Musing on the Artist-Researcher in Collaborative Practice – Bodies in Flight’s Do The Wild Thing! Redux
To Cite this Article
Jones, S. (2014). Musing on the Artist-Researcher in Collaborative Practice – Bodies in Flight’s Do The Wild Thing! Redux. p-e-r-f-o-r-m-a-n-c-e.org, 1.
This article explores a practice-as-research in performance project – Do the Wild Thing! Redux (Arnolfini UK, December 2012), more particularly my contribution to this collective installation work – Muse. The project was commissioned by Performing Documents, a three-year research project, hosted by the University of Bristol (UK), in partnership with Arnolfini (Bristol), which investigated a range of models for the creative and curatorial re-use of performance and live-art archives (visit www.bristol.ac.uk/arts/research/performing-documents). The research was organized into three strands, each with a dialogic relationship between artists and scholars at their core: Redux – artists returning to their own archives; Remake – artists turning to archives of others; and Replace – curators exploring by means of an exhibition the theme of artists at work in the archive. DTWT!R proposed a method of non-collaboration forcing its collaborators to work apart and solely in their own media before coming together at Arnolfini to install their elements into a single gallery space.
Performance, Practice-as-Research, Archives, Collaboration.
RESEARCH CONCERNS AND QUESTIONS
If we take Robin Nelson’s highly useful metaphor of triangulation between different kinds of knowledge in practice-as-research (see Allegue et al 2009, 112-130 and Nelson 2013) – the felt and embodied, the analytical and critical, the theoretical, then no single kind of knowledge or knowing (as I would prefer to phrase it) can either capture or articulate all that the artist-researcher expresses in the performance-event. I formed the theatre company Bodies in Flight (visit: www.bodiesinflight.co.uk) in 1990 to explore through practice this encounter between discursive and embodied knowledges-knowings – flesh and text. To date we have produced 17 works and published writing-alongside in a variety of formats, which attempts to contextualize our developing methodology: for instance – Flesh & Text (the first attempt to use the CD-ROM format to bring together an archive of performance documents and writing, visit for an online emulation: dedefi.ilrt.bris.ac.uk/flesh-and-text-case-study), and my chapter ‘The Courage of Complementarity’ in Practice as Research in Performance, using Heisenberg’s principle of complementarity to describe my approach (see Allegue et al 2009, 18-32) (see also various chapters – Giddens and Jones, Jones, Jones and Rae). For a discussion of Bodies in Flight’s method in relation to other contemporary artists also concerned with this fundamental encounter, see Josephine Machon’s (Syn)aesthetics? Towards a Definition of Visceral Performance (2009), as well as Morwenna Griffiths’ “Research and the Self” (in Biggs and Karlsson, 2011).
The Performing Documents commission asked us to revisit our archive. We chose our eighth project Do the Wild Thing! (1996), since it was the first to be led by a specific research concern: to explore the encounter of the discursive and the embodied by separating what is heard and what is seen on stage. This was achieved in rehearsal, structuring how the artist-researchers worked together, and in the performance, determining design and the relation of choreographic to textual and musical elements. This separation, what I called the hear—see, became the work’s methodology, echoing Foucault’s commentary on Velasquez’s Las Meninas –
‘But the relation of language to painting is an infinite one. It is not that words are imperfect, or that, when confronted by the visible, they prove insuperably inadequate. Neither can be reduced to the other’s terms: it is in vain that we say what we see; what we see never resides in what we say.’ (Foucault 1970, 9)
It was, of course, based on Brecht’s technique of separation of the elements of theatrical communication. Through separating, the artist-researchers learnt that, in order to collaborate, each collaborator had first to know themselves, to know what each could do, how each did it, and most decisively wanted to do: self, skill-set, style and will. To achieve this self-knowledge, we had first to force ourselves, against the grain of theatre-makers, into non-collaboration. For the four weeks of making Do the Wild Thing! in 1996, we worked in separate rooms, choreographer Sara Giddens with performers Jane Devoy and Dan Elloway; myself with performer Jon Carnall, only sharing our work for two hours every Friday. Alongside this, composer Christopher Austin wrote a score for string trio, to be played live; and designer Bridget Mazzey physicalized this processual separation by dividing the stage-space into three. (For documentation of the original production and company archive for the project, visit the Shows section of the online emulation of Flesh & Text: dedefi.ilrt.bris.ac.uk/sites/default/files/bif/core/8/frame.htm)
As writer, I fled into the resource I had to hand – my self, into writing as an expressing of self, rather than communicating. I forced my text into the space most alien to theatre – solitariness, most perverse, almost autistic, as Serres would have described it: text as alter-ego, that was not intended to be performed, that did not point towards its auditors in its writing. From this non-relation, the dualities of a genuine complementarity began to find their own modes of engagement: solitarinesses from which a collaborating could emerge.
‘A unique style comes from the gesture, the project, the itinerary, the risk – indeed, from the acceptance of a specific solitude. … Repetition of content or method entails no risk, whereas style reflects in its mirror the nature of danger. In venturing as far as possible toward non-recognition, style runs the risk even of autism.’ (Serres with Latour 1995, 94)
In subsequent works, this research concern led Bodies in Flight to seek collaborations across media and skill-sets which explicitly sustained the open relations between different kinds of material and their composition in the performance, including the integration of technology into our methodology, as well as folding back into the event not only material captured live, but also material from rehearsals, thus layering different times from the show’s making into the performance itself. Collaborators worked each in their own media, each with their own discursivity, their own middle that meddled – the choreographic, textual, sonic, musical, pictorial, fleshy (see Giddens and Jones, 2009). We collaborated deliberately across skill-sets with musicians, sonic and video artists, photographers and most recently gymnasts, performers whose bodies were expert, amateur, young, old, who could sing, dance, play or tumble. In encountering media in which they were not expert, each had to cross a void inbetween channels of communication, producing a kind of speaking without a common language, making these collaborations endlessly productive, non-resolvable, complementary and compossible. In that, in theory they should not work; but in practice, the work worked precisely at the point where we could not: impossible collaboration happened.
