Updated: Jun 2

DOI: https://doi.org/10.33008/IJCMR.2020.09 | Issue 4 | June 2020

Alexa Wright

University of Westminster


Informed by my own longstanding experience of juggling academic and artistic (theoretical and practice-based) research and teaching, this portfolio will start by looking at some of the challenges of maintaining a creative practice whilst working in an academic context. I will then go on to introduce three different, but thematically linked projects, all of which explore what we mean by reality through the lens of psychosis: A View From Inside (digitally manipulated photographic portraits and artist’s book, 2012); Piecing it Together (participatory collage project, 2015), and There’s So Much More I Want To Tell You, single screen video (2015). These are all practical projects, informed by what, in an academic context, we would call ‘primary research’ with participants. In different ways, each of these projects demonstrates the power of visual media to communicate where words fail, particularly when working in a social context. For example, when looking at, and then creating or contributing to visual images, almost all participants in ‘A View From Inside’ and ‘Piecing It Together’ were readily able to narrate experiences they were finding difficult to access using words alone.

The Order of Things

With reference to Australian academic and artist Graeme Sullivan and his 2009 and 2010 works on art practice as research, I will begin with some comments on the ‘established order’ artist-researchers are working within today (2010). As a mode of enquiry historically embedded in scientific methods, academic research has conventionally focused on ideas and theories, with the aim of revealing new ‘truths’ that are unlikely to have immediate practical effects in real life. Diametrically opposed to this is a person-centred and participatory art practice that focuses on the individual or collective lived experience of participants. This now also comes under the umbrella of academic research. How do we, as artists working in academia, negotiate the tension between a traditional abstract, logo-centric notion of research and more practical, aesthetic forms of knowledge production? The situation is full of contradictions, both in terms of how art-practice does or does not gain credence as academic research, and how it is funded.

In the run up to REF2021 we are all very conscious of the need to present our practice as research, with tangible ‘outputs’ in the public domain. Visual arts exhibitions, performances and so on are now accepted by the REF panel as viable outcomes for research activity, equivalent to books and journal articles, and this is good. But it seems that the required modes of evaluation have still not been fully adapted to fit the kind of research and inquiry that informs contemporary art practice. As Estelle Barrett so rightly puts it, ‘within the context of studio-based research, innovation is derived from methods that cannot always be pre-determined, and ‘outcomes’ of artistic research are necessarily unpredictable’ (2007: 3). Yet arts funding, both academic and non-academic, is increasingly dependent upon the applicant’s ability to convince the panel that their project will contribute to the generation of new knowledge, as well as being of economic and social value from the outset. This seems particularly nonsensical given that truly creative art practice involves working from the unknown to the known, so that in many cases the idea can only be fully articulated through the process of making the work. As Sullivan explains, within art-practice meaning is arrived at

…through experiences that are felt, lived, reconstructed and reinterpreted. These may be personal or public and may result from experiences of art-making processes or outcomes of encounters with artworks. Consequently, meanings are ‘made’ from the transactions and narratives that emerge and these have the power and agency to change on an individual or community level (2010: 50).

Just like blue-sky scientific research, this inevitably involves an element of risk and a degree of trust that the process will lead to a ‘successful’ outcome. In the longer term, however, the consequences of supporting only projects with predictable outcomes seem to be much more serious, with the greater risk of stifling creativity, an attribute that is already often undervalued, or perhaps misunderstood, by policymakers.

As most of us are well aware, the funding situation for artists working in academia in the UK is increasingly bleak. In 2003, the (then) AHRB (Arts and Humanities Research Board) promisingly stated that:

Practice-led research is a distinctive feature of the research activity in the creative and performing arts ... This type of research … aims, through creativity and practice, to illuminate or bring about new knowledge and understanding, and it results in outputs that may not be text-based, but rather a performance (music, dance, drama), design, film, or exhibition (2003).

