Smudge Skittle (Longley 2018) explores methods of writing that support studio practice through a series of writing tasks, based around 10 provocations for artist-researchers. In 2018, it has been published as 1) A deck of cards 2) A digital website/game 3) the present text in which I discuss this resource in relation to its critical context in the field of artistic research.
Readers can access the graphic elements of the Smudge Skittle resource in digital form through www.smudgeskittle.com. In its material form, this resource takes the form of a game in a deck of cards – the game structure of the cards allows mobility and chance-based practice to infuse reading. Readers can work through task-based methods that invite testing and experimentation.
Smudge Skittle proceeds through a logic of studio experimentation that aims to be playful, embodied, and open-ended. Its provocations (or suits) are as follows:
- Neurodiversity disrupts logocentrism
- Writing exists through relationships
- States of embodiment produce bodies of writing
- Engaging duration and scale can telescope the imagination
- The pleasures of journaling and documentation are engines of embodied research
- Writing is curation
- Tangential thinking makes space for ideas
- Writing rides on material, sensory activity
- Style gives life to concepts
- Endless models exist for thesis writing, and endless variations
In Smudge Skittle, each provocation forms the theme for a series of 6–10 practical writing tasks (altogether it includes around 90 miniature writing projects), specifically crafted with the intention to open up consideration for how artist-researchers could approach writing with a sense of play, creativity and innovation.
Introducing Smudge Skittle
Writing, like most creative work, is an embodied practice, riding on a vast ocean of techniques. We can choose which techniques we employ at any given moment. You want your technique to match the inquiry – you want to warm up into writing in a way that will let the muscles of the work flow, to enhance motivation, to make it easy to get in and out of the metaphorical floor when negotiating the knotted relations between abstract and concrete things, or philosophical and material challenges. As artist-researchers we interweave felt, visceral information and conceptual information to make tangible connections between different kinds of knowledge, different registers of thought. In doing so, what we know with our skin and bones is as important as any abstract principle. Language can generate connections, movements, feelings and play, yet it can just as easily prevent them. An over-riding principle of Smudge Skittle is focussing on how you are writing rather than what you are writing, to invest in the process of writing as a site of experimentation, emergence and possibility, just as our research allows experimentation in a studio setting. Writer Claire MacDonald’s discussion of writing as an expanded field outlines many ways in which artist-researchers might stretch writing practices far beyond the constraints of the academic convention;
We can see writing as bigger, looser, more porous and less prescriptive. Writing’s horizon has moved … Its edges have become ragged. It has burst a little at the seams under the pressure of changing technologies of sight and sound and inscription; under the pressure of the flow of new kinds of communication that mix the spoken and the inscribed; that mediate between the stable and the unfixed; that enable everyone to become an editor, a publisher, a curator of print. (MacDonald 2009, 92)
Smudge Skittle advocates for investing creative labour, time and care into the point where the language of the project meets the page meets the reader. The Smudge Skittle resource recommends removing assumptions about a project’s style of writing, layout, and mode of address, to drop down into the infinite possibilities held in the process of writing, so that artist-writers might find states of flow and intrinsic motivation to bring to writing. In this way, momentum pathways for creative practice may generate material across written and studio-based practices.
Smudge Skittle is in some way a resistant project, writing against forms of institutional convention that tightly prescribe models and styles of academic writing. It aims to move focus away from institutionally-determined writing, to bring focus to the containers of practice we create for our artistic thinking to exist in, in careful consideration of the values underpinning these containers. Art historian Dave Hickey’s book Air Guitar provides an astute articulation of how university processes can be inimical to the modes of questioning that motivate artistic thinking. He reflects on the tendencies of academics to lose sight of the way ideas bounce, with their tendency toward frameworks and abstraction. He discusses his love of talking with others about the objects, art works and ideas that abound in freelance spaces such as galleries, record and bookshops, bars and magazine offices:
I love that talk, have lived on it and lived by it … To me, it has always been the heart of the mystery, the heart of the heart: the way people talk about loving things, which things, and why. Thus it was, after two years on university campuses without hearing anything approximating this kind of talk, I began feeling terrible, physically awful, confused and bereft. I kept trying to start this kind of talk, volunteering my new enthusiasms like a kid pulling frogs and magic rocks out of his pocket, but nothing worked. There was no bounce, just aridity and suspicion. It finally dawned on me that in this place that we had set aside to nurture culture and study its workings, culture didn’t work. (Hickey 1997, 13)
Perhaps it is worth approaching writing in artistic research from the position of the hobbyist? With a hobby, you can enjoy something without having to master it, you can practice lightly, tangentially, enthusiastically, you might even fall in love with a method or technique as you might with a frog or magic rock. The Smudge Skittle resource encourages artist-researchers to work in a way that is both light and serious, in order to allow research to find momentum and rhythm.
Practising art at post-graduate levels at university does seem to be a polar opposite to engaging art as a hobby. Here, we treat creative process seriously, rigorously, industriously, critically. We couple studio work with philosophy and/or borrow structural orders from social science. In the corridor of the dance studies programme where I work, the students earnestly utilise processes drawn from constructivism, ethnography, The Handbook of Qualitative Research. They forgo opportunities to attend improvisation workshops and free classes in somatic bodywork in order to complete homework demonstrating a clear understanding of terms like ‘ontology’, ‘epistemology’, ‘subjectivity’ and ‘method’. Wrapping their heads around, and writing clear and concise essays about spinny notions like a ‘paradigm shift’ takes huge amounts of energy, time and intellectual labour. As a qualitative researcher and some-time teacher of research methods, my intention is not to infer that students should not be learning these things – my intention is to think on why students so often forget to breathe through their academic learning, why, in postgraduate creative-practice education, the creativity and experimental aspect of ideas can often lose their bounce. In an essay mourning brilliant saxophone player Chet Baker’s death, Hickey writes about the uncomfortable relationship that existed between Baker and the institutional establishment:
It really pissed them off,’ Lowell George told me once, ‘that they couldn’t learn anything from Chet’s playing, not anything they could teach. All they could learn was that he could do it, and they couldn’t. It was all about thinking and breathing in real time, and they couldn’t grasp that. It had too much to do with life, with how you live in time. (Hickey 1997, 79)
For me as an academic/artist-researcher, the ‘heart of the heart’ in much of my teaching and researching is exploring the way that ideas can bounce through processes of practice-led research. I want to create methods of practice that engage with how we live in time, that develop clear relationships between concepts and their relation to the changing world in which we live. I find it ironic that this can be such a challenge – that the criteria sheets and institutional timetables so often seem to numb the heartbeat of concepts. How might we, as artist-researchers, encourage intuition, experimentation, not-knowing, risk, a kind of drifting-with ideas which is rigorous in its critical curiosity? And at the same time be complicit with a system that demands research have a good degree of clarity about its conclusion at its outset, that demands the adoption of language inimical to playful thinking?
This essay is structured around the 10 suits of the Smudge Skittle deck and discusses particular approaches to writing that artist-researchers may like to explore in developing forms of writing that are entangled with idiosyncratic creative practices.
