Co-founder of the Moleskine Company, she conceived the notebook line in the 1990s
Co-founder of the Moleskine Company, she conceived the notebook line in the 1990s – April 14th, 2020
We begin with three words, words which link the Foundation and the Moleskine Company in different ways.
I want to explore their etymology. Etymology: the most intimate meaning of a word, its deepest root. It’s a science, with all the rigour and rules of any scientific discipline, although it’s also an “imprecise” science: It happily allows for imaginative and fantastical hypotheses that ultimately bring no harm.
Creativity, from the Latin creare (verb), noun creatio, creator, creativus.
This word may have an ancient Sanskrit root, kra, from which come the Greek keir, keiros, or hand. I especially like to think of creativity in terms of this connection with hands and therefore with making. The hand is an extremely complex tool, it has over 27 bones – tiny bones which work together and result in extraordinary dexterity. This is the tool we use to construct other tools in an ever-increasing spiral of creation and transformation. It’s worth mentioning that creare (to create) in Latin has the same root as crescere (to increase).
The hand symbolizes action or movement in many scripts (Egyptian hieroglyphics, Mayan, Aztec…). Hand symbols were among some of the first forms of artistic expression (cf. Cueva de las manos). Creativity means beginning a process of real transformation; it means getting down to work – thus (uncoincidentally) AtWork…
Working with the hands is connected to knowledge, to a kind of know-how; there’s no creation without knowledge, which, in turn, grows out of exploration. The hands are tools used for exploration: They represent touch, curiosity, and the physical exploration of things.
That’s why we we say that creativity is open to everyone. It’s a collective value, a shared value. Many hands represent many wise tools working towards transformation.
The theme of transformation brings us to our second word: Resilience.
Resilience comes from the Latin verb resilire, to bounce back, iterative of salire, to jump, to bounce. It contains a strong sense of elasticity, of the ability to transform the raw material at our core. Of course, resilience means being resistant to breakage, although, for example, in textile spinning and weaving, it refers to the way a fabric returns to its original form after being stretched out of shape. This idea of elasticity, found in the Latin root, “bounce back”, means being able to absorb an impact rather than repel it, an ability to stretch, to grow, to distort ourselves in different directions, without ever losing our original nature, our core sense of identity.
This idea is about reacting in real time in an agile and deeply coherent way.
In biological terms, resilience means self-repair, or even regeneration… Like the tail of a lizard. So, rather than being strong by being tough, we should think of resilience as a way of being elastic, flexible: “Being tough by being soft” and transforming by constantly regenerating our original form. It’s not about strength, but rather about paying attention. Like bamboo which welcomes the wind as it bends. This behaviour leads to us to see details that we hadn’t previously noticed, to see where we are up close. In this moment of attention, in which we see our reality in microscopic detail, that’s when we notice all the things that were hidden to us before.
Soft strength is flexible, unlike tough strength which is much more fragile.
Resilire, bouncing back, also contains a playful, almost childlike notion of jumping, bouncing on a trampoline, springing, pulsing with a fresh, vital energy.
So, we see how the root of a word contains its innermost memory, which emerges, with creative energy. This memory springs forth and travels back with a renewed sense of purpose.
At this juncture, a sense of memory brings us to the Italian word Taccuino (Notebook).
Moleskine Foundation has a collection of 1500 decorated notebooks, generated from the creativity and resilience of their authors – an extraordinary treasure trove of memories and generosity. The story of the notebook and its etymological roots are particularly interesting.
The notebook, in its current consolidated form, dates back to Medieval times. It was invented by Arabic spice merchants who began using pocket-sized versions that were much more practical on sea journeys than the parchment scrolls common at the time. These mini-books were made from paper which, unlike parchment, could be folded many times and bound together.
The most famous of these spice merchants was Costantino l’Africano, originally from Tunisia, who came to Salerno and translated and filtered the knowledge he gathered on his many journeys. These writings had a decisive influence on local doctors in Salerno. In this way, the sea brought with it many wise teachings.