The AHRB’s funding decisions bore witness to this. For example, in 2001 I received one of their Small Grants to travel to the USA to interview people convicted of murder in jails in the mid-west. The outcome was the audio installation ‘Killers’, a work that examines individual and collective perceptions of self and ‘other’ as individual users listen to compelling first-person monologues that invite both identification and judgement [1]. At this time there was little pressure to justify the nature of the research, and, although this research trip did lead to a tangible outcome that did not stray too far from my original idea, I was free to develop the work in whatever way felt appropriate.

A section of the installation Killers © Alexa Wright, 2002.

More recently the Arts and Humanities Research Council has established a Practice Research Advisory Group, a body that aims to increase the visibility and accessibility of UK Practice Research and its impact, and to make this research ‘more searchable internationally’. Whilst the PRAC aims ‘to provide HEIs and researchers with tools, guidance and confidence in the submission of Practice Research for RCUK/UKRI funding and in the preparations for the UK’s REF2021’, the openness of the earlier mandate is lost and the focus has shifted to look pragmatically at how practice-led creative research can contribute to industry and ‘the creative economy’ [2].

So, what does all of this mean for artists working in academia, particularly those of us who are dependent on arts funding to realise our projects? To return once again to Sullivan:

Generally, artists have left the responsibility of assessing the significance of what it is that they do to others, preferring to let critics, historians and cultural theorists do the talking. If artists today pursue their art practice within the academy as well as the artworld, then it is necessary that they take on the roles of the practitioner, researcher and theorist, and in some cases, art writer and teacher as well (2009: 42).

I believe that the research process must remain open, free, iterative and responsive. Whilst it is always good to pause, reflect on and contextualise any new work in progress, the pressure to articulate, justify and evaluate an idea before it has fully evolved means that it is not always easy to maintain this essential openness.

Writing this, I realise that perhaps the increasing pressure to rationalise, describe and quantify has fuelled my interest in human experiences that defy language and logic. I have recently been looking back at Surrealist and other revolutionary, poetic works from the early 20th Century. Using automatic writing and automatic drawing to mine the unconscious in order to ‘represent the real process of thought’, the Surrealists believed in ‘a revolution in experience to be brought about by the mind and the imagination once the fetters of rationalism and of habit had been struck off’ (Short, 1966: 5). In a similar way, I believe that working visually and practically, acknowledging the process of making, in whatever form it takes, is essential to innovative thinking and therefore to truly creative ‘knowledge production’.

I have long been interested in André Breton’s Surrealist Manifesto, and Absurdist plays by Beckett and Ionesco, in which, according to Martin Esslin, ‘… spectators are brought face to face with the irrational side of their existence... reveal[ing] the irrationality of the human condition and the illusion of what we thought was its apparent logical structure’ (Esslin, 1960: 5). Returning again and again to ideas of uncertainty, instability and the illogical, I began to research psychosis, which is generally understood to be a mental state involving a ‘loss of contact with reality’ (Laing, 1990). This led to an ongoing body of works, including the three projects described below. Collectively, these works are informed by eclectic and interdisciplinary theoretical and philosophical research into different psychotic states, and into the nature of reality more broadly. But the theoretical research is just a background for ideas arrived at through the process of making, working visually and problem-solving in a practical context. Most importantly, this involves working directly with affected individuals to explore their subjective experiences. For me, it is important that the theory remains secondary, to enable the practice to develop in its own right, moving beyond illustration of theoretical ideas.

Whilst the practical research methods I use when working with participants might look similar to those of qualitative ethnographic research, it has always been important for me to develop my own research strategies responsively. These are arrived at through experience, and in response to each specific situation rather than following any set methodological approach. For example, I have worked with the personal stories of individuals whose life experiences place them at the margins of society since the mid-1990s. In the process of working with people I have evolved techniques for helping project participants to access and then narrate their internal experiences using visual media so that they are not merely subjects of the work, but active participants in the process of its creation.

