[Note: The conversations have been edited for clarity, length, and grammatical mistakes. They have also been edited thematically, however the dates of these utterances are noted above each section.]
30 April 2020
Mikhel: Do any of you benefit from other student fundings that the government released, the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB)? I guess it is only for Canadian citizens?
Kanwal: There is a daily briefing by the Prime Minister at 11 am everyday, and as far as immigrants and international students are concerned, it was very disappointing the way he has handled the situation.
Sanaz : If you are on a student visa you can not apply for CERB?
Varda: I think you can apply for CERB, but you need to pay for it whenever you file your taxes?
Olivia: I am not sure if this is helpful. In terms of immigrants, do you mean at large or particular communities? Because every summer many Jamaicans come to Canada and I am just looking locally but there is a support network like the Jamaican Association that is doing something.
Kanwal: I was talking about how it [the Government address] wasn't actually done specifically targeting immigrants or the international students community because when you are not in your own country you are doubly affected by the circumstances.
Varda: I also think that it has to do with that because you are coming to Canada and Canada's reputation as a good country or a nice country, we kind of expect them [the Canadian Government] to do something.
Sanaz: A friend of mine was concerned and didn't want to apply to CERB because he was afraid it would negatively affect his immigration process; technically you are not allowed to take federal money or government aid while you are applying for residency. But he was also thinking maybe they have some exceptional measures that take the pandemic into account. Also, in the US if you are applying for a Green Card and you are getting food stamps or federal aid, as of a couple of weeks ago it is a new law by the Trump administration, it will negatively impact you.
Mikhel: Yeah, one wonders too going forward how universities are going to respond. On the one hand putting all course content online, charging presumably the same for tuition and having less expenditure. I am sure people are going to get upset about that, I mean I am done taking courses but I would be upset if I had to do it online now.
Kanwal: My niece studies in Stanford and everything is online now. And students are asking to get some percentage of their tuition back because they think it is not fair.
Alice: One of the pressing questions, particularly in the field of humanities, which all of you are raising, is the changing demands on the educational sector to deliver that content, the package that students as clients have paid for. Coming from the other side, faculties are also committed by contract to still deliver their course content but in whatever way they can. Perhaps in a different form, but I think what is important to always remember is that the intensity is always there. The quality will certainly change and diminish in some cases, but the intensity of teaching and learning which are at the root of pedagogy is still present. Even on a good day, these aspects of pedagogy are underpaid, undervalued, and underappreciated and so in circumstances of crises ever more so because of the commodified value of education.
One of the projects that SSHRC is encouraging is “building long term resilience and disaster preparedness, by rethinking pedagogical approaches.” And I think this is the concern that we were addressing, about what would you then do to change it. Mikhel, you were talking about communal approaches and your research project is contributing to that in some way and maybe the answer is not right in front of us but it's worthwhile to say that it is contributing in some way. SSHRC also indicates this could include "artistic models and rituals,” let's say “artistic practices,” different ways that you [Olivia] are going about rethinking what you are making and why you are making it is all part of that.
Nima: What is at stake here is that institutions are not changing their model of how they function but actually are absorbing what they were already absorbing from the creative sector, those who are doing “rituals” even Indigenous knowledge systems at this time. It is not very sincere to me. And it is problematic in a sense, as if there is no plan, or long term plan for making any changes given the situation. It is an interesting topic to study, like how in times of crisis, it is easier for institutions not to imagine changing their own systems but imagining contribution from those who are the most vulnerable. We are talking about Indigenous communities, artistic communities. It is always more labour and less security and less stability for those who offer these knowledges.
Olivia: On the positive side, I have been attending quite a few artist talks or artist walkthroughs. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't, depending on the artist, their practice and how much it is relevant to have a virtual version of their work or to speak about their work. Yesterday I attended a Berlin gallery walkthrough of a duo based in France talking about their VR installation with a curator somewhere else. It was interesting already because there are several people in different countries and that was just normal and more current to do that. There was something interesting how the medium lent itself to that in some way. But it still seemed a bit odd and not the same as listening to people talk. On another note, I attended a virtual conference in VR. These folks did an incredible job and created a game world, where you entered and you went to the conference as an avatar. It meant that you could go and say hi, it is awkward and it is not the same, but it would allow you a moment of interaction. As much as I study technology, I am not a gamer so I don't do this on a regular basis. I was just walking around and I saw people in the water, so I walked into the water and spoke to this woman and it turned out to be this incredible and inspiring artist that I now have a connection with. I'm trying to see the positive side because there is something in that screen interaction, whether we like or dislike it, there is something that we can take. That is my thesis work as well as my artist work in general - to think through the screen in a different way.
Sanaz: Olivia, your project has a lot of potential especially now with regards to the systems of recognition during the pandemic, when your face becomes the document, your body temperature, and physiology becomes the passing document to cross borders, cities, etc. I think exploring VR and different ways of imagining real time versus speculative time during a time when the speculative is catching up with the real is very interesting. VR has a lot of potential to see otherwise and re-calibrate now.
Regarding the SSHRC grant and what they said about “artistic rituals.” it is amazing how these institutions and grant applications are so good at simplifying and mystifying artistic research, what that entails and what it is. This is very alarming, especially as an artist in academia; that alarm always goes off for me because I see more and more that the precarity expands. As Nima said, they are so good at absorbing the circumstances and shape-shifting it to something else. The artist should be an academic, a publisher, a curator, we have to be so many things. The artistic research becomes a remedy that is supposed to take us from point A to point B, from a problem to a conclusion. Concordia also exacerbates this dangerous simplification and inclusion of artistic research. For instance, there is the 3-minute thesis competition, where artists talk about their research in 3 minutes. What if you can't even talk about your project in 3 hours? We should talk about how institutions are using the pandemic as a state of exemption to expand, absorb and grow pre-existing conditions. It’s amazing to see how the arts and culture sector is being affected.