Bounded-Body / Bounded Art-Objects : The Inter-relational Dynamics of Performance-premised Engagements
1. Thesis interests and concentration of study.
1.1 Introduction to thesis interests; the problems.
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. If the creative objective is to create opportunity for personal involvement, and the focus of the presentation is the participant’s experience, describing ‘the how’ of that engagement does not provide potential visitors with accurate descriptions either. In fact, as a practitioner, I have found such words and phrases more often confuse or misguide the general public, who are still more familiar with the Art Market and School traditions of the past. My task will not be to propose rule-sets for a new vocabulary, but to understand what correlation exists between the structure of a presentation and the experiential potential it elicits, thereby preparing the ground for a means of articulating these intents.
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 structural composition of a presentation. It has been observed, for example, that presence of The Fourth Wall (said to exist between a staged production and it’s audience) elicits arousal of spectator’s empathy, sympathies, or experiences of catharsis.2 The ‘breaking’ of this invisible wall has been seen to support audiences’ self- awareness or individual reflexivity instead. Meanwhile, performers’ emphasis upon physical technicality and intimate proximities (such as audience immersion) in the presentation space is viewed in association with more visceral responses and memory-associative journeys.3 What is not clear, however, is why differing structural compositions would result in contrasting experiences, or why a specific structural attribute would elicit the same affective emphasis each time is it employed.4 My research interests centre around this question of why, and positions the visitor as a necessary contributor in experiential qualities of that engagement.
As inferred above, I am presupposing that all willing audience members / spectators / patrons / visitors are participants (there are no purely active or passive receivers) and thus suggesting that the presentation of any artworks is actually the presentation of an opportunity to participate in particular ways. If this invitation to participate is accepted by the visitor, the latter enters into an inter-relational dynamic within the presentation environment. As the reciprocal exchange or meeting place between the artwork and the participants, the dynamic produces a particular character of engagement. The problem I endeavor to understand and resolve pertains to the possible reasons one or another presentation environment promotes different characters of engagement.
1.2 Past and current research directions.
While much of the theory I am researching is either written by or references performance practitioners and their observations; there are significantly fewer resources for researching spectator experiences. Academics within the Performance Studies arena, as well as Anthropological case studies (Performance Ethnography) continue to provide me considerable insight on the experience of performance rites, rituals, festivals, and performative acts spanning time and cultures. Meanwhile, a profoundly important influence in my current research direction relates to early writings in the field of Phenomenology. Philosophical analysis surrounding the experience of Being, and the way we inter- relate with the world around us, has complimented my prior introduction to Object Relations Theory (Inter-relational Psychoanalysis). These areas of study have defined the trajectory of my research to- date, and piqued my interest in a specific propositional solution to the aforementioned problems.
I have located reference to two ontological groupings that describe two generalized, but contrasting, experiences of performance-premised events. An Ethereal Mode Of Engagement is described as the result of a subject-to-object relational dynamic that we have, as visitors, with the artwork.5 In these cases, the visitor is positioned as a subject who engages with external persons and circumstances in relation to themselves. An Ephemeral Mode Of Engagement has been described in positive correlation with performativity.6 In such case, the visitor participates in a constitutive processthat generates an experience of alterity.7 It has been proposed that performative instantiations tend to confound, intermingle, or untangle subjects and objects to the degree that no objectifying distance between them can be sustained.8 The success of performative acts are also described in association with a toward-belief disposition.9 Enveloped within each of these two groupings, however, are a whole range of differing presentational systems (structural compositions),10 many of which may cultivate a further differentiated character of engagement.11
These systems of presentation may be viewed as the artist’s sculpted framework for the performance; the presentational context within which visitors are invited to engage. My research findings, combined with my performance experience, have led me to view the framing or sculpting processes as the means by which experiential boundaries are created. For example, I view The Fourth Wall as a practitioner’s metaphor employed in the devising of a bounded system which, in turn, manifests or expresses an experiential boundary. Architectural design or spatial arrangements, as well as technical and performance methods – or any other attribute that describes ‘the how’ of the work’s structural composition therefore describes the means by which the system is bounded. This represents a departure from my predecessors, and from conventional views surrounding fourth wall theory.
Taken as experiential phenomena, one can view any boundary-making and sensing as a holistic inter-relational process of contextualization. Naturally, from a theatre practitioners point of view, any presentational attribute or behavior that will establish and then additionally fortify boundary-making, so long as it is sustained, also lends to a suspension of disbelief (expressing awareness of the double- identities of actors). Alternatively, if situated as an audience member in relation to this bounded art- object,12 the individual recognizes an implicit opportunity to participate in a subject-to-object inter- relational dynamic. According to various scholars,13 this inter-relational situation meets with our abilities to empathize, sympathize, self-reflexively affiliate, or to imbue attributes of the world with our own inner emotional arousals and psychological associations. In short, I am proposing that the creation of opportunity for a certain character of engagement is interdependent upon the character of the boundary-making (for the part of the artist) and the boundary-sensing (for the part of the visitor).
1.3 Upcoming and future research directions.
Due to the inherent concern for the experiential affects attributed to the theatrical concept of an invisible wall, I have a facile reference to the meeting place between boundary-making and boundary-fourth wall theory.sensing. I am further proposing that, as visitors, we are able to recognize the invitation to participate in particular ways because of our inherent familiarity with bodily boundaries. Inter-relational Psychoanalysts, for example, discuss a process of early childhood development that involves the experience of gradual individuation; a maturation process of distinguishing one’s own physiological needs and emotions from that which exists outside of themselves (other people, animals, things).14 This reference to the inside / outside of ourselves can be found in first person phenomenological accounts15 as well as in the writings of influential twentieth-century artists.16 Experience of our bodily boundaries are also viewed as influential by sociologists and anthropologists studying performative rites and rituals.17 My future research directions will include an in-depth investigation of how our everyday experience of ‘the bounded body’ interrelates to various cultural practices. By doing so, I will be furthering my insights upon the experiential qualities of the practices themselves, as well as informing my proposition regarding boundary-making and sensing processes.
For example, psychoanalysts note that the degree to which we are entrenched in subject-to-object relational dynamics correlates with the degree to which we are capable of empathizing or to, instead, project our inner emotional or psychological worlds out into the world.18 It is possible therefore also, that the degree to which an artwork’s structural composition engenders a bounded object may itself provide for, or encourage, one or another character of engagement. This represents the crux of the intrigue that I will be investigating in my final year of studies.
In the near future, I will need to garner further awareness of more contemporary performance theory. I have, for example, noted that related discourse is being produced in the fields of Dance and Physical Theatre.19 More immediate sources for study include contemporary phenomenological discourse surrounding individuation and spacialization processes, and variant philosophical streams of thought regarding human technics and technological immersion.
1.4 Section Notes.
NEXT: Section II Review of important literary references to-date.
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