Note: This conversation was edited for content and length.
Katherine McKittrick: And for me the radical possibility or what I have learnt from Black studies, particularly from people like Sylvia Wynter, but also Gilroy and Fanon is the role of art and cultural production. And the one question that I have for myself is how do we, — how do non-artists and artists have conversations where the artists’ work isn’t the object of analysis, but is instead part of the theoretical conversation? So, is there a way to think about art as theory and theory as art? So, the typical example that I give in my work — — when I am giving a presentation on interdisciplinary is how do we read Toni Morrison’s novels? Not her essays but — how do we read The Bluest Eye as a theoretical text? But that isn’t to discount the theorist, right? So, Judith Butler is usually my example. So, the example is what can Judith, — what can Toni Morrison teach Judith Butler, but also what can Judith Butler teach Toni Morrison? So, it has to be a conversation.
>> I think there is a tendency, particularly with black art to, — and I see this in the courses that I teach so, so often, to only position the art as object. And for me, the only way I could have survived this world, this academic world, was to believe with everything in my heart that black artists are intellectual interlocutors and brilliant. And often anticipate theory.
Jol Thoms: Yeah, that is something else I would — you know, which is part of like feminist decolonial practices also is this rejection of these universalizings and absolutes and rejecting the idea of, — you know being able to exactly define, which came up quite — it was quite apparent in your text. And we are having these situations where as artists, we are working in the science fields and kind of rubbing up against these onto-epistemic divides which are sometimes kind of generative, but I just — am worried which — in which direction those generative things are flowing.
Josèfa Ntjam: Because I really like the concept of indiscipline. And for me indiscipline is the porosity between multiple and different discipline in how you can connect history with poetry, with sociology and music and everything. And when I started to make some research when I was in my first year of school of fine art I made a lot of research about Afrofuturism and what is Afrofuturism. And for me, this is the same for you when you say about the concept of collective and not the individual concept, because Afrofuturism is not a movement and is not even a concept, but it is a kind of a flu [unintelligible] — and like you cannot touch the shape of Afrofuturism because it’s always in movement. So, you always have a new reference to put in Afrofuturism. It is – you will always have a new story and subjective, and maybe global story to put in Afrofuturism. And this is how I can connect your texts and your concepts. Even when you speak in your text about the shadows, it is also a concept I use in my work because we do not pretend to create in the shadows and maybe not in the lights. I have developed a lot of concept about the shadows and melancholy and like the soul adage. This is how you can create around this, — around the, — and in the darkness sometimes. This is maybe a really particular place to create revolt and build a new revolution away from light and public.
Katherine McKittrick: We use scientific concepts in a way that is — that enmeshes with our liberatory project in our art worlds. So rather than inserting, like for example, rather than hiring a black scientist, right? So rather than sort of looking for the black person, who is going to fix the problem and instead, like, are there any scientific concepts or ideas that we find useful around openness that can, — that are in conversation with the work we are doing, the anti-colonial work we are doing? So here, — you know, I am very interested in Glissant for example, and his relationship with computers. He is interested in computers; he is talking about computers. Sylvia Wynter’s very interested in AI as a recursive system. So, is there a way for us to sort of have a relationship with science that, — where we are not just talking about how we are oppressed by it?
>> And I think, I mean, because you are an artist, I feel like you have, — you know, at your fingertips creative ways to integrate this into a visual project. So is there a way for you, like, as an artist to sort of, — you know, use these tools in a liberatory, — like in a practical, concrete, liberatory fashion. So, what happens when you go up and you do an eye scan, right? And, or fingerprinting? So here Simone Brown’s work is really important to me. Like, fingerprinting, branding, tattooing, all these types of things that are produced. That produce the black subject and other marginalized people as always oppressed. How do we turn that around and subvert the very system that is seeking to enclose us? So those are the kinds of questions that I think about a lot — — in relation to science. But I don’t, — but I mean, I think the other thing that, — you know, that you said, and I think it’s important. And I think it’s something to keep in mind is that that’s hard work, right? Like that this isn’t, — it’s not easy to go up against science. It is not easy to sort of — because it — because science is a god, right?
>> There is that supposed neutrality that is very, very hard to — — call into question, I guess. But again, I’ll call up Sylvia Wynter in her reading was Aimé Césaire which is — this is what Césaire’s project is and this is what Sylvia Wynter’s project is, is that the sciences are half starved and they need the creative text in order to provide us with a fuller definition of what it means to be human. We need to parasite the scientific and the creative or Césaire said the science and the poets. That the poetics and the science, they have to be understood as always in conversation with each other.
>> So, to imagine the artist as the, — as someone who conveys an — like a rigorous intellectual theoretically nuanced project is I think part of — — you know, something that really — is something that is really helpful for interdisciplinarity and for practices of liberation. Because it — dislodges that idea around science as the only knower.
>> But also, in my research, I learnt that there are a lot of really interesting ideas in physics or in mathematics that are about openness, right? So, I feel like as a non-scientist. I am trained to understand science as a practice of — — finding definite answers. But then I started like looking at like the theoretical physics, like theoretical physics like the, those folks that come out of university of Waterloo. And they are like thinking about like endlessness and like mathematics that go on forever and infinity. And so, there is this generosity there that is really useful. And it is something that like black scholars talk about. Like, they write about this and artists, — you know, produce work like that. So, there is a conversation there. So, I think it is great that — if we are making those links.
Sunny Kerr: You – Katherine brought up this idea of kind of grabbing metaphors that are useful and beautiful and generative in the work.
Katherine McKittrick: Yeah.
Sunny Kerr: And you also at some point mentioned the idea of, — you know, recognizing or agreeing together on what we cannot tell and what maybe we should not know, or we should not even try to know. And then at another moment, — you know the idea of creating in the shadows of or using the darkness as a place for building a revolt. And so, — you know, there is a sense I think from our science partners that artists are going to make visible dark matter for us.
Katherine McKittrick: Right.
Sunny Kerr: — from this — the basic terms. And — you know, their understanding is a lot more nuanced than this I know. But there’s — it always seems to be the kind of default nature of this relation. And so, I am curious to know how this metaphor of dark matter resonates for you? And what does it — how does it relate to this question about why are we looking for dark matter?
Katherine McKittrick: Uh-hmm. That is a hard question for me to answer. So, — I mean, I don’t know much about dark matter, but I think it’s like fleeting and it’s not material, it’s not touchable, correct? So, for me, the materiality of that, — of the dark matter would be the narrative that produces it as what it is, right? So, which is manmade right? So, I think, — I mean, I think that I would think along those lines. Like I would think of it as a narrative that is produced by science, and itis also produced through the desire to know and pinpoint. But what does it mean to desire to know and make material dark matter? Why can’t we just sit with it and be okay with the fact that it is not knowable? Can — or can we — are we not designed to do that?
>> So is there a way to sort of keep these, like some sort of relationality, even though it is going to be uneven and clunky where the art is not beholden to the science.
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