Choreo-graphic Figures: Beginnings and Emergences (2015)

Emma Cocker, Nikolaus Gansterer (co-author), Mariella Greil-Moebius (co-author)

About this exposition

Choreo-graphic Figures: Beginnings + Emergences Choreo-graphic Figures: Deviations from the Line is an interdisciplinary research collaboration involving artist Nikolaus Gansterer, choreographer Mariella Greil, and writer-artist Emma Cocker, for investigating the nature of ‘thinking-in-action’ or ‘figures of thought’ produced as the practices of drawing, choreography and writing enter into dialogue, overlap and collide. Central is an attempt to find ways of better understanding and making tangible the process of research ‘in-and-through practice’ — the unfolding decision-making, the thinking-in-action, the dynamic movements of ‘sense-making’, the durational ‘taking place’ of something happening live — and for asserting the epistemological significance of this habitually unseen or unshared aspect of the artist’s, choreographer’s or writer’s endeavour. Our research enquiry unfolds through two interconnected aims: we are interested in the nature of ‘thinking-feeling-knowing’ operative within artistic practice, and seek to develop systems of notation (and exposition) for sharing and reflecting on this often hidden or undisclosed aspect of the creative process. Through this specific exposition — Beginnings and Emergences — our intent is to share findings from the prologue phase and year one of our three-year research project Choreo-graphic Figures: Deviations from the Line, during which we have explored how various processes of ‘beginning’ performed within live artistic activity might create the conditions for processes of emergence to arise. The intent is to share some of the ‘figures’ developed within this research project for articulating ‘beginning’ within a collaborative artistic process (e.g. Figure of Circulation, Figure of Shared Vibrations, Figure of Clearing, Ordering and Emptying Out,  Figure of Touch and Reaching Towards the Other), alongside reflecting on and attending to the process of emergence within artistic labour itself – a process we have called ‘figuring’. Figuring – we use this term to describe those imperceptible or barely perceptible movements and transitions at the cusp of awareness within the process of “sense-making”: the moments of revelation, epiphany, synchronicity, of change in tack or direction or pace, the decision to stop, do something different, begin again. Figuring manifests within those threshold moments within the creative process that are often hard to discern but which ultimately shape and steer the direction of the evolving activity. Our research involves cultivating practices of attention (a perceptual heightening, hyper-sensitizing, sharpening of alertness) for noticing these emergent figurings within the process of creative activity, and devising systems of notation for identifying, marking and even tentatively naming these processes of emergence. In developing this exposition, our intent has been to remain faithful to the process of investigation itself. Rather than being conclusive, our exposition reflects the process of its own production; itself a diagramming of the multiple and at times competing forces and energies operative within the process of artistic collaborative practice. We propose an exposition that unfolds less as the linear explication of a process, but rather — like artistic process itself — more as an assemblage of overlapping and concurrent components, where attention shifts between the textual and the visual, between what is sayable and what is shown.
typeresearch exposition
keywordsprocess, artistic research, interdisciplinarity, drawing, writing, Choreography, notation, figure, figuring, experimental, expanded practice
last modified02/07/2015
affiliationNottingham Trent University and University of Applied Arts Vienna
published inRuukku Studies in Artistic Research
portal issue4.
connected toRuukku Studies in Artistic Research
external linkhttp://www.choreo-graphic-figures.net/

Ruukku portal comments: 2
Kirsi Monni 01/07/2015 at 17:50

The exposition is treating explicitly the requested RUUKKU theme, the artistic process. It describes the current phase of the authorsartistic research project Choreo-graphic Figures: Deviations from the Line, which tries to investigate and reflect some (pre)conditions and potentialities of a collaborative and interdisciplinary artistic process.For me the main research text (and the two additional texts on related concepts) are the strongest parts of this exposition. The conceptual clarity, the use of relevant references and the consistent elaboration of the core ideas are finely developed. The researchers are well read and able to operate within the current discourses relevant to their research question. The attempt to focus on something as fleeting and indefinite as the thinking-in-actionor the event of figuringis intriguing and bold. However the research area they have stepped into is vast and slippery and needs sharp focusing and constant reflection on the hierarchies of the research questions (on one hand what is the main intention and core question and on the other hand what are the questions, means and methodologies to unravel that). The authors manage to do this so far quite well.


