I began this project with concerns about how binary concepts such as mind/body, subject/object, and conscious/unconscious limit our capacity to gain a more appropriate and precise understanding of human artistic creativity. My concerns arose from an inability to reconcile some Western academic discourses about these topics with my own experience. The project has laid out an alternative philosophical background to examine and interpret artists’ experiences of creativity, and then turned to performance practice to apply, experiment, distil, perform, and articulate how the dynamic forces of life are implicated in processes of artistic creativity. As Merleau-Ponty says, “to understand is to experience the accord between what we aim at and what is given, between the intention and the realization – and the body is our anchorage in a world” (1945/2012, p. 146).
Grosz claims that there is a need for researchers to “reflect on the most general and abstract conditions of corporeality and materiality, and the forces that weigh on our bodies and their products” if we are to “see what has commonly remained invisible or unseen in our everyday…habits and assumptions” (2005, p. 114). I embrace this challenge by questioning the invisible binary habits and assumptions underlying the study of artistic creativity in Western academia.
Following Grosz, I position my work within a lineage that includes Darwin, Bergson, Merleau-Ponty, and Deleuze. In particular, I engage with Merleau-Ponty’s concepts of wild Being and the intertwining – the chiasm, and Bergson’s concept of becoming. I explore resonances between these concepts and artists’ descriptions of artistic creativity and then experiment with this material through my performance practice.
In doing so, I have found that utilising touch, attuning-to the support of central movement, and embodying sensory metaphors, create visceral shifts in and give a different kind of access to the lived experience of artistic creativity. I have recognised these experiences in artists’ visceral descriptions of the creative process, and found parallels in Merleau-Ponty’s concept of wild Being. As a result, this research has helped me to avoid mind/body binaries and access a multi-sensory, corporeal intelligence.
However, I discovered, through action and reflection, that Bergson and Merleau-Ponty’s philosophical concepts required further refinement because they were not entirely adequate for giving an account of the experience of artistic performance. As a result, I have synthesised Bergson’s and Merleau-Ponty’s respective fundamental concepts of life and wild Being to isolate a new phenomenon which I claim is the basis of creativity. I term this phenomenon wild life and in this thesis, have explored ways to access, activate and enact it through performance practice. Based on my investigations, I have defined wild life as a performative dynamic that is primal, wild, libidinal, generative, unpredictable, surprising, and singularly creative. I claim that wild life can be accessed, through corporeal practices, to catalyse and support artistic creativity.
I have also found, through my own first-person performance research, how Merleau-Ponty’s concept of the intertwining – the chiasm resonates with artists’ body-world descriptions of the creative process. In an attempt to experience this body-world connection, I constructed a body-sized Möbius loop with which to experiment and consciously access experience differently. By focusing in-between things, I discovered that when I was in motion with this object I could more consciously attune-to the intertwining body-world forces that propel, bind, and separate things. I found that boundaries, edges, and borders are porous and intertwined which makes them affected by immersive conditions. I discovered that focusing in-between things fosters an ability to attune-to what Merleau-Ponty calls the “thickness” of the “perceived object and the perceiving subject” (1945/2012, p. 53). My experiments with the Möbius loop resonated with artists’ viscerally immersive descriptions of the body-world experience of artistic creativity. I found that focusing attention between things and encountering the Möbius loop in live performance made it possible to eschew subject/object binaries and more readily attune-to the intertwining – the chiasm as a fundamental structure of lived experience. I claim that attuning to this body-world connection can support and sustain artistic creativity.
I also discovered, again through first-person experience, how the dynamic and open-ended forces of difference in what Grosz calls the domain of becoming might express the real through artistic performance. Using the concept of becoming, as employed by Bergson and affirmed by Merleau-Ponty and Grosz, I found that, for artistic purposes, it is useful to consciously imagine life as a dynamic, generative and open-ended process of becoming. Following Bergson, Merleau-Ponty and Grosz, I claim that life is a fundamentally creative process.
To activate live creative processes in this way, I shifted my attention towards sensory experience while making creative works. I discovered that this is an effective way to more consciously engage with immersive accounts of corporeality and materiality. By embracing a Bergsonian position on Creative Evolution as employed by Grosz, within a first-person inquiry, I was able to get closer to adopt a new felt-sense of the fundamental structures of life and their influence upon my artistic creative efforts. This also made it possible to communicate experiential research insights in/through performance.
Following Ginsburg, I attempted to augment the phenomenal experience of artistic creativity through performance, rather than simply making verbal reports about what I thought the experience was. In doing so, I developed a contemporary theatre event and explored the work of theatre practitioners who have worked with a visceral dynamic to unblock the physical body and voice, particularly through improvisation, rather than developing acting techniques. I employed a (syn)aesthetic performance style to activate the forces of difference by artistically responding to visceral phenomena in real-time during a live performance event. In doing so, I performatively communicated ideas about the lived experience of artistic creativity and created the conditions whereby others might have their own visceral experience in response to my work. I claim that experiential insights are difficult to apprehend through written language alone. For this reason, I privileged relationship, encounter, and in-betweeness in a live performance event.
