Transgenerational encounters and philosophical concepts: A Reflexive Social Sculpture Practice Exploration
· To use my practice to explore, reflect upon and articulate my social sculpture encounters as the activity of some post human philosophical concepts.
· To develop a body of work of social sculpture experiences where the viewer participates in a controlled vs. uncontrolled playful situation to create a space in which all participants experience or contribute to the creation of the artwork.
· To be able to develop my own reflective practice procedure and use it to document social sculpture in written and video formats.
· To explore non-traditional venues (local senior centers and public or community spaces) in order to focus on a variety of different generational communities and find ways to interact with their plural and complex subjectivities.
· To develop a more specific lexicon to use to and articulate my practice. (At present I am using the term of social sculpture because it is the closest to my practice.)
1. How can my social sculpture practice explore and enter into dialogue with specific concepts of philosophy?
2. What is the relationship between human participants, environment and materials as participants and experimental gesture making in my creative practice?
3. How can I best present and disseminate my findings and my practice to the communities which I feel my work may be of relevance to?
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 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 activity 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 concepts 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 non structural mode in which I facilitate experiences and reflect on them draws on post-human ideas and is a nomadic and non central 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 with my self. 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, experiences 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 centre and a group of teens from Miami Beach High. During my exploration at the senior centre (November 2015) 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 concepts of post human philosophy such us but not limited to nomadism, active and reactive forces, affect, arborecsent schema and rhizome, tragedy and comedy.
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:
During the encounter I reflect my self and with the participants through dialogue, during this stage of the process my reflection is focus on what is happening during that frame of time that includes both while social sculpture and right after during the wrap up. What follows is what happened with the recordings in my studio during editing, self-reflection from documentation, it is in this space that through reflection the association with post-human concepts appear. The next step is preparing for the next encounter, usually is related somehow to one before.
Example at work: during my last encounter at the new place I am working (Jewish Community Services Senior Centre of Miami Beach), I used a box of fabrics they showed me they have in a closet, they took control on deciding the material based in what I showed them on TV from previous work. When the social sculpture exploration started few of them where very upset because I was not specific on what I was doing and what they supposed to do, at the same time I was reflecting on control/uncontrolled and how I did not wanted to tell them what to do, some of them decided to leave. I, then asked the rest to play. Another group started to using the fabrics as dresses singing songs and dancing, I was reflecting on them and how they did get to play. They kept dancing until we finished. Another group was sitting and few of them where telling me how they are not kindergarteners, upset they felt I was confusing them with kids, that was their reflection and I took it into consideration for my reflective practice and possibly next encounter. There was a group of 7 women that danced and enjoyed the encounter as well, they asked me to please come back to keep “playing”. During editing in my studio my reflection one more time took me to the discussion of Tragedy and Comedy in the following way: those who were complaining and either left or felt mistaking them as kindergarteners were the group that refuse to play and their need of understanding before doing was so strong that took them to analyse and convert the situation into a Comedy that in fact paralyzed them from creating (Nietzsche’s Birth of Tragedy) this group showed sedentary decisions, while the other one showed nomadic action, they constructed the Social Sculpture in a more sensory and creative and playful way.
One 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 post encounter 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, social sculpture, and dialogic. I use dialogics not as an independent discipline but rather as an element of philosophy and social sculpture. More than being the third element of the triangulation, dialogic will transform the triangulation methodology into something that is more akin to circulation in its dynamics. I will use the dialogic idea in an auxiliary role to allow the philosophical concepts and social sculpture elements of the methodology to reciprocally inform one another. Therefore dialogic is the transmission element that transforms the triangulation into a circulation methodology.
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.
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 non participatory 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 non institutional 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 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 concepts of post-human philosophy, social sculpture practice and dialogic 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.
 “Social Sculpture is a definition developed by the artist Joseph Beuys in the 1970s on the concept that everything is art, that every aspect of life could be approached creatively and, as a result, everyone has the potential to be an artist. Social sculpture united Joseph Beuys’ idealistic ideas of a utopian society together with his aesthetic practice. He believed that life is a social sculpture that everyone helps to shape.” Tate glossary of art terms, tate.org.uk
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