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. 

As mentioned in my previous post, I have started working on the postdoctoral research project Common Ground. Practice, Philosophy and Ethics of Research at HKU since January 2019. In this post, I like to share a bit of the process during these first weeks of the project, and what the plans for the coming weeks are.

The central idea of the project is to empower students, teachers and researchers to improve doing, teaching, supervising and thinking about research.

This first phase is very much a time of “setting up”, characterized by mapping the fields and contexts in which the project inquires and operates, and what the different areas and potential opportunities and challenges within the organization will be. I work on different kinds of mappings, such as:

  • the knowledge on research methodology in the different areas of the institution;
  • the practice and education of research design in the broader field of higher education (including areas outside of the arts) in The Netherlands and its resonance with the project;
  • the actor-network of the project, both within the institution and beyond it;
  • the strategy of research itself.

Mapping activities in the design studio aka living room.

Next to the necessary exploration of the discourse and international discussion in the context of the research, I conduct interviews with the central actors of the projects: starting with the lectors (leading “associate professors” of the various research groups), I talk to the directors of the faculties involved (conservatoire, theatre, fine arts, art & economics, games & interaction, design, music & technology, media, and the master programme “crossover creativity”) and the respective research supervisors; in order to map knowledge, biographies, pedagogies and states of discussion concerning research strategy.

The first round of interviews with the professors is almost completed, and it is already possible to see what kind of image emerges from these conversations: All four professors come from quite different backgrounds and research traditions, as diverse as anthropology, action research and change management, theatre and literature sciences, information sciences and digital media. I expect that this will lead to a diversified and polyphonic image of philosophical, ethical and societal values of research at HKU – which provides the necessary foundation for an approach towards research design.

 

Design model

The conceptual core of the project is the creation of a model for designing research, which on the one hand offers a clear guideline to design research strategies, and on the other hand is flexible enough to be used in a large variety of possible research projects. The latter concerns both kinds of research, as well as different levels of research experience. To give a first introduction to the project, I like to share a schematic version of the model, obviously still in process, and briefly explore its different functions and possible applications. The development of this model departs from current theoretical and conceptual positions such as Henk Borgdorff’s notion of “methodological pluralism”, from my previous teaching experience concerning designing research, and from earlier experiments with such models in various master programmes.

The model contains four layers: Collection, Structure, Timing and Emergence. These four layers interact in a flexible, fluid and ephemeral structure of a network; they are not meant to be understood in a sequential order or hierarchy, but as four interconnected layers.

One of the first schematic in-progress iterations of the design model.

This model can act in a variety of functions: as a model to actually design research, as a framework for reflecting on a design or finished research project and for providing feedback on a research strategy. Another possibility is to use the model as a framework for supervisors with which they can ask questions to students in order to shed light on potentially underdeveloped aspects of a research design.

I will write a separate post dedicated to the details of this model in the next coming weeks. At the moment, especially the fourth layer, dealing with emergence and the yet-unknown during a research process is the most exciting area of inquiry, which promises to be a central area of exploration during this research project. It remains to be seen what will emerge!

In the last post of 2018 I wrote about a larger project I am going to do about artistic research methodology. This month it has become official that I am going to embark on a postdoctoral trajectory at HKU University of the Arts, under the flag of the lectorate Performative Processes. The title of the project is:

Common Ground. Practice, philosophy and ethics of research at HKU.

Together with a team at HKU I handed in the application for the project at the end of October, and recently it has been approved by SIA, the Dutch governmental organization for practice-based research in higher education. The application was assessed positively on all criteria, which I am very happy with: This was the first call of its kind to which the arts disciplines had access, so it means a lot on different levels that the project is assessed so well. I am starting as one of five postdoc researchers in the arts that have been approved by SIA.

This means the project runs officially in its first semester now. The initial hypothesis is that the quality of research processes, outcomes and impact can be increased considerably through a more thorough yet flexible approach to research design. The research will start by collecting and exploring various present approaches towards research, and inquire in which way these can be relevant for a more elaborated vision on methodology across the entire HKU and higher arts education in general. This does not mean to unify of all these different approaches into just one way of doing research. The point is to develop a shared approach and vision towards the design of research methodology, supported and inspired by the overall vision of HKU.

The research will be carried out in three phases:

  1. Exploration and development of the conceptual-ethical-philosophical underpinning and vision towards research and its values at HKU.
  2. Building, framing, articulating and practicing of a methodological model of four levels for research and education practice.
  3. Embedding of this approach in the research practice across HKU.