This research is thus an attempt to more consciously gain access to the visceral phenomena that underlie artistic performance practice and constitute its embodied materiality. It was enacted by working with body-centred practitioners to develop attunement capacities associated with the Alexander Technique, Body Mind Centring® and Focusing. In developing this attunement capacity, I was able to achieve a thicker, more immersive, and embodied sense of lived experience through performance. I discovered that attuning-to visceral phenomena shifted me toward both the universal forces of differentiation and the singularity of my practice. As Grosz points out, “neither science nor art can grasp simultaneously both the relentless universal force of difference, and its absolute specificity” (2011, p. 42).
In the process of seeking to reconcile the universal forces of life with the singularities of practice, I found there was a need to articulate the underpinning first-principles that governed my practice: the ontology of my practice. Building on the ways in which Grosz employs the ontologies of becoming developed by Darwin, Bergson, and Merleau-Ponty, I put forward the ontology I developed for performance whereby life is conceptualised as a creative process, intertwined with worlds and pushed by generative forces. This performance ontology of becoming accounts for the role those generative forces of life play in the processes of artistic creativity. It is of use to the performance practitioner because it is enacted through corporeal practices. These practices help to consciously attune-to the libidinal, pre-bifurcated corporeal intelligence that I have experienced as a constant structural feature of lived experience and call wild life.
My central thesis is that the fundamental structures of life can be consciously attuned-to differently and activated, through corporeal practices, for artistic purposes. My research shows that how I perform as a theatre maker/performer/singer is equally as important as what I perform. This research, therefore, foregrounds the ontology of my practice and as such is not simply a conceptual epistemological exercise; it is a process of becoming whereby things are called forth in a creative manner through live performance events.
In this project, I make direct contact with philosophy through corporeal practices and thus, make a contribution to the emerging field of Performance Philosophy. I claim that articulating the ontology of one’s practice can shine a light on immersive conditions and, in artistic fields, can reveal how fundamental structures operate in service of artistic creativity. It is also possible that Performance Philosophy might lead to deeper understandings of our creative capacities in general – a body of work for the future perhaps.
We encounter all manner of things in every living moment, and we have sophisticated embodied filtering systems in place to help us navigate, attune-to and live through these things. Our lived experience always includes that which is easily highlighted in everyday living, and that which is only available through conscious attunement processes. If we consciously imagine our intertwining, immersive conditions, and conceptualise life as a creative process then we can attune-to how the dynamic and generative forces of life play a formative role in our artistic efforts. The crisscrossing between that which is readily available in everyday awareness and that which is at the edges of conscious awareness is the site of my research. Recognising that the fecund and rich site of artistic creativity is in-between and resides in the embodied flows, intensities, and multiplicities of things can provide a roadmap for artistic endeavour. This research shows that articulating an ontological position provides a set of values, principles and practices that can frame artistic experience.
In closing, I would like to draw attention to the multi-disciplinary nature of this research. It synthesises and applies knowledge and skills from academic disciplines such as philosophy and performance studies, and knowledge and skills from a range of body-centred and performance practices that sit outside the academy. In my view, what unites these multi-disciplinary domains is the human capacity for imagination. The importance of the imagination in this research was crystallised for me during a two-day workshop I attended with Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen (the first she has given in Australia) just prior to submitting this thesis. During this workshop on the Embryological Foundations of Movement I witnessed Bainbridge Cohen, at the age of seventy-six, employ her unique system of Body Mind Centring® in practice as she delivered master classes with the agility of a twenty-year old.
In the workshop, participants were encouraged to imagine our embryological heritage by employing a range of sensory metaphors including the support of the yolk sac, the folding of the amniotic cavity, the development of the umbilical cord, and so on. Throughout this process of experiential anatomy, Bainbridge Cohen reminded us that “this is not a fact, but it’s true, because I believe it to be true” (Bainbridge Cohen, 2017). This workshop helped me to recognise how the imagination operates as a uniting factor across the spectrum of my theoretical frameworks. For example, in developing ontologies, the philosopher imagines the fundamental structures of corporeality and materiality. The body-centred practitioner imagines sensory metaphors to more consciously experience the embodied human condition. The theatre and performance practitioner enacts a ‘willing suspension of disbelief’ a phrase coined by English poet S.T. Coleridge (1772 – 1834) about the process of writing poetry but commonly used in discussions of theatre to describe the process of imagining an alternative reality (Lowe & Rush 2004, p.110). What is unique about this research is that these imaginings have been distilled and activated in the realm of the experiential.
Consciously activating the imagination thus becomes a significant factor in furthering our understanding of the role that the dynamic and generative forces of life play in the processes of artistic creativity. The very title of my performance “Imagine This . . .” is an open-ended invitation for performer and audience alike to willingly suspend disbelief and to imagine what might be. Artist-researchers, like the traveller in Robert Frost’s (1874 – 1963) poem The Road Not Taken, see “two roads diverged in a wood” and take “the one less travelled by” (1983, p. 913). The road less travelled is, by its obscurity, the road less imagined. This research takes the path of the road less imagined. It highlights the convergence of knowledges from both the academy and beyond and has for me, like for the traveller in Frost’s poem, been the thing that has made “all the difference” (p.913).