Kameelah Janan Rasheed on Studying and Unlearning

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“One way or the opposite within the coherence / we hiss”: the phrases are in serif font and the letters a cramped little bit of effaced. The w in “hiss,” particularly, is missing flecks of ink, and I do know that Kameelah Janan Rasheed will deserve to grasp regarded as its acutely threadbare form when she placed this note on the bottom upright nook of an unnumbered web page about three-quarters of the ability by draw of her 2019 book No Fresh Theories. All by draw of the book, and across her art work be conscious, Rasheed attends to text that’s tentatively legible and partly withheld.

Rigorously interdisciplinary and a self-named “learner,” Rasheed in overall makes work within the make of immersive installations filled with scraps of text that she finds or writes. Taking on surfaces fancy the facade of the Brooklyn Museum, a wide digital billboard in Times Sq., or the partitions and crevices of a gallery in Berlin, the artist makes architectural parts from poetic language, the exhaust of her pretty-tuned stare for typeface, colour contrasts, and scale to bring viewers into a bodily active studying expertise.

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Rasheed, born and raised in East Palo Alto, California, began as a high college teacher, after receiving a BA in public coverage from Pomona College and a master’s in education from Stanford University. Serene working fleshy-time in curriculum pattern, Rasheed intertwines her tutorial impulses alongside with her inventive production, pairing exhibitions and book publishing with public lectures, workbooks, and on-place workshops.

Cherish the unconventional Dusky publishers who preceded her, Rasheed wants to have the total activity of her production. In her dwelling studio, she keeps a adverse scanner, a Xerox scanner, a Risograph, and an etching press. She furthermore keeps an intensive assortment of books stacked spherical her workspace, plenty of which modified into verbal footnotes all the draw by draw of our dialog—for the time being, she’s studying and referencing volumes by cultural geographer Katherine McKittrick, Blackpentecostal Breath by Ashon T. Crawley, and Shadow Archives: The Lifecycles of African American Literature by Jean-Christophe Cloutier, to title correct a pair of.

Kameelah Janan Rasheed’s desk, the keep she paints movie for animation initiatives.
Photo Grant Delin

Rasheed is equally fascinated with algorithmic literatures—the language of man made intelligence and text technology—and the juxtaposition of machine studying and predictive text with handwritten annotation. In our dialog, Rasheed spoke about these autocorrect algorithms as being practically oracles that can point the reader in unexpected instructions. It feels fancy greater than accident, then, that after I downloaded a robo-transcription of our interview, the yarn used to be filled with fortunate incoherences. The tool refused to jot down “No Fresh Theories,” as a replace providing enigmatic replace titles (“know me very,” “nonappearance”) for this intentionally fragmented and elusive book. When Rasheed mentioned thought “myself,” the machine heard “my father,” coalescing the artist with the family member whose studying and show-taking direction of so closely resembles her have. “Unlearning” modified into “I’m studying” modified into “unlearning” as soon as extra within the robo-transcription and in our staunch dialog, as Rasheed enacted a cease studying and safe rereading of her be conscious, her precedents, and her translation of advanced, wide care.

Kameelah Janan Rasheed: Are We Reading Carefully?, 2020–21, banners keep in on the facade of the Brooklyn Museum.
Photo Jonathan Dorado

NICOLE ACHEAMPONG So plenty of your installations are place-particular. Would possibly perhaps well you focus on the ability you grasp with structure? Does the place ever cease up affecting the affirm material of the work?

KAMEELAH JANAN RASHEED When I enter a place the keep my work will likely be displayed, I grasp to focal point on how americans are going to budge in that place. Will they’ve the selection of lingering, of stepping serve and animated forward? I grasp to be responsive to the structure. If a place has many 90-stage angles, I’m in a position to take into legend it as a book. If a place has essentially high partitions, it’s a likelihood for me to focal point on the affordances of such peak and what I’m in a position to attain with wall painting and wall drawing. None of my work is “grasp up and pack and keep in.” I essentially wish to bodily be there. I essentially wish to sit down with the spatial realities. I essentially wish to annoy the installers: “Over there! Lawful kidding, I modified my thoughts, budge it over right here.” I’ve had the privilege of essentially being ready to interchange the work all the draw by draw of the present. That’s been essentially indispensable for me in knowledge and unlearning and unknowing.

