the Conversation Pit project

A durational, spatial and ontological venue for speculative conversation

An art project that brings together what I consider to be two highlights of the flower power era: the happening and the conversation pit to create a happening-space for thinking-together through conversation. A physical and durational place that holds open the possibility for thinking to emerge from the physical process of conversing together, and tentatively, space for the possibility that thought generated through such shared thinking might offer some small recompense for all that thinking that has been done alone, in the shadow of the Enlightenment’s lone white male and modernisms individual genius.

Conversation Pit Seasons September 2018 – February 2019

Domestic Hub Conversation Pit   –   Rm Conversation Pit        –        Rm  Summer Series     

Project background:  I have chosen the title Conversation Pit in romantic retro–speculation for the 1960s and 70s architectural phenomena of the conversation pit. Romantic because my knowledge of it is predominantly formed through Hollywood-mediated fiction; there was not a whiff of the conversation pit in my own rural New Zealand 70s era childhood. Retro – Speculation because I speculate lines of causality and influence in my retrospective view from the 21st century.

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The formulation of this project owes a debt of gratitude to the object-oriented ontology philosopher Timothy Morton, growing from a rather one-sided conversation in which Morton was talking and I was listening via the miracle of the internet, while cycling home from work. Two quite separate moments of Morton’s thinking were brought together through the serendipity of YouTube, crystallising for me thoughts that had been brewing for some time.

In the opening stages of an interview on SCI-Arc channel ,in which Morton was being interviewed by B.Arch Program Chair Tom Winscombe, Morton complicated the niceties of the opening welcome with a heartfelt thank you for the opportunity to think in conversation with the presenter. Morton said “I think of this kind of event as my lab, if I didn’t have this opportunity I would not be able to think the stuff that I think. In part because I am bit daft, but also because I think that thinking is a physical process that happens in-between people and in interactions with people. I am very grateful for this opportunity to parallel play a little bit.”[1]

Courtesy of YouTube this followed on from listening to Timothy Morton in conversation with Verso books. In this clip the interviewer has removed his or her own words and the interview is structured through Morton’s responses to various provocation’s, which, in the video appeared as text. As I was listening, not watching, this translated as a long pause followed by a new bunch of thoughts. As I listened it seemed that each of these monologues could provoke a whole conversation, the whole thesis worth of thinking.

Thus, the idea of Conversation Pit was born: a series of events that bring together a group of people; a provocation such as the ones Morton provided; and a space for talking. This provocation could be matched with a constructed or found space for talking: a customised conversation ‘pit’ to provide physiological and psychological context for the specific thinking on hand. I think it is worth reflecting on how such a conversation might evolve differently if taking place between a group seated at a high bench, to if they were lounging around on a bed or sitting in a dim blanket hut.

my retro speculation

Occupying the small durational and psychological hiatus between the radical thinking of the 60s and the TV years of the 80s the conversation pit was a physiological and psychological acknowledgement of the intrigue, intimacy and downright sexiness of the shared activity of thinking and talking together. It was a particularly 60s/70s notion to embed such a space in the home and the fabric of living. The predictably sanitising 80’s response was to take them out again. I question, was such a reversal purely architectural or was it ideological as well; to restore clear demarcation between the realms of the sensual, the sexual and the intellectual?

[1] ‘YouTube’, accessed 26 April 2018, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x2lbtwd3KZU&t=99s.

Conversation Pit Background: talking our way out of Nature vs Culture:

A common thread that may be traced through discourse surrounding the Anthropocene is the critical role of active imagination in making the transition from an anthropocentric stance to the yet un-named identify-value arrangement we are, literally dreaming up for ourselves. This project directly engages contemporary art practice as a modality for this imaginative passage from disempowered, passive consumption in the Holocene to the active caring required in the Anthropocene. These conversations set out to catalyse moments of active engagement in which we might ponder together the implications of this re-imagined being. To speculate on how we might act and interact now that we find that we are human, and not our anthropocentric alter-ego Human. Talking our way into small steps of reimaging the here and now of dwelling together.

This research project is informed by and sets out to test, interrogate and build upon the speculations of:

 Object-Oriented Ontologist Timothy Morton[2]; in particular his thinking on the symbiotic real, solidarity with nonhuman people and of collectivity[3] as active and uneasy cohabitation.

Science Studies writer/philosopher Bruno Latour articulation of the third place[4].

Nature/culture writer Michael Pollan on nonhuman agency and taking a non-anthropocentric view of evolution and symbiosis.

Donna Haraway, feminist, science and technology scholar and storyteller, in particular, the tentacular complexity Haraway acknowledges in making-do with nonhumans[5].

[1] SCI-Arc Channel, ‘B. Arch Program Chair Tom Wiscombe Interviews Timothy Morton’, accessed 26 April 2018, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1AEy2KmHwh0&t=1672s. (1:03 – 1:45)

[2] Morton, Timothy, Humankind: Solidarity with Nonhuman People (London. New York: Verso Books, 2017).

[3] Verso Books, ‘Timothy Morton in Conversation with Verso Books’, accessed 26 April 2018, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x2lbtwd3KZU&t=99s.

[4] Faculty of Arts, Aarhus Universitet, Bruno Latour: Why Gaia Is Not the Globe, 2016, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7AGg-oHzPsM&feature=youtu.be.

[5] Donna Jeanne Haraway, Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene, Experimental Futures Technological Lives, Scientific Arts, Anthropological Voices (Durham London: Duke University Press, 2016).