This brings us to the etymological root of the word Taccuino [notebook in Italian] where we find the Arabic word taqwim, which means a neat arrangement, balance, harmony… and taqwim becomes tacuinum in Latin and taccuino in Italian – content and container merge, the rules of living well and the small book that contains them blend in this nomadic object which has been on the move for 1000 years. From small books to illuminated codices – this was the world’s first network of knowledge sharing between peoples. This object tells a story that radiated from the coast of Africa to the rest of the world, a story that invites harmony, balance, and the search for one’s own personal taqwim. It blends creativity and resilience in a way that we particularly need in this moment.
In your book, Smentimenti, and throughout your work, we find an unconventional and profound approach that identifies unexpected meanings in actions and contexts – objects and contexts that often receive little attention, and which you transform into poetic, intimate and even heroic elements.
This makes us all want to observe things more deeply, in a more personal light, more imaginatively. Where does this way of seeing the world come from?
It comes from a passion for hidden details, the things that live underground amidst the roots, in the cracks, the dark corners and in the shadow of words.
Ever since I was small, I discovered, thanks to my older brothers who already knew how to read and write, I observed those strange marks they made on the page. Well, when I understood from their tales that a lot of marks on the page – few more than 20 – were able to tell all the stories in the world, that was a the most striking discovery for me. I became passionate about words, the way they fit together, the infinite combination of letters, and dictionaries – treasure chests that can transport you far away.
- Manlio Cortelazzo – Paolo Zolli, Dizionario etimologico della lingua italiana, Zanichelli.
- A.Ernout et A. Meillet, Dictionnaire étimologique da la langue latine, Histoire des mots, Editions Klincksieck.
- Giovanni Semerano, Le origini della cultura europea, Basi semitiche delle lingue indoeuropee, Leo S. Olschki Editore.
- it.wikipedia.org, en.wikipedia.org
- Cueva de las manos
- Creazione di Adamo – Musei Vaticani
- COSTANTINO Africano – Treccani.it
Maria Sebregondi. Co-founder of the Moleskine Company, she conceived the notebook line in the 1990s. Director of Brand Equity and Communication until 2015, she was then a strategic advisor and Board Member of Moleskine. Currently she does not hold a position in the Company and is completely dedicated to non-profit activities.
Previously she worked independently as a consultant on strategic communications and product concept. Her professional experiences led to several teaching positions at various public and private universities.
Author of several socio-anthropological essays and articles on contemporary change, her writing also extend to various other areas: creative writing, poetry, non-fiction and literary translation.
She was a co-founder of the non-profit foundation lettera27 and a member of OPLEPO, Opificio di Letteratura Potenziale (Workshop of Potential Literature).
Co-creator, advisor and conductor of AtWork Educational Program
Co-creator, advisor and conductor of AtWork Educational Program – April 16th, 2020
Knowledge and shadows, light and shadows. Words
Quoting Manganelli and Levinas (who said that knowledge comes from shadow). Words lose their meanings without that shadows. They become “mottos” without shadows, mere slogans.
We are living in a projection of Orwell’s novel 1984, like fishes trapped in a big aquarium. Confinement has become the key WORD. But there are more dramatic confinements than ours. Prisons, for instance (and you don’t need to read Foucault to understand that) represent the perfection of confinement. And even within these places, you find zones of higher confinement: the high security zones.
Our confinement can also be a chance, a gift that allows us to reflect in a new manner, to a confrontation with oneself. The more complex dialogue is the intimate one and this is a rare opportunity to experience it. These times also represent an occasion to question the words we are using on a daily basis and to redefine them.
What does words mean for us, for ourselves? Barthes wrote that: In order to feel a photography properly you have to see it with your eyes closed, because you get rid of the noise around it. It is a way of disclosure. Confinement is not a punishment but a way to help getting rid of the noise. It can lead to different reflections. It allows a broader perspective on the world we are living in. We see more from inside
Confinement, self and hyper reality…how do you deal with such an energy?
I’ve always believed that reality is the best fiction ever. If we could look at reality as a fiction, we might become the writers of our own lives. You are the master of your fiction. We tend to confuse reality and fiction. I think reality is a fiction. When you write something, you just write from a confinement part (your head, your sensibility, your experience…).
But reality is a larger book than what we think it is.
There’s no reality without fiction and fiction without reality. They are intimately connected.
What relation with mask? That we have now to wear a mask?
