Wednesday, January 20, 2010

on conversation - agreeing to cook the world together

image by Theodore Zeldin

Sophie Munns

The text above is by eminent thinker Theodore Zeldin who has been an inspiration for some years now after reading his seminal 'Intimate history of humanity' and 'Conversations' which was published following his BBC4 lectures on conversation. I tracked him to a philanthropic foundation he launched - 'the Oxford Muse' - some time later and have at times worked directly with his ideas like  conversation dinners and text in art work.

In 2008 I had the time to rethink completely where I was going in my Art Practice and I wrote to the Oxford Muse foundation in the UK and exchanged emails for a time with one of the staff there. I was looking into how I might engage further with the conversation dinner idea I had experimented with partly pursuing my own interests and then discovering the Muse model for this form of innovative social collaboration. One day Kim at OM said "Theodore wants to phone you to speak personally - when will you be home?"

He rang me that week and talked for over half an hour - by far the most dense conversation of my life in its sweep and profundity and searching questions. I made notes - thankfully! And I sat on that exchange for a long time after pondering how I might activate some of the ideas he prompted me to consider. Maybe I find myself mentioning this tonight because there is perhaps an opportunity coming up that will allow space for such possibilities as he spoke of to come into play. I'm realising this as I write.  More soon on that... 

To read more click Muse Ideas. Some years ago i watched a webcast of a 2 hour talk he gave at the Tate Modern. Muse ideas will take you to similar links. There you will also see at this website Zeldin's own art work that frequently accompanies the text for the Oxford Muse.
The following images are employing text from his book Conversation that I wanted to consider more fully.

*click on the artworks to enlarge if you wish to be able to read the text

these 2 pages below actually join up

Today I have had some amazing conversations and communications through the blog, via email and over the phone... many more memorable and enriching ones than I usually have in one day. Plans being made, ideas being exchanged and thoughts being shared... when communications flow and understanding and cooperation is increased the world is indeed a brighter place!

And thats something to be extremely thankful for!!


Lorena said...

I love the two orange pieces. I can't make out the writing, but as an art piece they're just amazing!

Altoon Sultan said...

This is fascinating, Sophie. I feel that the internet has changed the way we share our selves and our ideas. I also realize how rare and precious a truly deep conversation is, so this sounds like a wonderful project.

Sophie Munns said...

Hi Lorena,
I just added the orange text to allow people to enlarge the image if they wish to read it!
Its far too small as you found to make out otherwise!
Thankyou for leaving a great comment!

Nicola Moss said...

Thanks for a great post Sophie, I love the concept of conversation dinners, fantastic.
There are irregular/few opportunities for conversation like that described on the Oxford Muse site, the idea of a conversation menu is very interesting.
And I am inspired that you followed through with your interest and spoke with Theodore Zeldin, I image you have great memories of that conversation.
I have found the series of artist talks held at FEHVA in Bangalow each year can provide opportunities for such conversation, I recall the first year I attended, hearing Janet Laurence, Sue Ford and in particular Richard Goodwin who forgot he was meant to talk about art and got onto all sorts of subjects. Amongst other things he said 'democracy is not consensus', this has stuck in my mind since. Note taking is a great idea for these types of discussions, frantic scrawling to not forget the sparks that set your mind racing.

thank you.

Sophie Munns said...

It is quite significant indeed Altoon when one considers how conversations have often been the crucial link between 2 possibilities - and how much more powerful is it when the quality of conversation has had some capacity to be life-enhancing in some way.

So often in coming across a story of integrity or inspiration you get to the part when someone says" I met this person" or "I had this conversation" ...
The work of the Oxford Muse comes across as multi-dimensional, building very much out of that awareness of what is possible when we bring a different quality of engagement and exchange to our daily lives... and make room for a higher level of presence to what is around at any one time.
Whist this has been said many, many times and is part of many philosophies it is refreshing to me that it does not come with an entire MUST SUBSCRIBE set up -rather it is like a poetic call to stop and consider something for a moment... the language is made simple yet the ideas reverberate!

