Week 1: 1/24 Introduction

This course aims to provoke dialogue about practices of attention and observation, and invent new ways of looking. What exactly does it mean to “observe”? Observation is neither neutral nor passive—the very process of looking can both shape the thing being observed and change the person who is doing the looking. This course will explore the ways that the very act of structured attention changes the perceiver(s) and by extension creates new experiences and understandings. We will investigate how past practices of observation have actually defined what we know about the world and how structured and documented observations might instigate change.

Throughout its long history, observation has always been a form of knowledge that straddled the boundary between art and science, high and low sciences, elite and popular practices. As a practice, observation is an engine of discovery and a bulwark of evidence…It is pursued in solitude but also in the company of thousands. (Daston & Lunbeck, 2011, p. 7)

What is a fruit-stand clementine? Observe the clementine through the lens of your discipline and document your process as a short instruction.



Observation Scores
Students will explore new ways of observing in order to deepen their existing research. Inspired by precedents—e.g. the archives of everyday life created by the British Mass Observation Movement; practices used by German polymath Alexander von Humboldt; current research of the Observational Practices Lab: objectamerica.org—students will develop their own experimental ways to observe an object, from the rigorously structured to the playfully absurd. These new practices of observation—including senses, specialized instruments, and speculation—will be developed, conducted and recorded in the conceptual framework of fluxus event scores linking back to John Cage’s teaching at The New School during the 1950s. This collection of “Observation Event Scores”—brief verbal or visual notations—will inspire students to apply different ways of looking at their object of investigation.

the Fluxus P e r f o r m a n c e Workbook
edited by Ken Friedman, Owen Smith and Lauren Sawchyn
a Performance Research e-publication 2002

Draw a Line and Follow It
Nam Jun Paik performing event score: Composition 1960 No. 10

For Next Week:

Case Study: Introduce a researcher you love and discuss their approach to observation. You have 3 minutes to give a short overview — feel free to use 1-3 visuals as support (upload them to our shared google drive before class or use online material)

Daston, L., & Lunbeck, E. (2011).Histories of Scientific Observation. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. (p.10-18)
Highmore, B. (2011). Familiar Things. In Ordinary Lives, Studies in the Everyday. New York, NY: Routledge. (Pages 58-86)
(You will find the readings in our shared google drive)

(Featured Photo by Holger Link on Unsplash)