A View From Inside

In 2012, funded by an AHRC Fellowship, I first worked with people who experience episodes of psychosis. The result was ‘A View From Inside’, a series of ten digitally manipulated portraits and an artist’s book. The intentions of the project were two-fold, on one hand to explore what we mean by reality, and on the other to question the stigma around mental illness, asking ‘can the phenomenological experiences of people living with episodic psychotic disorders be represented visually in a form that will impact on public perception of the ‘type of people’ depicted?’. The project began as a collaboration with the Maudsley Hospital in South London, but it soon became apparent that working within the NHS it was not going to be possible to achieve anything within the timescale of the grant. As a consequence, most participants were recruited through the charity Rethink Mental Health, who were extremely supportive. The project was advertised to their members via Facebook, and received over a hundred responses from people wishing to participate [3].

A View From Inside 1 © Alexa Wright, 2012.

Whilst I knew that I wanted to make portraits in which the background represented the subject’s inner world, I had little idea of how these might look. The ideas were developed visually, as I met with participants and researched venues over the one-year period of the Fellowship. During this time, I held several one-to-one meetings with each person depicted, working closely with them to identify appropriate settings and find a means of accessing imagery that would represent their personal experiences when ‘not in consensual reality’. Quite early on in the process a breakthrough occurred when I showed each participant a picture of a person in an empty room with a window. When I asked what would be in the room and what would be outside the window when they were not in consensual reality everyone was immediately able to give me a detailed description as they visualized the contents of the empty room. Between meetings I researched potential settings and then showed photos of these to each participant, asking them to choose a shortlist of settings that could be used to represent their experiences. This again was a very productive example of visual research that enabled participants to share their experiences with me without the need for a lot of language. I then took digital snapshots of each person and inserted them into some of the locations. These were discussed and refined before the final photo shoots, which took place on location at English Heritage and National Trust properties. The project was collaborative from the outset in that each of the people I photographed played an active role in determining how he or she was represented. In one case I was reprimanded for misunderstanding the scale of some of the objects depicted, and in another for omitting to remove a cupboard from the setting that was deemed inappropriate. The photograph of the streetlamp in the image below was supplied by the person portrayed as she wanted that exact lamp to communicate her experience. I found it reassuring and exciting that several of the participants took ownership of their image to this extent. Each person was given a copy of their finished portrait.

A View From Inside 9 © Alexa Wright, 2012.

Piecing It Together

During the course of the project described above, participants were mostly in good health and were able to reflect back on their psychotic experiences rationally, from a critical distance. In 2015, wishing to engage with people when their illness was more present, I initiated an artist’s residency at two NHS Foundation Trust Mental Health Recovery Centres in North London. The Piecing It Together project was supported by a small grant from the Arts Council. Here I was again hoping to work with people on a 1-1 basis, but, after a year of negotiation with managers, the only option available was to run workshops as part of a regular weekly programme. At first, I was unsure how to make this work in a way that would be beneficial for users and to my own research. After a period of observation, I decided to ask people to create collages from magazine cuttings to narrate their recent mental health experiences.

Collage created during Piecing it Together Project, Anon, 2015.

At each centre I ran weekly workshops, where participants literally pieced together a visual narrative. This direct, practical means of communicating their personal experiences proved to be both accessible and very productive for a broad range of participants. At the start of each session I explained that the activity was not art therapy, but was an art project, with a clear remit. More than a hundred collages were produced, some in less than an hour, some painstakingly over several weeks [4]. Very few of the participants had any previous experience of image-making, and yet the degree of visual literacy demonstrated by almost everyone was remarkable. Several participants allowed me to record interviews with them about the meaning and content of their collage. The fact that I was not a service provider offering an activity that positions participants as ‘patients’, but was instead asking people to make personal contributions to an external project was important and proved to be empowering for many of the participants, visibly improving their self-esteem. Some participants were keen to communicate their experiences in more depth and went on to create small photo-text books. The content was entirely theirs, whilst I acted as ‘curator’ and designer for the books. Exhibitions of the works created were held at St Pancras Hospital in Summer of 2016, and at the Tavistock Centre in London in 2017. Attended by a mix of service users, artists and NHS staff, these exhibitions were a great source of pride for those involved.