1 Neurodiversity disrupts logocentrism
The Smudge Skittle image-card for this suit is of an equation written on a chalk-board by a dyslexic child (smudgeskittle.com/smudge-skittle/smudge-skittle-1/). If you can see that the numbers need to be reversed from mirror-writing to align with conventional form, you would most likely see that the equation reads 2+2=4. But if you are less inclined to be spatially-mobile in how you read the numbers, you might think the child has written 5+5 = 4, or even S + S = 4. And you might helpfully inform the child that they are in error (despite the fact that the child does in fact, understand the mathematical concepts expressed), and explain to them the ‘proper’ way to write the equation. This image was selected due to the rich ambiguity on whether it is ‘right’ or ‘wrong’, and the way it requires readers to ‘turn the numbers around in their heads’, just like many dyslexic students have to do. Artistic research involves opening spaces where meanings of specific art-forms are co-created in momentary dialogues, wherein:
as thinkers, we operate outside of the realms of familiarity. We function beyond expectations and assumptions, and beyond the known territory of teachers, schools, managers or organisations. We journey into foreign landscapes, and in so doing we ask those who seek to guide us to trust in what they can’t define or imagine. (Ings 2017, 30)
The above quote from Design Professor Welby Ing’s book Disobedient Teaching (2017) argues that in Aotearoa New Zealand, innovative teachers who genuinely wish to teach to the diverse and idiosyncratic strengths of their students, must practice disobedience continually, in an education system that seeks to accommodate student ability into reportable, generic standardised units. In contrast, advocates for neurodiverse pedagogies, such as Ing, consider the variability of human neurology to be an epistemological strength, resisting any one-size-fits-all approach to teaching and learning. Instead, methods of processing and developing ideas are expected to be radically different from person to person with such difference offering sparks of potentiality.
It is common for neurodiverse students to feel discriminated against by the dominant logocentrism of written assessment (Silberman 2015). A tenet of neurodiverse teaching is multi-modality – in which it is recognised that forms of knowledge-production/transfer far exceed the written. Careful listening and responding to the idiosyncratic is a core element of both practice-led research and teaching to support neuro-atypicality rather than typicality. Dyslexic students and artistic researchers require pedagogical environments that recognise material, multi-modal forms of knowledge – and committed advocacy at an institutional level for non-traditional forms of education (Pino and Mortari 2014).
Making space for difference – differences in how we articulate knowledge, differences in how we learn, differences in our politics, differences in pedagogy and culture and language – is an artform. Artistic and neurodiverse epistemologies have in common the assumption that forms of knowledge outside the written are vital to recognising the rich potential and vitality of knowledge production. Academic hierarchies privileging densely scholarly, theoretical texts over less traditional ones such as artworks, performances, films, children’s books, workshops and fictions are disrupted by both neurodiverse and practice-led researchers.
Here we can think about low theory as a mode of accessibility, but we might also think about it as a kind of theoretical model that flies below the radar, that is assembled from eccentric texts and examples and that refuses to confirm the hierarchies of knowing that maintain the high in high theory. (Halberstam 2011, 16)
In resisting hierarchies of knowledge Smudge Skittle aligns with Jack Halberstam’s Queer Art of Failure (2011). This approach to writing makes space for less traditional forms of scholarship and advocates for new and diverse voices and methods to be recognised as vital to research culture by reflecting a changing, dynamic and polyvocal world.
2 Writing exists through relationships
We could think of bodies as porous, dynamic libraries, the moving sum of a life formed through experience and interaction. Obviously, words in all of their musicality, content and force contribute to the shape and contents of this library, as do all the books we have read and the things we have seen and the touches we have shared. Writing provides the means to make sense of this and to gift back to the collective cultural library, in a form that can last beyond us. Writing is produced by relationships – with other books, experiences, words, and future readers. We draw on the vast archive within us. We write out to future readers and projects and possibilities. The way we frame these relationships, in formal and informal ways, provides a ground in the becoming of written texts.
Smudge Skittle contains a series of tasks focussing on writing for different kinds of readers, with the assumption that the different readers we hold (with more or less consciousness of this) in our imaginations have enormous influence over the style in which we write.
The reader of a book is also its performer. In this way the book acquires one more dimension: the history of its performances. It is based on repetitions which have nothing to do with sameness but induce an activation of time and space, motif and context, animation and metamorphosis. (Hoffmann 2001, 21)
Like writing techniques, we have endless choices over consciously working with different audiences and modalities for our reading, in order to explore different stylistic vocabularies. Writing for a parent will translate ideas differently to writing for a theorist in another country or for a sweary best friend, or for a professional mentor. But each of these audiences for our work enable writing to take different shapes, voices, modes and meanings. Working specifically from the perspective of the relationships that are underpinning writing tasks can allow spectrums of emotion, play, ambition, reach, and connection to influence the approach we take to research content, which could open space for new currents of motivation and perspective to enter one’s work.
3 States of embodiment produce bodies of writing
It’s so obvious that it seems weird to say but it’s also so obvious that it’s often invisibilised – writing is a physical practice. Writing exists through the literal movement of bodies in all their fleshy, viscous corporeality – the bones of fingers moved by tendons, moved by nervous systems, fed by blood and oxygen. Processes of pumping fluids, of fascial support, of oxygen cleansing and coursing, of skeletons in various states of alignment are what produce all texts. Words are rarely written without writers, and authors rarely write without hearts that pump blood (algorithm-based bots aside). Most writing is formed when touch happens – with devices – out of human and non-human bodies coming into contact with each other in currencies of information and through electric signalling. Writing moves through and is moved by material bodies which effect, to varying degrees, the flow of concepts. Despite this, movement is rarely considered a source of thought in academic discourse. Concentrating on embodied elements can be a tool to develop pleasurable, sustainable, imagination-rich writing processes. Dance ethnographer Deidre Sklar discusses how writing is a sensuous practice that moves through bodies via the body of the page;
Writing is an aesthetic embrace that invites sensuous opening, almost as if words need to be irresistible, to partner bodily experience at all its levels of intensity, intimacy, and multiplicity. (Sklar 2000, 73, author’s emphasis)
Such an engagement at the level of intensity and intimacy might allow the artistic states that underpin artistic creative research to translate beyond the studio. For each artist, the vocabulary for doing so will be different – and may involve different media, each of which assist in the travel of affect and felt information in different ways. Choreographers Olive Bieringa and Otto Ramstead define their practice of dance in terms of kinaesthetic empathy – embodied states that reel through relationships with others, feelings, thoughts and perceptions:
After years of making dances in public space, kinaesthetic empathy the ability to experience empathy by observing the movements of another human being – has become for us, an important political and choreographic strategy to pursue aliveness. Dancing in public space, where the body is often viewed as a commodity and restricted to sitting, standing and walking, is a form of free speech … It is absolutely ephemeral yet invites us to feel ourselves, our bodies, in the present and brings us into relationship with the world and others who inhabit this world. By moving we transform the way we sense, the way we feel and the way we think. (Bieringa and Ramstead 2015)
Philosopher Helene Cixous highlights feminine approaches to knowledge-creation in ways that resist patriarchal forms. For Cixous, the embodied practice of handwriting is central to the conceptual movement of her philosophy:
Handwriting is important. All this is handwritten, and I can’t get around that, because I recognise different levels of… rightness, for instance, of the work, or of refining, etc., … according to the physical aspect of my own handwriting, and I need that. It makes for different voices, because all those notes speak in different voices, and I recognise them by sight from the look they have, from my own handwriting, because it’s all different, all the time. (Cixous 2004, 118)
Abstraction and ambiguity can be just as important in allowing embodied awareness to move to pages as they are in artistic practice. Some information cannot be written directly – it has to be evoked (rather than explained) through the force of language. Our physical practices will have an effect on the state we bring to writing – this suit of cards include some physical tasks that work to open neuromuscular space through freeing the arms, attending to breath and alignment, and ‘dropping in’ to sensation.
