On October 18-19, 2014, artists Kione Kochi and Anaïs Duplan offered a temporary manifesto-writing service at Utopia School, “a month-long social center hosted at Flux Factory for the purpose of studying Utopian experiments throughout time, as well as practicing our skills towards building new free spaces and practices.” During ManifeStation, Kochi and Duplan held thirty-minute interviews with Utopia School participants and visitors. In the ensuing weeks, they collaborated on a manifesto for each interviewee, writing twenty manifestos in total. This is the first of three conversations on ManifeStation. In this first conversation, Kochi and Duplan interview each other on the experience at Flux Factory and driving forces behind ManifeStation. Next month, they speak to the role of (auto)biography in manifesto-writing.
Kione Kochi: We were invited to participate in Flux Factory‘s Utopia School and chose to perform ManifeStation there. Over the course of two days we spent in the gallery, we had quite a range of participants. Can you describe the experience of being on-site and conducting interviews? What were some unexpected moments? How did you see our presence in relation to the other artists and participants of Utopia School?
Anaïs Duplan: We essentially had no idea what we were getting into, despite months of planning. Walking down 29th St. and not knowing exactly what to look for. I don’t know if you felt it too, but walking through the door of Flux was like leaving the world as we knew it and entering a different time and space entirely. It was beautiful.
Jaime, one of the founders of Utopia School, gave an initial tour of Flux. She was the one who first brought us into the gallery – a large open room with a wooden geodesic dome and small treasures in every corner. We chose to do ManifeStation atop that tall platform by the entrance. We figured that since we’d be conducting interviews while the other workshops were going on all around us, it would be nice to work in an elevated spot. That ended up being a great idea. ManifeStation was different from the other workshops because it had no set hours. As long as Utopia School was open, we were open. It felt, simultaneously, like we were running a very secretive enterprise – we had built that curtain-structure on the platform to lend a sense of privacy to the interview space – while also blending seamlessly into Utopia School. Sometimes it was a test of concentration. There were five other workshops that happened on the first day of ManifeStation and six on the second day. Even with the curtain, it was impossible to totally tune out what was going on around us. At the time, I wished we could’ve had more privacy, but in retrospect, I think that the intimacy of our space was only heightened by the relative busyness of our surroundings. I was stunned by the speed with which our participants would offer up very private details about their lives to us. The very beginning of each interview was always a bit awkward, but it didn’t take long for things to get personal. By the end of each interview, it felt like we’d known whoever we’d been talking to for much, much longer than just thirty minutes. You could tell that our participants felt the same by the way they looked at us when it was done. Intense gazes, tender voices. Maybe that was the most unexpected element of ManifeStation for me. The intimacy of it.
AD: While writing the ManifeStation Manifesto, we spoke about why it was that we were writing manifestos for other people, rather than having them write their own manifestos. Could you recap some of the points that came up in this discussion? Did your thoughts change after the interview portion of the project?
KK: The idea of a manifesto-writing booth initially came up in a research collective that we were both a part of. Before starting this project, I knew that some manifestos were collectively written, but I didn’t know of any that were written for someone by a complete stranger. We were interested in our interpretations and misinterpretations of the requests and if there would be any insights gained from the difference between what the interviewee imagined and what we produced. We called it “productive misunderstandings.” Most ‘traditional’ manifestos tend to be persuasive and demanding of a different future. For me, imagining an utopia is about trying to see how various outlooks/ideologies could coexist and I think this entails a degree of empathy. Writing manifestos for others is a practice in empathy and an envisioning of a possible utopia.
Once we started interviewing people, especially those we met for the first time and had no previous email contact with, the conversations became a semi-structured process of trying to get at the central question: what is your manifesto about? When participants approached us without any specific topic in mind, we tried to lead into it, starting with some biographical information and moving onto what their passions, hopes and fears were. The interview portion of the project was a kind of listening and asking in search of a manifesto. Often times, after talking for a few minutes, they would come up with an idea about what they wanted. Speaking to someone (a stranger, a self-proclaimed writer, artist, and all of the participants’ conceptions of who we were) and hearing back what we heard when they spoke, is a rare and specific experience which is entirely different from writing your own manifesto. One thing we didn’t try was to take the time and interview each other in person for a manifesto. We did write manifestos for each other based on email requests and I found that it reflected my uncertainties about the subject, making me question what it was that I really believed in and wanted to say.
KK: We did not always agree with the views expressed in the manifesto requests. Did you find it challenging to write when you could not sympathize? What was your experience of ideological conflicts, if you indeed view them as conflicts?
