The method is the sculpture
Blind reflection with puppet. At Norwegian Artistic Research Forum.
Third and last presentation at Norwegian Artistic Research Forum, Klækken Hotell, Hønefoss, 06/03 2019 at 9.30.
(In a small conference room with about 50 chairs, windows on one side, white walls, a projector and a screen, and a small table in front to the side. On the table is my breakfast on a plate, a glass, a cup of coffee, a fork and a knife. Hidden behind the table is a second plate, glass, cup, fork and knife.)
Welcome and good morning, I’m sorry, – I’m not quite ready. I just need to fix a few things before we start. Could you please close your eyes for a moment, so that I…? Or you might be more comfortable with a sleeping masks. Yes? If you put them on, you can just relax? Ok? Here you are.
(I hand out black sleeping masks to everyone.)
So, okey… just a moment, I’m just going to fetch this…. (mumbles)
(I walk to the back of the space, push a chair over, brings it to the front, looses it again, leaves it in the middle, in front of the screen. I go to the window, pass a row of people really close.)
Sorry, excuse me, excuse me, – I just need to draw the curtains.
(I tear some fabric, several times, all the time mumbling. I return to the table, hit it with my body and throws the hidden breakfast set to the floor.)
Uh, eh, uh, eh. Sorry about that. I had an accident. I’ll soon be ready. Just keep your mask on. Soon ready now. Sorry. I'm really sorry. I just need to…
(I try to pull down the screen, but it keeps rolling back up, until it rolls all the way up. I go and fetch the chair, drag it over the floor, put it in front of the screen and with a bit more fuzz I'm finally able to pull it down. I put the chair back.)
Soon now… I hope the masks are working for you? I got them from Bjørn in SAS. He delivered them on my door when I was preparing for a Norwegian Artistic Research Project for Venice in 2017, where we were asked to relate critically to Venice, the Biennial and its cultural-economic impact. We went there, together with all the other tourists who wanted to see the art and the city.
(I sit down in front of the computer and start reading this text. The audience still have the masks on.)
I’m Ingvild Holm, a third year research fellow. I’m here to reflect upon my nearly finished project. I’ll do it by going through the relevant issues suggested by NARP on how this third year project presentation could be.
- How do you recognise, describe and note your thoughts and reflection during the last phase up to a finished artistic result?
Recognitions of the process, description and notes have been a constant thing. But for the last phase I plan to write something. Exactly how it will be, straight or more artistic I don’t know yet. Maybe it will be a sort of dialogue between the different spaces and contexts, as them having a discussion between themselves, like in a drama of some sort, – if I’m able. There will soon be a web page, with both process and outcome. And I hope there will be a collection of texts or a book written by others, on the thematics I’ve been working with, as Art politics, my institution and its history, performative spaces and scenography, dramaturgy, how spaces and contexts communicate, reuse of low status material, the nature of things, art and me, and object theatre. If possible, with my works as examples. To mention what is now on the wish list.
The premise of a finished artistic result doesn’t really fit my project, since there are a number of finished works. And I also question the question, the idea of presenting an answer, a product, or a finished artistic result. I’d rather call my research a non hierarchical system of equally important works linked together through my main research question which is:
What is place and context, what does it do to how and what we produce in live art, and how does it communicate?
I am giving, and will give more examples.
The next question is:
- In what way has the project developed and/or changed during the fellowship period?
What have been the important choices and turning points?
To answer the question, I’m quickly going to go through parts of my original plan for the research progress, – HOW I planned to do it:
The first year I said I would do what I called Plays about space, which should focus on language and text. My plan was to also make works at my institution with staff and students, as a place which I considered a highly qualified discourse. I said I wanted to look for the art everywhere, starting with my office, which was mine, and an independent space where I could work and present at the same time.
I understood quite soon that to be able to do this I needed to establish a closer relationship to the school, I couldn’t be the research fellow that just dropped by now and then. I took initiatives for lectures and workshops to present myself and my project, and I actively used my office as a sort of visual diary or log. The closeness to the institution has been extremely important to me, and also gave me an extra year. And when it comes to language and text, I realized I couldn’t decide when and how that would happen, they kind of happened as a result of other things.
The second year I said I would do Plays with space, and this was about using models, or what I already called marionettes. I didn’t know then about the actual marionettes that I would find in the institution archive, but I knew of course of its former history as a puppet school, and I wanted to avoid the acting, the body of a human actor. I also liked the word marionette: – someone or something hard for us to see are pulling the strings.
At about this time I started to get a better grip of my method, to try to play or be the space and context. I normally didn’t bring finished material, but developed it there and then. I tried to understand what that specific space and context were, what they were doing by being them, in a ‘no-man show’, in a thing show, in fragile and risky solos, often improvised and precarious, – and I got deeper into object oriented theatre. I also did my first puppet movie based on ‘Being John Malkovich’, in a workshop with students, where the roles where turned, so that the puppets were the people and opposite. The animation or the anthropomorphism became clearer to me.
