NERD ALERT: some notes on process

Several of you have asked for more details about our process. So we thought we would share  some info and images about the step by step ways that we have gone about putting together Unfolding Practice: Reflections on Learning and Teaching (aka “The Accordion Book Book”).

Nerd trigger warning! This stuff’s about to get detailed!

So, as we’ve previously shared, the connected chapters/sections of the book break down as follows:

Mapping the Terrain: Exploring, Guiding and Getting Lost

Exchange as Art: What Happens in an Exchange?

Things Talk to Me: Being Alert to what Grabs Me

What Would an Artist Do?: Teachers and Learners as Contemporary Artists

Getting out of My Own way: Trusting the Process and Resisting Closure

Over the course of the past week, we have been tackling each of the above sections, for an entire day each. This has been an intense and painstaking process, with a multiplicity of digressions, rabbit holes, arguments and a few breakthroughs. In terms of our approach to working, a certain sequence of steps has organically emerged as we’ve made our way through the chapters. This process helps us “tame the wild” or manage the daunting complexity of our work.

I’ll sketch out our step-by-step process here:

Our first move for each chapter is to do a free flowing brain dump with the central theme of the particular chapter we are working on as the trigger/catalyst (for instance, “mapping the terrain”, or “getting out of my own way”) We capture this flood of words/phrases/categories/ideas/connections/quotes on long sheets of brown kraft paper. In this initial session, we tap into our memories, our intuitive/associative minds, we make new connections, we consult our stack of previous accordion books as well as the gigantic pile of books, pdfs and other reference materials we have brought with us to the residency. This process usually takes about an hour.

Next we begin  to categorize: we cut up each individual thought/idea/quote from our brain dump into strips, and on a giant piece of paper begin to locate each of these in one of the 5 following organizing categories:

Core/Essence

Insights/Questions

Strategies

Attitudes/Dispositions

Inspiration/Citations/Quotes

Branches/Associations/Quotes

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Having the above sub categories as organizing throughlines for all the chapters has been incredibly helpful in that it has given us a consistent inner conceptual structure or armature which  runs throughout the book. Our hope is that this consistency will  be felt/understood by readers. At this point we have not made a decision as to whether we will make this inner organizing structure explicit/transparent in the published version of our book. We’d love feedback on that as yet unresolved question.

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The next step in the process involves capturing our now organized/categorized bits of information in tables on a google doc for each chapter. We then print these docs out and begin the process of deciding which of the ideas will go on the front of the book and which will go on the back.

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A few words about the front and back of our book. The front of Unfolding Practice is an authentic example of a collaborative accordion book based on the reflective/artistic/intuitive/connection-making/messy/associative methodology we’ve been developing and sharing with others over the past 8 or so years. It IS the thing. The back of the book is the ABOUT: for each chapter we are including corresponding citations, quotes and links for many of the educators, philosophers, contemporary artists, friends and students who have influenced and inspired us over the past several years. In addition, the back of each chapter will include a list of strategies, we and others have developed as part of our reflective/accordion book practice. This list of strategies for each of the chapters will be linked to a more fleshed out version of the strategies which will eventually live on this website. Also, we know that the list of strategies we will include in the book and this website will grow over time as we and YOU add to it.

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I should say here that the periods of cognitive heavy lifting outlined above are broken up by drawing images and posting them on the wall, running, doing yoga, collecting tiny flowers, eating, off-topic side conversations ETC

Once we have roughly decided which ideas are going where, front or back, we begin (ART)MAKING ROUGH VERSIONS OF THE CHAPTERS. YAY. (finally, right?)

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After the very intentionally systematic and brain-intensive sequence of steps outlined above, the artmaking step feels a lot more intuitive, much more like a creative inquiry involving linear/non-linear poeitic/associative approaches. (because, well, it is) The goal here is to work and feel our way through the ideas we’ve agreed upon for each chapter. This is the part of the process that feels the most like our usual accordion book practices. Here we are mashing up ideas images, words/phrases, mapping connections, using visual metaphors, color coding, free-associating, adding to each other’s thoughts, hybridizing etc.

The twist here is that this type of process/practice, something that Arzu and I have traditionally largely done individually (with periodic incursions/invasions into each others accordion books) is now a totally collaborative process. and a very challenging one at that. The back and forth, tug-of-war that has been going down between us as we artistically mash up and negotiate the space of our book has been intense and at times difficult. We’d love to hear from others about your collaborations. share please!

So there you have a rough breakdown of our process for putting together each of the chapters of Unfolding Practice. Rinse. Repeat. Etc.

2 thoughts on “NERD ALERT: some notes on process

  1. I’ll look forward to hearing more about the messiness of collaborative work. I am diving into this as well and a person raised to see confrontation/conflict as taboo, I’ve been navigating a new space of what is OK vs what is it off bounds, what to worry about as a relational damager and what is expected as a normal flow to the process. Thank you so much for taking time to share your work, thought processes, and practice!

  2. First, I’d love the five organizing categories to be available to readers as a support for making sense of your process; I would include them. Maybe not upfront, but as an afterward?

    Second, I’m not surprised that the actual making part of the collaboration isn’t smooth or easy. Your joint process has been the pre-making part, but you haven’t (have you?) worked as a team on actually making work?

    I don’t know much about how artistic collaborators work (like Gran Fuey and Guerilla Girls and Allora and Cazadilla), but it would be fun to find out. Most of the collaborations I know about are ones where someone is more “in charge” while others take supporting roles (e.g., Doris Salcedo–though she claims to work “as a chorus” –it is her name on the work) or even more formally as shop assistants. Are there muralists who genuinely make as equals? No doubt, but I don’t know who or how–I’d like to. Might have to do some reading.

    Meanwhile, it strikes me that your two very different aesthetics might make this a hard go. It seems like a true joint venture requires giving up control at just the point where you each are most primed to take that control–realizing the work to your own internal and intuitive standards.

    Maybe your collaboration is in the planning making and not the “work” making? Maybe some kind of turn-taking would work? Or maybe you’re just finding the shape of your joint enterprise more clearly through this project, and it isn’t what you thought before you did this?

    I really look forward to seeing how the story plays out–I have complete confidence that how it does is the RIGHT way :)

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