Offering a piece of writing about the intersubjective in artistic research provides us as writers the space to think about why we feel the moment of the ‘in-between’ as being pivotal in the context of knowledge generation. Artistic research, we argue, is only of value if those generating the practice can speak with lucidity and fluency to the imagined recipients of the research. As practitioners, we might engage in a series of actions that allows us to ‘know’ something (we might call this research, we might call this training), but for ‘knowing’ to become ‘knowledge’ there must be a process of communication, whereby an act of exchange allows what is known by one subject to be transmitted to another. Thus, the ‘in-between’ becomes, for us at least, a significant moment in understanding the manifold possibilities of artistic research.
As a pair of artistic researchers (we completed the first, and to date only, collaboratively generated practice as research PhD here in the UK in 2004), we have spent the better part of two decades making interactive performance work across a variety of sites and contexts, all of which have generated knowledge through the presence of audiences who activate the enquiry through their engagement. This short piece of writing seeks to interrogate the bodily experience of intersubjectivity in the performative exchange. In order to do so, we intend to side-step the bodily for a moment, and dwell in the image – as if images can be experienced without the body. The moment of the intersubjective exchange, that tricky moment where one self encounters another (or multiples of either position), and in trying to conceptualise what is happening, we rediscovered this image by Alfredo Jaar. This is from his 2002 installation Lament of the Images.
He says of the work ‘images are important. Very important. In creating this work, I was trying to lament their loss, mourn their absence. In doing so, I ended up creating a new image, which is unavoidable. An image of an intense blinding light that could possibly become the blank screen on which we project our fears and our dreams’ (MOMA website).
The peculiarity of an individual’s practice-as-research is not usually described as a steady process. Artistic research does not, and cannot, aim for equilibrium, being contracted and imbedded in the commitment to seek out new knowledges and/or substantial new insights. And yet, these are messy practices, and ones which have the capability to mess you up, and mess you around.
These scores may seem ephemeral and insubstantial, but aim to stand their ground. They speak towards an ecology of resilience which describes a practice that ‘rolls with the punches’, rather than aim for a steady-state. The problems of subsisting a project, to remain effective, and to also reside in your research project, are no mean feats. To withstand and/or to recover, whatever your refractory project needs, requires similarly stubborn materials.
Thinking a bout what happens between bodies when using practice as a means to generate and articulate research, it is easy to for us to think our work holds a significance, a meaning, only for our viewers to be met by something blank onto which they project their own meaning. In terms of knowledge generation, (as opposed to what we might – problematically – term a ‘pure’ arts practice), we are reminded that it is an incredibly risky thing that we do; exploring that space between bodies, between ideas, as we craft / tell / show / make / perform / interrogate / reflect, then do it all over again. In practice our research processes reticulate as much as they generate, in this moment of exchange they cleave – in both senses – bringing together and pulling apart.
To some extent, this assumes that something must be happening in the moment of exchange. Even our decision to articulate it as a ‘moment of exchange’ strongly indicates our bias towards the belief that the interaction needs to be an active one. Primarily, this bias is driven by the feeling that the subject generating the practice and the subject receiving the work (or multiples thereof) are required to be active participants in order that the practice might claim the status of research. It seems self-evident that without an active maker, there can be no research imperative. Similarly, we believe that without actively engaged participants, then the work cannot be successfully weighed as to its contribution to the broader project of knowledge creation. Simply put, the intention to make practice which claims the status of research is not enough. There must be a process of reception which interrogates and scrutinises the methodologies and the outcomes. We will consider those moments of obvious and explicit interaction throughout the course of the writing, but it is our belief that all practice that wishes to lay claim to the status of research must have the capacity for some form of intersubjective exchange built in. Without exchange, how might the status of knowledge generated be tested?
As we have discussed in our book Between Us: Audiences, Affect, and the In-Between (2017) since the early years of the 20th Century, psychologists have been considering the effect of an audience and the behaviours of those engaged in an activity. Norman Triplett’s explorations led to understandings regarding the presence of an audience upon the completion of a task, with the presence of the audience having implications for both improved response, as well as the potential for an increase in social inhibition. In these early experiments, the audience was offered as a force, like gravity; their presence impacting upon the execution of a task for better or worse. Unsurprisingly, these early experiments focussed upon the impact the audience had on the actant. The exchange was thus positioned as a one way process; the audience can affect the performer, but there was no consideration of the potential impact of the performance upon the audience. This is not offered as a critique of the experiments, rather it is to highlight the cultural assumptions upon which such experiments draw. Triplett, and those that followed him, saw the audience as a mass, a singular unified body that because of its collective construction has the power to stand in for society at large. There are analogues with the need for practitioner-researchers to offer a discussion of the who their practice might be for, but understanding who your audience might be is only one part of the equation. Significantly, it becomes necessary for the role of the audience to be considered in the active generation of the knowledge. In order to make any headway in understanding what passes between the audience and the performer, there is a need to consider the physical space between, and what might happen therein.
