Why does the potential for transformation induce feelings of anxiety in the creative mind, and how can art practice help to process these emotions? This is the question at the heart of the curatorial project, Anxiety of Interdisciplinarity, by Sarah Strachan and Ayeshah Zolghdar. The initial project, which was part of the IMPACT12 International Printmaking Conference in September 2022, was installed at The Island Venue in Bristol. It presented a kind of liminal landscape of interdisciplinary media in art production. The project explored both sites of interconnection and of irreconcilable gaps through a diverse range of media. Strachan and Zolghdar both work between multiple disciplines in their own practice, so this was common, but shifting, ground for the two.
In its second iteration, currently at Art at the ARB on the University of Cambridge campus, Strachan and Zolghadr move deeper into this question to explore the ‘eustress,’ or the joyful excitement that comes from positive stress. These are the responses to stress that make us feel excited and heighten our sense of expectation, as opposed to those feelings that make us feel worried and overwhelmed. Creatives feel this excitement regularly, where the anticipation of working with new materials, beginning new research, or working in new collaborations takes over, propelling us forward with exhilaration and joy. These feelings are compelling, but alongside this eustress is the constant reality of betweenness. This duality forms an awareness of the qualities and uncertainties of transition, where thinking moves through, across, and between materiality. It is the feeling that the goalpost is always moving away from us. As creatives, we exist in this liminal space of the in-between.
But really, we all exist in this gap. Our very perceptual awareness is based in betweenness because of our relationship to an ever-receding horizon in the landscape. It is impossible to move from where we are to where we see in the distance. Yes, we may reach a place in the distance, but the horizon is still there, removed from our grasp. No matter how far we progress, we are still here, and the horizon is still there. We can never cross the betweenness that separates the two, nor can we fold that distance into proximity. We are forever separated by what lies between where we stand and what we see in the distance. This truth, for truth it must be, relates not only to our physical existence and visual perception, but also to the way we communicate as Michel Foucault describes in “The Unities of Discourse.”
In this essay, Foucault is at pains to explore the problems presented by ‘concepts of discontinuity, rupture, threshold, limit, series, and transformation’ (Foucault, 1969:21). These concepts have their corollary in the understanding of interdisciplinarity put forth by Strachan and Zolghadr for Anxiety of Interdisciplinarity, 2.0 when they say, ‘[c]ritical interdisciplinarity seeks to “intervene, disrupt, and deconstruct” and is “always transformative in some way.”’ Foucault explains that before these problems, which pertain to the indistinct limits of history, ideas, thought, or knowledge, can be rectified we must break apart a whole host of unified notions we have about how we communicate. He gives this example, among others:
Then there is the notion of influence, which provides a support…for the facts of transmission and communication; which refers to an apparently causal process…[in] the phenomena of resemblance or repetition; which links, at a distance and through time — as if through the mediation of a medium of propagation — such defined unities as individuals, oeuvres, notions, or theories. (Foucault, 1969:21, my emphasis)
Pointing out that the concept of influence has a direct, albeit removed, connection to the unified ideas we hold of the individual, oeuvres, notions, and theories through resemblance or repetition, means that the same temporal distance of an ever-receding horizon is entrenched in our thinking, making, and communications. We see the notion of influence through a recognised repetition of an individual or their work, ideas, and theories over a distance we cannot overcome; a distance that is mediated by the wide distribution of ideas, as we see in our complex and networked world. The tensions created in this simple example of the concept of influence and the problems it presents, can be felt in the interrogations made by Strachan and Zolghadr for Anxiety of Interdisciplinarity.
Explaining that we are always faced with an expanse when faced with communications, where we must reconstitute hidden meanings and invisible subtexts to reach comprehension, Foucault makes another interesting statement in his text. He writes, ‘[t]he analysis of thought is always allegorical in relation to the discourse that it employs. Its question is unfailingly: what was being said in what was said?’ (Foucault, 1969:27-8, emphasis in original). How interesting it would be if Foucault’s notion of allegory here does not mean an analogy in the sense of having symbolic equivalence or similarity, but rather, like Kaja Silverman’s sense of analogy in The Miracle of Analogy when she writes, ‘I am talking about the authorless and untranslatable similarities that structure Being…and that give everything the same ontological weight’ (Silverman, 2015:11). These latent and elusive similarities that form Being for Silverman converge with the ‘silent murmuring’ of an ‘invisible text that runs between’ intentions, the unconscious, and us, the listener, who are forever at a distance in Foucault’s discourse, giving us the possibility to answer what was being said in what was said. By such a convergence, we are provided with the means to accept that the horizon will always be out of reach. Likewise, the linguistic repetition in Foucault’s rhetorical question and Silverman’s understanding of similarities that form beyond intention hint at a constant divergence in the creation of new ideas which form the emergence of communication and of Being.
In reality, we need this gap of in-betweenness, of the ever-receding horizon, because it allows room for the divergence and emergence of new ideas to take place. There is this same kind of repetitive enquiry in the curatorial work of Strachan and Zolghadr which forms a similar emanation of ideas. Through their work they seem to ask, where are the limits of constraint in a seemingly limitless boundary, and which objects can help us find them? How does Anxiety of Interdisciplinarity answer the question of why does the potential for transformation induce feelings of anxiety in the creative mind, and how can art practice help to process these emotions? It’s best we leave that to Strachan and Zolghadr to discover.
Foucault, M., 1969. The unities of discourse. In: Archaeology of knowledge. Translated from French by A. M. Sheridan Smith, 1972. New York: Tavistock Publications Limited.
Scott, E., 2022. What is Eustress?. verywellmind [blog], 11 May. Available at: [Accessed: 14 Oct 2023].
Silverman, K., 2015. The miracle of analogy or the history of photography, part 1. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.