I understand that this exposition aims to describe the findings of the prologue phase of the process. I see that they have already been able to establish a relevant terminology, found carefully written articulations and identifications describing the thinking-in-actionwithin an artistic process. Especially I respect the reach for the philosophical aspects of their research, e.g. Negris kairos and the problematics of naming, language, and figuring.


In the further theoretical steps of the research I see the need to tackle the issue of poiesis (bringing something from non being to being, the creation of something), instead of concentrating solely on poetics (the making, the artistic process as such, the process in itself). I understand that it has been a choice to do so, to research the process as such (although the main intentions were described to produce new articulations of expanded practicebetween the lines of drawing, choreography and writing.)


But I question how far one can go with the knowledge production of an artistic process, without actually confronting the issues of poiesis, the causesthat the composition is indebted to, or without any framed intentions for the created composition (as an event of relatedness at work). On the other hand I think it is necessary for any evolution and investigation in art to be able to concentrate to the sole play of the materials and minds without pre-given representational or instrumental relation to them. This aspect of the process differentiates the artwork from the commodity. But on the other hand, how I see this exposition from the artistic point of view, so farfrom the brief excerpts, is, that this research might benefit from pondering the relation between poiesis and poetics, to avoid the arbitrariness and possible shallowness of the art making.


I find it very pleasing and informing how this research is making efforts to link the subtle experiences in artistic practice to insightful use of references and concepts that help the researchers identifying and articulating those experiences. I can see that they are also able to reflect the ontological aspects of their findings in such a sophisticated way that it will produce new understandings of creative and collaborative processes. However, I think the research would benefit from even more careful delving into the actual artistic problematic in the course of their research.


For example in the video finding the emergence, I saw a dancer moving and handling the material, perception-reflection wise, in somewhat general manner so that it did not open to me the chairoticmoments, where the emergence of a new figure/gestalt is drawn from the reciprocal relation with the materials own being (its way of existing) and the subjects unique and singular perception-action with it. The perception-action seemed to be still in such a general and abstracted level that the core question of the thinking-in-actionis in danger of emptying out to be acting-without-thinking. I could think of that the aforementioned reciprocal relation and chairoticperception of time-space-self-other could re-configure the dancers movement and bodily perception in a more profound manner than is happening so far. This is maybe due to the researchers intention of interdisciplinary collaboration, which I think is very challenging to carry out in the same time when one is focusing systematically on individual experiences in the artistic process.


The exposition is built carefully and presents its research problem accurately. The main questions are contextualised skilfully within theoretical discourse, but not that much within artistic research. It might have been interesting to read some reflections and comparisons to other artistic research projects, which handle process as their main theme. Im a bit doubtful whether the practical research methods that are presented in this exposition, a working space that resembles a science lab, with the arrangements of various instruments, are arising from the framed singularity of a specific artistic process rather than an abstraction of a general 'artistic process'. These two differing circumstances produce different results, I assume. From here follows also the problematic of notation. How is the research going to define the intentions why, what, for whom with the question of notation? I think that the possible notations are very different according to specific artistic intentions and figures (their way of being). Are we notating something in general or in particular and in relation to what? Do we want to methodise the creative process or is it more like an ontological consideration about the nature of creation, of poiesis? This research might benefit in the future if these questions are taken into consideration to some extent.


In overall I find the form of the exposition both innovative and clear to read and see. I liked that there are additional paragraphs for the references so that the main text is not too loaded. Also the idea of putting videos and text on top of each other is enriching for both. But in the research proposition I read, I found the pace, the rhythm of the text, especially in the opening video, too fast to be able to really read and comprehend whats been said. There is the danger of inflating the language to fancy words.


In overall I think this research is theoretically very promising and developed indeed. I hope that for the future some more consideration is being put to the problematic of poiesis and the singularity of the artistic process and work of art so that the artistic part of this very promising research will develop as beautifully as the theoretical aspects of it have done so far. 

Assunta Ruocco 05/02/2016 at 10:06

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


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