Nothing is more revealing than a mask. A face is a mask. This King of Sweden, Gustav the Third, in an Opera (Ballo in Maschera by Verdi), said, “I was killed by a huge black mask”. What is a black mask? We have many, many faces that we are not necessarily aware of. What I like about the idea of the mask is that it reminds us that we are always wearing masks. That we cannot be defined by one aspect of our personality.
We are, because of the virus, supposed to go out wearing a mask… we are always strangers to ourselves. Also, in the mirror, the image is upside down, it’s a projection, not a reality. The mask is a language, a communication tool.
Going back to the bible, a mask can be an interface in the dialogue with the gods. It can symbolize millions of things in all the cultures, namely the African one. And we are living example, in this conversation, of the virtually of the self. We experiencing a multi layered “mise en abîme” – through different stages of screens. It is important to go beyond the mask to find some “truth”.
James Baldwin, through his title, The Evidence of Things Not seen, was inviting us to go beyond the mask, to go and seek for the evidence of things not seen.
Where is I in the other, and how in this situation?
In these particular times, we are all “the others”. Because of this commonality created by the virus perception of otherness were forced to evolve. And what happens when the other becomes the same? He loses his intrinsic quality, he is banalised (Hanna Arendt). In his play, Huis Clos, Jean Paul Sartre concluded by this statement: “Hell is the other”, when on the contrary Rimbaud was claiming: I am the other. If you combine them you could come to say: I am hell.
The problem again is that in other cases, the other is often the symbol of the stranger (the strange one) or even worse, the enemy. Because people need an other to confirm their own existence.
How to become the other. There’s a transfer that happens. Today there’s the strong perception to be the other, because we are all more or less facing the same situation…
The confinement gives a great opportunity to reflect on the year AtWork Tour: What comes first…
Camus and Sartre had a different answer to question. When one said my mother, the other (to make a long story short) said my country in the sense of an idea or an ideal. What comes first should not be linked to what is happening now. What comes first should always comes first, no matter the circumstances. At the beginning, they said there was the Word, but may it’s something else….
- Soren Kierkegaard,Traité du désespoir
- Jean Paul Sartre, L’existentialisme est un humanisme
- Micheal Foucault, Surveiller et punir
- Emmanuel Levinas, L’autre comme visage
- François Jullien, L’écart et l’autre
- Roland Barthes, La chambre claire
- Jean Paul Sartre, Huis Clos
- Arthur Rimbaud, Poésies
Simon Njami is a Paris-based independent curator, lecturer, writer and art critic.
Njami was the co-founder and editor-in-chief of Revue Noire, a journal of contemporary African and extra-occidental art. He has served as artistic director of the Bamako photography biennale and as cultural advisor for the AFAA (today Institut Français) in their cultural cooperation policy.
He was member of numerous art and photography juries (10 years at Worldpress). He co-curated the first African pavilion at the 52nd Venice Biennale in 2007.
He has curated numerous exhibitions of contemporary art and photography worldwide. As well as member of the scientific boards of numerous museums.
Njami has published seven books, including essays and novels.
Professor, Senior researcher, philosopher of the cognitive sciences
Professor, Senior researcher, philosopher of the cognitive sciences – April 30th, 2020
The conversation proposes a link with two other talks, in which the discussion was about masks and the process of Truth and Reconciliation.
Two tipping points in the last months:
At the beginning of the crisis, some Asian students from my institution wrote a terrible and heartfelt letter in which they talked about being stigmatized because they wore a mask. They pointed out that the public mask – an Asian stereotype – was not a way to protect oneself, but to protect others and of performatively showing that it is okay to wear masks.
Another tipping point: In early April, Western governments asked their citizens to produce masks at home. And – easy prediction – soon they will ask us to choose between staying at home and losing our jobs vs or going to work and losing our health. The fact that these choices, decisions and actions are delegated to individuals means that individuals today have an entitlement. And the end of the discussion will be that it is time to use this entitlement to request new institutions. We have acquired a right, because we have been left to ourselves.
The present crisis is a middle ground between the crisis of 2008 and the climate crisis that awaits us in the coming decades; it is as larger than the crisis of 2008 as the climate crisis will be relative to the current one.
