Gathering in a room on the upper floors of the wonderful Kiasma Museum of Art in the centre of Helsinki. It is February – it is icy cold outside. A large window looks out over a public square and we have a crow’s nest view of the people and buildings below. To arrive here we walk through other larger rooms filled with contemporary art. All carefully positioned, labeled and framed within the white walls. Each work in some way unique, yet each connected; by time, by place, by the curator’s vision. Moving deeper through the building – we step through galleries closed to the public. Dismantled art works and tools spread out across the floor. Midst the process of being re-constructed and staged – the raw materials and the labour, the care of and for such work, visible. We step lightly, attentive to our intrusion, feeling the illusory break; the butterfly caught emerging from its chrysalis.1
Artistic Research (AR), like all research, seeks to expand our insights and understandings. It proposes that the creative work of the artist can be undertaken and acknowledged as a form of research, necessitating the asking questions about arts practice and its processes, as well as sharing research through artistic means. As Hazel Smith and Roger Dean note, AR arises out of the idea ‘that creative work in itself is a form of research and generates detectable research outputs’ (2009, 5). Yet, while like other modalities of research, the product of creative work contributes to the ‘answering’ of research questions, the rigorous practices of artistic researchers remain, at times, at odds with conventional knowledge formation, challenging the oft assumed coherence and ‘neatness’ of research methods.
John Law writes
Method, as we usually imagine it, is a system for offering more or less bankable guarantees. It hopes to guide us more or less quickly and securely to our destination, a destination that is taken to be knowledge about the processes at work in a single world. (Law 2004, 9)
The artistic researcher, by contrast, tends toward an acceptance of messiness, nonlinearity, multiplicity, unpredictability; resisting simple (or even not so simple) research procedures and methodological ‘hygiene’ (Law 2004, 9). AR intertwines movement and art practices with/as reflexive methods to generate, reveal, articulate the tacit knowledges that are situated and embodied in specific artworks and artistic processes.
Thinking through/as doing, unpacking assumptions about the practice through practice, artistic researchers enter into dialogues with emerging materials and creative processes, developing through rigorous yet internally derived, often non-linear, procedures. Artistic researchers might be said to pursue ‘hybrid enquiries combining creative doing with reflexive being’ (Kershaw 2011, 64), deeply informed by ‘expert practitioner knowledge’ (see Melrose 2005).2 So, whilst many approaches to research have sought to place a distance between the researcher and the researched, artistic researchers tend toward tacit approaches, wherein the researcher is very much caught up in the particularities of the/their situation and their own agency.
The diverse materials you will find here, each in different ways, consider how to work effectively with tacit knowings, attend to the vagaries of the situation and acknowledge the centrality (but not unproblematic nature) of first person, ‘expert practitioner’, research. Working from the premise that the artistic researcher in dance and performance uses aesthetic, embodied, material and language based ways of knowing, the collection sits at the interface of choreographic and somatic processes when immersed with reflective/conceptual/philosophical thinking, supporting the researcher through what are often uncharted, emergent processes that entail getting lost, being vulnerable and taking risks to develop new understandings and new practices.
Shoes off, standing in huddles in i4C4, Nottingham. An old industrial building, recently renovated by Dance4 as part of the cities urban regeneration scheme. A new home for contemporary, risking taking, dance work. The newly formed studios sit inside the Victorian brickwork. Simple and beautiful. Summer. Windows look out over a park in front, behind us is the city, and, to the side – homes of inner-city, largely working class, people. Mapping relations, shifting perspectives. Imagining, without concerns for regulatory, institutional or national frameworks, we ask: What is particular about an artistic doctorate? What might support doctoral candidates undertaking artistic research? How might a researcher be emboldened? How might we support connectivity across sectors and with publics? How might the doctoral candidate address a city, address the child playing in the park?
