Making with Place

This week's research prompt:

What does the word ‘place’ mean to you, and what comes to mind when you think of yourself as an artist researcher?

In hindsight, I got hyper focused on the word place this week, and didn’t come back to the latter half of the question until days later. I actually didn’t even realize how exciting the second part was? Which might actually speak to how I perceive myself as an artist researcher -- which is, that I think there’s going to be an adjustment period for me to unlearn some things to learn how to practice creative research.

I remember being in my master’s and being enamoured by the thought of arts-based research methods! And here I am, both an artist, and a researcher, with the opportunity to be an artist-researcher, and the first thing I did was obsessively read Homi K. Bhabha - a not so easy read.

A portrait of Homi Bhabha in front of a blue door, yellow wall, wearing red pants and black jacket and holding some paperwork and a lanyard. Source unknown.

Why Bhabha, bubba?

So I’ve written and presented research in the past on how isolating the academy is for a racialized femme, fast forward a few years, I’m now out as a non-binary gender weirdo, and the academy would probably be even worse. Anyways, you can read more about these ramblings in, “Navigating Racialized Spaces in Academia: Critical Reflections from a Roundtable” (Lao, Rehal et al). Back to this week, the reason why I dove to the internet to read Bhaba was because one, somewhere in my dusty academic brain I remembered he’d coined terminology and theorized about space and place. And secondly, I always jump at the opportunity to read a racialized academic - of which the opportunities have been few and far in between.

My findings took me down a Bhabha rabbit hole: hybridity, Third Space Theory (TST), and mimicry: the Bhaba trifecta. But I was wracking my brain because his TST wasn’t connecting to the place the way that I was looking for -- within the context of capitalism. Bhabha’s work talks about the way space is disrupted when conflicting social locations take up space aka disrupt space at the same time. But last year during Toronto Public Library’s (TPL) transphobic debacle (hosting a transphobic author, a TERF that thinks I shouldn’t have human rights), I remember a lot of my community members being at a crossroads where libraries were one of the only places you didn’t have to spend money, and yet despite the petition, pleading, and protest, TPL made libraries unsafe for trans folks.

This meant a jump from cultural studies to information sciences, because I realized that what Bhabha wasn’t spelling out for me, was the ways that libraries have become the third space for so many marginalized folks, trans or not. I came across the work of James K. Elmborg who uses the notion of Bhabha, Lefebre, Habermas, Harvey and TST to contextualize the importance of access to libraries for [marginalized] communities. This passage summarizes the issue at hand,

"Perhaps even most importantly, focusing on the library as Third Place distracts us from a central critical question: in its effort to define itself as a Third Place of leisure and conversation, is it possible for a library to stop being a library? As we examine the difference between a Third Place and a Third Space, we have a clear choice. We can choose to become more like commercial entities with products and customer bases, or we can aim to be socially meaningful institutions with a higher role and calling. We can become bookstores in an effort to beat bookstores, or we can work to build libraries and librarianship around the concept of shared social space where real people engage in real struggle for meaning and purpose in a landscape of increasingly rapid human movement and social change" (Elmborg 349).

And so when I think of place, this week’s prompt, this is where my mind goes -- but this isn’t the kind of research I want to focus on for this research position. I want to learn how to detach from my ‘traditional’, perhaps ableist, understanding of research and learn how to be an artist researcher.

That being said, while these thoughts have festered in the background of my mind all week, this is what I’ve created in the foreground:
 

  1. Leafy boys - a triptych to nourish my room (May 3 2020)
  2. Lavender patch - a commission from a pal, for their love(May 4 2020)
  3. Block print experiments, carved from a freehand sketch when I woke up glossy eyed this morning (May 6 2020). See below
  4. A lino mango I carved late at night today (May 6 2020). See below