In a crisis, one feels disoriented. Research on disorientation tells us that we lose the sense of where we are when we no longer have stable and systematic access to distant landmarks, typically because we do not see them. So we are disoriented in fog and at night (poor visibility), or in the woods and open sea (absence of distant landmarks), or because the environments are too repetitive (some cities), or in new situations. Being disorientated is not necessarily not recognizing a place, on the contrary: the mountain guide who discovers in the snow that she ended up following her tracks recognizes them and understands that she has gone round in circles; disorientation is a consequence of this recognition, and of discovering that you are not where you thought you were.
Some governments have found themselves in complete temporal disorientation with respect to the evolution of the crisis. France found itself in the same phase as Italy one week later, not understanding how it could not have anticipated it.
When you are disorientated, you have to look far away, and in our case – metaphorically – even further away. It is not a question of writing a manual, of instructions for the exit from the crisis. Two examples and a methodological consideration.
Society. – abandoned to itself, and owner of a special entitlement I was talking about – has not waited. The first example is the group of volunteers of continuitepedagogique.org, which in a few days allowed hundreds of computer savvy people to assist teachers, faced with the sudden need to move all their teaching online. The second is the case of the international collaboration that allowed in a very short time to conceive, prototype, test, certify and mass produce the adaptations of scuba diving masks for hospital workers.
These are cases of organized volunteering that has created micro-institutions.
We must insist on the institutional aspect of these initiatives. They are not just associations, think tanks, groups of friends, but emerging structures. An institution should not only be thought of as a directorate with members and statutes. An institution is for example a ritual – the ritual of truth and reconciliation is an example, a codified process that serves to make sense of the past and set the future in motion. Today, for example, we need an institution like “truth and trust”, an acknowledgement by many leaders of the mistakes that led to the crisis and prevented us from getting out of it.
Institutional creativity is the key to producing the super-resilience we need for the coming crises. And the right to institutional creativity comes from our current entitlement. If all citizens have to take the choices of their lives into their own hands at the level required of them today, they automatically have a right to forge new institutions.
- Consider filling our Online questionnaire on disorientation (a few minutes)
- Adapting scuba-diving mask
Roberto Casati is a senior researcher with the French CNRS and professor at EHESS, and currently the director of Institut Jean Nicod in Paris. A philosopher of the cognitive sciences, he has made contributions to the study of visual and auditory objects and of spatial representation. His latest book, The Visual World of Shadows, with Patrick Cavanagh, was published in 2019 by MIT Press. His work on Digital Colonialism has spurred debate in France and Italy. He is currently working on cognitive artifacts and spatial disorientation.
Lawyer, writer, Historian and Moleskine Foundation Collection Author
Lawyer, writer, Historian and Moleskine Foundation Collection Author – April 23th, 2020
In times of deep crisis, we often look at South Africa as a model of resilience, considering how much of it the country proved to have through its history. We have a conversation with lawyer and historian Lwando Xaso on three words: memory, sanitization and transition.
Let’s start from Memory, and its tricky relationship with history. You are currently in the process of curating a museum where I guess you will have to deal with memory and history roles? What is the difference between the two?
A: History is written by historians and is often perceived differently from memory. It is seen as based on facts. Memory can be hazy and often it doesn’t deal with the facts. There are many important things that happened in the past which people tend to forget. And maybe that is because our minds are designed to deal with the immediate…Whatever does not require our immediate action, tends to be forgotten. So, we are constantly dealing with a vanishing present, therefore things become hazy and so we use history to eradicate that haziness. But in my opinion history cannot survive without memory, because it is our very need to remember that prompts the need to establish history.
Q: How do you build a museum which balances history and memory?
A: First of all I rely on a wide range of talented people in our team who provide different perspectives and who counter balance, my partiality and prioritization of memory and oral history over the established history of South Africa. Because a lot of what and who we are is not reflected in the established history- memory then becomes important. We also cannot rely on official archives because much of our national archive was destroyed so we can only turn to people’s memories. And for me what is important is not about recording facts but about listening to people’s stories.
Q: Let’s continue with Sanitization, a word we had to become very familiar with given the current pandemic.
A: These days we hear this word constantly. We are constantly told to sanitize everything. But the interesting thing is that it seems that no matter how deep we clean and sanitize; we will never be totally germ free. This idea led me to a more symbolic concept of sanitization, which is moral purity. And how that is celebrated and championed in today’s society and how difficult it is to achieve. We are all soiled in some way, but it does not mean we are forever defective.
