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

And further

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.

Annette Arlander reading about holding hands with Juniper.
Participatory research disco!
Sometimes it is just a joy to experience unexpected encounters: Tanja Becher graduated from HKU MA Scenography last year, and I remember reading her MA thesis with fascination and great pleasure. Tanja is living and studying in Helsinki now, while still maintaining connections to the work we are doing at HKU.

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:

The Common Ground Model.

“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?

 

The interconnected elements of Crafting Methods. 

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. 

From 1-3 November I attended the conference The Protean Musician: the musician in future society in Oslo, a joint initiative of the four research centres of the Norwegian Academy of Music (NMH):

  • The Arne Nordheim Centre for Artistic Research in Music (NordART)
  • The Centre for Research in Music and Health (CREMAH)
  • The Centre for Educational Research in Music (CERM)
  • The Centre of Excellence in Music Performance Education (CEMPE)

Were the ICON seminar in October aimed at the questions how we as artists and educators are relating in and to society, did the ”protean conference” focus on the institutions, education and students, the upcoming music professionals in the society of the future. This provided me with a new perspective for my own work on the subject of artists in the society of the 21st Century. Tradition and hierarchy were some of the most intensely discussed aspects of contemporary teaching. For this post, I chose just to write about four of the many presentations: the opening by Darla Crispin, the two keynote lectures of Geir Johanssen and Dawn Bennett, and a brief closure about my own presentation. Besides these examples, there were numerous other inspiring contributions from a large variety of backgrounds, including heartwarming projects such as Cheryl Dileo’s work with musicians and music therapists, working together to enhance quality of life in homeless persons in Philadelphia.

Oslo Harbour

Opening by Darla Crispin

In the opening session, Darla Crispin, Head of the Arne Nordheim Centre for Artistic Research in Music, gave a warm welcome to the community of practitioners, students, educators, music therapists, artistic researchers, musicologists and leaders, starting off three days of intensive exchange and discussion. It became immediately clear that participants from a great diversity of disciplines were brought together in this conference through the common theme of the musician in future society, and that this subject is of enormous importance in all of these disciplines.

Darla Crispin.

Crispin introduced the conference theme via the route of Greek mythology and the sea-god Proteus. He could foretell the future, but would change his shape to avoid having to. This attribute of being a shape-changer led to key features of the protean, such as being versatile, flexible and adaptable to change. What Darla offered as being particularly useful for us as musicians and educators in this moment of history, is that the protean also means thinking ahead of the changes, and that we are not here to stand aside: ”We are willing to risk, to participate.” She closed her introductory speech by referring back to its beginning and the interdisciplinary community of the conference: We are aiming “to be better through a shared understanding – the world needs it.”

Geir Johanssen on the conservatoire and the society

In the first keynote, professor of music education Geir Johanssen mapped the terrain of the conference theme by elaborating on the conservatoire and the society. In his keynote speech, Johannsen made four main arguments. He suggested that

  1. conservatoires contribute in shaping society,
  2. solely focusing on “delivery” what is “ordered” limits our self-understanding,
  3. conservatoires should separate between their social intentions and functions,
  4. conservatoires should separate between their social assignment, contributions and responsibility.

Especially the notion of “‘delivering’ what is ‘ordered'” was striking, as it is in a constant tension with what the richness of our self-understanding might be. Johanssen suggests that “a conservatoire is not about results in the next quarter; it is not even about who a student has become by graduation. It is about learning that molds a lifetime, learning that transmits the heritage of millennia, learning that shapes the future.”

Geir Johanssen.

Instead of focussing on the question what the ”market” asks, conservatoires should rather have “a moral obligation to critically inspect and constructively contribute to changing society, even if it may be at odds with prevailing, political priorities.” A striking thought here was the turning around of concepts about who is the ”customer” of us as institutes: Rather than providing the students with ”what they need” during their studies, we might also consider asking if we as institutes (want to) offer society students who are agents of change. Johanssen mentioned, very powerfully, the values of depth of slow processes, and the values of the non-measurable; thus questioning parts of our implicitly-agreed-upon ideal of efficiency.

Rather than providing the students with ”what they need” during their studies, we might also consider asking if we as institutes offer society students who are agents of change.

Another term that Johanssen discussed was employability as one of the key objectives within education nowadays. He enriched this fairly straightforward concept with the idea that employability suggests to be employed not only by an employer, but also by a society. This carried the discussion about employability to an entirely different level and made it useful especially in the context of the musician in society.

