Heather Jones: You are a writer and researcher currently based in Berlin. Can you describe your background, educational and/or otherwise? I read that you never went to art school – what was your path to the field of art?
Amelia Groom: My mum and grandma always had art books around; that’s something I’m grateful for. As an undergrad, I did a bunch of different things (gender studies, cultural studies, a course I loved on Ovid…) before doing a PhD art history, and since 2014 I’ve taught mostly in fine art academies.
HJ: What are you planning to work on during your time in Stavanger?
AG: I’m really grateful to have this time to write. I also want to do walks and spend time on the coast… I’ve been trying to think about tides and seaside settings as part of a project I am working on about the artists Claude Cahun and Marcel Moore and their lives by the beach on Jersey Island.
HJ: In a previous interview, you said that you “write alongside art” as opposed to (or in addition to) writing about art. That slight linguistic shift opens up a lot of possibility – could you say more about where you place your writing practice in relation to art?
AG: I can’t remember exactly what I meant when I said that, I was probably trying to be accurate because sometimes when I’m commissioned to write about art I end up taking an oblique approach so that the text hangs out in the vicinity of the art, without being directly about it. Maybe this can involve questions about where the “art” actually is; where it begins and ends. There’s this wonderful line from Adrian Piper in the 1970s, where she writes, “I like the idea of doing away with all discrete forms, and letting art lurk in the midst of things.” The verb “lurk” is so good here; it’s not just this idea of blurring the art / life distinction – it’s a desire to let art move around in furtive and creepy ways, so it can refuse participation while still maintaining a stealth presence.
HJ: In addition to your research and writing, you also teach theory and writing in academic settings. Do you consider these separate activities, or part of a single, integrated practice?
AG: They are separate activities, but they text each other and sometimes swap outfits and accessories. There’s a lot of inevitable overlap and leakage.
HJ: In an interview with e-flux regarding teaching at the Sandberg Instituut in Amsterdam, you said, “I think it’s about cultivating curiosity, slowness, and practices of listening, without needing to make the other knowable or treating difference as something that needs to be solved.” Do you have thoughts on how that sentiment might be translated outside of the educational system and into the art discourse as a whole?
AG: Well, over the last few years, I’ve held a critical pedagogies study group for teachers at the Sandberg / Rietveld Academy (as part of a platform called Hear! Here!). In 2020 we looked at Leanne Betasamosake Simpson’s Land as pedagogy: Nishnaabeg intelligence and rebellious transformation; in 2021–2022 we read bell hooks’s book Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom and in 2022–2023 we read Jacques Rancière’s The Ignorant Schoolmaster. Our conversations have often returned to the importance of coming to the classroom as a space that is always permeated by the world and always flowing back out into the world. This means constantly reminding ourselves that whatever is cultivated in the classroom also leaves its confines and enters the life that is outside.
HJ: Your research interests are wide and varied, but in several projects you’ve focused deeply on time, including recently with the “No Linear Fucking Time” special issue of the journal Prospections for BAK (basis voor actuele kunst), which you co-edited with 2017 CAS Resident Rachael Rakes. Can you tell us about your interest in time? How did it begin and why has your work returned so often to this topic?
AG: One thing I can say, with hindsight, is that it became explicit in my research/writing at the exact time of my first Saturn’s return. I was born with Saturn conjunct to the Sun – they’re only four degrees apart – and that’s a really intense part of my natal chart. Saturn is, among several other shitty things, linear time. Goya’s painting Saturn Devouring His Son gives us the god Chronos (whose name is linked to words like ‘chronology’ and ‘chronic’) as the patriarchal father who fearfully consumes the future that will replace him. Having this planet of disciplinary linear chronology so close to my sun can mean that there’s a lot of illumination, so it becomes something I have to contend with. But the conjunction is also so close that there’s a risk of combustion. You know, there’s more illumination closer to the sun, but if an object gets too close, it goes up in flames. Maybe that’s part of what’s going on in my fixation with time; it’s like I’m shining a light on the object while holding onto the possibility of burning it down.
HJ: Do you have any upcoming projects or current research interests that you can tell us about?
AG: I just finished a long, nerdy fan essay about Mariah Carey and – surprise, surprise – the ways that she exists outside of linear time. She opens her memoir by declaring “I refuse to acknowledge time,” which is just such an outlandish diva statement. That was my starting point, and I tried to really think about the ways that her voice, her career trajectory, her image, her hair, her approach to songwriting, and her general vibe have proposed alternatives to the stronghold of standardized, linear time. In some ways, the topic might be a departure from other things that I’ve written in recent years, because I’ve been thinking a lot about secretive realms like queer silence, and gossip, and hidden ruins, and the aesthetics of indirection – and then Mariah is this super glossy, sparkly, hyper-visible pop star. The vastness of the archive certainly made it a different kind of writing process; she’s had such a long, busy, well-documented, public-facing career, so I didn’t have the feeling that I sometimes have when I’m looking at the fragile, fragmentary edges of the historical record and wondering about the politics of exclusion and illegibility. At the same time, though, the Mariah topic is perhaps in line with other things I’ve written where there is a desire to be very serious about something that many would dismiss as frivolous or apolitical or otherwise just not worth taking seriously.
Amelia Groom is a writer and researcher. She is currently working on a book about the art and antifascist activism of Claude Cahun and Marcel Moore, read through the lenses of queer and trans ecologies. She is also working on a project about gossip and rumour – and a collection of essays on silence as practised and heard from queer, feminist, and decolonial positions. Groom completed a PhD in Art History and Theory at the University of Sydney in 2015. In 2018-2020, she was postdoctoral fellow at the Institute for Cultural Inquiry in Berlin. In 2021-2022, she was a postdoctoral researcher at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts in Copenhagen. Since 2014, she has taught theory and writing at the Sandberg Institute in Amsterdam. She wrote a book about Beverly Buchanan’s swampy and ruinous environmental sculpture Marsh Ruins (1981), published by Afterall’s One Work series. www.ameliagroom.com