Text for The Dangerous Professors, curated by Ruslana Lichtzier, Triumph, Chicago, 2017
Asa Mendelsohn dreams about former students, former teachers, and new forms of collectivity. March 20, 2017: Anna, Franky, Lila, and a few others from my ten-to-thirteen-year old-crew at Abrons are sleeping on gym mats inside the New York Public Library during some kind of environmental or human disaster — the kind of disaster that ends a city. Diedrich Diederichsen is there too, wearing shorts, checking in to see how we're doing. I’m trying, I say.
1. I’ve been thinking about introductions, and a tightness I’ve often felt when asked to identify myself in groups. This is my name, these are my pronouns, this is what my voice sounds like when I’m speaking to a room of potential peers. My shoulders tense and hunch. How can I create a space in which we are asked to do something other than state what we already think we are? When I teach I want to make an opening you enter without already being named or having to name yourself — which is usually just another way of being named — but where you can exist in the process of becoming. I guess I’m craving the kind of transformation that happens through dance, or maybe drawing, or maybe some kinds of sound practices: activities through which you are continually becoming, moving through multiple selves that are all equally possible and real. My roommate dances vogue and says that when he started, he was told that in voguing you can be any gender you want — that happens through doing and making beautiful jokes with your body. I don’t know how to do that, but I’m thinking about how I can set the stage for that kind of transformation. I’m planning an experiment for an upcoming workshop. During the first session, before introductions, we’ll go for a walk together around the school in silence: ten minutes, no speaking. Then we can do introductions after. I’m thinking probably we’ll all say the same things we would anyway, but maybe our voices will feel different. Reservations: I don’t want to seem too new age-y. What if someone can’t walk for ten minutes?
2. In the United States people indebt themselves to their educations and to the institutions that sell them. I am emerging with comparatively little debt, but in other ways I owe a lot, and in other ways I never emerge. Our indebtedness takes so many forms it is impossible to name them all.
3. I want to change myself through listening, and when I teach I want to hold that as a collective possibility. I want to listen to ambivalence without feeling immobilized by it. I want the act of listening to make complexity matter.