I submitted my fieldwork submission to my Research tutor a few days ago. It is entirely contained in a word document, which effectively is my working draft for the overall dissertation.
Over the past two and a half months I reviewed my materials and processes by taking a new set of notes in my sketchbooks, proceeding iteratively; alongside, some of the material is actual practice and meant some of the works for BoW also developed further. I annotated further within evernote and last week decided to buy a license for Scrivener to use it for my writing process. It is aimed an novel writers, has a fuss-free interface and crucially allows for fragmentation into separate documents which then can be re-arranged; you can also keep all sorts of notes alongside. It was a good decision. While I have much experience of writing within word and enjoy it; this work is too sprawling and fragmented for the interface to work easily for me (i.e. not to worry that I will lose significant parts).
I made a shortened document for this post and upload the Introduction, Methodology and ‘case studies’ for the work, partly to help prepare for a meeting tomorrow. I.e. the document (copied into this post) isn’t complete but it gives a sense of the structuring of the essay as well as crucially presents the research practice that took place alongside the BoW and how I am currently thinking of presenting it for the Research module.
Three case studies:
- the dream of the staircase; and
are written through as narratives and each link out to a padlet that displays still and moving image material of that strand.
There is a fourth set of work, Herz/Stein which will be woven through the whole dissertation.
The near space in an expanded field of drawing: interdisciplinarity, hybridity and contact
Gesa Helms DRAFT (for Research 3) 12 March 2020
I have started to assemble the whole document but really only to structure it. I have greyed the sections which aren’t that important and in black are the ones that I have now written: spelling out the purpose of the dissertation, its methodology and then, as key, presenting three case studies (with the BoW material presented in padlets for each) plus the structure for the overall dissertation. There is a second more traditional findings sections which I haven’t written through yet.
I would like to discuss the case studies, if the format and form works and what it raises. I would then move to complete a full draft as Res 4 before producing the work for BoW4 after.
(I currently don’t see the padlets being part of the BoW in their form; they exist for the purpose of the Research dissertation. In some sense, like the appendix they are an exemplar of the satellite objects).
My Level 3 work on the Creative Arts pathway comprises a series of processes and enquiries relating to drawing/contact. It is interested in modality, site and practice of an expanded field of drawing that sets out with the body as initial drawing tool. In so doing, it situates itself in a relational practice that begins with a situated, embodied self and as such follows feminist concerns, taking both contemporary writers and earlier performance artists as inspiration.
Interested in contact implies a curiosity about the fabric that contributes to our articulations of corporeal selfhood (as author, subject and audience). At once immediate, sensorial, tactile it also asks wider questions concerning relationship and presence. These concerns around agency, voice, autonomy are at once informed by older materialisms (notably: a critical materialism of social praxis) and are curious about new materialisms and the constitution of the human body (also in its potential hybridity, one cyborg form or another).
1.1 Aim and objectives
Practically, I set out to pursue this programme in a series of investigations:
- drawing/performance enquiries which are mainly focused on the self;
- drawing/performance enquiries which are small scale, intimate and perhaps simply 1:1, either scripted and more formal or more spontaneous in nature.
By focusing on different self/audience parameters I seek to investigate the forms of contact, presence/absence in the kinds of near spaces that are productive and produced in drawing/performance, and, as a second step, explore them in a series of adjacent media and forms, folding forward and onward (Bedford, Schneider, Lepecki, all 2012).
1.2 The fantasy of linearity in a distributed field
This dissertation serves the purpose of a degree qualification component (40 credits at HE6), in this it has to address a series of objectives and its content is evaluated against a set of criteria to award it a mark. To allow me, the student and author, to progress to that mark, the coursebook offers, similar to other OCA courses a series of parts (five), each marked by a point of tutor contact, to arrive at a 5000 word essay in the appropriate structure and conventions.
At the same time it also is a document that marks the completion of more than ten years of (not very linear) engagement with the field of creative practice in a British Higher Education setting. This setting has changed much during those years, much to the better; and then it got a lot more expensive (as an English, fee-paying degree while I am as EU citizen a resident in Scotland where this degree would not cost me). But, to get back to the other purposes of the document (and you can sense, like I do, the pull to talk about the institutional framework governing this document’s existence): it completes my desire, intent and insistence of acquiring an understanding of first painting, then fine arts, then visual arts, then something that sits more contemporary, more interdisciplinary and concern-oriented. Since my last HE5 module I have come to understand my practice as creative arts in an expanded field of drawing. It allows for much.
Additionally, at the start of this module I was concluding a fixed-term part-time teaching role in the discipline, Human Geography, in which I undertook a PhD at the start of the millennium. As part of this I supervised eight undergraduate Honours dissertations, some of them employing approaches and questions not dissimilar to my own final year work.
This dissertation seeks to explore its substantive concerns in a form that is as much part of my creative practice as it has been part of my academic and professional skills for twenty years. In this it seeks to understand a written, textual form to perform, to present, to engage and participate in such practice of distributed drawing. It runs up against conventions and rules (like anything that is based in an institutional setting, or in fact is part of societal structures).
Nonetheless, I would like to introduce a few rules for this dissertation:
- it manages excess. Part of the enquiries into drawing/contact are abundant and inherently generative. They are small and inconsequential when taken on their own (at least sometimes) yet in toto accumulate to a distributed field that far exceeds 5000 words. There are appendixes, follow-up on questions and there are satellite objects.
- it presents in conventional linearity something that is far less linear in practice. Yet, for a textual document the practice of ‘reading on’ still presents a key approach to temporality, not unlike other time-based work. I can add loops, side notes and references for- and backwards, and still: you will scroll down or turn over. My theoretical contributions are for this presented as findings; my case studies are story-lets that open outwards (to other media, to existing or imaginary appendices).
- it budges up against its edges, seeks to subvert and step into the sidelines (knowing fine well the sidelines are as much part of the construct as the core itself). In this, it is dissatisfied with the institutional requirements. It tries to laugh at them but also takes them rather serious in its attempt to find gaps and little fissures to disappear into, to retrieve something from elsewhere or test where the citation convention can be made to serve other purposes.
. [omitting Literature review]
3.1 Methods of moving-with
The dissertation itself presents as artistic practice. It does so by moving-with a series of routes through the body of work and its enquiries. It is interested in the pursuit of movements in which contact arises in fleeting encounters. It is also interested in the materials engaged within these encounters and the kinds of spaces they are productive of.
As outlined in the introduction, the interest of the methodology is to practically — through a body of work — explore an expanded field of drawing (the shorthand I employ for an interdisciplinary practice) around the substantive concerns of moving-with, near space and drawing/contact.
The practical textual means of this dissertation draw on auto-ethnographic forms of enquiry in the social sciences and place them in relation to performative practices (mainly of self-directed enquiry, less so other human participants, though a few will feature). For this purpose, the body of the research material is presented in the form of three case studies which draw three lines (along with some further away animations) through the research field.
The three case studies are organised as loose assemblages: one, verge/weed presents a large substantive enquiry over a period of months; a second, drawing/contact events presents the initial enquiries and the concerns these raised for the articulation of research question, method and materials generated; the third one presents the final field site, an institutional staircase and explore this as the animating principle, the hinge around which most of the material can organise. This site also hovers between an actual, physical, site and a dream construction.
The core, or if I want to call it that: the heart, of the overall research is a series entitled Herz/Stein, heart/stone. Rather than presenting it as a separate case study, its work is woven right throughout the material of the dissertation to explore its relevance not merely as findings of the research but also as impulse, impetus, failure and excess.
In terms of exegesis of research practice and findings, the case study narratives present and link each to an online presentation space (as padlets) at this moment. A more traditional exegesis or analysis of findings is presented in the section ensuing the case studies. The approach taken for this consists of a review and analysis of sketchbooks and other materials and records (loose sheets, FB posts, evernote notes) in which I recorded, reviewed and more intuitively explored the emerging materials, their salience, potential and omissions. These currently consist of eight sketchbooks, three of which covering the production phases over autumn and winter, one of which consisting of review notes. The period of review took six weeks, during which some of the materials (notably Herz/Stein and drawing/events) were developed further still and in some case found resolutions. Alongside this review I also begun to explore the in-situ interventions in the staircase as potential exhibition site and developed a list of works to be produced as part of BoW4.
4 Drawing/contact in case studies
When does a series start? What marks its beginning?
Is it when I take the Bronica to the lochshore? When I load the film? When I say: next time I will bring the Bronica? The tenth time I stop and position the phone to take an exposure? The first time? When the grasses begin to grow? When the bindweed starts winding? verge/weed starts. It becomes a thing. I take the rolls and have them processed, one of them printed. I spend, much later, a day scanning. I make slideshows and posts (here, there, and the draft folder).
I dream of instructions. Of people watching. He does, watch. Sometimes there is a joke: step further, Gesa, just a little bit further still (into the verge, across, and eventually to tumble into the loch).
Other views filter in, prints veer off, find photocopy paper, a larger printer. The greenhouse. The bridge. Are they part of it? What is it? Is it staying on the path, exceeding it, recording the growing season (and this year’s lack of maintenance so that by August the cycle path has half disappeared.)
I depart. Live for a week on the other side of a bridge. Include the 700 mtrs walk across it. I travel again and find ourselves passing underneath a bridge, another and yet another.
I record more abundance. In close up, Shield Bugs nestle inside wild carrot flowers. They also nestles with each other. I watch, even stare.
I return, record some more and do one of the journeys again. By now, the season has changed, both here and there. The nettles are dying off the bindweed is exalted. The garden offers apples and walnuts, and my dad as eager participant. We finally perform, I record our veering, verging.
This record is merely remembered. It is written quickly. I may have omitted much. Will I retrofit, trace the medium changes across, the turns taken and the positions revisited.
4.2 Dreaming the staircase
I told him quickly of this dream. It doesn’t have an ending. I wake up before the ending, the destination. For weeks, months, I try and daydream a series of onwards developments. It is a desire dream. I don’t reach my destination within it and yet: it is totally within reach.
One day isn’t good. I depart, speechless, and exit, unplanned for, abruptly. I vaguely notice the interior construction that I am departing through. They walk overhead, I hear their voices. Outside I retrace my movement, my turns that have me exiting. I realise the movement is entirely congruous with the staircase movement in the dream itself. The dream starts with me doing the dishes, it follows with a suggestion, an invite, I fail to reach the invitation, or am I the one who gives up on it.
I look at the actual staircase closely. I walked it for years. I noticed its grandeur but generally wouldn’t pay much attention. The turrets, on the other hand; the corridor, on my left hand; the occasional darkness. Once I begin to move-with the staircase, my body crosses effortlessly the edge between dreaming and waking. It is this movement that I trail, stalk until I can step effortlessly between one and the other, in the middle of that institution, while holding a conversation.
For months I return and observe, stand, watch; often talk or listen. I notice its participants, those who walk-with the staircase. I learn gossip. I find extra doors, hidden corners, the objects that make the staircase staircase.
Unexpectedly, just a couple of weeks in, my dream concludes. In practice. I find the two rooms that reside next to each other, the two fragments that suddenly relate to each other; and a movement ensues on the staircase that concludes both dream and desire.
The staircase, right at its top, has a Luke, or is it: die Luke, the hatch (I remain uncertain about its article, is its correlation to the living merely incidental?). I find it early and fantasise about its escape first. Intent to feed it back and to organise around it. In the end, I don’t quite remember: do we? organise around it? or does it remain a fantasy.
A wooden door invites me to push. I never did until recently. Inside it smells chalky, I am waiting for the cicadas on the other side to reward my response to Ancient Greek’s simple past.
In spite of its solidity, the staircase is movement. The principle animated. (not him, the Head, mind).
I try to squeeze it into a single post and a thirty minute conversation. Of course I fail, and yet I get another invitation which I follow suit.
The dream acquires a third act: a fantasy of its objects, me, the ones who view, walk and participate. It is, like the original, fun. We have fun.
Black heat / white heat. I stand and turn. Someone joins me: how can you bear that heat. Later, I take it to the picket and offer it as position, place to the one who complains about the cold. He smiles.
The filter for the staircase is dramatic cool. It mellows the gold decorations and pushes the contrast, I would say a little, it claims dramatically. Another site, further along the corridor owns vivid warm, doing so, it provides a step towards that forest that would eventually lead to the city of illusions. More commonsensically it leads to a filing cabinet.
We can, and once do depart, by flying down the far turret. At its base there is a plaster opening, beautifully peeled. Let me show you. We can quite possibly touch it, too.
4.3 Four events (and then some)
I start with these early on. First one, after my visit there are four. I don’t understand what they may be; they seem precious, special, extraordinary. In this, they are fleeting and insubstantial, of small things. I spend time letting them fold onwards in different means.
I try to talk about them and I falter. Not just once, repeatedly, over months. I set up meetings to falter over these and what I am doing.
The afternoon in Daserí marks a shift. I still falter but with what has happened the preceding day I become daring about the inconsequential things, or perhaps it is her company. We eat and we talk, we watch and we drive. Then we are silent for a bit.
For the first time I sense it is something. A tiny thing, merely. It hardly matters and nonetheless.
When I show him he says: you didn’t erase it, you just hid it, obfuscated it. It still remains.
In the meantime I produce a definite thing, a three layer video movement. It is all that I have done before: it is daring, scratchy, violent and confident. It has a heart too. Appropriately with a question mark, or should that be a semicolon.
Elsewhere, someone does die (while we saved a life before Daserí). The day of his death marks the day that I pick up something lost on a pavement on a cold night a few years before.
The conversation about it will conclude a few months later still, in an introduction, a meeting withheld, a space between us closed.
But, I shouldn’t mix methods, muddle enquiries, so let me change adjustment again.
(yet, seriously, I was observed drowning at the top of the staircase)
From then on I become curious over the insignificance and find it abundantly. I almost don’t need to pay attention and the encounters come to me. My recording changes in the process too, and it changes a third time when I start to review what I have done.
5 Discussing the findings
My research for this submission consists, besides the Introduction, Literature review and Methodology of two related substantive sections: firstly, the empirical ‘case studies’, which draw together three routes through the material under investigation, doing so creatively and linking to online resources. Secondly, this findings section in which I revisit the three conceptual tenets that inform the dissertation research around drawing/contact, moving-with and near space. It is followed by a Conclusion.
The findings present the methodological lens and process of investigating drawing/ contact over a period of almost eighteen months, in this the draw out some of the process of undertaking this project as well as drawing together findings as they emerged through the research and making process and investigate these vis-a-vis the initial questions and where relevant wider literature or other artistic processes.
My proposal for the form of the dissertation to a large extent rests on my current writing practice and interests.
The concept of moving-with presents a development from Springgay & Trueman’s 2018 WalkingLab and their concept of walking-with within the wider field of walking arts. The material that forms drawing/contact is at once situated or perhaps rather: constitutive of an expanded field of drawing. In this however, it moves and it is not just the author or artist who moves, nor the participants but matter does too, across and between different terrains and spaces. It transverses too different modalities and registers. The movement is at once performative (like a drift, or like the practice of the flaneur are), yet, by shifting traditional terrains and moving towards concerns of networked presence and identities, it leaves ‘walking’ in its traditional sense behind. The material presented is keen to understand this moving across boundaries (of public, private; of analogue and digital) and does so as research practice.