Transmission: HOSPITALITY

30 June 2010 | , , , , , ,

I am off to the Transmission: Hospitality conference, my second one this summer and one I am particularly looking forward to, as I will be part of a panel I proposed a few months back and which will be chaired by Dany Nobus. Simon Bacon, a vampiricist I met recently at the Psychoanalysis, Culture and Society conference, Miguel Santos, Allie Carr and Francis Summers, three fabulous artists, and the always interesting Sharon Kivland and Jaspar Joseph-Lester will be there, as well as a host of superb keynote speakers.

Here’s what Nicky Bird, Bran Nicol and I will be discussing on Saturday morning:


How does one relate to whom one doesn’t know? The stranger is all around us; we cross his path many times per day. The position of the stranger is a reversible one: for the other, it is us that take its place. The question has implications in relation to the work of art, as artists have attempted a direct engagement with strangers as part of their practices, or, indirectly, though the encounter of their work with the viewer. The stranger also has significance in the psychoanalytic setting, where the patient reveals her innermost secrets to a stranger, and the analyst invites one to the consulting room, also usually his home. Drawing from a variety of practices, from film and art to literature and psychoanalysis, this panel proposes three approaches to the unknown person, the stranger.

First, through the act of listening, we attempt to recognize ourselves in the stranger, to establish a bond, a relationship with him. Listening, however, is a very complicated endeavour. How can one listen, really listen, to an other? In his writing, Sigmund Freud proposes a technique called evenly-hovering-attention, which aims at shifting the emphasis from the meaning of the words to a more rounded approach to the other’s speech. This paper will draw from collaborative and performative practices, where the work emerges either from a conversation with a person or a group, then unknown, but becoming something else through the engagement, or from a playful and slightly mischievous activity: eavesdropping.

The consequences of being involved in the acts of talking and listening can be very varied, from friendship to love, transference and countertransference –the particular relationship of identifications between analyst and patient. But before these are arrived at, there is another interim stage, which the second paper in this panel will explore: seduction. Attracted by the stranger, we surrender our free will to his mystery. Works of art use diverse techniques to seduce so the second speaker will perform, impersonate, frame and follow –to name but a few strategies– to engage with the strangers in the audience.

But seduction hangs in a fine balance, it is already at the edge of morality. The obsession with a stranger, whom, in a delusional state, one believes one knows, will be the subject of the third paper. The act of stalking is the pursuit of someone as part of an investigation, or with a criminal intent. It involves a multitude of acts and is often the continued return of a rejected proposition –just like the repressed returns. The outcome can, as in the case of Sophie Calle, lead to a nice trip to Venice, a court appearance or, as happened to Agnetha Fältskog, a relationship ending in disaster.

These three papers, with their differing approaches and strategies to engage with the stranger, will make the audience consider their own everyday encounters in, for example, supermarket queues, art installations, trains, therapeutic relationships, lifts.

The full papers will be published on the website or the new Transmission: Annual journal after the event so watch this space!

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