Latitude 53 presents Visualeyez 2017, the seventeenth edition of Canada's annual festival of performance art, from September 26–October 1, exploring the theme of awkwardness

Day 6 MORNING Research-based Practice

Posted by Irene Loughlin on September 22nd, 2014

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Day 6 Morning discussion on research-based practice  Photo: Irene Loughlin

This morning I posed a question as to what was the participants’ association to and understanding of research-based practice in relation to performance art.  Together we generally located the definition of research-based practice within academe, with which the artists present had some kind of relationship.  Some of us are completing our Masters degrees, some are teaching, and some of us went through an undergraduate or an art college program.  We talked about artists buying time in academia where resources and funding may now be found. Nayeon started off the conversation since I had talked with her briefly on this subject the day before.  She contributed that learning and knowing have traditionally been separated, and that it is often assumed that research comes first and is then followed by text.  We were all familiar with such pressures to conform through the structural process of grant or proposal writing.  Such applications largely demand that the artist has worked through the ‘why’ before the ‘what’ of the artistic project being proposed as a kind of intellectual and psychic projection of the studio work that they will produce.  However if we consider artistic studio practice as “the text” (the ‘what’ of creative work, where materiality is made manifest), then we must also acknowledge that creative practices often precede or conjoin with the research-based and theoretical underpinnings of the work.

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Soufia Bensaid  remnant object from performance  – measuring…  Photo: Irene Loughlin

We talked about the supremacy of quantifiable research which can overshadow the text/artwork, altering it and perhaps rendering it less meaningful or impactful.  I thought about the work of art ‘falling into place’ contextually within a socio-political framework, and how this process can happen many years after the work’s creation.  Is it not the same locating a work within an artist’s individual practice?  Some of us felt a resistance therefore, to the concept of research-based practice.  I suggested that research-based practice was perhaps a continuation of conceptualism which had maintained a hold on contemporary art since the 1970’s, and that research-based practice could be viewed as perpetuating a kind of status quo and a resistance of emerging/prior modes of knowledge and future hybrid forms, particularly those emerging theories that produced less concretized, diverse perceptions and understandings, as forms of under-represented ways of knowing.

Pam Patterson has worked with the subject of research-based practice extensively.  She asked us to consider the interstitial spaces (the in-between of theory/research and practice) as primary spaces of investigation.  I thought about a discussion of the work of Janice Gurney in graduate school, where the physically uneven spaces between two-dimensional images offered a pathway through meaning, pointing to a kind of topology of knowing.  We returned to the interstitial in considering Pam’s work, where the arrangements of bricks (in an earlier run through of today’s piece) called to mind a kind of aesthetic topography, an aerial view of what pockets of exclusion might be made visible through the methodologies of movement and the installaction work produced during performance in the gallery.

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Pam Patterson – Brick – formation through installaction  Photo: Irene Loughlin

For Marie-Claude Gendron who joined us last night, research work is synthesized through action, and we must learn to talk about the work.  What could motivate us primarily to learn to apply language to performance art in relation to experiences which are often ‘unspeakable’ (or those experiences that feel diminished through speech)? Marie-Claude suggests an answer: The motivation ‘to speak to/about the performance art work’ exists in the opportunity that opens for others who can then offer their responses through language.  We will therefore be able to engage in meaningful and previously unimagined exchanges.

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During her performance, Marie-Claude Gendron asks police officers, “What is public space then and what belongs to the city?  Can I climb a tree, pick up a rock?”  Photo: Irene Loughlin

Pam put forward that we could question our assumptions about research as manifested primarily by ‘talking’ and ‘writing about’.  She suggested that artists can play a new and integral role in academe by pushing what we understand research to actually be, and agreed with Marie-Claude that action is a valid mode of research.  In her presentation yesterday at the University of Alberta, Pam talked about the parallel practices of art and research working in tandem.  She added that as artists, if we are trying to change the way research is understood we must first articulate this change and that this in itself is a difficult task, as we are pushing against the weight of history.  Beau suggested that artists are also a relatively new presence in the academy, where we are often challenged to quantify the abstract, and to measure the worth of art in an era of an increasingly pressurized and conforming neo-liberal society. We agreed that to resist requires integrity.

Dwight Conquergood, Buzz Kershaw and Delueze and Guattari were cited by Gavin as theorists who have resisted such pressures and have narrowed the divide between research and artistic practice in a way that values the qualities of creative work.  He demonstrated snippets of these theorists sculpted language from whom we might take heart and inspiration, by quoting  ‘the rhizoidal approach’, ‘the plane of immanence’, and ‘the body without organs’.  A very full discussion, in which ‘talking about’ research-based artistic practice prepared me for the bodily experience of such concepts in Pam Patterson’s afternoon performance Brick.