The Eco-Mesh Approach: A Sustainable Methodology for Socio-Culturally Interrogative Artistic Research


One of the most striking features of Artistic Research is that apparently disjointed issues that impact our lives, including pressing calls to action from social, ethical, political and cultural perspectives, can organically enfold an academic discourse through the focal point of artmaking. Artistic Research thereby creates a holistic picture of research in a manner that only an artist’s singular perspective can yield; it spawns a wide and complex spectra of ecologies, conferring new meaning to being artist-citizens. The word ecologies has today been co-opted from its originally biological and environmental context into both an academic and an artistic buzzword (Hearn et al., 2007; van der Hoeven & Hitters, 2019). In this co-opted avatar, it connotes distributed spores of both materials and material labour that lend themselves to intermapping, seeming contamination, and co-existence. The notion of ecologies, then, relates the humane qualities in artmaking to the tangible messiness in the world. This feature of it has been a locus of interest in music-related discussions over the last five decades in the disciplines of applied ethnomusicology and cultural sustainability ( for instance, Archer, 1964; Titon, 2009; Grant, 2013; Keogh, 2013; Grant & Schippers, 2016). In an ecological approach to artmaking in general, there also lurks a literal and earthy quality – a quality that has been yoked to disciplines such as posthumanist feminism and environmental humanities through a related metaphor, the material labour of compositing. What contributes to compost and the acts that render such entanglements composted (Haraway, 2015, 2016; Hamilton & Neimanis, 2018) have welcomed commentary over the last few years. To consider the place and role of art in the context of complex entanglements is to submit to active artmaking in all its messiness, with our selves invested in a way that renders us almost naked, vulnerable, and filterless. Such an abandon testifies to ecologies in mesh - feeding off each other and evolving not necessarily towards a teleological end but towards a richer means to existance. Research that looks to such a mesh deserves a design that weaves in the mess with the mesh - responding and impacting, to and through, both these material imperfections. In this paper I posit an eco-mesh approach to methodology design in artistic research using an intercultural musical project that I crafted during my recent PhD as a processual lens. Therefore, the slant of this paper and the examples proposed here, though transferrable across disciplines, stem from my musician-researcher perspective on the philosophies of artistic research and cultural revitalisation.

Artistic Research employs artmaking as both its principal investigative tool and reflective receptacle. It primarily answers to questions emerging from the complexities within artmaking. While the primary objectives of the research are indeed artistic in nature, the research itself unfolds across cultures, practices, and temporalities, with each of these strands sustaining their own complex ecologies. Artistic Research entails an active participation (and sometimes emancipation) of the self and other entities (human and technology). Each of the participatory limbs in artistic research - the practitioner, their practice, their collaborators, the musicking site, the surrounding societies, associated cultures, and their inherent dysfunctionalities, all constitute the discrete microcosms of ecologies that paradoxically inspire and apprehend the artist-researcher. Each of these ecological nodes raise their own share of red-flags and contentions. Take the currently burgeoning scholarship on music and environment, for instance (e.g. Gibson & Gordon, 2018; Osnes, 2017). Music-making with a message to care for the enviroment and to act without further delay in order to counteract the spiralling issue of climate change has become a ethico-political stance that responds to and provokes action - in this case, for the climate. In creating artistic research by way of collaboration across such seemingly siloed, yet, entangled ecologies, one simultaneously grapples with practice-based questions and with big-picture issues. The politics and ethics of people assembling, grappling, and eventually acting (or deciding not to act!) pervades artistic research, now more than ever. We are confronted with difficult times in the world today, with the Novel Corona Virus exploding in a way that was never anticipated. With self-isolation being proposed as a containing and mitigating tool in these circumstances, one reflects more deeply on the ways in which artmaking - whether done in isolation or in a site of assembly - can impact the quality of our existance, not least when considered in conjunction with the adjacently proliferating ecologies of unrest.