AD: This is a great question. I think it’s relatively easy, as well as totally fascinating, to interview someone with whom you disagree. An interview is a beast all its own – and it’s not as though you need to reach an ideological consensus. Instead, as an interviewer, you’re just trying to get a deeper sense of how this person thinks. Writing for that person, on the other hand – i.e. trying to write in the voice of that person – is another kind of animal. Then, the challenge is to reach a sort of internal consensus between your own personal views and the ones expressed to you by the interviewee. I said to each of our participants, “The manifesto we write for you will necessarily be different from the manifesto you’d write for yourself.” I would say that for their sake and for ours. On the one hand, I wanted to communicate that we were well aware that we could never get it completely right – we could never convey that person’s beliefs entirely ‘accurately,’ due to the fact that we’re separate people and verbal communication isn’t foolproof. Nor do I think that accuracy was our goal. We very deliberately wanted to hold space for miscommunication. On the other hand, I also repeated that warning phrase for me and you. Sometimes after sitting down with someone whose ideas I didn’t personally share, I would start to get anxious about writing something they would find representative of themselves. It was a way of making space for that anxiety. I didn’t want to pretend that we weren’t in fact setting ourselves up for something that is, in many ways, impossible; adopting someone else’s mind, walking and talking as someone else would, taking on another life.
AD: While we’ve worked collectively before, this is the first project of ours that required us to write so collaboratively. Describe what that was like for you – any difficulties or benefits that you discovered. What else made this project different from our past projects?
KK: What was really helpful about writing collaboratively was having someone to look at my writing, add to it, rearrange it, etc. when I felt stuck. And not just an editor or reader, but someone who wouldn’t be afraid to take it in a different direction if needed. We each took ownership of what we added to each other’s writing, although we didn’t always have much more to say. We would each pick an interviewee for the week, start out writing on our own and then at a certain point, hand it over to the other to review and edit. Very few pieces were 50/50 – I suppose it’s obvious that none of them came out to be evenly split in authorship. (Furthermore, I don’t think it’s necessary or possible to quantify input.) I find it difficult, in collaborative projects with you and others, to begin together. The origin inevitably seems to trace back to an individual. Claire Bishop has a typology of participatory art and without making a value judgment, I would say that ManifeStation falls into the category where the artist prepares an idea, which requires the participation of the audience to create the final product. Similarly, the collaborative writing between us began with one of us preparing a base and ended in its finished state with contribution from the other. There was one piece that really came together after we both wrote into it and I really enjoyed that. Because of time constraints and lack of familiarity (with the person or the subject matter – we tended to write for friends we invited to participate) I didn’t always write into yours, but in the future, I would be interested in exploring more collaborative writing where we both write.
I don’t think I want to define what collaborative writing is for us — it’s not necessary to alter what each of us is capable of on our own by forcing some kind of togetherness (of thought, style, tone, diction, etc.) but at the same time, I think our writing can be complementary and can make a text stronger. Especially with this project, it was important to write with someone who not only knew your writing, but also the person you were writing for. We have different views of the interactions, but knowing that someone else also met the same people at the same time and place was very comforting. I felt like I could really rely on you to supplement whatever I was missing.
Our previous collaborative works involved a lot more people and one of the projects was event organizing. I think it’s very different to have a series of manifestos as the creative product of a performance, compared to organizing a performance event involving multiple artists. ManifeStation also had a much longer time frame and involved a wide range of activities that we did together like writing proposals, building and installing, writing the manifestos… I really couldn’t have done it alone.
AD: We’ve agreed that some of the manifestos we wrote were more ‘traditional’ than others. What does that mean to you? Choose an excerpt from a more traditional manifesto and then an excerpt from an unconventional one. What differences do you see? Is there a corresponding difference in the way the interviews transpired?
KK: I think traditional manifestos read less as poems (I’m not opposed to poetic manifestos) and more as a list of intentions that address the current state of things and describes how it can be ‘better.’ I would consider “The Care Commons Manifesto” (for Thomas Iglehart) to be fairly traditional:
Audio: Kione reading “The Care Commons Manifesto”
In his interview, he knew exactly what the manifesto would be about and even came prepared with some punchy statements, which we’ve used almost verbatim as headers for a few of the paragraphs. While I was listening to him, I thought of one of the manifestos we read in our research, The Hacker’s Manifesto by Mckenzie Wark. While some may consider Wark’s manifesto to be a little unconventional, I quickly made the association based on what the interviewee was talking about and the defiant and bold tone that he was going for. Like I’ve noted earlier, this manifesto describes the current state of affairs and declares what needs to be changed (urgency of a traditional manifesto) and gives a sense of what he/his organization (self-referential aspect of a traditional manifesto) is going to do to facilitate and/or realize the necessary changes.