Page from ‘Derailed’ by Annabel O’Brien and Alexa Wright.

Psychosis has been described as an extreme form of fragmentation of the psyche, and whilst it can be painful and confusing for those who experience it, the way in which it brings the nature of reality into question is interesting on many different levels. Following the ‘Piecing It Together’ workshops I have, with permission, been developing a series of video works inspired by individual participants’ reflections on the altered realities they have experienced. The first and simplest of these is:

There’s So Much More I Want To Tell You

Still from ‘There’s So Much More I Want To Tell You’, © Alexa Wright, 2015.

With the aim of challenging perceptions and preconceptions of otherness, this single-screen video work makes reference to the Theatre of the Absurd, in particular works by Samuel Beckett, Eugene Ionesco and Jean-Paul Sartre, whose ‘No Exit’ (1944) explores the ontological struggle between subjective experience and the objectifying view of others. Based on the first-person narrative of one of the ‘Piecing it Together’ participants, the video is a five-minute monologue, performed by actress, Isabel Carr and shown on a single vertical monitor, with headphones [5]. Working with a transcript of the original interview and taking care to alter details and remove any identifying features, I scripted the piece with the aim of taking the viewer on a journey of self-reflection as their relationship to the unidentified narrator changes through the course of her narrative. For both pragmatic (the project was unfunded) and creative (I wanted the monologue to feel fresh rather than scripted) reasons I did not ask Isabel to learn the script verbatim, but to internalise it and to narrate as though the experience were her own.

‘There’s So Much More I Want To Tell You’ is available to view on Vimeo here.

A Real Life Drama

A Real Life Drama production shot, © Alexa Wright, 2017

The most recent video in this series, ‘A Real Life Drama’, is still in progress. Inspired by one participant’s description of her reality during a psychotic episode as ‘a Shakespeare production with actors and actresses all playing their part and a director giving instructions about what each actor is supposed to do and where to be and where to stand ... everything is happening all at once…’, this work explores a sense of fragmentation and dislocation structurally, colliding historical/ contemporary/fictional/delusional and everyday realities, bringing characters from King Lear into dialogue with real and imaginary contemporary characters.

A Real Life Drama, 3 screen installation, work in progress © Alexa Wright, 2020.

Conceived as a part-scripted, part-improvised performance to video, the work was shot in a black box studio the summer of 2017 on three cameras simultaneously. It was originally intended to be shown as a synched three screen installation where at times we see a scene from different points of view simultaneously across all the monitors, whilst at others characters communicate across and between screens and time periods. This has been a long and difficult project for a number of reasons, and has gone through various iterations. In the latest version action takes place across two screens, whilst on a third, smaller screen the central actress intervenes to reflect on her character. One of the reasons for the drawn-out process is lack of external support. This is an experimental work that falls between genres and disciplines, and its progress has been disabled by lack of funds and context within which to develop and show the installation. Whilst I do not want to dwell on the many unsuccessful applications and compromises I have had to face because of the lack of support for the project, it seems important to mention this as perhaps it reflects a broader situation in which many artist-researchers currently find themselves. Because arts funding in particular has been cut so drastically, it seems that funders are reluctant to risk supporting projects without safe, predictable and measurable outcomes.


  • Arts and Humanities Research Board. (2003) The Arts and Humanities: Understanding the Research Landscape.

  • Barrett, E. and Bolt, B. (2007) Practice as Research, Approaches to Creative Arts enquiry. London: IB Tauris.

  • Esslin, M. (1960) ‘The Theatre of the Absurd’, The Tulane Drama Review (May) 4(4).

  • Laing, RD. (1990) The Divided self: An Existential Study in Sanity and Madness. London: Penguin.

