Writing as research as writing
When artists undertake artistic research, they open up their work and share their creative strategies. The writing describing their research is often considered a way of reflecting, rationalizing, explaining, and even controlling intuitive and embodied artistic processes. When we talk about artistic research and writing we should inquire into the phenomenology of writing. Can the writing process mirror the creative making process, by giving voices to the stuttering, the silence, the body or the not-knowing? The production processes of writing and researching have become more and more intertwined; the research and the work exist in dialogue with each other. Working from the perspective that dissemination of research can be an intrinsic part of the research and not only a report of research outcomes, we consider the very act of writing as a method of doing research. In the research group Beyond free writing within the Professorship Performative Processes of HKU Utrecht University of the Art, we explore and inquire how creative writing techniques are used as a method of artistic research and how knowledge on writing processes inform artistic research methodologies. Because we consider both writing practice and artistic research as co-creative activities our presentation will be a collective polyphonic dialogue. We will stage four crucial activities (writing, researching, teaching and dramaturging) as four performative voices or post- dramatic characters. In this performative polyphony we will suggest, share and discuss four strategies of combining creative writing and artistic research: peer-writing, source-writing, polyphonic writing, and focalization in writing. Describing and showing this network of molding strategies we hope to articulate the meaning and the beauty of elastic writing in artistic research.
When artists undertake artistic research, they open up their work and share their creative strategies. The writing which describes their research is often considered a way of reflecting, rationalizing, explaining, and even controlling intuitive and embodied artistic processes.
When we talk about artistic research and writing we should inquire into the phenomenology of writing. Can the writing process mirror the creative making process, by giving voices to the stuttering, the silence, the body or the not-knowing?
The production processes of writing and researching have become more and more intertwined; the research and the work exist in dialogue with each other.
We consider the very act of writing as a method of doing research. We work from the perspective that dissemination of research can be an intrinsic part of the research and not only a report of research outcomes.
In the research group ‘Beyond Freewriting’ within the Professorship Performative Processes of HKU Utrecht University of the Art, we explore and inquire how creative writing techniques are used as a method of artistic research and how knowledge on writing processes informs artistic research methodologies.
Because we consider both writing practice and artistic research as co-creative activities our presentation has been a collective polyphonic dialogue. In this performative polyphony we have suggested, shared and discussed four strategies of combining creative writing and artistic research:
Source-writing, Proprioceptive writing, Peer-writing and Polyphonic writing. This article is a written account of that work, and includes some further reflections.
Marjolijn van den Berg Open (Up) Writing; Source-Writing
My workroom, when I am in the middle of a writing process, has been described as looking like the aftermath of a hurricane. For me, writing is creating; it is thinking, exploring, building, reflecting, discovering. It is a form of research, a form of making. It is a physical act.
I walk around the room, I read texts out loud, cut them up, scribble on pieces of paper lying around. My work needs to be tangible. Most of the time, if you see the final version of a text, you may never expect the chaotic process that led to the polished result.
When writing we are constantly switching between two types of thinking: generative and non-generative or analytical (Howard-Jones 2002). Or as Flower and Hayes say: generating versus constructing (Flower & Hayes 1977; Flower & Hayes 1981). Both are essential, but they are not equally beneficial during various stages of the process.
When teaching writing to Art and Design students, I know that students come into my classroom with a certain expectation of writing, especially when related to research. If these have all been restrictive, formal, mainly focusing on the analytical, then this is what they expect I will make them do, and, if they think they are bad at it, they are probably not looking forward to it, which I understand. That is why I try to think of alternative entry points into writing, to teach generative strategies. I try to find playful ways for Art and Design students to work with source texts, for example.
In order for them to experience this playfulness, they must first realize that a text is not sacred. You can do more with it than citing it, or writing a summary. I want source texts to become material they can use more freely. You can use texts, make them your own, let them inspire you. In his book, Uncreative Writing Kenneth Goldsmith talks about using an approach to language and writing where the concept of ‘ownership’ is not so black and white. (Goldsmith 2011) By claiming words from others and recycling them, you can create something new, something that is yours.
I am not advocating plagiarism, I am looking for ways for students to go beyond skimming a text for information, writing text that neatly summarizes the views and voices of others, but that leaves out their own voice. I want them to dig into the texts, research them by pulling them apart, not by cutting out parts that they feel summarize the text, but by cutting out anything that stands out to them and categorizing it, re-assembling the texts visually on paper. Making a grammatically correct or cohesive text is not a requirement.
A student said: ‘By cutting out pieces of texts and looking at it like this, the words turn into objects. It is a different approach to language; to experience its materiality.’ (van den Berg 2020.) Categorizing your selected material makes you connect to it in a different way. This is in line with the idea that the generative mode benefits from ‘changes in context’ (Howard-Jones 2002). It also makes it easier to select cut-outs in the next step because you have processed the material a second time and are more aware of what there is to work with. Reading them out loud gives you a feel for the linguistic quality of the material. What does it sound like? What associations does it bring up? Can we already see a story there?