4 Engaging duration and scale can telescope the imagination
The concept of ‘telescoping imagination’ has emerged in Smudge Skittle under the influence of Nancy Stark-Smith’s underscore, which the author has practiced over many years. David Koteen and Nancy Stark-Smith (Koteen and Stark-Smith 2008) describe the Underscore as
a score that guides dancers through a series of ‘changing states’ from solo deepening/releasing and sensitising to gravity and support; through group circulation and interaction, contact improvisation (CI) engagement, opening out to full group improvisation with compositional awareness, and back to rest and reflection. (Koteen and Stark-Smith 2008, 90)
Vahri McKenzie’s article Underscore Alchemy: Extending the Underscore for creative artists (McKenzie 2014) discusses how the principles of the underscore can support interdisciplinary artistic practice, in explicitly recognising differing modes of engagement and focus. As a set of technical skills, telescoping awareness relates to moving from the macro to the micro – the space of the room to the sensation of the little finger tracing the air; the space in a conceptual field in relation to a moment at which this idea is inflected in the studio. This can be literally in terms of the size of pages used for documentation, or conceptually in terms of a big picture idea and the way it emerges in a particular mode of work. Telescoping awareness might also relate to the length of sentences or the ways we send our imagination out to the edges of what we know. By employing the practice of telescoping imagination creative researchers may develop shifts in perspective that generate new kinds of momentum or modes of play in the movement between creative and critical modes.
5 The pleasures of journalling and experimentation are engines of embodied research
If there is one thing that Smudge Skittle advocates for, in developing creative-critical writing practices, it is pleasure. Each of us will have particular ways of inter-acting with books that feel more like fun and less like work – this is tied up to particular materials, styles, histories, colours, politics, genres and understandings/experiences of reading and writing. This suit in Smudge Skittle challenges you, firstly to consider if your writing practice could be more pleasurable. It offers a range of practices that explore modes of writing and mark making that resist scholastic, conventional research and instead could celebrate the messy, playful, scrappy, fragmented, limited, partial. Practices like list-making, scribbling, collage and drawing. Smudge Skittle aligns with Emma Dexter’s discussion of drawing; ‘Drawing is a feeling, an attitude that is betrayed in its handling as much as in the materials used’ (Dexter 2005, 6). In an analysis of drawing as a form of process art, art theorist Cornelia Butler emphasises that, ‘matter is volatised in drawing, not hypostasised’ (Butler 1999, 32, author’s emphasis).
A journal can be seen as a vessel that moves ideas around, volatises them, offers a way to connect ideas, to open up space for ideas to fall on the page in relation to other ideas. According to poet John Hall,
a ‘book’ is a fold containing pages … a page is a surface to be handled, touched and stroked. Each page is also a space and a view. As a space it is a site where objects are (or could be) placed (composition) and where movement takes place between them (‘reading’). The objects are marks. Even an empty page is scanned, perhaps felt. (Hall 2004, 16)
Journals provide ample space for working with the spatiality of pages in their emptiness and fullness. Journals can contain entries that are irrelevant and uninteresting to readers outside of a studio practice but have the potential to jolt the specific richness of memory to rich clarity. Journals are a means of materialising thought, common to practitioners from any number of disciplines. Jennifer New writes that, ‘Journals are unsung heroes, the working stiffs of creative life’ (New 2005, 8), the behind the scenes players on which whole productions and exhibitions rest, but to whom credit is rarely attributed. Journals are literally worn by time and might be seen as reflecting a mode of temporality. We might consider artists’ journals as cases of process art par excellence, a mode of art practice that registers the temporal, material processes of art making. Choreographers’ working journals could also be seen as tools of translation, as paper bodies that support the gestures and marks of concepts on their way to formal articulation. New discusses journals as,
intimate, unpolished works for which an outside audience is either unanticipated or an afterthought. The journal’s primary purpose is to serve as a place for its author to sort ideas and observations … In the end, journals may show more fully than any finished piece what it has meant to be us. (New 2005, 18)
Rebecca Schneider’s (2008) article The Document Performance discusses the potential for methods of documentation to be understood as performances in themselves. According to Schneider, the blurring of documentation and performance practices ‘raises tantalising questions about the duration of performance; about the limits or limitlessness of liveness; and about the trajectory of a scene into its playing and replaying across hands and eyes that encounter it still in circulation’ (Schneider 2008, 118). My books The Foreign Language of Motion (2014) and Radio Strainer (2016) both develop and curate specific pages from choreographic journals to allow the logics of particular rehearsal processes to travel beyond the studio. Developing these books involved photographing and scanning pages from journals, printing onto transparent pages, experimenting with binding, and combining journal excerpts with photography, scripts and reflection. This enables concepts developed in different moments of our studio process to be shared with others, reflecting the logics of our experimentation in the form of scores and page-works. In supervising artistic research, I’ve noticed students who develop curated versions of journal notes are able to provide readers/examiners with a sense of the richness of decision-making processes and studio-logics that are not available through dissertation or performance form. Via an unattributed work of digital media, the following quote made its way into my life – ‘La memoria es el vientre del alma’ (the memory is the belly of the soul). Curated presentations of studio notes offer space for remembering work which is quite different to the messiness of a working journal, or the linear space of an essay. Personally, I need to go into journaling practice without any pressure of creating legible lines that are meaningful to others. For me, the process of making a new iteration of writing out of the journal, while capturing some drawings and note-fragments, brings vitality to memory, offers a reflective practice to consider key moments of studio work, and a way to make these legible to others across space and time.
6 Writing is curation
Curate: to be in charge of selecting and caring for objects to be shown in a museum or to form part of a collection of art, an exhibition, etc. (Cambridge Dictionary 2018).
The stem term in the word curate, is to care. A curator is one who brings together objects with a strong duty of care towards them, to enable individual things to form a meaningful collection. If we see the work of writing in this way, the responsibility of authorship moves away from the invention of new ideas, to focus instead on the relationship between concepts carefully chosen and placed to form relationships and connections in regard to a specific question or context. Such a concept of curation might be applied equally to more text-based, critical or reflective forms of writing – or to how documentation materials such as images, video, sound, journal pages, and so on, are placed together, generating new possibilities in a working process.
This curatorial approach to writing aligns with postmodern approaches to writing such as Barthes’ Death of the Author (Barthes 1977) and with the concept of intertextuality. Intertextuality, as discussed in Hazel Smith’s The Writing Experiment, ‘is a term coined by Julia Kristeva, Roland Barthes and others to highlight the way that no text is ever completely new, original or independent: writers are always, to some degree, reinventing what has already been written’ (Smith 2005, 65).
Writing is rather like recycling paper, you give the texts you have read another life through the way you reshape them. Or to put it another way, when we write we are constantly scavenging from what we have read in the past, either directly or obliquely. We pilfer (though in the most law-abiding way), not only from literary texts, but non-literary ones such as newspaper articles and a wide range of visual and oral media such as TV or radio. (Smith 2005, 65)
Writing in this mode is to focus on providing the connective tissue between ideas. One writes to bring things into relationship and to care for the movement of knowledge between different sites. Writing takes form through attentive listening and caring, moving things around in different orders and relations, and seeing what eventuates. Focus moves to placement and relationship rather than authorship.
