Free Association is a volunteer-run platform for workshops, public programming and publishing through the expanded fields of fiction, poetry, critical theory, philosophy, art and art criticism.

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Founder, Programming and Development: Anita Spooner
Producer: Chantelle Mitchell
Media and Communications: Jordana Bragg
Adviser: Josephine Mead
Resident Astrologer and Fantasy Worker: Angelita Biscotti
Designer: Alex Margetic
Web developer: Xavier Connelly

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hello@freeassociation.com.au

We acknowledge the custodians of the land on which we work, the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nation, and pay respect to their Elders, past, present and emerging.

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Intrusive thoughts: the internal monologue of a stressed singularity led by Sam Leiblich

Techno-futurists believe “The Singularity”—when human and artificial intelligence combines to form a world-spanning super-intelligence—is the inevitable next step in the evolution of life on Earth; but what happens when the worldwide super-mind starts spiralling? And what if the singularity is already here and it’s literally just obsessing over whether we’ve all bought toilet paper this week?

 

This series of workshops will introduce attendees to the thought of John C. Lilley, Ray Kurzweil, and other outsiders and futurists, whom we will read through the work of Jacques Lacan and Sigmund Freud. After establishing a theoretical grounding we will use state-of-the-art machine learning algorithms, and a set of especially adapted writing exercises, to learn to listen—to ourselves and to the algorithm—so that we might predict what comes next. What will it be like when the internet scrolls us? Get ready to see Siri stress the fuck out!

Local and international writing and technology enthusiasts are encouraged to apply.

Application deadline: Midnight, April 9, 2021

Supported by Darebin City Council.

Sam Lieblich is a writer, psychiatrist, and neuroscientist interested in how humans orient themselves in the world, in the poetics of brain-based explanations for human Being, and in our algorithmic selves. He has been published in the Lifted Brow, Overland, Tectonic, the British Journal of Psychiatry, The Australia and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, Neurology, No More Poetry, and others. He developed an AI chatbot for the recent ACCAopen exhibition with dancer and choreographer Amrita Hepi. He has also contributed chapters to neuropsychiatry textbooks and teaches at the University of Melbourne.

Think of a mobile: suspended and unsettled, an ending is a beginning. Digital poetry operates like a mobile, a mobile moves like a gif. When we write digital poetry, we are are constructing something that moves across the screen. We want it to loop back over itself, to spin in circles, to end up where it started. Digital poetry is a mobile is a gif.

 

Making Mobiles is a two-hour gif-making workshop that suspends and loops digital poems. The workshop will equip participants with the skills to bridge poetry and the moving image. The first hour will consist of a presentation on digital mediums, design basics, how to make a gif, and implementing poetry into the moving image. The second hour will put the presentation into practice, asking participants to turn a pre-written poem into a looped gif.

We will present these gif poems across a digital exhibition, inviting you into a room full of mobiles.

Poets from any state or territory in Australia are encouraged to apply.

APPLY

Application deadline: Midnight, Sunday August 9, 2020
Supported by the City of Melbourne COVID-19 Arts Grants.

Lujayn Hourani is a digital writer, editor and arts worker based in Naarm. Their practice focuses heavily on digital literature – writing it, editing it, and talking about it. Their digital writing has appeared in Meanjin, Overland, The Lifted Brow, Voiceworks, Emerging Writers Festival and Going Down Swinging, among others. They are Online Editor at Voiceworks, work at Next Wave and were previous Online Editor at The Lifted Brow.

This workshop will consider the role of critical art writing in the broader political project of imagining the world otherwise. The workshop understands ‘art’ in its most expanded sense, encompassing both cultural texts and the aesthetic dimension of political experience and subjectivity. Taking Ashon Crawley’s phrase ‘otherwise possibilities’ as a departure point, the three sessions will engage in close readings of recent criticism that reads alongside or through a work of art in order to think about how to transform ways of seeing, being, organising, and resisting.

 

The sessions will focus on the how political subjectivity is shaped (by race, class, gender, sexuality, nationality, (dis)ability; by access to or distance from networks of care; vulnerability to or protection from the law) and how art is one way of studying the affects and effects associated with becoming a political subject. Close readings will be accompanied by writing exercises that explore different registers and styles and that consider how critical writing can be particularly responsive to the world moment we find ourselves in. The first session will focus on ‘reading’ as an expanded practice that informs writing; the second session will examine ‘writing’ and the process through which an argument emerges through the act of drafting; the final session will look at ‘editing’ and how to edit both one’s own and other people’s writing. Examples of readings include work by Fred Moten, Saidiya Hartman, Evelyn Araluen, Helen Hughes, Andrew Brooks, and Kay Gabriel.

