As I developed A Work on Progress, I collaborated with several artists who had regularly presented work at the Arches, and the in-house technical team that had worked with me on my previous practice-as-research projects. A small amount of funding was available from the visual art budget to employ the musician and sound artist Iain Campbell, who was not present at the event, but contributed significantly to the music and sound set up, supplying the majority of the equipment. Due to the complicated technical requirements, I worked very closely with technician and performer Chris Hall, who worked as Creative Assistant on this project. Hall’s thorough understanding of my research and practice was invaluable to the development process as we developed the concept and sourced equipment. I was also supported by several student volunteers from the Theatre, Film and Television Studies Department at the University of Glasgow.
At all times during the event there were members of this small creative team on hand to ensure health and safety regulations were maintained and to provide assistance in using the equipment. However, the aim was that our own involvement would support visitors’ interactions with the stations, rather than imposing any sort of pre-rehearsed performance on the space. Over the course of the two nights of the festival, there was a gradual accumulation of user-generated material. Traces of previous interactions remained: in texts thrown down into a pit in the middle of the room, in a series of titles written on the back wall and in the increasingly entangled wires and rearranged equipment.
A Work on Progress aspired to the condition of ‘interdisciplinary experimentation’, which finds its precedent in the work of artists such as John Cage and Merce Cunningham at the Black Mountain College.  Cage’s untitled event in 1952 operated through a ‘radical interdisciplinary juxtaposition of dance, visual arts, music/sound, and poetry and text readings’. However, while Cage brought together a group of artists from various disciplines, A Work on Progress explored the possibility of removing the professional artist from the space altogether. The environment that we created in the studio was intended to provide an open and relational performance text, with the potential for a range of different modes of engagement, possibilities for interaction and relationships with the event.
The project is informed by Nicolas Bourriaud’s concept of ‘relational aesthetics’; a model in which the role of artworks is ‘no longer to form imaginary and utopian realities, but to actually be ways of living and models of action within the existing real’.  Relational artworks operate through meetings, encounters and events, as opposed to the object-based art of paintings and sculptures.  The application of a relational aesthetic model to the development of performance practice arises from Bourriaud’s rejection of theatre as a suitable relational artform. For Bourriaud, unlike the performance of exhibition-based relational art, theatre brings together ‘small groups’ of people ʻbefore specific, unmistakable imagesʼ and offers no opportunity for live discussion during the event.  Relational theatre events such as A Work on Progress challenge this position, exploring ways in which theatre can operate through a relational performance aesthetic in which discussion, interactivity and participation replace the ‘specific, unmistakable imagesʼ of the theatre rejected by Bourriaud.
A Work on Progress was part of a larger research project conducted at the Arches between 2007 and 2010, with the aim of developing a ‘relational theatre practice’ (hereafter, RTP) in response to a specific cultural site. Using practice-as-research, the project suggests ways in which artists working in residence at an arts venue can make work that uses, makes evident and contributes to what Bourriaud describes as the ‘space of relations’ that exists within every site.  In previous projects, I worked with guided tours of the site (Underneath the Arches, 2009) and developed a performance for the Arches’ night club (Midland Street, 2009). In all of my previous work, my research findings were dependent on the ways in which the audience took an active role in determining the outcome of the event. As Bourriaud asks, ‘why wouldn’t the meaning of a work have as much to do with the use one makes of it as with the artist’s intentions for it?’  Focussing on the practices and relationships of the audience as opposed to the structures and content of a performance text is an important analytical approach for RTP.
In this final practice-as-research project, one of the key aims was to explore the possibility of developing an analytical model for RTP based on observation of the various strategies of use that operated during the event. Several methods were therefore employed to observe and record data. For example, in addition to the creative team, I employed three research assistants who observed the variety of ways that visitors to the studio engaged with the stations and each other. This was invaluable in identifying the different types of relationship that emerged during the event, which I discuss later in this exegesis, including individual interactions with the equipment, collective creative practice through impromptu performances, disengagement from the event and antagonistic relations with the performance aesthetic such as disruption of others’ performances. The performance aesthetic was therefore produced by users of the stations through their engagement with the space.
In the following exegesis, I identify the individual and collective uses of the stations, relating the relational aesthetic of the performance to the wider production processes of RTP. The aim of the project is to recognise the tensions and contradictions involved in presenting this work within the wider institutional structures of a commercial arts venue. Ultimately, RTP is intended to operate through an aesthetic that is determined by the input of its users.