We are living at a time when a vast amount of performance practices and theories have been explicitly complicating the never simple relations between pastness, historicity, memory, and archiving with notions of presentness, futurity, movement, forgetting and destruction. Mediating all these poles, writing appears as a dynamic, hyper-kinetic operator that draws from its constitutive mobility its full performative force. (Lepecki 2008, 2)
A curatorial approach to writing embraces the mobility of ideas as they migrate between disciplines and contexts, with meanings morphing as relationships, styles and settings engage the fluidity of language.
7 Tangential thinking makes space for ideas
Aligned with Jack Halberstam’s ‘low theory’, a tangential approach to writing ‘revels in the detours, twists, and turns through knowing and confusion, and that seeks not to explain but to involve’ (Halberstam 2011, 15). Smudge Skittle offers the provocation of tangential thinking in contrast to the linearity, ambition and outcome-focus of many academic writing text-books, instead writers are invited to ‘go off on tangents’ that take them far from the expected route.
Tangential writing is an associative mode that involves working in a space of not-knowing-before-doing, writing as discovery. Each word unfolds from the one before it, from the sound and feel of the one before. This mode of writing becomes easier with practice, but may take some getting used to, for writers who have been educated to follow strict essay plans and have a clear idea of where they are going before they start. Natalie Goldberg’s creative writing sourcebook Writing Down the Bones (Goldberg 1986) defines this approach as freewriting. As Judith Guest writes in her foreword, the value of Writing Down The Bones is in how it creates a sense of “giving people permission to think the thoughts that come, and to write them down and make sense of them in any way they wish” (Guest 1986, xiii). Freewriting involves writing into the unknown without concern for the ‘rules’ of writing such as grammar and punctuation, encouraging ideas to move quickly, randomly and unexpectedly. This may allow many elements of practice to register in a single page. Allowing a non-linear, non-representational approach to writing supports a wandering, detouring mode. We drift with the feelings of words in which ‘writing has nothing to do with signifying. It has to do with surveying, mapping, even realms that are yet to come’ (Deleuze and Guattari, cited in Richardson and St Pierre 2005, 270). This is a tangential listening – partial, untrustworthy, an experiment in allowing words to unfold.
8 Writing rides on material, sensory activity
It is vitally important that we understand how matter matters. (Barad 2003, 803).
Let us begin with the idea of a body, at this moment of exchange. Where does your body begin and end? Is it bound by the skin, is the skin its edge limit? Or perhaps we could consider a body as being porous and fluid and constantly changing with the materiality of its surroundings. Perhaps your weight falls into and is held in alignment by furniture? Perhaps at this moment you have six legs – the four legs of a chair and the two that extrude from your hips? Perhaps you could consider the oxygen you are about to breathe and the water you are about to drink as being part of your body, part of your survival. And at this moment you are also dying, a scrap of dead skin cells emerge on your scalp, becomes a dust particle. These particles of matter are the stuff of your body, but are they your body?
Smudge Skittle considers writing a material practice, deeply embedded in environments and experiences of embodiment. This project assumes that the culture of higher education must take materialities, climates, ecologies and environments into account in how subjectivity and academic practices are imagined, and that doing so can provide generative, inventive and politically-attuned writing pedagogies. Post-human pedagogies involve a destabilisation of anthropocentric assumptions, complicating perceived relationships between subject and object, self and other, bodies and worlds. It is becoming well-recognised that creative research needs to move beyond a wholly human focus to reflect the importance of environmental and ecological conditions entwined in human narratives (Bennett 2010; Revelles-Benavente and Cielemecka 2016; Kershaw 2012 ; Greaves 2013 ), yet doing so complicates dominant methods and conventions of research, writing and creative practice (Bennett 2010, Greaves 2013; Longley 2016). Revelles-Benavente and Cielemecka (2016) articulate that more-than-human pedagogies involve, ‘a disruption of the traditional approach to matter (that) unhinges the androcentric canon of knowledge creation’ (Revelles-Benavente and Cielemecka 2016).
New materialist pedagogies focus on the making of knowledge, with a special emphasis put on its collective and processual character, as much as on the unmaking of knowledge: on unlearning the dominant ways of thinking, troubling the structures which condition academic knowledge production and dissemination, questioning institutions and authority. (Revelles-Benavente and Cielemecka 2016, n.p.)
In researching post-human relations, in considering creative documentation as a kind of organism that carries affective resonance through materiality and style, Smudge Skittle considers how we might map affective spaces and sensory experiences. Simon Ellis discusses creative process as a confluence between forces and materials, in a conceptualisation of documentation that ‘softens distinctions between organism and artefact’ (Ellis 2015, 98). If material and teacher ‘in their reciprocal, intra-active entanglement, are not fixed conditions but rather emerging possibilities’ (Battista 2012, 72), what species of documentation might manifest from such entanglement, how might the affective forces of ecologies, spaces and creative processes morph together?
In her essay Encounters with an Art-Thing, Jane Bennett (2015) describes how the ‘thing’s ‘sheer physical presence’ taps into the sheer physical presence of my body as an external thing and my thinginess resonate. One result is that my experience of what it is to be “human” is altered, recomposed’ (Bennett 2015, 104). Bennett discusses vitality affects as a ‘counter cultural kind of perceiving’ (Bennett 2010, xiv). Her discussion of the vitality of matter proposes that we recognise our interconnectedness with not only living things but the vibrant power of the things around us.
Another ‘counter cultural way of perceiving’ writing in relation to its materiality is through considering writing through its graphic, physical properties. Claire MacDonald’s discussion of writing in the expanded field provides strong proposition for working with graphic and material elements of writing as a form of conceptual/critical practice:
We might now talk about ‘writing in the expanded field’, a field in which writing’s conventional autonomy – that is its objectivity, its truthfulness and its transparency – is in question, as writing has opened out fully into its material and conceptual contexts … in this expanded field language has weight, and it has material and visual ‘freight’. It has graphic presence that also ‘carries’ meaning. Language can act as a form of dynamic exchange, a powerful conduit between the material and metaphysical or conceptual (Claire MacDonald 2009, 100)
From this perspective the physical properties of writing as taking-form through materials that can crease, tear, expand, layer, exist as palimpsest or hyperlink or note-in-an-envelope-under-a-door provide tools for writing in/as creative practice.
The very nature of what a book is and how it functions can be questioned and extended through creative inquiry. Dance artist/ scholars such as Ann Daly (2004) and Jude Walton (2014) explore ‘the possible proprioception of the book: its kinaesthetic qualities … what potential there might be for performance, or an expanded notion of performing, to be found and/or created in book form’ (Walton 2014). In considering these questions, the writing of artists and poets such as Ulisses Carriòn are as useful and important as any research handbook.
A book is a sequence of spaces/ Each of these spaces is perceived at a different moment – a book is also a sequence of moments./ A book is not a case of words, nor a bag of words, nor a bearer of words./… Among languages, literary language (prose and poetry) is not the best fitted to the nature of books./ A book may be the accidental container of a text, the structure of which is irrelevant to the book: these are the books of bookshops and libraries./ A book can also exist as an autonomous and self-sufficient form, including perhaps a text that emphasises that form, a text that is an organic part of that form: here begins the new art of making books (Carriòn 1975).