ACHEAMPONG I’ve viewed a form of scientific vocabulary sprinkled to your writing about your art work. You’ve discussed your hobby in ectopias, or irregular positions of bodily organs, and you acceptable that time frame to chat about displacement of language in preference to of natural operate. One other note that comes up many cases to your artist statements is “ecosystem.”

RASHEED When I was in elementary and center college, the science lab teacher came about to be a Dusky man. He took me below his flit. He would let me describe affords and bugs from the biology catalogue. From a younger age, I was fascinated with doing experiments as a make of play. By the time I received to varsity, I had written off science as a profession direction. Now I guess fancy my eleven-twelve months-extinct self is resurfacing. Scientific language is considerable to my art work be conscious no longer because of the I focal point on that science is perhaps the most absorbing ability to realise the world, but because of the I focal point on myself as an interdisciplinary person. I outdated to strive in opposition to to picture what I attain because of the I didn’t grasp language that implied relationality and changeability and adaptation and experimentation. “Ecosystem” is a time frame I’m in a position to exhaust to focal point on that. I grew up in Silicon Valley, so there used to be an implicit hobby in technology and the get. We had been the recipients, I guess is the note I’ll exhaust, of a form of tech programs, and so I was fascinated with pc systems and networks from a essentially early age. Even what Octavia Butler talks about as “mature hypertext.”

ACHEAMPONG That’s as soon as more frame that pops up frequently to your work. I was introduced on to read the transcript of a 1998 panel dialogue at MIT wherein Butler uses it, the keep she’s talking about how she’s engaged in analog compare.

RASHEED Butler did in a pair of sentences what I had been attempting to utter for quite loads of years: she asserted the upright to budge laterally across many disciplines and ideas, described it as a bodily direction of. When I’m building out installations, I am fascinated with what it ability to read with the physique. When I keep a wide work next to a microscopic thing, it’s doubtless you’ll well be ready to stand serve from the big piece, but you want to budge in cease to ogle the shrimp one. One time after I completed an installation, I sat within the nook and watched americans budge. It looked fancy they had been dancing.

Kameelah Janan Rasheed’s book No Fresh Theories, 2019, screenprinted and sewn hurry.
Courtesy Printed Matter, Fresh York

ACHEAMPONG After studying a pair of of your thoughts on hypertext, as to your 2017 interview with the Ingenious Neutral, I felt extra responsive to how algorithms resolve my day-to-day studying habits. Conclude you fetch AI and machine studying to be a generative accomplice to your have studying?

RASHEED I essentially grasp greater than four thousand photos of Dusky families, which I’ve been gathering since 2010. I’m fascinated with the care that’s given to Dusky americans in our lifetime but furthermore in what happens to our field subject remains, the cramped stuff that’s left within the serve of. I received essentially fascinated with digital afterlife. I’ve been researching GANs, the exhaust of AI to make fictional faces and voices and movies, and the adverse ability of this technology. While you hotfoot to thispersondoesnotexist.com, it generates a face for a fictional person, the exhaust of a GAN that has been trained on knowledge devices of photos. I imagine a total world populated with Dusky americans who grasp passed away, who’re by some ability living on by draw of these avatars they on no account consented to. My hobby in AI and neural networks and GANs and machine studying in most cases comes out of a wish to grasp how the abuse of afterlife, of field subject custom, of natural field subject extends into the digital landscape as nicely. While these technologies will also be generative in some methods, so some distance we’re on a direction of extractive insurance policies.

Kameelah Janan Rasheed: An Alphabetical Accumulation of Approximate Observations, 2019, Risograph printed and spiral hurry.
Courtesy Limitless Editions

However an autocorrect algorithm will also be fancy an oracle, an act of divination that aspects somewhere you didn’t quiz. Once in some time I’m typing one note and every other note pops up, and that asks me to hotfoot in quite loads of areas with my pondering.

ACHEAMPONG The principle text of your book No Fresh Theories is a dialog between you and critic Jessica Lynne, with annotations and citations that seem made within the spirit of mature hypertext that Butler speaks of.

RASHEED What’s silly about this book is that the principle edition came out in 2018. It had some printing errors, so we pulled the total copies from the cupboards. Then, early in 2019, Printed Matter said they’d some funding to reprint the book. My first opinion used to be correct to upright every little thing. However then I opinion of surroundings up the revision direction of public, to embrace the reality that that is a revised text and that revision is segment of studying—a thought of publishing as name-and-response. When I post something, I need americans to reply. I need it to be annotated, actually and figuratively.

