© Richard Huw Morgan, 2003, Cardiff School of Art and Design, UWIC
“The only exception to the requirement that (research) outputs must be made publicly available is where they are confidential.’ RAE Circular 5/99
Taking this enigmatic exception as a starting point, Good Cop Bad Cop invokes confidentiality for a series of 21 micro presentations. Exploring the locations of knowledge, forms of documentation, the role of the audience, language, culture, experimentation, mistakes and deviations, this unashamedly experimental presentation draws upon the ‘professional’ and “academic’ practices and experiences of the company members.
Through live, recorded and mediated performance, anecdotes, reconstructions, asides and experiments Good Cop Bad Cop will aim to provoke opinionated debate, prejudice and constructive criticism of their practice, and by extension, of the evaluation of ‘process led’ performance by the Academy. For your eyes only.
Good Cop Bad Cop is a Welsh interdisciplinary performance company comprising core members Richard Huw Morgan, John Rowley and Paul Jeff. Their professional practice incorporates a wide variety of media and techniques including live performance, sonic arts, video and photography. This presentation will utilise and reference these practices.
Richard Huw Morgan is Research Fellow in Time Based Practice in Fine Art at University of Wales Institute Cardiff. He is a National Advisor to the Arts Council of Wales for interdisciplinary performing arts and experimental performance, a member of the Welsh national committee of Equity and has 13 years of professional performance experience.
No matter how advanced the concept of intellectual copyright may now be, it still does not apply to ideas and concepts, only to realised ‘products’ of human activity. Advice from lawyers suggests that until they are ‘realised’, ideas are best protected from unauthorised copying by evoking confidentiality. Were I to be feeling churlish, I could take legal action against anyone who, at a later date, repeated any of what follows without my consent. Does this make sense within an academic setting?
The word game. Listening to ‘Thinking Aloud’ on Radio 4 a fortnight ago, I caught a debate considering whether ‘words shape conflict’ or ‘conflict shapes words’. As is the nature of debate, both arguments had their proponents and opponents. What was not challenged was the link between words and conflict.
Quote — ‘PARIP’s objectives are to investigate creative-academic issues raised by practice as research, where performance is understood as performance media: theatre, dance, film, video and television.’ End quote. But where in this is ‘Performance’? ‘Performance’ as differentiated from ‘The performing or performance arts and media’.
We could spend all day rehearsing and revising definitions, taking note of Professor Susan Melrose’s important observation of ‘the widespread and largely unproblematised use of the prefix “non-“ as in “non-textual”, “non-text based” etc.’ To sum up the debate we will not be having, the University of Wales Aberystwyth, like many other academic institutions has a separate department of ‘Performance Studies’, with its own Professor. The academy has thus legitimised ‘Performance’s’ existence. For the purpose of the rest of this paper, my use of the word ‘Performance’, unless noted otherwise, will refer to the practices of self-devised solo or group work intended for public presentation.
As ‘Performance’ exists, it has the right to the study of its independent existence, and not to be held up and measured against what it is ‘not’. I would like to suggest that the only way that this could be achieved satisfactorily, although currently outside PARIP’s remit, is through sampling the working practices of artists engaged in ‘performance’ — outside of academia.
If only that were possible! But let’s leave the difficulties to one side for a moment. The academy’s desire, as witnessed by SCUDD and the AHRB to say what creative practice undertaken either by academics or ‘established’ professionals, ‘is’ and what ‘is not’ research raises a clear and simple question. That is, ‘can academia point an accusative finger at a “creative professional” of long standing and say, “your creative practice is not research, because it does not fit in with the models of academic research we have in other disciplines”’?
Only when we have a clear understanding of the research methodologies of established practitioners, can the academy usefully involve itself in its desired role as arbiter. Only then can it say that ‘Practice as Research’ within the academy is, or is not, at odds with the reality of its object of study outside its walls.
So, what does the research practice of an established professional practitioner look like? Still leaving aside the difficulty of finding one not in some way ‘touched’ by academia, the answer is that we won’t know without asking such individuals and groups, and perhaps more importantly, by them responding truthfully. There is a largely unproblematised tendency within professional practice, as well as in academia of referring to ‘good’, or even ‘best’ practice, as though ‘good practice’ produced ‘good art’ — whatever that may be.
The following are a few brief, hopefully honest, observations about my practice with my fellow artists in Good Cop Bad Cop, prior to my becoming a research fellow last year. They may be contradictory. These are not being put forward as ‘good’ practice, rather as some starting points for enquiry as to how some professional performance is made.
— I have never differentiated between periods of ‘creative practice’ and other areas of daily life.
— Though we may spend time in a studio or rehearsal room, there is no guarantee that we will by studying or rehearsing.
— Though we may jot down ideas, there is no guarantee that we will ever read them or act upon what has been written.
— A performance may have little or nothing to do with the proposal that may have been written before starting ‘work’
— A performance is always part of a process and not the end of the process.
— A performance is always provisional, even in its live manifestation.
— Just because a proposed work has not been performed publicly, it does not mean that it does not exist.
— A performance may include elements appropriated from other performances that may never have been performed.
— The performance does not exist until I/we are in the presence of an audience.