In terms of an unconventional one, I would name “To Do A Show in the Witches’ Den: A Manifesto” (for Allison Halter):
Audio: Anaïs reading “To Do a Show in the Witches’ Den”
Whether or not a manifesto turned out to be traditional was based on what the participants brought to the table and what they were looking for in the document. She wanted something to capture the moment that we shared, the experience of being interviewed and the ephemeral nature of an event. Poetic manifestos tend to be more of a portrait of the interviewee, whereas traditional manifestos try to capture the essence of their beliefs and imagined futures. In the two days we spent there, all the interviews seemed to connect to each other, but I don’t think we had a single one that could be categorized with another. The writing phase of the project was about trying to figure out what kind of text and style best suited the person and their intentions – and it turned out that some manifestos were more unconventional than others.
KK: We received many positive responses to the completed manifestos. I think we agree that it is special to receive such a custom-made text. But I also think we were able to guess at what the participants liked, based on our knowledge of them (whether acquired through years of friendship or from a 30-minute interview). How did you get a sense of the participants’ likes and interests, hopes and needs? Was it clear to you from the interview? Was some of it intuitive?
AD: A lot of it was intuitive. I have this natural tendency to internalize other people’s manners of speaking. When I was a kid, in international school, I used to inadvertently take on the accent of whomever I was speaking with. A lot of the time, my peers thought it was an act of mockery, which resulted in my needing to apologize by saying, “I’m sorry – I didn’t even realize I was imitating you.” You and I both went to international school as kids so I think you can appreciate that story. That’s a roundabout way of saying that it wasn’t difficult to internalize our participants’ voices, because it’s something I’ve always done unconsciously. But it’s one thing to know how someone speaks and another thing to predict what they might say, which really just comes down to close listening and a few lucky guesses.
KK: We are both passionate about language and writing but I feel like you have a more extensive background in poetry. I think that some of the manifestos we wrote can be described as a kind of poetic portraiture or personalized poems. How does poetry serve the purposes of a manifesto? Are there poetic forms and devices that lend themselves to manifesto writing?
AD: I’m almost certain that being a poet was more of a hindrance than a boon. I was resistant, throughout the writing phase, to the idea of writing about anything at all, which I know sounds ridiculous – but, in my own writing process, I never start out thinking, for instance, I’m going to write a poem about that time I went to Panama. I can never produce an answer to the question, “What is your poem about?” I think it’s equal parts an inability to form a coherent statement about my writing (which I would characterize as fragmented, associative, sprawling, etc.) as well as a feeling of hostility regarding the question itself. In any case, the Manifesto seems to require a type of writing which is very clearly about something. The Manifesto communicates and does so, hopefully, in a clear and concise manner. Given that fact, I believed this project would be a great exercise for me – an opportunity to write outside of my comfort zone. I ended up just coming up against the same wall over and over: How do I re-introduce the elements of investigation and discovery to a piece of writing that has been, to an extent, pre-determined? I think about one of the first manifestos we wrote, Jessieh’s manifesto, which began:
Let this manifesto speak more clearly than the voice of terror.
Let your actions evade the capture of language. Let your words remain broken; do not patch them. Let chaos manifest; do not cover it.
She wanted a manifesto that spoke to the impossibility of communicating the experiences of trauma and terror. I read those lines and I felt like they were written as much for me as they were for her. Later in the writing phase, I stopped fighting myself. I think a lot about what Alice said when she read the manifesto I’d written her, which was a poem composed of twelve couplets and a tercet. She said, “I loved the manifesto you wrote me. It was poetic.” I’ve actually obsessed over this comment more than I should like to admit. I know it’s silly. I guess I’ve wondered if I failed her by writing her a poem (rather than a more straightforward manifesto). Even in this moment, I’m still unsure as to whether poems can be veritable manifestos.
AD: Choose your favorite moment from the interviews. Why is this your favorite?
KK: This is a hard one to answer. There were moments throughout the whole process that were really rewarding. But in terms of the interviews, I think I would have to name Allison Halter’s interview. The interview was very encapsulating, and the way she answered the questions was more like she was telling us a story, tracing her history and sharing with us who she was. That conversation included the most comprehensive biography in response to the “who are you?” question of the interview. You and I both were interested in what she had to say about her artistic practice and where she was with her life and work. It was relevant to us and I felt at ease speaking with her. It was more casual than others. She had also given us a gift of a tea blend that she made herself, and we were in email contact before we met in person. The interaction as a whole was really comfortable and fun – my guess is that it was also your favorite.
Anaïs Duplan is the author of the forthcoming chapbook, Take This Stallion (Brooklyn Arts Press, 2015). Her writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Phantom Limb, Birdfeast, PANK, Souvenir, amongst other journals. She is also Head Astronaut at The Spacesuits, a multimedia initiative to generate new concepts for paradise.
Kione Kochi is an artist, seamstress and writer. She is interested in collaborative practices and customized objects and documents. She currently studies Visual Arts, Costume Design and Literature at Bennington College. Find more at kionekochi.com.