Ulisses Carriòn’s essay The New Art of Making Books (1975) unsettles traditional understanding of books as containers for words. For Carrión, the time of a book is very different to the time of language, and it is a mistake to conflate the work of writing and the work of books. To borrow a clear definition of the term artist-books from the Tate Modern website, artist-books ‘explore ideas and concepts through form as much as content. They do this by, for example, disrupting the sequence and nature of the page, or using unconventional materials and printing techniques.’ (Tate 2015).
Working with the materiality of pages and books in the tradition of the artist-book might make space for the translation of artistic concerns beyond the conventional structures of scholarly practice by allowing every available element of the book to contribute to performances of reading. Paper, binding, colour, texture, image, legibility and illegibility can move into play.
9 Style gives life to concepts
Style sets the tone of a piece of writing. As an artist-researcher from a performance background, I consider style aligned with the dynamic of a performance – setting tone, sparking voice, enabling different currencies of awareness and feeling.
Working at the level of style can develop techniques for moving between abstract, felt, sensory, spatial or dynamic registers of awareness. Stylistic possibilities are endless. In an artistic doctorate, stylistic limitation is determined in relation, between institutional codes, supervisory advice, and researcher choice or intuition.
Style sparks in the travel of writing from vocabulary to readers imagination. Implicit in writing are qualities of ease, challenge, accessibility, humour, voice, colour, culture, fluidity or tension. These (and many more) can be used as creative strategies to develop elements of what it is possible for your research to convey, and your reader to experience. As a writer working at the level of style, one might focus on how the writing is being read by another as well as the specific way it stitches together phrases to create a particular tone of language. Of course, writing always evokes some kind of style, the question is whether one works with style explicitly or accidentally. And of course style is rarely singular – it is malleable and could sharply contrast in a single text. Smudge Skittle assumes that having a range of stylistic ‘ways in’ to writing will equip artist-researchers with ways to enter into forms of language-creation that align with the range of working processes and critical registers flowing through a project.
There are many simple, technical approaches to developing a readable, engaging writing style, such as varying the length of sentences and using concrete metaphors. Writing scholar Helen Sword completed extensive research in identifying hallmarks of stylish academic writing, and came to the conclusion that stylish academic writers
express complex ideas clearly and precisely; produce elegant, carefully crafted sentences; convey a sense of energy, intellectual commitment, and even passion; engage and hold their readers attention; tell a compelling story; avoid jargon, except where specialised terminology is essential to the argument; provide their readers with aesthetic and intellectual pleasure; and write with originality, imagination, and creative flair. (Sword 2012, 8)
I strongly recommend Sword’s books Stylish Academic Writing (2012) and The Writer’s Diet (2015) for general academic writing advice. Writing an artistic doctorate however, an idiosyncratic creative style will be emerging in studio practice that has a particular momentum, rhythm and feel. The play between artistic studio practice and writing is unique to the artistic doctorate, and this translation between the practices of artistic creation and critical writing can enrich and feed the momentum of research. This ‘translation’ between techniques of studio-based creation and writing should offer possibilities for stylistic experimentation that far exceed academic writing handbooks.
Historian, philosopher and artist Paul Carter’s book Dark Writing (2009) discusses the importance of including non-linear forms of thinking in the way we understand knowledge. Carter discusses how the ‘coming-into-being” of knowledge requires deviations from conventional and safe methods of writing, into often risky and uncomfortable practices. In this way style can be seen as vital in enabling non-linear, ambiguous and unconventional modes of knowledge to be recognised in perceptions of what constitutes knowledge.
Adopting practices of writing as in-an-expanded-field, exemplified by Claire MacDonald, (2009) may nurture writing practices that are playful, light, choreographic, spatial and lively. Such writing practices would take the logic of a specific movement practice as the ‘heart of the heart’, and from there weave together instances of practice, actively taking time to include concrete, experiential details and abstract/critical concepts so that the abstract and the concrete could extend and open each other.
In narrative writing, academic, philosophical, evocative, poetic, storied and situated voices are often interwoven to provide detailed insight into complex interactions. Working specifically with style, voice, narrative and character you can emphasise the vital role of the reader in constructing meaning (Richardson and St Pierre 2005, 962). Narrative approaches to writing also emphasise that meaning and understanding is created through the practice of writing – writing is a doing that enables trains of thinking (as opposed to a process of scribing the consciously known).
John Hyde Preston: But what if when you tried to write, you felt stopped, suffocated, and no words came and if they came at all they were wooden and without meaning? What if you had the feeling you would never write another word?
Gertrude Stein: Preston, the way to resume is to resume. It is the only way. So how can you know what will be? What will be best in it is what you really do not know now. If you knew it all it would not be creation, but dictation. (Preston and Stein, cited in Simon 1994, 155–156)
We can write to highlight multiplicity and diversity, to highlight temporality, to make vivid accounts, to find means to reflect on processes of rupture and change in all their brutality and tension, to write into the life blood of events, to recover processual fragments. Music research Wayne Bowman discusses how a narrative approach to research writing enables writers to drop down into the musicality of a process, to bring to life all the ‘action that theory so often neglects or obscures’ (Bowman 2006, 11).
To dig into the plurality and complexity of artistic research demands some understanding of and ability to meld multiple modes of address within a single text. It might be that such approaches resist the linearity and conventions of the academic essay to instead value fragments, lists, flows and experiments. Performance maker Tim Etchells articulates writing as a kind to ‘trying on of other peoples’ clothes’, in which writers can bring different voices into a creative practice.
Working in performance they were always tempted to think about writing (or even speaking) as a kind of trying on of other peoples’ clothes – a borrowing of power. I speak for a moment like my father. I assume the language of a teacher. I speak for one moment like they do in some movie. I borrow a phrase from a friend, a sentence construction from a lover. A writing that’s more like sampling. Mixing, matching, cutting, pasting. Conscious, strategic and sometimes unconscious, out of control. (Etchells 1999)
A voice, a character, a tone, a language – these things can be taken on and off like clothes. The skills of doing so are sharpened through practice. Etchells describes a writing process where different styles create openings into creative possibility, wherein research-creation occurs through event-spaces and atmospheres. Highly specific and performative voices and registers are produced through experimenting with language in a studio practice. These registers constitute different plays of power, character, intimacy, control. Forced Entertainment work with methods of sampling and organisation to generate meaning (a curatorial approach to writing) and the words develop force. This opens out space for a generative vitality to move through the writing process. Style can make it possible for certain thoughts, ways of thinking or felt ambiguities to manifest in writing.
Some stylistic approaches embedded in Smudge Skittle include working with exemplars to develop stylistic skills drawn from writers relevant to your project; working with the feeling of specific details; writing with a sense of musicality; engaging poetic techniques such as syllabic rhythm, cadence, imagery and phrasing; experimenting with vocabulary through dynamic qualities of writing; playing with narrative voice.