  • Short, R. (1966) ‘The Politics of Surrealism, 1920-36’, Journal of Contemporary History 1(2).

  • Sullivan, G. (2009) ‘Making Space the Purpose and Place of Practice-led Research’, in Practice-led Research, Research-led Practice in the Creative Arts, edited by Hazel Smith and Roger Dean. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

  • Sullivan, G. (2010) Art Practice as Research: Inquiry in Visual Arts. Thousand Oaks Calif.: Sage Publications, and


[1] This project is documented at https://www.alexawright.com/killers

[2] See https://prag-uk.org

[3] See https://www.rethink.org

[4] Documented at https://piecingittogether.org/2015/07/27/442/

[5] All interview material from the Piecing it Together project was used with written permission from the interviewees.


Updated: Jun 16

DOI: https://doi.org/10.33008/IJCMR.2020.10 | Issue 4 | June 2020

Ana Rutter

Birmingham City University


This research is a reflective exploration of ways of layering and presenting. It serves as an attempt to explicate my emerging/ent methodology/ical approach and open up the commonalities between practice/process/research and ways of recording praxis and thinking. This statement is written in relation to my installation, About (facing away from the direction of travel), which was shown at the Birmingham School of Art in October 2018.

You can visit Ana Rutter’s website to explore more of her research, which is concerned with the processes of affective experience created through re-mediated gathered material.

Research Statement

‘People know what they do; frequently they know why they do what they do; but what they don’t know is what what they do does’ (Foucault, quoted in Dreyfus and Rabinow, 1983: 187).

Through September and early October 2018, I spent time at theatre company Stan's Cafe, gathering material as they devised and rehearsed The Capital. From this gathered material, I constructed the installation About (facing away from the direction of travel). Further iterations have since developed from the material/installation as single screen pieces, one of which was shown at Warwick Art Centre in February 2019. These in turn were the basis for a film presented with a read text as part of the Cracking the Established Order conference in June 2019, which further explored and reflected on the doing/thinking research processes. The following film exposition and text is again a development from that.

About (facing away from the direction of travel). Created by Ana Rutter 2020.

My aim here is to explore how the ‘doing’ can help me to clarify/develop my own method. My work hinges on the way that through iterative cycles of reworking, reflecting, re-editing and shifting, something develops that is a small event and, for a moment, is illuminating.

I had undertaken a number of ‘experiments’ [1] exploring how I could use gathered material. These experiments drew elements together to make something that was not documentation of what it was from, but was instead constructed with ‘stuff’ [2] of that space, bringing about a new occurrence / moment.

I was at a point in my work where I wanted to try and gather from a place where something was becoming. In February 2018, I spoke to James Yarker, the artistic director of the Birmingham-based theatre company Stan's Cafe, about gathering audio and imagery the company was devising a new theatre piece called The Capital [3]. I felt that as they were working through a developing process, that this would be a place where ‘things’ might be occurring; that they would be generating stuff to work on/with and knowing their approach, that it would not be a dramatic space, but a quiet space of consideration. A space in which I could also find elements and moments to work with. James agreed [4].

I was aware that The Capital was in part about how people came together, met and impacted each other’s lives and situations in a city; it was also to be a piece with no dialogue. These premises interested me, fitted with my concern with things that happen before or outside cognition, and thus with language and parts or elements shifting in relation to each other.

My installation, About, was made as a way of exploring process through process:

  • From a having a plan of where this would be from, albeit with a lot of allowance and possibility / necessity for me to not fully know what I would or did gather.

  • A trying to capture moments of occurrence, gathering through a ‘system’ that grew out of listening and experiencing.

  • Thinking about the space for it to be in; its layout, how it was used, what it was possible to install.

  • Taking the materials, plotting out a basic structure of shape/form, duration, presentation.

  • Through a heuristic [5] following, a waiting to see what ‘felt right’, a hoping to be aware of / when something happened.

