In a seminal book written in 1964 – Gesture and Speech – French archaeologist André Leroi-Gourhan suggested that for millions of years, human culture and technology evolved entirely without complex language, rational planning or abstract thought. Our capacity to conceptualise things that aren’t there (you’re doing this right now), appears very late in human history. For Leroi-Gourhan, cognition is a byproduct of being in the world, of being a body “in dialogue with the material affordances of the environment.” When we act on our environment, it is the environment that shapes and determines our actions. Or to put it another way, it is not the mind that thought up the hammer, it is the hammer that thought up the mind.
This way of thinkig has some profound consequences. It teaches us humility. It forces us to step further down from the pedestal on which we have placed mankind and assume a more humble position amongst other forms of life and matter. This is the first premise of post-human thought, even for its critics. It requires us to abandon old ideas of mastery and primacy, whether it be over nature or others, which is at the heart of feminist and post-colonial thinking. It suggests that we aren’t who we are, but the product of our values, thoughts and actions, which is a central thought in the discourse around performativity, gender and identity. To be an “embodied mind” means that we construct the world according to our experience in place and time (phenomenology). As a consequence, mushrooms, bees and humans don’t live in the same but different worlds, each according to their own species and sense apparatus (Umwelt theory). This means that our understanding of “the world” will be forever limited, obscured by our own nature and in a constant process of emergence and becoming. To accept the limitations of our knowledge means that we can never truly foresee the consequences of our actions. This is the fundamental premise of all ecological thought.
Teaching and Learning
Many of these ideas will guide our conversations and activities, although the syllabus of the Studio is determined largely by your research. The concept of affordance has strong critical currency. It can unravel some paradoxes of modern life, and bring a new perspective to any subject. But we can also use it to construct a pedagogy – a method of learning and doing things together.
Studio 11 sees writing as a social field where ideas materialise not through reasoning but through experiment and methods of practice (répétition). It encourages unorthodox and “essayist” approaches to writing, including social forms of writing. True to the premise of this Studio, writing shouldn’t be a lonely act. We meet throughout the year to write together, have tutorials, share and discuss ideas. The atmosphere is challenging, quietly radical, transgressive, but friendly and committted to a broad and diverse range of voices and ideas. Importantly, we meet on a level playing field. Tutors and students “co-intent on reality,” to use Paolo Freire’s words, “in the task of unveiling that reality, and thereby coming to know it critically” – which is a gentle form of saying something very similar to Leroi-Gouhan’s idea of how knowelge evolves, not head down, but from the ground up, through engagement and dialogue.
- Agamben, Giorgio, ‘Creation and Salvation’, in: Nudities (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 2010)
- Azoulay, Ariella, Potential History: Unlearning Imperialism (London: Verso, 2019)
- André Leroi-Gourhan, Gesture and Speech (MIT Press, 1993)
- Bennett, Jane, Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things (London: Duke University Press, 2010)
- Fanon, Franz, The Wretched of the Earth (London: Penguin Books, 1967)
- Freire, Paulo, Pedagogy of the Oppressed (London: Continuum, 1970)
- Haraway, Donna J., Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene (Durham: Duke University Press Books, 2016)
Harman, Graham, Object-Oriented Ontology: A New Theory of Everything (London: Pelican, 2017)
- Hayles, N. Katherine, Unthought (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2017)
- Kohn, Eduardo, How Forests Think: Toward an Anthropology beyond the Human / Eduardo Kohn.(Berkeley: University of California Press, 2013)
- Latour, Bruno, Reassembling The Social: An Introduction To Actor-Network-Theory (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005)
- Leroi-Gourhan, André, Gesture and Speech (MIT Press, 1993)
- Lowenhaupt Tsing, Anna, Friction (Princeton University Press, 2005)
- María Lugones, Pilgrimagess (Maryland: Rowman and Littlefield, 2003)
- Timothy Morton, Being Ecological (London: Pelican, 2018)
- Tomlinson, Gary, A Million Years of Music: The Emergence of Human Modernity (New York: Zone Books, 2015)
Studio image: Musarc, Joseph Kohlmaier’s experimental choir, processing colour and plants through Taranto, Italy, during a performance of Sara Rodrigues’s Invocations, 2022. Banner: Hans Op de Beeck, Staging Silence (3), video still (detail), 2019
Dissertation Studios 2022–23
Studio 01: The Pensive Image
Do images in the information age displace texts and become the main vehicle for expressing thought? How do images communicate? What are they are saying? Can images write histories?
