In many ways the meeting with the choreographers on the 7th of August captured the ArtsCross challenge quite adequately. And I don’t just mean finding moments when we can say ‘ This is so Artscross!’ but when we get into the breach of media that comes with any practice-as-research project. The choreographers are primarily dealing with their groups’ evolving work and when we met they apparently needed to switch to another communicative mode to face the challenge of ArtsCross.
Coincidentally, precisely such switches in modes of conducting practice-as-research were brought up in previous seminars by Martin and Vida Midgelow. I called it the missing link when we spoke with Vida and what I hinted at was the fact that we are still not quite sure how ‘translatable’ practical modes of exploring themes and material are with linguistic explication. During the research methodology seminars we have mentioned the slow progress in the UK and elsewhere as regards quality and assessment criteria in practice-as-research. I agree and often find myself wondering after reading typical practice-as-research outcomes in the form of books and DVDs if they are indeed differed from previous performance analyses about performance works. And this is of course a challenge for us who are involved in ArtsCross as well: are we doing anything new or are we essentially combining previous modes of research? Ironically, I believe that the answer to this question depends on how we pose the question and how we plan to respond to it.
Let me once again approach the matter from a multi-disciplinary vista. One way of discussing whether it is possible to translate practice into conceptual modes of reasoning is to ask whether they are ‘commensurate’ at all. The term ‘commensurate’ is taken from Thomas Kuhn’s investigation into paradigmatic revolutions in scientific research. When Copernicus decided to study our physical world with the sun, rather than our planet, in the middle of a system of physical entities he changed the rules for his research to such an extent that it was deemed incommensurate with the previously dominating astronomy of Aristotle and Ptolemy. However, it wasn’t the fact that Copernicus worked with a telescope, texts and graphs that made his research incommensurate with Aristotle’s research, but the theories and principles of what they studied. So the rules of the game changed for a long time in physics, but researchers were still looking at the sky, talking about what they saw, inventing new techniques for telescopes, writing and publishing texts, working on graphs, presenting findings in lectures, planning research projects, and so forth. And it is in all these research-related activities that Kuhn found the very rationale behind revolutions in scientific paradigms; research cultures as such steer different debates and experiments toward potential innovations and they have always been multi-modal in terms of approaches and media.
We can compare the conditions and shifts of research in the arts and in science respectively on Kuhn’s premises, for instance, if we consider the practice of dance as a mode of research in its own right, i.e., as a fundamentally different, perhaps even incommensurate, way of exploring dance from a textual approach as was the case for a long time in the arts and humanities. So let’s assume that we consider practicing dance as the best way to find out about dance and that we want to find out something in a dance piece: isn’t the logical move then to start dancing the piece? Here we reach a rather naïve turning point in the practice-as-research discourse where we need to differentiate between various interests, approaches, methods, aims and objectives. Perhaps we are interested in something more than just understanding what it is like to dance, or to merely look at dance. Suppose we want to meet and mix different dance traditions in order to exchange skills in dance, concepts of dance, traditions in dance, rules of dance training, conditions behind contemporary changes in dance, and so forth. I seem to move in a circle; now I’m are back at the point where I started, in our ArtsCross meeting.
However, let’s pay a bit more attention to Kuhn’s considerations of a ‘scientific community’, i.e., the scientific, historical, institutional, material, and discursive contexts of a researcher like Copernicus. What would we consider to be the greater impetus in Copernicus’ scientific revolution: the man himself or his research tradition and environment? Well, even if Copernicus should not be deprived of any credibility (which he and especially Galileo Galilei indeed were in the 16th century), the contextual factors of the scientific community in which he functioned is almost certainly the greater reason for his achievement. Can we distance ourselves and assume our meeting in a similar from a similar perspective? Well, perhaps not in time but certainly in cultural distance. If Copernicus contemporaries stood with one foot in a medieval era and one in a renaissance era, we can say that we are finding our footing in East Asian cultures and Western cultures respectively.
So whichever kind of dance phenomenon that emerges in ArtsCross that can be considered to be new, or contributing to the cultural exchange between our countries, it will probably not take effect just by somebody pointing to a choreographed experiment and saying: “This is it.” Nor is it plausible to imagine a dance in itself as new or innovative. It takes a community to do so. The meeting with the choreographers, which was a kind of marking exercise between choreographic instructions and academic reflection, provided us with good indications that such a culture is underway within ArtsCross.
Just the fact that people discussed the ArtsCross trademark is a good sign. And that Guo Lei said that he felt he ‘can do anything’ by playing with the adaptability of the Nuo tradition of music and dance with his trilateral performers. In a similar manner, Vera made clear from the start that she intended to approach her work as research. And those are just two examples of many that indicate an open and curious attitude that yield experimentation in our meeting. The important thing to recognise here is the continuum between performers, choreographers and academics. Herein lies, I think, the promise and potential of original art and research, although not original in reference to a national or linguistic departure point, nor an aesthetic or art-specific destination, but in a diasporic community with multi-modal possibilities.