alltheredchairs

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I stopped carrying a chair after 3 and a half weeks and then the photos stopped to. Why three and a half weeks? why not four? I guess I ran out of energy and felt like I’d had enough. It was a study of how a red chair can be used as a tool to see from a different position and in looking from that position I saw some things. People talked to me about the chair and talked about me on the chair. They made jokes about what a good idea it was to bring a chair on the underground, or into a busy cafe and I think some of them thought it was a good idea. I spoke mainly to the elderly who seemed to appreciate more than the rest the need for a chair. I felt embaressed but also good that I was at all times working on my project. And it gave me some ideas for how to proceed which I wouldn’t have had otherwise. During the chair carrying period I have also been writing and re-writing, speaking and listening. Now on monday we have a deadline for a submission which we must send to the person who will oppose us in our examination at the beginning of april. I’ve been writing a lot of stories and doing a lot of different things but I realise I haven’t really tried to explain why I have been working in the way I have. so this is what I am doing until monday.

Here is what I have so far. Any comments much appreciated!

 

When they ask me what my Master thesis project is about I will ask them

“Why are all the chairs at Konstfack red?”

“So why are all the chairs at Konstfack red?” they might then ask

Well first of all, all the chairs are not red. Some of them, the ones with wheels in the computer rooms and studios, are grey. But the ones in the seminar rooms are red, the ones in the library are red, in the student kitchens they’re red and in the cafeteria they are red too.  The floor is generally not red, it is mainly grey, apart from in the toilets where both the floor and the ceiling are red and where the chairs are white and have holes in their seats. The walls are not red they are white. In fact you could say that Konstfack is generally pretty white, but the chairs they are red.

“Why do you want to know why the chairs in Konsftack are red anyway?” they might ask.

I want to know why the floors are grey and why all the walls are white. I want to know why the floor and the ceiling in the toilets are red and why the seats here are white. I want to know why the chairs in our studios are grey, why we each have a white flat table on which to write, why the departments are organised in the way they are and why our professors sit upstairs while we sit downstairs. Most of all I really want to know why all the chairs at Konstfack are red.

“Why are all the chairs at Konstfack red?”

One answer to the question is that the chairs are red because the architect who designed Konstfacks interior likes red. I suspected this might be the case and he told me this was the case when I went to speak to him. “Red goes well with white and black. I like red.” But this is only one answer, one point of view. Of course there are many other answers to the question

“Why are all the chairs at Konstfack red?”

Hidden within the question of the red Konstfack chairs is another question. A question that is equally large and has just as many answers as the question of the red Konstfack chairs. That question is

“Why are things the way they are?”

“So why are things the way they are?” they might ask.

They want the answer just like I want the answers. I would love to give them the answer to the question but I don’t think I can, so instead I direct our attention back to the red Konstfack chair and I tell them we might begin by looking here for answers. At the very beginning of this project I had the feeling that the answers to the question are hidden within the world we inhabit, they are in the things around us and the relations we make with these things. They are right next to us, in front of and behind us, over our heads and underneath us. This is when I remembered the red Konstfack chairs.

I heard all the chairs at Konstfack are red because the floor is grey and the walls are white and red goes well with white and black and because red is so strong, so dominant, so extensive that we no longer see it as a colour. I heard that all the chairs at Konstfack are red because of lightness of Ellen Key and the red and white and black in the paintings of Carl Larsson, because of The Law of Ripolin and Le Corbusier and because of Kulturset and Peter Celsing, because of Love Arben and Gert Wingårdh, because love is red and so are hearts. I heard all the chairs at Konstfack are red because of the snow in Stockholm and the blood of animals, because “the devil is in the details” and the devil is red, because of the red facades of Swedish houses and because of the workers movement, because men like red dresses, because the tables are white and the walls are white and the floors are grey and the light comes in from above and theres not much of it and the snow is around for half of the year and the school is open not much longer than that. I heard all the chairs at Konstfack are red.

redredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredredred

The project “Why are all the chairs at Konstfack red?” is a project about looking; About looking at a chair and looking from a chair, about taking the chair and placing it in different positions and looking from those positions. In this project the red Konstfack chair is used as a tool, one that allows us to see in a way we couldn’t before. The reason that the project is about the red Konstfack chair and not any other chair, is that this is the chair on which I have sat for the last two years of my education.