  • An unplannable journey of making and changing in relation to what was heard, seen, felt; when things came together and left.

I began to gather video and audio; initially working speculatively. Soon I began to get a ‘feel’ of things as I began to gather from specific places. Collecting backstage, at the going on/getting off points, where the equipment was, where the director stood; these were points I felt that were where stuff was being generated.

I often use scaffold / supports as I am working; flexible, permeable things, enough to give me a ‘working area’ but not be too ridged. These scaffolds might be a diagram or a timeline a parameter around how much I might gather or what equipment I might use. A way of mapping territories and planning spaces to work within. This gives me an armature of sorts, one that disappears as the work develops and grows. Recognising this drew me to consider Deleuze and Guattari’s Smooth and Striated (2005: plateau 1440).

I am thinking of these ‘scaffolds’ as being movable and mutable, and as through this opened up space I can respond and work in a heuristic manner. A place where everything can shift and move with the aim of / for affective encounter and becoming/event.

There is also a relationship between the ideas of smooth spaces as spaces of haecceities and quiddities and our ‘commonplace’ aural landscape – an environment of the particular and of the ‘this-ness’ of each and every sound, things that seem so insignificant but which inform our understanding continually. If it is smooth spaces that I am aiming to make, then maybe it is these elements – these ‘particularnesses’ – that I need to find and gather from my commonplace.

I am interested in event, in bodily response, affective atmospheres and in the way that these are related to how something might occur. I am concerned with these in relation to my practice of bringing elements from gathered materials together to make ‘new’ moments and occurrences. I am thinking about what Massumi (2015) describes as ‘micro shocks’ and what Deleuze and Guattari call ‘micro perceptions’ – in particular, the relationship of these micro perceptions to embodied response, and the part they play in making memory and triggering bodily remembrance.

This is a coming together of elements to form an affecting entanglement which makes an event, revealing possibilities in my remediation and construction of pieces and ideas. This thinking/hoping/attempting to make embodied encounter/event – and not knowing if they will/do work – brings me back to the Foucault quote I started with:

‘People know what they do; frequently they know why they do what they do; but what they don't know is what what they do does’ (Foucault, quoted in Dreyfus and Rabinow, 1983: 187).

I am thinking here less of the responsibility to, or our understanding of, the consequence of our actions, but more as a description of artistic practice. The feeling of ‘knowing’ you have when you are working on an idea; the excitement and interest in the ‘stuff’ and doing things with it, but the never quite knowing how things might be received/understood by another. A hope that what is constructed will have meaning, invoke thought and response, but there being trepidation [6].

This is not an ‘Am I good enough?’ notion per se, but probably more about how hard it is to make work [7].

You constantly learn, question, worry (here I am thinking of both the bothersome, those ‘is it good enough’ doubts, and the rubbing worry of ideas against each other, which I find key to a lot of my doing). Is it enough – is it too much? Can people find a way in, a link? Is it too obvious? Am I giving it space to breath? Is it too open, to nebulous, can no one really ‘catch it’?

Does it only do the things I think (hope, want for it) because I am in the middle of it, because this is what I am exploring and thinking about all the time. What do others see/hear/feel?

This is a process, and the considering (and often not knowing) is part of that. The discussions, feedback and reflection all inform and help to see ways of doing. The testing and experimenting carry you on a journey; it is not linear – it is not to a set end. The ground feels like sand dunes; but there are clumps of grass, more solid moments. There are shifting and sliding points and they as well are a multifaceted thing; they are exciting and tricky and shifting – they propel you or break your momentum.

What has developed through my research is a multimodal [8] methodology which includes: auto ethnographic writing, documentation, ‘experiments’, discussion, recorded conversation, images, writing, video / sound pieces, all of which map and explore the terrain I am interested in. The aim is to have a continually developing methodology that works across and with all my research, and is intrinsically linked to my concerns of affect, embodied encounter and the commonplace.

