Embracing The Awkward Spaces

American artist Lindsay Foster in discussion with the Greek curator and head of Artistic Office in Athens of documenta 14 Marina Fokidis about the artist’s projects A Proper Hidden Frenzy and Lost Luggage Pos. 278. – A talk about shared weaknesses, the possibility of new orders, and love letters to strangers.

Marina Fokidis: I want to start with your connected project, A Proper Hidden Frenzy. In your text, you state »that our reality has become dress-up. We mimic characters in our own dramas, aware that we are always, underneath it all, frustrated by our recognition of the role we play in manufacturing them. Each group puts on an external front for the camera of performativity and strength, as the social world requires, but just below the surface lies a thinly veiled vulnerability, a slight freneticism bubbles from this uncertainty.«

These are wonderful words and present a shiny glimpse of hope for this world. Do you think we will ever get back in touch with our vulnerability and possibly restructure global politics under this view through shared weaknesses?

Lindsay Foster: The optimistic side of myself would say yes: that there is a growing desire to simplify, to get back to basics, to slow down and be present, to create community through non-market driven entities. It is my hope that from these temporary autonomous zones – or moments that happen outside/underneath/in opposition to the system – people gradually begin to connect and recognize the strength that results from deeper interaction. I think there is great potential in this, but at the same time, I worry that this trend has been co-opted by commercial enterprises. Have our feelings become commercialized to such a degree that we are ultimately unaware of how our emotions are being managed? I have often attributed my proclivity to equivocate as a personality trait, but I have recently begun to wonder if this relativism or open shifting subjectivity is actually a product of our contemporary system of feeling management. Am I unclear or distanced from my true responses and feelings because I’ve spent a life manipulating them for economic advantage? I think that is why I seek to uncover this vulnerability in my work, as a way to combat the crafted branding that organizes our current social world. I find solace and hope in locating our shared vulnerabilities; I think of it as a space for potential activation.

MF: Is there a human need to reconnect through shared affinities and shared intensities within the random and globalized world? Economy, consumption, and the tradition of colonization seem to be among some of the few criteria for alliances and hostilities, but are there more? Are we human or merely statistics?

LF: I think there is a great need for deeper connections. I think these types of connections come about through our shared vulnerabilities. It is really difficult to unmask or »de-armor« in our contemporary society. The ever increasing pace of physical travel and virtual flow of information is overwhelming and forces us to protect ourselves from this rapid barrage; in response, the situation requires that we become discerning filters. However, the desire to be known, to justify one’s existence, to nurture a foundational self-esteem is ever present. I think that the health of the planet has enormous potential to unify people. If Sheldon Solomon’s terror management theory is correct, when people fear their own death as a distant threat, they bear down on their world views, they cling to what they think is right or wrong, what is accurate, what we should be concerned with. For this explains the rising extremism that we are currently experiencing. However, according to Solomon, when people feel legitimately threatened by their own death, they act pragmatically and rationally. If our level of threat becomes this extreme, people may begin to reorganize as Martin Bueber would say, in an »I« and »Thou« relationship, as opposed to an »I« and »It« transaction. It seems it will have to get dire before we can pull together and attempt a radical transformation. I imagine a place where capitalism slows and consequently priorities shift to connection, where a new order might be possible, where the zeitgeist becomes one of authentic and complex change, not the facade of change.

MF: What does the newly re-formed need of the contemporary citizens to bypass the »globalized state« and get together through mutual weakness have to say about the times we live in?

LF: That we are tired of mediation and handling, of the crafting and the branding of both ourselves and the entities around us. We doubt our own messages because of the constant manufacturing and managing of those identities. Everything and everyone has become a pawn or tool to be considered in economic terms of advantage/disadvantage. We are tired. It’s a strange form of commonality – the equality that comes from inauthenticity – but it provides a bridge that can transcend perceived differences if we can figure out how to articulate it.

MF: In relation to Lost Luggage Pos. 278 specifically, what prompted you to look for someone’s lost luggage? Are you looking for your long lost self? Is this »stranger that you will never meet« you?

LF: I love this idea. I had not consciously constructed the project with this in mind, but as I contemplate the question, I think you have identified an interesting thread. I set out to know what it would feel like to own an unfiltered trace of someone or see if this was even possible. I thought of it as a small experiment in chance; might I be able to find the person? What could I know from them? To identify the original owner as a component of myself makes perfect sense though. I believe that throughout our lives we continue to grow, deepen, and shift in our understanding of the self. I don’t think of the self as a static entity. So yes, maybe the luggage is a self. A self I will never know or a reminder of an ever present potential of self. The original owner of the bag represents many things I am not or do not identify as, perhaps the bag represents in a Jungian framework my animus – my unconscious inner male.

MF: Have human relations become complicated to the point that they can only be executed through behavioral performances and projections to imaginary friends we find on Facebook and other social media?

LF: I think the rapidity with which we are tasked to interact with each other has cheapened or shortchanged our depth of interaction. Within this process, I think it has become more normalized to have quick surface level exchanges that are scripted, that exist under norms and guidelines. Being of an introverted nature, I often feel a deep discomfort when meeting new people in an open interaction that might linger past a point of comfort. However, if I push past this, a rich depth unfolds. These quality interactions come from embracing the awkward spaces, getting to know the unscripted moments and being present within them. It is in our nuances and vulnerabilities where we are able to trust and feel known.

MF: What does it mean to speak about feelings and emotions with a friend on Facebook whom we don’t know so well in reality?

LF: I think of emoticons as the most brief and nonchalant head nod one could give, similar to saying something is »great.« Both have been used so often and without discretion that they have become nearly mute or simply generic social lubricant. I am always taken off guard, no matter how many times it happens, when someone posts a horrifying article about an injustice, or worse yet when someone announces something very tragic and personal and people »like« it. What does that really mean? Are we experiencing a trend in social media schadenfreude and does this carry over to more authentic sociality? I am guilty of »liking;« I admit, I am a lazy Facebook friend. I do genuinely give my »likes« – well sometimes they stem from social obligation – but I would say that they mostly lack any real effort or emotion. Hearts are intellectually sad, yet when I get x amount of hearts on my birthday, I do feel a quick warmth. I am embarrassed to say that there is some psychological desire to be thought of even for the briefest of moments. I wish we could return to an era of letter writing, but I am afraid I would not have maintained many of my closest friendships if that were the case. Perhaps a nod is all we need at times to continue an external connection with someone. We must adjust to the system and then work to change elements from within; we are all implicated.

MF: What does it mean to write a love letter to an imaginary owner of a lost piece of luggage?

LF: It means I can be more honest and intimate in some ways than I can be with my partner. There is a freedom in the concept of the stranger. I find myself opening up to strangers in ways that I couldn’t with those that I love. The stranger functions as a focusing apparatus to test out elements of the self that we dare not test with those that we care for deeply. Incongruities are accepted with the stranger; the stakes change; the unexpected is a given; and the unknown represents an opening that I find intoxicating.