10 Endless models exist for thesis writing
There are many sides to everything. And yet often for the sake of simplicity, economy and sanity, as researchers it is very easy to present only one side of a story in our research findings. We often invisibilise accounts that disprove our theories, yet in almost all cases, those contradictory accounts are very much there. Even in creative practice, the process of rehearsal allows many failed attempts and silly ideas to vanish, presenting only a curated glimpse of an overall research process. James Elkins, in a discussion of problems with the practice-led PhD, questions the necessity of prescribed routes of thinking, and asks; ‘Aren’t there art practices that benefit from a lack of clarity about their objectives, or a lack of understanding of historical precedence?’ (Elkins 2015, para.10).
In dance research specific forms of expertise emerge through a concentration on kinaesthetic knowledge. It does seem that dance is increasingly being taken seriously by universities as generating knowledge relevant to disciplines of dance/ performing arts, and far beyond. In my own university, for example, dance lecturers have been invited to collaborate with the Centre for Brain Research, as internationally there is a growing and well-recognised field of study that demonstrates how dance classes can have positive effect for those living with Parkinson’s and other degenerative neurological disorders (for example, see Houston and McGill 2015).
As dance is appropriated by various other fields of study, it is fascinating to observe to what extent dance is able to work with and develop its own logics, methods and research vocabularies, and to what extent it is forced to adopt research methods ‘tried and tested’ by other disciplines. Whose rules do we, as artistic researchers working deeply through moving practices, play by? When do we get to make our own rules? If it is recognised that in ‘moving we transform the way we sense, the way we feel and the way we think’ (Bieringa and Ramstead 2015) – how often does the space of the academy allow genuine spaces of movement/ feeling/ thinking?
Embodied, practice-led researchers become experts at crafting research proposals that engage the distancing, cartesian language of the scholarly institution in order to support emergent, somatic knowledge and aleatory practice. Learning to write these proposals is a process of engaging the language of success (and not failure) of convincing one’s institution of one’s ability to successfully produce outputs, successful performances, positive reviews, and meaningful collaborations. I carefully erase any interest in failure or disjunction from the articulation of my research in its early stages, despite the fact that the literature that most enables my practice is that which integrates the messiness, complexity and absurdity of language and communication into the texture of performances.
Smudge Skittle advises readers to approach the concept of a thesis model with caution and weariness, as while models for thesis writing such as the social-sciences IMRAD (Introduction, Methodology, Review of Literature, Analysis, Discussion) model provide a very helpful sense of structure, focus and organisation – at the same time they separate out conceptual operations that can easily be coextensive. The separation between ‘literature review’ and ‘methodology’ for example – from a humanities perspective, can be seen as a non-sensical binary. ‘Methodological’ creative precedents are often vital in delineating the field of the research and the contextual field of study will provide many traces of potential studio practice. The concepts of ‘literature review’ and ‘methodology’ are much more slippery and porous in artistic research than in more scientific, or truth-proving research fields. With this in mind, Smudge Skittle advocates for artistic researchers to treat thesis structures such as the IMRAD model, which are organised around proving a truth, with caution. In artistic research, aren’t creative provocations and discussion of related philosophical implications, of more value than truth claims?
A thesis could be structured as a novel, a poetry book, a book of essays, a series of maps, a body of experiments, a concept-machine, a hybrid thing. The way in which one structures a thesis can be brought into being by the nature of one’s creative practice – its system of organisation – and the quality of logic unearthed by an idiosyncratic studio practice.
Open here means questioning, open to unpredictable outcomes, not fixed on a telos, unsure, adaptable, shifting, flexible, and adjustable. An ‘open’ pedagogy, in the spirit of Rancière and Freire, also detaches itself from prescriptive methods, fixed logics, and epistemes, and it orients us toward problem-solving knowledge or social visions of radical justice. (Halberstam 2011, 16–17)
We writers must establish our authority to speak (ethos), not only by presenting our argument ‘logically’ in its structure, claims and evidence, but also by following whatever conventions of tone, register, voice, grammar, orthography, typography and referencing we assume is expected by our assessors. Typically, we infer that for our writing to qualify as ‘academic’, it should be sincere, formal, generic, hypotactic, in Standard written English, primarily textual, and referenced according to the style of our discipline. (This is not to say that our academic writing can’t exhibit non-‘academic’ stylistic features intentionally or unintentionally [Sturm 2012], nor that non-academic writing doesn’t often exhibit ‘academic’ stylistic features.) (Sturm 2017, 4).
Specific instances of practice including experiential details and the weather of the work could be gathered through hybrid forms – a photo, a list, a drawing, a narrative, a poem, an in-depth analysis of one minute’s worth of studio time, a sound recording, a video fragment.
Such writing practices might offer pathways into more abstract concepts such as ontology or critical issues to allow the specific and the general to bleed into each other. What I find most necessary and valuable about artistic research is the way in which it disrupts linear, cartesian legacies of knowledge-creation to allow space for forms of knowledge grounded in cultures of making, embodiment, affect and thinking-through-doing. Recognition of the inherent interdisciplinarity of artistic research accounts for the way in which researchers are involved in a difficult process of translating ideas between often contradictory ontologies, value systems, vocabularies and points of view. This labour of traversing ontologies is often time-consuming and demanding. Recognition and explicit discussion of how researchers move between the demands of the practice (idiosyncrasy, spontaneity, embrace of failure, a bounce of ideas, specificity) and the demands of the academic thesis (rigorous planning, abstract language, critical contextualisation, seriousness, generalisation) would allow artistic researchers to develop more explicit methods and techniques to meet the interdisciplinary demands of working between these parallel conceptual spaces.
Reshuffling the cards in preparation for the next game
The assumptions we bring to the practice of writing have enormous power in determining what it is possible to disseminate through a research practice. Readers and audiences have only a very partial access to research process. In artistic research, the modes of writing available to us play a major role in deciding which elements of conceptual and technical knowledge are communicated beyond the studio. The assumption underpinning Smudge Skittle is that artistic researchers should have as many approaches to writing available to them as possible in order to find the mode of articulation that bests suits a project and its affordances. Artistic research is idiosyncratic by nature – methodology is entwined with content in quite a particular way – which is distinct from social science and other disciplines. This resource is an attempt to support playful approaches to writing, that recognise embodied, material aspects of writing and fluid, studio-based, pleasurable, non-linear and emergent modes of practice.
SMUDGE SKITTLEs: a little inventory of resources entangling creative practice research and writing
10 Propositions for enabling creative practice to spill into writing practice
1 Neurodiversity disrupts logocentrism
1.1 Allow your ideas about what learning is to be reimagined in relation to your research proposition. How is learning defined within the specific context of your creative practice? How are the ideas growing? What is the best way to support learning in this project?
1.2 Consider what norms your project transgresses or could transgress. How can this transgression be heightened? How can it be pushed to thresholds?
1.3 Gather a bunch of materials that encourage your sense of spatial plasticity – such as plasticine, clay, blue-tack and found objects in many colours. Consider your research as you play with the materials – every now and then, pause and freewrite with your project in mind.
1.4 Focus on imagination, play and aliveness in your research. Write down key practices you are working with. For each, think of what makes these practices come alive as research.
1.5 What forms of writing incite imagination for you? Devote time to these.
1.6 Explore how ideas move through diagrams and maps.
1.7 Use colour in your writing. Find colour samples such as paint-chart cards to consider combinations that resonate with you. Use these colours in sorting, thematising and developing writing. This could be through working with coloured stationary, highlighters, post-it notes, font colour.
