Table of Con­tents | Arti­cle doi: 10.17742/IMAGE.MM.12.2.2 | PDF

A Patch­work Process Carl­son et al

A Patchworking Process: Coming Together under Pandemic Conditions for Collaborative, Caring Scholarship

Rebec­ca Carlson
Poli­na Golovátina-Mora
Corin­na Peterken
Kim Snepvangers
Anne Soronen
Karoli­ina Talvitie-Lamberg
In the con­text of the COVID-19 out­break, the authors in this spe­cial issue came togeth­er with­in the Mas­sive Micro­scop­ic Sense­mak­ing (MMS) writ­ing project in the spring of 2020. Col­lec­tive­ly grap­pling with the impact of the extend­ed pan­dem­ic, each paper in this issue touch­es on expe­ri­ences of social iso­la­tion, mak­ing do, and a tech­no­log­i­cal reach­ing out under con­di­tions of a pub­lic health cri­sis. This intro­duc­tion describes the issue’s ‘patch­work’ devel­op­ment which reflects an attempt to break from tra­di­tions of aca­d­e­m­ic schol­ar­ship that often fail to rec­og­nize the val­ue of emer­gent, and there­fore uncer­tain, cross-dis­ci­pli­nary and col­lec­tive work.
Dans le con­texte de l’épidémie de COVID-19, les auteurs de ce numéro spé­cial se sont réu­nis autour du pro­jet de rédac­tion Mas­sive Micro­scop­ic Sense­mak­ing (MMS) au print­emps 2020. Les arti­cles de ce numéro vien­nent col­lec­tive­ment se con­fron­ter aux réper­cus­sions de la pandémie pro­longée. Chaque arti­cle relate des expéri­ences d’isolement social, d’adaptation et d’ouverture tech­nologique en temps de crise san­i­taire. Cette intro­duc­tion décrit le raison­nement de ce numéro à la com­po­si­tion « patch­work » qui illus­tre une ten­ta­tive de rup­ture avec les tra­di­tions académiques qui sou­vent ne réus­sis­sent pas à recon­naître la valeur émer­gente, et par con­séquent incer­taine, des travaux trans­dis­ci­plinaires et collectifs.

The authors, edi­tors, and co-edi­tors in this spe­cial issue came togeth­er with­in the exper­i­men­tal and large-scale Mas­sive Micro­scop­ic Sense­mak­ing (MMS) writ­ing project in the spring of 2020 (described in detail by Markham, Har­ris and Luka [2020] and by Markham and Luka, this issue). Although the exer­cis­es were frag­ment­ed and com­plet­ed large­ly soli­tar­i­ly, the broad­er MMS project pieced togeth­er 165 par­tic­i­pants from around the world through spaces for shar­ing the process and progress of their indi­vid­ual work. What began as a search­ing for and sens­ing of the pan­dem­ic through autoethnographic—and there­by also ini­tial­ly microscopic—means, lead to an encounter with oth­ers, and to the mas­sive world through them. That emer­gent and com­mu­ni­ty-build­ing process, which pro­voked this col­lec­tion of essays, res­onat­ed for us as it was an oppor­tu­ni­ty to see in oth­ers, and to share and even embrace, the many dai­ly pan­dem­ic uncer­tain­ties we faced.

In this issue, we rec­og­nize the way emer­gent expe­ri­ences are often hard to clas­si­fy. Such moments may float pre­car­i­ous­ly towards ambi­gu­i­ty, defy easy stan­dards of cat­e­go­riza­tion, and there­fore be unrec­og­nized; some­times that means they are less val­ued by uni­ver­si­ties and insti­tu­tions. As we began work on this col­lec­tive pub­li­ca­tion, many of us ini­tial­ly echoed con­cerns about the ulti­mate out­come of the effort we were set to engage in. We met sev­er­al times online through­out the devel­op­ment of this issue, which began as rough draft abstracts. In our first meet­ing, we also found it nec­es­sary to sort out who need­ed what kind of career build­ing qual­i­fi­ca­tion, and by neces­si­ty, this con­cern was inte­grat­ed into ques­tions about the final shape of and venue for this col­lec­tion. Yet, our cre­ative and emer­gent process, which felt so valu­able to us par­tic­u­lar­ly at this moment in time, seemed incom­pat­i­ble with any sense of certainty—or with the pre­de­ter­mined work tra­jec­to­ry and typ­i­cal­ly rigid insti­tu­tion­al approvals and require­ments of career advance­ment. We see such struc­tur­ing of labour and its cer­ti­fi­ca­tions as a fun­da­men­tal flaw in aca­d­e­m­ic orga­ni­za­tion, which large­ly acknowl­edges only con­ven­tion­al research and pub­li­ca­tion out­comes. Out­side of these neces­si­ties, aca­d­e­mics, we real­ized, may strug­gle to con­nect to oth­ers, to new ideas and meth­ods, in pre­cise­ly the kind of emer­gent and col­lab­o­ra­tive endeav­or we had begun.

