Exposition

A Work on Progress (2011)

David Overend

About this exposition

The exposition functions as a critical reflection on A Work on Progress, a practice-as-research performance/installation. Aiming to provide an alternative to the commodification of theatre, the project explores the possibility of moving beyond postmodern strategies of cultural resistance, such as the self-reflexivity of ‘postdramatic’ theatre. Drawing on Nicholas Bourriaud’s models of ‘relational aesthetics’ and ‘postproduction’, A Work on Progress aims to develop a ‘relational theatre practice’, which operates through strategies of use and reconfiguration. The work consisted of a room filled with ‘tools’ of theatrical production, which were available for visitors to the space to use in a variety of ways. The exposition documents and analyses the unrehearsed performances that took place when the work was staged in Glasgow in 2010, suggesting that through the continual changes and reconfigurations that took place throughout the event, a progressive politics might be located, which aspires to an alternative form of theatre production.
typeresearch exposition
date2011
statuspublished
urlhttps://www.researchcatalogue.net/view/12388/12389
published inJournal for Artistic Research

comments: 3 (last entry by Spiros Panigirakis - 21/11/2011 at 17:32)
Esa Kirkkopelto 21/11/2011 at 17:17

I found this exposition artistically and intellectually interesting.

 

The exposition consists mainly of a lengthy commentary (or a report) of a participatory installation. I am not sure if the participatory installation described was very original or remarkable as an individual artwork or performance. Similar types of creative venue have certainly been set up elsewhere. The novelty or originality of this exposition is nevertheless in its auto-reflective potential that the textual commentary opens up very well. The commentary is well written and, I think, accessible even for a non-specialist reader. The quotations are well chosen.

 

The work itself, as well as its context, are in my mind sufficiently documented. As a whole, the exposition forms a clear and instructive introduction to the current intellectual discussions concerning the political potentialities of the performing arts and to the practical ways an artist can deal with them. It does not make any break-through in its area, but that is probably not its intention.

 

I think we have here a fine example of practice as research. It gives a sufficiently reliable idea of its accomplishment. It is self-critical and it opens itself to the exterior evaluation and critique. It is easy to agree and disagree on its details, suggestions and hypotheses. The questions it raises are theoretically and practically relevant both for theoreticians and artists, as well as for artist-researchers.

 

Some critical remarks:

 

Some quite obvious aspects of the event are not taken into account in the commentary. Mainly the fact that it not only makes its participants its ‘users’ but it also stages them as such. That may be one reason why the situation also raises reservations amongst the audience. The role it suggests to (or even imposes on) its participants is quite ambiguous and problematic. The concept of ‘user’ should have been opened since, at least in my mind, the critical potential of the work is dependent on it. How can it be distinguished from ‘consumer’, for instance?

 

The risk the whole project runs it that the ‘Aladin´s Cave’ turns into ‘Plato´s Cave’. Theoretically, the author seems to be quite conscious of this risk. Yet, on the level of practical analysis this does not become as clear. What is the role of the operators? Even though we know what they do empirically (they assist, help, etc.) everyone knows also that the whole event has its designer. The play is planned by someone else, by some kind of ‘master-mind’. How does the event deal with this quite obvious aspect?

 

It seems that the event is not at any occasion interrupted. It has no outside dimension inside of it. Everyone is more or less compelled to perform. What kind of consequences might this solution have?

 

The exposition design is clear enough. Since the event described is so complex, the clarity and simplicity of the exposition is well founded. Maybe I would have like to see a wider selection of pictures. Some how they work better than a video clip.

 

At one moment, the performance suggests to its participants: ‘Anything is possible’. Yet, as a reader of Derrida, the author should know that this not enough. What is only worth of waiting is the arrival of the impossible, the surprise. On the basis of the given exposition, I am not completely sure if the performance allowed this.

Ruth Benschop 21/11/2011 at 17:22

I think the exposition was intellectually interesting. The theatre project that is described is situated theoretically as well as practically. It engages with debates about (post)modernity and theatre. It draws on these debates in the artistic creation of a theatre space which is then examined and related back to the theoretical debates. It also relates to recent debates within contemporary art and theatre, in particular to attempts to retain or create a critical, yet non-naïve position for theatre.