— As much, if not more time may be spent ‘inventing’ the performance ‘contextually’, such as in terms of publicity and presentation as in creating or rehearsing the content.
— Procrastination may pay dividends, but don’t count on it.
— While answers to problems might not lie at the bottom of an empty bottle, many interesting questions can be found in the sediment.
— Television provides an invaluable function in its flattening of reality.
— A performance consists of what is not presented as well as what is present.
— Things fall out of a performance for various reasons, including:
— people say they will do things they can’t or don’t want to do
— imaginations are bigger than wallets
— as with all strategic endeavours, performance is dictated by opportunity – opportunities may not arise.
— I might get scared, or embarrassed, or angry, or negligent, or lazy or timed, or concussed, or pissed, or suffer attack by a member of the audience.
— I might just forget something.
The list of what is not in a particular performance is endless:
And here is where problems really begin. Melrose has usefully identified the difference between ‘Performance Studies’ and ‘Spectator Studies’. I am too new to academia to be able to comment on the veracity of her statement in terms of the dominance of the latter within academia. I would, however, like to support the existence of this difference from my experience, both as a long-standing performer/maker and also as an advisor to the Arts Council of Wales.
Discourse, in Britain, is dominated by an objectification of the practice of performance. In the funding, programming, previewing and reviewing of performance, to name a few culprits, perspectives are dominated by the needs and desires of imagined audiences, and consequently the ‘use value’ of the ‘product’.
Such readings of performance ignore the inherent instability that is at the heart of performance, particularly the type of work that I am interested in which celebrate the fallible, the random, coincidence and chance juxtapositions. Work that might involve not only sight and sound, but also smell, touch and even taste.
Such work inevitably involves the audience not as spectators of the end product but as a vital part of the process, and demands an engagement other than that of a passive receiver of a spectacle.
I would like to suggest that it is one small step further from ‘Spectator Studies’ to ‘Documentation Studies’. That more emphasis is placed on the ‘fact’ that something happened rather than on the experience of it happening.
Here I must admit ambivalence.
On one hand, I would like to argue for the ‘purity’ of the live manifestation as a sufficient outcome, concerned that I am that any documentation is a form of reworking in a medium that can never ‘make available’ the original event in a meaningful way. In effect fixing, to appropriate a phrase from Pearson & Shanks’ Theatre/Archaeology, that which never was firm or certain. A freezing in time that instantly removes the uncertainty or precarious nature of the live event. No matter how many times the DVD is replayed, and from however many angles, the document will always access, no matter how randomly, material from a fixed text that never existed.
On the other hand, I am also aware that without the transmission of performance history there are endless possibilities for reinvention of the wheel, for the production of startlingly new work that many of us have seen before. Unfortunately within the academy, this is not confined to undergraduate level.
However, my ambivalence is reduced if we return to a conception of performance studies that really places the experience of the live event at its heart. Here I would like to return to the problematic term of ‘good practice’, and offer an alternative, ‘useful practice’.
I am choosing here to ignore the RAE’s assertion that there ‘should be no additional credit given in the RAE to the utility of research’. I am ignoring it for the present because I feel that it is a statement that could do with a great deal of unpacking. As a practicing artist I would contend that practice is useful if it satisfies ones own artistic ends in allowing one to build on that practice, and to continue to wish to develop that practice.
These are the internalised ‘outcomes’, of ‘research through practice’; those knowledges that may have no ‘use value’ in the market place, but act as stimuli for continued practice. As mentioned before, this is of particular importance when interaction with audiences and other ‘real world’ phenomena are a vital part of one’s practice.
I would like to suggest that the development of such ‘useful practice’ is an adaptive process that has little to do with the self-reflexive process of writing, and is actually only manifest in ‘performance intuition’ as the result of the continuation of practice over an extended period of time.
And here I would suggest is where academia has a problem in relation to ‘performance’. There are simply not the resources available to monitor such developmental processes, nor can the conditions within an academic context ever replicate the unstable variables that characterise ‘real-world’ performance situations.
It could be argued, that none of what I have said has any bearing on the concept of Practice as Research in academia as it is academia, and not professional practice that dictates what is and is not valid as research. Here I return to the issue mentioned earlier regarding the existence of practitioners ‘untouched’ by academia, and speak from my personal experience in Wales over the past 13 years.
Leaving aside the reasons, public funding for performance has all but disappeared. The majority of opportunities for practitioners to continue working are directly or indirectly linked to academia. Association with academia carries with it a kudos that dictates where what little public money that is available goes. If academia independently sets the rules for what ‘counts’ as ‘practice as research’ then it is in effect dictating not only the kind of work that goes on within its walls, but also outside. The result is an activity that exists only at the behest of academia.
So why did I invoke confidentiality? I would argue that performance is in a unique position in the performing arts. As a provisional and process based activity, it never exists as a product, and thus can never be owned by its creators, nor can it be hidden until ready. It exists only in its presentation, and as such is always open to unscrupulous individuals that may choose to translate it into a ‘text’.
This is both its strength, in its capacity to endlessly mutate in form & content and the consequent production of new areas of research.
And its weakness, in academic terms at least, in its refusal to conform to notions of ‘good practice’.
Richard Huw Morgan
Risca, September 2003