Choreo-graphic Figures: Beginnings and Emergences tackles boldly the challenges and opportunities of presenting artistic research within the form of an exposition, an ‘assemblage of overlapping and concurrent components’ hovering between explanation and exhibition. The exposition consists in a complex assemblage of visual and textual material, proposing a sophisticated examination of collaborative and trans-disciplinary artistic process. The project is described as temporally situated at the beginning of the process, and it seeks to use as its material the articulation of its own unfolding, examining its conditions of emergence as they unravel within the first stages of a longer-term research plan.
The exposition offers a series of interesting visual and aural experiences: the projects’ first enactments as ‘live explorations’: set times when the collaborators came together in the same location and collaboratively activated a variety of materials and technologies, and which are documented by staged videos distilling their findings as moments of intensity, on the threshold of something happening. Word-based animations give a sense of the conversations amongst the collaborators and create an additional layer of narrative to the videos themselves.
In its more theoretical components, which take the form of long columns of text running between and amongst the visual material, the exposition seeks to carve a new lexicon to define the most elusive, inarticulate processes within artistic research, situated at those same threshold moments evoked by the videos where, from an initial exploration, ‘something’ starts to emerge. An attempt is made to characterize ‘thinking in action’ as a process of ‘figuring’, where the ‘figure’ is at the same time a body and a diagram, a posture that can be repeated and reactivated, and recorded through the invention of a new notation system. The exposition includes a sophisticated, nuanced description of the project’s research aims, and how they have evolved concurrently with the distinct initial stages of the research. In addition to the focus on artistic process in its initial and uncategorized moments of emergence, the authors also want to tackle disciplinary boundaries, in particular the ones they seem to postulate between their own practices of dance, writing and drawing.
Although the role of artistic practice is paramount in this exposition, the methodology in place - which the authors describe as having crystallized from different phases of their artistic practice - could be more clearly connected to the activities we witness in the visual and aural material. From this material, it emerges most clearly that the strategies used to interrogate thinking in action, and move beyond the disciplinary boundaries, involve interactions with objects and technologies, and not only with the collaborating partners. In the text, working methods and habits are referred to as starting points, and I imagine the objects and technologies must be part of this context. The authors seem to privilege an engagement with materials as perceived through the filter of a somehow ‘general’ form of materiality. In their quest for naming the shared thinking-in-action moments afforded by the interactions they stage amongst themselves and with chalk, woolen thread, fans, humming projectors and metal bowls to name but a few, they choose to collect verbs and expressions of a rather abstract or metaphorical colour.
This may be fitting for a project looking to articulate and examine activities, or processes, which may, or may not culminate in tangible outcomes, making a point of safeguarding their ambivalent potentialities. However, as we are not given the specific details of what moves the individual practices and their encounters, as a description, analysis, and rethinking of process, the exposition runs the risk of remaining evasive. The authors discuss drawing, dance and writing in general terms, but the question is, amongst the infinite possibilities of these practices: What dance, what drawing, and what writing? We already know that dance practices can involve objects, drawing is traced from gestures and movement, and texts can draw lines. I wonder if evasiveness on defining the gestures, lines, words engaged in/with through the textual part of the project, could end up reinforcing those very disciplinary boundaries that the authors are trying to work against. Especially if we take it from the Sarat Maharaj’s text they quote that ‘‘disciplinary boundaries or limits’ in visual art now are hardly discernable or simply not applicable’1.
The exposition is engaging and interesting as an assemblage of materials and a set of reflections on the first stages of this collaborative project. The quality of the arguments proposed toward a new articulation of collaborative processes made it all the more frustrating that the text seemed to steer away from approaching the materiality of the embodied, live experiments the exposition builds upon. Recently a presentation of practice based research by Natasha Kidd at the ‘Painting in Time’ symposium at the Tetley, Leeds (4 July 2015), included both descriptions of the artist’s methodology and the often recalcitrant responses of the materials. In her case, these responses were allowed to define the conceptual development of the research and define the methodology as much as her own thinking process. Involving a variety of objects and technologies inhabiting complex installations or environments furnished with the sense of having been purposefully constructed, the activities engaged with in this exposition are addressed in the text only through the artists’ experiences of thinking in action within them. The distinct aesthetic and particular configuration of the environments activated conveys the science lab as much as the multimedia artists’ studio. For the Belgian philosopher of science Isabelle Stengers ‘no creation bringing something new into existence is of human provenance alone, the human agent being instead the prey of unrelenting imperative - 'Guess!' - stemming from the work to be done'2.
The authors chose to privilege the articulation of artistic research within new theoretical categories, and while this might make their findings more available for other practitioners to use in figuring their own activities; it might also hinder their deployment as tools to figure relationships with the objects and materials encountering the body and its postures in the processes of emergence of collaborative practice. Following on their reference to Derek McCormack I would be interested in seeing the project develop in a direction that takes into account how the ‘world’ of the ‘method lab’ participates creatively to the processes the collaborators share within it, in accordance to McCormack’s ‘vision of worlds in composition through a multiplicity of processually resonant space-times.’3
1 Sarat Maharaj, ‘Unfinishable Sketch of “An Object in 4D”: Scenes of Artistic Research’, in: Annette W. Balkema and Henk Slager (eds), Artistic Research, L&B, Volume 18 (Amsterdam/New York: Lier en Boog, 2004), p. 34.
2 Isabelle Stengers, ‘Reclaiming Animism’, in: Anselm Franke and Sabine Folie, (eds), Animism. Modernity Through the Looking Glass (Vienna: Walter Konig, 2011) p. 188
3 Derek McCormack, Thinking Spaces for Research Creation (2008), p. 2. Available at: http://www.senselab.ca/inflexions/htm/node/McCormack2.html