Kiasma, Helsinki. The room staged for meetings. A large table, a flip chart full of paper, the obligatory coffee and large cakes on the table – a Finish delight. The sound of drilling and hammering comes through the walls. Manual processes of construction that enable the gallery to bring work to a public. Bathed in the mid-morning Helsinki light – we begin (again). Proposing themes, topics, structures. Standing with marker pens in hand. Lists appear on the flip chart paper. Naming things and doings, processes and experiences, particularities and generalities – listings of the stuff, the concepts, the practices of undertaking an artistic doctorate.
Within this wider frame of AR, our purpose with this resource is to fill a gap in the resources for doctoral candidates, addressing the limited materials available to researchers who are perhaps stuck, entering a process (perhaps for the first time), wanting inspiration, help or reassurances. We are seeking to fill the gap between all those generic ‘Introduction to research methods’ books, and the numerous ‘How to complete a PhD’ type texts – which hardly ever attend substantively to AR and which are generally written in dry, off-putting, ‘cleansed’ ways. We seek too, to avoid case study approaches, that illustrate neatly completed artistic doctorates, and step away from the oft revisited forays into the ontological and epistemological discourses of AR. These are vastly useful texts – but say little about the real ‘doings’ of AR within the doctorate.3
We have sought to find something in-between; something that reflects both the particularities and peculiarities of Artistic Doctoral research, while addressing key recurring approaches and concerns in AR. To achieve this aim we asked authors to consider how their contributions might have scope beyond any individual project and/or PhD, to instead reveal a broader outlook by providing resources for others; offering handrails, ideas, perspectives for those undertaking an artistic doctorate in the performing arts or wondering if that would be a good thing to do.
In response authors have shared creative-corporeal-material-critical approaches to AR, offering discursive and poetic writings, prompts, hands-on and workshop style tasks, games, scores and the like. In turn, we in invite you to engage with these diverse contributions by activating the materials – such that reading and doing blur through in motion, lived and experiential explorations. We hope this collection will enable you to act (make real, take action, to make a difference) through the ways the material resonates through you in your embodied experiments and active questioning.
Eating pizza. Weld dance space, Stockholm. Twelve or maybe sixteen artists, researchers, producers gather around a long wooden table. Our conversation is animated. The light is fading, visible through the glass doorway. The end of a long day. What’s in it for the Art? Asks Anna. Who gets to choose? Asks a woman I don’t know. Who is and who is not present in our field? Asks Paula. Tussling. Probing.
Sitting in four locations – Northampton, Nottingham, Stockholm and Berlin. Linked through the marvels of skype. Me, Jane, Becky and Paula. Yet again we discuss the difficulties of the task we have set ourselves and the contributors. The virtual connection stutters, words drop out and half sentences come through. We are (always) lost for time. As we discuss the centrality of being present, of somatic awareness, of language, the irony of our partial and hurried communication isn’t lost on us, but goes un-mentioned. The practicalities overriding the experience. A common tussle. Breathe.
Situated, in process and in relation, the collection deliberately seeks to avoid too much neatening up of the edges, to instead share the difficulties and the labour, the states of unknowing and well as the knowing’s that are at play in undertaking artistic research, and particularly a doctorate. And, whilst all doctorates are by their nature bespoke and to a certain extent unique, there are recurrent processes and common concerns. It is these recurrent topics that are used to draw the collection together. As such the structure and form of the collection, as much as the individual contents, is intended to speak – if only implicitly to ways of approaching AR:
- Somatics, Embodiment and Subjectivity
- Making and the Choreographic
- Theorising, Processes and Reflection
- Writing and Languaging
- Documentation, Expositionality and Publics
- Ethics and (Institutional) Critique
You can search the collection by these topics. Many contributions sit betwixt and between these topics and as such items reappear – making connectivities visible, rather than trying to reduce things into a single categorisation. You can also engage with the collection by type (essay, score, artefact, video etc.) – such that you can decide whether and when you might read, watch or do – or – if in that moment you are looking for insights into meta-processes and critically reflective questioning, or might be better supported by micro-activities and scores. And, perhaps, as dance artist Deborah Hay might say, if you can trust your body to be your teacher, to take what you need or you think you need, perhaps then, the butterfly might take flight.