Writers from any state or territory in Australia are encouraged to apply.

APPLY

Application deadline: Midnight, Sunday August 2, 2020.

Supported by the City of Melbourne COVID-19 Arts Grants.

 

Astrid Lorange is a writer, artist, and editor who lives and works on unceded Wangal land. She lectures in contemporary theory at UNSW Art & Design. She is one-half of the critical art collective Snack Syndicate and a member of the publishing collective Rosa Press. Her research examines reading as a critical generative practice that offers transformative possibilities for (re)thinking everyday life. In her scholarly and creative work, she analyses modern and contemporary literature and art, and the relationship between cultural texts and social and political structures (gender and sexuality; settler-colonialism and the nation-state; legal and economic systems; infrastructure; labour). Recent publications include Labour and Other Poems (Cordite Books, 2020) and Homework (forthcoming from Discipline).

In a time marked by rage and mourning over recent tragic deaths and ongoing police and state violence against Black and Indigenous people both at home and abroad, this is a writing program for Indigenous poets of Naarm to take stock and respond through the activism of poetry. It is a time for the language of immediacy and urgency; a time to ask: If not now – then when? And, if not you – then who?

 

The dawn is at hand – Oodgeroo Noonuccal

Three writing workshops will study historical and contemporary examples of poetry of protest and activism ranging from the personal (activism on the home-front, body politics, black bodies, queer bodies and their intersections) to big picture public activism and protest. The curriculum will cover the radical writing of Oodgeroo Noonuccal, Lionel Fogarty, Romaine Moreton, Jack Davis as well as contemporary poets Ellen van Neerven, Alison Whittaker, Evelyn Araleun, Samuel Wagan Watson and more. In this violent rupture we will draw connections across space and time through a reckoning of history; and deconstruction of the colonial mythscape of peaceful settlement and the united nation through the dismantling of colonial relics and a harbouring of future refusals and resistance. From the storytellers and song-makers of ancestry to contemporary protest language, we will look at how activist poetry is deeply localised, personal and highly political, at once.

Twelve First Nations writers will be paid $300 fees to develop a piece of poetry for digital publication on BLINDSIDE and Free Association’s websites.

The program:
Three poetry workshops led by Jeanine Leane covering theory, discussion and practical workshopping
A meeting with a Wurundjeri Elder
An online residency with BLINDSIDE from 22 July – 8 August with editorial support from Jeanine Leane
An online presentation of readings and work in development

This program will take place on the land of the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nation. We recognise that sovereignty was never ceded – this land is stolen land. We pay respects to Wurundjeri Elders, past, present and emerging, to the Elders from other communities and to any other Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islanders who might encounter or participate in the program.

First Nations writers and artists from any state or territory are encouraged to apply.

Co-presented by Free Association and BLINDSIDE

The annual BLINDSIDE First Nations Project is supported by the Victorian Government through the City of Melbourne through their Triennial Grants Program. This project is proudly supported by Creative Victoria, the City of Melbourne COVID-19 Arts Grants and Darebin City Council.

Jeanine Leane is a Wiradjuri writer, poet, essayist and academic from southwest New South Wales. Her poetry, short stories and essays have been published in Hecate: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Women’s Liberation, The Journal for the Association European Studies of Australia, Australian Poetry Journal, Antipodes, Sydney Review of Books, Best Australian Poems, Overland and the Australian Book Review. Jeanine has published widely in the area of Aboriginal literature, poetry, writing otherness and creative non-fiction. Her research interests concern the political nature of literary representation, cultural appropriation of minority voices and stories and writing identity and difference.

Time, After Time: A Reenactment Workshop is a free series of lectures, discussions and practical workshops presented by Camila Galaz. Workshop participants will develop new reperformance works to present as part of Channels Festival, the International Biennial of Video Art. Open to emerging artists, writers and filmmakers, participants will consider how reperformance of historical events and reproductions of archival documents can be used to address ideas of cultural memory, inherited trauma, and the complexities of truth-telling.

