Honoured Custos, Honoured Opponents!
Dear Audience in Helsinki, Berlin and on YouTube!
In the next 30 minutes, I will introduce my doctoral research. I will first say a few words about my artistic background, the context and the evolution of my research. Then, I will play a video that presents some key elements and outcomes of my research (and I recommend wearing headphones for that part, if possible). On the way, we will also move through the final written part of my doctoral research, the so-called commentary, that is titled Propositions for Unfinished Thinking: The Research Score as a Medium of Artistic Research.
Artistically, my research builds on Body Weather. Body Weather is a comprehensive approach to training and performance that was developed by the Japanese dancer and choreographer Min Tanaka since the late 1970s. Bodies, in Body Weather, are conceived as open entities that are constantly changing in relation to Weather, where Weather is understood metaphorically as the infinite influences that occur inside and outside a body. The training is conceived as an investigation of the multiple intersections between bodies and Weather. Since the 1990s, Body Weather was further developed by laboratories worldwide. I have trained and performed extensively with Body Weather Amsterdam, a platform for training and performance founded by Katerina Bakatsaki and Frank van de Ven, who had previously worked with Tanaka in Japan.
In my research I initially focused on one particular training practice developed by Body Weather: the so-called Manipulations. The Manipulations is a touch-based partner practice informed by yoga, shiatsu and acupuncture, and it is one of the core elements of Body Weather training. The practice embodies all the main principles—and the philosophy—of Body Weather, which made it a good starting point for my research. Chapter One and Two are about Body Weather and the Manipulations, and we will get back to the Manipulations later…
At the beginning of my doctorate, in 2011, the main research question was: What is the bodily knowledge created in and through the Manipulations, and how can this knowledge be verbally articulated?
At that time, there was an intense discussion about the nature of the knowledge produced in and through the arts, and about HOW this knowledge could be articulated, through language, and my initial research question was related to this discussion.
Here and now, I can only present a very simplified account of this discussion, which is dealt with in more detail in Chapter Three. One important reference in the discussion about the nature of artistic knowledge was Karl Polanyi’s concept of ‘tacit knowledge’ (Polanyi 1966). Polanyi claimed that there was a dimension of knowledge that is implicit in the act of doing, and that this implicit tacit knowledge is the foundation of all other knowledge (Borgdorff 2012). According to him, we are usually not aware of tacit knowledge, and it is difficult to articulate it verbally, which also makes it very difficult to translate this knowledge and to transfer it to others through words.
Polanyi’s notion of ‘tacit knowledge’ was significant for theorizing and for securing the distinctive epistemological grounds of artistic research. However, in the context of research it also created a severe methodological problem, which is almost a paradox: How to give words to a kind of knowledge that is situated— by definition—beyond words?
In relation to this question, the notion of reflection is important. Reflection is considered to be a key method of knowledge production in artistic research (Nelson 2013). However, in the discussion about the epistemological and methodological problems of artistic research, different and sometimes even contradicting views exist about the type of reflection involved in the process of knowing. As I see it—and this is a gross simplification of a much more complex discussion—, roughly speaking, there are basically two different ways of how ‘reflection’ has typically been understood and employed as a method.
In the first mode of reflection, the research-practitioner is pausing, stepping back and taking distance from practice in order to critically reflect about the tacit knowledge that is embodied in the artistic object or process. In this more conventional mode, there is a division between the practice and its reflexive linguistic articulation, and there is a separation between a knowing subject and a known object that turns the practice into an object of thought. Language is the medium of reflection, here, and the produced knowledge about the artistic practice is represented through language.
Then, there is a second mode of reflection, which is related to Polanyi’s notion of tacit knowledge. This second mode seems to be more appropriate to the kinds of implicit knowing that we find in the arts; it connects to the practical knowledge that is generated in the doing. In the field of dance research this mode of reflection has been theorized in terms of a non-verbal, kinaesthetic way of thinking in and through movement (Parviainen 2002). In this kinaesthetic mode, movement itself is the medium of reflection. The produced knowledge is articulated nonverbally, through movement, and it is considered to be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to translate this bodily knowledge into words.