At a time when inaction and passivity have become normative, an incentive to act is paramount. If art-making provides such incentive, it must be lauded as a tool in social change and in research that foregrounds a committment to social change. Again, let us take the issue of climate change. Unless we act as a community of committed beings, this catastrophe shall not be averted. Overall, as a humanity we urgently need a bias towards action and in doing artistic research we are examining the world through action and kinetic energy - not merely through text, literature, potential energy or reflective critique. Take the recently pulished exposition of Budhaditya Chattopadhyay (2019) for instance - they have responded to mass migration, hypermobility, and placelessness through artmaking. They note that their exposition comprises ‘artistic acts of poetic contemplation grounded in a personal experience of the urban alienation.’ While the artistic materials shared in their exposition are a reminder of how social issues can instigate artmaking, they also beg the question of how artmaking can directly confront the pressing issues of our time. Such a reconsideration of the reason-act-response cycle in artistic research, for me, answers to the prompt that urges us to consider ‘phenomenal, biological, political and cultural diversity as ecological forces’ that drive forward (and are in turn spurred forward by) artistic research (CfP, Ruukku, 2019)

It is my belief that the multi-stranded outcomes that are possible from Artistic Research – both socially aligned and artistically inspired - can be clearly foreshadowed in the research methodology design. Art can provoke, and invite others to respond artistically or otherwise (for instance, through critique, pedagogy, or policy). Each voicer can take-up the olympian torch and run their own relay race, on their own path. Each rabble-rouser can raise more questions than they seek to answer. The various artistic voices in the edited book by Lucy Cotter (2019) (that was recently launched at the UniArts hosted Venice Biennale Reseach Pavilion at the meeting of Artistic Research Journals) demonstrate this very quality of artistic research.


The last few years have seen the field of artistic research in the throes of change. The burgeoning scholarship now looks to the social, political and cultural contexts which artmaking might address, impact and destabilise. The recent ‘Balance: The Gender Balance in Art Education Project’ at UiT, The Arctic University of Tromsø, that regards issues around gender through music-making as the lens, is an excellent example. The team describe their research agenda as a “project for social change inspired by the arts” (Mittner & Bergli, 2018). Their effort has been supported by the Arne Nordheim Centre for Artistic Research in Music, at the Norwegian Academy of Music, with Darla Crispin situating their Artistic Research squarely in the context of advocacy. In a video where the researchers talk about the project, Crispin observes:

One of the things that arts can do is to show us worlds that don’t even exist yet. Arts can [also] show us the lessons of what might happen if we don’t try to work harder towards a more balanced society. (Darla Crispin, in Mittner & Bergli, 2018)

Crispin’s (2018, pp. 133–140) recent article which links feminism, artistic research, and the academy, is an open call for a socio-political turn in artistic research. Her works that problematise the composer–performer–audience dynamic and the question of ethics is yet another case of artmaking becoming relevant to issues beyond the artmaking itself (Crispin, 2014, 2018). There has also been an increase in the addressing of socially relevant issues through artistic research, particularly in the fields of indigenous research, intercultural research, and research that relates to issues around gender (e.g., Nguyễn, 2018). This trend was discussed in some depth in the recent Artistic Research Symposium (November 2018) organised by the Queensland Conservatorium Griffith University and the University of Queensland, with visiting scholar Prof. Darla Crispin offering insights. With regards to indigenous research in Finland, Hannula, Suoranta and Vadén’s (2014) observations align Artistic Research with social impact.

In terms of artistic research, this goal [to give the community more breathing space] is accompanied by its transformative twin: the goal is to nudge the community toward self-critical and self-conscious change. (p. 67)

The collaborations between Östersjö and Nguyễn (2013) including Inside/Outside and Arrival Cities Hanoi are contributions from artistic research that address issues around patriarchal constructs of gender in Vietnamese culture.