Johanssen closed his keynote with a few remarks on “hidden curricula” in conservatoires. With this, he referred to, a.o., the question if the master-apprenticeship model is actually the only valid model for teaching and learning an instrument, a crucial question within our education. And: “To what degree are our notions of the labour market different to how it actually is ‘out there’?

A few more questions stayed with me while thinking and reflecting on this inspiring keynote speech: How do we bring up our students through hidden curricula, concerning world view, vision on (contributing to) society and hierarchies? By teaching according to the master-apprenticeship model, a teacher embodies and enacts a particular world view, just as another teacher does by joining a student group in an improvisation lesson as an equally contributing musical voice. How does our very own teaching not only facilitate learning about music, but also reflect a world view and a view on our society?

Dawn Bennett about the Protean Musician

The Australian professor of Higher Education Dawn Bennett took a closer look at the concept of the protean musician itself, and the consequences of this for us as educators and institutions. She called for institutions to engage in collaboration much more, as they often share not exactly the same, but nevertheless similar issues.

Dawn Bennett.

Bennett argued for an education of “whole musicians” rather than educating violinists, conductors and composers. This led to a term that remained to be discussed during the conference: The portfolio musician. Portfolio is a term coming from the business world, but has been used within arts contexts since recently. The term describes practitioners who have already established a career – mostly according to traditional role models and pathways, think about classical soloists or concert masters — and built capital around them, and then choose to do something different: To build a portfolio of the work and professional identity, which is balanced around their own wishes and needs. It is a voluntary move, a reaction, something which one decides to go for. According to Bennett this is something musicians actually rarely do. Most of musicians’ activities are reactions, rather than being proactive. Bennett characterizes the type of musicians that students usually bring with them as: “The mythical musician” – a type that is usually far away from being protean.

That brought the discussion to an important point concerning education: Rather than being promoted as innovative and belonging to the 21st Century developments of the professional life as musicians, it is important to communicate to students that being protean in itself is not a new thing at all! As early as in the 14th Century, musicians were working in very diverse contexts, such as playing on the street, at court, at weddings and parties – just as later during the 18th Century, and not particularly different from musicians today. Being protean is about going out into the world — just as Brahms, Händel and Mozart did. Not to forget ”the protean virtuosi” such as Liszt, for example: they ran ”amazing businesses”! These musicians knew how to build new markets, first and foremost by traveling.

It is an essential task for us as educators to communicate to our students that the protean is what musicians – and artists in general – have always been doing, and that this all seems new, but in the practice of musicians and artists, this is not new to us at all. This lead Bennett to ask the question:

How do we portray ”succes” in music?

The term Dawn Bennett offered, and which returned on a number of occasions during the conference (including Geir Johanssen’s contribution mentioned above), was Employability, or rather EmployABILITY: ”The ability to find, create and sustain meaningful work across the career lifespan.”

And this sparked an inspiring thought about making and sustaining meaningful work. In conservatoires, still many young classical students enter with the aim of becoming soloists or concert masters in orchestras, only to be disillusioned during the time of and after their studies. However, when the amount of classical soloists is one in a million, it is not the point that as a student one can hardly be that one who makes it as a soloist. The question is, what are the other 999.999 doing? This is what our students (and their main subject teachers) need to learn, understand and embody: Most of them are doing great work!

Concluding, Bennett made a few suggestions and final thoughts about how to work with these ideas in our practice of educating professional musicians. Despite that haven’t covered all of these in my text, they are are all powerful and useful to develop further in the future:

  • Help students learn how to think and reflect
  • Teach the practice of the musician
  • Educate the whole person / the whole musician
  • Create strong networks
  • Ban the words job, employment and employer
  • Redefine employability development as lifelong
  • Engage alumni
  • Place ’Create your Future’ at the centre of the curriculum
  • Make it compulsory

One size fits all?

In my own lecture I presented a concept on which I am working for some time now: Artistic research as integrative practice. The main argument for the lecture in Oslo is that, despite research being a fairly commonplace part of conservatoire education nowadays, still it is often undertaken as separate from the students’ core activities of practicing, performing and composing. Nevertheless, I am convinced that a heightened amount of integration of research in the artistic study would likely equip students much better for their professional future, with its manifold variations of practice that asks for a constant process of critical reflection and experiment. Artistic research as integrative practice is a concept that offers a close connection between research and musicianship.

