Transfer report Draft VIII
In this report, I will describe my findings to date, the methods and methodologies that I have developed, and my intentions in relation to using and building on these in the future. I will not go into detail about the contextual elements of my project on the basis that the draft chapter that I will submit is focused on this subject.
My research involves facilitating social sculpture encounters in which a group of participants (who may belong to one or more of a range of age groups) create the piece using props and me as materials. I make video and audio recordings of the encounters, and after the experience I use participants’ as part of the work where it is appropriate to do so. When I oversee a social sculpture encounter, I begin by summarizing the nature of my practice-based research to the participants and explain the process that the encounters follow. I then request their ideas on how we might use a particular material during the encounter. As this discussion progresses, I progressively make fewer suggestions of my own, and I let the participants negotiate and decide upon what to do. Using their interests in my work as an anchor, I talk to the participants about themes such as social sculpture and participatory art. After the encounter has finished, I edited the recorded material. The discussions form the soundtrack to the piece, and I also analyse the content of the audio within a framework of reflective practice and in relation to the research questions of my thesis. [TC1]
When I began to formulate my research project, my main areas of inquiry were metamorphosis, life changes and transformations through time, and translocations and mobility. However, as I began to conduct the social sculpture encounters described above, my focus progressively shifted to transgenerational interactions, emotions and memory. I now use the term “transgeneration” to describe the collision between transformation and generation and to convey the complexity, plurality and transformations of subjectivities during the interactions that take place during the social sculpture encounters.
As I have developed my research project, my social sculpture practice has slowly developed philosophical dimensions. I understand social sculpture to be the materialization and/or embodiment of philosophy, as well as the language of it. I came to this realization while editing the material collected during the social sculpture encounters, because during this process I found that philosophical questions and archetypes emerged. For example, through my work, I am able to see how every group of people has its own tragedy. During the social sculpture experiences, poiesis comes to the surface in different ways. Different groups of participants relate to each other differently, and the relationship between participants, objects, materials and the environment varies as well. When participants become overly analytical and look for intellectual associations in a dialectical frame of negotiation, the social sculpture in fact reaches its conclusion because the core of the encounter, the experiencing of literal associations, loses its energy. At this point, the experience turns into a cliché, and its tragedy—the essence of the piece—fades away. As my research project has developed, I have started to make use of reflective practice to consider how in some instances the poesis of a piece ended or turned into Comedy due to the appearance of reason and the participants’ needs to intellectualize or rationalize their actions. In making my reflections on these issues a key element of the thesis, I have begun to transfer into my practice Nietzsche’s ideas from The Birth of Tragedy and the principles of Socratic dialectics. Moreover, the nonstructural mode in which I facilitate experiences and reflect on them draws on post-human ideas and is a nomadic and noncentral way of working that diverges from the Platonic idea of mimicking a divine original. In the encounters, there is no plot, plan or identity but only energy, actions and reactions that take place between people from different age groups, random objects, and other elements that are naturally placed in an environment that could be based on (though is not limited to) animals, plants, or the weather.
Since I began the PhD, the combination of devising and overseeing social sculpture encounters and engaging in reflective practice that incorporates the philosophical and conceptual elements described above has yielded several categories of findings that are relevant to my research project.
First, the performance of my social sculpture encounters has evolved. I began to conduct the performances outside of the studio space. I started by engaging with built spaces. Furthermore, I have moved away from producing objects to producing actions and giving my former objects a new dialogic meaning. Eighteen months ago, I started exploring transformations.. I explored possibilities by producing actions that were recorded on video. After a process of recording the sound separately, I added it to the video. Once the two elements were together, the work became a video production, in which the two elements transformed each other. In that body of work, I performed my actions in different environments that conditioned the relationships featured in the piece. For example, I interacted with the public (as in “Action #1”), and I performed both inside my studio (as I did for “Colchonero, memory #1” and “El Juego, la Materia y el Ego”) and outside of it (as in “Embodying Space”). At the same time, I also conducted the fieldwork workshops with a group of artists from different disciplines. The particularity of this workshop was that we did not know each other or one another’s works or practice. During the fieldwork workshop, each artist presented over the space of a few minutes a work in progress or a finished work without saying anything about it. After all the presentations, each artist received feedback on the feelings, comments and reactions elicited by the artwork. During these workshops, I recorded what the other artists said about my performance videos, and after each workshop I added the recordings to the video of the action that I presented. I was focused on the liminal echo between the visual and the voices whose words came from their own projection that my action activated on them. My action then became the canvas for their own issues, thoughts, culture, experinces and vocabulary.