- This reference speaks back to a chapter entitled ‘The butterfly unpinned’, by Christopher Bannerman (2006) in which he considers the role of intuition in the creative process while asking questions about accepted paradigms of understanding in Higher Education.
- Performance studies researcher Susan Melrose has long argued for an understanding of what she has coined ‘expert practitioner knowledge’ and ‘expert-intuitive practices’. See online at www.sfmelrose.org.uk/papers-on-line.
- A few indicative references to books of these types are
Generic research methods and PhD studies:
- Denzin, Norman K., and Yvonna S. Lincoln. 2018. The Sage Handbook of Qualitative Research (5th Edition). Los Angeles and London: Sage.
- Phillips, Estelle, and Derek S. Pugh. 2015. How To Get A Phd: A Handbook For Students And Their Supervisors. Berkshire: Open University Press.
- Savin-Badin, Maggi, and Claire Howell Major. 2012. Qualitative Research: The essential guide to theory and practice. London and New York: Routledge.
- Wisker, Gina. 2007. Postgraduate Research Handbook: Succeed with your MA, MPhil, EdD and PhD (Palgrave Research Skills). Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
- Arlander, Annette, Bruce Barton, M. Dreyer-Lude, and Ben Spatz, eds. 2018. Performance as Research: Knowledge, Methods, Impact. London and New York: Routledge.
- Barrett, Estelle, and Barbara Bolt, eds. 2010. Practice as Research: Approaches to Creative Arts Enquiry. London and New York: I. B. Tauris.
- Biggs, Michael and Henrik Karlsson, eds. The Routledge Companion to Research in the Arts. London: Routledge.
- Borgdorff, Henk. 2012. The Conflict of the Faculties: Perspectives on Artistic Research and Academia. Lieden, Netherlands: Leiden University Press.
- Freeman, John. 2010. Blood, Sweat and Theory: Research Through Practice in Performance. Faringdon, Oxfordshire: Libri.
- Hannula, Mika, Juha Suoranta and Tere Vaden. 2005. Artistic Research: theories, methods and Practices. Gotesborgs Universitet and Academy of Fine Arts, Helsinki.
Bannerman, Christopher, Joshua Sofaer, and Jane Watts. 2006. Navigating the unknown: the creative process in contemporary performing arts. Middlesex University Press / ResCen Publications: Hendon, London.
Kershaw, Baz, and Helen Nicholson, eds. 2011. Research Methods in Theatre and Performance. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.
Law, John. 2004. After Method: Mess in Social Science Research. London and New York: Routledge.
Melrose, Susan. 2005. “…just intuitive…”. Keynote address presented at Impossibility of Representation? Practice, performance and media workshop organised by the AHRB Research Centre for Cross-cultural Music and Dance Performance on the 23 April. Accessed February 2, 2018. www.sfmelrose.org.uk/papers-on-line.
Smith, Hazel, and Roger T. Dean, eds. 2009. Practice-led Research, Research-led Practice in the Creative Arts. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.
Vida L Midgelow
Vida L Midgelow is Professor in Dance and Choreographic Practices based at Middlesex University where she leads the doctoral provision for the Faculty of Arts and Creative Industries. As an artist scholar she works on PaR methodologies, improvisation and articulation processes and has published widely in these areas. Her practice includes somatically informed improvisational works, performative lectures and installation/experiential performance practices/video works. She is editor of the Oxford Handbook of Improvisation in Dance and is principal researcher for the Artistic Doctorates in Europe project www.artisticdoctorates.com (EU funded). Selected public works include: Skript (NottDance Festival), Scratch (In Dialogue, Nottingham Contemporary), Some Fleshy Thinking (OUP), Creative Articulation Process (CAP) (Choreographic Practices) and Practice-as-Research (Bloombury). With Prof Jane Bacon, Midgelow co-edits the hybrid peer reviewed journal, Choreographic Practices and co-directs the Choreographic Lab www.choreographiclab.co.uk and is currently an associate research artist at i4C4/ Dance4.