‘Practices and Parameters’ is a year-long project designed to lay the groundwork for a collaborative mode of hybrid artistic/academic work. The activity of the project is envisaged as an extended investigation into the conditions and methods necessary to such work. As such, the project is conceived of in terms of practice as research, though as I describe below, we are thinking not of a singular practice, but of practices, plural.
The project is not concerned with any particular topic. It is instead a kind of ‘meta-project’: the subject is the activity of the project itself — that is, the iterative discipline and accumulation of the exchange and carrying out of tasks and composition of reflections, as described below. Individual tasks and activities may have their own intrinsic value, and some may be more interesting or be acquitted more successfully than others; but for our purposes, these individual tasks are less important than the growth and development of the project itself and of our creative relationship. Change, and not products, is our real concern.
Marie and I have talked about developing a collaborative and hybrid art/academic practice for some years. We have postponed collaboration until now for the usual logistical reasons, but also because issues of equality and status seemed difficult to overcome. I am a university lecturer on a decent salary, whereas Marie is an independent dance artist and freelance yoga teacher and life coach with uncertain income. As a senior academic, I am charged with time-consuming administrative responsibilities to my school and faculty, while Marie undertakes the bulk of domestic and childcare work in our household, even as she juggles the various facets of a ‘portfolio career’. My academic position and title (‘professor’) have a high cultural status whereas Marie’s work is seen by some (not me!) to be socially marginal or to be a lifestyle luxury. Conversely, Marie’s long experience of artistic work means that I might feel myself a junior partner in any creative undertaking.
How to negotiate this set of inequalities of income, labour, status and confidence in a notional collaboration of equals? This project is our solution, and it has been made possible by the following circumstances. Firstly, I am fortunate to have sabbatical leave funded by the University of Leeds for the academic year 2018/19, which I am spending in Denmark at Aarhus University, located commuting distance from Horsens, where Marie and our daughter, and now me, live. I will be writing a book and carrying out other duties on behalf of my school and faculty, but the ‘extra’ time previously spent on administrative activities can now be devoted to my and Marie’s collaboration. Secondly, I recently had the privilege of attending a two-week workshop at Middlebury College, USA, devoted to ‘videographic criticism’ — that is, to the production of academic audiovisual essays related to film and other media. The experience of this workshop has given me the confidence to assert my creative aptitudes. Thirdly, and most importantly, Marie has just completed a fascinating collaborative project, called ‘Two Trainers prepare’, with academic Maria Kapsali, who is Lecturer in Physical Performance at Leeds with interests in performer training, yoga and other somatic practices. Marie and Maria’s year-long project explored ‘the space between creative expression and [their] respective yoga practices’. The project was intended ‘as a preparation towards integrating different styles of yoga and other art forms in an interdisciplinary pedagogy’, and the task-based methodology they employed, which Marie has described using the metaphor of a tennis rally (referring to the weekly exchange of tasks), has directly inspired the approach adopted by Marie and myself in our collaboration.
The irony is that the form of Marie and Maria’s collaboration originally emerged as a response to the fact they live in different countries — it was an ongoing virtualencounter. Marie and I have decided to retain the form of this virtual encounter, though we are living together for the year, because it is true to the ‘negotiative’ character of our finally working together. It allows us to take on board the set of inequalities mentioned above, and it makes those inequalities thematic, in a sense, through the agonistic character (the ‘tennis rally’) of the weekly exchange of tasks.
Practice and practices
This project is not built around a particular medium like dance or prose (that is, those media that might be seen as native to Marie’s and my respective individual careers and expertise); it is built around the idea of practice and practices. The term practice, here, refers to an activity that may have a product (like writing or choreography), but that is engaged in on a regular basis and to some extent independently of its outcomes. As such, a practice is typically described using the -ing form. Marie and I made a quick list of practices that we engage in jointly or individually, reproduced here.
Such a list was not intended to be exhaustive (I admit certain omissions are rather telling and will require future interrogation: no practices of politics, charity or religious observance, for example), but was intended to offer points of departure for the design of project tasks (an individual task might have to do with architectural sightseeing, say, but it might be specified that it be recorded in the form of a dance). Plainly, most of the practices listed are mundane and would not conventionally be described as creative practices. They are listed here because the banal and quotidian are where we must start with a ‘meta-project’ like this, which is expressly ‘preliminary’ and conceived in order to develop the structures and protocols of a creative partnership. This creative partnership must acknowledge and begin from the fact that Marie and I are life partners and so this preliminary project must emerge from the texture of day-to-day existence. The practices of the day-to-day will therefore be deployed in the tasks we set and undertake.
For my own purposes (academics like to abstract), I condensed and generalised the many items above into a list of six shared core practices (again, not in any particular order), which I proposed to Marie:
I expect that each task will concern these core practices in one form, such as those in the long list above, or another. Perhaps these terms for core practices will become the main tags or keywords used to categorise and link the tasks.
In thinking and talking about art-making and creativity as such, Marie and I have always dwelled on the power and playfulness of an approach that has variously been described as ‘parametric’ or as ‘constraint satisfaction’, or in terms of ‘obstructions’. That is, we are excited by the generative possibilities of limits and parameters for creative and intellectual activity. This theme will certainly be discussed (or evidenced) at greater length and depth as the project progresses, but parametric approaches could be seen to be in opposition to the Romantic idea of the artist who expresses their essential self, or to the idea of the intellectual who authoritatively pronounces on a particular theme. With parametric approaches, instead, the artist/academic (or artist-academic) ‘intra-acts’ in a system while recognising themselves to be part of that system rather than a Godlike figure beyond and independent of it. The use of tasks as a spur to creative activity is already a parametric approach in itself (and the task-setting itself has parameters), but we expect to set further parameters for the other person when we outline a task to be undertaken (for example, by specifying a practice to be employed); indeed, it is likely that we will impose extra constraints for ourselves when we are trying to satisfy the requirements of a task set by the other person.
One practice we have decided to make essential to the project is that of publishing our activities on a weekly basis. Again, this aspect is borrowed from ‘Two Trainers Prepare’. Going public is a way of insisting that the response to each task takes a coherent and (ideally) receivable form, while avoiding a too precious or perfectionist approach. Again, such a practice insists on the place of the practitioner as just one part of a creative ecosystem that includes the potential visitor to the site, and it emphasises, in the imposition of a publication deadline, that each task is just one in a series, and that it is the development of the series itself (the project) that is the important thing.