1.8 Engage photographs as organisational frames for your writing. This could be using photographs to cue writing sections, as the opening of chapters, or as a reference at your elbow in the writing process.
1.9 Engage video as a tool for writing – make a short video on an element of your research that inspires you. Focus on process rather than outcome. Transcribe text and consider imagery as potential material.
1.10 Design a ‘comfort zone’ for your learning – let your design be as inventive and outlandish as possible to suit your idiosyncratic learning style. Are there elements of this you can translate to reality?
1.11 Draw out a typical work day on a piece of paper. Attend to points of transition between different kinds of work, and consider how you could allow time for integration and processing. Add in rest time and time to drop down into sensation.
1.12 Make a list of sensory comfort items and behaviours that you find helpful in your research process – consider sound, lighting, chatter, objects to keep the fingers moving and energised, encouraging haptic engagement.
2 Writing exists through relationships
2.1 Write a letter to your best friend or mother describing your research.
2.2 Write back to a theorist you are working with, telling them how you are integrating their ideas in your work, and how they are helpful.
2.3 Write directly to the reader you imagine of your research – ask the reader questions about the experience of encountering your work.
2.4 Write directly to the reader you imagine of your research – tell your reader how you hope your research might be useful/ interesting for them.
2.5 Write directly to the reader you imagine of your research – ask your reader questions about the time zone they are reading your work from. Imagine they are reading your work from 20 years in the future, what do you want to know about the context they are in? What do you most want them to be soaking up from your project in the future?
2.6 Never underestimate the value of a simple, informal, supportive conversation, entwined with the writing process.
Find an artist-peer who is also engaged in a writing project. Arrange to write in the same vicinity as each other for a half day or so. Work independently, alongside each other, for 60 or 90 minutes. At the agreed break time, have a conversation and discuss what you are working on. This is a chance to talk about ideas that you want to express which may be difficult to put into words, or to clarify potentials for the writing that are emerging. Make sure you are ready to take notes on the way you phrase ideas in conversation, to feed back into your work. You may want to do two rounds of writing and conversation.
2.7 Find a call for participation in an art event, or a call for work in relation to a particular funding opportunity, or a call for papers for a conference or journal. Draw on your research to propose something for that setting. You may need to bend the shape of your research to meet the call, but that stretch may help you see your work from a new perspective.
3 States of embodiment produce bodies of writing
3.1 Note the exact time, the temperature in the room. Note bodily sensations, note the light.
3.2 Consider embodiment as a bridge between concrete and abstract ideas. Address the tangible experience of embodiment; senses, temperature, material conditions. Write a paragraph that begins with sensory detail and moves to discuss a specific research concept.
3.3 Stand in a way that you feel is in alignment with gravity – you might like to imagine your pelvis, ribs and head, as globes that balance in line with each other vertically.
Notice the symmetrically of your body – does it feel the same size on both sides? Or is one side different – bigger, heavier, more compressed, more spacious, than the other? Are your arms the same length? Does one feel longer or shorter than the other?
Notice your breath.
Can you release the muscles of the eyes? Can your eyes feel relaxed and spacious?
3.4 Complete card 3.3
Close your eyes. Take 3 breaths, each one travelling a little bit further through your body than the last, up to your shoulders and arms, down through your belly and pelvis.
3.5 Complete cards 3.3 / 3.4
Notice the ‘Small Dance’, the tiny shifts of weight occurring all the time to keep your body in its relationship with gravity.
Turn your attention to the movement of gravity through your physical structure. You may notice a slight swaying from side to side or front to back, or notice your knees responding to shifts of weight. Notice this constant, subtle dance you are constantly engaged in, with gravity and space and the bones of your structure. And then in time, when you’re ready, open your eyes.
3.6 Complete cards 3.3 / 3.4
Write your name with your right shoulder blade in the space.
Write the name of someone you love with your right elbow.
Imagine your fingertips of your right hand are strands at the end of a paintbrush.
Imagine painting a favourite word with your paintbrush-fingertips in the space.
Close your eyes and feel the difference between right and left sides.
Complete this task on the left side. Close your eyes and notice the symmetry in your structure. Open your eyes at the end of an in-breath.
3.7 Engage a move-write-talk practice. Move for three minutes (in any way you want to), write for three minutes, and talk for three minutes (work in a pair or use a recording device). Repeat.
4 Engaging duration and scale can telescope the imagination
4.1 Write beyond what is imaginable at this point. Begin at the edge limit of the research – send your imagination into the newest, most fragile points of tenuous understanding, and freewrite from this place.
4.2 Expand or decrease the size of the material pages you are working with, by a substantial degree.
4.3 Decrease the length spaces of your writing – make your sentences half their usual length. Make paragraphs half their usual length. Write as sparingly as possible. Make every mark on the page count.
4.4 Increase the length spaces of your writing – make your sentences many times their usual length, let them run on and on like marathon sentences, or inexhaustible-conversation sentences. Write to pull all the words out in a running flow, as though you could write forever, without concern for clarity, organisation or structure.
4.5 Find some large sheets of paper – as large as you can manage. Find a bunch of different writing implements – pencils, pens, markers, paint brushes, graphite sticks, pastel sticks. Think of your studio practice and the spatial pathways and sensory textures of your work. Translate the sensory qualities of your movement practice into passages of writing and drawing – soft, strong, brittle, leaning, resting. Let the tone of the movement lead the progress of drawn and written forms.
4.6 Use modes of writing that move between 1) the immediate sensory reach of your body in the specific spaces of this practice, 2) the abstract potential of what the work can possibly do and 3) the conceptual fields your project touches. Try to cover each of these three points in a single writing session.
4.7 Thinking of scale in terms of proximity and distance. What is possible in your research now? What is impossible, but imaginable now? How might elements of the imaginable impossible move into the realm of the possible?
4.8 Telescoping awareness – from immediate sensory detail to the abstract principles that define a field of practice. From a broad abstract principle to a specific moment – experienced, felt and remembered.
5 The pleasures of journaling and documentation are engines of embodied research
5.1 Treat your journal as a site of experimentation merging the graphic and the textual.
5.2 Treat your journal as a container for time-based art, for stitching together moments + responses + ephemera + writing (in an expanded field).
5.3 Journalling can = multi modality + spatial plasticity + mixed genres + a space for ideas to incubate and nest + a space to fold time over time + a sensory comfort item + the seam holding abstract and material modes of practice together
5.4 Take non-seriousness seriously
Work on allowing pages to be messy and imperfect.
5.5 Embrace the scribble
Embrace the half-completed idea
Embrace pages that speak through affect rather than explanation
5.6 Create pages that simply remind you of a feeling
5.7 Create pages that simply provide a portal into a specific moment
5.8 Curate pages of your journal by digitising the pages that are most appealing – aesthetically or conceptually or chronologically.
5.9 Treat the pages you have selected as first drafts in another writing process – overwriting pages and rescanning, or photographing sections of pages. In this second collection of journal notes the focus could move between researcher-writer inquiry and pages to be read by another.
6 Writing is curation.
6.1 Choose a text you are reading that has particularly dense or rich language (it is fine, perhaps preferable, if you are struggling to understand this text).
- Take copious notes as you read. Highlight words and phrases out of your notes, for their sound and quality rather than their meaning.
- Create a found poem from the language of the text, sampling the text as much as you desire, adding any words in that you want to.