The visual text can stand on its own, but is also just one step in the repeating cycle of generating and analyzing, writing and researching. When the new text is completed, you can reflect on it, talking or writing about what the new text means to you. What relations do you see with the ‘old’ text and the ‘new’? What would the reader like to take away from it? This next step can help you create more information and gain insight. I hope this way of working can help you or your students gain more freedom in writing.
Ninke Overbeek Proprioceptive Writing
This is a test of a new writing and research method that I’ve created for myself, which I hope can become a method for others as well. I have called it ‘proprioceptive writing and reading’. Proprioception is one of our senses, just like smelling, touching, tasting, hearing and seeing are. Proprioception is the one that helps you stay upright, which keeps your balance and helps you orientate in a room, in relation to other bodies and objects. I’m sure the scientific use of the word ‘proprioception’ is different from mine.
This is how I use it:
You walk into a room and proprioception helps you orientate. Because you feel the quality of the air around you, the positions of objects and other peoples’ bodies: you know where you are. You sense textures of other bodies in the space, their body temperature, you sense what is below you and what is above. You can feel it if you are descending or ascending; so you know where you are.
When I read a text, it is as if I decide to walk into it and feel my way through it.
Charles Olson was an early modern American poet who used proprioception in relation to writing poetry (Nealand 2014). He describes how he uses an experience of motion, texture and shifts when writing poetry. Here, I am using this kind of poetic proprioception to write and read in reaction to a text by Merleau-Ponty. (Merleau-Ponty 1968, 3)
First, I copy a piece of Merleau-Ponty’s text. Then, I write down my own thoughts and reflections on that text. All of these reflections are inspired by feeling my way through the text in a proprioceptive manner. Although some of my reflections might contain a cognitive, rational approach, most of the reflections have a more physical quality to them. It’s a way of feeling through the world of the text, instead of merely reflecting on it from a rational level. So I ask myself; What do I see when I read this text. Can I also hear, smell or taste anything? What motions or movements do I detect? Can I feel a shift in the text? For instance when an idea changes or the perspective changes? What textures and structures do I perceive? Who is talking? To whom? And whose voices aren’t present?
The purpose of this exercise is to create a better understanding of this text for myself, by relating to the text on a subjective level, and to use it as part of my artistic research. This method is a small step, to answer a bigger research question, in which I am trying to see if the poetic space can be a space for dialogue. I am using the lens of proprioception – which to me is a poetic lens, because it is so connected to the senses; the felt quality of the language (Johnson 2018, 15–16) – to be in dialogue with this text while I read it.
Merleau-Ponty writes “We see the things themselves, the world is what we see” (Merleau-Ponty 1968, 3). I realise he is making a distinction between the world we perceive and the world we can express to each other. I make a connection to the tiny beetle lying on my desk. Which I cannot describe, nor draw very well. We see the things themselves; the beetle on my desk. But what I can express about it, is very different from what I perceive.
Then I move to the second sentence of his text. Part of what I am doing is slowing the reading experience way down, and noticing all the thoughts, but mostly, sensuous perceptions, that help me grasp its content. Merleau-Ponty writes:
Formulae of this kind express a faith common to the natural man and the philosopher – the moment he opens his eyes, they refer to a deep-seated set of mute opinions implicated in our lives. But what is strange about this faith is that if we seek to articulate it into theses or statements, if we ask ourselves, what is this we, what seeing is and what ‘thing’ or ‘world’ is, we enter into a labyrinth of difficulties and contradictions.(Merleau-Ponty 1968, 3)
When I read this text, I feel a motion of dropping down. A descending motion. This comes from the words; “A deep seated set of mute opinions, implicated in our lives.” I can feel the text move downward in my stomach. I express this feeling in a text of my own, which I write next to the lines written by Merleau-Ponty, in blue.
Deep down in ourselves, or maybe in the ground, a set of silent feelings and opinions sit with us and when we look at the world, open our eyes, we let those silent feelings speak to us, and they shape the lens through which we look. This image is quite dark. An underground world in which our feelings sit in silence. It’s a warm image that smells of earth. The feelings sitting in there are of a lighter colour.
Every sentence in the core text creates feelings, sensations of movement, shifts, textures moving inside me, associations with words like ‘world’ and ‘universe’. I can feel Merleau-Ponty digging further into the question ‘what can perception be’. What can we perceive, and how does it differ from a representation of that perception. How does a person develop an idea of the world within the social and physical conditions of that world. It is almost a miracle that we can even understand each other through language. Something tells me that it is not the meaning of the words, but the quality of their energy; what they make us feel like, that communicate most of what we mean.
