2.1 Performance Research

2.1_Performance Research_IMGL3761

Performance Research is particularly appropriate for an investigation into lived experience because it often privileges first-person experiences that are focused on paying attention to body-centred sensation and perception. For example, Mercer and Robson claim that this kind of research “enables thinking and articulating with the whole body” (2012, p. 16). Haseman (2006) asserts that the outcomes of Performance Research hold research knowledge in symbolic meanings that are expressed through performance, and employ artistic practices that are generally experiential, generative, enacted, and performed.

Since the early 1990s, multiple terms have appeared to describe the developing area of academic research in the creative arts domain. The most significant, from my perspective, is the work that has been done using the terms practice as research (PaR), and practice as research in performance (PARIP) in the United Kingdom, Europe, and elsewhere (Nelson 2013; Smith & Dean 2009b), live research (LR) in Australia (Mercer, Robson & Fenton 2012), and performance as research (PAR) in the United States (Riley & Hunter 2009). These defining terms have generated a complex global discourse over the last 25 years, which has resulted in a nuanced and vibrant research trajectory in the creative arts.

Robin Nelson’s (2013) recently published volume on Practice as Research in the Arts effectively synthesises much of the debate surrounding research in the creative arts domain. His work provides a useful framework for artist-researchers because he clearly defines a “multi-mode PaR methodology”, where “intelligent practice is at the core” of the submitted research inquiry (p. 40). Nelson defines his PaR model as follows:

PaR involves a research project in which practice is a key method of inquiry and where, in respect of the arts, a practice (creative writing, dance, musical score/performance, theatre/performance, visual exhibition, film or other cultural practice) is submitted as substantial evidence of a research inquiry. (2013, p. 9)

Although Nelson’s work embraces all the arts, he emphasises the performing arts, in part, because less has been published in performance than visual arts. This emphasis on performing arts is particularly useful for my project because, as Nelson says, “the ephemerality of the performing arts poses particular challenges to their inclusion in an already contested site of knowledge-production” (2013, p. 3). For example, the need for artist-researchers to provide durable records of their work, for academic purposes, remains a problem for adequately evidencing essentially ephemeral performance works that “leave only traces” (Nelson 2013, p. 6).

To address the problem of documenting an ephemeral work, I invited my examiners to attend the live performance event developed for this project. This ensured that examiners were able to have a direct experience of the work. I recognise, however, that the substantial gap between the live performance and the submission of this thesis remains a risk to the project as a whole.

To mitigate this risk, I elected to video record the performances so that I might use the recordings as a trigger for the examiners as they complete my assessment. Given the durational gap between the live event and the submission of the written work, the video recording might also operate as evidence of the performance in the event that a different examiner has to be introduced. Nelson notes that in the UK, an understanding has developed such that few examiners of PaR projects “mistake the audio-visual document for the performance itself” (2013, p. 6). In Australia, this understanding has also developed and there is recognition that the video recording does not in any way replace the live performance event.

Research in the creative arts domain, on the whole, privileges differentiation and embraces multiplicities. According to Kershaw, this “boundless specificity” paradoxically ensures creative arts research will “always resist becoming a single discipline” (2009, p. 4). I disagree. A review of the literature suggests that from the multiple individual projects in this domain there are generalisable principles that have emerged. For example, artist-researchers use “making as the driving force” (Makela & Routarinne 2006, p. 22), capture the “messiness of process” (Haseman & Mafe 2009, p. 211), encourage working from the “unknown to the known” (Sullivan 2009, p. 49, p. 62) and allow work to evolve through “failure and generosity” (Mercer & Robson 2012, p. 13). These are the general principles that have guided my performance research.

What is particular to my project is the focus on first-person, body-centred performative activity. I use the term performative to signal, as does Haseman (2006), a mode of research that is in contrast and different to qualitative or quantitative research. I concur with Haseman that the performative mode of research has its roots in qualitative approaches, but that it is distinguished from other forms of research by how the researcher goes about achieving and communicating their goals. Reporting is offered “as rich, presentational forms”, and “when research findings are made as presentational forms they deploy symbolic data in the material forms of practice; forms of still and moving images; forms of music and sound; forms of live action and digital code” (p. 5).

Haseman’s work is clearly seminal in the field of PaR. One of Nelson’s stated purposes for his volume about PaR is to “propose a distinctive pedagogy for PaR…fleshing out the paradigm of ‘performative research’ posited by Haseman” (2013, p. 6). Haseman coins the term performative research (2006, p. 5) in response to the increasing frustrations of artist-researchers who were finding the methodological boundaries of quantitative and qualitative research too limiting for the production and communication of their research knowledge. He argues that performative research is actually forming a new paradigm.

Haseman’s assertion heralds the arrival of something new in the academy. I note, however, that ten years later, the idea of a new performative research paradigm has still not definitively taken hold. Haseman himself has even stopped using the term in this way – instead he seems focused on “practice-led know how” (Haseman & Mafe 2009, p. 211). Whether or not Haseman’s notion of performative research is a new paradigm, or simply a new methodology within the broader context of relativist research is something that cannot be definitively asserted at this stage. Establishing a new paradigm is a significant academic ambition because paradigms are the broadest epistemological categories. As such, this bold move will require the efforts of many. In the foreseeable future it is possible that a critical mass of artist-researchers will, with their collective efforts, galvanise change within the academy and establish a new performative research paradigm. This is the work of more than one PhD project.

So, for my part, I signal support for this new paradigm but, at this point in time, confine my discussion to the notion of Performance Research rather than performative research even though, in many ways, their elements converge.

For me, Performance Research fosters, like performative research does for Haseman, an “enthusiasm of practice” (2006, p. 4) resulting in artistic work that embodies the research findings in live performance events.

In my project, this enthusiasm of practice is a performative exchange between philosophy and performance. I engage with fundamental philosophical concepts through a process of training myself to access experience differently in the act of making creative works. Watson notes that “the lines between training and research in theatrical performance are often unclear; what is training to some, is research to others, and vice versa”(2009, p. 86). For me, the difference lies in whether or not the approach is open or closed. Stanislavski “seemed more inclined to an open process” (Watson 2009, p. 88). The knowledge of the performer is corporeal but it remains open for investigation and testing. I concur with Kershaw that, Performance Research creates a “dislocation of knowledge by action” (2009, p. 4).

In the next section I identify a lineage of body-centred research that has dislocated knowledge by action through an intelligent approach to performing bodies. The body-centred work of the performance practitioners discussed in the next section frames the artistic context within which my investigations have taken place.


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