Within this essay I will argue for the importance of embodying our knowledge, of being clear on where we are looking from. I will also argue that it is important to try to learn what it looks like from other positions, from the point of view of others. Acknowledging where one is looking from and trying to look from somewhere else is what Donna Haraway has called a ‘feminist objectivity’ and it is a strategy I have tried to make use of throughout this project.[1] What we can see depends on where we are positioned but also on which way we are facing, on how we are orientated. As Sara Ahmed has argued, our orientation can explain the presence of the objects which we have around us and the objects which we have around also orientate us further. but these objects also serve to orientate us further.[2] If I wasn’t orientated towards chairs I wouldn’t have encountered the red Konstfack chair. The red Konstfack chair has allowed my orientation towards chairs to continue.

The story of chairs is a long one. The first chairs were supposedly sat on by the rich, the powerful and the dignified, they were thrones. It wasn’t for thousands of years, until the 16th Century, that the chair became widespread anywhere. The early symbolism of the chair shows through in words like Chairman, or the name we give to those who hold a professorship: a chair in philosophy, for example, or a chair as the symbol of the House of commons in London.[3] Of couse the story of chairs has become a lot more democratic since then but even today, certain chairs are not accessable to everyone. The red Konstfack chair can be seen as a priviledged position. There are only a certain number of these chairs within Konstfack and not everyone is able to sit on a red Konstfack chair everyday for two or three years. Students are granted this opportunity after showing their portfolio and attending an interview.

To take up a chair as a student at Konstfack is to orientate ourselves towards learning, and also to open ourselves to re-orientation.[4] When I sit in the red Konstfack chair I exhibit my readiness, my willingness to open my mind and have new thoughts put into it. If I didn’t want to learn I would not be sitting here in a red Konstfack chair. As a member of the institution I know there is a red Konstfack chair with my name on it. I need not turn around to face it, I need only face out from it. Sitting on a red Konstfack chair within the walls of Konstfack I have come to feel at home, I know that my body is allowed to be here, I even have a tag with which I can open doors to prove it. I have been selected by interview on the strength of a portfolio at the expense of others. I have been recruited to be part of the institution.

The institution Konstfack needs bodies to survive. Every year new bodies are brought in and other bodies leave and the student body is refreshed. An institution will always recruit those who they hope will ‘fit in’ at the institution and this means those who share a likeness. As a member of the student body I agree to fit within that body. When Konstfack shouted “Hey You!”[5] I realised they were shouting at me. Not everyone could hear that shout, not everyone had the opportunity or the things in their background which would allow them to respond. Now here I am sitting (relatively) comfortably, looking out from a red Konstfack chair. I am at home here, sitting in my chair, I feel comfortable sitting and talking, sitting and writing, sitting and listening. If I need to get up from my chair I can do this, I can walk down corridors, get a coffee in the cafeteria, bump into a friend, without ever being confronted by the presence of my body doing something it should not be doing. When I move around the institution my body trails behind me, I do not think about my body I think about learning.


[1] “I would like to insist on the embodied nature of all vision and so reclaim the sensory system that has been used to signidy a leap out of the marked body and into a gaze from nowehere….Feminist objectivity means quite simply situated knowledges.” Donna Haraway, “Situated Knowledges:The science question in feminism and the privilege of partial perspective” in Feminist Studies p.581

[2] “What you come into contact with is shaped by what you do: bodies are orientated when they are occupied in time and space. Bodies are shaped by this contact with objects. What gets near is both shaped by what bodies do and in turn affects what bodies can do.” Sara Ahmed, A “Phenomenology of Whiteness” in Feminist theory vol 8(2) p.152

[3] For a short summary of the history of the chair see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chair 2012/03/15

[4] “It is no accident that such recognition is symbolically given through an item of furniture: to take up space is to be given an object, which allows the body to be orientated in a certain way. The philosopher [student] must have his seat after all.” Sara Ahmed, A “Phenomenology of Whiteness” in Feminist theory vol 8(2) p..160

[5] “To recruit can suggest both to renew and to restore. The act of recruitment, of bringing new bodies in, restores the body of the institution which depends on gathering bodies to cohere as a body….The ‘hey you’ is not just addressed to anybody: some bodies more than others are recruited, those that can inherit the character of the organisation, by returning its image with a reflection that reflects back that image, what we would call a good familiarity.” Sara Ahmed, A “Phenomenology of Whiteness” in Feminist theory vol 8(2) p..158

 

 

Written by alltheredchairs

March 15, 2012 at 10:18 pm

Posted in direct action, Writing

One Response

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  1. I should very much like to be in the room when the discussion of your thesis occurs. For one thing it confirms my latent desire to re-enter the red chaired world of learning.
    Thank you.

    Alex

    March 19, 2012 at 5:28 pm


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