“And as things fell apart, nobody paid much attention.”
– The Talking Heads
The quote above can be found on the website which maintains discussion on Bret Easton Ellis’s book American Psycho. The book covers the relationship between American society and an individual through Patrick Bateman, a fictitious serial killer. The book’s language which describes objects and the environment in great detail has generally raised an impression of a highly mentally ill individual. The book’s narrative form can also be seen otherwise. For me, the narration consists of unprecedented means of detailed description regarding an individual’s living environment, the numerous parallel cultural and psychological levels that affect him. The book is a good example of Art (literature) changing as a result of a social change. American Psycho is a story of an individual amidst a historical change. It should teach us how to evaluate people, subjectivity and, above all, how to represent it over and over again.
“I wake up in the morning when my Suunto personal trainer beebs. I put my mobile phone on, read the messages, browse the newspaper, turn on the coffee machine and toaster. I ride my bike to work. At the work, I read my e-mail with my computer, i check the news, connect to some social media sites and work. I drink tap water. I arrange my luch metting with mobile phone and check the menu`s from the internet. Later on, I workout the exact amount my Suunto personal Trainer tells me to. While I work out, my ipod plays the tracks I have chosen it to play. I ride my bike to home. I use water closet. In the evening I watch television, DVD or spend time in the social media. I read books, either paper or digital ones. I go to sleep. I set the Suunto personal trainerin to wake me up in the morning. I capture my family-life wit digital camera. I am a cyborg.”
My attempt at a description of a normal day following the style of American Psycho. Wednesday, 26 August 2009
I and Patrick Bateman are definitely different individuals and have individual qualities for existing in the world. The greatest difference between me and Patrick may be that I do not go around murdering people (and I do not chop people and put them in my freezer), but it is more difficult to articulate other differences between us.
We are also quite similar in how the surrounding factual reality, together with our diverse personal histories and instinct structures, shapes our behaviour, and image of the world and us in the world. The question is also of the form of the process description. On the basis of the aforementioned “description of everyday life”, highly diverse interpretations of the person being described can be made, depending on the method and objectives of the description. The person described individually above regards himself as a very regular, moral, emotional, social and easily-approachable person who loves animals and his family. It should be noted that neither Patrick Bateman is very capable of highly exhaustive self-criticism (Ellis 1991).
In my “description of everyday life”, I have underlined all of the elements that I believe refer to my experience-based connection to some kind of machines located in my environment. My purpose is to show how our subjectivity, being in the world and different “images” of it have always been in a fixed connection with our experience-based environment, i.e., in interaction with something that is not “human” by nature. This fact is best represented by the famous editing in Stanley Kubrick’s film 2001: A Space Odyssey where an anthropoid throws the bone he has victoriously used as a weapon up in the air which has, after editing, evolved into a satellite (after millions of years). Here, Kubrick shows us the connection between the human awareness and the elements in our living environment (history, machines, social context), but also how we can always choose our actions in this environment.
As a theatre artist, I have observed that the ever-changing plurality of the human conception is not visible in our actions when making theatre. The world is changing and has changed in a highly special (and accelerated) manner over the recent years but our working methods and ways of speaking of our work are stuck to some “Stanislavskism” of the early 20th century and, in many ways, to medieval or Platonic universals. These types of ways of thinking and speaking creep as structures into the actual structures of art works – often in such a secret manner that nobody seems to pay much attention.
2. “Observation” and “artistic hunch” as starting points of artistic Practice-led research
Sarah Rubidge’s lecture essay Artists in the Academy: Reflections on Artistic Practice as Research discusses artistic practice as research within university-level institutions and expectations. Sarah Rubidge () is a choreographer, author and artist whose materials include various digital environments. Currently, Rubidge is Professor of Choreogprahy and New Media, Faculty of Business, Arts and Humanities at the The University of Chichester.
In her text, Rubidge develops methods and ways of discussion for artistic practice as research where the researcher is a “reflective practitioner”, i.e., an artist who reflects critically on his/her artistic practices.
