Sunday, May 3, 2009

[Yasmin_discussions] Oral Traditions and the Digital Arts

HI Yasminers

Ramon - thanks for your post of a few days ago - it has taken me a bit of time to sort through it.

Starting with your last point, which I find the most interesting in terms of this discussion.

. . . on a theoretical line it might be interesting to think about current and past combinations of orality with hard stuff, eg now with digital voices , or radiotransmissions , also in older times as with the beautiful example in ancient Peru where songs were passed on and these songs could be used by a group of weavers working together each on her loom to produce certain colour patterns in the textile (now comes the yellow and then the blue..)
or in india where there is a tradition of long songs that are meorized and are in fact lists of ailments and the corresponding solutions or remedies

The combinations of orality and "hard" recording is very interesting in terms of the digital age, in which nothing has to be fixed permanently.  Photographs are altered, history is fact-checked from sources that were never verified in the first place, and "comments" at the end of news stories give every one a chance to weave more information into what previously may have been a straightforward story.

Tying this to Peruvian songs that communicated technical information on weaving (think of a singing software manual) and Indian songs that communicated medical information points out that there is a third strand of notation that is oral in form but highly codified, and, because of this codification of content, are closer to the written traditions of essential information.  Another example is the American song "Follow the Drinking Gourd" that gave geographical information to escaping slaves on their way to Canada.  Mistakes in medicine and mistakes in geography could both have dire consequences.

How can we fit Digital Art into these practices?  When artists communicate scientific information, are they working with a tradition that is parallels the orality that is culturally and personally specific?  And if this is true, can scientific projects that involve artists be cross-cultural, or do they always reflect cultural ways of knowing and communicating?

This brings us to your point that:

. . . there is a widespread implicit and explicit undestanding among many in our part of the world that culture and knowledge mean writting and that is clearly a big mistake in my view, many people in cultures in history and arround the world have produced knowedge and functional social structres without much or any writting. Thus orality has now and in the past a very central role in building things, abstract and material , songs, cities, roads  and well languages, most of which have existed for long periods wirhout writting or with a very very minimal writting

so how can artists engage today with orality and help using the past to reinvent the futue rather than using it as an excuse to reproduce prejudice and domination.

We have an apprentice system for learning both science and art that communicates oral traditions.  Students do not just read; as young scientists they work in laboratories alongside senior scientists, learning how to pose problems and undertake investigations, and young artists learn not just technical skills but similarly how to focus the subject of their work and how to critique it.  Even with the emerging breakdown of the "Two Cultures" of Art and Science, we are not there yet.  At Brown University, medical students are now spending time in the RISD Museum looking at art so that they can learn about the tradition of creative thought in a different way.

As for the rest of your post, I am struggling with the thought below -  No doubt we are in the process of inventing new traditions as we work with technology and the arts, ones that are quickly becoming so culturally embedded that we stop questioning them.

first traditions are contemporary inventions produced and reproduced to consolidate an (invented) idea about the past , this was brilliantly described and studied by J Huizinga some 30y ago in "inventing tradition" of course there are a few beautuful freedom enhancing traditions, one would like to suppose, but unfortunately in many cases they are forms of violence and control either towards groups in the socitey (traditionally women etc) or other groups "outside"
some months ago i read a great quotation from an author in america in the 30`s who had landed there from the turmoil in europe (Droth i think was his name) he said "a nation is a group of people who share a confusion about their ancestors and an athipathy to their neighbours´, true.

Conventions of Justice are also Traditions.  Conventions of shared labor are Traditions - we do not all grow our own food, build our of houses, and weave the fabric for the clothes that we then fashion.  And, more to the point of this discussion, how knowledge gets transmitted is a Tradition.


Cynthia Beth Rubin

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