CULTIVATING ARTS AND MINDS
Between the Lines
Between the Lines
by Helen Sword
"Inside the Asterisk" orginated as a series of open-ended discussions and arts-based experiments involving a revolving group of CASTaways: twelve people in all, although only a few of us managed to make it to all four of the two-hour meetings that we organised across a period spanning seven months.
At our first meeting, we tested out the double-barrelled moniker that had already been registered as our website's domain name: artist-academic. Almost immediately, the hyphen between artist and academic drew conversational blood, like a splinter. "It looks like a minus sign," one person remarked. Another noted that the hyphen subordinates the word artist to academic, so that the former becomes a descriptor rather than an equal partner: "What kind of academic are you? An artist-academic, or some other kind of academic?"
To equalize the relationship, we tried replacing the hyphen with a plus sign -- artist+academic -- and then, in a moment of giddy inspiration, floated in an asterisk instead. Kaboom! The explosive energies of artist and academic get multiplied many times over when that spiky star stirs up the space between them.
In scholarship, an asterisk -- the name comes from the Greek word asteriskos, "little star" -- indicates a reference located elsewhere, which in the margins of the same page or somewhere far away. In a censored document, it denotes letters or words that have been deleted and hence remain unspoken, unread. In computer programming, the asterisk is a wildcard, a symbol that can stand in for anything or everything: for example cat* instructs the program to search for any word that begins with the letters cat, from catching to catcall to catsup.
Asterisks come in many different shapes and sizes, including five-, six- or eight-pointed stars, flowers, and snowflakes. There's a balloon-spoked asterisk, a club-spoked asterisk, and even a standard Unicode character called the Heavy Eight Teardrop-Spoken Propeller Asterisk.
We opted for an asterisk that mimics the stylised octopus tattooed on our colleague Selina's hand: a richly nuanced symbol, Selina explained, of fierce intelligence and slippery feminine power. At the centre, in the body, of this asterisk✼octopus we find not a place of intersection -- a single point where all eight spokes come together -- but a hollow void, the VA.
In Samoan, Tongan, and various other Polynesian languages, va signifies a potent relational space that separates but also brings together people, places, and things.
The eight spokes of our asterisk represent the eight lines of arts-based inquiry -- spoken, written, drawn, danced, played, enacted, embodied, considered -- that we pursued in the course of this project: the Storyline, the Poetic Line, the Drawn Line, the Kinetic Line, the Musical Line, the Dramatic Line, the Sculptural Line, and the Reflective Line. Again and again, we posed the same two questions:
What is an artist✼academic?
Am I an artist✼academic?
Again and again, we groped the ways along our lines of inquiry. And again and again, we found ourselves back in the VA, the space of unknowing and discovery.
The asterisk, that risky star: it floats away, it resists being pinned down by conventional typography; when we place it between two words, it shifts upwards like a footnote; it’s the wildcard, the element of playfulness and unpredictability and transformation that makes creative inquiry so exciting, so messy, so human.