For Bourriaud, daily life is constituted by a ‘chaotic mass of objects, names, and references’, and the challenge for artists is to find a way of producing ‘meaning’ from this ‘precarious’ social realm.  Bourriaud’s concept of ‘postproduction’ introduces a particular formal strategy in which artists refuse to accept the cultural products offered by capitalist society and, like Michel de Certeau’s ‘users’ of everyday life, resist power systems from within. These artists, like DJs, web surfers and film editors, are ‘semionauts’, producing original pathways through signs. By employing this model, A Work on Progress aimed to use the shift that informs ‘postproduction’ from an aesthetic based on representation to an aesthetic that incorporates the material conditions of cultural production. In this way, the ‘supplier/client relations’ of theatre were challenged and an alternative practice was suggested, which aspires to operate through alternative modes of currency to those of the commercial market. 
In a similar way to de Certeau’s ‘users’ of everyday life, this approach offers a way for participants to ‘inhabit’ various cultural forms, making them their own.  This relates strategies of use to modes of production and reception, as the work of art operates as a context for the creative practices of ‘users’, who engage with performance as an act of ‘everyday creativity’.  The aim of relational aesthetics lies in ‘art's capabilities of resistance within the overall social arena’, rather than through the direct criticism of society from the basis of illusory marginality.  However, Bourriaud reformulates postmodern understandings of resistance by introducing a particular strategy based on use rather than representation.
Rejecting the assumption that seated, silent audiences are necessarily ‘passive’, Jacques Rancière posits an active role comprised of observation, selection, comparison and interpretation.  The Emancipated Spectator poses a significant challenge to Bourriaud’s conception of theatre.  Rather than precluding the possibility of ‘see(ing)’, ‘perceiv(ing)’, ‘comment(ing)’ and ‘evolv(ing)’, the ‘specific sociability’ called for by Bourriaud is revealed to be a constant possibility during theatre performances.  For Rancière, theatre audiences are ‘emancipated’ as they are re-conceived as ‘active participants in a collective performance instead of being passive viewers’.  Theatre audiences, then, are already engaging in a relational artistic experience. However, despite recent shifts in understanding of the role of the spectator in contemporary theatre (see also Dan Rebellato) , in many ways, questions of representation and illusion have dominated contemporary theatre practices, many of which have their roots in postmodern cultural strategies. While the insights of Rancière have made a significant impact on the way that traditional theatre is understood, RTP aims to extend the interpretative role of the audience identified by Rancière, to develop a theatre that operates through a hands-on engagement with the space of relations. 
For Hans-Thies Lehmann, because theatre is not easily commodified, because it does not produce a ‘tangible object’, its mass media potential is limited in a world that is defined by the ‘primarily passive consumption of images and data’.  For Lehmann, theatre relies on ‘active energies of imagination’ and as the cultural sector becomes increasingly driven by marketability and profitability, theatre has only managed to co-exist alongside more technically advanced media through ‘postdramatic’ tactics of self-reflexivity.  However, there is a real danger that practices that move away from the traditional audience-performer separation are assumed to be automatically progressive. There is an unacknowledged paradox in Lehmann’s theory: On the one hand theatre is conceived as inherently resistant to commodification, due to its liveness and ephemerality, while on the other the tactics of the postdramatic theatre are explicitly identified as prompted by the demands of the cultural market.
In any attempt to provide an alternative to the relationships of the commercial market, there is always a risk of simply reinforcing the structures of capitalist society that such work is trying to distance itself from. Philip Auslander highlights this problem by referring to Jacques Derrida’s argument that in attempting to ‘change terrain’ and place oneself outside the systems that are being critiqued, there is a great danger of ‘inhabiting more naively and more strictly than ever the inside one declares one has deserted’.  Stewart Martin criticises relational aesthetics on similar grounds as the commercial context of relational art is not addressed by Bourriaud, who fails to explain ‘how the form of relational art relates to or opposes the commodity form or the value form’.  As a result, relational aesthetics risks becoming ‘a naive mimesis or aestheticisation of novel forms of capitalist exploitation’, which fails to interrogate the relationship between relational art and the systems of capitalist exchange that it is presented within. 
Bourriaud makes an assumption that the value systems of the ‘general economy’ remain separate from those of the relational artwork’s ‘own economy’.  Martin problematises this position, arguing that ‘the social exchange of relational art [is] subjected to the dominant social relations of capitalist exchange’.  The implication of this is that the ‘micro-utopias’ proposed by Bourriaud should be reinterpreted in terms of a ‘dialectical theory of commodification and art’.  Martin therefore suggests that much of the work discussed by Bourriaud might be better understood ‘as an immanent critique of capitalist exchange relations’ as opposed to an autonomous artistic space. 