Jess and I did that interview in 2017. By mid-2019, we unruffled believed loads of the stuff in it, but there had been quite loads of things we had been . I printed out the interview and passed it off to her. She wrote a bunch of notes, which I integrated as footnotes. And then I went serve and annotated on top of that. Whilst we had been wrapping up the book, I opinion of every other thing I wished so as to add. And I said to myself, “Kameelah, a book is no longer the closing time you fetch to focus on.” The book turns into the quick gathering of ideas. The single thing that holds them together is the structure of the book. However that doesn’t imply it’s doubtless you’ll well be ready to’t post every other book. I later seen that the annotated pages in No Fresh Theories ogle fancy my dad’s notes from his non secular compare within the 1980s. He has a binder of excerpts from the Quran, alongside with photocopies, typed and handwritten notes, now and again on the serve of handouts he received at pharmacy college. No Fresh Theories ended up following practically the identical layout as his direction of for studying and revising and processing. My dad’s notes are this singular plane the keep all of these existence cycles grasp collapsed onto one web page, and I take into legend the interview in No Fresh Theories as being very identical, the keep all these quite loads of existence cycles of revision and pondering and studying and unlearning are collapsed onto one web page. Now I’m engaged on the third edition of No Fresh Theories, because of the I’m fascinated with what it ability to keep a publishing challenge in perpetual processing—what it ability to claim the book is on no account completed. I need it to be practically a ritual, returning to this book every few years to revise it.

Kameelah Janan Rasheed facilitating a workshop in her installation Ecosystem, 2018, at the Fresh Museum, Fresh York.
Photo Chloe Foussianes

ACHEAMPONG Your bookmaking direction of has an accidental lineage alongside with your father. I am furthermore questioning about your relationship to a lineage of Dusky radical publishing. On your exhibition at the Fresh Museum with the Dusky College, you presented your compare on unprejudiced Dusky presses. How are you connecting your have publishing be conscious to your historic precedents?

RASHEED By draw of my newest compare, I began studying extra about shrimp publishing initiatives that had been going on in East Palo Alto, the keep I grew up. There used to be the Mothers for Equal Training book place. I furthermore stumbled on a writer who wrote a book about Dusky curriculum. He has a gap fragment the keep he says: “This book used to be made by Dusky americans. The phrases had been written by Dusky americans. It used to be printed by Dusky americans.” All by draw of the Fresh Museum program, I was essentially fascinated with building an archive of Dusky printed subject. Now there are greater than three hundred pieces—and extra each day—from Dusky publications from the ’60s by draw of the ’80s. Everything from Aché, which used to be a Dusky lesbian e-newsletter up within the Bay Space, to examples produced by Kitchen Table: Ladies of Coloration Press. I’m gathering these items because of the I need no longer only to chat about them, but to keep and fetch in touch with them. I had library hours at the Fresh Museum present so anyone who would possibly well well fetch there would possibly well well ogle at every little thing and grasp the subject subject with their hands. That used to be indispensable for me because of the now and again these publications are within the serve of paywalls or at institutions the keep americans can’t contact the things that are connected to their lived expertise.

For me, the legacy of radical Dusky publishing lies no longer only within the diagram, but furthermore within the create, within the production, in modes of distribution, within the exhaust of bookstores no longer correct to promote books but to put together and occasion. When I take into legend No Fresh Theories, I’m what it ability to widen the scope of what’s regarded as a e-newsletter, to bring these histories serve in. I’m unruffled building this archive, and my assistant and I are going to commence scanning again. The design is to grasp fetch admission to to Dusky create aesthetics, in particular vernacular typesetting and handwriting. Of us outdated to grasp these pleasing handbills that had been drawn by hand. It’s fabulous to focal point on Dusky americans who made attain with what they’d, and grasp turn into educated print technicians and makers of pleasing objects.

ACHEAMPONG That’s a preferrred segue into the physicality of the book objects that you’re growing. An Alphabetical Accumulation of Approximate Observations [2019] is a spiral-hurry book; Scoring the Stacks (experiment ii), furthermore from 2019, is saddle stitch. The overall thread across your binding selections appears to be like to be that these are books it’s doubtless you’ll well be ready to very with out complications lay flat and launch wide. It appears to be like fancy an anti-precious tactic.