I am a migrant coloured woman from Chennai, South India, with over two decades of successful vocal performance practice of Karnatik music, the dominant classical music form of South India, behind me. I now reside, research, and teach in Brisbane, Australia while also actively performing worldwide. Throughout these activities, I am aware that I carry with me the encrustations of patriarchy from my traditional background in the performance of Indian Classical music. I also carry within me a curiosity and enthusiasm to explore musics of the West through the lens of my own practice. My cultural encrustations are continually faced with my enthusiam for exploring the new and at the locus of this confrontation lies my research interest - to interrogate the notions of what is considered “normative” across ecologies of music cultures. I turned to exploring Italian composer Claudio Monteverdi’s first Opera L’Orfeo through a critical lens in the context of my PhD research. I erected a decahedral framework of comparison between the key elements of Karnatik music including raga (melody), laya (time), and bhava (emotion) and the key elements of early opera including the notion of harmony and dissonances, affect, gesture, ornamentation, and drama. I drew on music theory and literature alongside my own experience in deriving this framework. Drawing on this framework, I composed and performed what would emerge as a hybrid work. The production that ensued, Monteverdi Reimagined, reconsidered key moments from the tale of Orfeo and Euridice using Monteverdi’s score of L’Orfeo as a point of departure and principles of Karnatik music as the primary vehicle of exploration. The Orphic myth is a tale of love, separation, angst, and finally despair. Orfeo, the extraordinary singer, falls in love with the gentle Euridice, who by a cruel twist of fate perishes. Orfeo implores the boatman Charonne to grant him passage across the river Styx into the mouths of hell from where he seeks to rescue his loved bride. Although the story ends bitterly with Orfeo losing Euridice forever, there have been various kinds of endings for this tale in the realm of opera, including the one where Orfeo’s father, Apollo, grants him eternal release by granting him passage to heaven. For my reimagination, I chose the love duet between Orfeo and Euridice, Orfeo’s pleading with Charonne in the ornate Act III aria, Possente Spirto, and intially I opened with an invocation to the power of music, La Musica Prologo. The marked presence of the Karnatik melodic signifier, the raga, and the ornament signifier, gamaka, both underscored my reimagination, being the cornerstones of my ecology of practice. However, in Karnatik music female (and to some extent male) singers are discouraged from movements, emotional expressions through voice or gesture, and from acting. It is this encrustation that has its roots deeply embedded into the social and ethical fabrics of South India at large and Karnatik performance culture in particular, that I wished to interrogate and destabilise.

This article shares the key parameters that governed the methodology model of this research, and links this rationale and model to the value of arts ecologies and their relationship to the anthropocene today (Åsberg & Braidotti, 2018). Projects such as Disruptive Processes from the recent Venice Biennale that have touched upon activities as diverse as such as feminist gathering, collaborative writing and sensorial experience cleverly articulate this new wave of thinking in Artistic Research. My exposition aligns with trends such as these, however, it also exposes a gap in current knowledge. Theoretical concepts in artistic research have increasingly been governed by Western epistemologies and the global north. My perspective embraces ontologies and epistemologies from the margins and privileges the global south. It positionality is therefore unique in that confronts it the ethics and politics of gathering from a decentred angle and embraces the notion of action head-on, to engender change through active destabilisation of status-quo. The lattice crafted by the myriad situated and collaborative knowledges from far afield can be thought of as the eco-mesh that I refer to in this context. The meshed ecologies model engenders cultural dynamism as opposed to cultural stasis.

Inspired by the diveristy in examples of such socially directed artistic research projects from world over, and by a desire for a free and unfettered corporeal expression as gesture in female vocal performers of the Karnatik South India, I situated my research squarely within the dynamic domain of artistic research where artmaking could be acknowledged and harnessed as an agency that not only engenders change but also disinvests in established power structures - within artmaking and academia. Artistic research interrogates and concerns itself with the issues within artmaking; in an ecologies-based research design, the methodology is given leeway to also concern itself with the socio-cultural constructs that shape the artmaking and the discipline rendering artmaking one practical and accessible way for a performer to unpack the other layers that lurk beneath the obvious. The artmaking and the processes embedded as “tacit knowledge” within it are at the centre of this discourse (Coessens, 2014b; Hultberg, 2013) drawing together the seemingly independant pitstops of ecologies in the long route that it takes - as Artistic Research.

The following definition of Artistic Research from Crispin (2009) aligns with my understanding of my evolving Self in relation to the research and context:

Artistic research offers a space for an exchange of subjectivity and objectivity, with each research process being unique, embedded in a specific relation between artist, materials, and context. (p. 27)

It is this specific relationship that blends into an ecology that is fluid, dynamic, and phenomenologically situated. In my research context the cultural diversity and the embodied performance aspects paved the way for the various ecologies of practice that I sought to integrate and interrogate to coalesce into a composted whole.