The third year my original plan was to make what I thought was a thing, like a machine or a sculpture, – something free to move anywhere, as an answer to the research. The answer and the end product. I imagined it as an example of the Arts borderless and impractical and maybe also unwanted presence, and something that actively would seek risk in form and context. I wrote about a wagon on wheels. Thinking about old times marked theatre. And popular forms. Closeness to the audience. Improvisation with the here and now situation. The easy travelling, being able to talk to different people at different places, that maybe weren’t even art places, but places with real people, not art people.
But this thing would only be another sort of institution, that even if it had flexibility and different possibilities, would look the same for ever, as just another space with a specific form and structure. And that it NOT AT ALL could be the answer to my questions, besides maybe one or two, and actually I already made a walking space.
And then, not very long ago, I started to think that the nomadic, flexible and moving thing or object in fact is the method.
My method made it possible for me to ‘go directly into context, to move between institutions, and to oppose automatic fences between society and art’, which I wrote in my plan. The HOW is the WHAT, the way I do it is what it becomes, which makes me able to deal with the research questions in many different ways, to ask the same question in very different places and contexts, and in a constant dialogue.
The work is a lot about process and risk, about what happens when I meet the place and context, the here and now situation. I’ve always been more interested in how it is done, and a good concept, than making a nice looking end product. I need to have the small moments of accidence.
In my abstract it says:
I give the main role (in my research play) to space itself, and present new spaces in different art forms. I perform these protagonistsin sketches or stunts, as live anthropomorphisms,and as visual art or texts. I don’t play in, but with space and context, as something I am, or wear, or carry, as a physical problem. I investigate through critical and popular traditions in object oriented forms in a chain of smaller and bigger theatre machines and mobile sculptures.
I try to be critical to space and context, but also to myself being in it; how are space and context more than the obvious, and how can I be or do something different? What is the nature of me in the nature of this specific place? How can we surprise each other, the space and I?
So again, my main research question; – what is place and context, what does it do to how and what we produce in live art, and how does it communicate?
The research obviously discusses institutional practice and automatically reproduced understandings, in addition to economic, curatorial and PR considerations. I’m not at all against having big or new institutions. We need places to produce and present, and it is fine that some of them have so called neutral black boxes and white cubes, and structures that both give confidence and look a bit impressive. But I’ve been wondering where the balance is between the good looking façade, the art, and the dialogue with the outside world. If art tries to fit the institution, and not itself. What happens if your method, or a method like mine isn’t even possible within the institution or the professional structure?
And I’ve wondered how to bring these questions about power, structure and traditions into the discourse in an artistically interesting way, knowing that to criticise or discuss them tend to become kind of monologues, referring to Bakhtin. To present specific answers – in a monologue – isn’t as important as asking them – in a dialogue. Asking again and again, with a method that can do that efficiently, in every place and context possible. I’ve tried to do that. And of course sometimes more successful than other times, even with the possibility of total failure.
According to Brecht the important thing isn’t to fulfil something, – it’s the method that afterwards can be investigated by the audience, since the result will be read differently anyhow. Something like that.
As we all know, method is central in the research program, as in all research, but at first the concept and the word made me nervous. Academically nervous. I've always said that my method is to have no method, but that's a method too. And that's the point, and the question, to stay free and experimental in methods, and to talk about it is of course is the jewel in the program.
The last two weeks or so, I’ve been chewing on the idea of the method as the main result of my research. So here and now I’ll claim that the method is the sculpture.
- What do you expect the Assessment committee to focus on in your final assessment?
What do you want them to discover in your final assessment?
I don’t know what my Assessment committee will say about this. I hope they will focus on how my critique offers a positive alternative to the context. I hope they will see the layers of analyses and seriousness through the lightness and playfulness. The improvisation and the precarity. How the thematics is close to my practice. The possible freedom in it. The critique towards autonomy conventions. And other conventions. That the research is an integrated part of each work. They might see the quality in objects and spaces, – how they are understood versus what they are more. How I work with dealing with it through a language that is simple. Maybe they’ll even agree with me, that the method is the sculpture?
They might also see that the outcome can be the discourse? I might have been able to move the thinking at least a little bit, for instance within my institution and the students, with the reuse of scenography, the mix of genres, the playfulness in the critique, within the object or puppet theatre, or in the willingness of failure and risk in a quick stunt. And how small and popular things are good for the bigger questions.
My method has been to play or animate the space and context, to try to be the situation. It's happened in a black box in a big theatre, a cabaret theatre, a former bank, a white cube in a gallery, a museum, the street, a historic museum, a business hotel, an office in an art school, a gondola, etc. I know you haven’t seen anything yet, and I haven’t even talked about specific works. In a minute I will show a bunch of pictures. But first I will show an excerpt of a puppet movie that I’m working on right now, based on Ibsen’s ‘A Doll’s House’, filmed in my office for the occasion disguised in black molton, and with the wooden marionettes which have been quite low in the art hierarchy for some time. You can see now.
(They remove their masks. I show a 2 minutes’ excerpt of the puppet movie.)
(I pull out the main character puppet from a bag, and sit down on the front chair with the puppet on my lap. I put on a sleeping mask. Images from the research go in a loop on the screen.)
(Q and A. The puppet says ‘She can answer some questions now’, and then she keeps answering.)