Kameelah Janan Rasheed: Scoring the Stacks I, 2019, efficiency, banner, notecards, and prints; at the Brooklyn Public Library.
Photo Gregg Richards

RASHEED The spiral-hurry book, which I printed with Limitless Editions, used to be this kind of fun product because of the with the Risograph there’s so unheard of imperfection. Once in some time I purchase books that seem too appealing for me to read. I wished the book that I made to be pleasing, but no longer precious. I would possibly take care of to hotfoot to someone’s dwelling and ogle No Fresh Theories with Put up-it notes and marginalia. That roughly reader engagement is considerable to me because of the I essentially grasp a bright time studying books with out writing in them. I wish to invite americans to attain that.

I’m furthermore fascinated with intentionally leaving literal and figurative gaps within the book that invite americans to participate—things that can fetch americans to attain something with their physique or insist something as they’re studying. When I did the Scoring the Stacks challenge at Brooklyn Public Library in 2019, americans had rating cards that they carried as they moved all the draw by draw of the library to fetch things after which make something new. We correct completed our catalogue workbook for that, and there’s a series of actions in it. The oils to your hand can smudge the quilt. I on no account wish to produce something that folks feel fancy they’ll’t contact. I would possibly no longer be unhappy if there used to be a finger smudge on the wall. That’s bright to me. I fancy the tactility of surroundings up work that’s partly on the wall, but thanks to the humidity within the place or the effective of the paper, it’s roughly coming off the wall as nicely. I fancy the markings of living-ness in my work.

Kameelah Janan Rasheed: Scoring the Stacks I, 2019, efficiency, banner, notecards, and prints; at the Brooklyn Public Library. Photo Gregg Richards
Photo Gregg Richards

ACHEAMPONG How attain you resolve which typeface to exhaust?

RASHEED I essentially grasp a bias in direction of serif fonts. I guess fancy they’ve a cramped bit extra attitude, a cramped bit extra noise. My husband makes music, and my direction of of selecting a typeface is akin to how he finds samples. He would possibly well well hear a particular bass line or half a bar that pursuits him and keep it aside in a folder. If I’m studying a book, I would possibly correct fancy the curve of an a. So I grasp out my phone and exhaust the Genius Scan app to keep that a, or photocopy it on the bid and keep it to the aspect. I get texts in a essentially intuitive ability. I’ve began to read this book referred to as Working out Molecular Typography. It’s about how letters grasp bodily and chemical properties thanks to the ink. I opinion that used to be roughly fabulous, and it made sense to me. I currently printed this essay in Active Cultures a pair of West African be conscious in Quranic colleges, the keep after writing a verse on a tablet with ink, some americans wash it off and ingest the water with the ink in it because of the they wish to ingest these passages of the Quran for their non secular properties.

ACHEAMPONG While having a ogle at photos of one amongst your newest works, the all things are organized as uncertainty flag at Ballroom Marfa, I was struck by how the phrases aligned with the motion of the flag, to ogle the italics on their very have roughly tilt.

RASHEED When something isn’t typeset the exhaust of a pc, you fetch these shrimp imperfections that are essentially pleasing. I fancy the exhaust of things that are no longer typed out, because of the I need the noise. I need the tonality. I need the feel. There’s a definite texture that comes out of photocopying a web page in a book after which cutting out one letter and enlarging it. I’m in a position to’t develop that noise with identical outdated text from a machine that’s designed to be preferrred.

ACHEAMPONG Splendid sooner than I bought the project to interview you, I read an essay by Jane Scoot referred to as “The Ethics of Reading: Conclude Encounters.” It’s about how studying, as we in most cases direction of it, is projection. She defines cease studying as a make of disruption that enables us to ogle things that we don’t already know. Does that diagram resonate with the ability you budge viewers into a extra intentional roughly studying?

Kameelah Janan Rasheed: all things are organized as uncertainty, 2021, flag; at Ballroom Marfa.
Photo Mackenzie Goodman/Courtesy Ballroom Marfa

RASHEED Some americans formulation to my work and browse it fancy a book. One person said, “I went to your present, and I googled every sentence, because of the I wished to realise the source details.” And others insist, “Girl, that is appealing. I correct fancy the form, and I don’t know what the phrases are, but I fancy how the text creates this form on the wall.” All that counts as studying. Going into a place and attempting to produce sense of what’s there would possibly perhaps be a studying direction of. That’s the case for all art work. However in terms of my work, because of the I’m the exhaust of text and phrases and language, americans have a tendency to over-intellectualize it.