Performing Documents’ focus on artists working in the archive to produce new work from their encounter with performance’s documents and ephemera, audio and video tapes, builds on the current, diverse interest internationally in preserving these archives (e.g. the recently completed digitization of the National Review of Live Art video archive, Bristol, visit: www.bristol.ac.uk/nrla/), disseminating their contents through publications and websites (e.g. The Wooster Group’s Work Book, 2007 and Franklin Furnace’s website, visit: franklinfurnace.org/research/index.php), and re-presenting past performance works. Re-makes, revisions and re-productions are being created by both the original artists (e.g. Marina Abramovic’s Biography, 1993) and a new generation (e.g. Ian Forsythe and Jane Pollard, Walk With Nauman (Re-Performance Corridor), 2006). High profile re-enactments include Stan’s Cafe’s 1999 re-staging of Impact’s The Carrier Frequency (1986) and André Lepecki’s “re-doing” of Kaprow’s 18 Happenings in 6 Parts (Haus der Kunst, Munich, 2006). Furthermore, curators are exploring performance and performativity in art-historical exhibitions, employing use and re-use as modes of animating the documents exhibited (e.g. re.act.feminism – performance art of the 1960s and 70s today, Akademie der Künste, Berlin, 2008-9). In performance studies, questions around the implications and significance of the persistence of performance in its reconstruction have increasingly informed contemporary debate: see Rebecca Schneider’s Performing Remains (2011) and Philip Auslander’s ‘On the Performativity of Performance Documentation’ (2006), which crucially propose ‘the document itself as a performance’. In contrast to much re-staging, re-imagining and re-mediatizing of past works, Performance Documents’ strands sought to focus on how performance’s archives could inform, inflect and inspire the production of new work.
In relation to DTWT!R, resonances can be found between its methodology of non-collaboration and historical precursors, such as Fluxus instructional art (see Friedman, Smith and Sawchyn 2002) or that of Marcel Duchamp, where collaborators worked across distance and time in order to make the art-work. John Cage’s long-term collaboration with Merce Cunningham, in which each worked independent of the other, speaks to not only a fascination with the stochastic emergence of the art-work from somewhere betwixt and between its makers, but also the fundamental irresolvability of the two media of dance and music, echoing Bodies in Flight’s strategy of separating the elements and holding open the space between them. However, their non-collaboration pointed towards a single work in a series of works, whereas with DTWT!R we intended to produce four separate works, derived from the same archival material, each in their own medium to be installed as a set.
For DTWT!R, four of the original collaborators extended our methodology of non-collaboration by working independently until the day of installing the work in the gallery. Returning to the archival remains of the 1996 performance about desire and voyeurism, each produced a separate new work in their own medium – dance, photography, text and video. Sara worked for two weeks with performers Tom Bailey and Martha King exploring the micro-choreography of exchanged looks and minute gestures she had first developed with Dan and Jane. Photographer Edward Dimsdale took negatives and super-8 footage from his documentation of the 1996 performances and re-printed them in a variety of formats, exploring his current fascination with re-working one photographic technology through the frame of another, re-figuring old with new, photogravure with digital. Video-maker Tony Judge exploded the single perspective of his 1996 multi-camera record by harnessing the potential of hard-drive synchronization to imagine the work’s primal scene from each actor’s point-of-view– the Boy, the Woman, the Man (for documentation, visit: www.bristol.ac.uk/arts/research/performing-documents/workshops/redux/arts/research/performing-documents/dtwt.html). I took the written word and made a limited-edition book musing upon my relation to Dan during the making. He kindly agreed to return and re-enact the informal pose I had captured in my documenting of Edward documenting the show. For two days, Dan read my text to those who entered Muse. For images from DTWT!R, visit: www.flickr.com/photos/81493155@N00/sets/72157640780411225/
In this way, the artist-researchers’ solo works resonated with the “original” process of both making and documenting the 1996 performance, disclosing the incompletenesses inbetween and within media – the middles of middles. Our (non-)collaborative relationship personified these gaps. Furthermore, the artist-researchers’ indirect relation to the archive, thence to all technologies, says something more about the kinds of knowledge performance produces: that at its heart is collaboration as indirectness, a fundamental mood to artists working together, predicated upon no common ground, nor agreed terms, but revealing impossibly from out of unspeakable and non-communicable complementarities what the work can do amongst the wills of its makers.
‘[A minor literature is] an expression machine capable of disorganizing its own forms, and disorganizing its forms of contents, in order to liberate pure contents that mix with expressions in a single intense matter.’ (Deleuze & Guattari 1986, 28)
What emerges from Do the Wild Thing! Redux as an experiment in non-collaboration was not only four separate works, producing together in the same gallery space a constellation, arranged around their “original” work, each manipulating and responding to its archival material in different ways, whether it was words, photographs, video, or the very person of the performer; but also a new understanding of what each of us does as artist-researchers in putting our selves at stake in the work. It is this journeying between and across the inside and the outside of practices, that are normally bundled up together apparently seamlessly in the performance-event, that forces into the open and then preserves each collaborator’s putting-at-stake, their differing media and differentiating discursivity and expressivity. In Muse, the more I practised the less I theorized, the more I knew the less I practised, and yet somehow without channels they communicated, through my flesh they collaborated.
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