Lerman and Trinh new honorary doctors at the Faculty of Fine, Applied and Performing Arts
One is a choreographer and educator, the other a filmmaker and literary theorist. Both have given us groundbreaking methodologies and both base their work on human creativity. This year’s honorary doctors at the Faculty of Fine, Applied and Performing Arts at the University of Gothenburg are Liz Lerman and Trinh T. Minh-ha.
The choreographer and educator Liz Lerman has transformed the way we look at learning in creative processes. Her Critical Response Process (CRP) method of giving and getting feedback has influenced instruction in institutions of art education throughout the world. Among these is the Academy of Music and Drama at the University of Gothenburg.
“Liz Lerman’s work is based on the student, not the teacher,” says Jonas Simonson, Professor of Musical Performance at the Academy of Music and Drama. “Her method creates a safe process, free of judgement, in which the student is given honest and clear tools that lead to their development and – not least – inspire them to want to develop.”
Simonson is one of those who nominated Liz Lerman for the honorary doctorate and has, together with the Academy of Music and Drama colleagues, participated in her workshops when the successful choreographer visited the school. But it was now-retired Senior Lecturer Robert Schenck who originally introduced her method at the Academy of Music and Drama in 2013.
“I was extremely taken with CRP the first time I encountered it,” says Schenck. “At that time, there was a great need for experimenting with teaching methods that had remained the same in many artistic disciplines for hundreds of years. Instead of students being apprentices to masters, CRP is about empowerment, or ownership. The learner owns their own development.”
That means, among other things, that the student’s need for feedback guides the process and that the teacher’s opinions are converted into neutral questions.
Jonas Simonson explains that learning can often benefit a great deal if the teacher takes a step back and is willing to rely on more than just their own opinions or thoughts. “We need to tone down our ego and instead listen to the students, get to know them, create a secure environment for them, and find out what each of them is looking for feedback on,” he says.
CRP also establishes a language that makes it possible to converse, understand and analyse learning and creative processes in a way that is concrete and constructive.
Liz Lerman has done work all over the world. Today she is a researcher and teacher in CRP at Arizona State University in the American Southwest. And that is where we found her when we called to ask what it means to her to become an honorary doctor at the University of Gothenburg.
“Oh! It makes me extremely proud and happy,” she said, laughing. “I take it as evidence that my method and all the meetings we’ve had in my workshops have meant something to other people. And that’s the most important thing of all. It’s also fun that CRP is being recognized. This kind of knowledge is sometimes dismissed as soft knowledge, even though it’s demanding, difficult and important work that can create big changes. As a dancer, you practice your steps, but it’s never about the steps. It’s the same thing with CRP. You practice the method, but it’s not about the method; it’s about the values and principles behind it.”
Lerman is currently working on a new book about CRP that is aimed at religious groups, for example, and the criminal justice system. She believes that the method is applicable in most fields.
And that has been Jonas Simonson’s experience. “I hope that our new honorary doctor can contribute to opening eyes in more departments, and throughout the university, to this enormously powerful and dynamic model of teaching and giving feedback,” he says.
The University of California, Berkeley lies in the western USA. It is there the filmmaker and literary theorist Trinh T. Minh-ha, who is he Faculty of Fine, Applied and Performing Arts’ other honorary doctor of 2021, does her research and teaching.
“I feel very honoured. I have lectured and held seminars at HDK-Valand on several occasions and enjoyed it very much. Above all, I like that the school allows art and science to interact and fertilize each other. That is unusual.”
The interaction between art and science is also a consistent feature of Professor Trinh’s work. She is a professor in the Rhetoric and Gender and Women’s Studies Departments and is active as a filmmaker, writer and music composer.
“Some believe that art is about intuition, while science is based on research, and that the two are therefore irreconcilable,” she says. “I say it’s the opposite: they work very well together. With fluid boundaries between art and research, we can discover new research questions and perspectives.”
A recurring theme in Trinh’s work is her exploration of the power relationship between the observer and the observed. Her scientific and artistic research are both based on transdisciplinary, transcultural and transnational perspectives. In the meeting between different disciplines, politics and ethics form a recurring union in Trinh’s work.
“That’s something she has in common with the courses at HDK-Valand, many of which deal with precisely this relationship between politics and ethics,” says Jyoti Mistry, a professor of film at HDK-Valand and one of those who nominated Trinh for the honorary doctorate. Professor Mistry believes that Trinh’s work, both as a filmmaker and a theorist, has made a profound impression on the teaching and the learning environment at HDK-Valand and continues to do so. She goes on to explain how politics and ethics come together in Professor Trinh’s work: “She is deeply involved in colonial history and poses ethical questions about how we can represent that part of our history and its power relationships.
Trinh is experimental as a filmmaker and a seeker of innovation. She is continually challenging the conventional language of film and the divisions between different film genres.
Trinh T. Minh-ha’s advice to film students is to base their work on what is unique in their own conditions. “Don’t let yourself be inhibited by technology, money and all the other conditions of your life,” she says. “Let them form a framework for your filmmaking. Work where you are and with an awareness of what you have. It’s not the subject of your film that’s important, but how you approach the subject as a filmmaker.”
The Faculty of Fine, Applied and Performing Arts is to confer its honorary doctorates for 2021 in the autumn of 2022.
Text: By Åsa Rehnström