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Wrapping up my first ICI Fellowship

Friday, October 6th, 2017

After four months of living inside artist lab books and dreaming of malfunctioning printers, I’m finally saying goodbye to the Everything But the Monkey Head project. This fellowship has been such a rewarding experience for me as I learned the ins and outs of what makes this unique institution tick and immersed myself in the creative output of our resident artists.

My main role for this fellowship was to assess the mass of fascinating material generated by each artist participating in the Monkey Project and organize them into a kind of master document. Each artist followed a specific template during their residency for the project–e.g., create a lab book, write two blue board maxims, participate in the finnisage–yet each artist’s output was delightfully different. Within this uniform skeleton structure, the artists built drastically different spaces, relied on unique materials, and asked particular guiding questions to create something wholly theirs. I loved flipping through each artists’ lab book as I scanned them into the computer, marvelling over the intricate pencil drawings in Pam Posey’s, the sumptuous transparent maps of Anna Ayeroff’s, the ghostly faces appearing and reappearing in Greg Cohen’s. Each artist had run wild with their prompts, plunging themselves into new and strange worlds that I felt privileged to travel in, if only for a short time.

Once the mass of created content had been digitally gathered, I went about organizing them into one document, a declaration of the project’s mission as a whole followed by a distillation of each artist’s output. The act of wrestling the expansive results of the project into a book, a necessarily finite thing, posed its own problems. I did my best to make the text a playful object with porous boundaries, a thing I poured love and attention into; I engaged with the concepts posed by the project and the artists themselves, scribbled on the pages, pulled abstruse keywords through the pages using cut outs, and toyed with different materials for each page. I wanted the book to be fun to touch and to look at, and most of all I wanted to honor the work each artist had done by making the book more than just a static collection of scans. I wanted it to be in conversation with the messy and inviting questions we were asking about art and the circular relationship between action and theory.

Flipping through the massive binded book, you can see just how many avenues each artist walked down, how many doors were opened from the simple (yet deeply complicated) guiding question we began with: how do we theorize art’s untheorizable? Each project follows its own logic and creates its own world, and taken together, it becomes dizzyingly apparent just how malleable, dynamic and generative that guiding question was. The role I played in Monkey Head was small, but I’m proud that I got to be a bit player contributing to this interesting project.


— Hanna

Closing Thoughts

Wednesday, August 16th, 2017

What an enriching past few months it has been at The Institute!

As my time here comes to an end, I realize more and more how much I have truly enjoyed working with great ideas and even greater people. I’m so thankful to have been able to contribute to the AIDS Chronicles project because it helped me learn so much about art, HIV/AIDS activism, journalism, and social thought. At the end of every work day, I walk away feeling satisfied knowing that what I put in becomes part of something much bigger.

The ICI itself is such a wonderful environment and I am very humbled to have had the opportunity to spend the summer here!


All the best,



Tuesday, August 8th, 2017

In exactly one week, I will be on a plane to a new town, to a city that will wrap history and mist around me like a cloak. I am nervous to be leaving LosAngeles, but my final summer here in California would not have been the same without the ICI.

Leaving the Institute of Cultural Inquiry is particularly painful because this space has served as a quiet haven for inspired, intelligent work. The building itself is sandwiched between abandoned commercial spaces and an odd gas station; I doubt that any passerby would guess that there is an ecosystem within our gates of advocacy, art, and learning.

I am deeply thankful for the opportunity to work alongside amazing people like Jed, Hanna, Diego, Lise and Sue-Na. Although there are very few of us here at the Institute and we operate independently, we individually contribute to the inviting, open nature of this space. Although I have worked in many places, from DA’s offices to professional laboratories, the ICI gave me a unique opportunity to explore the world of the queer community not just through legislation and protest, but through art and unity. I felt like I was stitching into the fabric of the LGBT community rather than running my fingers across old needlemarks. The work that I did here was not just important, it was deeply enriching.

With love and affection,


One month in…

Thursday, July 13th, 2017

Partial page from Amy Kazcur’s Monkey Head Lab Book, p 64.

