"PROBLEM WORDS"

extension or communication

An unauthentic word, one which is unable to transform reality, results when dichotomy is imposed upon its constitutive elements. When a word is deprived of its dimension of action, reflection automatically suffers as well; and the word is changed into idle chatter, into verbalism, into an alienated and alienating "blah." It becomes an empty word, one which cannot denounce the world, for denunciation is impossible without a commitment to transform, and there is no transformation without action.

On the other hand, if action is emphasized exclusively, to the detriment of reflection, the word is converted into activism. The latter—action for action's sake—negates the true praxis and makes dialogue impossible. Either dichotomy, by creating unauthentic forms of existence, creates also unauthentic forms of thought, which reinforce the original dichotomy.

Human existence cannot be Silent, nor can it be nourished by false words, but only by true words, with which men and women transform the world. To exist, humanly, is to name the world, to change it. Once named, the world in its turn reappears to the namers as a problem and requires of them a new naming. Human beings are not built in silence,3 but in word, in work, in action-reflection.

-Paolo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed 

Artist Ricky Yanas, artist Grimaldi Baez, and organizer Tania Rios host “Language Sessions” under the moniker of Extension or Communication. They describe the session model as follows ---

“In each session, groups are provided with this list of words that are often over utilized and under considered in arts, organizing and institutional spaces. We understand these words as ‘problems,’ in so far as they, while posed as efficient means of communication, have become buzzwords, codified abstractions, alienating both those employing them and those whom they aim to describe. While they appear to open up communication, they shut it down with succinct overpackaging, limiting discourse around them, and, furthermore, meaning. More importantly, these problem words conceal underlying power structures, making something like artist assisted gentrification sound like “creative place making.” At each session, we always mean to ask: Where do these words come from? Who defines them? Who deploys them?

 

After a broad discussion focusing on our “problem words”, each group is prompted to choose one from the list or one they collectively decide upon, then begin the work of pulling apart these terms and piecing them back together. Each group attempts to come to a clear definition of the word/term and consider how it is commonly used in our fields of work. The objective of this exercise is not simply to deconstruct the word, but to collectively attempt to find a more useful definition, a better way of engaging with it, or possibly a better word altogether. In this act we all bring our subjective concerns and identities to the forefront in an effort towards democratic agreement. It is in our opinion that engaging with the textured complexity of buzzwords and jargon, reflecting upon language and its agreements, slowing down the action of its use is a responsible and necessary act.”

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