 

Exploring the techniques and ethics of moving from the archival to the contemporary, the course will examine the theoretical landscape of historical reperformance, discuss works by video and installation artists such as Renata Poljak, Silvia Kolbowski, Yoshua Okón, and Petrit Halilaj, and develop new reperformance works for public presentation.

Camila Galaz is a visual artist whose practice uses video, drawing, and installation to explore intimate connections to history and resistance. Recent exhibitions include you are the magnet and I am the metal (slowly magnitizdat’, C3 Art Space (2018), Reparar Means to Repair, Blindside (2018); and You Transform Everything into a Boat, Kings Artist Run (2017). In 2018 she presented online projects with Sister Gallery and The Digital Writers’ Festival. She is the recipient of the 2018 MECCA M-Power Scholarship from the National Gallery of Victoria and the 2019-2020 Australia Council EMPAC New York Residency. In 2019 she presented a Writing & Concepts lecture at the NGV entitled Questioning Existence with the Subjunctive (Spanish Demystified). She is also a founding member of the performance art collective The Band Presents (TBP), and co-ran the TBPHQ Art Space in Docklands, Melbourne from 2017-19.

Two headed banner

The Two-Headed Bird: A Surrealist Writing Workshop seeks to unearth the creative potential of the unconscious for the purpose of composition and publication. Presented by Manisha Anjali, the course consists of a series of lectures, discussions and practical exercises on dream work, automatic writing, psychoanalysis and mythology. Students will examine existing surrealist works like William Blake's nightmarish visions, blues folklore, Yoko Ono's instructional pieces, Alejandro Jodorowsky's cinematic lucid dreams and the spiritual revolt of Butoh: a surrealist way to move.

 

Dream control, psychic automatism and cut-up are tools of illumination. By extracting narratives from the unconscious mind, students will not only be able to maintain a continuous state of inspiration but also evade psychological traps that inhibit creativity like writer’s block, self-criticism and creative boundaries established by traditional forms of composition and editing.

Manisha Anjali is a writer and artist. Her practice is rooted in the language of dreams and exile. Manisha is the author of Electric Lotus (Incendium Radical Library Press, 2019). She has been a recipient of BLINDSIDE’s Regional Arts & Research Residency, a Writer-in-Residence at Incendium Radical Library and a Hot Desk Fellow at The Wheeler Centre. Manisha is the producer of Neptune, an archive of dreams, hallucinations and visions.

Upcoming

Past

Presented by Chantelle Mitchell with readings and performance by Amaara Raheem, Eva Birch and Indiah Money, alongside calligraphy and embroidery tutorials by Angie Pai and family.

Breath Poetics introduces projectvisim as a poetics of embodiment - as a tool for writing the body through the materiality of text. Projective poetry traditions emerged from the Black Mountain School, and were inscribed by Charles Olson in his pamphlet ‘Projective Verse’ from 1951. This public program introduces Projective Verse traditions and practices, and explores the significance of text and language as a poetics of breath, as ‘a high-energy construct and an energy discharge’ and in presenting methodologies to consider and untangle the relation of body to language, and the relation of language to the page.

In the direction of a hum

Olga Bennett

I am going to hum my way through the following six weeks, or however long this is going to take now.

In the second Melbourne lockdown, I am rereading Lauren Berlant’s Cruel Optimism, a book for an exhausted body, my exhausted body. My brain is mushy but invested in the idea of humming that stayed with me since I read Berlant for the first time while recovering from a bicycle accident, another kind of shattering. I seem to remember this idea of humming was important—even helpful to me then—and I want to recover it.

Just prior to the first lockdown, I remember watching Medium Earth, a 2013 essay film by the Otolith Group installed at Buxton Contemporary. I was working at the gallery, tasked with invigilating an exhibition by the London-based duo. I took it in slowly, one work at a time, making sure I didn’t run out of things to watch and think about too quickly, which is why I didn’t get around to reading a collection of letters comprising a companion work that occupied the adjacent room, titled Who does the earth think it is? (2014). I have never considered the possibility it would not still be there the following week, or that I myself would not be coming back the following week, with all the time I needed to read them.