” Here I offer the working definitions of these descriptors which I operate under, distinguishing different modes of research practice which operate under the umbrella term of Practice as Research in the Arts”(Rubidge:5)
2.1. Practice as research in the arts separate from academic connections
According to Rubidge, pure “artistic practice as research” or, more specifically entering research attitudes directly into artistic practice, is possible without any critical reflection, i.e., reflecting the artist on any social discussion, theory, history or another artist’s practices (Rubidge:6). Rubidge refers to those conducting such research as “bona fide” researchers and mentions Martha Graham and Merce Cunningham as examples. These artists have truly stretched the boundaries of their art form but have never studied their practical actions so that the process could be referred to as theoretical or critical writing (Rubidge:6). This type of artistic practice as research, which often has a great value or even greater, research-based value that pushes art forward, often occurs outside academic research circles.
However, my research involves written reflective material aimed at my artistic work. Some of this material comprises theoretical, even academic, research material. This research also takes place within the walls of the university (evaluation, structures, financing). What could be the methods of viewing this process occurring “from art towards theory”?
2.1.2 Practice-based Research
Practice-based Research is a relatively stabilised term, especially in Great Britain, for research where artistic practices are used for testing a stabilised theory or a technical component. As an example, Rubidge states a research project where the philosophy of Derrida or Wittgenstein (or parts of them) is used when working on a dance choreography. Therefore, research could be aimed at some aspects of a theory within the practice of dance (Rubidge:5).
The maker of research can be a choreographer or philosopher but research targets could include the choreographic practices of dance art. Another example could be research on the documentation of a performance where an art work is created for testing the methods and practices of existing dance documentation or that under development.
In this kind of research, the research question or the theory to be tested is stated at the beginning of the study. The artistic practice plays the part of the tester of the research question. The art work may methodologically support or dominate the research. Research results that may or may not be works of art are supported to the questions or theories presented at the beginning. Research is taken forward by the hypothesis deriving traditionally from the research question (Rubidge:5).
2.1.3 Practice-led Research
Rubidge proposes that research that is not led forward by the hypothesis but an artistic hunch, intuition or question be referred to as Practice-led research. This derives from the researcher’s own artistic practices that are to be placed under examination so that the artist could identify his/her relationship with the world and his/her art (Rubidge:6). At the same time, the artist enables a more analytical examination of his/her artistic practices and their representation to the artistic audience. This type of research may not have a single question, hypothesis or theoretical claim set at the beginning, but may produce one as a result.
According to Rubidge, questions asked in such a process include “What would happen if…?”, “Would it be possible to…?” or “How could I fill this specific artistic void in my work?”. It is important to see that a detailed research question cannot be formed until the researcher has, in his/her practical work, followed the intuition or hunch.
According to Rubidge, this type of research is most suited for the critical study of one’s work, the development of the artist’s own practices, strategies and visions, and for solving artistic problems and finding theoretical frameworks that, in one way or the other, are manifested in the artist’s own art or its practices (Rubidge:6).
This type of research can raise very theoretical questions within artistic practices and in more traditional ways of handling scientific theories, but the research has been started and proceeds driven by the artist’s artistic actions. Rubidge also proposes an alternative term of “discovery-based research” to be used in such cases.
My research can best be considered equal with Practice-led research as proposed by Rubidge.
2.1.4 “Theatre as project of a body” as an example of Practice-led research
I have started from a situation where I have had some information or an “artistic hunch” about what I wish to ask and find. My relationship with theory and discussion with it has, above all, been cyclical and changed together with the artistic work completed. While working, I have created theoretical text and reflection, but writing has always originated from work performed on stage and thinking carried out during “floor work”. The practices of theatrical art, and my especially my own artistic work, and its development in particular, have formed the force that leads this research forward and constitutes its clearest form of thinking.
22.214.171.124 Embodied Cyborgic Knowledge
Donna Haraway’s “A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century” covers criticism on traditional feminist thinking. It is one of the groundbreaking works in postmodern feminism, questioning traditional Western dualisms, such as me/other, mind/body, culture/nature, man/woman, whole/part, truth/misconception, God/human and whole/partial.