This proprioceptive process of reading shows me how Merleau-Ponty’s ideas move; through which motions they go. I have detected movements of descending, feelings of entering an open field, feelings of descending a ladder, swimming in a sea of people, or being isolated on an island. The next question is; if I create a poem with these ingredients, can I express some of Merleau-Ponty’s ideas through poetic imagery; can I make a performative, felt-quality version of his thoughts. And how does this help my own creative process; what does this method of proprioceptive reading do for my own writing.
Can I recreate the feeling of movement and texture that the text by Merleau-Ponty gave me, in a work of my own? And what would that give me, what does that mean. If I can ‘translate’ the felt quality of this text into a new text of my own, that works with that same quality; does that create a space for dialogue? If I copy the language ‘gesture’ of Merleau-Ponty into a ‘language-gesture’ of my own: as if I copy him moving up an arm or a leg. As if we are both on a dancefloor, and the proprioceptive feeling of Merleau-Ponty’s thoughts, teaches me how to dance.
I am curious to know if this method resonates with you and if you’ve done or seen something like this before. Do let me know.
Daniela Moosmann Peer Writing
When we do artistic research, we all come to the point in which we want to articulate our knowledge. We want to share our knowledge, in words, or at least in a dissemination form that allows others to tune into our thoughts. We want them to participate in the reflections and conclusions of our research, our inquiries
Many artists, whether they are trained academically, or more grounded in artistic practice, struggle with how to do this. In my teaching practice in Higher Art Education courses I got convinced, that there are easy and smooth ways to get in contact with your own wisdom – through freewriting methods as well as creative writing, freetalking and peerwriting methods
Peer Writing is a method for artistic research, to use peers and writing to deepen the research and reflect on it in a broader way. Peer Writing is Enquiry through writing. In this research method Writing practice and Artistic research are seen as radical collective and co-creative activities.
Who has invented the strange concept that research is an individual act and that writing should be done on your own? Perhaps it is a typical romantic, western, male view on being an artist, a writer or a researcher.
Each year I’m working with an international group of students of the MA Scenography at HKU Utrecht University of the Arts. My module Writing and Research is one of the modules assisting them in creating a Final Research Document that is fully intertwined with their artistic scenographic work. By using very different writing assignments, I introduce Peer Writing to the students, as a method of doing research.
At the very start of their artistic research, the students write down everything they know and want to research about their subject in a freewriting session. This includes theories, sources, examples from their own practice and examples of works of other artists. They hand this text over to the next student, who reads everything carefully and writes comments, advice, tips and thoughts in the margins of the source-text. This iteration is repeated a few times and every time the next student (a different one) responds to all the texts that are written in the margins by his predecessors. Lastly, the original writer gives another written reflection on all texts, written about his or her own research. The purpose of this exercise is to stimulate free and divergent thinking, to find and embrace unexpected connections within the research plan and to work and research dialogically.
My view on writing is very much grounded in my past as a dancer and a theatre writer. And so is my view on artistic research. Based on that background I believe in embodied knowledge as much as in reflection through writing, in the insights and use of writing processes and theatre making processes, which inform the research process.
In my research as well as my teaching practice, I make the connection between writing and doing research. Which strategies can be found to do research through writing and to experience the interaction between doing and thinking, between embodied knowledge and other modes of knowing. The key concepts of my research are the reflection and knowledge of the unconscious and conscious, the use of dialogue and peerwriting as an entrance to artistic research and its dissemination.
The goal of my research is to find concrete and practical exercises that connect all these elements.
- To deepen the content of the research.
- To improve the verbal and written reflection on the research.
- To generate texts that can not only be the description or the dissemination of the artistic research but are a crucial part of the research process and of the artistic product.
Nirav Christophe Polyphonic Writing
When we talk about artistic research and creative and critical writing, we should inquire into the writing and production process itself.
Susan Melrose distinguishes various writing registers in research texts, which she borrows from Gregory Ulmer, such as ‘explanatory myth’, ‘expert or technical register’, ‘popular register’, and ‘personal/anecdotal registers’. Melrose makes a powerful plea for the use of multiple writing registers at the same time, which she refers to as ‘multifocal’. (Melrose 2006)
I call it polyphony. The concept of polyphony was coined by the Russian philosopher Michail Bakhtin who described how the novels of Dostojevski consisted of much more than one voice. (Bakhtin 2011) I extended Bakhtins polyphonic and dialogical concept to the writing process and the writing pedagogy, thus considering polyphony as a theory of creativity.
My book Ten Thousand Idiots describes the innumerable voices dwelling in us in this day and age as we live, write and make theatre. Learning to distinguish your internal voices, play with them and switch rapidly between them is the basis of the creative process. (Christophe 2019) In my practice of polyphonic reading and polyphonic writing I look for the different voices in the text by creating characters and changing non-fiction text into a theatre dialogue.
