Diagramatic writing exhibition cover


01.07.17 - 30.09.17

Joanna Leah Geldard


Copying is often denigrated as an activity. However, several important thinkers have recognized the value of copying the words of others. Walter Benjamin extolled the virtues of copying:

“The power of a country road is different when one is walking along it from when one is flying over it by airplane. In the same way, the power of a text is different when it is read from when it is copied out. The airplane passenger see only how the road pushes through the landscape, how it unfolds according to the same laws as the terrain surrounding it. Only he who walks the road on foot learns of the power it commands [...] Only the copied text commands the soul of him who is occupied with it, whereas the mere reader never discovers the new aspects of his inner self that are opened by the text, that road cut through the interior jungle forever closing behind it: because the reader follows the movement of his mind in the free flight of day-dreaming, whereas the copier submits to its command.”[ii]

Gertrude Stein suggested that the only real way to know a book is to copy it: “I always say that you cannot tell what a picture really is or what an object really is until you dust it every day and you cannot tell what a book is until you type it or proof-read it. It then does something to you that only reading never can do.”[iii]

The celebrated author W. G. Sebald allegedly gave the following advice to his creative writing students: “I can only encourage you to steal as much as you can. No one will ever notice. You should keep a notebook of tidbits, but don’t write down the attributions, and then after a couple of years you can come back to the notebook and treat the stuff as your own without guilt."[iv]


‘Oh Captain, my captain’ - the familiar poetic refrain from Walt Whitman (1865) used in the film, The Dead Poet’s Society, that drew on an ideological terrain of the teacher leading innovation and stimulating students into a lively culture. It’s a pedagogical sieve! It only underscored the authoritarian both as the mythological innovator and heroic poet, and so reinforced the failure of so-called radical pedagogy. Against the backdrop of hierarchical models of art education we have seen the interdisciplinary endeavours of Bauhaus, Black Mountain College and California Institute of Arts. Maurice Stein became Dean of Critical Studies of CalArts and implemented Blueprint for Counter Education (1970) as the founding curriculum as an intellectual enquiry for knowledge dissemination in critical studies intended as a mobile and portable learning environment. But, Stein reflects on the problem of radical energy to point out that it can be just as repressive and appear as anti-intellectual fashions. Difficult to utilise, any counter education methods has its own trappings just as traditional teaching methods. Yet in an industry that is increasingly competitive and engaged with its capital concerns, the role of radical pedagogy is an interesting one. Maurice Stein and Larry Miller were concerned with counter –education as a way to facilitate increased collaboration, better visual and verbal material to generate innovative practices. Their counter-education curriculum used the Chart and the diagram to activate Critical Studies Learning environments into a total art environment that stimulated the most innovative artistic, literary and educational processes. The collection included for the Research Field Station 2, examines the progressive use of the diagrammatic from the position of how we might think about the dynamic potential of Critical and Contextual Studies.

‘the three walls of do it yourself, alternative classroom situated at the crossroads between lived experience and bookish learning: a portable environment that would instantiate a personalised, socially engaged model of education.’[ii] It aimed to generate critical engagement and has continued resonance to think about the pedagogical tools for criticality. The potential of diagrams and charts can be explored as innovative illustrative methods in exemplifying and communicating practice developments. But they are also useful in terms of categorising and arranging points of knowledge as a constellation of learning, integration and examining the links and implications of ideas. They chart territories.

‘Make theory useful’[iii], says Gilles Deleuze in conversation with Michel Foucault as they pondered a new relationship between theory and practice, and Paulo Freire advocated for a praxis of theory in action, but how? Within the structures of ‘how’, George Maciunas’ ‘Learning machines’, that appeared during the Fluxus movement where the utilization of  objects and games offered games as art and increased engagement in the history and education of ideas. Included, were the characteristics of globalism, network in the unity of art and life, intermedia, experimentation, chance, playfulness expanding to simplicity, implicativeness, exemplativism, specificity and presence in time and music, and for the sake of argument, lets say time and dynamics found in that latter relationship. They established a ‘way of doing things’.[iv]

Critical Studies has given way to various titles inclusive of the term ‘contextual’ ‘in relation to’ broader fields of enquiry. Often, interpreted as a ‘bolt on’ exegesis, justification, framework or as illustrative tool to the process of enquiry, there are ongoing issues Critical Studies and its role within art and design pedagogy. If Deleuze and Freire say it is fuel and acts in ‘relay’ to practice, then it is perhaps necessary to re-examine ‘radical pedagogical tools’ for creating lively cultures in and around Critical Studies in a time of digital platforms and the consumerism of art and arts education. Newer drives to promote the synthesis of practice and theory aim at tackling this difficulty. However, it is sometimes assumed that theory is not necessarily present in the studio and tends to be interpreted as the ‘written component’ assuming essay formats. Yet, we ask students to theorise through drawing, discussion and in crits with the question ‘why’, to enable discussion of positions, methods and processes, to make judgements and interpretations, to comprehend, know and see influential decision making derived from the meaningful engagement with their practice. And, we ask all of this with the understanding that a series of relations are present. For practice subjects, umbrella terms such as ‘practice-based’ are used as a baseline for students to examine and analyse their practice, which can lead to insightful commentary and to discovering new implications. However, ‘practice-led’ research requires greater conversation in looking at the impact of practice on using and interpreting theoretical ideas and the impact of theoretical ideas on challenging or offering insight to practice, and exemplifies Freire’s praxis.[v]