Having never lived in a place with notable seismic activity, the notion of the unstable ground evoked in Medium Earth remains an abstraction to me, a metaphor from elsewhere. The film is narrated by Earthquake Sensitive, a voice for the seismic psyche. She tunes into and voices the geological unconscious of Southern California. Her body sensitive to turbulence and fractures, to the constant movement of the ground under our feet, she reminds us it’s always shaky; we walk the surface of a planet that is remaking itself constantly, but we forget. The letters in Who does the earth think it is? (2014) are unsolicited earthquake predictions sent in by members of the public, people who are less prone to this amnesia.

Despite my own coming of age in the midst of the dissolution of the political and ideological reality that was Soviet Union, it turns out I still maintain a strong attachment to the notion of continuity. The pandemic poses an imminent threat to my sense of self and exposes my optimistic attachments, causing “the loss of conditions that have undergirded [my own version of] good-life fantasy.”1 Who do we think we are and how easy it is for us to let go of that idea?

•••

In her book What Should We Do with Our Brain? Catherine Malabou traces plasticity to its origin in Greek (plassein—to mould), explaining that it defines the capacity to receive and give form at the same time. A defining characteristic of our brains, plasticity is radically different from flexibility—the ability to receive the imposed form—which for Malabou is ‘‘plasticity minus its genius”.2 Restoring plasticity’s full potential, she highlights a connotation particular to its meaning in French where it also describes the capacity to “annihilate the very form it is able to receive or create”:3

The word plasticity . . . unfolds its meaning between sculptural molding and deflagration, which is to say explosion. From this perspective, to talk about the plasticity of the brain means to see it not only as the creator and receiver of form but also an agency of disobedience to every constituted form, a refusal to submit to a model.4

Neuroscience insists that our brain is re-formed by what we do with it, that we are engaged in a continuous process of self-reworking. For Malabou, the activity taking place in our plastic brain is poetic at its core: “poetic” here should be understood not as “pertaining to poetry”, but closer to the literal meaning of the Greek poietikos—“creative, productive”, from poiein—“to make”.5 Through processes of scarring, compensation and regeneration, our brains are capable of building natural prostheses: “the plastic art of the brain gives birth to a statue capable of self-repair.” Malabou notes that that resilience goes beyond the reparative, and has “a logic of self formation starting from annihilation of form . . . a psychical process of construction, or rather of reconstruction and self-reconfiguration, developed simultaneously against and with the threat of destruction.”6

Berlant offers a rich, metaphor-laden vocabulary to describe the various ways in which such threats unfold in the affective register of experience. Throughout her book, she surveys how subjectivities slowly fray and dissipate in response to constant pressures from the environment, noting that “maintaining footing” sometimes demands doing the work of maintaining one’s own shape, holding oneself together in the face of disturbances, while at other times it is necessary to allow oneself to fragment, explode, splinter and then find “new modes of composure”.7 Berlant writes of a kind of agency she calls lateral—agency “without full intentionality”8 —expressed through adaptation, gestures of adjustment and improvisation. Lateral agency suggests poetic acts of reassembly that might follow an experience of unraveling—of a self that is finding a new form for coming together with a reimagined set of memories to form a new history.

Berlant reads an early version of a poem by John Ashbery (later titled Ignorance of the Law is No Excuse) as an invitation to be open to the transformative potential of disruptive encounters. The lyric, she argues,

opens up an opportunity to learn to pay attention to, have transference with, those moments of suspension in which the subject can no longer take his continuity in the material world . . . for granted9

In the poem’s closing lines—“We were lost just by standing/listening to the hum of wires overhead”—Ashbery’s speaker opens up to the sound of resonance in his surroundings. Berlant imagines him joining in, developing humming into a metaphor for openness and collaborative, improvisational not-knowing.

•••

Humming stimulates the muscles at the back of the throat that connect the vagus nerve. The sound vibrates against the edge of oneself, against lips, cheeks, throat, cranium, heart. You hear the sound from within. The nerve sends neurotransmitters and electrical signals, lowering activity in the part of the brain that governs flight, fight, and freeze.10

For Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts, humming is not a sign of ease and openness, but a way of carrying yourself over to the other side of a threatening situation that might or might not become traumatic. If we think of humming’s relation to language, it foregrounds the expressive physicality and acoustic qualities of an utterance, at the expense of signification and content. Michael Taussig describes it as “a base state of the voice, humming being neither conscious nor unconscious, neither singing nor saying, but rather the sound where the moving mind meets the moving body”.11

The plasticity of our brain, our knowledge that it continuously remakes itself in response to situations we find or put ourselves in, puts additional weight of responsibility on our actions. The title of Malabou’s essay What Should We Do with Our Brain? contains a double provocation, suggesting that we might be in a position to choose, and that ‘we’ might be positioned not within our brains, but elsewhere. Neuroscience maintains that within us, the brain is not the central source of agency it was thought it to be. Malabou reminds us that how we understand the brain has influenced how we think about our political system, urging us to reconsider and update our metaphors.12 The notion of centrality is a significant epistemological obstacle to our imaging of political alternatives and how we might move towards them.