- The aim of this found poem is to create an abstract piece of writing. It does not need to describe, analyse or abridge the original text. You are making a new text from fragments of an older one.
6.2 Hold a reading group to discuss a specific reading. Each person is to bring an object that relates somehow to the reading with them. In between discussions of the reading, play the curating objects game:
- Place the objects on a tray. One person moves the objects around in relation to each other, arranging them into a formation that satisfies their aesthetic sense.
- After one person has organised the objects into a form, the group discusses what they notice in this organisation.
- The movement between discussing the abstract ideas of the reading and the material, sensorial affects of organising stuff in space, might open up possibilities for understanding concepts in ways that are surprising and useful.
6.3 Take two quite different concepts that inspire you. Place some ideas drawn from your own work in the middle of these concepts. Now invent lines of connection that run through these three bodies of thought. This writing-as-connective-tissue can require a good degree of invention and stretch – aim for playfulness.
6.4 Scan and print pages of studio documentation (photographs, writings, drawings, scores) and lay these out. Move them around in a way that is satisfying to your aesthetic sense. Arrange in many ways – by colour, by shape, by theme, in chronology. Take notes as you go. See how the act of organising materials can give new kinds of sense and create new lines of thinking.
6.5 Curate a little installation that reflects something of your project. You can use any objects, documents and non-human/human bodies that you want.
6.6 Scavenge ideas from unlikely places and draw them into your practice of writing and making, allow your scavenging to trip up your habits.
6.7 Think of a magpie stealing random shiny objects. Take a magpie approach to writing. Take something superficially appealing and inject it into what you are working on.
7 Tangential thinking makes space for ideas
7.1 Write with associative thinking – in which one idea unfolds organically into the next idea, without a prescribed path. See if you can drop even further into your associations so that the idea initiating the logic of the writing changes often and unpredictably.
7.2 Write in such a way that the logic of association is dreamy, floaty, curious.
7.3 Explore a stumbling mode of writing (with unexpected textual intercuts). Employ principles of permutation and pooling between experiences, images, quotes from various sources.
7.4 Employ the principle of not knowing but following. Begin writing without knowing what you are working on and see what comes.
7.5 Use the writers equivalent of peripheral vision. Follow the ideas at the edge of your vision rather than following a linear path.
7.6 Feel the memory of a movement pathway or a studio experiment in your body. Hold the physical sensations clearly in your awareness. Write with the intention to evoke the feeling of the movement – without describing, evoking or critically engaging with it. Use words for their intensity and emotion rather than their sense. The words you write will not evoke the work in a straight forward way, but they will give another perspective.
8 Writing rides on material, sensory activity
8.1 Focus on the sensory, tactile aspect of documenting your research. Choose a drawing implement that renders pressure and texture, colour and tone – and map the felt qualities of the practice on the page.
8.2 Allow shifts of weight in handwriting to come into collaboration with your studio work.
Deliberately work with pressing and releasing weight through your writing implement, applying pressure as a way to experiment with force and pressure in the graphics of your text.
8.3 Allow qualities of line in handwriting to come into collaboration with your artistic research. Rewrite a section of text, focussing on angles, qualities and densities of line
- loose vs direct
- clear vs ambiguous
- thick vs thin
- rounded vs straight
See how these can shift the graphic quality of your writing.
Translate ideas between different forms – through different modes of inscription – from movement to poetic writing to a photograph. Translate a photograph into text, develop a video work out of text.
8.4 Take plasticine and mould shapes and colours to represent something of your research. Write in response to the shape you have made, and the process of thinking it produced.
8.5 Take plasticine and mould shapes and colours to represent something of your research. Write in response to the shape you have made, and the process of thinking it produced.
8.6 Approach your writing space as a space for creative practice.
Note how it is organised in terms of
- Focus and distraction
Is there anything you can do to make this space more ideal to work in?
9 Style gives life to concepts.
9.1 Choose a writer whose style inspires you and notice how they construct their sentences. Notice the colour, dynamic and force embedded in sentences – the formal or informal tone, the length and rhythm of sentences. Write a paragraph in the style of this author.
9.2 Write to recover processual fragments.
Think about the project you are working on. Think of little details that otherwise might escape your research from any point in your project – a chance exchange, an interaction with a space, a feeling, a brief memory. Write from the feeling of these details.
9.3 Describe the music of your practice.
What kind of music is your work?
How does the film soundtrack of your practice sound?
9.4 Engage poetic writing
consider sense, space, force and world in the scale
(from the glimpse of a moment to the frame of a generation)
most suited to the work.
the arts of cadence, rhythm, phrasing
or imagery insuchaway
that what would otherwise be intangible and hidden
is made perceptible.
9.5 Write in heavy language.
9.6 Write in buoyant language.
9.7 Become an untrustworthy narrator of your research work. Engage a self-deprecating voice.
9.8 Write 10 5-word sentences or phrases about your practice. Anything will do.
9.9 List 2 identical sets of 6 numbers between 6–16, with a line-break between the sets, down the side of a page. Write lines of text that contain the number of syllables given by your numbers.
10 Endless models exist for thesis writing
10.1 Consider the model of thesis structure that makes best sense for your artistic research. Draw out the model on your page. Now consider the assumptions underpinning this model. What is the home discipline of this model? Artistic Practice? (Opening space for new forms of imagination and creative practice) Science? (Articulating the conditions and outcomes of an experiment, to prove its truth) Law? (Proving a case) Humanities? (Critiquing a concept) Architecture? (Designing spaces) Geography? (Mapping a terrain) Or something else? (What?)
10.2 Consider the possibility that the model through which your thesis writing is organised can be bespoke – idiosyncratic to this particular project. We do not yet know what the form of organisation best suited to this project is. Now return to your artistic practice, what kinds of structures for writing does your studio practice lend itself to?
10.3 Models for articulating creative practice research;
- need to be fluid,
- need to leave plenty of space for adaptation,
- need to be stylistically open,
- need to allow writers to find a tone of writing that reflects the logic of the practice.
If your thesis could be structured in any way at all, without constraint, how would you present it?
10.4 What is the most interesting and motivating way for you to include the following elements in your research thesis?
- Research focus/ aims and/or question(s)
- Identify the field of practice – creative and philosophical context
- Methods of practice – e.g. what do key terms/practices mean in terms of the material conditions of a specific project?
- Discussion of ontological ground – critical theory, values, assumptions, paradigm
- Reflection on the fold where theory and practice entangle.
- Conclusion that reflects on/evokes the significance or key principles of the work.
Reference List and Additional Resources
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Alys Longley is an interdisciplinary performance maker, teacher and writer. Her interests span practice-led research, performance writing, interdisciplinary projects, art and ecology and narrative research. Her work has been performed in NZ, Australia, Germany, UK, Chile, and Portugal. Alys’s books The Foreign Language of Motion (2014) and Radio Strainer (2016) are published by Winchester University Press (UK). She is the author of Smudge Skittle: A Little Inventory of Resources Entangling Creative Practice Research and Writing (2018) and co-editor of the books Artistic Approaches to Cultural Mapping; Activating Imaginaries and Means of Knowing (Routledge, 2018) and Undisciplining Dance (Cambridge Scholars Press, 2018). Alys is a Senior Lecturer in the Dance Studies Programme, University of Auckland, New Zealand.