For Ric Knowles, in many contemporary theatre productions ‘radical, experimental, or political content, at the conscious thematic level, is undercut or constrained by the delivery system itself, which packages any content as a product for consumption, and which thereby reinscribes and naturalises ideologies of consumer society’.  ‘Postdramatic’ theatrical forms often fall into this trap. Liz Tomlin argues that presenting a self-reflexive, subjective, poetics is not in itself enough to escape the forces of controlling systems and authorial hierarchies. There is a seductive quality to postmodern discourses that we should guard against in order to avoid the authority of the narrative freedom that they offer, lest they should ‘represent, by default, the new “grand”, or dominant, narrative, due to the millions of voices left without the resources, or the cultural credibility, to answer back’.  Postmodernism creates its own totalising narratives and often runs the risk of strengthening the controlling systems that it attempts to distance itself from.
A Work on Progress therefore aims to move beyond the conception of resistant cultural practice developed through postmodernism and postdramatic theatre. Knowles argues that ‘whatever the nature, content, or conscious theme of the production, as product, and as the record of a particular ideologically coded process, its central and essentially capitalist message is inscribed virtually by necessity, within the system itself, and as such it tends to be overwhelmingly culturally affirmative’.  The implication of this is that if an alternative cultural model can be located in RTP, it has to go further than simply mapping its position within the systems of commerce that contain and determine it; it has to go further than simply using commerce as its subject.
Currency and Production
The Forest Fringe Micro-Festival was a ticketed event. For ten pounds, or a concession rate of five pounds, visitors gained access to three of the main arches and several basement rooms as well as the studio where A Work on Progress took place. Although a series of development workshops had indicated a range of ‘currencies’ operating in theatre- including applause, time and labour - money is the hard, tangible currency that pays for theatre production.  Processes of capitalist production therefore determine the entire experience.  As David Greig points out, money functions dramaturgically in this sense as ‘the theatrical experience becomes shaped [...] so as to best get our money from us’.  Despite the relatively small returns on an event that would have cost the Arches a great deal more in associated costs such as technical support and marketing, the commercially orientated business structures of the Arches necessitated an entry fee.
However, the purchase of a ticket for a theatre performance is about more than an abstracted financial transaction. The purchase of a ticket for the festival has implications for the emotional and artistic investment in the event as well as setting the financial value for access to the programme. Knowles’ materialist semiotic analysis of the conditions of theatre reception pays little attention to this important initial transaction, which is arguably the most significant material condition determining theatrical experience in modern times.
The Forest Fringe was started in 2006 by Debbie Pearson and Andy Field as an Edinburgh Festival venue presenting low-budget theatre for free as an alternative to the increasing ‘McDonaldisation’ of the Edinburgh Fringe.  An anti-commercial politics has always been at the heart of the company and this remains the case as the micro-festivals toured the UK throughout 2010. However, significantly, the company now receives funding from various sources including the Arts Council of England. Although the Forest Fringe continues to redefine itself and to question its place within the wider context of funding structures and commercial demands, the nominal entry fee to the event at the Arches perhaps suggests a contradictory system, in which a conventional supplier/client relationship remains in place despite the politics of the company. 
However, despite the commercial framework for this event, rather than the capitalist labour division between performers and audience members that Nicholas Ridout identifies in traditional Western theatre, this project required a reassessment of these roles.  As Creative Assistant, Chris Hall, commented during focus group discussions after the event, with A Work on Progress, ‘as much as you put in you’ll get out; if you don’t want to put anything in that’s fine, but you’re just going to get a room full of stuff’.  The event demanded an effort from its audience in order to make anything happen and in so doing, the role of audience was merged with that of producer of the performance aesthetic.
This dynamic created a sort of tension which, as observed by one of the research assistants, made some visitors feel ‘a scary self-conscious embarrassment [due to] the responsibility you have for yourself’. The rules of what was required of visitors to the space were not immediately clear and this resulted in ‘a sense of people skirting round the edges and gathering by the door’. This uneasiness was expressed by one of the research assistants who described her own reaction to the event:
I thought it was fun in a tentative sort of way. It almost felt like the room represented fun with all the crazy, amazing things that you had in it. But that somehow it wasn’t .. Am I actually allowed to have fun? And feeling a little bit scared, and how much I can and can’t do.
For many participants, this feeling seemed to be the initial position on entering the space. This was largely due to my decision to raise the floor so that the majority of the room became a sort of stage, and the absence of a seating bank or any sort of safe zone from which a separated spectator position could be adopted, apart from that outside the studio.