Q: Moving to Transition, we know that this word has a special meaning within the South African history context. I feel that it is often perceived as a positive transition towards this “rainbow” nation. How do you see transition in relation with South African history but also in relation with the transition we’re experiencing now?
A: It is very difficult to define transition within South African history. We still carry a lot of unfinished business. And that unfinished business still haunts us today. This is then relevant to the meaning of transition in today’s world where we will have to figure out how to transition from a pandemic to a new reality. And that will not be an easy of process as there’s a lot of grief and trauma which needs to be processed. People will need the time and space to transition from all that trauma to a new functioning life. Going back to transition in South African history, I feel that part of the reason it remains unfinished is that the missing national archive means there are still a lot of unresolved transitional justice issues. One of the advantages of 2020 is that we have social media which can hold people’s memories and archives and it can also be used to hold people accountable for their wrongdoing in a way that perhaps the Truth and Reconciliation Commission process couldn’t do.
Q: How do you reconcile and move forward and how can cultural institutions help?
A: I think that a public conversation and memorial should be held to allow people to remember, to share and eventually to process and overcome their trauma. So that some sort of public catharsis can be offered to people before they can move on and go back to their daily lives.
- Lauren Segal, Clive van den Berg and Churchill Madikida – Mapping Memory: Former Prisoners tell their Stories (Book)
- Prof Gabriel Motzkin – Memoirs, Memory and Historical Experience (Journal article)
- Tshepo Madlingozi – Taking Stock of the South African Truth and Reconciliation 20 Years Later – No Truth, No Reconciliation and No Justice
- Lwando Xaso – Truth in Jeopardy as Past Recedes
Lwando Xaso, one of South Africa’s leading constitutional lawyers, writer and human rights activist. A self-described “student of change”, Lwando currently works for Constitution Hill Trust, the main partner for the Moleskine Foundation’s WikiAfrica Education program. In 2011 she had the privilege of clerking at the Constitutional Court for Justice Edwin Cameron. She later worked as a senior researcher for the Public Service Remuneration Review Commission in 2013, and was also a researcher to former Chief Justice Sandile Ngcobo.
Lwando frequently writes on topics of constitutional and international law for the Daily Maverick, the Business Day and various other publications. She also a trustee of the Constitutional Court Trust, and the founder of Including Society – a forum established to explore issues around inclusion in the private sector.
British artist, poet, vocalist, composer, and musician
British artist, poet, vocalist, composer, and musician – May 14th, 2020
We start from the concept of “saving the world” vs “saving the word”.
“Which word would you say?” Adama asks Simon Njami “I would save 10 words, which being 1 plus 0, is probably one word which we are left with”.
Benjamin Clementine: I would start from the word door. Rumi once said the moment you accept all of your trouble, the door will eventually open. A lot of the time we find ourselves not accepting or embracing the problems we’re faced with. But troubles can be opportunities for growing up and increase our resilience. Like this situation we’re experiencing now with the Coronavirus, those who manage to survive will be stronger and will become more resilient for their future life. Problems can make us stronger human beings.
Simon Njami: that door, is it open or closed or half open or half closed?
Benjamin: “I’m not focusing on it at the moment, my attention now is to get over my current problems and move on. We should not focus on the problem, but look forward to what we will face afterwards. To focus on the door, is like focusing on the finger in ancient sayings. The door is a metaphor, what matters is the path to reach it and the steps we take to reach it”.
Simon: When the wise man shows the moon, the fool looks at the finger. The door is not important because it is a metaphor and it always changes. It’s the path that matters, the process. In order to reach that door, we need to know where we put our steps and why. Otherwise we wonder why the door remains close…
Benjamin: do you think that we need to know where we are? If we say the door, immediately we think about the door, what is outside the room…Do you think it is necessary to think what is outside the room?
Simon: we need to focus on what is inside the room. If you are focusing on the outside, you are projecting. In order to find the way through, we need to have some experiences. As thinking outside of the box. It’s only in the box that you can think outside of the box. You have to think the box is not a box. You have to get rid of a lot of preconceptions. Fame, success, happiness…If you take it as a recipe, as a how to, you might never reach it. You have to integrate it and to ask yourself what is it for me…as your cornerstone. If you take the cornerstone of somebody else, you will build something that is not yours. So, to think outside of the box is to start to dig, and track all those preconceptions, the box is not where you are…
Adama: the very role of the writer is to create reality, as Simon said before. So the door is important or not,?..If you are the creator…Simon adds: the door is never the same door, the meaning is never the same, don’t you think?
