Thinking Through Documentation
In Second Wave of Practice Research (2016), a presentation that is part-reflection and part-manifesto, Dr Rachel Hann presents a call to action regarding the presentation of practice research projects:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M2Sva2mXemM – (start at 33:18)
Here, she states: “there is a responsibility to sustain the knowledge claims beyond the timeframe of the initial project itself”. This statement addresses the need to consider documentation within research projects rather than as the re-presentation of their practical outcomes. What this means for research processes and the way that they might be documented and shared is not straight forward, but is something that I have wanted to explore through my own work. I often deal with practice that employs iterative processes, has no defined single outcome, and that may yield multiple forms of documentation. This performance lecture, related to my ijereja project, addresses some of these issues in and through my practice:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gjz3hZ0QsbI (Performance lecture)
The question of documentation highlights the multiple layers and plurivocalities of practice research projects, and the difficulties of capturing and presenting them. The claim that the moment of knowledge within many projects is embodied and ephemeral has—at times—dissuaded researchers from creating documentation that seeks to do anything other than provide evidence that the work took place, and led to a perception that documentation itself might distract from the moment of performance. Conversely, Ayerbe (2017) concludes that, “the ephemeral nature of performance art does not preclude its documentation; irreproducibility must be rethought in a mediatized context such as the present one”. To achieve this as a practitioner-researcher, one might consider oneself as what Melrose (2007) has termed an ‘expert spectator’. Spatz has addressed multi-layered and embodied knowledge and its expression in practice research as a transference of technique related to practice. He writes,
Far from being secondary to the production of singular events, the development and transmission of knowledge in the form of technique can be seen as the primary activity of many practitioners in physical culture and performing arts— the ground upon which the “singular event” can be realized and without which there can be no event at all. (2015: 233)
Through portfolio presentation, I have tried to enable documentation of my research to take on the role of transmitting its methods of gaining and embodying non-linguistic knowledge, and identifying and sustaining that knowledge beyond the performative events themselves. There are two particular issues for me regarding the outcomes of this approach: the first is the question of how to externalise a process that is a continuous cycle of continuous flux without a defined goal or endpoint. The second is the question of how to make this process clear when the number of artworks or artistic products associated with the research or created as a part of it vastly exceed what seems like a reasonable amount of work for someone to engage with: the role of documentation and re-presentation of the research becomes not one of packaging but of entering into an active dialogue with the research to externalise it.
Standards for documentation of practice research need to be considered within its opposition of process and product: there can be no standard or expected modes of documentation. Rather, just as the research community has come to largely accept that a practice research methodology will be emergent from the research process, so too might its principles of documentation be. This requires the researcher to be clear about the research component of the work, allowing the documentation to be planned as a part of the research process—one that interacts with and exerts pressure on the research itself—rather than an observation of outcomes that may or may not elucidate its research questions. Inherent in this process is consideration of the legacy of such documentation and its effective archiving. Finally, the amount of documentation in any project should be considered. The archive of all documentation arising from a project might be vast and potentially obfuscate the aims and outcomes of the research.
My solution to this problem has been a portfolio presentation of the research materials that considers the portfolio as the outcome of the research. My intention is that the component parts of the portfolio represent all of the aspects of practice in the work, but don’t completely document all of them. I have gathered together a selection of outcomes, representing the range of events or outcomes in the project and have tried to bring them together in a way that does not prioritise any types of practice or documentation, but shows how they can be seen to relate to each other in different ways, and can be considered in the manner of a non-linear process. My intention is that by looking only at the portfolio one might access the range of ideas related to the research and knowledge aims of the work.
As a second principle, there is nothing related to the project that is not open access. This includes the albums which are free to access online, and the written component of the work that is published in an open access journal. Thus, this work seeks to address the accessibility of the research not only through the university’s repository but through the accessibility of all of its component parts. The materials in the portfolio address many audiences, including other artistic practitioners and music audiences, as well as a research audience. This is also important to me, since this work and documentation has not been created for the sole purpose of assessment in REF but seeks to address those both within and outwith the academy who might interact with it. Creating this portfolio has involved a shift in my thinking: that the outcomes of practice research might not represent a single product, and that the ‘research outcome’ of the project can in some ways be defined in advance separately from the practice itself. It is, for me, the complete expression of the project and also its complete research outcome.
Ayerbe, N. (2017) ‘Documenting the Ephemeral: reconsidering the idea of presence in discussions on performance’. Rev. Bras. Estud. Presença (Presence and its Related Fields). 7.3. http://www.scielo.br/scielo.php?script=sci_arttext&pid=S2237-26602017000300551&lng=en&nrm=iso&tlng=en#B34
Hann, R. (1 June 2016) ‘Second Wave Practice Research: Questions and Ways Forward’. Paper for ‘Practices and Processes of Practice Research: Interdisciplinary and Methodological Critique’. Canterbury: Canterbury Christ Church University. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M2Sva2mXemM&t=2051s
Melrose, S. (July 2007) ‘Confessions of an Uneasy Expert Spectator’. https://www.sfmelrose.org.uk
Redhead, L. (2018) ijereja and entoptic landscape: Music as an Iterative Process. Portfolio. http://research.gold.ac.uk/24827/
Spatz, B. (2016). What a Body Can Do: Technique as Knowledge, Practice as Research. Abingdon: Routledge.