All three phases will happen by means of conversation, observation, theoretical work and – what is most essential – through practice. Practice means teaching and my own supervision practice, artistic research practice. Especially in the third phase I plan to work in design sessions with teacher-researchers and supervisors, to explore possibilities of a shared practice in diverse contexts of doing and teaching research. My own practice as artist-researcher includes taking part in three projects:

  1. In Search of Stories within the lectorate Performative Processes, in which an interdisciplinary group of artists will work with cancer patients;
  2. taking part as active researcher in the “Werkplaats Muzisch Onderzoek” lead by Peter Rombouts and Bart van Rosmalen;
  3. a collaboration with Marloeke van der Vlugt and London-based social scientist Carey Jewitt, on the experience of touch.

More information about these projects will follow soon. All activities of the project will involve the network within HKU. I will by no means work alone, but collaborate with the Centre of Expertise for Research and Innovation, the professorships and the relevant teachers and research supervisors at the various schools.

The primary relevance and impact of the project is thus situated in the way research is conducted at HKU in the context of professorships, teacher-researchers and pre-PhD research; and the programmes of HKU itself, with regard to how teachers work with students on the methodology of their research. In summary, the project will impact both the practice as well as the pedagogy of research design. This goes for the context of HKU and on the wider field, the (inter)national discourse of research methodology in the arts.

There are a number of people, both inside and outside of HKU who provide me with feedback and inspire me with all kinds of various sources, questions and ideas. These include Nirav Christophe, Bart van Rosmalen, Marjanne Paardekoper, Debbie Straver (all from HKU), philosopher and Professor of auditory culture Marcel Cobussen and Professor Emerita in learning and leadership Judi Marshall. I am very happy to work with so many highly skilled people, who surround me and the project with their great minds, inspiration and kindness.

(lector Nirav Christophe, Marcel Cobussen and Judi Marshall)

During the final months of the past season it has been relatively silent on this site. The main reason for this was a quite intensive time of supervision and reading student research work, which was followed by the final weeks of the season in June and July, in which I devoted more time to my own writing and thinking, combined with preparations for upcoming projects.

But this will change again very soon! Some exciting projects have been in the works, so there will be enough material to write about in the coming months. To start with, the focus of some of my work at HKU and ArtEZ will slightly change:

At ArtEZ IMAE (International Master Artist Educator) I have been assigned the role of “Director of Theory and Writing”. I will continue to develop the strand of text-based work within the program, very closely related to research. Of course I won’t be doing this alone, but collaborate with the beautiful team of lecturers and the core team around John Johnston, who remains one of the most inspiring programme leaders I have met to date.

Parallel to this area of research and writing, I will start with a two-year research at HKU, initiated by lector Nirav Christophe, director of the Centre of Research and Innovation Marjanne Paardekoper and myself. The project will focus on the development of the design of (artistic) research methodology, and the practice of carrying out this design. This work will be carried out on various schools and faculties of HKU and thereby have a strong interdisciplinary focus. It is intended to support the research work of the different professorships (“lectoraten”), as well as the separate schools, teachers and supervisors in their work with students, and the research strands within their programmes.

What actually thrills me most is that these two roles complement each other beautifully: Both are focused on research, with one being related to methodology and the other to writing. Producing text in a variety of ways is an essential part of nearly every research project and methodology, and a research design can implement different forms of writing. This goes for the actual research process, including the more explorative and divergent part, as well as in the convergent and final phases, and during writing up the report. I am very curious how the both projects will add up and will be able to support each other. In both institutions and roles, I will continue to work on the area and practice of ethics, in (artistic) research, practice and education.

 

New artistic collaboration: Bio Orchestra

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Arabidopsis plant (source).

Since early Spring I am working as a composer on a project called “Bio Orchestra” in collaboration with KunstLab Arnhem and Wageningen University. Initiated by plant scientist Sander van der Krol and KunstLab artistic director Tom Kortbeek, this project aims to creatively translate plant data into image, sound and performance. This will result in an installation presented in Arnhem this autumn, and a performance in spring 2019. This projects offers yet another perspective on how art and science can collaborate, and I am very enthusiast and curious about what we will come up with. Next to the artistic outcome I aim to reflect on this work through writing as well. More specific news and information on all this, including dates and locations, will come soon!

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Sander van der Krol, Tom Kortbeek and myself discussing ideas at KunstLab Arnhem.