Two Ships Passing: Andy Campbell and Luis-Manuel Garcia

Art historian Andy Campbell and ethnomusicologist Luis-Manuel Garcia met for the first time over video chat. They discussed their research, their interests and their thoughts on the current state of academia.

Below is a selection taken from their recordings and organized thematically, with the skype glitches and dropped calls everyone engaged in cross-planet communication has come to know intimately. 



Luis-Manual and his project

AC: ...Is this because you were finding yourself on the dance floor often? Sometimes the things that we study are and are not related to how we express ourselves, so I’m curious to know if that was part of the genesis of your interest in the [electronic music] scene.

LMG: I certainly would describe myself to some degree as -- what do they call it now -- a “native ethnographer?”  [...] It wasn’t really until I was going through my master’s that I transitioned from doing more classic music history to this sort of ethnographic stuff. That was when I realized I could do a project on electronic music if I wanted [...] There was something really nice about realizing that I already had a whole series of expertises that I had built up in a very unsystematic way, in a very indirect way, but also in a very profound way that I could actually access and make use of, and try to formalize and make explicit.



Andy and his project

LMG: So tell me what’s your story, especially as your research project is concerned.

AC: So, I’m a pretend anthropologist. My academic disciplinary house is art history, so it’s for me about visual codings and how the visual helps to create meaning. Unlike you, though, I’m a cultural outsider to the historical communities that I’ve studied. That was predicated in some ways on the fact that when I first started I was doing a project on historical leather communities, so it was about archival appearances or disappearances of this particular community.


What it started out as was a very historical project, but what it became was about contemporary artists who mined the documents of leather history to propose contemporary alternatives to queer politics. So thinking how artists used historical antecedents to speak to the present. That seemed to be something a lot of queer artists were doing -- mining specifically what they felt were radical or anti-assimilationist histories from the past. 



Adjunct labor pools in Europe vs. the US.

AC: You were ensconsed in the academic world in the United States. Is it similar to what’s going on in Europe in academia? Is there a rise in adjunct labor pools? 


LMG: The introduction of neoliberal management logics, especially corporate management logics, into university management is very much to be seen all over the place. It’s really advanced in the UK, less so but still going in that direction in the Netherlands. You’re seeing the quantification of performance, a certain set of top down corporate management that functions well for certain disciplines – generally the physical sciences do well under that management, but the humanities never do.


AC: That’s disheartening to hear. The view from here, for me, is that it’s a sinking ship. It’s now become a moral and an ethical choice as to whether to tie yourself to those models. It’s always the activist question, which is, how do you effect change? In the face of neoliberal corporate logics, there is no burying into them and making them into something that’s worth saving.



Neoliberal liquidity and academic labor

LMG: This partially relates to some of the theory that I work with for my PhD. I was very interested in metaphors of liquidity, partially as an alternate metaphor for forms of solidarity that could work in dance floor situations. But the more potentially problematic side of that is the kind of liquidity you see Zygmunt Bauman expounding on, where the stable structures of high modern life are being liquefied through neoliberal practices. This increasing acceleration and flexibilization – liquidiation in the financial sense.

I think that’s something I’m seeing more and more in the academic sphere. What’s pernicious and perverse about it is that on the one hand, these highly flexibilized and accelerated systems are so nimble that they can capture and co-opt forms of resistance. It’s really hard to rearticulate or somehow hinder these sorts of flows, because they’re so fast they can move around you. There’s also a way in which all of this endless mobility, which becomes then a thing that you as a subject have to enjoin and have to be part of – you have to become an entrepreneur for your own career, constantly be reapplying for new positions – that kind of destabilization creates a kind of exhaustion that also precludes political action. It becomes harder and harder to organize any kind of resistance if you’re constantly scampering. 

AC: Political action, yes. And also just work. Just seeing a multi-year scholastic project through to completion becomes a detriment to living. It becomes a thing that precludes you from making rent. At least in my discipline, a lot of what I do is image based. Even when I do publish something that includes images, rarely are those images covered by publishers. So oftentimes I go into the hole producing scholarship, which becomes a liability for me. If I’m an independent contractor, or an entrepreneur as these liquid systems suggest I should be, I’m literally decreasing my ability to pay my rent. And I think that's problematic to its core.  



Luis-Manuel’s side project La Mision

AC: I’m also interested in what you’re reading, what are you watching and listening to. I’m interested in what makes up even your non-academic research list.


LMG: I’m part of a little artist collective here, La Mision, that puts out records every once in awhile. The records come with zine-style DIY magazines and we occasionally put on performance art things that are related thematically to the releases. That’s been a really nice experience.
One of the main concerns of the whole project is this music, from disco onwards, has its historical roots in the nightlife world of marginalized peoples, whether its sexually or racially marginalized. As this has grown through the rave years and into the early 2000s, audiences have shifted, things have gone more mainstream at times. It remains an open question: how much are those original actors still involved in those scenes, or has the focus shifted away? [...] There’s almost a revisionist history to be written about how electronic music, especially dance music, developed from disco onwards, paying more attention to the threads of sexuality and race, instead of the more standard music historiography of great artists and their albums. 



History as a fragmentary place and the need for more voices

AC: As you were talking about broaching history from a fragmentary place, that was something that’s been really important to me too, in my projects. It’s really important to leave history undone, in a sense. I think that allows for other people to come in and play, instead of cementing a narrative, but intimating connections or affinities. Methodologies for moving through content is so much more valuable [...] I think that, politically, it is more useful to have a history that is generative rather than a history that one has to be deferential towards.


AC: It’s funny, I’m often very cynical of people who are assured.

LMG: Yeah, I very much agree

AC: Part of that methodology for me is admitting what is not a very popular thing to admit – at the end of the day this history cannot be written in the ways we assume it can be written in. At the end of the day we cannot be completists about this. And that fantasy of being a completist is actually detrimental to calling forth other voices that are not our own. [...] I think our task as people who look at movements, places and intimacies that are not taken seriously is making room for ‘not us’ in that equation.



History writing as creative non-fiction

AC: The term that I usually default to is creative non-fiction, as a way of thinking through what it is that I write. I think for people who are working off of general, basic categories, it intimates that you’re not a fiction writer. There’s still some kind of agency in terms of structure and how you think about what you’re doing. I love Eve Sedgwick’s terms and I would use them in an academic context, but I find myself being drawn more and more to this term ‘creative non-fiction.’

AC and LMG cite works by Eve Sedgwick, Katie Stewart, Lisa Cohen, Molly Nesbit, Wayne Koestenbaum, Catherine Lord. 



Andy Campbell, Ph.D., is a Critic-In-Residence with the Core Program (Glassell/MFAH) and an independent critic, curator, and academic. His work has appeared in Artforum, Aperture, Art Lies, and Terremoto. More can be found at

Luis-Manuel Garcia is an Assistant Professor in Popular Music at the University of Groningen (Netherlands) and adjunct researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin (Germany). Currently preparing his first book manuscript, entitled, Together Somehow: Music, Affect, and Intimacy on the Dancefloor, his research focuses on urban electronic dance music scenes, with a particular focus on affect, intimacy, stranger-sociability, dance, embodiment, sexuality, creative industries, migration, and urban space.