The act of process asks a lot from the practice-as- researcher. Sometimes the ‘asks’ of artistic research require a kind of impossible folding, to both situate yourself in an existing body of work, and to propel yourself forward in new territories.
What if we celebrate this ‘folding’, actively seeking out an anteroposterior experience? To pass through from front to back.
Be like an x-ray: envisage the front and back of your artistic practice. It has already begun, where will it end?
In his book Thirdspace: Journeys to Los Angeles and other Real-and-Imagined Places, the cultural geographer Edward Soja argues that space is as important as history and society, and that ‘the spatial dimension of our lives has never been of greater practical and political relevance than it is today’ (Soja 1996, 1). What we hope is that these pages will open up a space between / beside /beneath / above /through you and your practice, and apply a wedge / a deviation / a sorbet / a smear / a spanner in the works. As Winfried Fluck states, boundaries between imagined and real places become blurred, ‘in order to gain cultural meaning, physical space has to become mental space, more precisely, imaginary space’ (Fluck 2004, 15). It is this blurring from actual space into thought space that we are interested in, and throughout our time together (and apart) we want to find a place where we centimetre (it’s like inching, only even slower) our way forward towards meaning.
Despite the many shifts made in the landscape of contemporary performance practice, shifts that have attempted to take account of Meyerhold’s assertions that ‘the crucial revision of a production is that which is made by the spectator’ (in Bennett 1990, 7), the critical frameworks remain indebted to the principles of textual analysis that position responses to performance as an adjunct of established literary forms. In some ways it would appear that the paradigmatic shift within performance theory from, a semiotic approach to dramatic criticism to an engagement with Merleau-Pontian phenomenology, has led to an understanding and acceptance of the body as an important site of knowledge creation. That said, this is a conceptual shift, one that accepts the value of the body as a site of generation, while still expecting a lexical articulation of said understandings to dominate. Matthew Goulish offers a rather elegant embracing of the body when he asks:
How do we understand something? We understand something by approaching it. How do we approach something? We approach it from any direction. We approach it using our eyes, our ears, our noses, our intellects, our imaginations. We approach it with silence. We approach it with childhood. We use pain or embarrassment. We use history. We take a safe route or a dangerous one. We discover our approach and we follow it (Goulish 2000, 46).
Fly Around the World:
The artist, Tomàs Saraceno, imagines an ethical collaboration with the atmosphere, what he calls the ‘aerocene’, where air-filled globe-like sculptures travel across the world propelled by the heat of the sun by day, and infrared radiation from the Earth at night. They can be both controlled at altitude and capture natural jet streams. These are dreams of post-fossil- fuel travel.
After the Anthropocene, what will your research look like? Draw a diagram, and send it into space.
This idea of creeping up, or centimetering forward recognises the bodily in the cognitive. Being practitioner-researchers we might find ourselves asking what knowledge can ‘do’, being both aware of how practice might bring about and respond to paradigmatic shifts, but also to take care and hold close to the temporary knowledges which might occur through, around and because of our various practices. If we accept Eve Kosofsky-Sedgwick’s assertion, that ‘the methodological centrality of suspicion to current critical practice has involved a concomitant privileging of the concept of paranoia’ (Kosofsky-Sedgwick 2003, 125), and recognise that this has happened contiguously with the languages of embodiment and the somatic finding their way into the discursive strategies to explicate experiencing performance, then the result might well be that bodies find themselves occupying a state of high anxiety as the experiential struggles to find comfort within the discursive strategies of the paranoid / schizoid. Or perhaps the inherent suspicion that comes from a critical engagement, results in a difficulty in trusting that our experiences will yield ‘data’ that can be understood without a critical framing. And that we find ourselves in a project which continues to foreground language, which might in part suggest a tendency to overvalue words in the articulation of the somatic. Perhaps there is no surprise that Sedgwick feels we have a suspicious response to texts. What both Brennan and Sedgwick seem to be advocating for is an epistemological shift, one which allows for the felt sense to be a significant part of knowledge creation. We wish to extend this. It cannot only be the felt-sense of the practitioner that is validated, but must also include the feeling-readings of the audience in any practice-as-research context.
