Practice, Reflect, Share Event at Rose Bruford College

Dr Joseph Dunne, Research Assistant at Rose Bruford College

The impetus for organising the Practice, Reflect, Share at Rose Bruford comes from a recognition that the research culture in UK HEIs is undergoing significant changes. The program for the day included a keynote presentation by Miguel Mera, a plenary, and round table discussions on the subjects of mentoring, networking and publishing, collaborating, and practice and research.

Taken together, the REF, the increasing student demands on resources and contact time, technological innovations, new government funding formulas, and the as yet unknown impact of Brexit compel academics to reappraise the ways practice, teaching and research activities can co-exist and, indeed, enhance each other. The definition of “practice research” will remain ongoing, fuelled as it is by innovative methodologies and diversifying outcomes of projects. However, it is important that we try to articulate some common understanding of the term in order for genuine knowledge exchange to take place.

In his presentation, Miguel cited Nicolas Till’s critique of artistic practice as research. It is well worth reading for its highlighting of the dangers inherent for artists in justifying their process in terms of theoretical investigation in order to work in a university. This runs the risk of artistic practice being subsumed into a system that overwhelmingly values text-based products over embodied or visual material. Moreover, argues Till, many of the activities described in the rubric of practice research are in fact examples of professional practice, not research. He concludes that a new method of evaluation is required for practice research distinct from theoretical scholarship.

Till’s analysis is intertwined with questions relating to how the value we attribute to knowledge is dependent upon the form such knowledge takes. In order to prove one can ride a bike it is not sufficient to merely state it, it must be done. Books and articles remain the dominant form of evidence in the academy that a research process has been carried out and knowledge has been produced as a result. But documents are more than evidence of a past process; for the reader, they often come to constitute the research because it is the only material made available to them. The means by which the author produced it are not usually made public. For many disciplines this is entirely appropriate; it is in fact difficult to see how a historian or a physicist could open their work out. But all artists know that much of their process is the work itself and so attempts to transcribe the sometimes messy, random, and – especially for performance practitioners – collaborative nature of investigating through practice into text can distort the knowledge they have generated into a codified system that risks distorting it’s meaning.

Issues pertaining to documentation of process and dissemination of outputs was a subject that came up consistently. There was a general recognition that the internet create many exciting new avenues of public engagement but a culture shift needs to occur if it is to be fully utilised. Specifically, the authority of written text acts a barrier to experimenting with the visual formats of video and photography as a means of positing a theory or citing evidence of process. A related issue concerns the publics to which research targets and reaches. Open access online publication platforms are a potential way of increasing the impact of one’s research, but there are risks involved. The inability to oversee the transmission of the knowledge one has generated can lead to its distillation. Moreover, it is worth asking what the other functions dissemination can fulfil beyond impact. Ben Spatz opined that an awareness of the publics a piece of research is intended for can enable academics to build constituencies and communities. This approach certainly increases the likelihood of research being a catalyst for collaborations between different disciplines. It was also mentioned that dissemination can be expressed as a form of inviting people into an ongoing process into knowledge production. The public, in this context, have a reciprocal relationship with an author’s developing corpus.

A page on RBC’s Theatre Futures website has been set up for delegates to share information.

3 thoughts on “Practice, Reflect, Share Event at Rose Bruford College

  1. Thank you for this summary.

    Can I ask: were there any conclusions drawn as to what conservatories can bring to practice research (or research more generally)? I think Till’s comments are important here. Converting artistic work (conceived outside of an academic framework) into research is actually a very difficult to do – even for seasoned researchers.

    Also, was there a sense that conservatories *should* do practice research above and beyond other methods of research? In my own experience, there is a gap in knowledge of the academic literature (as it currently exists) for those who have been solely trained in classical conservatories. While they hold many other knowledges, this gap can lead them to not spotting the connections between their work and that of others -poor research design, for instance. Thereby, any ‘assessment’ of that work may fall foul of ‘lacking rigour’. Of course, we can question what is ‘rigour’, but for me it is knowledge of ideas and how those ideas connect. If you want academics to engage with the work, you also have to engage with materials that are ‘familiar’ to academics.

    This comes back to ensuring that the research design (questions, method, argument) is conceived in a manner that is relevant to its subject, but is also persuasive in academic terms.

    • Hi Rachel,

      To answer your questions in reverse order, the broad consensus was that conservatoires should define practice research for themselves in response to the work they do in the studio. The biggest hurdle is in getting academics who work in conservatoires to a) think of everything they do as an actual or potential research activity, including directing public productions and b) think of themselves as academic researchers. Underlying these two considerations is the question: what are we training our students for? If it is the industry, then how important is it that they study, say, semiotics? Equally, why shouldn’t students in a conservatoire be expected to articulate theoretical arguments? I agree with your point about using familiar tools for engagement. As an example, actors are not trained to document their work in order to build a reflective portfolio and could, potentially, be used for future, undetermined research purposes.

      The advantage conservatoires may have in this arena is in being able to work with students on developing an artistic voice as opposed to a particular profession. This links with research in the necessity to formulate questions and enquiries that guide their process. But yes, it is a challenge that I think can only be met by experimenting with different forms of research outcomes. Perhaps we’re going to see a revival of the practice research debate in terms of having to reappraise how performance/exhibitions/installations etc. can function as a piece of critical text, rather than represent or be a surrogate for knowledge.

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