As artistic research work in various disciplines and national contexts continues to develop, the diversity of approaches to the field becomes ever more apparent. This is to be welcomed, because it keeps alive ideas of plurality and complexity at a particular time in history when the gross oversimplifications and obfuscations of political discourses are compromising the nature of language itself, leading to what several commentators have already called ‘a post-truth’ world. In this brutal environment where ‘information’ is uncoupled from reality and validated only by how loudly and often it is voiced, the artist researcher has a responsibility that goes beyond the confines of our discipline to articulate the truth-content of his or her artistic practice. To do this, they must embrace daring and risk-taking, finding ways of communicating that flow against the current norms.
In artistic research, the empathic communication of information and experience – and not merely the ‘verbally empathic’ – is a sign of research transferability, a marker for research content. But this, in some circles, is still a heretical point of view. Research, in its more traditional manifestations mistrusts empathy and individually-incarnated human experience; the researcher, although a sentient being in the world, is expected to behave dispassionately in their professional discourse, and with a distrust for insights that come primarily from instinct. For the construction of empathic systems in which to study and research, our structures still need to change. So, we need to work toward a new world (one that is still not our idea), a world that is symptomatic of what we might like artistic research to be.
Risk is one of the elements that helps us to make the conceptual twist that turns subjective, reflexive experience into transpersonal, empathic communication and/or scientifically-viable modes of exchange. It gives us something to work with in engaging with debates because it means that something is at stake.
To propose a space where such risks may be taken, I shall revisit Gillian Rose’s metaphor of ‘the fold’ that I analysed in the first Symposium presented by the Arne Nordheim Centre for Artistic Research (NordART) at the Norwegian Academy of Music in November 2015. I shall deepen the exploration of the process of ‘unfolding’, elaborating on my belief in its appropriateness for artistic research work; I shall further suggest that Rose’s metaphor provides a way to bridge some of the gaps of understanding that have already developed between those undertaking artistic research and those working in the more established music disciplines.
The relationship between performance and reflection is rich and complex. Great performances can sometimes seem the spontaneous products of mysterious inspiration; however, most musicians would agree that, to attain its full potential, a performance must arise from a thorough investigation of the artistic acts of interpretation and expression appropriate to the work.
When this investigation becomes an overt research process, artistic choices begin to be based on conscious critical and self-reflective evaluations and decisions — and the resulting performance to be informed by a wide range of hermeneutic and analytical approaches. But the promise of such a multi-stranded approach is vulnerable, and sometimes compromised, when the performer’s skill and knowledge in the associated disciplines does not measure up to their performative artistry and insight. Since Artistic Research, in particular, often posits a model in which all associated knowledge should reside within the performer, this can be problematic.
So, is there an alternative model that, nonetheless, maintains the skills of artist and scholar in a mutually beneficial configuration?
And, if so, how does such a model uncover the kinds of performing knowledge that may lead to a specific, unique interpretation?
This exposition reveals a constellation of approaches around a central premise, namely that musical interpretation may be read as an inherently creative activity based on its own systems of knowledge which, whether conscious or intuitive, ought to be capable of being articulated in words as well as in practical music-making. In articulating this premise within the project, the process of interpretation is seen as emerging, ideally, as a form of co-creation, as it were, in which the performer ‘composes’ the work anew from inside the act of performance and, in doing so, works in a creative partnership with both composer and audience. Among the possibilities offered by such a model is the prospect that the term ‘performer’ can become a multiple entity of individuals engaged in a creative partnership of their own and articulating in words the impulses and mechanisms at work in this partnership.