Inquiry as Practice: Notes on 100 Questions Workshop and How Do You Draw the Light from Sapphires?
[Published in 'to: Craft" by Goodman, Mellanee, Benjamin Lignel, Amy Meissner, Heather K. Powers, and Joni Van Bockel (eds.). to : Craft. Asheville, NC: Warren Wilson College, 2021. https://www.macraftstudieswwc.com/publication2021]
For the past three years I have had the pleasure of working to introduce unorthodox research methods to first year students in the MA in Critical Craft Studies program at Warren Wilson College in Asheville, NC. Part of our work together included participation in my 100 Questions Workshop. This year, the 2021 graduating class invited me to participate in To: Craft a student-authored publication project where the questions that anchored their first year experience would be extended to a wider audience.
100 Questions Workshop is an ongoing and participatory artwork wherein participants co-author a list of approximately 100 questions around a given prompt. It is an exploration into collective artistic research that prioritizes process and inquiry over outcome and answers. In these workshops, which are often intensives, my role is scribe and facilitator. Participants work intuitively by speaking their questions out loud to the group, allowing each new question to build on and/or depart from the last, in a process that is generative and nonhierarchical. This experience together becomes the work itself and provides ongoing resonance for each participant’s practice.
This project is rooted in the broad nature of my own practice which led me to wonder how my varied ways of researching, working, and thinking were connected. And, if they were, what through-lines were apparent? Why was I attracted to exploring critical race theory and identity politics with objects, text, and social practice? Where was the “work” in my “artwork” really located?
For years I have been collecting my own questions as side project; a semi-private endeavor that began during my graduate research where the ideas and content of my practice were unrelatable to my all-white cohort and faculty. So, I began talking to myself out of necessity, trying to determine and chart my own systems of value in order to imagine my past and future while surviving the present. In these imaginary conversations I learned that I was not interested in the finite limitations of neat answers. I didn’t trust them. I was instead liberated by the possibilities inherent in my messy questions. These inquiries (the what) led to imperatives (the how) in my practice. As I began to understand that the “work” of my own “artwork” did not have any obligation to singular narratives, materials, or outcomes I felt free. 100 Questions Workshop is one of many personal attempts to share that sense of liberation with participants.
How Do You Draw the Light from Sapphires? is another example of how questions show up in my work. The short film is a meditation on the unstable relationships between text, image, memory, ancestry, and constructed meaning. It is also an exercise in imagination and an expression of Black love. The video asks viewers to consider not only what they read but how they read it. In the piece, a set of questions is presented twice, initially without interruption and then again with the inclusion of a single photograph that reappears after each question. The tattered photograph, which pictures my grandmother seated on a couch while holding my father in her lap, is the only surviving image in our family archive of this time in their lives. It captures a time before I existed, or, as my mother would say, “Lisa, this picture was taken before you were even a thought!” I love to hold and consider my mother’s words in my work today and I humbly invite readers here to consider this as a question: What existed before you were a thought? If you ask, how will the question shape your current practice and your future work?
What will set you free?
100 Questions Workshop has been shared in various educational communities, including:
Oregon College of Art and Craft (OCAC)-2017
Columbia River Correctional Institute (CRCI)-2017
Warren Wilson College (WWC)-2018, 2019, 2020
Oregon Community Foundation Field Fellows Retreat-2019
Columbus College of Art and Design (CCAD)-2020
Image: 100 Questions Workshop at summer residency at Warren Wilson College, 2018