What is it?
A One-on-One Encounter as a format of Participatory Art Based Research connects two people in an exclusive constellation, in which they talk to each other or act together and – by doing so – exchange and produce knowledge. Thus, this format is located at the interface between private and public and may contain confidential moments and information that should be handled with care by the researcher and all people involved. Therefore, the research setting has to take into consideration how to deal with this issue of privacy and the conspiratorial atmosphere that may result from it.
In the postgraduate programmes Assemblies and Participation (2012-2014) and Performing Citizenship (2015-2017), several One-on-One Encounters were developed within various research projects to investigate forms of action-based and activist knowledge in very different contexts and ways, such as Face-to-Face with the Many – Action with Video Calls by Margarita Tsomou (2014), The School of Girls II – A Citizens‘ Encounter by Maike Gunsilius (2017), or Moritz Frischkorn’ s On Logistics and Choreography (2017).
Staging a One-on-One Encounter for Participatory Art Based Research provides two different roles for the researcher: She can be a constant part of the one-on-one constellation and talk to or act with different other experts or participants consecutively. Another possibility is that the researcher curates and hosts a situation of different One-on-One Encounters. Curating these encounters means asking: Who meets whom? How are the people addressed who participate in the encounters? What roles do they enact within their encounter? What relation between participants does the curation suggest or predict? And how does the One-on-One Encounter finally happen? What outcomes does it have? To document these fragile encounters can be challenging for the researcher. Especially in the case of the curated version of a One-on-One Encounter the researcher has to ask herself what potential a certain match provides, how the exchange or the production of knowledge can be encouraged within the encounter, and how it can be documented. Thus, the design of the research setting and its staging are important: How narrowly can a framework be set? Is it even possible to stage the encounter and the sharing or production of knowledge in public or should it remain private? How can it be learnt if the two people involved have adhered to the setting or deliberately undermined it? Or might it be precisely the intention of the researcher to provoke participants to sabotage the frame? In any case, the possibility of losing control is a parameter of the format.
What is researched?
This research format aims at personal exchange in an intimate way. At the same time, it works with and around moments that produce knowledge in an exclusive constellation: Within this format, the researcher might aim at creating a situation that allows for the exchange and production of informal, insecure knowledge. In particular, knowledge that might be unproven and precarious can be exchanged and tested in this constellation. Whether the One-on-One Encounter frames a conversation or a space for acting together, cognitive as well as embodied knowledge can be verbalized and/or experienced.
Within a One-on-One Encounter, two people are connected in a direct or online face-to-face situation. They might both be addressed as experts from (possibly) different fields or contexts. Especially people who are usually not addressed as experts or experts who are not used to talking or performing in front of a larger public might share their informal, insecure, precarious knowledge more easily and comprehensively within the One-on-One Encounter.
Within this encounter, two people meet, perform and exchange ideas. Thereby, they receive or adopt knowledge from each other. Consciously or not, both of them produce knowledge in this very moment. Their (different) roles and the (different) ways in which they are addressing each other determine how one and one relate within this constellation. Within her research on activist protests on the Syntagma Square in Athens in 2011, Margarita Tsomou initiated the art-based research project Face-to-Face with the Many – Action with Video Calls: She invited a public to an internet café to meet twelve activists from Athens via video calls. In these face-to-face video meetings, the local participants could talk with the Greek activists about the situation in Athens, the protest movement and their activist strategies. In addition, Tsomou started a live chat as a meta-talk that anyone could join. Her setting takes up the activists’ strategy to elude institutionalised public channels such as the press by using net-based (social) media.
The act of addressing people as experts might create a hierarchy between a person referred to as an expert for a certain discipline and another person who is not. Thus, the researcher should consider carefully what kind of setting and what kind of relation she creates: an encounter between two people addressed as experts or between an expert and a non-specialist. Furthermore, the question arises whether, and if so, how it is possible to collect feedback and to document the encounters. This question should be taken into account when planning the setting.
Creating the set-up for dialogues between two people is a common practice in the arts. Works by Tino Sehgal such as This Progress (2010) or the Blackmarket for Useful Knowledge and Non-Knowledge by Hannah Hurtzig/Mobile Academy Berlin (2005 – ongoing) and others could be mentioned. These examples show that the improbable dialogue that can take place within the intimacy of a one-on-one constellation can work as an act of self-authorisation of the participants, enabling the sharing of knowledge between two people – as Bojana Cvejic describes: “[…] assumptions, beliefs, opinions, habits, facts, information, techniques etc. The talk is an encounter that establishes a relation between knowledge and non-knowledge, between learning and unlearning, explores the difference between ignorance and opinion on the one hand and what is idealized as its opposite, e.g. knowledge, on the other hand” (Cvejic 2006, 17–18).1
Of course, the format of the One-on-One Encounter is not limited to conversations. Encounters that rely more on actions offer the possibility for the exchange and the production of non-verbal action-knowledge. A joint action can for example be structured by the use of instructions or scores. Instruction-based art formulates precise instructions for actions framed by certain rules, spatial layouts, time limits, selected materials, etc. Especially a precise and narrow framing can work as an invitation to playfully try out and create things one would usually not do. In this instance, two people cast together as team partners do things they would not usually do, or at least not do together. In following the instruction, the knowledge of the team partners is enacted, performed, and new knowledge is produced collaboratively.