I have also gained various insights related to participatory art. Having worked on actions alone and used recordings of people’s comments on my performances, I started looking for groups of people to work with, and the first individuals to become involved in my artistic practice were a group from North Beach Senior Center and a group of teens from Miami Beach High. During my exploration at the senior centre (November 2015), I explored relational aesthetics. I created a playful environment in which I surrendered control of the action and obeyed their control, decisions and proposals. In other words, I became material for them. I “provoked” them by bringing in a material and asking them what to do with it. Another tool of provocation was the camera sitting on a tripod; the seniors knew that they would be filmed, but to my surprise they liked it and they took control of the filming as well. I made audio recordings of their comments after the action, and these are part of the video.
My approach to and understanding of the materials that I use in my pieces have also evolved. Initially, I used materials to produce a piece, and over time I started to use few materials as props for the action. The latest stage of my evolution in this area is to understand materials as more-than-human participants (S. Pope) and at the same time conceive of myself as material. In so doing, I give control of the action to the participants as the encounter takes place. In my work, materials play several roles. During encounters, they are an active participant because they interact with human participants and cause different energies to develop. During editing, I take the material into consideration through reflective practice. After editing I have objects, a video with sound and still photographs. The combining of video and sound creates an object, and the methods required for making this object draw on both the main technical strands of my background: video work and photographs on the one hand and sound on the other. I understand sound as a 3D piece. During the sound editing, I create form and space with the audio and look for different textures.
My evolving understanding of materials has led to a change in how I label my artistic practice. I now describe my practice by using Joseph Beuys’s term “social sculpture” because it is a material-driven approach, as opposed to “relational aesthetics,” a concept that has no object and involves much less in the way of materials because it is focused purely on the social. Based on this shift in terminology, I aim to create a more appropriate lexicon to use in my work.
The nature of control during the artistic encounters that form the basis of my PhD project has also evolved. During the encounters, my role does not involve control. In contrast, once I begin to edit and reflect the recordings, my role becomes exclusively one of control. I explore the relationship between these uncontrolled and controlled aspects through the action and the piece’s participants, whether they are people, materials or the environment.
The previously mentioned incorporation of philosophical dimensions in my process of reflecting on my artistic practice has also been a key development over the course of the PhD. I view all the transformations of myself and my practice as the metamorphosis of the human that Nietzsche discusses. My work has raised questions and statements to which I find the responses from posthuman philosophy such as the ideas of Nietzsche, Deleuze, Guattari and Braidotti.
My use of reflective practice has also developed. I use this method to interrogate my practice and to articulate my findings. I am developing my own scheme for my research-based practice, which involves the following steps: 1) self-reflection during the encounter (social sculpture); 2) reflection and dialogue with participants after the encounter; 3) self-reflection during the editing process; 4) planning of the next encounter.
One key focus of my reflections is the differences between working with groups of teens and groups of seniors. While the seniors struggle to understand contemporary art, performance and the interdisciplinary approach as art, they are very spontaneous and free during the encounters and the postencounter reflections. In contrast, the teens are very knowledgeable and interested in performance and social sculpture. Even if they have never heard of the concept of social sculpture before, they naturally and intuitively grasp the idea. However, they struggle with participating spontaneously and without prejudices, and there are big difference in their performances between when I work with them and when I leave them to work on their own. They also struggle to give comments relating to their experiences after the action.
The methodology used in my research until now was based on Nietzsche’s triangulation. Nietzsche proposes the use of diverse approaches in order to increase knowledge, which echoes the often-interdisciplinary nature of practice-based research. The form of triangulation that I deploy in my methodology incorporates the following three angles: philosophy (theory, dialogic), social sculpture (socially engaged art; SEA), and pedagogy. I use pedagogy not as an independent discipline but rather as an element of philosophy and SEA. More than being the third element of the triangulation, pedagogy will transform the triangulation methodology into something that is more akin to circulation in its dynamics. Rather than using pedagogy as a separate element in my research, I will use it in an auxiliary role to allow the philosophy and social sculpture elements of the methodology to reciprocally inform one another. Therefore pedagogy is the transmission element that transforms the triangulation into a circulation methodology. For this reason, throughout the thesis I will speak of “transpedagogy” rather than of “pedagogy.”
In One Thousand Plateau, Deleuze and Guattari use the notion of circulation. They explain the work of the philosopher as a work of creative process, the material being the concepts that they create. They wrote this book using a structure that they refer to as a “rhizome,” a metaphor that is also supposed to indicate the way in which the work should be read. They also state that their work could be read in any order as it has been created as an assemblage of concepts that circulates with no specific order. I will analyse how my process of making social sculpture is a process of making philosophy. In my work, performance becomes the process of communicating concepts or philosophy.
