Teacher Voice Treatment Lecture 3, by Sarah Hayden
Introduction by Nisha Ramayya:
In Arjuna Neuman and Denise Ferreira da Silva’s tender-dispersing film Soot Breath, DFdS asks us to set aside Narcissus and his mirror stage and think ego otherwise, to find another image that might indicate our material sensibilities and shift focus from singular subjecthood to earthly enfolding. She offers Echo: ‘the acknowledgement of that deep implicancy existing in the world by already taking into account the fact that we are just one singular composition, made out of something that is also entering the composition of other things. […] Then I think Echo, who immediately – which is defined by, precisely the fact that she … (chuckles) … resonates, and that’s all she does.’ When I hear this – and, even more so, when I read the chuckling caption, nestled between gendered pronoun and sympathetic vibration – I think of Sarah. Against the traditionally “tragic lidlessness” of ears’ susceptibility to sound, as figured by certain philosophers and scholars with their everso odd anxieties about acous(ma)tically sticky fingers, SH unveils through layering the tragedy that buzzes right by such ears and remains out of range – that of the lid, of not hearing, of closing oneself to the messages, of swatting flies. You put your hand up to your ear to hear better, to feel through listening and listen through feeling, to vary the tuning without turning off (and I hope this sonic/haptic image, these mixed metaphors, gesture towards the many ways we might embody, experience, and understand ‘listening’ in our differently perceiving bodies).
Reading Sarah is like talking with her, is like thinking alongside her, the way that her voice, her style imbues, so that I gladly drape myself in asterisks, chatty compounds, snoring bearcreatures; I dream in density, in the ideas, artworks, and creative-critical invitations that SH bricolages; and, yes, I learn, I study with Sarah and Roland and Zap and Ellen and Tony in the spiralling classroom whose walls keep changing colour and transparency/opacity so that we may understand new things about focus, about the situatedness of the classroom within the world. Reflecting on the voice of the teacher/father/Father that lays out the law, whether ‘speaking well’ professorially or ‘excusing oneself for speaking’ pedagogically, to mix Barthes’s and SH’s terms, Sarah draws out the necessary presence of the student who intervenes even without speaking (or listening, or turning their camera on!). Whether in person or online, the classroom depends on the co-presence of teacher and student. As Barthes says: ‘the Other is always there, puncturing his discourse’. The same cannot be said for art galleries showcasing video-works that reproduce teaching scenarios, whose artists speak in Teacher Voice. Whether they mean to raise consciousness in earnest or subvert didacticism, the issue remains: the ‘essential co-presence, the confrontation’ between artist/teacher and viewer-listener/student is not required, is, in fact, unlikely. Authority, however ironically presented, remains unchallenged – impervious to intervention – when the artist recuses their presence no matter how well excused their speech. As Sarah asks: ‘What happens, then, when there is no risk of puncture?’
I think of a meeting with my former supervisor Kristen Kreider, who interrupted my flow to stand up, remove the white wall clock, and place it outside the room; Kristen ended time so that I could keep going on and on about Dictee, was how it felt. I think of all the teachers who have never marked my work, whose lines have triggered my fallings-in-love, who’ve dared Edmund and me to ring the chapel bell at Churchill, whose playing has sent my fingers eeling, who’ve answered my questions in farts. I think of all the teachers who know the openness of the score, the beautiful scam, that we’re studying across-ways, that they/we’ll never know everything and there’s so much to learn from us/you. Sarah begins this lecture-poem with effluvium and rub and ends with stickiness, the flows and feelz of her work not simply evoking but really doing pedagogical reciprocity – echo’s eternal, inevitable, essential resonance. We can’t/won’t answer her question, but send it spinning in more directions, taking further and further circumstances into account – universities, art galleries, poetic forms, messenger apps, parks, zines, all the official and unintelligible spaces where study is denied, takes place anyway, earthwormily struggling, kissing the rain, listening athwart. Polycentric tones like punctures in an expanding field; social rhythms anticipating total-body-hearing experiences; SH’s classroom entropics, mhm yes and and and –
‘he said “theyre students they come regularly every day students come into school they sit down and you can talk to them” and i thought this was so freaky I said “wow”’.[i]
WHETHER BY ROTE…
Rancière, in th'oddity that is The Ignorant Schoolmaster, figures ‘the childlike minds of the people’ – the would-be, could-be learners – as ‘fragile young plants’.[ii] Though not, I think, a knowing reference, Baldessari’s Teaching a Plant the Alphabet (1972) makes th'analogy manifest.
Th’artist works methodically through a pack of alphabet cards, employing the pedagogical principle of trebled demonstration: phoneme/symbol/image – to teach a small banana plant that sits on a small round table, in front of a wall of schooldays-summoning white or whiteish breezeblocks.
The plant does not look especially scholarly. But Jacquetot and Rancière would, I think, have liked it like this. What the plant does do is cast its shadow over the alphabet cards.
For Jacquelyn Ardam, this video is the Cal-Arts post-studio king’s somewhat smug parody of the sorry fate his (no syllabus, no assessment, no subject) teaching escaped — fate of the punitive pedagogue that found him anyway, elsewhere, in I Will Not Make Any More Boring Art.[iii]
In JB’s image of plant pedagogy, we see the repetition that is teaching. We hear it, too. Still more so. ‘A’, it says. Then ‘A’ again & ‘A’gain. And so consistent, so steady is he (mosttimes) that he might be mistaken for an automated voice: mechanical teaching machine. In listening, I visualise the finger held to depress a button. Its even intervals = the predetermined gaps between each uttered sound.
Occasionally, the voice wavers, so-slightly, like the hand that sometimes makes the card flap, also-so-slightly. But then the Baldessarian body makes itself heard in the lip-tongueflesh-palate congestion that arises when the same mouth must try to re-launch, re-peatingly ‘wwwww’.
The curriculum is set by the order of the alphabet.
The teaching philosophy is really, unrelentingly rote, and the students never respond.
This is instruction without joy, without change, without result : a futility beyond Beuys’ explication of pictures to a dead hare.