Studio 02: Sport and Aesthetics
Dissertation Studio 02 will examine the concept of aesthetics as applied within that most everyday activity: sport.
Studio 03: The Bone Pile. Archive and Myth as Methodology
Starting with the archive as a ‘commons of imagination,’ Studio 03 is testing the bonds between the personal and the collective, the interconnection of heterogeneous histories, archival temporalities and deep places of myth and storytelling.
Studio 04: Public Protest – Spaces of negotiation
How do we shape the city? How do we claim, occupy and inform spaces as people who live, work and play? All places have a history of negotiation over territory and its use – which helps to bring them into their current form. Understanding this legacy through acts of dissent and protest can better uniform us about the places that we inhabit.
Studio 05: “If I stay silent nothing will change:” Identity, Politics, Social Change and Creative Culture(s)
This cross-disciplinary studio considers how power, culture, politics, identity, representation, activism, social media and mass culture theory intersect with a range of arts practices, including photography, architecture, design and fine art, film studies, fashion and music, sound, pop art and theatre.
Studio 06: Thinking with Ruins
Thinking With Ruins begins with the idea that to think about ruination allows us to approach subjects that are of interest materially, aesthetically and politically and it allows us to work across scales – from dust to debris to object to landscape.
Studio 07: Feminist Approaches
In this studio you will be invited to take a feminist approach to your dissertation and its topic, whatever that topic might be.
Studio 08: Fashioning the African Diaspora
Elli Michaela Young
Exploring the fashioning of the African diaspora and with a particular focus on the Caribbean Island of Jamaica, this studio aims to think through how fashion and dress is used to grapple with ideas of self.
Studio 09: Sartorial Culture
This studio examines the intersections and relationships between objects and their visual and discursive representations through the lens of the history of fashion and dress. It locates fashion, or fashionable dress, in the conversations about it, the images portraying it, and the artefacts left in its wake.
Studio 10: “Everywhere we remain unfree and chained to technology”
Studio 10 questions the role of technology in our lives and investigates the environmental ethics concerning how we relate to, and operate within the world and each other.
Studio 11: The Hammer without a Master
Studio 11 explores the idea that we think, remember and decide ‘in the world,’ rather than in our heads, that we are connected in unexpected ways and that this connection may be a key to unravelling some of the paradoxes of modern life and culture.
Studio 12: The Voice of Things
This studio will offer a challenge to the idea that objects are unruly things and need to be brought to heel by labelling, categorising, taxonomising. Instead, it offers an invitation to give voice to the mute and invisible, by listening to objects and treating them as allies.
Studio 13: Suck it up
This studio takes a sideways looks at the intersection of youth culture and late capitalism considering the impacts and influences of desire, the cartoon, consumerism and cuteness in shaping our lived contemporary experience.
Studio 14: Futures Past and Present
Cultural history, from high art to kitsch, is littered with visions of the future; some inspiring, some ridiculous, almost all of them wrong.
Studio 15: A River with Standing
What happens when a river is conceived as a living entity instead of the prevailing perspective of human sovereignty over nature? What political impact may this unprecedented legal status have on the ecological crisis? What do Indigenous cosmologies contribute to current posthuman philosophical debates?
Studio 16: “I can’t see the wood for the trees:” Ecology as Methodology
This studio aims to provoke discussion about the ’reality’ and the ‘myth’ of ecology: the ease with which one can theorise about it, and at the same time the persistent challenges of enacting it as an everyday lived condition of human (and more-than-human) existence.
Studio 17: The Practice of Space – Writing Atmospheres in Art and Architecture
Nico de Oliveira
Dissertation Studio 06 looks at space as practice, since each location is a mutable entity framed as a moment in time, populated by individuals and shaped by their actions as artists, musicians, curators, designers, architects, writers and spectators.
Studio 18: The Poetics of Making
This studio will consider the value of making in itself, independent of the product or outcome, exploring the idea of craft as meaningful work.
Studio 19: The Erotics of Infrastructure
Studio 19 questions how our body and subjectivity is formed through our encounters with infrastructure. We will explore what constitutes contemporary infrastructure, such as the digital sphere, financial products and how these may impact the formation of our subjectivity and social organisation.
Studio 20: A History of Efficiency
There is nothing inevitable about the way we organise our societies. Changing the harmful structures of economic efficiency, which are making the planet uninhabitable, is up to us. This studio is for students who are interested in exploring any aspect of the climate emergency.