Grow­ing from the MMS exper­i­ment, our col­lab­o­ra­tion in writ­ing, read­ing, and co-edit­ing for this issue was a dif­fer­ent pan­dem­ic bub­ble that made us for­get liv­ing in a very com­pet­i­tive aca­d­e­m­ic world, for valu­able moments. That was a moti­vat­ing fac­tor for many of us. Per­haps the dif­fi­cul­ties and uncer­tain­ties we felt in these excep­tion­al cir­cum­stances also inten­si­fied the expe­ri­ences of cama­raderie and col­lab­o­ra­tion dur­ing the com­ing togeth­er of this pub­li­ca­tion project. As a result, the papers in this spe­cial issue, which we com­plet­ed in con­ver­sa­tion with one anoth­er, devel­oped into per­son­al, sen­si­tive, and thought-pro­vok­ing con­cep­tu­al­iza­tions of our mutu­al pan­dem­ic expe­ri­ences as well as rig­or­ous schol­ar­ly work. Work­ing togeth­er quick­ly began to feel like a pro­duc­tive and car­ing space. We met online across vast­ly dif­fer­ent (and some­times chal­leng­ing­ly so!) time zones, join­ing those who were wak­ing before dawn and those who were prepar­ing for bed. Dis­cussing togeth­er indi­vid­ual, local, and glob­al aspects of the pan­dem­ic hap­pened in irreg­u­lar Zoom meet­ings and Slack mes­sages that were inclu­sive and encour­ag­ing in nature, as we shared in sick­ness and grief. Google doc­u­ments and emails added con­ver­sa­tions and sup­port­ed our writ­ing and think­ing togeth­er. We shared expe­ri­ences of liv­ing the pan­dem­ic but also a means for cop­ing, and through these we also shared (aca­d­e­m­ic) means to con­nect to the pan­dem­ic world in flux.

To our delight, this uncer­tain process trans­formed into an organ­ic tex­ture, with each thread, or indi­vid­ual piece, dis­tin­guish­able but inter­con­nect­ed with­in a larg­er web. Through­out this issue, we have grouped arti­cles and sit­u­at­ed them with­in that web by inter­sti­tial quilt blocks, craft­ed by Corin­na as part of her MMS prompt writ­ing (see her work in this issue and below). Quilt blocks may be indi­vid­ual squares of fab­ric, yet they are inter­con­nect­ed parts of a whole. They work togeth­er to reveal every entan­gled colour or shade, expos­ing a beau­ty that might oth­er­wise be missed. With each view, the mean­ing of indi­vid­ual blocks, and indeed, the entire quilt, is trans­formed anew. Orga­niz­ing our pieces the­mat­i­cal­ly in groups to reveal these trans­form­ing threads then became a greater chal­lenge. Each arti­cle, we real­ized, inter­sect­ed in some way with all the oth­ers, just as some seemed to clus­ter organ­i­cal­ly, even serendip­i­tous­ly. In their arti­cles, Corin­na, Mary-Rose, and Veron­i­ca all deal direct­ly with ‘mak­ing do’ in a pan­dem­ic envi­ron­ment through the incor­po­ra­tion and repur­pos­ing of objects and things (and, in Mary-Rose’s case, even words), to var­i­ous­ly trou­ble absence and sta­sis along­side vio­lent change. Each chal­lenged these every­day mate­ri­als to take on and embody, per­haps by neces­si­ty of iso­la­tion, an inter­nal reflec­tion on the broad­er shared expe­ri­ence of the pan­dem­ic, incor­po­rat­ing ‘mat­ters’ at hand for sense-mak­ing in research. Anne and Karoli­ina, Andy and Donatel­la all col­lec­tive­ly con­sid­er the out­come of social iso­la­tion in tech­no-medi­at­ed social­i­ty, a com­ing togeth­er or mov­ing apart with­in what are now ubiq­ui­tous com­mu­ni­ca­tion tech­nolo­gies such as blogs, text mes­sag­ing, and cel­lu­lar noti­fi­ca­tions. These ten­u­ous and shift­ing con­nec­tions, in Andy’s case con­cern­ing­ly con­strain­ing, reflect the diver­si­ty of inti­ma­cies and entan­gle­ments that emerged over the past year. Kim, Poli­na, and Rebec­ca reflect on move­ments across diverse­ly con­fig­ured fields, bound­aries that some felt ever more vital to over­come or stitch over as a result of the pan­dem­ic. These three pieces each chal­lenge the per­ceived sta­bil­i­ties of those bor­ders which—so often made invis­i­ble or shad­owy in the everyday—still pow­er­ful­ly demar­cate our expe­ri­ences of place, knowl­edge, and the frag­men­tary, momen­tary thoughts of the mind, even as they rapid­ly unrav­el. Tak­en all togeth­er, each piece in this issue reflects these per­son­al and the­o­ret­i­cal threads as col­lec­tive­ly shared ques­tions: How do we make do and make sense with the mate­ri­als and tech­nolo­gies avail­able to us dur­ing the pan­dem­ic? What pos­si­bil­i­ties for inti­ma­cy emerge as a result? How are these dif­fer­en­tial­ly expe­ri­enced as con­straints or as bor­der cross­ing life­lines? Inte­grat­ed togeth­er here, as a col­lec­tion, our mul­ti­ple, even diver­gent perspectives—like the quilt—create a new spa­tial view, a pos­si­ble future place sit­u­at­ed by the cross-dis­ci­pli­nary tools we adapt­ed for research and learn­ing. We use Corinna’s quilt pieces then as col­or­ful the­mat­ic lens­es for see­ing, refract­ing, and jux­ta­pos­ing our shared pan­dem­ic con­cerns and our research inno­va­tions; tak­en togeth­er, these also reflect our patch­worked process. And as each serendip­i­tous encounter in this issue leads onto the next, we pri­ori­tise the inter­sti­tial as a self-orga­ni­za­tion­al sys­tem to offer new, yet unfin­ished approach­es to arts-based research. Ulti­mate­ly, the order pro­posed in this spe­cial issue is momen­tary, and the read­er is encour­aged to use their imag­i­na­tion, to play with sug­gest­ed mean­ings, and to explore the resources the issue and indi­vid­ual essays offer inde­pen­dent­ly as well as together.