What you say about the internet I do agree. For along time i only heard the negative things about chat rooms and people turning their lives upside down to cross the world for someone they'd met but sometimes knew nothing critical about...etc, etc I didn't know anyone who blogged at all till this year.
Blogging is not so common in Australia so it was a big leap from knowing nil of what to expect to discovering it was actually feasible to gain insight into how another may navigate life, or being an artist, in different places, with their individual set of circumstances, responding to the things that are part of their world and so on.

How you live in Vermont through the seasons Altoon, grow your own food, conduct aspects of your art practice is it plays out through time, what is feeding into it and the way you think and relate ....for the past 4 weeks of visiting your blog this has been akin to say a year of being tutored at art school in that your approach has been laid out for me to visit with and Ive had the benefit of your responses and ideas coming back in a way that is actually more grounded and helpful than face to face necessarily is. Your wisdom and experience as both an artist and human being travels across the miles to here in a way that is open-ended, thought-provoking and enriching.

This does amaze me - what a great example of the teaching/learning process that can be accessed so informally but beautifully via the internet.
thank you,

Sophie Munns said...

Good morning Nicola,
thanks so much for sharing these great thoughts.
It was very unexpected to have someone so far away, and who I imagined to be extremely busy with really important agendas, take time for an involved conversation.

Then I thought about it and felt it was entirely consistent with his ideas - namely that when someone is there wanting to talk ( with some familiarity established via emails) you really engage - not because they are deemed "important" and well connected - but because life is waiting in that exchange. The stranger from across the world wasn't seen as a waste of his valuable time because as far as he knew a sincere interest in the muse work and focused imput could potentially spark something potent.

And potent it was...although timing was not right to unfold something other than a couple of experiments. However the seeds were planted (there's that metaphor!) and I kept hearing certain words long after, certain concepts he highlighted, underlined, emphasised - "this is not to be an amusement for the well-heeled", "this needs to bring all sectors of the community together" and so on. He discussed how, money, organisation - all bases covered!
I think it could be time again Nicola for a small one-off ocassion - just to see what that sparks!

What you said about FEHVA is interesting to hear - I had thought of going to one of those events. Bangalow is a good size community to host such an event when I think about it. Godwin's comment re consensus not being democracy resonates with me.To sit side by side with very different views not needing to be in agreement or having to supress one's view for the sake of consensus requires something else altogther from the people concerned.
time for breakfast...
great to exchange with you Nicola

Altoon Sultan said...

What a lovely comment, Sophie, I'm honored; thank you. I too love to see your mind and eye ranging widely, with your solid sense of community and of art.

Sophie Munns said...

Its a pleasure Altoon!

I'm still amazed that there is so much quality to the interactions and posts on so many blogs -definitely at yours!
Thanks for getting back to me and leaving me with that lovely compliment,

Mlle Paradis said...

Sophie! Thanks so much stopping by and being so sweet. Sorry, I have been distracted and I thought that you'd been away already to N. Zealand but NO! you've been very very busy in a wonderful way. I had alot a pleasant surprising conversations yesterday too. it's like having a great big drink of water! I think this is a great idea and I agree, the blog world has been a great way of developing conversations. And so fluid and dimensional and subtly colored - like your jewel-like paintings! Glad it's been such a great couple of weeks for you. I will hang in here for pictures of those little houses. Meanwhile tante grazie e buon viaggio!

Mlle Paradis said...

Oh p.s. Nicola - love that concept - Democracy is not consensus! That's pretty revolutionary in America these days but sadly would probably be used by the wrong entities for the wrong reasons to wrest even more poisoning power.

Enough said!

Sophie Munns said...

Hey there Ml Paradis,
gotta get my things in the bag and catch the taxi to the airport...
wishing you very best with whatshappening for you...will be thinking of you..

Lorena said...

Thanks Sophie, I like the pieces even more after having read the text, really nice

Sophie Munns said...

Glad you let me know re the text Lorena!
V interesting ideas contained in those words... thank for visiting again!