Letters to the Disruptor | Collection of letters

Studio

Emily Scarrott
Emily.Scarrott@mail.bcu.ac.uk

 

This contribution takes the form of a series of letters expressing admiration and solidarity to an un-named disruptive presence. Resisting replication of damaging hierarchies through selective participation, The Disruptor is considered a utopian figure, signifying a radical break in the reproduction of dominant culture (Muhammad, 2021, Ahmed, 2021, Franklin, 2015), and creating a necessary space of resistance from a marginalised perspective (hooks, 1990, p. 149). 

Drawing upon Pearce’s discussions of survival for “outsiders within” (2020, p. 3), and an exhaustion from emotional labours required “to maintain a veneer of professionalism” (2020, p.6), alongside Lamble’s (2021) encouragement of everyday abolition practices which undo cultural norms, the letters will reflect upon imposter syndrome and the impressive skillset of the imposter, together with the challenges of self-protection and self-care whilst maintaining visibility (Hedva, 2016, Ahsan, 2017). Meanwhile, contemplation of collective activism which publicly confronts the decisions of the cultural industries, such as crying protests at Carl Andre exhibition, will provide insight into disruptive methodologies whilst sharing future ideas with The Disruptor and readers. 

Through redactions, annotations, and format changes, the structure of the letters will further explore the possibilities of honesty, interference, and withdrawal in distorting systematic expectation. The letters will directly share my position as a researcher and precarious worker, employing intimate positionality to create further disruption to the traditionally accepted standards of academic writing. 

This experimental text utilises fiction and anecdote to contribute to radical forms of reflexive practice-led research distribution, queering the conventional journal article and asserting new ways of disseminating liberating pedagogies.

 

LETTER ONE 
RE: WORK 

Dear Disruptor, 

I am writing to request your availability to join me at work. I have been booked for a freelance job (twenty percent lower than my quoted day rate to accommodate the institution’s budget). The job has taken up more of my time than expected and is reliant on my contributing further personal responsibility than acceptable. I am torn between needing to work extra days on this job to pay rising living costs and knowing how much money I am spending to pay for petrol to get to the location.  

Ahsan (2020, p. 36-37) outlines #occupybedroom in which obstruction of capital driven demands of labour is created by a rebellious withdrawal of the self – an antagonistic failure to supply the worker, imposed at source. I have considered this, the idea of simply not turning up, as an option to resolve this issue. However, Pearce (2020, p. 10) writes of a juxtaposition of compulsions, feeling both obliged to make a scene, but also feeling obliged to carefully self-moderate, with cautious preparation regarding when to speak or remain silent (p. 11). Although Pearce’s text refers to positions of power within the academy, it feels evident here too. Do we accept extra days work for minimal reward, despite short and inconvenient notice, or do we communicate those inconveniences and risk rejection from future opportunities? 

Stuck between these two obligations and unwilling to decide between the two, I find myself longing for an outside disruption. 

Can you step in? 

Best wishes, 
Emily 

 

LETTER TWO  
RE: LETTERS or OVER SHARING 

Dear Disruptor, 

I have decided to make our correspondence publicly available.  

Letters are not necessarily a traditional academic format, but the public distribution of our correspondence allows alternative forms of knowledge to be shared. Pearce (2020, p. 4) acknowledges that “diaries, papers and meaningful mementos from the researcher’s own life” are providers of “rich data” both socially and culturally. Similarly, Gallop (2002, p. 24) recognises that exposure of politically private and vulnerable acts can affect the politically public experience, removing the authority of traditional pedagogies in explaining a concept. She goes on to discuss how “maleness in either teacher or student affects this paradigmatic blurring of authority”. This is emblematic of Sara Franklin’s self-proclamation as a “wench in the works”. The wench in the works is a disruptor: a stubbornly feminist figure whose choice to critique rather than praise patriarchal theory infuriates a male professor and, as a result, is considered a failing of the reproductive system of academia. Perhaps, then, the unwillingness of the patriarchal academy stakeholders to recognise the validity of these forms of data could transform the idea of ‘sharing’ knowledge into ‘oversharing’ knowledge; In other words, distributing a knowledge that is not particularly welcome. 

bell hooks (2015, p. 149) identifies marginality as “much more than a site of deprivation […] it is also a site of radical possibility, a space of resistance”, celebrating participation in alternative systems which make the imagination of “new worlds” possible (p. 150). hooks establishes these ideas based on lived experience (2015, p. 150), again finding pedagogy in the negotiation and translation of real life, rather than the dry, stagnant text of a high achieving and well-regarded (probably undoubtedly white, probably undoubtedly cis male) academic.  

Due to the format of the availability of our letters (an academic journal), I think that they could be considered oversharing. The pursuit of oversharing becomes distinctly non-cis male in its disruption of social authority and patriarchal standardisation. Oversharing could be considered a form of leaking or spilling, actions which can cause disruption through messiness and an ability to perforate structural boundaries. This is illustrated in crying protests at Carl Andre exhibitions to mourn the death of Ana Mendieta. Participants in crying protests are escorted from gallery premises (Crawford, 2015) because their choice to distribute intense emotion, actively leaking, does not adhere to the environment-induced solemnness of the gallery visitor. Rather than stagnation, over sharing is a fluid movement, distorting process and blurring definitions of outcome. 

