I am delighted to be presenting a paper at Thinking With John Berger, a conference to be held at Cardiff Metropolitan University, 4th 5th September 2014. My draft abstract follows below:
FIELDS OF KNOWLEDGE: BERGER, THE OUTDOORS, AND THE POSSIBILITIES OF EXPERIENTIAL PRACTICE (working title).
‘At first I referred to the field as a space awaiting events; now I refer to it as an event in itself’. John Berger – ‘Field’ (1971)
Who determines what research and academic practice is? Where do the boundaries of the academy lie? As artists and educators, how and why do we challenge and disrupt these hierarchies? In Seker Ahmet and the Forest (1979), Berger describes Ahmet’s painting as having authority despite a disruption of academic style that in other instances might lend a work a lack of conviction. Berger seems to argue that the painter’s relationship with place insists on an experiential telling of ‘forest’ which supersedes academic orthodoxies of 19thC landscape painting. The painting conveys the immersive / lived / attentive, not the observational / touristic / detached. Berger’s own practice consistently references the outdoor ‘nearby’ (whether or not the nearby is in London or the West Bank), particularly in relation to the reach of the walking / physical body, the encounter and the everyday. He writes at kitchen tables, and draws the objects and faces that are part of his material and physical immediacy.
These habits of ‘local’ and attentive looking can offer up possibilities for developing strategies for research, practice, teaching and learning that value the intuitive and the ‘not knowing’, and challenge the ownership of knowledge and the hegemonies of institutions. This paper will explore the potential of ambulant research and walking as pedagogy in questioning relationships between the orthodox and the unruly, the academic and the emotional, the empirical / validated and the wondering / intuitive, and for shifting the boundaries of the ‘academy’ into spaces and amongst people who might feel excluded or intimidated by hierarchies of specialist knowledge. I will argue that through such processes and attending to the ‘local’, official narratives of ‘knowledge ownership’ and expertise can not simply be challenged but also enriched. I will look at their potentialities both inside and outside of the institution, with reference to my own and other’s creative and teaching practice.