I want to introduce you to a form of somatic practice for artistic research (AR)/practice as research (PaR)/practice research (PR) that invites you to notice, attend to and articulate your your present moment experiences (this encompasses all manner of experiences such as doings, thinkings, makings, performings, etc). According to Thomas Hanna, somatics is the field of study dealing with somatic phenomena – i.e., the human being as experienced by himself (or herself) from the inside (Hanna, n.d.). Often this approach is developed to allow a renewed focus on subjective experience in the face of a life lived more externally focused and driven. But here I want to suggest that, while subjective experience is the basis of a somatic approach, somatics can also be the basis of a methodology for AR/PaR/PR. This places the individual approach to artistic practice in the foreground, while also providing an opportunity for the individual experience to come into relationship with broader theoretical and artistic concerns without losing the uniqueness of the individual’s project. I have developed and employed this approach in my own research and shared it with PhD candidates over many years. And it is also the underpinning to my contribution to the jointly authored “Creative Articulations Process” (Bacon and Midgelow 2014).
Throughout this chapter, I will be inviting you to embrace a particular way of seeing and being. It is perhaps best suited to those who are conducting artistic research where you are already employing some form of somatic practice, or where dance art making processes are the subject of your study, or when you are using some aspects of ethnography in your methodology. But it might also be of some use as a reflective tool for those concerned with processes of analysing practices or art objects. The aim is to develop the skill of being present to your experience and to develop that skill alone, in relation to books, other makers and thinkers, and the wider world.
Research such as this requires us to continuously work with processes and practices that are both of ourselves and not of ourselves. Your final doctoral thesis will stand as an object beyond your subjective experience and existence and yet is fundamentally, organically, and imaginatively of you. The final outcome of your research, as well as the processes undertaken, are most often performative or performance with the presence of your lived body in some kind of relationship to an audience. However, the final thesis will remain on library shelves and in the electronic repositories of academic institutions as digitised media, and you will take your lived experience of the performance, the writing about it, and the making process with you into your future life as fleshy, lived, embodied experiences of your doctorate. It is and will continue to be both you and not you, of you and yet no longer of you. This, of course, raises many questions about documentation and the form of the final thesis, but this question is beyond the scope of this chapter.
Pay attention to one small task at hand: it might be lifting a pen, eating something small, it could be anything. Notice all that you can in this process and then write down, draw. or make as much as you notice.
It is because artistic research is so often both subjective and processual that I suggest paying attention to the processes that constitute our research. I have previously and elsewhere used the term a ‘processual’ approach to PaR (Adams, Bacon, and Thynne 2009). Processual research is the study of processes rather than discrete events. It is methodological and ontological. As a methodological approach, it is concerned with process and processual, attention and attending. As an ontological one, it is an enquiry into more deeply researching the nature of being. A standard dictionary definition of process (as a noun) is a series of actions to achieve a result. Related words include action, development, measure, movement, practice, procedure, progress, technique, performance, unfolding, evolution, advance, fashion, routine, stage, transaction, associations, provocation, rule, step. As a verb, it is usually defined as subject to a series of actions in order to achieve results. Related words include alter, convert, deal with, dispose of, handle, prepare, refine, transform, treat, concoct, fulfil. The word processual is perhaps more complex. It is used by anthropologists, archaeologists, change management professionals, academics, and engineers. The term is used to refer to the study of processes rather than discrete events, relating to the methodological study of processes in social science, the processes of cultural change in anthropology, and an approach to organisational change for business.
You may notice that I have started to gather information beyond subjective experience, begun to think and notice more globally about the topic. Take some time to dream into the words ‘attention’, ‘attending’, ‘process’ and ‘processual’. Note down all that arises, and then spend some time noticing what you have noticed.
