saying that you can run a research lab, but you can't manage one. What did you mean by that?

A
A research lab attracts a different personality than a pure product group. And pure academic research and big science attract an even different personality type. So, we're kind of in the middle. My joke about this -- and I get a lot of grief over it, but I still think it's a good metaphor -- is that product organizations are mostly staffed with engineers. And engineers are mostly nerds, who ask: "How are we going to get this done? How does this work? How can we make it better?" How, how, how.

A research lab tends to consist of hippies, and hippies just ask why. Why, why, why. Why do I have to do it this way? Why should I do that? Why do I need to fill out this form? Why do I have to -- anything. Everything is a question. There is nothing that happens here without an argument. But that's part of our robust culture, and it's the "why" versus the "how". The reason I get in trouble with that analogy is, of course, there are very good engineers in the labs, and there are very good hippies in the product groups.

When managing a set of independent people, you can't tell them what to do. There are only three areas that I directly affect: First, I have some control over the people we hire. Second, I can present questions we ask, bringing in customers, suggesting something to discuss in Sun's Executive Management Group. And third, I can decide what to fund. But that's about it. That's why I say that you can run Sun Labs, but you can't manage it.


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Spent a very interesting day wrapping up and drawing together the Srishti Interim Semester project. A revisitation of the energy of dialogue, with a very warm welcome back from the students.
An afternoon seminar on Kabir from Shabnam, with Tara Kini and – of all people – David Clarke, my old tutor at Dartington, now Head of Music at Newcastle University. We had some deep chats about Music and Consciousness, which might lead to me contributing something to a publication of his.
An afternoon with pirate market radio station ‘Yellabella’
Then wandering the streets between power cuts to documenting the lanterns lit for neighbourliness.
The wrap party…

And the night before was in Hypnos having a very well lubricated meeting with Rebecca Gould and Kate Sparshatt. Ended up laying a monster egg with a Kolkata residency and a new piece of poetic invention curled up inside it.

That was after spending the day at Srishti introducing Bec and Kate to Geeta (sparky!), and also meeting with Ashok at last, and discovering the magical collaboration that has happened accidently on purpose between us. (that’s a lovely phrase isn’t it? ‘accidently-on-purpose’)
The foundation-laying and trust-building that was done early on in the process allowing the growth of some subtle, elegant and really moving blossoms. There were sweets from an anonymous donor, a festive atmosphere on the streets with space-filling music and conversation emanating from shops all around, and constant, quiet lanterns fluttering outside homes in dark residential streets.
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A day spent re-grouping. Catching up at last with correspondence and picking up threads of thought. One of which I think everyone will soon hear lots about. A big problem with my pluralistic, diverse practice is how to use my energy strategically. How to combat fragmentation and distraction. I’m always looking for the most simple, elegant organizing principle. It’s nice when things converge. I’m glad to be yoking together my work at HP labs and my work at Srishti through this notion of conversation. Now I’m seeing another connection happening with a bunch of very interesting young social entrepreneurs from the UK. The world will be hearing a lot more from them soon I feel. In the meantime, here’s a link to one of the people they are strongly influenced by. Charles Leadbeater has some interesting ideas on social networks and collaborative thinking. I’d like to tease out the connections with interdisciplinarity and dialogue. http://www.wethinkthebook.net/book/home.aspx

I’m reminded of a dialogue between John Allen and Anthony Blake hosted my friend Chili Hawes at the October Gallery (last October as it happens).

Language is more intelligent than people and never came out of grunts. It is the magic that evolved humanity. Language's alien power shows us that more actions exist in heaven and earth than people and things. It is our worst enemy and our best friend, a parasite and a medicine, an enigma that baffles perhaps because it comes from elsewhere.

Could any of this be true?

This led me to an interesting article on The Politics of Conversation at http://www.duversity.org/library.htm.