Benjamin: despite being a metaphor, it is also an object. When I wrote a song about a difficult moment of my life, the door is what stayed in my mind. When I wrote that song, I wrote about that door. But then when I looked back, I realized that door had a lot more meaning. That door was a cornerstone. That song was a cornerstone”. Going back to the concept of resilience Benjamin continues “after the aftermath of this, there will be a wave of of new ideas, new innovations. This is also a cornerstone.
Benjamin quotes the song Cornerstone:
I am alone in a box of stone
When all is said and done
As the wind blows to the east from the west
Unto this bed, my tears have their solemn rest
It wasn’t easy getting used to this
I used to scream
It’s not true, that it’s only when the door is locked
That nobody enters
At that moment I wasn’t even thinking that is was a metaphor…we like to build something, to be comfortable, to begin something. Having a cornerstone could allow you to react, to overcome problems before the door opens…
Simon: you have to be grounded yourself before you go forward. When you read a poem, a good poem, you see it is written with ordinary words, everyday things. How do you define your own cornerstone, in which building?
Benjamin: I believe my song Cornerstone was going to be my cornerstone. Something I will always look at, to know how I got there, every time I lose myself, I go back to it.
“Does the cornerstone need to be acknowledged?” (question from audience)
Benjamin: “The cornerstone will have to be acknowledged by those who have created the cornerstone”
“You have to accept it in order to define it” adds Adama. “The very cornerstone should be invisible to people. But visible to the people who have acknowledged it” comments Simon.
Is there a difference between a wish and a dream, someone asks? Simon replies “It’s nice to dream, but the dream I have is the one I have tomorrow. The wish I have is something I know I can have now, which can be effective. But no matter what, we own the word that we use giving it the meaning we choose to have” Simon Njami concludes.
Adama concludes the conversation on the concept of responsibility and hope. “It is not about having a hope but being a hope. And it’s about being, create the language you need to create the future you hope to have”.
- in Patagonia (Bruce Chatwin)
- Giovanni’s Room (James Baldwin)
Benjamin Sainte-Clémentine is an British artist, poet, vocalist, composer, and musician. Clementine’s debut album At Least for Now won the 2015 Mercury Prize. In February 2019 he was named a knight of the Order of Arts and Letters by the French government, in recognition of his contribution to the arts.
Born and raised in London, England, Clementine later moved to Paris, France, becoming homeless as a teenager. There, his performances helped him to become a cult figure in the music and art scene. Moving back to London, he made his TV debut on the BBC programme Later With Jools Holland in 2013. A number of critics described him as becoming one of the great singer-songwriters of his generation and the future sound of London, whilst struggling to place his music in any one genre.
Considered by The New York Times as one of the 28 geniuses who defined culture in 2016, Clementine’s compositions are musically incisive and attuned to the issues of life but also poetic, mixing revolt with love and melancholy, sophisticated lyricism with slang and shouts, and rhyming verse with prose monologues. He moved to popular art music, breaking free from traditional song structure, inventing his own dramatic and innovative musical territory.
Senior Research Fellow at the Cambridge School of Art
Senior Research Fellow at the Cambridge School of Art – May 7th, 2020
EC: I believe that to take care means to foster and create new connections to solve problems in society, more specifically: caring can be considered in the practical sense of hands-on ‘caring for’, then in the emotional and ethical sense of ‘caring about’, and in the context of the dialogic strategy adopted in my creative work: ‘caring with’.
AS: Ethic of care can be considered an attitude more in women than man at caring in terms of interpersonal relationships.
EC: My interest is now in a possible link between ecofeminism and care ethics (Virginia Held) through looking at practices of care in society, which are not only taken up by women. I embed dialogic (inherently interdisciplinary) strategies in the creation of my work, a form of socially engaged art practice. These include responding to the spatial (Linda McDowell), environmental (David Seamon), and cultural dimension of a place, as well as engaging with specific communities. In my work I offer opportunities for enhancing our everyday experiences of place, which is believed to have a positive effect in our wellbeing
However, art should also denounce instances of uncare, from the part of people and institutions we entrust, and whose remit should be to protect, support and nurture.