 

I would have liked to see some reference to literature outside of the arts or art theory. For if, as the exposition argues, the traditional role of audience and performer is collapsing, and thus audience members can become users, the question of whether what is made remains art, seems relevant. And if not art, other theoretical debates about users and how to entice them to act, move, use become relevant.

 

Also, the manner of documenting and the theory used does not allow the researcher to speak beyond a framework of freedom of users vs. determination of those creating/pre-configuring the event, while such a vocabulary seems exactly what the researcher is looking for. Lots of that going round in STS, particularly in work inspired by Bruno Latour + Isabelle Stengers. As a reader, that I feel invited to think of other relevant theoretical contexts, is in itself evidence of the intellectual quality of the submission.

 

The project has a clear aim, which is described coherently and contextualized. The aim is both explorative and analytical. I thought that the methods used to observe and document (and thus inform the analysis) could have been more extensive and have been reflected upon more. Moreover, I thought that the amount of empirical material (the two day event that is described and the ways in which these two days were observed) was not balanced with the theoretical interpretation of the material: In sum, I thought it was a little over theorized.

 

The research is well-contextualized — the reader gains a clear sense of the kinds of choices made for what kinds of reasons. The submission does not so much create new knowledge as describing an example of how theoretical knowledge may be applied. Which is fine.

 

I thought it was a shame that the exploration that is discussed is largely a theoretical affair. The project might have gained in strength if the experimenting with finding ways of (critical) engagement by users would have been done during and in interactive response to the theatre event itself. Now the research is more a thinking about before and after the event, rather than during, with and via. That in my opinion would have made the project even more Practice as Research.

 

The exposition was clearly organized and easy to navigate. It did not use the Research Catalogue software in any extremely innovative way, but that’s fine. I was a little surprised how unreflective the text was about being exactly that: a textual residue of a situated event. Especially given that the project attempted to engage people in theatrical, and technological mediated ways, that is other than textual/verbal ways. Also the research methods (e.g. focus groups, that is: talking about) seem to have this bias. I would have liked to see some more use of and focus on other (e.g. visual, auditory) ways of documenting as well as ‘writing about’ the research.

 

Conclusion:

I liked the submission. It seems well thought out and theorized. I also felt the questions asked are important and relevant. I do think that the event described was over theorized and that the research seemed to take place mostly before and after the theatre event itself. The methods of observation seem somewhat basic and were moreover focused on people and their interaction. Methods of observing and describing user-interaction, and technology-user interactions from Science and Technology Studies (STS) might be helpful here for two reasons: They allow a way of seeing/documenting much more precisely and symmetrically addressed to what actually happens in situations when people are doing things not only with (or without) one another but also with things like technology etc. Secondly, they may provide a way of getting out of the dichotomous manner of theorizing about the influence of the created, material environment vs. the freedom of the user to do what she wants. Now, a problem in the exposition is that the author seems not to be able to describe (and theorize) much more than the way people either engage with the offered materials/technologies or do not. A lot of theory within STS attempts to find ways to describe how practically, empirically things may happen, people may become interested, people start to do stuff, etc. without having to resort to these two, quite uninformative, extremes.

Spiros Panigirakis 21/11/2011 at 17:32

The exposition, A Work on Progress, is a highly reflexive and rigorous account of the theoretical context the production could be placed in. The author frames the project intelligently and is honest in regards to the project’s successes and failures. The exposition’s reflexive quality is to be commended. As an academic framing of a project it’s close to outstanding. However, I think there is something incongruent about the quality of this text and the quality of the artwork.

