On Thursday I attended a one-day workshop at the University of Aberdeen entitled New Forms of Transmission and Performing Independence. This was the third in a series of workshops organised and co-ordinated by Nerea Arruti (University of Aberdeen), Gustavo San Román (University of St Andrews), and Kathryn Crameri (University of Glasgow).
The workshop was inspired by a series of key questions:
- Are the new media and speedier platforms of communication creating new transnational networks that impact on new formations of mobilization and new social creativity?
- Does the media create new artistic expression?
- Does the speed of exchange create a new way of performing politics and art?
- What is the role of the arts and cultural policy makers in such differing contexts?
The day began with an informal introduction by Nerea, who conjoined the ideas of conflict, emotion, performance, and the body as crucial themes for discussion. Nerea spoke in particular about the Basque situation and about the role of the witness in relation to both Rikardo Arregi (who visited the University of Aberdeen to perform a poetry reading in November 2013) and his collection of poems It Must Be Said Twice and the 2010 ETA ceasefire, which was announced twice because the first was barely acknowledged. She also called upon Jacques Derrida’s essay on forgiveness as an act of performance.
This was followed by a presentation from Mari José Olaziregi – Cultural Co-ordinator for the Etxepare Basque Cultural Institute in which she foregrounded the work that Etxepare do in terms of the promotion of the Basque language and Basque culture in Spain and beyond. In particular, Mari José discussed the difficulty of promoting Basque language and culture within the Spanish culture, and the usefulness of programmes such as Hispanic Studies (UK) and Iberian Studies (US) as means of integrating Basque into existing formats. The paper’s respondent was Neil Curtis (Head of Museums, University of Aberdeen), who offered a reflection on Mari José’s presentation with reference to the role of the museum in terms of a culture’s promotion.
After a lively discussion among the participants and attendants, journalist and writer Iñigo Astiz offered a presentation entitled ‘Writing the Reader: Literature and Press Reception in the Basque Context’. Iñigo argued that while the focus of the last decade or so has been the production of Basque culture, our attention should now switch to the phenomenon of reception, with particular consideration of the demographics of Basque readership in terms of age. The key question of his paper: who reads what we produce? The discussion that followed addressed many topics, including the instability of bilingualism, the notion of preservation in relation to language and culture, and the role of digital publishing.
A quick lunch break ensued, and we returned to a paper from Josep-Anton Fernàndez (Universitat Oberta de Catalunya) on the topic of ‘Constructing Identities, Mobilising Emotions: New Forms of Political and Cultural Activism in Catalonia’. Josep-Anton addressed the dynamics of Catalanism and independence in the contemporary context, discussing the various movements and activities that have been organised in recent years, including the Via Catalana. Respondent Kathryn Crameri offered a comparison with the current situation in Scotland, with particular reference to the differing role of emotion in this context.
The day was rounded off with a poetry reading of a selection of Iñigo’s poems in Basque, with myself reading the poems in English translation. Iñigo’s poetry addresses some of the themes we had been discussing throughout the day, such as bodies and viscerality, the importance of place and the relationship of the local and the global, and intergenerational transfer and emotional bonds between people. The poetry reading provided an example of the crucial role that art and culture plays within the sphere of academic and intellectual debate. All in all, a thoroughly enjoyable and informative day.