A methodology referendum

On the question of methodology in Artistic Research projects, as Coeesens, Crispin and Douglas (2009, p. 47) note, “there will be no one ‘artistic research’ but many mutually complementing artistic researches,” and the artistic-researcher will be “the juggling semiotician, will have to develop from the resources of existing languages, his or her own ‘speech’.” Recently, de Assis (2018, p. 19) has called for “innovative practice-based methodologies that integrate archival and musicological research into the creative process leading to a performance,” proposing experimentation, not only with musical materials but also with methods, as a logical approach to a performance-orientated research model. This methodology was designed to suit my research question: How to hybridise Karnatik music and early opera, through composition, collaboration and performance. What began in the late 2000s as artistic-research laid emphasis almost wholly on the artmaking and implications for the artmaking itself. Even while drawing on history, culture, and society, such a referencing was done usually for the purposes of reinforcing the ‘making’ process (e.g., Borgdorff, 2007, 2010, 2012). For instance, in an article from 2007, Borgdorff writes: “[Artistic Research] is about cutting-edge developments in the discipline that we may broadly refer to as ‘art’. It is about the development of talent and expertise in that area” (p. 16). Note the specificity with regards to the artistic ‘area’ in his approach. In 2010, when Borgdorff (p. 58) notes: “The concepts, thoughts, and utterances assemble themselves around the artwork, so that the artwork begins to speak,” the question that arises, for me, is not only about what the artwork speaks of in relation to the artmaking itself, but also to whom might it speak, what other contexts might it reference, and what might its ‘voice’ mean to various people, both inside and outside the artmaking sphere.

I named my proposed methodology model that instantiates an eco-mesh approach to artistic research as Socio-culturally interrogative artistic research’ in my PhD research (Mani, 2019a). The model explicitly aligns artistic research to society, cultures, ethics, and the politics that surround us in our phenomenological existence in this world and was demonstrated in action within the unfoldings in the production of Monteverdi Reimagined . I propose this specific slant of terminology to introduce the new kind of artistic research that has recently been embraced across various contexts wherein the researchers have assumed an ethico-political responsibility and donned the role of a responsible artist-citizen-researcher described in the above cited literature. However, despite being practiced across a few interesting artistic research projects world-over, such an approach to artistic research has not yet been formally named or acknowledged as “different” from what artistic research was understood as, around two decades ago. This article, therefore, conceptually aligns with the philosophical paradigm that the call for papers for this issue of RUUKKU suggests - one that expects a deep level of awareness, involvement, and accountability in the researcher not only in the stratum of art making, but well beyond. An ecological approach to arts systems, practices, values, and interfaces, is the future of artistic research that strives to be outward facing and impactful.

To be specific, the various microcosms of ecologies that were at interplay in my intercultural reimagination of Monteverdi’s 1607 opera,L’Orfeo, as ‘Monteverdi Reimagined,’ in Brisbane, Australia, included:

The actions in the socio-culturally interrogative artistic research in music methodology model that yielded the eco-mesh across the contexts above included:

Sustaining these distributed ecologies is the socio-culturally interrogative methodological model that affords consideration of the field as an eco-mesh of thriving and composting cultures rather than as fossilised emblems of cultural stasis. Keogh (2013) makes this very point central to his discussion on the intersections of ethnomusicology, sustainability, and the term ecology.

Interrogations sustained by the eco-mesh approach to Artistic Research: Exemplars from Monteverdi Reimagined

In this first video clip my Karnatik vocal style comes face to face with Oslo based harpsichordist Gunnhild Tonder’s interpretive style of approaching the Prologo from L’Orfeo. We did not have a common musical language, yet both took ‘our situational and historical responsibilities into account, striving for that viable interconnection’ to link our very diverse practices (Cfp, Ruukku, 2019). This was an ecological mesh being woven in real-time that transcended cultural, linguistic, stylistic, and geographical boundaries. Excerpts from the discussion between myself and Gunnhild on 16 April, 2017, at Oslo are shared below. We are discussing the fourth line of the strophe beginning ‘Io la musica’ from the Prologo, ‘le piu gelate menti’ (refer to video between 4’ and 5’30”).

Author: It’s telling me something.

Gunnhild: This chord is very typically Monteverdi.

I hum a raga, and then we play together.

Author: It went somewhere . . . This raga is called Hemavati.

(I suddenly lose myself in raga exploration, and we play).

Gunnhild: I mean, it can go anywhere! This is so much fun. You asked me what I did there, and I don’t remember.

Author: Yes, different every time, like a Karnatik performer’s approach.

Gunnhild: When you go somewhere, I go there too and see what I can explore. I love this…(Experimentation transcript, April 16, 2017)

The last sentence from Gunhild, as we explore the possibilities offered by an augmented fourth, is indicative of how an act of art making, when done with others, can encourage action, enthusiasm and a culture of change. In the current world, what we might have in common as a humanity is the desire for positive change, and artistic research exemplifies this very desire, as act rather than as discourse - across varied instances. This encounter that I had with an Early Musician in traveling from Brisbane, Australia to Oslo, Norway, to meld South Indian music and 17th-century opera is just one such example.