 

As highly versed as the author is on this theoretical context, it is curious why he has chosen to rely on Bourriaud’s problematic discourse to frame the project. The author is very clear on the issues and debates that have plagued this text over the last nine years but he still persists with Bourriaud’s relevance to theatre practices. Stewart Martin’s ‘Critique of Relational Aesthetics’ offers the most lucid account of the problems (and naïve quality) of Bourriaud’s framing. Again the author is well-versed on this rebuttal. While academic theatre discourse might not be familiar with practices that utilise the everyday sociability in their production — within all sectors of the visual art’s field — academic, gallery-based, magazine cultures etc. the parameters of the argument are well-trodden and on the whole art discourse has moved on. This is not to say that privileging of social relations within art practices has disappeared — the framing of them however by Bourriaud has.

 

A more relevant frame for this practice, based as it is in theatre, is the framing developed by Jacques Rancière in The Emancipated Spectator. Again the author notes this text, but does not give it the attention it requires. It offers a work like A Work on Progress a more interesting grounding in the social contexts of theatre and more broadly the politics of aesthetic experience. If I were to make any suggestion it would be to incorporate Rancière into the exposition in a more thorough manner.

 

Whilst the exegetic text is rigorous contextualisation of A Work on Progress — using a broad theoretical field to assess the work’s critical potential — the ‘artwork’ itself had some issues that I want to comment on.

 

A Work on Progress played with (or was resistant to) the rhetoric of the fixed and stable form but in some ways became a predictable venture. The work needs to be in perpetual production. For this to be an effective research practise — I would envisage that presentation of this work at Arches centre would be the first iteration of many — the author would then have the opportunity to shift the material boundaries that determine the use and content of the work. Otherwise A Work on Progress becomes a work with a distinct beginning and end, conservative, in relation to the temporal experimentation alluded to in the title.

 

As sophisticated and reflexive as the exposition is, this quality seemed lacking in the staging of the work. For example, having a guitar in the space or a certain costume etc. dictates a certain outcome. Similarly, the author utilised a particular language form of theatre, choosing some forms over others to be open to an audience. The user (audience/spectator/interlocutor) did not have an infinite variety of equipment at his or her disposal, so material decisions were made based on how comfortable they would be in their use in the space. The fallacy that the practices framed in Bourriaud’s Relational Aesthetics privilege sociability over more object-driven form is perpetuated here. Sociability is facilitated by material conditions set up by the artist, otherwise it becomes a performance practice transposed to the space of the gallery (Tino Seghal comes to mind here). Bourriard’s framing of sociability ignores the very important spatial/sculptural conditions of these practices. Something that Nancy Spector notes in her curatorial premise of theanyspacewhatever which reframed Bourriaud’s set-artists in an alternative curatorial frame.

A Work on Progress is framed as different to the works set up by artists working within a post-Cage lineage. Where notions of the professional are dispensed with, in order to privilege the production of the so-called amateur. The production is set up as an experiment so that producer/consumer or audience/performer binaries collapse. But this experiment is compromised when key facilitators of the production involve themselves in the production. Regardless of the reflexive nature of this account within the exposition — the author admitting to the problematic qualities of this engagement — it undermines the project to a large degree. A key artistic precedent that is missed both in terms of the discourse surrounding Relational Aesthetics and A Work on Progress is the projects that were part of Fluxus and more particularly the Happenings of Allan Kaprow. Kaprow’s Push Pull (1963), and his projects more generally, gave voice to the practices of the everyday in a way that A Work on Progress seems naïve of.

 

The readability of the submission is excellent. It is clear, well organised and well referenced. All academic conventions are adhered to and the navigation of the production in conjunction to the exposition is clear and well executed. A Work on Progress highlights for me the issues in relation to creative research. It seems that regardless of the weakness of the artistic enterprise on offer — we, as artists and academics — validate this via 1. The sophistication of the theoretical context the researcher places on the work and 2. The reflexive account of failure.

 

I have no problem with the exposition, it is in many ways impressive. But the artistic production is what differentiates our research from art history/theory and cultural studies.

 

I think this project needs to be restaged repeatedly as not a one-off experiment but as a research project that incorporates the reflexivity found in the exposition and for it to have some effect on the production of the work itself. The further elaboration of the project would experiment with participants and the material parameters given to them.

 

Admittedly I am reading all aspects of this research within the frame of visual-arts practice. This is an appropriate frame as the author is using this context to frame a project that he also regards as theatre.

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