Lisi Raskin is an artist who teaches and is department head of Sculpture at the Rhode Island School of Design. Lisi and I have known one another for more than seven years, and over that time have spent many hours talking about how decolonial, anti-racist practices might be made manifest through our actions and work, and importantly, that a major element of this work was interior to ourselves. As an artist engaged in how values and ideals, not to mention skills, are passed to other burgeoning artists, Lisi created the animation below to facilitate students’, faculty’s, and colleagues’ understanding of themselves and of the often-invisible forces at play in our lives and in artistic practice and education, and how to begin to see them and confront their realities. While her animation has academia in mind, I think it is truly instructive for a much broader audience. Watch the video below and read Lisi’s statement unpacking the logic that went into making it. -LR
Video editing and animation: Laine Rettmer and Andrea Merkx
Script editor and conceptual advisor: Matt Shelton
Drawings, script, voice over: Lisi Raskin
Special thanks: Rhode Island School of Design Center for Social Equity and Inclusion
Introduction to “(Some of) The Mechanics of Critique”
By Lisi Raskin
“(Some of) The Mechanics of Critique” is an instructional video that situates the practice of critique within the framework of European colonization — a total world-building, reality-imposing project which started in the 15th century with interlocking military, economic, cultural, and legislative components. As artists and teachers, it is imperative that we understand that our instructional habits and cultural biases stem from assumptions rooted in racist, misogynist violence. In this work, I describe some of the interpersonal and historical complexities that we inhabit, and make the claim that educators who fail to acknowledge and reckon with these complexities in their classrooms bring harm upon their students. Traversing this terrain requires the decentering of Enlightenment Era philosophies and epistemologies, not just because they limit our understanding of the world we live in, including our own positionalities, but also because these philosophies germinated in white supremacy, classism, homophobia, and misogyny.
The seed for this work was planted during a series of events following an anti-racist workshop I attended called Whites Confronting Racism at Training for Change, a Philadelphia-based organization that trains activists. Like most left-leaning white people in my generation and older, I had been indoctrinated to believe racism was an external factor, rather than something that existed inside of me, dictating my actions, proficiencies, and perspective. The most impactful exercise we did in the workshop was one in which we examined the difference between our idealized sense of self and our actual selves. It was here that I understood that the multigenerational project of whiteness was demarcated by a process of indoctrination and that this indoctrination could, in fact, be unlearned. On the surface, I could understand the basic tenets of whiteness to include a need for validation that I was inherently good, productive, and successful.
But I knew there were even more insidious frameworks that had shaped not just my worldview, but also my artistic and pedagogical practices. After the workshop, I returned to my colleagues in higher education eager to discuss what I had learned about white fragility, white racial solidarity, and decentering whiteness, only to find deeply rooted resistance. Intersectional thinking and engaged pedagogy were brand new to me, even if my queer embodiment has ushered in an understanding of certain forms of oppression. Most of my colleagues had been similarly indoctrinated by virtue of our proximity to white, western epistemologies, regardless of our individual identity markers. The dissonance between my new learning and the culture of higher education alerted me to the structural and intersectional nature of the problem. From 2013-2016, I sat with this 400-year-old dilemma, unsure of how to proceed beyond the classroom with a practice of new pedagogical methods and frameworks. It’s a hell of a problem to try and figure out how to decolonize higher education, without allies, and when you understand that your own consciousness is part of the colonial project.
In 2016, a film called The Room of Silence was released by a group of students at Rhode Island School of Design describing the alienation and trauma they endured in critiques as learners who were queer and trans and/or students of color. The film went viral and established critique as an inherited instructional form ripe for decolonial intervention. While faculty at Tyler School of Art, I was able to use the film as a bargaining chip with the administration for a weekend-long training for faculty. But it was clear to me that it would take more than a one or two-day workshop to intervene in the form of art higher education.
Since joining the faculty of RISD as department head of Sculpture in 2016, I’ve worked with allies in the administration to create syllabi, plans, guides, curricula, and tools to aid in the practice of decolonial instruction. But we need to go farther. The work necessary to stop reproducing the injustice described in The Room of Silence is multi-modal, multi-faceted, and practice-based. This has led me to a reconsideration of the relationship between my practices as an administrator, an educator, and a studio artist. It is important for all of us to regard these nexuses as sites of decolonial intervention. In the fall of 2019, I will teach a 13-week course to other RISD faculty as part of the pilot program of the Decolonial Teaching in Action Program. This program is supported by the Center for Equity and Inclusion and Teaching and Learning Laboratory.
As part of this course and others, I have authored tools like this one that attempt to decode the underpinnings of white supremacy within western epistemologies and incorporate new models for enacting our collective liberation. “(Some of) The Mechanics of Critique” is a teaching tool that can be used by anyone. Writing, drawing, and animating the video has helped me enunciate and reckon with what it means to accountably teach with the goal of transformation in mind.
How do white folx actually fit into this dialog?
Given its lack of self-reflectivity – might we in its own spirit question how much of this critique participates in – or is derived from the dominant discourse
I couldn’t help but be struck by the number of prohibitions in the video’s narrative/argument. By “dominant discourse,” SO, do you mean the arguments often employed in a framework that treat political problems as individualized ethical failings to be solved by precarious laborers in 13-week (surely non-mandatory, but who wouldn’t go to such classes if they wanted to keep their contracts going) seminars with the author/department head? Should we call this a liberal-humanist discourse? One could only imagine the first few minutes of the seminar when the claim that “critique” can be traced back to any one place, let along to English empiricism, is refuted.
The list is very long- but most importantly it does not subject itself to the terms of the critical position it intends to advance – it does not identify its own liberal ideological bias’ such as being highly UScentric as well that it too is premised on enlightenment thought,etc. Likewise empiricism and aestheticism have not been the basis of art school Crist since the 60s – in this animation it seems to being used merely as a trope –
What’s strange is that I sent a friend to read my comment on this article and lo, it’s disappeared from the thread. What happened?
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