The space in between the performer and the audience thus becomes of primary import as we begin to interrogate the role of the somatic – not just for the practitioner, but significantly for the understanding generated ‘beyond, beneath and beside’ (Kosofsky-Sedgwick 2003, 125), the practitioner and the audience. This space has traditionally been considered through proxemics, reader response or a combination of both. In his book Performance, Julian Hilton turned to the work of 1960s anthropologist Edward T. Hall as a means to understand the geographies and architectures of performance. Hilton foregrounds the importance of a proxemic engagement as a means to unpack the interpersonal exchange within performer / audience dynamics, and how distance and proximity might impact upon potential readings. Hilton’s overview takes Hall’s socially grounded concepts and applies these ideas to the field of performance practice. There is clear and immediate value in this approach. By taking the four striations offered by Hall, Hilton is able to begin to encourage the reader to think about her experience as a spectator. By offering some clear examples, he discusses the audience’s relative distance from the stage, and considers this through the lens of Hall’s proxemics. Hilton suggests that ‘[m]an’s sense of space is closely related to his sense of self, which is in an intimate transact ion with his environment’ (Hall in Hill and Paris 2014, 6).
Leaching of the Gold:
To leach; to embrace the act of percolating.
Drain / filter / percolate / filtrate / discharge / strain / leak / separate
If you ‘trim the fat’, and let the extraneous material drain away, what is left?
Describe the ‘remains’ of your artist research in three words.
While the literal space in between the audience and the performance is of significant import (and again, for a more thorough investigation please see Between Us – 2017), for the purposes of this writing, it is the very presence of the bodies of an audience, and their necessity in the making of meaning that resonates. For Rancière, the co-created text is a return to the sensibility of classical antiquity, in which the ‘being apart’ of the stage was enveloped in a continuity between the ‘being together’ of the signs displayed by the representation, the being together of the community addressed by it, and the universality of human nature (Rancière 2009, 61). This sense of community as central to the generation of meaning, is something that Rancière believes has returned in light of more radically open texts that require active involvement from the spectator. Perhaps unsurprisingly, phrases such as ‘co-creator’ abound when discussing an audience’s relationship to open texts. These shifts in understanding how an audience responds to the material presented to them, or perhaps more accurately, how an audience activates such texts inevitably leads to questions of democratisation and empowerment. As immersive and interactive performance practices become more familiar to mainstream audiences, what an audience is or perhaps does, increasingly interests academics and cultural commentators alike. To return to Rancière:
Even if the playwright or director does not know what she wants the spectator to do, she at least knows one thing: she knows that she must do one thing – overcome the gulf separating activity from passivity (Rancière 2009, 12).
Helen Freshwater’s overview of audiences helpfully considers such terrain in her discussion of interactivity and the move towards immersion. However, the idea that to be more involved is to have more control, or that the invitation to engage is tantamount to a democratic space, is to somewhat misunderstand the complex and shifting power dynamic in performance practice. As Roberta Mock suggests in her essay “Experiencing Michael Mayhew’s Away in a Manger: spectatorial immersion in durational performance” (2015), audiences do not necessarily come equipped to encounter performance practice and they might need to prepare, ‘[t]o use Jacques Rancière’s terminology, a spectator has to be taught (or else teach herself) how to be emancipated, to be free to find the ways inside a performance that an artist has left open’ (Mock 2018). Whether the experience is didactic or auto-didactic, the implication here is that the audience does not necessarily meet the work in a state of readiness, but instead a certain amount of preparation is required. What is less clear is whether or not these processes of training, which can be positioned as a surrender of sorts, are actually empowering or democratising. They may well be instructive, they may result in a richer experience, but there is not any assurance that this is somehow an equal exchange.
Perhaps in the context of practice presented as part of a doctoral submission, the idea of equal exchange is less important, given that it is expected that the doctoral candidate will be ‘expert’ by the point of submission. Nevertheless, the co-creation of meaning is central to the exchange for without it questions as to the knowledge generative capacity of what is being shown are raised. While the concept of co-created professional practice (and yes, we are perfectly aware of the problems of invoking this sort of distinction, and no, we don’t consider ‘professional’ to stand in for ‘better than’) raises a raft of ideological questions, the co-creation of knowledge generated through doctoral practice is vital.
Sometimes, as artistic researchers, we don’t have the equipment available to answer the hard questions yet. The concept of ‘bootstrapping’ takes exiting skills/ thoughts/ideas and cobbles together a response for a future thing.
Use what you have to hand and imagine some answers (then go barefoot for a while).