The standard dictionary definition for attention (as a noun) is notice taken of someone or something, or the action of dealing with or taking care of someone or something. Attending, on the other hand, is the present participle of attend – to be present, to deal with, to occur with, or be present with. According to psychotherapist Gay Watson (2017), attention is more complex than the current trend towards mindfulness may suggest. It is more than simply or only noticing or attending, but the how, why, when, where, and what we notice may reveal as much to who we are as our capacity to notice or attend. Indeed in AR/PaR/PR, attending may facilitate enhanced skill in both doing and knowing about doing of our research. When we attend voluntarily to something – such as our research process – we are learning a skill, and in turn, our brain-body – as a highly neuroplastic and embodied muscle – alters and forms around this skill. The neuroplasticity of the brain means that learning the skill of paying attention is also a process of self-creation (Watson 2017). Although there is not enough scope to fully explore this here, this points towards and is supported by other research to show how learning to pay attention shapes our brain. An additional point is that our brain is part of an entire organism – the body – and this unique organism receives and processes information and generates information that shapes who we are while in the process of thinking and doing.
Now try to notice all that you can as you read, write, move, dance, make. Track or attend to the process without judgement. If your mind wanders, follow; if your moving wanders, follow. Always keep following and tracking, noticing, attending. Do this for no more than 5 minutes at a time to begin with and never more than 45 minutes. Again, write down all that you discover. The more you track your experience moment by moment, the more skilled you will become and the more your experience will unfold in the process.
These definitions and expansions of process hopefully give a sense of action – of things to do and which you may discover or may unfold to and with you. Attention – which is also active and doing based – speaks to seeing, sensing, and awareness. There is less outward physical activity here and more conscious awareness. Put together as ‘processual attention’, a phrase emerges that points towards reading, writing, dancing, moving, and performing at the same time as attending to or being somatically conscious of that reading, writing, dancing, moving, and performing. This is about what happens in the moment of reading, writing, dancing, making, moving, creating, instructing, building, or directing. It is research in the moment and invites us to embrace an unknowing that is always present in the development and creation of new works, as well as an awareness of and attention to the process of unknowing as it unfolds in the studio, site, page, or other space and time.
Organisational Change expert Dawson (2014) suggests that processual research must be conducted over time, and the focus is the study of change over time. It is an emergent process that does not happen quickly and allows for uncertainty and unexpected outcomes. An important argument of this approach suggests that radical large-scale change does not simply occur overnight (it is not an event) but takes time. As Dawson explains, a processual approach to change will ‘examine change processes as they emerge and interweave over time with the intention of identifying interlocking patterns of activities in order to gain a temporal understanding’ (Dawson 2014, 64). This is true for the study of processes of change in individuals as much as it is in collective institutional and organisational change.
My own journey with the term processual attention began back in the early stages of my career where I used the word ‘processual’ to counter a culture that – to me – seemed to expect me to research objects, things, or people, rather than the processes that might involve all of those. In 2008, I wrote that my approach to performance ethnography was processual in that I might generate a performance from the auto-ethnographic fieldwork where material was generated from self as source, but that my primary interest was in the process as a methodological approach, rather than on the performance itself (Bacon 2006).
Then again, in 2013, in a chapter in the edited collection Performance Ethnography, I wrote
This theoretical and practical interest leads me to explore the ways in which the dancing body I have is also the person I am. I imagine this processual approach to be like Donald Winnicott’s ‘indwelling’ of the psyche in the soma; it is an invitation to participate in a 21st century, postmodern take on a psycho-somatic experience of /unity/. For Winnicott, this is a process by which the infant becomes a person in a body, an individual in her own right, albeit unconsciously. The psyche ‘indwells’ within the soma, linking, motor, sensory, and functional experience with the infant’s new state of being a person (Winnicott 1960). Further, there comes into existence what might be called a ‘membrane’, which we can equate with the surface of the skin, and this makes a position between the infant’s ‘me’ and ‘not me’. So the infant comes to have an inside, and outside, and a body schema (Winnicott 1960). What follows is the baby’s potential to have an internal world of its own, or it moves from a phase of holding to being in relationship with Self and Other. In Winnicott’s terms, the child begins to play and discover that I AM because, mother/father/carer is Not me. Could this also be the case in our research? When I begin to understand my research as Not me, it is also the moment when I begin to know that I AM. This likens the research process to a child’s development where the ‘parent/carer’ researcher allows the ‘child’ research to become without imposition. (Bacon 2013)
What could be more important than the attention we pay to becoming ourselves, to attend to the process of our internal world? We begin to pay attention to the process in new ways. Perhaps before we were enmeshed in our dance practice as an engagement with aesthetic decision making. Perhaps our kinaesthetic awareness was heightened in our enquiry into the capabilities of our own or others’ moving, living bodies as they appear and disappear in space and time. We were paying attention, and we are still paying attention. Now, in the process of conducting artistic doctoral research, we begin to pay attention to the process of paying attention in order to more fully articulate – in words and other practices – what it is we are researching. In this process, we also begin to notice who and what else resonates with our interest. We are no longer able to say ‘my practice’ without noticing our location within wider fields of arts makers and theoretical frames.
