1/4 Whaaaaaat am I doing here? Or: Designing the Body of Research
First, I would like to start getting in touch with this topic by sharing my own experiences about artistic research, practise-based research and so on. I used three texts as base to gather my thoughts, the summarys to those texts are linked at the bottom of this entry or you can also just find them as blog posts.
Since I started discovering art for myself, the question about practice-as-research and methods of combining practice and theory immediately appeared (and never would disappear again). I agree with Bjørn Rasmussen that building up a “methodological ‘labyrinth’” (2014: 22) can be scary for an artist (and to be honest also sometimes for a researcher). It scares me sometimes because it is just too much to imagine. However, labyrinths are supposed to be fun, right? Maybe there is a hidden treasure somewhere?
I was set in an academic environment with very theoretical approaches, even the so-called “practical assignments” were also focussed on written texts. I learned that the first step for anything is doing research by reading. Okay - yeah - works - somehow. And then your written outcome is as theoretical and not reachable for any non-academic person as possible. Well, let’s be honest: this is an exaggeration. However, at some point I just started to have my practice along with the theory. Not yet combined, this took me a couple of years.
Now, I would say practice-as-research is the key for me to study and work. This started when I was actually engaging in my art. Though, I still sometimes catch myself with a thought that separates both - the theory and the practice. (Soo many years of brainwashing to distinguish between the categories won’t just disappear) Also, one experience I went through many many times, is that if I talk about practice-led research people (mostly scientists) would just smile at me and tell me “this is not research what you are doing. Your so-called studies aren’t real academic studies.” Uh-hum. Next time I will response with Foucault: “in contrast to the phenomenologists' that the constitutions of knowledge cannot be explained solely 'through the historicisation of the subject', i.e. through the positioning of the researcher as producer and transmitter of situated knowledge." In my opinion it is not enough to experience only one side of a topic. You need to be a practitioner during your research and vice versa. The idea of Heron and Reason's ecological and interactive ontology supports this statement: we need relations to develop knowledge. (it can be found in 4/4: the Rasmussen article summary).
I would like to share my current practice and the connected research: for my next performance project which is about Nazis killing disabled people during the second world war (www.erbeessen.de), I read a lot at first. Which was great to learn about facts. Then we (my colleague and I) started to do the research site-specific. We talked to survivors, family members of the murdered, doctors, other researchers and politicians. These interviews were sometimes very emotional, sometimes disappointing but always an intense experience. I spent a whole month travelling in franconia to talk to people.
We started to read medical records from the Nazis. It is reading again but in a very different way. And it is not about facts there but about decoding their used language and about transforming written details into portraits and scenes.
Now we are setting up the room installation, inspired by the actual location where thousands of people were killed. Also inspired by our performance venue (a former shop that is going to be torn down right after our performance).
At some point, the Nazis started to starve the people to death by giving them food without any fat or vitamins. So we started to pay attention to how it feels like to be hungry, and how your body and brain “weaken” after not having lunch for a day. Not really comparable to starving to death but I would call it research.
And of course the little doggo at the beginning of this post here: his name is Henk, he is dutch and he entered my life in Munich this spring. This little tryout is also research about how to move the puppet, which gestures produce which meaning and so on. Enjoy watching it if you haven't done it so far! :-)