Best wishes, 
Emily 

 

LETTER THREE 
RE: RADICAL BODIES or UNDER SHARING 

Dear Disruptor, 

I wanted to tell you about something that happened last year, a moment where I was publicly critical of an institutional event which championed a white, cis male group of friends as representative of Birmingham’s artists. Although I was responding to the irresponsibility of the gallery and their chosen representation during this event, the projection of my thoughts aggravated the championed cis male artists, so much so that I received personal backlash.  

Muhammad (2021) describes: “I went to art school with white male artists who fell deeply and madly in love with the images they made; the power that they could just reproduce within the container of an image, how they could fashion and mould it into a shape, how it was a perfect encapsulation, or a stunning likeness”. She describes this cycle of reproduction as having “No criticality, no subversion or evasion or reconditioning of that power, nothing new; just straight undiluted power, reproduced into a combination that is neither interesting, valuable, or even truly shocking”.  

In tandem with hook’s (2015, p. 149) thoughts, Muhammad’s (2021) text describes the instability that is “required for radicality to be possible”, an instability which the white male artists in this anecdote (and the anecdotes of many others) either refuse to recognise, or even attempt to claim as their own, unaware that their dominant positioning actually causes instability for others.  

When Cheap Cheap Gallery, an artist-led space in Birmingham, invited me to share a text that I had written in response to my exchanges with these white male artists as an A0 poster outside the building entrance, I dithered between wanting to publicly distribute documentation of the exchange which followed my tweet, and a concern that this distribution might create further conflict and harassment. Here, I found myself returning to Pearce’s (2020, p. 10) juxtaposition of obligations: to protest, or to protect? This culminated in a conversation with my supervision team where we discussed the simultaneous need to speak about aggressive responses to calls for diversity, and an uncertainty of how care for the self might be engaged whilst stepping into hostile situations. Finally, I decided to share the text with redactions, allowing me to publicise the exchange while protecting identifiable or potentially hazardous elements of the text. By choosing to redact words on my poster at Cheap Cheap Gallery, I was able to ignore a direct decision between projection and silence, instead responding by holistically under sharing to provide my own comfort and reassurance. By purposefully under sharing in these contexts, we disseminate both the presence of a knowledge and the writer’s unstable relationship with the environment of knowledge exchange. 

Russell (2020, p. 91) describes “anti-body”, a methodology of physical glitch which resists “the body as a coercive social and cultural architecture” which encourages us to reimagine the body through both redefinition and celebration (Russell, 2020, p. 98). The anti-body could be uncooperative to heteronormativity via physical or cultural marginality, or through misbehaviour and obstructive use of the physical form. Recently, I have been thinking about how the bodies of our written words can be complicit with academic or professional power structures. When anti-body is applied to text, what measures of disruption can be pursued and practised to undermine these power structures? Lamble (2021, p. 148) explains that the occurrence of abolition in daily practice requires strategies which dismantle “structures, institutions and systems”, undoing cultural norms. As writers, how can we further aggravate requirements of submission and completion – achieving yet refusing to acknowledge the structural obligations of labour: word counts, content, and contribution? 

Best wishes, 
Emily 

  

LETTER FOUR 
RE: DISRUPTED 

Dear Disruptor, 

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Best wishes, 
Emily 

 

LETTER FIVE
RE: REFERENCES

Ahsan, H. (2020) [2017] Shy Radicals. UK: Bookworks.

Crawford, M. (2015) Crying for Ana Mendieta at the Carl Andre Retrospective. Hyperallergic. 10 March. Available at: https://hyperallergic.com/189315/crying-for-ana-mendieta-at-the-carl-andre-retrospective/ [Accessed 11 April 2021].

Franklin, S. (2015) Sexism As a Means of Reproduction: Some Reflections on the Politics of Academic Practice. New Formations, 86(1), pp. 14-33.

Gallop, J. (2002) Anecdotal Theory. Durham: Duke University Press.

hooks, b. (2015) [1990] Yearning: Race, Gender, and Cultural Politics. New York: Routledge.

Lamble, S. (2021) Practicing Everyday Abolition. In: Duff, K, ed. Abolishing the Police. London: Dog Section Press. pp. 147-160.

Muhammad, Z. (2021) Can white people ever be radical? The White Pube. [blog] 4 April. Available at: https://www.thewhitepube.co.uk/canwhitepeopleberadical [Accessed 21 September 2021].

Pearce, R. (2020) A Methodology for the Marginalised: Surviving Oppression and Traumatic Fieldwork in the Neoliberal Academy. Sociology, 54(4). Available at: https://doi.org/10.1177/0038038520904918 [Accessed 7 June 2021].

Russell, L. (2020) Glitch Feminism: A Manifesto. London: Verso.

 

Emily Scarrott is an artist and PhD candidate at Birmingham School of Art, UK. Her practice-led research explores the absurd as a non-cis-male protagonist. These experiences are led by nourishing and tactile encounters with unfertilised eggs. She is currently performing durational care to one specific egg; He is doing well, and they go everywhere together. Exploration of Emily’s relationship with her egg culminates in repetitive manifestos, experimental speculative fictions, performance, and rapid response making.

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