Here’s a bit from towards the end of a video conversation on the Social Dreaming Matrix
between Gordon Lawrence and Anthony Blake http://www.duversity.org/Gordon.htm

Blake : Let’s get to organizations. How is it possible to ask a question, which is bound to be loaded with a point of view or ideology, out of which is to come some kind of information? How is this registered by people, the people you are involved in? Is it a matter of making them feel better? Is it a matter of them affecting the decisions they make? Is it a matter of how they communicate together and form a group? Can I get you to ask better questions?

Lawrence : I think one way of answering you is why does one do consultancy and it seems to me that what one is doing consultancy for is to be engaged in revelation. That’s a rather grand word but is opposed to salvation where you solve that problem for them. So if you hold onto the idea of revelation—finding and expanding and so on and so forth—the evidence is that everybody in an organization dreams and once you listen to these dreams, then you begin to see what is really going on. So dreams of violence will mirror actual violence in the workplace and so on and so…
When I worked in Shell, it always used to amuse me. I used to think there’s 3,000 people work here, suppose they dream five, that’s 15,000 dreams coming into this building every day and they just disappear.

Blake : They don’t quite disappear of course . . . I think it is very powerful to acknowledge the dream and give it voice in the social conscious state. This is something—a very radical step to make which is going to affect how people are together.

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Just been looking through Stanza’s journal at http://www.dshed.net/studio/residencies/clarkbursary/archive/stanza/proposal.php
In his very first entry he talks about the ‘painting-by-numbers’ that can happen on technology led projects. Presented with bits of kit by excited engineers eager to see multicoloured sparks an artist can feel like an entertainer. ‘Here you are! Show us what you can do with this!’ I felt a bit like that at the Srishti student party the other day when I was handed a guitar with insistent expectation and everyone sat around desperate to be impressed.
After all, what am I asking for when I consume the art of others? Am I asking to be transported? And what obligation does the artist have?

I’ve been holding myself away from the nitty-gritty of the technology for as long as possible, wanting to understand the dynamics of all technologies, rather than the specificities of one or two. But then I’m led into the thickets of a question about all art. What is the value off abstraction, of conceptualization, of the permanently floating query? Is art not an exploration through things which are accessible to others, and are thus communicative? Are technologies not just the media, without which there is no art? It’s precisely my commitment to interdisciplinarity which is leading me to this question. If the work hovers above and between various practices and definitions where, if ever, does it come to ground?

But also the need I’m beginning to feel more acutely, for solitary space. How can the communicative media of art be created except out of emptiness? It is emptiness which spins to form a thread. It is silence which gathers round to make a sound. It is space which presses into service a form.

I’m reminded of this Martin Heidegger thought I heard recently from Andrew Brewerton (Principal of Dartington College of Arts):

The jug is a thing as a vessel – it can hold something. To be sure, this container has to be made. But its being made by the potter in no way constitutes what is peculiar and proper to the jug insofar as it is [in its capacity as] a jug. The jug is not a vessel because it was made; rather, the jug had to be made because it is this holding vessel.

The making, it is true, lets the jug come into its own. But that which in the jug’s nature is its own is never brought about by its making. Now released from the making process, the self-supporting jug has to gather itself for the task of containing. In the process of its making, of course the jug must first show its outward appearance to the maker. But what shows itself here, the aspect (the eidos, the idea), characterises the jug solely in the respect in which the vessel stands over against the maker as something to be made….

…We become aware of the vessel’s holding nature when we fill the jug. The jug’s base and sides obviously take on the task of holding. But not so fast! When we fill the jug with wine, do we pour the wine into the sides and base? At most, we pour the wine between the sides and over the base. Sides and base are, to be sure, what is impermeable in the vessel. But what is impermeable is not yet what does the holding. When we fill the jug, the pouring that fills it flows into the empty jug. The emptiness, the void, is what does the vessel’s holding. The empty space, this nothing of the jug, is what the jug is as a holding vessel….

…but if the holding is done by the jug’s void, then the potter who forms sides and base on his wheel does not, strictly speaking, make the jug. He only shapes the clay. No – he shapes the void. For it, in it, and out of it, he forms the clay into the form. From start to finish the potter takes hold of the impalpable void and brings it forth as the container in the shape of a containing vessel. The jug’s void determines all the handling in the process of making the vessel. The vessel’s thingness does not lie at all in the material of which it consists, but in the void that it holds.