Both forms of One-on-One Encounters, whether they focus on conversation or on action (or both), initiate and stage a relation. They can be considered as a form of relational art, which Nicolas Bourriaud defines as “a set of artistic practices which take as their theoretical and practical point of departure the whole of human relations and their social context, rather than an independent and private space” (Bourriaud 2002: 113). The format of the One-on-One Encounter thus has the potential to produce and question expertise, knowledge, know-how and doubt, and to relate them to each other in dynamic ways.
The research project The School of Girls II by Maike Gunsilius focuses on the collaborative and transgenerational performance of girls and women as citizens (and non-citizens) of postmigrant Hamburg. Six 12-year-old girls and six adult women meet to research the possibilities of acting together as citizens within an artistic performance. After a short workshop, they pair up in teams consisting of one girl and one woman. Each team investigates a certain aspect of the overall research question by following an instruction. By inviting a stranger to a picnic, one team for instance explores how citizens and non-citizens of a postmigrant urban society can come together. After three hours, the teams return to the theatre space to analyse and reflect on the results of their investigation and present and perform their findings for the other teams and for an invited public. By taking questions of female solidarity in a postmigrant society into consideration, girls and women are invited to meet and perform as a transgenerational team on equal terms. All participants are addressed as experts for a different kind of knowledge in order to investigate the potentials and limits of acting in alliance. In an ongoing process of planning and testing, Gunsilius examined how the performative instructions have to be worded to offer a clear frame and at the same time create a space that enables girls and women to act as citizens in an (urban) public. The wording also aimed to reduce hierarchies within the encounters.
Although the One-on-One Encounter produces exclusive and intimate situations, there are different ways of creating a framework that allows the sharing of experiences and findings with others in a larger assembly: For the second part of the School of Girls II, an outside audience was invited to observe how the one-on-one teams share their experiences. In the Blackmarket of Useful Knowledge and Non-Knowledge format, several One-on-One Encounters are staged to take place simultaneously at different tables in the centre of a room. These tables are surrounded by spectators who can listen in to selected conversations via headphones. In Face-to-Face with the Many – Action with Video Calls, spectators in the call-shop could witness the video-calls and/or join the public chat.
Potentials, problems and outcomes
In a One-on-One Encounter, knowledge, expertise and activities are shared between two people. The exclusive intimacy of this constellation between private and public has the potential to encourage people to open up quickly towards each other. At the same time, the content and findings of this shared exchange remain subjective. If the encounter is observed by an audience (including the researcher), the exchanged or produced knowledge is distributed in a wider circle. This distribution of knowledge in itself can be the specific object of the research interest. If so, this moment has to be focussed on within the respective setting. Thus, observing whether participants in the One-on-One Encounters adhere to the instructions and operate within the given frame or whether they ignore or subvert the set-up, might be more relevant to the research than the experiences and the knowledge produced and shared within the encounters themselves. Accordingly, in order to trace outcomes, the research setting for the One-on-One Encounter should – depending on the research interest – include moments of presentation, explication, feedback and documentation.
As already mentioned, it might be difficult or even impossible for the researcher to fully document this floating exchange of expertise. While observing the conversations in Face-to-Face with the Many – Action with Video Calls, Tsomou for instance noticed that most of the time the conversations did not focus on the set content (activists’ knowledge), but instead had the quality of a flirt between two people. Hence, the One-on-One Encounter might provide a frame for documenting research outcomes that are different from what was originally intended.
In The School of Girls II, the encounters were narrowly framed and teams had to identify outcomes themselves, moderated by Gunsilius. Within the set-up of On Logistics and Choreography, Moritz Frischkorn was part of each One-on-One Encounter and could thus easily lead the encounters towards questions relevant to his research and note and compare outcomes.
One-on-One Encounters, whether they focus on verbal exchange or on acting together, have a unique way of addressing and connecting people – suggesting their collaboration, working on their relations and hierarchies and opening up a frame for research on social encounters.
Maike Gunsilius, Kathrin Wildner
1 German version: http://www.mobileacademy-berlin.com/deutsch/bm_texte/bonja.html
Bourriaud, Nicolas (2002): Relational Aesthetics. Dijon: Presses du réel.
Cvejic, Bojana (2006): „Trickstering, Hallucinating and Exhausting Production. The Blackmarket of Useful Knowledge and Non-Knowledge“. 31 Das Magazin des Instituts für Theorie und Gestaltung und Kunst, Zürich No. 08/09 (12/2006), pp. 11–18. Available: https://www.yumpu.com/de/document/read/23580535/pdf-des-gesamten-heftes-5mb-institut-fur-theorie-ith (Accessed: 20–08–2020).
Obrist, Hans U. (2013): Do It: The Compendium. New York: Independent Curators International/D.A.P.
Ono, Yoko (1964): Grapefruit: A Book of Instructions and Drawings. New York: Simon & Schuster.
Tsomou, Margarita. (2018): Zwischen Repräsentationskritik, Selbstrepräsentation und nicht-repräsentativen Politiken: Die Aktionsformen der Aganaktismenoi auf dem Syntagma-Platz, Athen 2011. HafenCity University. Available: https://edoc.sub.uni-hamburg.de//hcu/volltexte/2018/417/ (Accessed: 20–08–2020)
Works / Projects
Frischkorn, Moritz, On Logistics and Choreography, 2017, Hamburg
Gunsilius, Maike, School of Girls II, 2017, Hamburg
Hurtzig, Hannah/Moblie Academy Berlin, Black-market for Useful Knowledge and Non-knowledge, 2005-ongoing, http://mobileacademy-berlin.com/deutsch/index.html
Tsomou, Margarita, Face-to-Face with the Many – Action with Video-calls, 2014, Hamburg
Sehgal, Tino, This Progress, 2010, New York