EC: Ethics of care is feminist philosophical perspective that uses a relational and context-bound approach toward morality and decision making. It emphasises responsibility to others, and ethical closeness, valuing emotions such as “sympathy, empathy, sensitivity and responsiveness” as grounds for moral practice (Virginia Held, 2006). Nel Noddings refers to relationships as ontologically basic to humanity, where identity is defined by the set of relationships individuals have with other humans. Noddings also asserted that a caring relation (a relationship in which people act in a caring manner) is ethically basic to humans and involves the “one-caring” and the “cared-for.” They have a reciprocal commitment to each other’s well-being.
A similar reciprocal quality is found in the notion of UBUNTU within a world view philosophical approach emerged from Zimbabwe and South-African recent history, I found so inspiring, a lot can be learnt from. It means: ‘I am because of you’, a person is a person through other people’, to mean that the affirmation of one’s humanity takes place through recognition of an ‘other’ in his or her uniqueness and difference
A holistic approach on the other hand is given by Joan Tronto and Berenice Fisher who defined ‘‘taking care of’’ as an activity that includes ‘‘everything that we do to maintain, continue, and repair our ‘world’ so that we can live in it as well as possible” (1990), so caring for people, but also objects and the environment.
AS: Ubuntu. One of the concepts of the revolution in Africa. Key of the transition…
How the idea of ethic of care and Ubuntu can be applied to the actual situation?
EC: This approach is so relevant now and must be implemented at a social and environmental levels. “Caring with” is an approach I used in the project SEEDS of ATTACHMENT. The condition of being in dialogue with refers to an everyday seemingly banal activity, but is at the core of the artistic strategy adopted in the project. However, through showing empathy, working in collaboration, and co-functioning in society we can lead to change, so everyone can benefit. The project looks at how we get attached to a place in relation to our loved ones. This considered ‘motherhood’ in the widest possible sense, as a role of caring in society was central to the project. The dialogues with participants happened on their usual school run, an undervalued activity in the city, which just like other practices of care in society must be valued.
AS: Concept of value. Putting value differently in the current practice of society with different outcome. Can you tell us about Danilo Dolci work in Sicily?
EC: I defined my recent work as dialogic, from dialog of course. In 2015 I was in residence in Sicily to research the places of Danilo Dolci, poet, sociologist, pedagogist, teacher.
Care ethics has listening at its core, as much as most dialogic approaches and a lot can come from practicing it. This was also at the basis of reciprocity Danilo Dolci’ Reciprocal Maieutic approach (1976). Dolci believed “that no real change can abstract from the involvement and the direct participation of the people concerned”, approach as a necessary element in order to create a more opened and responsible civil society. Reciprocal Maieutic comes from Socrates’ maieutic, in which he compares the philosopher to a “midwife of knowledge” that helps the student bring his knowledge to light, using the dialogue as a dialectical tool. Adopting Dolci’s reciprocity though imply the idea of allowing yourself to be changed by others while you work as an artist…I became interested in the visualizing the spatiality in dialogue, ‘lo scarto’ (in Italian). The possibility that you can to overcome the distance, and become empowered in the process.
The visualization of this is done through the production of dialogic sculptures also in relation to place, like in my last project to investigate place attachment.
EC: With what’s happening today, when we find ourselves in situations of confinement, and thus been forced to be detached from place. Domestic contexts can be problematic and unsafe, for women and children…
AS: so many variables related to place. How place and distance play a role? Concept I found fascinating: power of geometry. A geometrical dance.
EC: Confinement and digital space, which we can say is a space controlled by others. Power geometry has been defined by Doreen Massey pointing to the ways in which spatiality and mobility are both shaped by and reproduce power differentials in society. In my work I am trying to resist it, by opposing to the Cartesian idea of containing space, controlling it, and measuring it. My interest in geometry is part of my wider interest in alternatives to the visual centric western position, renaissance perspective is a manifestation of this. Maybe we should try to look beyond that. Geographer Mc Dowell, building on Massey, but also referring to Foucault and Jameson, attempted to ‘spatialize’ feminist theory by referring to ‘space’ as relational, and where spatial patterns are outcome of social processes. And I am interested in processes of un-spatialisation through finding alternative ways to mapping it, which is in itself utopic.
