I am finally able to pick up writing posts again, after a few months of relative digital silence. Shortly before the summer vacation came to its close, I visited Helsinki for the 6th Colloquium for Artistic Research in Performing Arts, CARPA. The title of this year’s conference was “Artistic Research Performs and Transforms: Bridging Practices, Contexts, Traditions & Futures.”
This was my third Carpa conference, after having presented our collaborative artistic research project IYANTWAY last time, in 2017, together with the team of the HKU Professorship Performative Processes. I continue to enjoy the broad spectrum of different areas within the performing arts, combined with a great wealth of presentation formats and work forms. This year, I came to Helsinki specifically in the context of my postdoctoral research on artistic research methodology, and presenting at the conference was a great opportunity to structure a lot of the material I have already gathered, and bring it into a more or less coherent argument.
Keynotes: Erin Manning, Sybille Peters and Adrian Heathfield
Erin Manning delivered the opening keynote speech, “How do we repair?” (abstract). In her talk, she elaborated on the exhibition Goat Island, We Discovered the Performance by Making it, and unpacked her own artistic process as a response to this exhibition, with fascinating materials such as written texts in notebooks made from canvas:
The second keynote by researcher and performance artist Sybille Peters had a comparable impact on me as the 2018 keynote presentation by Helen Marriage during the Reflective Conservatoire conference. Peters’ work is guided by a strong social and political motivation, by the notions of participation and collective research. Peters manages to make artistic research relevant and urgent for societal issues and she gives it a place at the forefront of the arts in society (see here for the open access publication “Performing Citizenship”).
Starting from the notion of “the right to research”, Peters elaborated on a number of participatory art-based research projects she has been involved in. Peters is artistic director of the Fundus Theater, “Theatre of Research” in Hamburg, a place of research and theatre making for and with children. Another project is the “Kaputt-Akademie” (“Academy of Desctruction”), first a project of Tate Modern London and now in Peters’ own theatre in Hamburg (see here for the Kaputt Manifesto – scroll down for video). Here, grown-ups work together with children and explore different kinds of destruction. Finally, the project “Animals of Manchester (including Humanz)” creates a huge participatory installation and performance in the public space, in which animals and humans are presented as being equal in the shared surrounding of a park in Manchester.
For ages human beings thought they were different from all other animals – they thought they were superior, they thought they were the masters, they thought only human beings had free will, they thought only human beings had language. Children always had their doubts about that, and today, finally, adults start to see, that the kids were right. We all are animals together. Imagine what Manchester, what any city, would look like if all animals in that city were equal, including humanz?(quoted from Sybille Peters’ slides)
In the third keynote Adrian Heathfield reflected on works of performance art through creative writing. Heathfield explored the different layers of writing about other people’s work, elaborating on this process of watching, interpreting and translating to another artistic medium, creating writing, through writing.
Next to the keynote lectures, Carpa6 included a huge variety of presentations and presentation formats, indoors and outdoors, some performative, some participatory: a collective lecture performance by Esa Kirkkopelto and a group of actors; an outdoor workshop by Javier R. Casado, “devoted to the exploration and discussion of different ways of performing idleness.” (quoted from abstract) Elina Saloranta carried out a performative experiment on “Letter-writing as Artistic Research.” One highlight for me was the collaborative lecture demonstration by Annette Arlander, Hanna Järvinen, Tero Nauha and Pilvi Porkola; consisting of four seemingly independent talks read out loud, including a participatory disco event. It was a fascinating way to include four relatively independent research trajectories in one presentation, which gave insight into the four projects, while also made it possible to relate them to each other – a mode that reminds me of Heiner Goebbels’ “polyphony of elements” in music theatre, now in the context of a conference presentation.
My own presentation: The Common Ground Model
In this spectrum my own presentation, admittedly, had the form of a rather traditional paper presentation. Nevertheless, I think this mode was fitting regarding what the presentation was about and what I was trying to achieve: a consistent and transparent overview of what the approach is that I am working on, and to be able to start a conversation about its structure, arguments and potential usefulness.
In the months since my last post on the methodology project Common Ground, the model has taken quite a different form: Initially I presented the four phases (collection, structure, timing and emergence) as a table, simply mentioning them and giving a short explanation what each phase entails. This representation has developed towards a form that acknowledges the interconnection between the different layers, specifically the layers of collection, structure and time (notice that “timing” has been changed to “time”, on which I will elaborate in a later post). It places emergences much more central, by giving it a place from which it can “do its work” on different elements of a research design, and presented emergence more as an underlying or overall counter-acting force, rather that a separate layer in a four-layer-system:
“Crafting Methods” is positioned in the centre of this model: This concept is inspired and influenced by Erin Manning’s 2015 article “Against Method”; it argues against framing “method” as something predefined in terms of procedure, participants/actors and outcomes and taken shape by tradition, but rather devised “from scratch”, from the very experience and reality of playing and making. And, again, I use the idea of interconnectedness, actually the metaphor of a network, to think about research methodology.
The concept of Crafting Methods contains four elements: Actors/objects, activities, data/information/knowledge, and reflection. Depending on the frame of reference, actors (from Latour and ANT) or objects (referring to Graham Harman and Object-Oriented Ontology). Essentially, this is about who/what is doing what, taking which role/function. The term actors or objects suggest a much wider framework than just the researcher (and/or artist), acknowledging both human and non-human subjects. Activities is thought from a practical and performative point of view: what are we (or any kind of objects) going to do, how are we engaging. Reflection can happen in many different forms: individual, collective, through conversation, writing, drawing, sketching, meditating, and so on. This is also an element that might be designed in itself, rather than just taken for granted in form and function. The somewhat clumsy element data, information, knowledge aims to indicate the outcome or output of a method: What is learned, what is taken further, possibly as input then, to the next method. What do we want to learn, what do we want to do, and what can we do in order to explore that?
Finally, these thoughts and visualizations result in a first careful suggestion of how “method” might be reframed: as a flexible network of actors/objects, activities, information/data/knowledge, and reflection. I would not call this framing “in-progress” but rather “pre-progress”, but I include the idea here nevertheless – it may spark some thought by others.
Obviously, there are still a number of gaps that need further elaboration and development in the coming months, and which I will try to address in future posts: the notion of time in research design; the just-mentioned concept of “crafting methods”, as being a flexible network, and as a re-framing of what a method is or can be; and a more decent framing of emergence as an essential force while designing and carrying out artistic research. Apart from the area of methodology in particular, the discussion after the presentation at Carpa opened a few interesting thoughts in the area of education, and the time we give master students for carrying out a research during their two years of study. For example, the mentioned category of time suggests an approach of taking time and giving time to activities, objects, people, spending the time it needs for developing more depth, learning, and so on – which is often the opposite of thinking in terms of tempo or efficiency. Yet, the short amount of time for research during a master programme suggests much more to think in terms of being effective while carrying out the master research. Hopefully this seeming mismatch will lead to a few more thoughts and fruitful critique on how we tend to approach research trajectories in MA programmes.