Further on in this clip, we both go on to speak also to another interlocutor, singer/researcher Elisabeth Holmertz. I am visibly moved, and we are all very excited about the augmented fourth that emerged suddenly at ‘le piu gelate menti.’ Strangers until then, the warmth of finding something stimulating in the process of art making rendered us sensitive, responsive, and sharing.

In May 2017, I scheduled the performance of Monteverdi Reimagined to be held in Brisbane, Australia on October 21, 2017. A concert hall, ‘Magda’s Community Hall,’ in the suburb of Bardon, Queensland, was selected. Baroque violinist Margaret Caley, Indian classical flautist Darshil Shah ( migrant in Australia, like myself), harpsichordist David Jenkin and lutenist Joseph Meyer formed the core intercultural Early Music- based team. They were selected based on their their excellence in performance standard, their availability for three rehearsals prior, and a fourth rehearsal at the venue prior to performance, and their willingness to step into a culturally plural musical space. I had composed ritornelli (an instrumental interlude) in both the Prologo and Possente Spirto, the two primary pieces that I was reimagining from a Karnatik perspective through Artistic Research. These were intended for the Baroque violin and/or Indian flute.

The flautist, Darshil Shah did not read sheet music notation. He belongs to the Hindustani system of music of Northern India. This system shares a close history with the Karnatik in terms of ragas and an aural-oral approach to learning (Pesch, 1999, p. 12). Luckily, all the ragas (melodic materials of Indian music) featured in this production were under the category of those that were shared between the Hindustani and Karnatik systems. I communicated with him from a purely aural-oral perspective. For the performance, he decided that he would follow his brief from the rehearsals and look for visual cues from the rest of us. Joseph, the lute player agreed to signal to Darshil, at key moments of entry. I assigned durations between 10 to 40 seconds for each of the flute ritornelli, depending on where they appeared.

In the above video, I am trying to make sense of how to embed a curvaceous Raga contour within an enlarged stave to translate aspects of my composition to my collaborators from the Western tradition of Early Music.

The figure below shows an initial sketch of a Monteverdian vocal line invoked from a Karnatik music perspective.

This essentially exploratory and translational process of artistic research clearly demonstrates the organic development of an empathetic tool to connect wIth fellow humans across aural, visual, and kinaesthetic levels, also explored in a pedagogical context in Mani (2018). It interrogates established modes of signification in the notational culture of the West, while also refraining from dismissing the principle of notation itself as a mere oculocentric indulgence. The fibres of connectivity across tools, techniques, and methods, such as the RagaCurve, are the threads that weave the eco-mesh.

The aural dimensions of interaction and the visual cues of communication between individuals who were barely acquainted with one another until then emerged as a mode of understanding that was self-sustaining. As we worked with one another, differences gave way to possibilities. There came a situation wherein a confluence of ecologies of practice, being, and knowing was felt by all. Over four rehearsal sessions (three at the Queensland Conservatorium and one more at the concert hall), we developed a shared understanding of ways to sustain the diversity in our ecologies of practice while exploring synergies of embodied culturally encrustations.

This Media file, shows excerpts from the first rehearsal dated September 9, 2017. Only Margaret and Joseph were present at this rehearsal. Margaret quips, “let’s play through and see what happens,” and we excitedly begin. It was during this rehearsal that I felt the unity between gesture, word, melody and drama begin to manifest naturally in me. Such knowing in and through action was a sensorial burst that touched me subliminally.

In the rehearsal sessions, I felt aligned with Thomaidis’s (2014, p. 242) observation on musicality beyond music: “It may be just me, but it sounds as if everybody acknowledges the sounding of the others.” He concludes, “for every new performance, new ways of allowing musicality [as physio-vocal] to inform all its aspects, should be explored” (Thomaidis, 2014, p. 251). Likewise, in the above clip, we discuss our points of entry, makes notes in our scores, and observe one another’s style of music-making while being with each other and our instruments in a confined site of rehearsal. This photograph shows a relaxed moment in the session; our comfort level, as a group, was improving, and this comfort was reflected in our music-making. However, I was still disrupting the flow at times - with observations, as were the others with moments of tentativeness. That which is unspoken is often the messiest. When the methodology allows for such meshing and mess, it holds an unprecendented capacity to question and reinvigorate assumed ecologies.