So, to get back to my initial research question: What is the bodily knowledge created in and through the Manipulations? And how can this knowledge be verbally articulated?
The problem that I was struggling with at the beginning of my doctorate was the duality between these two modes of reflection that I just explained. In the literature, this duality has been identified as major challenge for research into performer training (Pitches 2011). In the course of my research, at the Theatre Academy as well as elsewhere in other contexts, I have repeatedly encountered—in various forms—the problem of a division between these two modes of reflection: a division between reflecting in and through practice, and reflecting about it. And in the Manipulations, likewise, there is a tendency to separate physical practice and conceptual reflection.
So the question I was confronted with, was:
How to incorporate verbal reflection about the Manipulations in the action of reflecting nonverbally in and through the Manipulations? How to dissolve the division between linguistic and non-linguistic modes of reflection?
One way of tackling this problem, and one of the main outcomes of the research for my first artistic part in 2012, was the so-called ‘research score’. The research score is a solo version of the original duo practice of the Manipulations, and it combines verbal and non-verbal modes of reflection. Reflection about practice is embedded within the research score itself. In a similar way, Chapter Four brings together a descriptive mode of writing about the research score with an experimental mode of writing in and through the research score.
One important shift that happened in the time following the first artistic part was that the research score itself became the main topic of my research. Next to this shift of focus to the research score, there was a small but significant shift of emphasis in the research score, and that is a shift from reflecting in, through and about the practice towards a way of reflecting with practice. In this mode of reflecting-with, verbal and non-verbal modes of reflection are equivalent; they co-compose and co-articulate thought in relation with each other. I consider the shift to reflecting-with as a major outcome of my research. Chapter Five takes a closer look at how changes in the practice and conceptual shifts are related with each other.
The aim of the second artistic part was to put my research to the test by working with a group of five artists and artist-researchers. The focus of this collaborative research was on the research score. As an effect of the collaboration, the research score evolved further from a solo practice into a collective practice. In this collective practice of unfinished thinking, as I call it following Henk Borgdorff (2010), thought moves, forms and comes to expression in-between multiple bodies that are constituted by infinite relations. Unfinished thinking with the research score is not a wilful action by an individual, agential subject, but emerges from an expanded network of constantly changing inter-corporeal relations. These ideas are developed in detail in Chapter Six.
Chapter Seven shares the fruits of the collaborative research for the second artistic part by articulating seven propositions for unfinished thinking:
1. Dislocate Thinking
2. Do Words with Things
3. Create Multiple Points of Entry
4. Articulate Difference
6. Extend the Repertoire of Habits
Traditionally, a thesis ends with a conclusion that summarizes the findings of the research, that points out the contribution to the knowledge of a specific field, and that indicates the open questions that could be the subject of further research. However, I did not want the commentary to end in this way. Above all, the aim of writing the commentary in the format of a research exposition was to expand a scholarly mode of writing about my practice through an artistic mode of writing with my practice. The InConclusion is another iteration of writing with the research score. It is yet another way to experiment with the research score’s performative potential within a digital environment. How to possibly continue experimenting with this potential in this particular situation of an online-defense?
(continues with video...)
Polanyi, Michael. 1966. The Tacit Dimension. New York: Doubleday & Company.
Borgdorff, Henk. 2012. The Conflict of the Faculties: Perspectives on Artistic Research and Academia. Leiden: University Press.
Borgdorff, Henk. 2010. “The Production of Knowledge in Artistic Research.” In The Routledge Companion to Research in the Arts, eds. Michael Biggs & Henrik Karlsson, 44-63. London/New York: Routledge.
Nelson, Robin. 2013. Practice as Research in the Arts: Principles, Protocols, Pedagogies, Resistancies. London: Palgrave/MacMillan.
Parviainen, Jaana. 2002. “Bodily Knowledge. Epistemological Reflections on Dance.” In Dance Research Journal 34 (1), 11-26.
Pitches, Jonathan, Simon Murray, Helen Poynor, Libby Worth, David Richmond & Jules Dorey Richmond. 2011. “Performer Training: Researching Practice in the Theatre Laboratory.” In Research Methods in Theatre and Performance, ed. Baz Kershaw & Helen Nicholson, 137-161. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.