In short, the essay format whilst ‘useful’ and a common vehicle for disseminating an idea is not always useful. Over the course of teaching critical and contextual studies students are encouraged to structure their ideas according to their research, and the response for many is how? Since Fluxus we’ve had the opportunity to consider ‘Devices designed to get around, over or under the rigid linear limitations of writing…’[vi] The ‘how’ has appeared in transcripts, fictional narratives, and text pieces that play with visual structures particularly in the realm of the poetic. Poetic inferences have their own difficulties in relation to provenance and identity, and relevant forms that are part of experience where cultural capital and social environments are harder to identify. How to tackle rigid forms of writing is just as relevant now in the light of media developments and interactions, relevant to practice concerns and practice dissemination, and to developing individual and meaningful inquiry.

I’m interested in the potential of the diagram as ‘experimentation in contact with the real’[vii] to explore contextual and theoretical conversations from within practice; that inform a flexible and discursive approach to contextual studies; how diagrams can work as ‘connective tissue’. Gilles Deleuze says they ‘bridge the gap’ to what will become formed or constructed but in the same way dissolves or widens gaps, even atomises existing structures.[viii]

Diagrams traverse and gather momentum as permeation through modules to facilitate thinking through practice, strategies of practices, structures of practice, spaces of practice and so on (I realise this list is limited). Peter Eisenman summarises Gilles Deleuze’s approach to the diagram and one that positions my own understanding. Deleuze describes the concept of the diagram as ‘a machinic set of forces’ and he reflects that ‘ Deleuze says that the diagram is a supple set of relationships between forces.’ Deleuze’s approach is the relational function, not necessarily a visual archive. Those visual or signified expressions are variables of the assemblage.[ix] In this way the books exhibited present the variables and the relational factors that have shifted the notion of the diagram from structured formulations to a process and relational field, as a kind of mapping.

During my own research studies I’ve explored notions of the diagram as a mapping strategy within my own praxis, which has shifted practical implications of the diagram to drawing diagrams as an interchange between theory and practice to model conceptual trajectories as well as an interdisciplinary drawing practice. However, the implications for mapping ideas have continued to roll into explorations within radical pedagogy.

Here, I’ve included some books from my own research with ‘un peu plus’ diagrammatic and poetic writing that lead to the fragmentation of the essay format. The aim is to present methods of ‘diagrammatising’ as ways to consider diagrammatic tools for learning and writing practice that perform and activate practice.

[ix] Zdebik, 16.


  1. Jeffrey T.Schnapp, ‘Blueprint for a Blueprint’ in Instruction Manual (New York: Inventory Press, 2016) 8.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Gilles Deleuze,
  4. Ken Friedman, The Fluxus Reader, ix.
  5. Linda Keesing-Styles, ‘The Relationship between Critical Pedagogy and Assessment in Teacher Education’, Radical Pedagogy, 2003, www.radicalpedagogy.org [ 22.4.17]
  6. Lawrence Lipton, ‘A review of Blueprint for Counter Education (1970)’, ‘Instruction Manual’, Blueprint for Counter Education, (Inventory Press, p. 67.
  7. Zdebik, 12.
  8. Peter Eisenman, Written in to the Void: Selected Writings 1990 – 2004, intro. Jeffrey Kipnis (New Haven: Yale UP, 2007) 90.
  9. Ibid.
  10. Gilles Deleuze,
  11. Ken Friedman, The Fluxus Reader, ix.
  12. Linda Keesing-Styles, ‘The Relationship between Critical Pedagogy and Assessment in Teacher Education’, Radical Pedagogy, 2003, www.radicalpedagogy.org [ 22.4.17]
  13. Lawrence Lipton, ‘A review of Blueprint for Counter Education (1970)’, ‘Instruction Manual’, Blueprint for Counter Education, (Inventory Press, p. 67.
  14. Zdebik, 12.
  15. Peter Eisenman, Written in to the Void: Selected Writings 1990 – 2004, intro. Jeffrey Kipnis (New Haven: Yale UP, 2007) 90.
  16. Zdebik, 16.


past exhibitions