This very rough outline of revised thesis interests includes thematic notes, that might be emphasized herein for my own purposes, and may not represent my upcoming research trajectory. The latter will produce a more rigorous concentration upon documentation of the artworks, discourse, and theory.
Before, Beneath, and Beyond Participation
A Critical Review of Popular Reference to Theatrical Theory in Contemporary Performance Practices & Presentation of a Cross-Disciplinary Challenge.
SECTION I [Introduction]
BACKGROUND AND INTENT:
– Use of vocabularies employed to describe unconventional performance approaches and new presentational compositions are numerous, mechanical if not redundant, but all share in a focal interest in first person experiences. An excerpt from my last statement of thesis interests (“Bounded-Body / Bounded Art-Objects : The Inter-relational Dynamics of Performance-premised Engagements“):
Contemporary movements in art-making increasingly traverse and/or defy disciplinary conventions and call for new categorical descriptions to keep pace with aesthetic innovations. Words like ‘interactive’, ‘immersive’, ‘participatory’, and ‘relational’ have been employed to describe some attribute of the structure of the presentation – the physical ‘how’ a public may become involved with a work. Meanwhile, often enough, describing the mechanics of the work does not actually identify what it is that artists are presenting. This concern with ‘the how’ privileges the visitor’s real-time journey within the presentational environment, with experientially-premised intents.1 In short, these artist’s wish to cultivate certain-natured inter-relational dynamics.
In fact, concerns surrounding spectator’s experiences have been explicitly discussed and documented by many practitioners and theoreticians throughout the written history of performance creation. Artists in the ‘Live Arts’ have continually sought to explain, challenge, and satiate expectations. In doing so, they have tested and explored varying methods of inviting and supporting interpretative, emotional, or corporeal involvement through the overall composition of a presentation… What is not clear, however, is why differing structural compositions would result in contrasting experiences…. My research interests centre around this question of why, and positions the visitor as a necessary contributor in experiential qualities of that engagement.
– This revised outline challenges artists interested in participatory performance work to articulate this emphasis of concern, and suggests there is cultural benefit to doing so, over perpetuating divisive disciplinary mythos. I refer both to a need to develop appropriate terminology and to a perceptual fracture among artists from the plastic arts, on one hand, and the performing arts on the other. The language employed can be said to contribute to and support this polarization. The gap between these performance milieus presents a creative barrier, and too readily mirrors cultural sentiments, that can only stymie cross-disciplinary exploration. The latter of which, ultimately, my upcoming proposal will recommend.
– Some of this mythos is due to lingering Cold War ideology, positioning democracy as an inherent property of Western capitalist culture, and pointing to consumer choices as proofs (examples will be provided in a review of Fluxus). Some divisiveness is further encouraged through propaganda supporting ‘austerity measures’, perpetually admonishing value of contemporary art practices and selectively diminishing investments in education throughout the Americas, pressurizing an already steeply competitive Art Market.
– Meanwhile, the move toward performance practices, across disciplines, undermines conventional art object evaluations and further marginalizes artists whom (like everyone else) must still attempt to make a living. As not-for-profit centres, artist-run studios, and theatres lose financing and funders, fewer geographically located creative communities results in fewer opportunities for hands-on experience, apprenticeship, and mentorship. More and more artists now train, and work, in institutions or race to meet commercial interests in digital and interactive technologies. The latter generally also requires expert training and especially where opportunities for collaborative exploration among variously skilled practitioners are limited.
– The adoption of new technologies into peformance practices, and of performance into new media practices, not only blurs disciplinary distinctions but requires innovative approaches to the creation process itself. Artists are presented with steep learning curves in divergent histories, vocabularies, and practices that are nonetheless propelled by curiosity and a spirit of discovery. Accessible cross-disciplinary approaches to apprenticeship, workshops, residencies, and training are required to meet the logistical and philosophical needs of these movements in art-making.
– In the prior noted plight to establish a distinctly U.S. cannon of art, fragmented and parochial interpretations of European documentation were crafted in support of creative genealogies, as much in the live arts as in the plastic arts. This is especially categorical, however, where visual art history and intermedia performance theory is concerned. Both are administered in high doses in our university fine arts faculties and appear to facilitate the above noted mythos. Historically, intermedia and new media genres of performance work were seen to grow outward from within plastic arts communities, explaining the preferential reference to visual arts history. Although many of the best known practitioners, themselves, originally borrowed from the performing arts or were inspired by theatrical practitioners. With this fragmentation of cross-references in mind, I intend to provide a critical review of some of the associated, and commonly expressed assumptions surrounding contemporary performance practices on either side of this metaphorical divide.
– While The Performative Turn has captured our philosophical imaginations, casting new light upon issues of identity and everyday experiences of alterity, it also expresses an interest in relational egalitarianism and personal empowerment. A plurality of performing art histories have been notably absent from analysis. Despite extensive experimentation, documentation, multiple disciplinary investigations pertaining to the relationship between a performance work and it’s audiences, as well as theory surrounding experiences of alterity. All of which signals explicit concern for first person affect and impact in context with philosophical and sociopolitical situations. There are exceptions to this generalized exclusion but that are frequently referenced as if emblematic of the above noted divisions. Therefore I am compelled also to refer to the work of these performing artists and to address an audience of artists trained or training in the plastic arts milieu.
– Performing artists Antonin Artaud, Bertold Brecht, and several Fluxus associated artists are examples of flag-staff references populating artist and curator statements, academic essays and scholarly journals, and more over in articles and discussions online. I will be reviewing these artist’s own prescriptions in contrast with popular interpretations of their relevance to contemporary performance theory. This will lend to an attempt to recontextualize the philosophical divisions perceived and/or espoused among performance practitioners.
– Though biographical and philosophical research does more fully document these artist’s circumstances and work, a degree of generalized a-historicality and situational arbitrariness appears to shelter perspectives in the domain of practice. In common conversations among emerging artists, as well as discussions mediated on campus, the cultural context for post-war arts movements is displaced or at times re-appropriated without adequate discussion of relevance to our current political landscapes. Perhaps due in part to an effort to, and distraction with, relating theory to the potentiality of new technologies and the ease with which a meta-analysis of systems now takes place instead. Perhaps simply because, as artists, we are increasingly pressed to align ourselves in historical context, rather than in concrete terms. The content of this (outline) is in some ways intended to draw attention to this, even if vicariously, and to encourage a solidarity of sentiment among performance-premised practitioners.
– Introduction will make note of my own vantage point (performing arts background, collaborative creation, and interdisciplinary works, location, etc) and summary of content as represented (for now) by this draft outline in it’s entirety. The critical approach is, in part, fueled by a desire to trace discussions and tensions I’ve encountered only increasingly since the eighties, while collaborating across these disciplines. Never more, and notably so, than after entering into a university fine arts program. I expect to isolate select references and issues, but not because I aim to dismiss their relevance to contemporary performance practices, quite to the contrary. I am motivated instead to impart an alternative viewpoint that might benefit emerging and student artists, as well as contribute to future discussion, among collaborating artists from otherwise dispersed creative communities. The last two sections of this outline will therefore reflect upon common aims, among past and present practitioners, and conclude with a conciliatory proposal.
[Photograph by Robert McElroy]