Autoethnography is used within social sciences as a method of qualitative enquiry that prioritises the researcher’s personal experience. (Ellis and Bochner 2000; Griffin & Stephens Griffin 2019; Wall 2016) The self-questioning that autoethnography demands and the discomfort that it can cause are recognised as being critical to activating emotional response and providing spaces for ‘further conversation rather than undebatable conclusion’ (Ellis and Bochner 2000: 744). This methodology, particularly as it is not employed alongside more empirical methods, is explicitly subjective to the point of it being, at times, uncomfortable to me as an artist and a researcher, but more than that sometimes uncomfortable as a mother, a daughter, sister, colleague and friend. I am interested in the experience of discomfort, and it is through an autoethnographic enquiry that I can actively explore what will provoke that feeling (for me) as an artist. I seek to provoke the viewer, too; this is a type of impact. In the project Eroding the Otherness, I record my observations that are often immediate and instinctual, the thoughts that I might in usual circumstances, choose not to speak out loud let alone publish for fear of appearing callous, inconsiderate, selfish, self-absorbed, vain, superficial or naïve. I do this in order to capture my instinctive response to others, my unfiltered reactions to their appearance. In Fashioning As and By Another, I make myself vulnerable by providing an instructional text and accompanying photographs of how I construct my sartorial image to Marie, a woman I have never met, who responds to an invitation I send out. Marie agrees to follow my instructions and wear the package of clothes I send her. I ask her to do that same thing for me in return. Autoethnography has been criticised as a methodology that is self-indulgent and narcissistic; Nicolas Holt (2003), Nathan Stephens Griffin (2019) and Elaine Campbell (2017) explore the counter-arguments and the impact of this view for the ‘researcher’. This is an interesting tangential discussion.
However, the field of practice for an artist-researcher draws upon historically established and arguably accepted autobiographical forms of enquiry that value the subjective position of the artist. Artists including Sophie Calle, Gillian Wearing, Tracey Emin, Claude Cahun, Yoko Ono and Marina Abramovich, to name a few, have mined their own subjective experiences and have influenced the approach I take in valuing my subjective position. Within the work Eroding the Otherness, the text written on the 2nd of February arose as a result of feeling frustration at what I perceived as similarity between my methods and that of artists Sophie Calle and Vito Acconci, most notably Calle’s work Suite vénitienne (1980). In response, I forced upon myself a slightly different method of recording. I recorded my thoughts about the ‘other’ from the beginning to the end of my train journey. I wanted to explore how my response and relationship with the ‘other’ changed when I set out intending to record and respond to whoever happened to be there, rather than selecting an individual who attracted me.