I’ve really enjoyed my first month as the Editorial Fellow here at the ICI. I’m glad I’m getting this chance to write a little bit about what I’ve been doing here, because every time I try to explain it to friends and family in conversation, they walk away looking delighted but confused. The ICI is a unique institution — intellectual but playful, making meaning through action rather than just heady philosophizing — and so much of the fun has been just holding on and trusting that we are building towards something fantastic even when we can’t see beyond the next step of the staircase.

Much of my work has been focused around our Monkey Head project, which aims to “build a theory of visual research by examining eight to ten actual studio-based projects undertaken at the ICI within the last 5 years.” The project is at least partly in reaction to the rise of the PhD in studio art and its attempt to codify an academic canon for visual art. The ICI’s perspective is that the most interesting forms of knowledge grow from the feet up, not the head down, which is why we are using the real life projects and processes made and used by our artists-in-residence to try and build our own theory of visual research.

I was able to see this in action during the Interlocuter discussion in our library last week for our latest participant, Amy Kazcur. The ICI staff and interns joined Amy and her colleague Bonnie Porter (from the Museum of Contemporary Art) at the table for a winding, vibrant discussion about Amy’s experience at the ICI and what the process of the project looked and felt like. It was a fascinating couple of hours to sit in on and participate in, as our circuitous conversation took us into realms personal, embodied, theoretical, and affective. I was struck by how we returned again and again to the idea of stepping forward into a question without the answer, of directed action as its own form of knowledge-creation. Amy collected, created, cut and sewed for this project, attempting to bring a long-lost relative into physical embodiment through the performative process of making, and we discussed the power of cumulative action, the knowledge that can only be produced by doing — taking “footsteps into the theory,” as my scribbled notes suggest we termed it.

The experience was deeply rewarding and helped me understand what I’m doing here, even when I don’t know exactly what it is I’m doing here. Monkey Head has been termed “a mutual unfolding” between the ICI and the artists, a project we all throw ourselves into without quite knowing where it will take us, and every day working on it looks and feels different. The perspective on knowledge percolating at the ICI has absolutely informed the way I approach this fellowship and my own life beyond it; it’s helped me get out of my chatty, critical head, which demands answers to every question before it acts, and instead trust in the transformative power of doing.

– Hanna

Image from Amy Kazcur’s Monkey Head Lab Book, p 9.

Performance and Learning

Thursday, July 13th, 2017

Working at the Institute of Cultural Inquiry for the past month has allowed me to unearth my unique relationship to the AIDS Chronicles. When I first signed onto the project, I mentioned that I wanted to learn more about LGBT history; my intent, however, was not to glean more information but to take an active role in shaping the queer narrative. With the pages of newspapers in my hands, the AIDS epidemic became less abstract. The tactile experience made my understanding of the AIDS epidemic more personal and real.

Last week we had a visitor from the Museum of Contemporary Art and she joined two artists from the Monkey Head project along with Lise, Sue-Na, Hanna, Jed and I for a Socratic Seminar-esque conversation. One of the major threads of the discussion was focused on the artistic influence of performance. When we try and recreate history or embody an individual, the similarities in our respective situations can help us feel more connected to them in the absence of personal familiarity. We force ourselves to walk in their shoes by living in their world. In a lot of ways, I feel that my work with the AIDS Chronicles is another pathway for connecting to the past. I am reading through the front pages of the New York Times and I am simultaneously examining the headlines as a person who knows the future up until June 6, 2017, and as someone who has no knowledge of what comes next. In this manner, I am both clairvoyant and suspenseful, historic and present.

In another, less abstract sense, I am also learning a lot about specific events from the late 20-th century and the early 21-st century. I am certainly more equipped to discuss the 1994 Republican Revolution or the 2014 ebola pandemic because I read every article relating to those events from their given years.

Intellectually, this experience has been quite fulfilling.

— Sonya

OBJECTS2 / SILENCE = DEATH PIN / NYTCREDIT: Courtesy of William Dobbs