Martin Heidegger, ‘Das Ding’ (1950), lecture given at the Bayerischen Akademie der Schönen Kunste, June 6th, 1950, translated by Albert Hofstadter, ‘The Thing’, in Poetry, Language, Thought (Harper & Row, Harper Colophon Edition, New York, 1971), pp. 168-9


I suppose having spent the last month in pretty full-on activity and focusing so strongly on conversation I’m starting to feel the burden of so much information. Started reading John Maeda’s book on the ten laws of simplicity last night. The first Law is ‘Reduce’.

We are so surrounded by the stuff of life that it seems silly to pick out a medium to make art out of. Today I’ve been looking at the international banking system. I want to open an account here so I can pay my rent. My landlords would like to keep the payments shaded from the sun so the international transfer hasn’t quite worked as smoothly as it might. It all takes time. My options are opened a little because I bought a PIO card before leaving the UK. A ‘Person of Indian Origin’ card to slip alongside by British Passport. That in itself brought revelations. I don’t think I’d ever seen my Indian passport – didn’t know I even had one - but my father dug out my ID as a fourteen year old a few months ago and I presented it at the Indian High Commission in Aldwych. Now, through a contortion of nation states, I can own anything I want in India except a farm. Actually that’s what I’d really like.

Anyway ricocheting around offshore banking websites, taxation arrangements, wealth management advisors and Indian economic protocols propels me right back into a centre of my research – the flow of global capital. I am part of the phenomenon I am seeking to understand.

There’s a tension in me though. I’m aware that an expectant crowd is arrayed around me looking to be entertained by my artistic use of the new technologies being invented at HP labs. In my heart though the technology seems so trivial. The other day, for instance, in a discussion around Cathy Lane’s work on sound in the Srishti Interim Semester workshops, I heard about a new kind of paper being developed at HP on which you can draw sounds. I can immediately think of a thousand applications. Graphic scores for instance, and the connection between music and notation that I’ve discussed a bit with John Hartley. I’m also hatching a plan to do something at a Neolithic rock art site in Karnataka which has been rediscovered lately to have a strong acoustic dimension.
http://news.bbc.co.uk/go/em/fr/-/2/hi/science/nature/3520384.stm
http://www.antiquity.ac.uk/Ant/078/Ant0780038.htm

This would be a nice place to do the recording of his ‘Pebble Music’ that Mat Martin has asked me to make. Here, by the way, is Jeff Cloke’s version http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m-yGHCNbn28
This new kind of paper might also be an interesting way of examining all sorts of relationships between, language, sound and mark-making which is a major constellation in my thinking at the moment. But somehow the actual stuff seems so much less exciting than the idea. Maybe I’m not really an artist. Or perhaps I’m really a conceptual artist rather than a craftsman. It used to be called poetry I guess.

Is it called programming now? http://www.interdisciplines.org/defispublicationweb/papers/4

Actually something’s just occurred to me about how my version of Pebble Music might be made. I want to get away from the performance of the score in the manner of a nineteenth century chamber musician. I’d also like to hint at the hugeness and slowness of the rock formations. I’ve been thinking of writing onto the rocks themselves and perhaps recording the sound of that but now I’m wondering if I could use tripod mounted long durations of video with ambient sound which is only structured in accordance with the score at the editing stage. It would become a sound portrait of the site.
I wonder how Shakespeare would work there?

Like as the waves make towards the pebbled shore,
So do our minutes hasten to their end;
Each changing place with that which goes before,
In sequent toil all forwards do contend.
Nativity, once in the main of light,
Crawls to maturity, wherewith being crown'd,
Crooked elipses 'gainst his glory fight,
And Time that gave doth now his gift confound.
Time doth transfix the flourish set on youth
And delves the parallels in beauty's brow,
Feeds on the rarities of nature's truth,
And nothing stands but for his scythe to mow:
And yet to times in hope my verse shall stand,
Praising thy worth, despite his cruel hand.


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