Conversation as Art?

aaronlishCan talking actually solve all the world’s problems? Probably not, but local artist Aaron Lish thinks it’s at least a place to start. Lish recently organized a think-tank experience titled Play and Idle Creativity where a small group of ordinary folks went camping to discuss the next big threats to humanity and what, if anything, we can do about them.

What made this experience especially unique, besides spending three days in thought provoking, critical dialogue, was that it took place in Derrick Cave in South-Central Oregon.

Derrick Cave is a former civil defense nuclear fallout shelter that was stocked with supplies for over 1,200 people to survive in the event of a nuclear attack on the West Coast of the United States during the Cold War.

However, by the mid-1970s the reality of long-term life underground began to be questioned and eventually the cave and others across the nation were abandoned. Lish said, “I figured having the biggest threat to humanity of the last century as a constant background reminder would create a unique context for discussing what might be the next big threats…what’s over the horizon that we haven’t thought of yet.”

To get the dialogue started, each participant had been asked to give a brief presentation that fit the topic of Survival Skills for the 21st Century. Titles included Bioregionalism as an Alternative to Over-Reliance on Infrastructure, Technology: Is it a Double-Edged Sword?, Living with More Risk or Less? and Dying with Dignity as a resource conservation strategy. After each topic was presented, participants then spent time in what Lish refers as “generative dialogue.”

By embracing the goal of generating new ideas or new ways of thinking, everyone had agreed to set aside the common approach to conversation in American culture – to try to convince others that you are right – and instead to maintain an open mind and an openness to sharing. The result is a “conversational drift” as artists Helen and Newton Harrison, who have long used conversation as part of their art process, refer to the natural evolution of conversation.

“Where you end up is often far from where you began, and how you got there can be hard to actually retrace,” said Lish. “But the new ways of thinking that occur, the epiphanies that happen mid-sentence sometimes…it’s a wonderful experience!”

RetailPricingThis isn’t Lish’s first use of conversation as a mode of art-making. In the fall of 2012 he hosted a weekly discussion group at Crux Fermentation Project titled Sitting Around Drinking Beer and Solving All the World’s Problems, which involved dialogue inspired by readings in contemporary theory on labor, value and economics. He has held various other projects designed to engage the visitor in generative discussion at Bend’s Fall Fest, at the tbd community gallery and at the former Poet House Art, as well as at a subway stop in Boston. One of his local pieces done at the Poet House was Untitled – Retail Pricing in which he offered gallery visitors the opportunity to stand inside a 3-D drawing, but they would have to pay for the air that was breathed while within the drawing.

Lish is currently working on a project for the Art Institute of Boston for June 2013. For this, participants will be given a classroom assignment of eating dinner and working in small groups to match each of the menu items to a set of thought provoking questions about American culture. He is in talks with the Deschutes National Forest about two different projects for the summer of 2014 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act.
Lish will give an Art Talk at Atelier 6000 on June 11at 7pm on the use of dialogue as art form and the aesthetic experience created by participants in such works.

Note: Play and Idle Creativity was conducted under special permission from the Lakeview District BLM. Aaron Lish, 541-728-7264, alish@cocc.edu, http://artcriticalthinking.blogspot.com

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