talking about practice

Two related conversations about practice-as-research coming up at Plymouth University:

  1. Performance. Presence. Experience – Practice as Research Symposium. Opportunity for practice-as-research postgraduate students to participate  (5 February 2016):
  2. Talking about Practice. “an invitation to communities of researchers who are interested in questioning, critiquing and shifting terrains of knowledge”. 6 and 7 February 2016.

I’m looking forward to contributing to the Talking about Practice event. Others speaking include: Dani Abulhawa (Sheffield Hallam), Stuart Andrews (University of Surrey), Anna Fenemore (Leeds University), Rachel Hann (University of Surrey), Victor Ladron de Guevara, Ruth Way, Russell Frampton, Jane Grant, John Matthias, Bob Whalley (all Plymouth University).



Here’s a kind of review of some of the key aspects of practice-as-research. They are written off the top of my head so in time I’ll consider what might be missing (or need deleting)

  • emergence: the research emerges from the activity and actions of practice.
  • modes of practice: practice can take many forms, modes and ways (it isn’t necessarily studio-based). But, any kind of practice (including writing, or simply thinking) involves degrees of corporeality.
  • iteration: the process involves cycles of doing/practice, reflection, enquiry. Questioning and building on the substantiality, materiality and ‘traces’ of your work (remember, forget, alter, transition)
  • relational: in the work we identify different relationships with other ideas, people, practices, scholarship and artistic work. The work we do is always in relation to others, and the terms of those relationships are part of how you understand the value of what we do. This might also be thought of how you frame or position your work in relation to others, and how their work influences or infects/affects your practice/thinking
  • practice-theory: how might this not be a binary? Where can practice-theory occur and what are the limits, surprises, assumptions and possibilities of these terms? How can practice-as-research contribute to and test the temptation to isolate or simplify the conditions under which these terms are understood, articulated and worked?
  • inquisitive: questioning and challenging ourselves, our peers, our contemporaries, our histories, our assumptions
  • writing: open approach to writing (in many forms, including scholarly thinking/discourse), and how writing is another form of practice and is interdependent with physical practice
  • adaptation: openness to change (adaptation) and recognising what is ‘in front’ of you
  • ways of knowing: the epistemological terrain of practice-as-research has more to do with understandings than findings. What might we understand differently as as consequence of ongoing practice, and how might these understandings feed back into (and build) the development of practices, ideas, and the edges of performance?
  • remembering: what are the ways we might remember/document/archive and make available our practices to the world at large (or at small), and which ways are most appropriate to the work we are doing? What are the limits and possibilities of modes of documentation, and how do we give others access to our work?
  • attention: on what emerges from practice, and recognising what is important or significant. It is somewhere between relaxation and desperation


A definition

About three years ago I attempted to write a definition of practice-as-research. Here it is below. In future posts I’ll attempt to critique it a bit. 

Practice as research is a hybrid research method that artists (who are often — but not necessarily — working in Universities) use to develop understanding of the role and significance of their artistic practices. It places artistic work at the centre of research, during which artists examine their practice in relation to the work of other practitioners and philosophical and critical thinking. This balance — between deep internal reflection and engaging ‘outwardly’ with the world as artists and humans — is vital. Practice as research generates projects that challenge our assumptions about the nature of artistic processes and work. Its outcomes are often multi-modal including moving and still images, web-based formats, and alternative forms of writing.

Image of Ellie Sikorski and Jenny Hill by Eulanda Shead (2011)