The CLEENIK is the outcome of collaborations with a Spanish cultural collective called Colaborabora. We invited them to help us organize a workshop dedicated to our sustained reflection about forms of ethnographic experimentation in the field in 2015. Under the name of ‘Investigations to the limit: A curatorship of experimental collaborations’ we gathered half a dozen young scholars from different disciplines (singularly, none of them was anthropologist) attended the event. They were working beyond the boundaries of their own disciplines and methods: an architect doing a ethnography of The Barley Field (the urban void we have mentioned before), an art historian doing an ethnographic inspired research of visual representations in Equatorial Guinea… Bringing ethnographic methods and diverse theoretical traditions to their own disciplines, they acknowledged their methodological anxieties and disciplinary troubles during a series of presentations that certainly echoed the title of the meeting.
We were making an explicit invocation in the title to the fertile exchanges between art and social sciences since the venue for our meeting was indeed the cultural institution Intermediae, an art centre (connected to Medialab-Prado) devote to experiment with visual aesthetics and participatory art. Our curatorial gesture (and the reference to the cures a curator may provide) had nevertheless a second reading key for our goal: we were pointing to those forms of investigations that are in precarious conditions for crossing conventional disciplinary boundaries, peripheral investigations located beyond the orthodoxy and were in need of care.
Colaborabora followed the line of the argument and proposed a format that took seriously the care invoked in the workshop: They organized a clinic for those needed researchers. Klinika, as they called it, was “an accompaniment service for the diagnosis and shared care aimed at developing healthy collaborative research projects. It is especially appropriate for experimental projects that leaving the orthodoxy and transgressing the canons provoke in researchers tensions, anxieties, dizziness, and great doses of vulnerability and uncertainty”. As in previous occasions, they offer us a rigid methodological proposal organized around a file card that imitated a medical report. The file invited participants to provide a diagnosis of symptoms and propose an appropriate treatment for the needed investigations.
The careful gesture of the workshop was extended to the documentation practice produced by an artist and researcher (and common friend) that we invited, Carla Boserman. She had been exploring in previous years forms of graphic documentation called relatogramas: “non-linear narratives that invoke a granulated and more peripheral gaze, a kind of graphic report, a device for listening, affection, and action”. She embodied with her work another instantiation of the diverse experiments with languages, aesthetics and formats for documentation that we have found during our fieldwork.
Workshop ‘Investigations to the limit: A curatorship of experimental collaborations’, relatograma by Carla Boserman (Madrid, 2015).
Care was an extended discourse at that time in our field. The assemblies in the open air turned the trope of what they called “active listening” (escucha activa) into a careful listening practice, workshops at Medialab-Prado always invoked the figure of hospitality as fundamental for these production events full of strangers, while many projects thriving in urban voids (like the Barley Field) described their engagement as forms of civic curatorship (of the city) or modes of urban stewardship. It resonates with Maria Puig de la Bellacasa (2017) discussion of an ethics of care that speculates with forms of living together, paying attention to the obligation not to just be concerned but “to take care of the fragile gathering things constitute” (Puig de la Bellacasa 2017: 45).
Care certainly always required constant preoccupations with spaces, materialities, and techniques aimed at conditioning spaces to be together. It was a particular method unfolded in the many occasions in which our counterparts in the field came together to explore what was possible to do with others in the city—this was indeed the motive behind Colaborabora’s name: the exploration of forms of collaboration—. People operating under precarious economic conditions experimented with all kind of forms of collaboration. We discovered in these meetings the epistemic qualities of care: A precise method that designed ambiences of care that required to constantly taking care of them, spaces where our counterparts in the field problematized the precarious conditions of living during the crisis, driven by a collective effort of joint problem making (Sánchez Criado & Rodríguez-Giralt, 2016).
A year later we were bringing these peripheral methods we have learned from Colaborabora to the interior of our own discipline at the EASA Conference held in 2016 in Milano. We (Tomás Sánchez Criado and Adolfo Estalella) organized there another Klinika in collaboration with our colleague Andrea Gaspar. It was the first instantiation of the format that we have called CLEENIK: A clinic offered for anthropologists doing ethnographic experimentation in their fieldwork. We were not the only one in this move: Carla was attending the event and making her beautiful relatogramas of some of the key lectures (it was not our invitation). The CLEENIK reproduced the therapeutic practice of care so common in self-help groups. It was an attempt to bring the sensibility we had learned in our fieldwork into our own discipline, the invocation of the therapeutic rhetoric of a clinic was a playful parodic gesture that implicitly highlighted the relevance of care for the spaces of our encounters (something we had learn from our counterparts) and the need some investigations had to be treated with care. Months later, our colleague Eeva Berglun used the format in Finland and we used it again in the first workshop we organized as part of the Colleex EASA network (Collaboratory for Ethnographic Experimentation) in Lisbon.
The CLEENIK certainly mimics our fieldwork encounter and remediates it and brings inside our own discipline the apprenticeships we have made in our fieldwork: the therapeutic practices of care needed to think and make together. The Cleenik is a demonstrative example that comes of the tensions we faced between the norm and form of fieldwork we have learnt and the particular field encounters we had in our ethnographic investigations. This is a singular situation since our field was paradoxically challenging our methods and providing the methods to treat them. It is devised to tame the anxieties, difficulties and uncertainties of anthropologists that overflow methodological boundaries, experiencing a disparity between the canonical method and their fieldwork experience—there are ample examples in the Experimental Collaborations book we have edited (Estalella and Sánchez Criado, 2018)—. It is a modest attempt to devise appropriate apprenticeship venues for contemporary conditions for ethnography.
First Colleex Workshop (Lisbon, 2017), by Victor Barros.
Estalella, A., and T. Sánchez Criado, eds. 2018. Experimental collaborations. Ethnography through Fieldwork Devices. New York: Berghahn.
Puig de la Bellacasa, M. 2017. Matters of Care. Speculative Ethics in More Than Human Worlds. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Sánchez Criado, T., & Rodríguez-Giralt, I. (2016). Caring through Design?: En torno a la silla and the “Joint Problem-Making” of Technical Aids. In C. Bates, R. Imrie, & K. Kullman (Eds.), Care and Design: Bodies, Buildings, Cities (pp. 200—220). Oxford: Wiley.
The workshop was closely connected to the endeavour of editing a book precisely for the EASA series about this topic –a few months later we would meet with all the authors again in Intermediae, thanks to the funding the institution provided–.