A bit more than a year ago I participated in a Research Salon at the Faculty of Creative Arts and Industries at Auckland University. Each of the people involved were asked to introduce their work by responding to five questions. I started with a very brief introduction and then had a go at the questions.
I wondered about starting a list of things that I have next to no understanding of but would like to understand or know better. That word know is disruptive and probably inappropriate to the epistemological possibilities of practice-as-research.
It seems important to not start at a place of knowing, even in a small meeting like this. To come clean. To not present any (false) idea that I know what’s going on. To make myself small, to shrink. To be clear that it’s all rather vague or murky; the visibility is poor. To make no claims. To be comfortable in getting and being lost. To find the means to recognise — and value — the gaps; the places in which we might fall. To consider the limitations of the methods we employ. To understand when to stop, and when to start. To recover. To breathe. To write and tumble into the abyss. To be adrift. To leave the terrain unmarked. To mix my metaphors.
Here’s the list. Each item might be prefaced by the words “I have next to no understanding of the nature of …”:
I really like this idea of defining research for myself, but I am sceptical about how that privilege might be understood by people outside of this room (and perhaps some of us inside it).
I understand research to be about change and difference. That, in some way, things are altered as a consequence of research processes. That the world — however local or translocal that might be — will be different. And as a researcher my work is to find ways to not only make change or difference possible, but to recognise it when it happens as well.
Tim Wise is an American authority on white racism. Through public lectures and books he educates white audiences to recognise and be responsible for their race-based privileges. We are interested in Wise’s craft in public speaking, his authority on race, and what might happen if we were to imagine that he is an artist. How might this proposition enable us to test the limits of Wise’s practice as public speaker and white ambassador? Whose voices count in this debate, and whose faces are acceptable?
I’m fascinated — as someone who ticks a lot of privilege boxes (I’m not sure there are any unticked) — by the complexity of a scenario in which the more I understand, the more important it might be to listen and not speak (which is different from being inert or passive). As an afterthought, I see also that there’s an iOS app for splitting a bill based on privilege. It’s called equipay (US only)
Kind of covered more specific ones already. But I remain worried that in practice-as-research we have stopped considering the epistemological nature of the work we do; or that we have settled into a kind of limbo where we vaguely hope that how we understand what we understand that we understand is all sewn up. It seems a long time ago that people like Anna Pakes and Steven Scrivener were trying to deal with this problem. My sense is that it remains the critical unknown (or mis-understood) aspect of the work we do as artist researchers, and that without getting to the heart of the epistemological matter it will be hard to have the work we do become part of broader conversations about human understanding and research. In a sense I think this might have to do with understanding the value, potential and role of practice-as-research.
No, probably not.
I need to know what kind of animal research is. Is it an aloof cat that keeps to itself, and ignores all of your advances or efforts to stroke it. Or a needy dog, willing to do anything for some attention? I think I’ll go for a Cormorant. These great fishing birds. They are kind of pre-historic looking, and are often seen drying their wings (outstretched). But there’s something about the way they paddle around on the surface, looking, noticing, searching. But the moment of direction, the point at which a cormorant dives to fish is beautifully directed and streamlined (and surrounded by bubbles). I like this potential for paradox: of waiting patiently noticing, and then total commitment. Perhaps describe seeing one.
But none of this has anything to do with how I feed myself and my research. I think I’ve become more patient, at allowing ideas, images, texts and practices to circulate, collide and to be placed in situations that are not so obvious. To be able to wait and watch and listen. To luxuriate in the not-knowing. To consciously not delimit my reading, writing, dancing to regular sources or environments. To actively find ways for cheapness, frivolous ideas, words and images, and crudeness to be included. To do more than feed this animal a regular diet of continental philosophy and performance studies writing. To imagine the digestive possibilities of a unstaple diet. I think I’m learning about being less precious. And as an add on, I’m less sceptical about newness these days