In professional contexts, co-creation may well sound like an opportunity for equality, but there is not a concomitant sharing of prestige or profit, or indeed any sharing of the burden of loss – fiscal or reputational – that might emerge. The rhetoric of the co-creator, while appearing to empower the audience, does so only within the limited scope of what is allowed. In contrast, in the context of practice presented as part of a doctoral project, the intersubjective exchange is a necessary condition of the practice if it wants to lay claim to the status of researc h. In both instances though, what remains in question is whether the spectator is transformed through this moment of emancipation, or whether the specific exchanges are contingent, tied to the context in which they are experienced. If this is the case, and the emancipatory exchange is not portable to another experience, then claims for the democratisation of performance practice are open to critique, as too are the claims for knowledge creation of doctoral practice. Perhaps then, the true site of consideration should be the body that experiences the emancipation, with the potential for change at a humoral level allowing for a somatic shift that impacts the intersubjective experience in all subsequent exchanges.
Reference List and Additional Sources
Bennett, Susan. 1990. Theatre Audiences: A Theory of Production and Perception. London and New York: Routledge.
Carlson, Marvin. 1989. Places of Performance: The Semiotics of Theatre Architecture. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press.
Carlson, Marvin. 1996. Performance: A Critical Introduction, second edition. London and New York: Routledge.
Deleuze, Gilles, and Félix Guattari. 1988. A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Translated by Brian Massumi. London: The Athlone Press.
De Marinis, Marco. 1987. “Dramaturgy of the Spectator.” Drama Review, volume 31, (2) Summer: 100–114.
Diamond, Elin (ed.). 1996. Performance and Cultural Politics. London and New York: Routledge.
Fluck, Winfried. 2004. “Theories and Methods. Imaginary Space; or, Space as Aestethic Object.” In Space – Place – Environment, edited by Lother Hönnighausen, Julia Apitzsch, and Wibke Reger. Tübingen: Stauffenburg Verlag.
Freshwater, Helen. 2009. Theatre and Audience. Basingstoke: Palgrave MacMillan.
Gendlin, Eugene. 2007. Focussing. New York: Bantam Dell
Goldberg, RoseLee. 1979. Performance: Live Art 1909 to the Present. London: Thames and Hudson.
Goldberg, RoseLee. 1998. Performance: Live Art Since the 60s. Foreword by Laurie Anderson. London: Thames and Hudson.
Goldberg, RoseLee. 2001. Performance Art: From Futurism to the Present, revised and expanded edition, London: Thames and Hudson.
Goulish, Matthew. 2000. 39 Microlectures: In Proximity of Performance. London and New York: Routledge.
Hall, Edward T. 1990 . The Hidden Dimension. New York and Toronto: Anchor Books.
Hill, Leslie, and Helen Paris. 2014. Performing Proximity: Curious Intimacies. Basingstoke: Palgrave MacMillan.
Hilton, Julian. 1988. Performance (New Directions in Theatre). Basingstoke: Palgrave MacMillan.
Kosofsky-Sedgwick, Eve. 2003. Touching Feeling: Affect, Pedagogy, Performativity. Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press.
Mock, Roberta. 2018. “Experiencing Michael Mayhew’s Away in a Manger: Spectatorial Immersion in Durational Performance.” In Framing Immersive Theatre and Performance, edited by James Frieze, 77–91. Basingstoke: Palgrave MacMillan.
MOMA. 2018. www.moma.org/artists/7477
Rancière, Jacques. 2007. “The Emancipated Spectator.” Artforum, (March): 271–280.
Rancière, Jacques. 2009. The Emancipated Spectator. Translated by Gregory Elliott. London and New York: Verso.
Soja, Edward W. 1996. Thirdspace: Journeys to Los Angeles and Other Real-and-Imagined Places. Massachusetts and Oxford: Blackwell.
Soja, Edward W. 2000. “Thirdspace: expanding the scope of the geographical imagination.” In Architecturally Speaking: Practices of Art, Architecture and the Everyday, edited by Alan Read, 13–30. London and New York: Routledge.
Whalley, Joanne ‘Bob’, and Lee Miller. 2017. Between Us: Audiences, Affect, and the In-Between, Basingstoke: Palgrave MacMillan.
Whalley and Miller, September 2018
Joanne ‘Bob’ Whalley
Joanne ‘Bob’ Whalley is a performance academic, performance maker, and acupuncturist.
Lee Miller is a performance practitioner, scholar, and yoga teacher.
Lee Miller and Joanne ‘Bob’ Whalley have been working together on practice as research outputs since they began their conjoined PaR PhD in 2000. They continue to write and make practice together.