Processual methodologies value the status of processes over things. Process philosopher Nicholas Rescher writes ‘Process is fundamental: The river is not an object but an ever-changing flow; the sun is not an object but a flaming fire. Everything in nature is a matter of process, of activity, of change’ (Rescher 1996, 3). This stance is drawn from process philosophers beginning with Greek theoretician Heraclitus of Ephesus (b. ca. 540 B.C.) and developed by Leibniz, Bergson, Peirce, and William James, then more recently by Alfred North Whitehead and his followers. However, this is not a philosophy linked exclusively to one author but must be linked to the process itself (Johanna Seibt 2009). And, I would add, the study of process is experiential. We come to know more about process through our embodied and conscious engagement over time and in space with a process.
So processual research, or paying attention to paying attention, takes time. But this can also cause problems as studying process can mean we study and practice with such intensity and slowness that clear deadlines become impossible and getting lost along the way becomes both exciting and dangerous. You will unravel a long established artistic practice and become consumed in the attention required by so many aspects of what were previously unchallenged and unmovable aspects of you practice. Processual attention is not boundaryless. You may only be able to see a certain distance, delve into a particular theoretical interest, practice a particular set of skills or approaches. These are all boundaries. You may choose to set time-bound or subject specific boundaries, or ones that are the processual methodology itself. We can feel into this in Jo Blake’s PhD “Emergent Storytelling” (2018). In the written thesis, she weaves together the articulation of the trajectory from professional storyteller to storyteller-researcher. In the beginning, she takes the opportunity to make a new performance for a professional venue, thinking of it as an ideal opportunity to learn in the context in which she was practicing. She writes
I need to slow down, to listen deeply, if I am to capture something of the stirrings as a new performance begins to wake. Instead of ‘thinking’ too hard, I sit back and wait for images to appear; I allow something other than my conscious mind to initiate the process; I want to know more about the ‘something other’ that is guiding the process; want to make more space for it. This requires a ‘deep listening’; of learning how to notice images that keep reoccurring and demanding my attention; of percolating ideas and sifting through layers. (Blake 2018, 87–8)
Blake’s boundaries were the performance itself, not yet known, but somehow a form she hoped would hold her – her storytelling practice – would enable her to enquire into her process. But what unfolded over the course of her study and practice as the development of a new way of generating work – as well as a new form of work – steeped in her attention to moment-to-moment experiencing and the somatic. After six years, she prepared to re-enter the storytelling profession with a storytelling practice that breaks all the ‘rules’ of the UK revival storytelling world. Again, in Blake’s words:
Colloquially described by some storytellers as a ‘ghetto’ it soon became apparent that storytelling lacks the infrastructure and institutional support of theatre and literature. Discussion over training, development, funding, and official recognition within storytelling circles is rife and divided. Perhaps because of this, much of my experience of storytelling has been coloured by tribal politics and personal agendas, seemingly born out of an understandable searching for definitions and recognition. This has, like in the myths themselves, created the conditions in which strong characters with entrenched views have had legendary battles, leaving behind them deep fissures in the foundations of contemporary storytelling culture. (Blake 2018, 14)
Blake discovered that fieldwork techniques from ethnography provide her with some boundaries and focus. According to social anthropologist Nigel Rapport in his chapter, ‘The Narrative as Fieldwork Technique: processual ethnography for a world in motion’, a narrative provides a place to ‘cognitively reside’, maintaining a perceived order ‘despite seeming temporal, spatial, experiential disjunctures’ (Rapport 2000, 74). Rapport invites the reader to discover a cognitive place to reside in when surrounded by seeming chaos, and I would add – as Blake has done – an invitation into something less immediately available to the conscious mind but equally accessible once we learn to attend. The practice of deep listening, as Blake calls it, allows us to articulate more fully what it is that happens in our creative process and practice, and provides a supportive and embodied methodology for the development of the practice research itself.
