Thursday 22 July 2010

The Pragmatics

Moving on from the successful experience of the visual arts workshops, and with an interest in how spectators' abilities to talk about their dance watching experiences might be enhanced, the idea of using creative writing based research workshops developed.

All research with people is determined as much by pragmatics - what can be done and how - as by more conceptual methodological questions. In this instance the pragmatic proposal is to do the following:

Conduct two creative writing based workshops, one with participants who are experienced in or students of creative writing; the other with participants who are experienced dance spectators.

Each workshop would be half a day long and co-facilitated by Sherry Ashworth, a lecturer in creative writing at Manchester Metropolitan University. The workshops would take place soon after the participant attended a dance performance, which was to be Rambert Dance Company at the Lowry Theatre, Manchester in September 2010.

Writing exercises might begin before the workshop and continue afterwards and the writing would be both a window into the participants' experiences in their own right and a focus for conversation about the performance. Beyond that however, the exact nature, feel and content of the workshops is still to be developed.

Drawing and Dance

In previously projects I have used visual arts based research methodologies. For these I would take a group of participants to a dance performance and then as them to draw or paint in response to their exprience in visual arts based research workshops.

The workshop were run by myself alongside
Brian Hartley, a Glasgow based artist and teacher with whom I have worked in the past on similar projects. In designing the sessions we decided to structure the workshops to move from more directed exercises at the beginning before moving on to freer responses. We were also conscious that for some of the participants there might be a hesitancy over drawing and a need to “loosen-up” or overcome inhibitions about making marks on paper. The initial exercises, therefore, were designed to gather responses to the performance in a manner that disrupted perception of drawing as a skill-based activity. So the participants were asked to draw something they remembered from the performance using a pen taped to the end of a long bamboo cane; to make a drawing with their eyes closed; and to draw with their “wrong” hand.

The objective with such exercises was to allow the participants to forget about their own particular artistic abilities and simply start making marks on paper. The externally imposed limitations provided a focus separate from the overall “quality” of the art works and separate also from the content. Additionally the limitation often results in pictures that are less inhibited by a desire to “get it right” and allows for more expressive and communicative drawing and engagement.
These directed tasks were followed by a period of “free drawing”, where participants were asked to draw anything they remembered from the performance. There was no instruction here as to whether the drawings should be figurative, expressive or conceptual. As they drew, Brian and I went round the room talking to the participants about their drawings and their memories of the performance. These conversations were recorded and transcribed. The subsequent analysis made use of both the transcribed conversations and the documented art works, reading from one to the other and back again in a manner that allowed the words to affirm an interpretation of the art works but still allowed readings to be made of the materiality and visual qualities of the drawings.

Creative Research

Over recent years there has been increasing interest in the use of creative and arts-based research methodologies that mediate or focus participants' responses through a particular medium or activity - most prominently drawing and painting but also things such as creative writing, model making, collage and video diaries.

These approaches draw on traditions of art therapy and the use of 'projective techniques' within market research. A good example of their employment with audiences is the work of David Gauntlett and his Art Lab website. Here Gauntlett writes:

The ArtLab studies represent a new type of research in which media consumers' own creativity, reflexivity and knowingness is harnessed, rather than ignored. In these studies, individuals are asked to produce media or visual material themselves, as a way of exploring their relationship with particular issues or dimensions of media.

The use of creative writing within this project is within this tradition and also continues my own work using drawing as a creative and reflective research methodology.

Tuesday 20 July 2010

The Watching Dance Project

This blog, and the research it records, is produced as part of the 'Watching Dance: Kinesthetic Empathy' project, which uses a mixed-ecology of research methodologies, including audience research and neuroscience, to explore how spectators respond to, and empathise with, dance.

Thursday 15 July 2010

Introduction: Audiences and Writing Research Experiment

After watching a dance performance with friends we often leave the theatre and find ourselves asking each other, 'What did you think?' Or perhaps, alternatively, 'Did you enjoy it?'

That we often willingly and eagerly engage in such conversations, however, does not necessarily make them satisfactory. There is a particular difficulty in talking about non-linguistic experiences such as of dance or music through the medium of language. As Maxine Sheet-Johnstone declares, it is possible to argue that the experience of dance is 'ineffable.'

The ineffable refers to things we might know (perhaps sensually, kinaesthetically, somatically, experientially) but are unable to put into words. This presents a challenge for a research looking to find out how audiences experience, remember and make sense of their dance watching experiences. In the past I have sourght to address aspects of this difficult through using visual arts workshops with audience members, asking them to draw what they saw or felt as a way of mediating and communicating their experience - which I'll say more about in another post.

For this project the objective is to explore the use of creative writing workshops with audience members as a way of enhancing, supporting and transforming the kinds of languages that audience members use to describe their experiences of watching dance.

This blog will chart the course of this research experiment, including describing the pragmatical and methodological preperations for the workshops, later present some of the writings that participants produce and allow researchers and participants to comments on both the processes and the results.