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Volume 3: Conversations at Karma

by November Eds.

In fall 2022, we hosted our first series of public talks at the Karma Bookstore. Over the course of six live events, which spanned from late October to early December, members of November’s editorial staff and board engaged a diverse coterie of curators, writers, and artists on questions of craft and intellectual development. Each of the conversations harped upon themes intimately bound up with the question of transition, both on the level of individual practice and institutional presence: operation, function, theater, and representation. At heart, the guiding prompt behind this first series of talks might be summed up as the following: what does it take to get into the room? As Adrienne Edwards relays to November co-founder Emmanuel Olunkwa in this Volume: there’s no way to know until you’re there.

Operation: how do you make meaning out of the raw desire to create, the raw desire to be in conversation? In Lucy Sante’s estimation, this is a question of voracious appetite. Study the voices, the language, the articulations, the inflected sensibilities of those who stand before you—internalize their critical disposition as your own. Then: cannibalize. Discard, discard, discard, cleaving off each husk until all that is left is your own language, that strange plaster-casted thing molded to the rough, contradictory shape of those many yous which came before this one. Or, take Laurie Simmons’s converse proposition: start with everything you are not. Reject all that which holds no personal value; begin with the negative image of an anti-mission statement and then proceed to fill in the gaps.

Function: you have found a meaningful shape, now how do you use it? One option, proposed by Keller Easterling: put it in material space and see what happens—follow the accidents and misfires and mine them for what they might reveal. This faulty interaction between abstraction and articulation becomes the performance of the thing, which is to say the way it is experienced by living people: the breakdown spells out the pregnant gap between the truth of the idea and the various possibilities of its representation.

Theater: we’ve arrived at not just the idea of the thing, but the doing of the thing, which is its being. Does it make sense? This, Thelma Golden suggests, is the question that sets the stage for all the infrastructure that must follow. Consider scale, presentation, and coordinated architecture. We are now acting in space, but is it the right one? Does it allow for a unison of articulation and intended impact? Does it make sense? The scene must be reworked, sized up, or squished down—find the bigger shape that best houses the multitude of smaller ones, the shape that squeezes the most potent concentration of effects out of the mismatched bag of fruit you toss into it.

Representation: we are now in real time, the conversation which collapses the space between the production of an idea and its realization through performance. Can this collapse hold? This is a structural question, Stuart Comer suggests: how do we labor to bring ourselves into the present? The conversation undoes a layer of distanced mediation, placing representation, structure, and infrastructure into a single coterminal frame. Of course, you are reading a digitized re-creation of these conversations: the collapsed time of the once-present has been re-inflated, the smoke and mirrors of distance and mediation have been reintroduced. Are we still in the room together?

The questions raised by these six interlocutors are, in a sense, an allegory for the questions we posed to ourselves when putting together this first series of talks. It’s easy to retroactively read some sort of motivated intentionality into our decision to feature this particular selection of voices, or to touch on these particular recurrent themes of transition and transposition: perhaps we knew what we wanted to do the whole time. A more likely story: the throughlines between each of these conversations were probably there well before we got together, but the chat needed to begin for them to announce themselves clearly. Reflecting back, we hope that these six conversations serve as a primer for what we believe to be the core of November’s mission: trust in the unexpected potency of peer-to-peer communication and foster endless curiosity for unplanned revelations and intimacies—which can only come into being by getting ourselves into the room, together.

Next from this Volume

Lucy Sante

in conversation with Emmanuel Olunkwa and Lauren O'Neill-Butler in conversation with Emmanuel Olunkwa and Lauren O'Neill-Butler

“I like a kind of writing that’s irreducible—just itself and nothing else.”