Awkwardness: a methodology

Orhan Pamuk, Istanbul: Memories and the City: ‘And just as we learn about our lives from others, so, too, do we let others shape our understanding of the city in which we live’.
It’s important to explain that we began in a very unscripted way and, even now, I can describe no ending – only our many provisional endings and also, I hope, another beginning… Each workshop begins with a presentation by a researcher or practitioner, which opens up discussions in which multiple points of view are exchanged and – somewhere amidst these hybrid knowledges – points of consensus and dissensus – threads, if you like – begin to emerge.
And yet still, no sense of where we are going; no idea of what or whom we might encounter on the way…
Collaboration: ‘a good way of confounding intentions’ (Tim Etchells)
Collaboration: a way of keeping the future open; of unlocking the potential for and the possibility of change.
When we began our workshops, there were many awkward silences, particularly at the beginning when really, we didn’t know each other at all. There was a sense that in our discussions, we were rummaging for the right words, working out – awkwardly – how we might talk to each other. Navigating a complex process of translation that at often served to underline, rather than erase, our different disciplines and experiential/professional backgrounds… Saying too much and at other times too little, we stammered and stuttered, making excuses for ourselves and our perspectives, worried about crossing a tangled web of lines which for the most part, we couldn’t even define. Fearing to step on each other’s toes… hoping we were saying nothing too stupid… wondering whether our blue sky thinking was actually just impractical and naïve…

Awkward: feeling out of kilter; uncomfortable; out of our depth and also unbounded… Our edges suddenly porous and vulnerable…

Collaboration: ‘neither a union nor a juxtaposition, but the birth of a stammering, the outline of a broken line which always sets off at right angles, a sort of active and creative line of flight’ (Gilles Deleuze)

Encounter: ‘no correct ideas, just ideas. Just ideas: this is the encounter, the becoming’ (Gilles Deleuze)

Awkard: a conversation which transforms rather than affirms; challenges, rather than reproduces…

Because our encounters were unscripted, there was no sense that we were making testing, refining and clarifying an idea which we had posited at the outset. A multiplicity of variables, actors, absences and presences produced something (a cloud of ideas, some possibilities for future action and collaboration, some friendships and a plan for a research network) which will have a life beyond this residency, beyond this series of workshops and discussions. Awkward: ‘this inability to arrive’ (Mary Cappello)

And yet this awkwardness, this sense of being off message, at a tangent, off the mark or wildly adrift…  Inching our way forward, with no clear sense of direction, no understanding of where we wanted to be… this has come to be – for me, at least – a kind of methodology.

Awkward: 1340, “in the wrong direction,” from awk “back-handed” (obsolete since 1600s), from O.N. afugr “turned backwards” (from P.Gmc. *afug-, from PIE *apu-ko-, from base *apo- “off, away;” see apo-) + adverbial suffix -weard. Meaning “clumsy” first recorded 1530. (Online Etymology Dictionary)

Awkward: a stumbling block

Awkwardness: resistance to linear narratives of progress and regeneration

‘Sometimes you have to go backward in order to go forward, it is said, but why the primacy on forward, and how did forward come to mean pushy, stubborn, immovable after all? If our faces and eyes let forward motion win the day, then maybe awkwardness depends on a revaluation of the sense. Imagine being able to say, encouragingly: “place your best foot awkward”, rather than forward… or, with adamancy, “you need to move awkward”…’ (Mary Cappello)

Awkward: ‘untoward’

‘to be untoward is to be hard to manage, to be unseemly, and again, like a belch in the middle of the sermon, perverse, where “toward” means docile, compliant, tractable, educable…’ (Mary Cappello)

The awkwardness of the holes which punctuate our cities…

Holes in the city, holes in the road, holes in the architectural fabric… Holes past and holes present, which trip us up, make us stumble and fall, necessitating detours and causing us to glance, where once we might have ignored… Holes: they force us to think about that which we usually pass over and pass through, without giving it a second thought. They draw our attention to spaces which we rarely, in fact, (take the time to) see… Holes: we have to walk around them, step over them… Holes cause us to deviate from our normal paths.

Could we think about holes as negative space? Negative space – as all arts students learn – gives us a different perspective on what is there… A void which becomes substantial and reconfigures the space around it, disrupts the unthinking ways in which we practise that space…

James C. Kent, awkward turtle (roundtable, St Pancras)
Awkwardness: the art of looking sideways?The awkward present: elided as we focus, stubbornly, on our pasts and futures…The present as a kind of limbo: a hole in time, when our usual methods and solutions no longer hold good. A time, then, to reflect and in which to think differently.Holes: a timely space in which to disorder our thoughts and form disorganisations.To walk the trajectories in between, to visit absent landmarks and inhabit suspended sites…To think about how we might reuse and recuperate what is there already… to make do, in a creative and ethical way…Nicolas Moulin spoke of the confrontation between order and entropic forces (an echo of which we find, perhaps, in the relationship between culture and art). He said, during a workshop in Sheffield in 2009: a society that cannot live with disorder is an unliveable society.In what ways, then, can this period of uncertainty be embraced as a disordering of our planning and perceptions?In what ways might we embrace it, precisely with the aim of making our cities more liveable?

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