What’s It Got To Do With Love

Last September entering a classroom attended by thirteen ICP-Bard MFA candidates with a handful of MA candidates from the Bard Center for Curatorial Studies remotely tacked on, I was tasked with guiding the cultivation of a one-day symposium. This was not a symposium in the greek sense, as in a drinking party (although it remained on the table a good part of the semester) rather looking at what it would mean to open the insular pedagogy of the university and invite the public in. How would you stage such an event and who would you invite? It’s an opportunity that can feel impossibly large, like choosing the one food you get to bring with you to the desert island. So that’s where we started, with individual proposals for a fantasy symposium, in which Zizek, Agnes Martin, Carrie Mae Weems, Kathleen Hannah, Mos Def and An Apple I Cloud Representative—among numerous other likely and unlikely presenters were up for debate. Given the right mood lighting, a yoga break, a marching band and oysters, they might show up and blow our minds.

The classroom can be a wildly unpredictable place, especially when we throw the-teacher-dictates-students-receives dynamic out the window. I tend to look at each class as a social body, organized around an affinity for particular knowledge and courses are the process of building that knowledge collectively. But this course started without that anchor, what knowledge—exactly—did we want? To organize or unionize the inevitably frenetic energies of a diverse group of minds, to work towards a collective vision, is no small task. And three weeks in, we were close to deciphering what threads had emerged among the group when the entire class strolled in having just finished Eduardo Cadava and Paola Cortés-Rocca’s Notes on Love and Photography, with the revelation that love was what we had come together to investigate further. In the space between the subject/event, the image and memory of it, festers all kinds of desire. Love is the thing that draws us towards. Seeking. Feeling. Towards a possibility of knowing. It seems apt that this is the place we would land in our collective search.

Love is hard to define, being emotional and non-logical. It’s the thing that drives passion both in its most productive and destructive forms. And so love continues to pose so many more questions than answers as it touches so many aspects of life—sexuality, fetish, consumerism, social networks, media constructs, all kinds of emotively charged desires. How do we know the difference between a true emotion and what is affected? How does access and proliferation of explicit sexual material change intimacy? In what ways are images passive and in what ways are they catalysts for change? Is ‘touch-screen’ an oxymoron? Does technology strengthen our connections? It’s through many queries that the symposium on love evolved.

On Saturday, December 13th, 2014, thousands upon thousands of people descended onto the streets of New York City fueled with anger at the state-funded murder of African American citizens. While the issues at hand were nothing new, this groundswell emerged specifically because of the image, the photograph, the videos. With the ubiquity of camera phones comes the watchful eye of both the state and its citizens, trapped in a kind of infinite panopticon. Looking at you, looking at me. It’s the images that drew people to the streets. The images of unnecessary violence, that sets off anger that comes from the all too human capacity to empathize, to care and to love. And it’s within this setting, on this day that What’s Love Got To Do With It: Affect, Interactivity and the Haptic took place.

–A.K. Burns