Yesterday I spent a few hours with the postgraduate cohort at C-DaRE (Centre for Dance Research) at Coventry University. They were in the middle of a couple of days working through ideas about research methods and my job was to lead some conversations about documentation in relation to practice-as-research.
I feel quite strongly that documentation is simply not the right word to be using when we are talking about the various traces, practices, texts (etc) that make up practice-as-research projects or activities. I’ll discuss this problem or idea in a later post but for now, here’s a list of reasons why performance-making artists (in any context, not just academia) might find ways to gather the traces (detritus?) and materials of their work. It’s not exhaustive:
- to stimulate memory of the performance event (Phelan, 1993).
- pressure to develop reproducible forms
- interest in developing reproducible forms
- new audiences
- economic benefit
- professional benefit
- continue and diversify creative processes
- increase cultural authority (Lycouris, 2000)
- to foreground the disappearance of performance
- to prevent performance disappearing
- to acknowledge performance’s incompleteness (Lycouris, 2000)
- to trace, map, outline, sketch, taste, make sense of
Lycouris, S. (2000). The documentation of practice: Framing trace. Working Papers in Art and Design Vol I http://www.herts.ac.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0003/12288/WPIAAD_vol1_lycouris.pdf
Phelan, Peggy. 1993. Unmarked. London: Routledge.
In 2013 I wrote and presented a paper at Roehampton Dance called “Giving up on practice-as-research”. I thought some of the ideas might be interesting, provocative or even just plain useful. A lot of the latter part of the paper (which is where it gets a little more interesting) came out of reading Issue 14 of TEXT.
Here’s an exercept:
One of the key questions in traditional practice-as-research is what it is that is known as a consequence of doing it. But what if this is the wrong problem? In other words, if artistic research is stripped of the assumption that we ought to be addressing questions, then perhaps we are freed from the container of knowledge-building and can get back to the work of doing what it is that artists do.
“If a concept can be captured clearly in academic writing as a question, what would be the point of making art with it?” – Lachlan MacDowall
What if, in the context of artists developing and making work within the academy, we were to abandon (research) questions altogether as a flawed idea and inappropriate practice?
I find this hard to fathom or imagine. I’ve long used processes of questioning as a means not only to bolster my standing, but also as a means of delaying taking a stance on understanding. How could research be research if it didn’t involve research questions? What kinds of outcomes might be developed if they are not the result of some kind of questioning?
Writing about the art of the exegesis, Danny Butt, describes what he calls the worst situation of all as:
“interesting practices (de)formed into ‘research questions’ that the works are then supposed to answer. Duchamp did his best to dissuade such thinking, believing that ‘there is no solution, because there is no problem.’ Now the need to find problems to satisfy a demand for academic rigour seems to be the problem.” – Danny Butt
Here’s a link to the entire paper: Giving Up on PaR
I’m interested in the Journal for Artistic Research (edited by Michael Schwab out of Amsterdam, and first published in 2011) for a number of reasons but mostly because the materials in it are bound by methodological principles, and not by discipline. This offers rich potential for surprising exchanges, and points of meeting and departure.
Just in case you aren’t familiar with the Journal, here’s the link:
artistic research is doubly defined: insofar as it is research, it enhances knowledge and understanding; because it is artistic, however, the mode of presentation is essential. This definition excludes works of art that share modes of presentation with artistic research, but do not enhance understanding. It also excludes research that is not dependant on an artistic mode of presentation.
I have my doubts about this definition: who decides what an artistic mode of presentation is? When is understanding not enhanced (and again, who decides?)?
But I like the ethos of the journal that implies that the way research is presented is essential to how it is understood, and I really like the “for” in the title: it suggests that the journal’s function is to serve artistic research.
The purpose of reading the literatures is to ascertain what is known about a particular topic. We read to see the categories that are used by others to sort, sift, foreground and background the field. We look to see what previous work has been mobilized and what has been ignored. We evaluate the methods used to generate the data and the argument; we might ask, for example, who are the research participants – how many, when, where and how were they involved? We also look to see what view of knowledge underpins each text. Taken together, these and similar questions allow us to compare and contrast, and to develop a view of the ‘clumps’ of literatures which share common characteristics or approaches.
– Pat Thomson, http://patthomson.net/2015/08/21/working-with-literatures-phdknowhow/
In practice-as-research the same goes for placing one’s creative work within an appropriate field (or fields) of practice. The literature review is instead a field review which in itself might include various forms of practice: writing, text, installation, film, performance, etc.
What is clear is that many more PhDs are being undertaken through practice, and many of these students are being supervised by academics who undertook their own doctoral studies through practice. The landscape is slowly shifting as confidence in the value of practice as a means to generate knowledge grows.
Lee Miller reports back on the Talking about Practice Symposium at Plymouth University in February 2016.
I was given a little book called La Danza Del Futuro by Jaime Conde-Salazar and in it he writes:
The dance of the future has to do with the idea of the ‘project’, i.e. a research that is conducted throughout time and that assumes the typical uncertainty of any process of knowledge production. it is built as a net of entangled events, questions, experiences and contexts that form a kind of living organism that is constantly transforming. This is why it increasingly refers to and feeds off the specific circumstances in which it takes place and the ways in which life and the work crystallize in a specific time throughout a given time. In this way, dance expands its limits beyond the typical performance settings, beyond the authorized work contexts, and beyond the spaces that the bourgeois capitalist cultures have assigned to art and culture.
This blog isn’t about dance per se, but if you were to trade the word dance with whatever it is that is at the heart of your practice (theatre, dramaturgy, reading, whatever) then Jaime’s thinking (inadvertently) does a pretty good job of describing the possibilities and limitations of practice-as-research.
Other related reading that is possibily related, both by Bojana Kunst: