Research 5: final piece: submission

This post contains the Research Dissertation to my tutor to conclude the Research module.

I have also posted

This concludes Research just very tightly within the 2.5 years that I had for it (including a 6 months extension). I will post another bit of reflection on this Assignment 5, along with a series of changes and additions to the Research part of this blog to align it more closely for assessment (in November 2021) and to make space for a Research folder that will link to the currently blank links in the dissertation.

Here the dissertation. Any thoughts and comments: I’d love to hear them, send them along.

I look forward to wrapping up BoW over the next ten days also and then to turn towards engagement for all of this.

Research 5: reflection and analysis of entire module

I am compiling a series of assignment and tutorial reviews, shorten them and add a final paragraph at this point of concluding Research.

1 review

I reviewed a fair bit of work: live performances in different registers; I watched a series of films too and explored their cinematography, script and framing devices; I have read key pieces of fiction writing that I identified as key for my interests and a fair amount of academic work too. Attending the SAR conference mid-March was really important: both to test out my own work (though any feedback was largely self-derived and little came forward from audience) but also to see where my work relates to and can be situated within. I wrote a couple of these up on the blog, but there are a few other artists still key to what has influenced my thinking about performance, intimacy, site and drawing. I have also had my proposition to move the line from online video work to photo essay and to consider its methodology as walking methodology accepted for a conference in Northern Greece (Walking Arts Network).

What I have arrived at with the articulation of the research proposal is a clear sense of what BoW consists of as a work programme (a series of performances in different registers, audience/participant compositions); I have also settled on a focus for the Research: the concept that I currently call near space, that I seek to investigate in contemporary performance/ drawing practice; which investigates some key themes for BoW: relationality, presence/absence and site. This feels important and useful and allows a focus that fits and can be refined further.

2 review

With the glossary I arrive at the first satellite object and begin the exploration of an appendix, additional objects that are part of Research and thus the notion of this project as Practice as Research starts to take more explicitly shape.
In doing so it also at once, exhibits some of the key methodology of the whole work itself: of how to pull things close and also let them go or push them away.
We talked about Laure Prouvost’s Legsicon, Katrina Palmer’s Endmatter and how there are a variety of ways of how my different materials can become a glossary, including the photos, links to texts and other things.

The objects of research at this point are significantly different to what eventually become research objects (we discuss relational tables within GIS and diagrams).

3 review

The tutorial for this assignment took place soon after submission and just as pandemic lockdown was taking hold. My social life had quietened in its analogue form and the distance modality was pushing hard on the laptop camera and microphone. The tutorial, its discussions and insights sat as excess in a world that had begun to get stilled (with some anxious twitches).

We discuss the proposed site of the staircase, its objects and arrive at the padlets that designate at that point three case studies, and that these may be research objects rather than BoW. Questions arise as to how these fold back into the research, how they relate, as well as how the Herz/Stein series acts as warp right across. The glossary elucidates the different aspects here.

4 review

After a thirteen months break we pick up and start with the concepts of the previous BoW 4 tutorial, immersiveness and audience engagement and how these relate to the Research draft. Concerning the draft then the structure of it, its different voices and positions and how it organises excess are key at this point: the role of the academic voice, of research materials, of a research folder on the blog; and then to ensure excess is managed and that the research questions are addressed. We pick up fairly effortlessly after that 13 months break between 3 and 4; we cover initially some of the discussions around immersiveness and audience engagement that arose in BoW 4 and then cover the following:

5 review

Tracing the first proposal through this moment of conclusion shows at once what has remained constant, what has become more defined and clarified and what was abandoned during that time. The consistency of enquiry, concern over engagement, voice and excess strike me, along with the fruitful exchange and support in the tutorial arrangement, the persistence of focus even as my material and site altered drastically not just once but twice. Relational enquiries with other people, 1:1 or in group settings did not take place, I tried a series of small exchanges at a distance, but the main focus moved to drawing/contact with materials, sites, atmospheres. The BoW shifted further while the methodological focus of Research was merely adjusted to also allow for the final BoW series, albeit it taking in Laura Marks’ Touch provided a key conceptual development for both, BoW and Research. I became confident in articulating PaR as methodology and integrating existing research experience with my growing skills as a creative arts practitioner. This feels a considerable achievement and I look forward to engaging this during SYP.

Reflections and alterations on the initial research proposal (part of Research 5)

The initial research proposal, my tutor’s annotations to it and the tutor report report for Research 1 are here:

Revisiting these after more than two years point to a series of continuities:

a. the question of voice (and the balance between a reflective, narrative one vis-a-vis an authoritative academic one) was already raised: how of tighten and how to make more authorial my argument. I valued these discussion as much as they clarified to me why I left an academic appointment to seek a creative arts setting, this being an academic degree qualification of course didn’t make the engagement obsolete but it helped sharpen and hone the kinds of voice and registers that I was seeking with my research and practice enquiries and engagements.

b. the suggestion of a glossary arised early on (partly in response to a) and enabled the long and rather fruitful path of how to create objects for Research, of how to conduct PaR and what kind of artistic ‘objects’ I am interested in.

c. from the start I took the critical reflection between BoW and Research serious and frequently returned to these. I feel this is a part where I successfully drew on my existing research experience as well as a rather well-defined artistic practice to be able to move between process and objects and to help develop these as strands with both Research and BoW holding objects and processes accordingly.

The research questions necessarily narrowed: there were no workshops, there were less and less 1:1 enquiries (even though I had found a way of how these could be made fruitful for drawing/contact). This was to a good part due to the pandemic and contact restrictions. And while I experimented with a series of participatory processes (a DIY zine for the staircase site; a series of viewing device instructions posted out), these towards the end call themselves ‘Instructions to touch’ yet are surreal, time-based portraits and narratives rather than engagement. However, with the question of engagement being at the heart of not just SYP but also how I conceive of this work, I look forward to moving this towards processes that involve others, closer and at a distance. The review of other artists’ practice was also less of a feature than initially planned and the work became very strongly one of a process-enquiry of my own practice, of the objects emerging and developing within this and this practice-as-research would yield insight and learning to fold onwards.

With the decision to actively conduct research in this enquiry, the creative writing as theory fiction as auto fiction, retreated somewhat in order to make space for methodology and findings. The case studies became research material, sited outside the text and along with other objects became part of the satellite objects, the appendices that surround a 5000 words academic text in the field of creative arts.

The initial proposal, a few months into the project, draws on earlier work and the development of this, it also features a series of academic practices (conference talks, academic papers, powerpoint presentations as well as diagrams). I wondered at that stage not only what would be considered new work but also the extent to which this academic practice should be part of BoW. Eventually, none of this become part of the portfolio, neither of BoW nor Research. For the latter, I over the course of the module developed a research practice which is firmly located within the creative arts and articulates as PaR, that this is building on an social science research career is not hidden but it is also a distinct development on from this. It is possibly this which I consider the most important learning from Research.

Nomadic thought and transversalism (research folder)

Research folder, expanding on this paragraph in Research dissertation:

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 and tactile it also asks wider questions concerning relationship and presence. These concerns around agency, voice and autonomy are informed by older materialisms (notably: a critical materialism of social praxis) and are curious about new materialisms and its rearticulations of the non/human subject (Marks 2002, Braidotti 2011, Springgay & Truman 2019, Hilevaara & Orley eds 2018).

(Helms, 2021, dissertation draft, 28 April 2021, Introduction)

(a) new materialism, non/human subjects: nomadism and transversalism.

In the draft I carry a different line around new materialisms and the human body with me for a while, Rosi Braidotti’s nomadism is dropped in but not explicated. It is the link to what before was the interest in hybridity (originating from that interdisciplinary conception of drawing), cyborgs and non/human agency.

For the dissertation text I am drawing the theory closer around Laura Marks and Stephanie Springgay and Sarah Truman, all else will largely go to research notes on here.

Nomadic subjects in Rosi Braidotti (2011) as a theory of subjectification for our times: feminist, materialist; furthermore, while informed by post-structuralism, she (and others) break with Lacan’s lack as key psycho-analytical feature but draw on Spinoza (via Deleuze/Guattari) to centre desire and the generative features arising thereof for such subjectification.

Figuration is key for Braidotti, there are also references to earlier publications by Laura Marks.

Here are a number of key points relevant for the dissertation (all Braidotti 2011, Nomadic Theory)

Key articulations of what nomadic thought/theory is concerned with:

“Conceptually, nomadic thought stresses the idea of embodiment and the embodied and embedded material structure of what we commonly call thinking. It is a materialism of the flesh that unifies mind and body in a new approach that blurs all boundaries. The embodiment of the mind and the embrainment of the body (Marks 1998) are a more apt formulation for nomadic thought than Cartesian or other forms of dualism. ” (Braidotti, 14)

“Nomadic thought rejects the psychoanalytic idea of repression and the negative definition of desire as lack inherited from Hegelian dialectics. It borrows instead from Spinoza a positive notion of desire as an ontological force of becoming. This achieves an important goal: it makes all thinking into an affirmative activity that aims at the production of concepts, precepts, and affects in the relational motion of approaching multiple others. Thinking is about tracing lines of flight and zigzagging patterns that undo dominant representations. Dynamic and outward bound, nomadic thought undoes the static authority of the past and redefines memory as the faculty that decodes residual traces of half-effaced presences; it retrieves archives of leftover sensations and accesses afterthoughts, flashbacks, and mnemonic traces.” (Braidotti, 15)

“Nomadic philosophy is the discursive practice with the highest degree of affinity to the mobility of intelligence: it is both physical, material, and yet speculative and ethereal. The dialogue itself is a movement of exchange between two consenting antagonists, such as friends, opponents, or traveling companions. ” (Braidotti, 16)

“It is particularly important not to confuse the process of nomadic subjectivity with individualism or particularity. Whereas identity is a bounded, ego-indexed habit of fixing and capitalizing on one’s selfhood, subjectivity is a socially mediated process of relations and negotiations with multiple others and with multilayered social structures.” (Braidotti, 17)

Nomadism in contrast to the flaneur’s gaze:

“Back in the metropolis, the ponderous yet lazy gaze of the nineteenth-century flaneurs theorized the art of walking as a leisurely literary stroll round town. This endowed the continental urban landscape with the mystery and seduction often reserved for faraway places—a domestic variation on the exotic. ” (Braidotti, 28)

Figuration is key for Braidotti, there are also references to earlier publications by Laura Marks.

“Figurations are ways of expressing different situated subject positions. A figuration renders the nonunitary image of a multilayered subject. Feminist theories since postmodernism demonstrated that the definition of identities takes place between the polarized duality of: nature/technology; male/ female; black/white—in the spaces that flow and connect in between. We live in permanent processes of transition, hybridization, and nomadization (…). And these in-between states and stages defy established modes of theoretical representation. The figuration of nomadic subjects, however, should never be taken as a new universal metaphor for the human or posthuman condition. As I argued in the companion volume, Nomadic Subjects (Braidotti, 2011), we need to provide, instead, accurate cartographies of the different politics of location for subjects-in-becoming.
A figuration is a living map, a transformative account of the self—it’s no metaphor. It fulfills the purpose of finding suitable situated locations to make the difference between different locations.” (Braidotti, 34f)

Tracing transversalism, which has been in my vocabulary for quite some time is a bit more difficult. The work from early 2000s+ by Gerald Raunig et al. sits closer towards institutional analysis, translation studies; and while informed by Deleuze/Guattari, it turns towards institutional critique rather than the subject, affect and non/human agency.

I have no access to my notes on Erin Manning’s Minor Gestures; nor Stefano Harney & Fred Moten’s Undercommons where much of this was explored and fed into my research/thinking around the Drawing 2 module.

Springgay & Truman’s Chapter 2 in Walking Methodology (2019) however assembles and outlines key lines and arguments: around trans theories and Braidotti’s (2006) transpositions that are ‘playing the positivity of difference’ (52), emphasising the non-linear and nomadic and that explore ‘regulated dissassociation’ of bond which are usually assumed cohesive.

<< these are the arguments that link to the BoW discussion around immersiveness vis-a-vis a notion of fragment, distance and detachment and a moving in and out of closeness and distance, i.e. how I draw on Marks’ erotic for the work).

So, for Springgay & Truman in this review of trans theories intensities and movements are key rather than fixed beings or things. They reference Abraham Weil (2017) on ‘entangled linkages, or transversality’ (53).

Furthermore, they mobilise Harney & Moten (2013) on ‘hapticality to think about how walking constitutes a politics-in-movement’ (12).

Chapter 2 in Springgay & Truman on Sensory inquiry & affective intensities in walking research thus provides not only the arguments around the use of nomadism and transversalism but also in doing so spells out the relevance of the sensorial and how this can be explored beyond notions of immersiveness.

(links to explore: Immersiveness, hapticality and the erotic, new materialism and register shifts (why I am not focusing all that much on matter after all))