Now that your capacity to notice and follow your experiences is growing, really practice noticing your attention to following your moving process. You allow your conscious mind to spend its valuable time tracking your bodily and somatic experience. Noticing your attending, attending to your processing. Processual attention extends beyond mindfulness.
As you make the shift from artistic practitioner to artistic researcher, begin to pay attention to the attention you pay. Begin to study your process of attending to the making process. Pay attention to and fully attend to the process. Attention is a practice that you can learn and develop. The more you do it, the more you can do it; the more you do it, the more you see; the more you know, the more you experience.
According to Gay Watson, neuroscientists reveal that there are two kinds of attention: voluntary and involuntary. I would suggest that there are many parts of dance-making and performance research that might be happening with a sort of involuntary attention. Perhaps this is important in that creative research is not a rational or linear process. We are often actively seeking out ways to surprise ourselves, to allow and embrace the unexpected and the unknown. And perhaps you have a fear that if you know or think too much about your processes of generating dance and performance work, that creative energy will dissolve into the mundane. This is to assume that the study of processes both profoundly alters those processes, but might also destroy them. This seems doubtful and ungrounded in any research (that I have found). The human brain has ‘the ability to alter its structure all through our livesthe pathways and patterns of the firing of neurons, in response to repeated experience – continues through life’ (Watson 2017, 10), and there is no evidence that paying attention – voluntarily rather than involuntarily – in spiritual practices, such as Buddhism, dampens or destroys creativity. So, go ahead and try it; pay attention to that which seems unknowable, unnameable.
Sometimes there is nothing. But nothing is something. Attend to nothing. Feel and see into that which you have named nothing. In the dark, there is always more as we allow ourselves to adjust to the dark. Breathe deeply into the unknown corners of your practice. Remember to use your skills of attending to help you in the dark. Notice as you experience. Attend as you process. Process your attention.
Any kind of research is a kind of attention. I suggest that practice as research in dance and performance, artistic research, and somatic practices as research, in particular, might usually be considered to be a unique kind of attention or ‘attending to’ requiring voluntary attention. What I mean by this is that when we undertake research, we are enquiring into something that captures our interest. That something is a something we do not yet fully understand, know, or see, in part because it has not been fully discovered or articulated or generated into form by others in the field.
This suggests that to conduct AR/PaR/PR is a practice of attention. Gay Watson says that we must attend to attention because it is a skill that can be learned, and the learning alters our attentional capacity. Paying attention changes our brain, and perhaps ‘attending to’ is our artistic research in that we become interested in the processes of our making. In this process, the question of temporality may dissolve as you – as artist researcher – contain past, present, and future without limitation. Now your artistic research context contains what is past, as well as what is present – the who you are as artist, and how you became the artist you are. Now we begin to notice and attend to a larger artistic field and your own artistic lineage (including training, aesthetics, personal history) within that larger whole. And yet, as you fall into a time where time is unbounded, there must also be consideration for deadlines and assessments. How do you hold this balance of tensions between seemingly oppositional forces, because undertaking a PhD requires attention over a sustained period of time. In support of that sustained research period, a ‘processual perspective draws our attention to the temporal character of change (the before, during, and after of change) and the need to examine the way this process is shaped over time’ (Dawson 2005, 401). In keeping with a processual philosophy, this focus in/as/over time helps us to understand that we experience moment by moment as if each moment were a separate and yet interconnected moment in the fullness of our experience. In employing processual attention, we become more habituated to attention and might better allow the unfolding over time, as well as our capacity for discernment in, during, and over time. Attending to process allows us to experience experience as a complex, which has stages/phases with a particular kind of temporal coherence and some sort of shape. With this in mind, we might trust that, as we practice paying attention to attention – attending to the unfolding process – that ‘it’ (our research) unfolds to us with a particular clarity and coherence. In other words, in employing processual attention, we become more habituated to attention, and we get better by practicing. We trust that the process has an order and coherence.