In humming, where the moving mind meets the moving body, we negotiate how to maintain our footing and bearings amid unraveling, on shaky ground, as life “presents itself ambivalently, unevenly, incoherently”.13 It’s impossible to hum towards a goal, and so in humming, we can finally free ourselves from the powerful pull of our attachments, allowing the activity and movement of humming to re-sculpt us without our being able to image the final result. When I hum, I recompose myself, even when I don’t have a picture of what I am moving towards, or what the recomposed me will be. When I write, I find my way through these paragraphs even though I don’t have a clear understanding of what I am trying to achieve. When I go to a protest, my decision to join is not always guided by what my participation will contribute in practical terms. Instead, like humming, these actions are guided by a relationship of attunement and resonance.

Do we hum sideways? To sidestep? If there is no central source of agency within ourselves, only a poetic process of re-composure and plasticity at work on maintenance and self-repair, humming might be a form of lateral, improvisational exploration of elsewhere, feeling out “the alternative routes of living” through gestures of adjustment.14 Is our investment in the pervasive logic of forward movement, in the idea of development as progress, yet another obstacle to our activity of world re-making? Our conviction that it happens through planned strategic action with a clear goal in sight might be an ideological screen that not only blocks our vision but gets in the way of our bodies as they try to move. We continue to train our eyes on this screen instead of looking at the wires above our heads and humming with them, receiving what comes as we receive sound and re-tune in response.

Elizabeth Freeman writes that “the unpredictable, deeply embodied pleasures . . . counter the logic of development.”15 Is humming a source of such pleasure? Or a pathway towards it? If humming doesn’t have content, does not signify, it is easy to overlook when our attention is trained on reading. And yet it’s worth looking, or—even better—feeling into it: it marks an empty but active and generative space for collaborative unknowing and its unpredictable potential.

1. Lauren Gail Berlant, Cruel Optimism (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2011), 21.
2. Catherine Malabou, What Should We Do with Our Brain? (Ashland, Ohio: Fordham University Press; London: Eurospan [distributor], 2008), 12.
3. Ibid, 5.
4. Ibid, 6.
5. “Poetic,” Online Etymology Dictionary, n.d., accessed January 30, 2019, https://www.etymonline.com/word/poetic.
6. Malabou, What Should We Do with Our Brain?, 76.
7. Berlant, Cruel Optimism.
8. Ibid, 18, 100.
9. Ibid, 36.
10. Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts, “The Music of the Spheres,” e-flux Journal, no. Journal #105 (December 2019), accessed June 12, 2020, https://www.e-flux.com/journal/105/302721/the-music-of-the-spheres/.
11. Michael Taussig, “Humming,” in Voice: Vocal Aesthetics in Digital Arts and Media, (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2010), 312.
12. Malabou, What Should We Do with Our Brain?
13. Berlant, Cruel Optimism.
14. Berlant writes of ‘practices that feel out alternative routes for living without requiring personhood to be expressive of an internal orientation or a part of a political program advocating how to live’ and later about ‘lateral exploration of elsewhere that is first perceptible as atmosphere’. Ibid., 20.
15. Elizabeth Freeman, Time binds, or, erotohistoriography. (2005), Social Text 23(3/4, 84/85): 57–68.

Olga Bennett is an artist and writer from Russia currently living and working in Narrm. She graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Art (Honours) from the Victorian College of the Arts in 2017 and exhibited at Bus Projects, CAVES, Center for Contemporary Photography, The Substation, KINGS Artist-Run, Monash Gallery of Art, C3 Contemporary, LON and Margaret Lawrence galleries (all in Melbourne), COMA gallery (Sydney), CalArts gallery (Los Angeles) and gallery Kiitos (Japan). Her writing was published in Art&Australia, Un Magazine and other places. Her most recent body of work considers how experiences of physical and emotional vulnerability are reflected in images and words.