My interest in transpedagogical issues is to articulate the transformation that Nietzsche speaks of in his theory of triangulation, which includes the use of diverse approaches and measuring the data from different perspectives and through an interdisciplinary approach. Joseph Beuys claimed that his greatest work of art was to be a teacher (Artforum, 1969), and he explored this through his experimental pedagogy. Similarly, Claire Bishop in her book Artificial Hells has written a chapter dedicated to pedagogic projects. She explains the similarities and differences between artists-teachers and viewers-students, and she emphasizes the processes as methods of art. The processes in my social sculpture explorations are, in fact, the departing point of my practice-based research. During the social sculpture experiences, those relationships and their dynamics are the focus of my reflection. Because I have a teaching background, the role of “teacher” comes out naturally. Even though I would not say that my work is an educational experiment, there are didactic elements present in the way in which I relate to the participants. I am presently reflecting on these issues and will work undertake a deeper analysis of them in the thesis.
Recently, I have been reflecting on the impossibility of one of my main premises, namely the idea of “giving myself up” during the social sculpture encounters. Throughout the RDC1, I expressed this idea as an objective, and my practice was also grounded in it. I have now concluded that it is not possible to give oneself up. Rather, what is possible is to go to the edge of doing so (for example, as Yoko Ono did on her “Cut” piece). This conclusion does not invalidate my RDC1 discussion but rather prompts me to focus on the boundary between the possible and the impossible, which also brings in utopianism as a frame of work. I currently doubt that it is possible for me to truly give myself up, but nonetheless I will keep trying, and I will analyse my attempts to do so. During and after RDC2, instead of focusing my analysis on “giving myself up” I will focus on, explore and map out the boundary between possible and impossible as I attempt to give myself up and where this attempt leads me next. In his article Utopian Prospect of Henry Lefebvre, Nathaniel Coleman posits that “demanding the impossible may always end in failure but doing so is the first step toward other possibilities nevertheless”. The projection to those new process namely Utopianism will also be explored.
Other questions that were raised after RDC1 were: How can I make social sculpture without interacting with people? Can I achieve the “social” element of a piece by myself? Can I raise awareness of the “social” by making a nonparticipatory piece? What happens to the “social” element of social sculpture when there is no human participant? These questions have parallels with John Cage’s “4:33” and the implications of removing sound from his composition. These questions in turn raise further, more practical queries: How can I create social sculpture that raises social questions without interaction with human participants? What happens if I remove the human participants in a participatory piece? Are there any examples of this potential type of social sculpture with no people present that already exist (do Facebook and other social media platforms correspond to this definition, for example)?
Aside from exploring the reflections described above, I also have several other objectives that I intend to pursue in relation to my artistic practice. I aim to explore ways to disseminate my findings not only in the art world, but also in educational, academic, institutional and noninstitutional environments, including alternative spaces such as the senior centres. On a spatial level, I intend to keep exploring different environments, with a view to working more closely in nature or open urban spaces. Finally, I hope to interview and work with other artists with similar interests, and I would like to start a social sculpture platform that offers a space for interested participants to share their findings.
In terms of ethical issues related to the project, I present myself as an artist who is conducting research in which I look for groups of people to undertake simple actions using just a few materials and me. I always explain that during each event there will be a camera and that I will also be making voice recordings. The group is invited to participate, and I request their ideas on how we might use a particular material. After that explanation, I offer fewer of my own proposals and let them take over the decisions and negotiations on what to do and/or how to play. After the sessions, we share our understanding of what we engaged with and how we engaged with it. I make recordings of the discussions, and later on, during editing of the material, I use these recordings as the soundtrack for the piece and analyse them for my research writings. Participants are asked to ensure that the choice that they make during the social sculpture process does not have the potential to cause harm either to themselves or to others. Participants are always informed verbally in a group conversation about my research and my approach in constructing social sculpture pieces. The level of conversation is adapted to the group age. For example, children are approached differently than are seniors. Participants are given a consent form to sign; it explains their rights to withdraw, the timing to do so, and their right to be anonymous if necessary in either the video documentation or the written part of the research (in the case of children their parents will be provided with the consent form). The consent form also contains information about the project. On the consent form, participants are informed that they can withdraw at any time but they have to give 30 days’ notice. They have 90 days from the performance date to withdraw their images and recordings. If they decide to do so, the parts in which that specific person appears either (visually or in voice) will be securely destroyed.
In conducting this research project, my aim is to develop a new methodology, which I call circulation. This methodology departs from Nietzsche’s triangulation. The three angles of philosophy-dialogic, social sculpture practice and didactics will compose the dynamics of the circulation methodology. I also hope to develop a more specific lexicon to be used in articulating my practice. Finally, I hope to be able to develop my own reflective practice procedure and use it to document social sculpture in written and video formats.
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