Here we have the image of something that is with you, living with you, and you it. This is something that your conscious, embodied attending allows so that you might be present to that unfolding of your artistic research. I am not suggesting that mind wandering, inattention, and flights of fancy might not generate wonderful creative researches, but if we give attention to what we are attending to, we might find that we move with and as our flights of fancy, or attend to our inattention. As Voris states in respect to her PhD on the relationship between Authentic Movement and Dance-Making:
…these processual qualities of Authentic Movement – summarised… as witnessing, opening, articulating and layering – lend a precision to the creative process that arises out of the dance-making process itself. These qualities are /processual/ because they nurture an attitude of ongoing enquiry (in effect: a process) and because they offer means by which to notice that ongoing enquiry as it is taking place. These aspects of Authentic Movement underscore my methodology, for they enable fidelity to a holistic approach, emergent knowing as the product of practice-as-research, and appropriateness to the movement practice that it remains part of. (Voris 2018, 86)
What Voris is referring to is the way in which – in dance and performance research – we are studying our practice, practicing our study, attending to our practice, practicing our attention. Voris’s study and practice of dance-making is framed methodologically by the practice of Authentic Movement and somatically informed articulations of this practice. Her aim is that the processual qualities she identifies as inherent to Authentic Movement ‘fulfil the primary functions of a theoretical framework within the context of practice-as-research (Nelson 2013): for they enable my practice to become more critical and communicable without sacrificing the closeness to practice (that perhaps an extrinsic theory might)’ (Voris 2018, 87).
When we pay attention, experiences open up, slow down, and often, a depth and breadth appears that was always there but to which we had never given time or space. Like looking through and then pushing ourselves through the eye of a needle, what begins as tension and constriction soon opens out into expansion and transcendence. To become vast is to attend. To attend gives space for the vast. This way of tracking and attending to our experiences moment by moment takes time and space. The material generated from such processes may create vast amounts of material.
Sit or lie, stand or walk…as you do, notice your sit bones, your back on the floor, your feet pressing into the floor. Take a few breaths and notice all you can in this moment, both within and beyond you. Let it all be present as you breathe gently, noticing and allowing…
This notion of enabling practice to become more communicable might be aided by attending to the process of our research. I am not suggesting a unitary sense of research topic, but rather that a unified methodology which is both the research itself and the method for conducting the research, which will allow both an objective and subjective insight. I will know that I am me and also experience myself as me. This capacity for dual-seeing and experiencing – a sort of two-eyed way of seeing – might, over time and surprisingly, generate a more unitary sense of self. Jung suggested that if we hold the tension of two opposites and trust that neither is the solution, then a third way or experience may appear (Hart 1997, 101–3). This can be experienced as a more unitary self that has, at its core, a both/and, seen/seeing, self/other experience that can be held and applied when conducting our research and living our lives. This is the premise of practices and research methodologies for practices such as Authentic Movement, meditation, yoga, and some other forms of somatic practice. Individual PhD candidates, such as Blake and Voris, are engaging with processes such as these to help them in understanding and developing methodological approaches that stay close to both embodied experience and their art form.
Take three deep long breaths, focus on the outward breath, and imagine your thesis floating on the breath of your exhalation, see it taking shape, allow it, take pleasure in it.
So, I would propose that paying attention to the processes of your creative practice may potentially alter your artistic practice and research. I am advocating paying attention to paying attention. In artistic research, we are often paying attention to particular questions, movements, shapes, or patterns, and so when we begin to pay attention to our habits of paying attention, we develop the capacity to see and know ourselves differently. This is processual, since you will track changes in your attention as it relates to your research question, your attention to your studio work, your attention to reading, writing, and making. It is to make the process the subject of our study, rather than researching ‘about’ a particular theme, theory, idea, or approach, or to allow external theories to ‘explain’ our AR/PaR/PR. In this way of working, the theme, theory, idea, or approach becomes evident in the process of our subjective encounter – moment by moment – with the theme, theory, idea, or approach. Or, to say this another way, what we research, how we research, and our understanding of who we are become more unified by this methodological approach.
