Thursday, 26 May 2011

3 x 2 x 3: David Overend: Exposition, Exposition, Exposition

- I am in agreement with Brad Haseman, who argues that the explanation or interpretation of the creative work is a crucial stage in performance-based research (1).
- In the next three minutes, I am going to give three reasons why exposition is an important part of using artistic practice as a research methodology. By exposition, I mean critical reflection; an academic, written form of exegesis that accompanies the practice.
- My PhD, which I completed earlier this year, was a practice-as-research thesis with the University of Glasgow, based at the Arches arts centre. The photographs I am playing here are from three large-scale theatre productions that I directed at the Arches in order to develop a ‘Relational Theatre Practice in Response to a Specific Cultural Site’. 
- Now, the Arches is a very busy venue, which changes rapidly from corporate event to theatre performance to club night, often in just one day. Over three hundred events take place each year, and hundreds of thousands of people come through the doors. 
- This brings me to my first point, because inevitably things get a bit chaotic.
1. The ‘Messiness’ of Practice-as-Research
- My primary research methodology has involved performance practice, and as John Freeman points out, ‘unlike [...] traditional research, performance practice is always messy and its manners are often bad’ (2).
- For me, the mess of artistic practice has to be tidied up, explained, or turned into something valuable - the way to do that is through an exposition (the written part of the thesis).
2. Failure
- ...which brings me to my next point:
- It is often in those moments of performance when the clearly defined aims of the research questions could be understood to be jeopardised that the most valuable research actually emerges. As Phil Smith points out, ‘sometimes getting things wrong helps the most’ (3).
- An exposition is absolutely necessary to derive research findings from artistic practice that has ostensibly gone wrong. In my thesis, I reflected on my work not by attempting any sort of value-judgement, but by identifying events that revealed something about theatre practice and the relationships of the site.
3. Contextualisation
- My third and final point is about the need to contextualise artistic practice:
- Paul Kleiman points out the dangers of presenting work without exposition by referring to Minimalist art, in which a potentially identical ‘product’ could result from years of diligent study or an attempt to mock the contemporary art world (4). Only some form of exposition can distinguish between these otherwise identical artworks.
- I want to argue that an exegesis of practice is the crucial stage in the process that makes work practice-as-research, rather than simply practice. 
- And I would possibly (not definitely) go even further by suggesting that the exposition is the only element of a thesis that should be assessed for the award of a PhD.

1 Brad Haseman, ‘Rupture and Recognition: Identifying the performative research paradigm’, Practice as Research: Approaches to creative arts enquiry, eds. Estelle Barrett & Barbara Bolt, London: I.B.Tauris, 2007, pp.147-157, p.156
2 John Freeman, Blood, Sweat & Theory: Research through practice in performance, Oxfordshire: Libri Publishing, c2010, p.81
3 Phil Smith, Mythogeography: A guide to walking sideways, Axminster: Triarchy Press, 2010, p.110
4 Paul Kleiman, PARIP mail group discussion, 28/10/02. In Peter Thomson (ed.), ‘Notes and Queries: Practice as research’, Studies in Theatre and Performance 22(3), 2003, pp.159-180, p.163


alison333 said...

Hi David

I tend to agree with you, though it's early days in my own research journey. I find that my own reflective writing is a light in the tunnel, crucial and comforting.
Sorry I didn't make it to CCA on Wed!


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