The indi­vid­ual square blocks, which Corin­na stitched into a quilt as part of her work in the project, also pro­vide us a way to think metaphor­i­cal­ly about the poten­tials of aca­d­e­m­ic research col­lab­o­ra­tions and the con­ver­gence of our pro­duc­tive dif­fer­ences, just as our patch­work­ing process revealed com­plex mate­r­i­al and inter­cul­tur­al under­stand­ings. Like the quilt pieces, we incor­po­rate atten­tion to visu­al and sen­so­ry medi­ums or mate­ri­als, not only as valu­able cul­tur­al expres­sions open to analy­sis, but as rich tools for research them­selves. Along­side his­tor­i­cal and con­tem­po­rary ref­er­ences to patch­work, stitch­ing, thread­ing, and embroi­dery, quilt­ing allows us to break from tra­di­tions of aca­d­e­m­ic schol­ar­ship that pri­ori­tise set canon­i­cal forms, as we seek to cre­ate a new vocab­u­lary of research sen­si­bil­i­ties, in an inter­lac­ing of acad­e­mia and visu­al cul­ture. Yet, think­ing aca­d­e­m­i­cal­ly with and through sounds, images, and tex­tures, as an ana­lyt­i­cal process, still remains more mar­gin­al­ized with­in some aca­d­e­m­ic research fields. For this rea­son, we are grate­ful to be includ­ed as a spe­cial issue of Imag­i­na­tions, which cen­ters atten­tion to diverse inter­cul­tur­al under­stand­ings of images, screens, and dig­i­tal con­tent in cri­sis conditions.

While we were writ­ing and work­ing on our pieces, we were all ‘mak­ing do’; assem­bling the mate­ri­als and things we had on hand to spin out the threads of our sto­ries, just as we were get­ting by in the face of per­son­al and glob­al chal­lenges. In such a space of rup­ture, we hope to offer a sense of the col­lec­tive modes of sense-mak­ing that may emerge in trou­bled times, and per­haps a way for­ward through to a patch­work­ing process for future aca­d­e­m­ic work—a col­lab­o­ra­tive, gen­er­a­tive, always uncer­tain, but extreme­ly valu­able prac­tice that reflects the inde­ter­mi­na­cies of our time.

Map­ping liv­ing with pan­dem­ic, “…focus­ing on what comes to be pro­duced…” (Bodén et al., 19)

Figure 1: Mapping pandemic home. Corinna Peterken.

As I turned the fab­ric over I saw anoth­er map­ping out­line. I tied off each thread neat­ly and noticed this is becom­ing about home and spaces for liv­ing with social dis­tanc­ing, mak­ing, mask­ing, plant­i­ng, pick­ing, clean­ing, avoid­ing COVID-19 …

A neat veg­etable gar­den offers spring shoots in rows. Promis­es of nour­ish­ment to come. The quilt applique of flow­ers and gar­den show me that home is mapped in lines of stitching.

Image Notes

Fig­ure 1: Map­ping pan­dem­ic home. Per­mis­sion of Corin­na Peterken.