Reference List and Additional Resources
Adams, John, Jane Bacon, and Lizzie Thynne. 2009. “A Discussion about Peer Review and Criteria.” In Practice as Research in Performance and Media, 98–111. London: Palgrave.
Bacon, Jane and Vida Midgelow. 2014. “Creative Articulations Process.” Articulations 5.1 (Choreographic Practices special issue): 7–31. Bristol: Intellect.
Bacon, Jane. 2006. “The Feeling of the Experience: Performance Ethnography.” In Research Methodologies for Drama Education, edited by Judith Ackroyd, 135–58. Stoke: Trentham Books.
Bacon, Jane. 2013. “Embodied and Direct Experience in Performance Studies.” In Contemporary Ethnography and Performance Studies, edited by Peter Harrop and Dunja Njaradi, 113–30. Cambridge: Cambridge Scholars Publishing.
Blake, Jane. 2018. “What does myth do anyway: towards and emergent storytelling practice.” Unpublished PhD Diss., University of Chichester.
Dawson, Patrick. 2014. “The processual perspective: studying change in organisations.” In Being Practical with Theory: A Window into Business Research, edited by H. Hasane, 64–66. Wollongong, Australia: THEORI. eurekaconnection.files.wordpress.com/2014/02/p-64-66-processual-perspective-theori-ebook_finaljan2014-v3.pdf.
Dawson, Patrick. 2005. “Organizational Change: A Processual Approach.” In Human Factors and Ergonomics in Manufacturing, 15/4. 2005. doi.org/10.1002/hfm.20034. Accessed September 17, 2018. www.researchgate.net/publication/30388999_Changing_Manufacturing_Practices_An_Appraisal_of_the_Processual_Approach.
Hanna, Thomas. “What is Somatics.” Hanna Somatic Educational Resources. www.somaticsed.com/whatIs.html.
Hart, David L. 1997. “The Classical Jungian School.” In Cambridge Companion to Jung, edited by Polly Young-Eisendrath and Terence Dawson, 95–107. Cambridge, UK: University of Cambridge.
Karcher, S. 1999. “Jung, the Tao and the Classic of Change.” Harvest: A Journal for Jungian Studies 45 (2): 60–83.
Nelson, Robin. 2013. Practice as Research in the Arts: Principles, Protocols, Pedagogies, Resistances. London: Palgrave.
Rapport, Nigel J. 2000. “The Narrative as Fieldwork Technique: processual ethnography for a world in motion.” In Constructing the Field: ethnographic fieldwork in the contemporary world, edited by Vered Amit, 71–95. Abingdon and New York: Routledge.
Rescher, Nicholas. 1996. Process Metaphysics: An Introduction to Process Philosophy. New York: SUNY Press.
Seibt, J. 2009. “Process Philosophy.” In Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, edited by E. Zalta (summer 2009 ed). University of Stanford, CA, USA. Accessed September 17, 2018. stanford.library.sydney.edu.au/archives/sum2009/entries/process-philosophy/.
Voris, Amy. 2019. “Forming, Returning and Deepening: Dance-making with Authentic Movement.” Unpublished PhD Diss., University of Chichester.
Watson, Gay. 2017. Attention, Beyond Mindfulness. London: Reaktion.
Jane is a Jungian Analyst, Focusing Trainer and Teacher of the Discipline of Authentic Movement. She was part of the UK Higher Education development of practice-as-research in performance. She is interested in the development of unique methodological approaches developed by artist researchers through and by practice. She is co-editor of Choreographic Practices Journal and co-Director of the Choreographic Lab. Recent publications include: ‘Informed by the goddess: Explicating a processual methodology’, Dance, Movement & Spiritualities, 4:1, 2017; ‘Authentic Movement: a field of practices’, Journal of Dance and Somatic Practices, vol 7.2, 2015; ‘Authentic Movement as wellbeing practice’, in Oxford Handbook for Dance and Movement for Wellbeing 2017, 149–164; Creative Articulations Process, (with Midgelow, V.). In Articulations, Choreographic Practices Vol 5.1, 2014; ‘Embodied and Direct Experience in Performance Studies’, in Contemporary Ethnography and Performance Studies, 2013.