Figure 1: A lighter moment at rehearsal 1 of Monteverdi Reimagined, with Margaret (violin) and Joseph (lute). Dated September 9, 2017. (Photo: Krishna Karthik)

My research journal entry at this point reveals a relaxed feeling, and can be viewed as a reaffirmation as well:

I now feel like performing with gesture and movement is natural to me. Like this has been my state, that was until now stifled. If this is how rehearsal feels, I can’t wait to experience performance; to surprise myself, and others. It has been a joyful session today. We are getting comfortable with each other, as people, as artists. Becoming friends, before collaborators. (September 10, 2017).

This Media file is annotated, and shows me working with Margaret on my composed ritornello in Euridice’s lament from 2’ onwards. At around 33” Joseph and I incidentally coincide in a gesture that pre-empts sound from both of us. This unplanned coincidence took me by surprise while analysing the clip from an eco-mesh angle. The beliefs that we bring in with us embed themselves in our music and emerge at the most unexpected of times, enabling the interrogation of gesture (or the lack of it), as I also explore in Mani (2019b).

In this Media file I am holding a rehearsal session with the full group, dated September 23, 2017. By that time, the group was comfortable with the musical materials. In the clip, I am working on ways to communicate with Darshil on his departures and finishes. Darshil’s realisations were entirely improvised; indicated in-score as ‘Flute ritornello in raga . . .’. No two attempts of his were even similar; this is normative in Indian classical music, however, this rendered it difficult for the others to read into his exits. The phonocentric ecology of the East was directly confronted with the logocentricity of the West.

Between 3” and 51” I request Darshil to hold for a prolonged duration at the tonic, following his improvised response to me. Ronan, unable to judge the duration of Darshil’s short elaboration of raga Durbari Kaanada, is unsure of when to begin ‘fu ben felice . . .’. When Darshil holds the finishing note (see Figure 2 below), I gently signal to Ronan to begin. I once again find us all in a mesh of cultural difference, tastefully navigating our way through.

Figure 2: Darshil exploring on Indian flute, Ronan waiting to sing, and David at the harpsichord. Dated September 23, 2017. (Photo: Krishna Karthik)

We discuss on how best we can facilitate Ronan’s entries within the, now compartmentalised, Rosa del ciel duet form. Later in this excerpt, I enter the singer-actor role, shedding the musical director garb. I look at Ronan and sing ‘Roja’ to him, like I mean it (see Figure 3 below). I become aware of us as Orfeo and Euridice; moments of immersion into the rasa(intense feeling) of sringara (love) are clearly visible in this clip, rendering the dramatic turn palpable. I offer Ronan an indication of what might be expected in the concert at this time; we exit as a happy pair from the stage.

Figure 3. *Rosa-Roja* piece rehearsal with Ronan: Trying to be in character. Dated September 23, 2017. (Photo: Krishna Karthik)

A short description of the concert venue is warranted here. Magda Community Hall is rectangular; wooden panelled and wooden floored, it has a seating capacity of around 100, and is seen somewhat clearly in Figure 4. We decided not to amplify the voice in the space, also in consideration of the neighbours but to use microphones for the purposes of recording only.

Figure 4: Rehearsal at Hall, October 20, 2017. (Photo: Lynette Lancini)

Turning to history, only recently a room in the ducal palace at Mantua has been identified as the place where the first performance of L’Orfeo was staged in February, 1607. Paula Besutti (2007) observes that an exact identification of this room has not yet been successful due to large-scale restructuring of the palace in the 18th century. But, she does present an idea of the dimensions and architectural features that may have been: It is very likely that the room in which L’Orfeo was performed had dimensions of at least two hundred square metres, an elongated rectangular plan and a vaulted ceiling, equipped with a simple raised platform with wings, the kind erected for the plays of the palace comedians. (Besutti, 2007, p. 85).