A Work on Progress took place alongside a variety of simultaneous performance events, including Tim Etchells’ poster installation, a ‘research map’ for Third Angel’s What I Heard About the World, and the Forest Fringe Travelling Sounds Library. These events continued throughout the event and provided an additional mode of access to A Work on Progress, which positioned the activities taking place within the studio within a wider field of performances, many of which had a relational dimension.  Visitors to the studio therefore had the option of encountering several performances, and A Work on Progress offered an experience that could be continually returned to throughout the night as the aesthetic of the studio shifted and developed. The experience of alternating between different audience experiences and contributing to the aesthetic of the performances was integral to the festival.
Inside the studio the set up created a barrier for some visitors, who did not feel able, or did not wish, to participate when faced with ‘quite intimidating... things I don’t know how to work with’. However, the event began to work as visitors gradually moved beyond this barrier and made an effort to engage with the stations. As one of the research assistants observed, ‘when people first come in they do just want to stand back and watch and then they get involved when they see what’s going on’. The performance aesthetic was therefore created by the labour of those visitors who were willing to give to the project in ways that moved far beyond the initial financial transaction at the box office. This dynamic manifested itself in a number of different performance modes, from karaoke songs and guitar solos to disco dancing and costume displays.
It is important to recognise that the modes of performance available to users were limited by the decisions that I had already made with the creative team and by the equipment that we had made available. For example, there were usually a number of performances with various musical accompaniment taking place simultaneously. This was due to the large number of amplifiers, microphones and instruments, and the provision of staging all over the studio rather than in just one location. If the stage area had been smaller and the equipment limited, it is likely that a very different performance style would have developed. Furthermore, as Claire Bishop points out, ‘every artwork - even the most “open-ended” - determines in advance the type of participation that the viewer may have within it’.  Apart from the occasional occurrence of rehearsed performance, such as the recital of poems or the performance of songs, the majority of uses of the stage and microphones was for impromptu, improvised performance.
Strategies of Use in A Work on Progress
Following A Work on Progress, I arranged two focus group discussions. The first was with two members of the creative team, who had been closely involved with the project in the weeks leading up to the event. The second was with the three research assistants who were familiar with the research context but who were not directly involved with the development of the practice. These discussions were key to identifying the different types of relationships that emerged over the two nights of the festival. Another important means of researching the outcomes of the event was the gathering of feedback from participants. This involved a number of forms including a questionnaire and comments book. These were used by a small number of visitors, which provided some valuable comments but by no means a comprehensive account. A far more useful method of gathering responses was through analysis of the hundreds of texts generated by users throughout the event. The writing and pictures contributed to the text area and the titles added to the list of the back wall, as well as texts on t-shirts, acetates and labels, all provided a wealth of textual input. We also recorded hours of footage using two video cameras, and this provided film from different stages of the event. Two short newspaper reviews were also useful in providing a critical overview of the event within the wider context of the festival. 
Using all of these sources, I have built up a picture of the different types of relationship that emerged during A Work on Progress. The discussion that follows is not intended to provide a definitive, exclusive or exhaustive typology of relationships, but rather to indicate the variety of ways in which visitors engaged with the stations. Visitors to the studio theatre were observed moving between various modes of engagement. The methodology employed to gather data on the use of the space during the event was intentionally interpretative and does not use statistical analysis. The implication of this is that my own subjective account of the event is the primary means by which this exegesis is conducted. This has resulted in a post event reflection rather than an ‘in progress’ account of the generation of data during the event. Practice-as-research might benefit from a more rigorous empirical methodology. However, it is assumed in this case that the insights of the artist as researcher will provide valuable research findings. In this way the event prompts theoretical reflection, which is in itself considered an important function of the use of artistic practice in a research context.
Many visitors interacted with the stations on an individual level as users, and would spend time exploring each station, perhaps playing an LP or contributing to the text area. On one occasion, a visitor entered the space and immediately picked up one of the guitars, which he played for several minutes before engaging with the rest of the stations.  Similarly, the text area was used on an individual basis by visitors who sat on the edge of the pit reading what others had written, before adding their own texts to the growing pile of paper.
Frequently this individual engagement became part of a communal aesthetic, as it was prompted by other activity. For example, several times when one person was playing a guitar or speaking into the microphone, someone else rearranged the lighting to illuminate the performance. On these occasions the event began to operate through the formation of temporary communities, which were either self-contained or permeable. Self-contained communities occurred whenever visitors entered the studio in groups of two or more, and engaged with the stations exclusively within these previously formed groups. One of the research assistants observed a lot of this type of relationship:
The way that I saw people was often people sticking together in their little groups of friends and doing things with their little group of friends. But it did feel as though when one person would go and do something they would look for reassurance to their friends and it was like that little group were having their moment of performance. But it never felt to me that they were engaging with the other group in the other corner having their own little moment.