The essential shift made by viewing artistic research as integrated practice is that the otherwise often scattered activities of hybrid contemporary musicians – performing, composing, teaching, writing, making websites, etc. – become conceptualized as elements of one integrated professional identity as artistic researcher. Research itself might be seen as a ”hub” of all these diverse activities, which is functioning through an investigative attitude and habit. As such, this not particularly new, but it reflects and frames advanced practice of researchers already working in such ways, and positions research as a combining framework rather than something external.

ARIP Hub

Concerning education, I linked what I understand as elements of an ”investigative attitude and habit” to the 21st Century Skills. Without proclaiming that this list is exhaustive or even already underpinned by sufficient research, it is strikingly obvious how the different items on the list differ from traditional elements of conservatoire education and the traditional master-apprenticeship model, specifically in classical departments. I will continue to develop and specify this in the coming months.

21st C Skills.jpg

On August 31st, the core team of the Professorship Performative Processes presented a collaborative lecture at the 5th Colloqium on Artistic Research in Performing Arts (CARPA), at the University of the Arts Helsinki, entitled Perilous Experience – Extending Experience through Artistic Research.

True to its title, the conference included a large variety of papers, presentations and workshops that were exploring ”borders”: from the speculative via voice hearing to the paranormal. We were particularly impressed by two keynote speeches on the first two days: Etzel Cardeña presented From Monkey-mind to Embodied Performance Presence (see here for Cardeña’s abstract and bio and here for the registration of his keynote), and Lisa Blackman elaborated on Speculative Science, Threshold Experiences and Transubjectivities (see here for her abstract and bio and here for the registration of her presentation).

The beautiful entrance hall of the University of the Arts in Helsinki.
The beautiful entrance hall of the University of the Arts in Helsinki.

Readers who follow the work of the professorship, or this site, will know the project If You Are Not There Where Are You? (IYANTWAY) already: science and art were connected to make absence seizures (a light form of epilepsy) experienceable. As artists and researchers we worked with a group of children and youths from a performative and co-creative perspective, in which knowledge has not only been described, but generated through artistic utterance: artist and artwork are not only objects of research but its main actors. Artists worked alone and in pairs with the participants, in a creation process that transformed from collaboration into sheer co-creation.

From right to left: Marieke Nooren, Falk Hübner & the Unicorn.
From right to left: Marieke Nooren, Falk Hübner & the Unicorn.

Children who suffer from absence seizures have little ways of sharing their experiences. Language does not suffice to explain the often fearful multi-sensory hallucinations, and the moments of ‘not being there’. Neurologists can measure brain activity to help the diagnosis, but fail to grasp the actual experience of these children.

In the presentation we aimed to show how artistic research as methodology has helped us to re-create experience, to realize impact on reality, and to strengthen our conceptions of co-creative work forms. We addressed several questions this project has raised on ownership, co-creation and ethics, illustrating the perilousness of engaging with absence seizures.

Marieke Nooren introduces the IYANTWAY project.
Marieke Nooren introduces the IYANTWAY project.

We chose for a kaleidoscopic and polyphonic approach to the form of the presentation, which aimed to address not only the various aspects of the project itself, but also the different personalities, and ways of working within the team of artist-researchers.

After Marieke Nooren’s brief introduction and a film trailer, Nirav Christophe talked about co-creation and creation strategies from the perspective of the artists, after which Falk Hübner shed light on the aspects of ownership and creation on the side of the participants.

Henny Dörr elaborates on the work process from rehearsal space towards the final installation.

Henny Dörr and Joris Weijdom followed with a staged “Q&A”-like dialogue on their approaches to the creative work in their respective collaborations, in order to ”re-create the experience” of the participants. In particular they elaborated on the relation between the abstract and the concrete, which worked differently in both cases – Henny went through a process in which the material became more and more abstract, and Joris exactly the other way round, towards more concrete material.

Joris slide WP
Visualisation of the two “moves”: Henny went from concrete to abstract, whereas Joris started with abstract shapes and moved towards the concrete and physical.

In the third part, Marieke presented a number of quotes from participants and stakeholders of IYANTWAY to illustrate the impact of the project. The quotes were projected on the screen and the team was provoked to react on these quotes quickly and intuitively, recalling the mode of a quiz show.

We closed with the first step of Liz Lerman’s Critical Response Process (CRP), a form that specifically aims to facilitate qualitative feedback.

The audience space in the CARPA theatre.
The audience space in the CARPA theatre.

The presentation was paralleled (or counterpointed) with the Helsinki Hindsights, a page containing statements or provocations that resulted from our work in IYANTWAY. These statements were provided to the audience by simply laying them on the chairs.