I use this research method with 4th year students of BA-course Writing for Performance HKU Utrecht University of the Arts. These students conduct their research in the same period in which they write their artistic graduation work, focusing their research on an aspect of that graduation work: the genre, the theme, the dramaturgy, or the style of the theatre text. The notions and questions in their research originate in their own writing practice and are then assessed there as they write. Thus the research gains methodological characteristics from the artistic process, the polyphonic theatre writing process.
The polyphonic creative writing process includes both conscious and more unconscious voices, more productive and more reflective voices, and honours both types of voice. Thus, the writing process mirrors the Artistic Research process, by giving voices to the stuttering, the silence, the body or the not-knowing.
The production processes of writing and researching have become more and more intertwined; the research and the work exist in dialogue with each other.
Let’s end this polyphonic session with the first writing tip from script writer and novelist Hanif Kureishi to his writing students:
“Don’t forget you’re many”
- All research is Artistic Research. All Writing is Creative Writing. All writing is research.
- Writing processes as well as Artistic Research Practices are fundamentally co-creative. Authorship in these processes is always plural.
- Due to its co-creative character of the process, all research and writing is polyphonic and dialogic.
- Creative writing pedagogies and assignments ought to be framed as strategies to wake inner voices and to train the interplay between these inner voices in writing and research processes.
- Working with Writing processes and Research practices is fundamentally playful; it works with our bodies and senses and not just our rational abilities, and itdebunks the holiness of the ‘academic’ text, for the purpose of finding ease and fun in the ‘writing’ part of the research.
Bakhtin, Mikhail. 2011 (1984). Problems of Dostoevsky’s Poetics. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Christophe, Nirav. 2019. Ten Thousand Idiots; Poetics, writing process and pedagogy of Writing For Performance based on Bakhtin’s polyphony. Amsterdam/Utrecht: HKU University of the Arts Utrecht & International Theatre & Film Books.
Flower, H. and Hayes, J. 1977. “Problem-Solving Strategies and the Writing Process.” College English 39, no. 4 (1977): 449–461.
Flower, H. and Hayes, J. 1981. “A Cognitive Process Theory of Writing.” College Composition and Communication 32, no. 4 (1981): 365–387.
Goldsmith, K. 2011. Uncreative Writing: Managing Language in the Digital Age. New York: Columbia University Press.
Howard-Jones, P. 2002. “A Dual-state Model of Creative Cognition for Supporting Strategies that Foster Creativity in the Classroom.” International Journal of Technology and Design Education 12 (2002): 215–226.
Johnson, Mark. 2018. The aesthetics of meaning and thought: the bodily roots of philosophy, science, morality and art. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press.
Melrose, Susan. 2006. “‘Constitutive ambiguities’: writing professional or expert performance practices, and the Théâtre du Soleil, Paris.” In Contemporary Theatres in Europe: a Critical Companion. Edited by Joe Kelleher and Nicholas Ridout, 120–136. New York: Routledge.
Merleau-Ponty, Maurice. 1968. The Visible and the Invisible. Edited by Claude Lefort. Evanston: Northwestern University Press.
Nealand, Eireen. 2014. “Beyond the perceptual model; toward a proprioceptive poetics.” Peer Reviewed Dissertation. University of California Santa Cruz.
Van den Berg, M.A.P. 2020. Open Up Writing: Teaching writing as creating. Rotterdam: Piet Zwart Institute.
Nirav Christophe writes for theatre and radio and his radio plays have been broadcast in twelve countries. He is an internationally-renowned creative writing lecturer and pedagogue, and has published books as ‘Writing in the Raw; the myths of writing’ (2008), and more recently ‘Ten Thousand Idiots; Poetics, writing process and pedagogy of Writing for Performance based on Bakhtin’s polyphony’ (2019). Research focus: polyphony in transdisciplinary co-creative processes.
Daniela Moosmann: BA New Dance Developments, BA Writing for Performance, MA Theatre Studies, HKU-lecturer Writing processes and dramaturgy at BA- and MA-courses. Research focus: contemporary playwriting processes and the use of writing strategies as research methodology in Higher Art Education. Researcher in the research collective ‘Beyond free writing’ of the HKU Professorship Performative Processes.
Ninke Overbeek: (BA Writing for Performance, BA Theatre Studies, MA Comparative Cultural Analysis), fiction-author and author for performance, lecturer writing for performance/ theatre, research focus: ficto-critical writing and connections to embodied knowledges. Researcher in the research collective ‘Beyond free writing’ of the HKU Professorship Performative Processes.
Marjolijn van den Berg: (BA Writing for Performance, MA Education in Arts), lecturer Writing as Making within Higher Art Education and Research Coordinator at HKU, research focus: art-writing, generative writing and experiential writing education. Researcher in the research collective ‘Beyond free writing’ of the HKU Professorship Performative Processes.