Part one: How to represent conversation in the digital realm
The following is an exchange between Houghton Kinsman and Alexandra Ross unpicking threads relating to the art of conversation and it’s textual representation. Thus, the project can be seen as building upon Ross’s PHD research, which examined various ways of capturing the interstitial moments of art and curatorial practice.
How do you distinguish between an interview and a conversation? How do you display that difference in a discernible way? And how do you negotiate this process? These are the three fundamental questions that have driven this collaborative experiment. This is an exercise against verbatim (as much as that is ever possible) transcription.
We have also paid careful attention to the presentation of the negotiation in the editorial process. The process of editing can be a freeing and constraining tool. It can open up and create transparency of exchange by retaining the um’s and ah’s. But, it can also be inhibitory, through its exposure of the messiness of the exchange. Whilst some exude natural eloquence and finish sentences in a neat and pithy manner, others add meaning through gestures and intonation which can be flattened when fingers hit the keys and transcription takes place.
Hence, we have scored the text to highlight an element of the cadence of the exchange. Drawing from exemplars such as Hans Ulrich Obrist’s book ‘Everything You Always Wanted to Know about Curating, but were too afraid to ask’ which used a similar editing guide, we have expanded on and adapted this for our present use.
* Hyperlink – click for more information
And Contested comment in editing process, but nevertheless retained
And Emphasis on word and its nuance
A n d Slow musing of ideas…
AND Hilarity/ animation/ wild gesticulation
Part two: A Conversation on Conversation
AR: The interview in a journalistic sense is a Q & A format, pretty much. Before I came here I read that the interview has a particular mining quality – you are trying to mine someone for facts and information. There is the vessel and there is someone attempting to pour something out of the vessel and into the glass… Let’s start with the question we are grappling with. How does conversation differ from the other i.e. interviews or dialogues?
HK: What is it for you?
AR: I got into this line of inquiry because of an irritation that kept surfacing regarding conversation in its textual form. Specifically, the use of conversation and related misnomer practices. For example, reading ‘in-conversation’ texts felt like a muted and flattened experience. Conversation is not RE-performing something. In so many of these ‘in-conversation’ events relating to biennales, art fairs, museums, etc., they often feel like extremely prepared PR pitches. Conversation is messy, it is reciprocal,
HK: That’s a good point. It is more informal, less pressurised, and also in a way less intentional. Perhaps there isn’t a particular direction… I like the idea of the mining concept, because sometimes the interview does feel like the spotlight is on, now perform and conversation doesn’t feel like that.
AR: Actually, it is largely about the framing of the conversation.
HK: On that point, I wanted to share something with you. It’s a teaching book I’m reading by the Getty*. They distinguish between conversation, discussion and dialogue. They use the symbol of a circle to describe conversation, a triangle to describe discussion, and a diamond to describe dialogue. So, the idea of the circle in relation to conversation allows it to oscillate back and forth, it is circular so there isn’t a forward direction necessarily. Meanwhile, discussion as a triangle, places the teacher at the top and the students at the bottom. I would equate this to an interview, because, here the teacher is guiding the discussion, so even though the students are discussing back and forth amongst themselves, that teacher has a
AR: A game-plan!?
HK: Yes, GOOD WORD. Dialogue is structured as a diamond. At the top is the Pusher, the bottom the Opposer, on the left-hand side is the Bystander and on the right-hand side is the Reinforcer. So the idea is that the Pusher will drive the conversation forward, the Reinforcer will back it up, the Bystander will be observing, whilst the Opposer will play Devil’s advocate. But then, everyone in the dialogue can move between each of those points.
AR: Yes, I think that’s quite possible, but it depends on the constituency of the participants in the conversation. It depends on the nuance, skills, rapport and PERSONALITY of the person facilitating the conversation.
HK: And, that is what I think is particularly important about your research. You appreciate that there is a difference between these three things even though we use them so interchangeably.
AR: Yes, an attentiveness to the difference. Whatever the nomenclature you have attributed to the event you are attending (be it a forum, colloquium, or symposium), it manages expectations of the participant. Now I’ve gone off the classical side, but I wanted to quote something to you, from Aristotle’s’ ‘Nicomachean Ethics’. The way he works through so many issues is by locating the mean, the average. Conversational virtues in Aristotle’s opinion walk this fine line: ‘Concerning what is pleasant in amusement, the person in the middle is witty and the disposition is wit, the excess is buffoonery and its possessor a buffoon, while the deficient person is a kind of boor and the disposition is boorishness.’* It’s about finding that mean. I think it was in a YouTube clip during an Interview Marathon at the Serpentine Gallery that Tino Sehgal mentioned how conversation is the domain and art of the aristocracy and the elite, because they have time to finesse it. Despite its ubiquitousness it is not to say that we are all accomplished conversationalists. It is an art and it should be finessed.
HK: If you think about art in populist terms, it could be ubiquitous, but it is still regarded as elitist. So, perhaps conversation is the other way around?….
AR: Interesting point. Also, there is the importance of empathy: if you see someone is closing up you can do things to open them up. These are things people can learn to do in conversation to build rapport, but these things also just make sense!
HK: Perhaps that is in large part what the art of conversation is – when you recognise that someone is facing the door/ turning away, you find ways to engage with them and open them up.
AR: ABSOLUTELY! There is a constant negotiation. Like the artist Cesare Pietroiusti* who had a ‘retrospective’ exhibition of the work edited out of his previous exhibitions, highlighting how one’s practice is a series of (re)encountering/visiting artworks. It is interesting to think of one’s practice as a conversation-looping and feeding back and ‘in conversation’ with itself… Of course, it’s also quite possible to have a non-verbal conversation.
HK: And, how do we represent this in the digital realm? What happens to the nuances edited out from an interview?
AR: Think about it. One’s use of language is loaded with content. The flow, rapport and cadence, the silence and the personalities, I often think about how many people are involved in the editing process.
HK: YOU ARE QUITE ANIMATED RIGHT NOW, a good moment to think about what’s stripped away in the process of transcription. How do we show your GESTICULATION?
AR: Yes, I can’t talk without my hands. If I sit on my hands I lose about 20 percent of my vocabulary. I had something to say and now it’s g o n e… There are so many quotes I wanted to share, like the one on buffoonery, but I did not want to prepare for this conversation.
HK: Your comment brings me back to the notion of transcription and editing. In some way there is always a sense of vulnerability. In practice, I have come across situations in which a lack of editing leaves people feeling nervous.
AR: I worked a lot with audio recording and chose not to edit the audio. This meant that I didn’t have to send it back for approval. It saved a lot of time. This minimal editing also created a safe space of trust with the participant. I was not going to reorder the flow of the exchange, and potentially reframe meaning.
HK: So, from what you are saying there is both comfort and vulnerability in not e d i t i n g?
AR: Yes, and some people maintain very tight control over what’s put out there in their name. Before we pressed record, you highlighted the introduction to Hans Ulrich Obrist’s, ‘Interview, Vol. 1’* where the idea of the Infinite conversation, the entrevue is presented. He placed great emphasis on the moment of encounter. It is not necessarily only about language, but also the meeting of bodies in space. So, we have approached the form of conversation as a process: it is both an art and a tool.
HK: And, it is an experiment. It would be interesting to see, if after people have read this, if they approach the interview and conversation in its written form in a different way. Also, I do THINK about the look on the editor’s face when he sees this…