I bore in mind the sala delgi specchi (Hall of mirrors) that I had witnessed during my earlier visit to Italy that year, in the ducal palace, and also considered the above description in Besutti (2007), in looking for a suitable hall to perform Monteverdi Reimagined. Since I was using the Karnatik vocal technique (therefore, with limited power, but many subtleties), I had to ensure that the hall was compact enough for me to be heard. The venue had to be quiet, accommodative of a small ensemble, and acoustically suited to support the delicate ornamentation so intrinsic to the hybrid style. The photo below shows the rehearsal in the suburban Brisbane hall in progress when widely diverse ecologies and historical responsibilities collided in situ.

Figure 5: Rehearsal at hall the day before performance, October 20, 2017. (Image from video by Lynette Lancini)

Concluding Reflections

In the broadest sense, my research method could be regarded as one that sheds light on the intercultural or hybrid nature of any encounter, whether by individuals who belong to different cultures, or by those who might share a culture by default and an illusion of a common understanding of musical matters. A musician meeting another does so with prior experience ingrained in them - they represent an ecology of belonging and belief. Referring back to the composting metaphor, the third space is the site of composted of ecologies that are irrigated from within the mesh of artistic practice. This idea has been put forth by philosopher Kathleen Coessens (2014) as the “web of artistic practice.”

When diverse microcosms of ecologies synergise in artmaking, entanglements of both discomfiture and co-existance are renegotiated. It was in those moments within the art-making and performance that I first-hand experienced a sense of being supported by a strong lattice structure of ecologies. My personal experience is singular; I do not claim to generalise that all encounters that are methodologically socially and/or culturally interrogative might create a similar sense of being supported through a mesh-like substratum. However, it is clear that the primary outcome of this approach to Artistic Research has been in the form of a model for working across hierarchies and assumptions. An eco-mesh approach that is socio-culturally interrogative challenges the notions of comfort and convention. It acknowledges the complexities that are typical of artistic encounters between individuals, systems, and cultures. The complexities problematised here are subtle, significant, and reside over and above the overtly visible labels of cultural difference.

Arts ecologies are now being increasingly thought of as “value creating.” Artists coming together to create and research art are not only enriching their knowledge nd practice, but are co-creators of value. The artistic products and processes are not the only valuable outcomes; the meshes of ecology thus created are of immense value for those inside and outside the research system (Hearn et al., 2007, p. 422). Further, in an age where music and the arts are increasingly being considered as a “global natural resource” capable of conferring wellbeing and improving the quality of life of people in cities and villages alike, recognising the broad-spectrum value of ecologies of artistic research as a transformational tool for engendering social and ethics-political shifts is paramount (Hearn & Heinneman, 2010, 2018).

Artistic research that answers the persistent calls of pressing issues that confront us today is the future of the discipline. The PARSE “Human” Conference brief that was released recently communicated this message quite clearly.

Within the broad and open framework of (artistic) research represented at the PARSE conference it will become possible, in a unique setting of international encounter, to reflect upon burning issues related to the concept of the human. We seek to initiate a dialogue based in the non-separation of theoretical inquiry, artistic practice, arts education, and cultural production. (PARSE Conference, 2019, para. 3)

As demonstrated from the media and reflections above, the methodology proposed here draws on qualitative conversational and interactive data, journal entries, self-reflection, reflective practice, and experimentation as its methods to construct an overarching artistic research framework that serves to evaluate burning issues within and beyond art. The artist’s perspective is crucial here, for it is their idiosyncratic approach to the art making and its resonances for the outside world and academia that lends every such study genuinity, integrity, and unique quality.

An ecologies-based approach to methodology is significant for yet another reason in this particular case. As a female native culture bearer of South Indian Classical music now also active within the sphere of Western academia, I feel that I have an ethical responsibility towards the ways in which culturally contingent aspects of my music and culture are represented in and communicated to the world (both in education and artmaking). If I could be instrumental in passing on the legacy of this tradition to generations forward with even a fraction of the freshness that I remember from my formative years of learning in Chennai, then I would be very happy. In doing so, I am afforded an insider/outsider position to problematise aspects of power, belonging, and ownership in global ecologies of dissemination and reception material and material labour. Comparably, in Arrival Cities: Hanoi, Östersjö and Nguyễn (2013) problematise the issue of gender and culture in the global performance domain, as does Nguyễn (2018) in her independant artistic research exposition.

I humbly put forth this article in all its messiness, to invite you to reconsider established theories of methodology design in artistic research through the earthy lens of ecologies of being. There is huge gain in such an approach; it serves not only to align ourselves as a humanity with the pressing issues of our time but also to decolonise the subject of methodology in academia.


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