The Course ends – how to look again?
Amar Kanwar’s IHME 2022 Commission, the online course Learning from Doubt, has ended. The ten-week course has seen a wide range of content, reflecting on many topical themes such as crime and the relationship between humans and nature. Kanwar’s body of work and especially his exhibition The Sovereign Forest have served as a framework for Learning from Doubt, but perspectives and starting points have been expanded through news, interviews and academic articles as well as joint meetings between the artist and course participants.
The last week of Learning from Doubt consisted of both remote and face-to-face meetings with Kanwar. Sherna Dastur, who has been involved in making The Sovereign Forest exhibition and Learning from Doubt’s course page, also attended the remote meeting. Dastur is a filmmaker and graphic designer who has worked with Kanwar many times before. She has been responsible for The Sovereign Forest’s books presented in Week 4 as well as design work in general. In addition to the meetings, three of Kanwar’s films were shown for the first time in Finland at Bio Rex in Lasipalatsi. Two of the films screened, The Face (2004) and A Season Outside (1997), were seen already as a part of the course.
The third piece seen in the screening, Such A Morning (2017), is a one-and-a-half-hour film. Formally, the film approaches a visual essay: it’s slow and its images are beautiful but also well charged – not least because of its beauty. There is no speech in the film, but in addition to visual narration, it tells its story in written form, through poems and letters.
Looking, thinking, learning
In Such A Morning, a respected professor of mathematics retires from the ordinary way of life. He moves into an abandoned train car without telling the reason for his departure. He shuts the light out of the wagon, blinds and hallucinates, while at the same time writing letters to his students and colleagues in his Almanac of Darkness, explaining his views on learning and how to reconsider learning – and seeing.
The film is directly connected to the themes of Learning from Doubt. The ways of learning, as well as the knowledge we take as given without being critical, are at the heart of both Such A Morning and the course. The nature of knowledge and the foundations of our beliefs, as Kanwar has emphasized, are something whose re-evaluation is of the utmost importance. But it is also mandatory if we want to understand the innumerable effects of a crime against nature, for example.
Kanwar has stated that The Sovereign Forest has overlapping identities. This means both its thematic dimensions, which extend in many directions, but also – and perhaps above all – the fact that the work is aware that it is constantly moving between the private and the universal. Just as values, laws, and beliefs change, The Sovereign Forest as a work is open to change. Learning from Doubt will have an impact on The Sovereign Forest, including through showing of participant’s works and, possibly, through a new actualization of Learning from Doubt.
After the first week of Learning from Doubt, I asked what the course might be. Now, ten weeks later, I notice that the work avoids definiteness, at least from the point of view that it continues – in both the actions and thinking of the participants and Kanwar. The first week of the course was about tuning in to thinking, but the same could be said about the whole ten weeks, and about Kanwar’s way of working at all. This is what the work is about: we must constantly strive to look, and thereby understand, in new ways. This, I would argue, is possible through learning from doubt.