In the centre of Haraway’s criticism on Western epistemology, there is an image of a cyborg – a myth of a new political and embodied identity. At the same time, the cyborg is a heretic response and ironic utopia. It is a utopia in that it is an idea between the present and the future. It shows that the boundaries between science fiction and social reality are an optical illusion. The cyborg is a disassembled and re-assembled, postmodern collective and personal self. According to Haraway, this may be the self where any revolutional images of the self live: The fall of clear differences between the organism and machine, which breaks the matrices of supremacy and opens endless opportunities. (Haraway:151).
In my practice-led research, I will apply Donna Haraway’s cyborg theory (Haraway 1991) and epistemological claims of situated knowledge (Haraway 1991) as tools of critical study of acting theories, general talking methods and practices that have stabilised in the 20th century.
126.96.36.199 Parametric architecture as an application of cyborgic embodied awareness
Parametric architecture has, as digital possibilities are explosively increasing, made up ground in the design industry, replacing the traditional architecture which cherishes the purpose of traditional shapes of buildings. Parametric design simply means that, when designing the form of a work of art, certain parameters are specified for its structures but any single artist does not control the final formal solutions.
On the theatre stage, I will study the ideas of parametric architecture presented by Peter Zellner, Mark Burry and Kas Oosterhuis, and apply them to Finnish acting work. Similar to Kas Oosterhuis regards buildings as hyperbodies in this research, I will study the actor’s embodied awareness as a multi-dimensional building that is continuously searching for its shape.
Parametric architecture, its spirit and working methods could comprise means for perceiving the building processes of these stage objects – for applying the actor’s embodied cyborgic knowledge (partial/situated knowledge). This roundabout method taken from other areas of art or science may provide us with a proper distance for examining the perception of the actor’s artistic entity and embodied awareness in a new and fresher way. I will present my applications in this research.
Of the building blocks used (parameters), I have selected four for a more detailed presentation. I will discuss these parameters and their development in my research in more detail in “Parametric design on stage“. I have written the following essays of the parameters (the parameter is presented after the essay title in brackets):
- Commedia dell’Arte now! (Commedia dell’Arte-type building blocks for physical elements and the performance’s musical form)
- Stanislavski (behaviouristic and social stage, and word-processing techniques)
- Rewarding performance experience (performance elements in embodied experiences)
- Possibility of “political theatre” in modern advanced capitalism (aesthetics)
These cover some separately selected parameters, not all of the parameters or working methods that have had an impact on these performances. I have also ignored the following, to name a few: parameters stolen/borrowed from Japanese or Indian acting techniques, existential parameters of different cultural conceptions of images, and parameters derived from the study of the structure of dreams.
Furthermore, I will not discuss such parameters which certainly have had an impact on the structure of these performances but of which I have not been largely aware.
- Ellis, Bret Easton (1991). American Psycho. Vintage Books. New York.
- Haraway, Donna (1991). A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century. In Simians, Cyborgs, and Women. The Reinvention of Nature, 183-201. Free Association Books. Routledge. New York.
- Haraway Donna (1991). Situated Knowledges: The Science Question in Feminism and the Privilege of Partial Perspective. In Simians, Cyborgs, and Women. The Reinvention of Nature, 183-201. Free Association Books. Routledge. New York.
- Rubidge, Sarah (2004). Artists in the Academy: Reflections on Artistic Practice as Research [web-document]. Australian Dance Council.
[day of citation 31.10.2009]
Theatre as a Project of a Body - artistic research on the theoretical and practial possibilities of moders acting
To be presented, with the permission of the board of School of Communication, Media and Theatre of the University of Tampere,
for public discussion in the Teatterimonttu theatre, D-wing, Kalevantie 4, Tampere on April 22nd, 2012 ay 12 o`clock.
UNIVERSITY OF TAMPERE
(c) Mikko Kanninen 2012