AS: social science experience in history…We move from care, dialog, place. But if we move from the opposite side…after couple of months of confinement, how can I activate this utopia…
EC: provide us the opportunity to looking for our domestic space. How you can relate to others in the same room, space. The way we understand how actively we can care one another, in order to share a thinking process, to become aware about what surrounds us.
That place of dialog is a space of listening. Working with this idea of caring – Homerton College – from which the notebook comes I thought about the meaning of the word care and responding to curator Gabi Scardi in Italian I realised that to care is translated as both to take care of and to cure, the coinciding of the two meanings in English makes me think that maybe the very cure for the many social environmental domestic challenges we are facing today might be in the very act of caring itself.
AS: Idea of cure has and end, care has not…There’s a process ongoing. Where possibility, imagination, creativity happens. Allow me to think of confinement as a possibility. Triggering new process and perspective in things. I feel that you shared with us an ecosystem of reciprocity, caring…do you see the possibility of a new ecosystem.
EC: This is what ecofeminism does in fact. All the concept we discussed today is about try to find a balance, a context in which there are different points of connection, reaction, dialog between points. Look at the way we relate to others and kind of adjust it.
Starting from where we are and open up a conversation. Open up to others and interact and take part. Reciprocity is really the base of it.
- Susan Buckingham, Gender and Environment, Routledge, 2020
- Laura Cima, Franca Marconin, Ecofemminismo in Italia, 2017
- Cologni, E. 2016. ‘A Dialogic Approach for The Artist as An Interface in An Intercultural Society’. In Burnard, Mackinlay, Powell, The Routledge International Handbook of Intercultural Arts Research New York, London: Routledge
- Eze, M. O. Intellectual History in Contemporary South Africa, pp. 190–191 (Palgrave, 2010)
- Grant Kester, Conversation Pieces: Community and Communication in Modern Art, (University of California Press, 2004).
- Virginia Held, Ethics of Care, Personal Political and Global (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2006
- Doreen Massey, ‘Power-geometry and a progressive sense of place’, in Mapping the Futures, ed. by John Bird et al. (London: Routledge, 1993), 59-69.
- Linda McDowell, ‘Spatializing feminism: geographic perspectives’, in Bodyspace: Destabilizing Geographies of Gender and Sexuality, ed. by Nancy Duncan (London: Routledge 1996), 28-44
- Patrick D. Murphy, ‘Prolegomenon for an Ecofeminist Dialogics’, in Feminism, Bakhtin, and the Dialogic, ed. by Dale M. Bauer and Susan Jaret McKinstry, Albany: State of New York, 1991
- Nel Noddings, Caring: A Feminine Approach To Ethics And Moral Education, Berkeley: University Of California Press, 1986
- David Seamon, ‘Place attachment and Phenomenology: The Synergistic Dynamism of Place’ in Place Attachment: advances in Theory Methods and research ed. by Lynne C. Manzo and Patrick Devine-Wright (New York: Routledge, 2013)
Cologni’s relevant projects:
Seeds of Attachment, 2016/18 (Centre for Family Research, University of Cambridge, Applied Social Science Group, University of Cambridge, New Hall Art Collection, Freud Museum London), with funding from Grants for the Arts, Arts Council England.
CARE: from periphery to centre, 2018, Homerton College, Cambridge (250th Anniversary Artist Fellowship), with Moleskine Foundation
Practices of care, on finding the cur(v)e, 2020/21 funded by British Council International development fund, Arts Council England Covid19 emergency fund.
Elena Cologni lives and works in Cambridge, UK, where she is Senior Research Fellow at the Cambridge School of Art, Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences (Anglia Ruskin University).
Cologni gained a BA in Fine Art from Accademia di Belle Arti Brera in Milan, an MA in Sculpture from Bretton Hall College, Leeds University and a PhD in Fine Art and Philosophy from University of the Arts, Central Saint Martin’s College, London, 2004 (CSM).
Cologni was Post Doctorate Research Fellow at CSM (2004/06 funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council), Research Fellow at York Saint John’s University (2007/09), and contributed to the Creativities in Intercultural Arts Network (University of Cambridge) (2013/2016), addressing: research as art practice methodologies, documentation of ephemeral art as the work, participatory/dialogic approach, in(ter)disciplinarity.