Despite this observation, there was also evidence of more permeable communities, which formed on those occasions when interaction occurred between previously unconnected individuals or groups in order to work together to produce something. For example, half way through the second night, someone had put a 1980s disco track on the record player and a small group, myself included, took the opportunity to dance together. Responding to this, someone adjusted the lighting state and someone else projected the title ‘House party, 4.52am. Keep it going, keep it up’, thus framing the activity as a performance as well as aligning themselves with this temporary community.
These moments, of which there were many, could be understood as examples of Félix Guattari’s ‘eco-logic’, which resembles the way in which ‘an artist may be led to alter his work after the intrusion of some accidental detail, an event-incident that suddenly makes his initial project bifurcate, making it drift [dérivier] far from its previous path, however certain it had once appeared to be’.  A Work on Progress operated through a whole series of event-incidents, as common objectives emerged from a multiplicity of individual and collective creative expressions and experimentations. 
However, it is problematic to portray RTP as a utopian vision of communal experience. Alongside the successful relationships of the work, a common reaction was an unwillingness or refusal to participate. Several visitors were observed entering the space, briefly looking around and then leaving again. One commented ‘I don’t feel comfortable with this sort of thing’. I had anticipated this reaction and made a great deal of effort to create an environment in which participation was not compulsory, setting up several performance areas in the space that could be entered into by choice. However, disengagement from the artwork was a common reaction, which is difficult to measure and problematic to any work that claims a democratic concern to ‘give everyone their chance’. 
An important distinction should be made here: choosing not to take part in the performance is a different thing to not being able to take part it in. One represents agency; the other exclusion. The Arches’ audience are selected by geographical location, programming decisions, ticketing and marketing strategies, etc. and as a result there will always be an ‘outside’ to the different groups that use the venue.  As Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe point out, exclusions are an inevitable part of any social group, but this should not prevent the pursuit of utopian ideals of democracy or transgression. The artist Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster, whose work is discussed by Bourriaud as operating through a relational aesthetic, supports this pursuit of ideals:
Even if it is illusory and utopian, what matters is introducing a sort of equality, assuming the same capacities, the possibility of an equal relationship, between me - at the origins of an arrangement, a system - and others, allowing them to organise their own story in response to what they have just seen, with their own references. 
The key word here is ‘possibility’. Within the previously selected community of Forest Fringe and Arches audiences, the possibility was always there for festival-goers to engage with the work in a variety of ways, including a reactionary or antagonistic relationship with the performance.
For example, in response to the projection of the film Breakfast at Tiffany’s above the space, one visitor added to the collection of texts by writing ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s is a shockingly misogynistic film. Fuck off Paul Varjak!’. In this case, an individual statement was made in relation to another element of the event. Elsewhere, when group activity materialised, there was evidence of playful subversion of the communal aesthetic. This frequently took the form of music being turned up to drown out spoken text, or lights being turned off on impromptu performances. Hal Foster urges the political artist to resist the ‘processes and apparatuses’ of their context, and not to simply represent them, and here this resistant practice extended beyond the artist to the participation of ‘users’ of the artwork. 
However, the establishment of any constant or fixed form performance aesthetic in the context of a relational artwork has connotations of fixing and controlling the space, because it can potentially be extremely difficult for any individual to react against any dominant group aesthetic. At the end of the second night my regular collaborator, Kieran Hurley, began a reading into a microphone of all the texts that had been written during the event. This prompted Chris Hall into taking another microphone and joining in. As one of my colleagues played a piano accompaniment and another, dancing to the music, shouted out titles as they were projected onto the back wall I joined in myself, plugging another microphone into a practice amp and reading texts at the same time as Hurley and Hall. At this stage in the event almost everyone engaging with the work had prior involvement with it and their own agendas for its success, however that might be measured.
In some ways, this group performance could be considered inimical to the aims of RTP. A clear hegemonic relational system established itself, in which the performance aesthetic was dominated by a group of people who were familiar with the project, the Arches and each other. For Laclau and Mouffe, a hegemony forms when ‘a particular social force assumes the representation of a totality that is radically incommensurable with it’, and at this moment in the event, the performing group did exercise a certain hegemonic dominance over the space.  However, even if the studio can be considered a ‘totality’, there is no evidence to suggest that the performance instigated by Hurley was ‘radically incommensurable’ with the practices of the other people in the room at that time.