“Are we studying closely?” [2020] at the Brooklyn Museum alive to two public programs. At the principle, I talked about the importance of being engrossed within the text and what a text can presumably be. The 2d used to be about cease studying within the context of surveillance: some texts are no longer supposed to be read and deciphered by everyone. What does it imply when a text enters an institutional archive, and americans cease-read it? What does it imply when someone goes to stare a particular community and produce sense of a ritual, no subject no longer being invited? I mediate that cease studying is considerable in terms of having an engaged, embodied, intentional studying direction of. However I furthermore take into legend what it ability to refuse to be read. Zora Neale Hurston in Mules and Males talks about Dusky americans being in particular evasive. She says something fancy: Of us continuously attempting to fetch to your industry. Plod a cramped bit little bit of something out of doorways the door, so they hotfoot away, but keep onto something for your self. What gets unread is correct as indispensable as what is read. Yes, it’s indispensable so that you can read every little thing, however the preference no longer to read something is considerable too—both out of respect or a wish to let mystery persist.

ACHEAMPONG You focus on “unreading,” and every other note that I’ve heard on this dialog is “unlearning.” What are you unlearning?

RASHEED I am unlearning the urge to ascribe scientific certainty to every little thing. It’s no longer because of the I don’t focal point on in science. I correct don’t mediate that every little thing wants to be deciphered or assigned a definite which ability that. It’s OK for things to be messy and gloomy and opaque. When I take into legend unlearning, I take into legend what it ability to unpin a pair of of the ideas that produce us happy. What does it imply to be ready to sit down with discomfort? You would possibly perhaps well well presumably revel within the 2d with out thought what’s going on.

I spoke about No Fresh Theories in terms of all these appealing curatorial ideas around incompleteness and revision and uncertainty. However then when it came about to me, I said, “I don’t need this! I meant it can be adorable for an diagram.” However if uncertainty is segment of my ethos, then I wish to are living it. Unlearning for me ability drawing a stronger alignment between the things that I keep right as ideas and how I essentially are living my existence. Allotment of that’s letting hotfoot of certainty and finality. For this reason I’m going to keep coming serve to No Fresh Theories. For this reason, if someone asks me a quiz about something, I insist, that is what I mediate upright now, at 7: 20 pm. However the next day to come to come it would possibly perhaps well perhaps well well replace. I’m attempting to be happy with my discomfort. To realise myself as a learner ability total renounce. And that renounce is bright. That’s what unlearning is for me: surrendering.

Kameelah Janan Rasheed: My Husband is an Needed Worker, 2020, digital projection in Times Sq..
Photo Maria Baranova/Courtesy Times Sq. Arts

ACHEAMPONG I was sitting alongside with your work My husband is an Needed Worker [2020] and in particular with the phrases, “let’s grasp care of every other.” From there my thoughts wandered to Saidiya Hartman’s phrases: “care is the antidote to violence.” Conclude you suspect of studying as an antidote?

RASHEED I had this dialog with every other person. They requested: “What attain you suspect art work can attain? Can it replace americans?” No, art work doesn’t replace americans. Of us ogle art work. They grasp with it. And there will likely be a series of actions that end result from that engagement. Reading is an invite to attain many quite loads of indispensable things on this planet. So unheard of of what I’ve learned has draw by draw of the be conscious of studying. However I’m in a position to grasp with out complications read and said, “that’s adorable,” after which correct kept on with whatever I was doing. I’m fascinated with how americans read, but what I’m essentially fascinated with is how that direction of can invite quite loads of methods of being and appealing. Can studying combine with quite loads of rituals and practices to produce you a person that engages in a completely different draw? Last summer season, at the peak of the Dusky Lives Matter protests, everyone used to be fancy, “Read all these books!” Then everyone read the books about anti-racism and kept on performing the identical. Discontinue losing americans’s time!


RASHEED Right replace is going to grasp many extra steps. Reading saved me. However attain I mediate that studying by myself is going to be the antidote? Entirely no longer. Of us wish to grasp the wish to attain the world that they’re studying about. Otherwise it’s correct a leisure activity

This article appears to be like below the title “In the Studio: Kameelah Janan Rasheed” within the July/August 2021 bid, pp. 70–79.

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