I am well aware that my approach is subjective and culturally specific, that it relates to ‘me’ and ‘my’ environment. But I am interested in the possibility of catching different elements through different modes of gathering/collecting/unpicking/working – that these are all mediated and gathered by me, and that I as the author am very much ‘in this’.

I have also been thinking about elements in relation to the materials I ‘gather’. Considering a notion of ‘microelements’; details, stuff, little bits of moment, shifts in light, something passing. How I can combine these, bring them together, in ways that trigger response and make new events and meanings. I have been experimenting with taking things from one place and moving them to another.

Our experiences and how we carry them forward are part of an ongoing dynamic event that is ever shifting and altering. When we meet something our experience of it is particular to that moment; we can never meet it in quite the same way again. Bodies in a space will also inform our response; our experience emerges from a field of conditions, and the subject of that is only made in ‘that’ moment with ‘those’ elements / bodies in play in that particular way; so that ‘subject’, what it is in that moment, can only be ‘then’.

The aim for me through all of this is to try and make ‘new’ events out of the gathered materials (‘stuff’ gathered and ideas thought), bringing things together to create an atmosphere where embodied response can occur. These are ‘small’ things – not dramatic, but the little things of the world around us and that if they can slip and slide and relate in different ways with different bodies in different moments then maybe a striated / structured thing will ‘become’ a ‘smooth space’.

This is a process; I have noted down, read and re-read, struggled, had moments of flying and despondency. It has helped me see and understand more clearly what it is that I am looking at. I can recognise the links in a way I did not before. I understand the slippage between striated and smooth (at this point of writing, I feel I know it bodily.)

I am feeling hopeful that these structures and plans allow for a heuristic approach to working, researching, and putting together – that they allow for the shifting and transience of the stuff.

In my original proposal for the Cracking the Established Order conference, I said, ‘The process of putting together, presenting and discussing will be part of and feed into my continuing development and understanding of my methodological approach’. This has been another beginning for me, one of investigating ways of layering and presenting that allow for elements to be explored and shifted with the hope to elucidate the commonalities between practice and my wider research process/methodology. And for now, it seems like a plan.


  • Bezemer, J. (2016) ‘What is Multimodality’, University College London (February 16). Available at: https://mode.ioe.ac.uk/2012/02/16/what-is-multimodality/.

  • Deluze, G. and Guattari, F. (2005) A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia (11th Edition). Minneapolis: The University of Minnesota Press.

  • Dreyfus, HL. and Rabinow, P. (1982) Michel Foucault: Beyond Structuralism and Hermeneutics (2nd Edition). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

  • Lomax, Y. (2005) Sounding the Event: Escapades in Dialogue and Matters of Art, Nature and Time. London: I. B. Tauris.

  • Massumi, B. (2015) Politics of Affect. Cambridge: Polity Press.

  • Massumi, B. and McKim, J. (2009) ‘Of Microperception and Micropolitics’, Inflexions: A Journal of Research Creation 3. Available at: http://www.inflexions.org/n3_massumihtml.html

  • O’Sullivan, S. (2006) Art Encounters Deleuze and Guattari: Thought Beyond Representation. Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan.


[1] A term used as from the old French esperement, ‘practical knowledge, from ex- “out of” plus peritus “experienced”’. See: https://www.etymonline.com.

[2] Stuff: shortening of Old French estoffe ‘material, furniture’, estoffer ‘equip, furnish’, from Greek stuphein ‘draw together’. See: https://www.etymonline.com.

[3] The Capital was devised and developed by Stan's Cafe between August and October 2018 and first performed at The Birmingham Rep in October 2018.

[4] I had been offered an exhibition at Birmingham School of Art, in the museum space that Stuart Whipps was programming.

[5] According to Moustakes, the root meaning of ‘heuristic’ comes from the Greek word ‘heuriskein’, meaning to discover or find. It refers to an approach of internal search through which one discovers the nature and meaning of experience and develops methods and process for further investigation and analysis.

[6] I am aware that practice/praxis/theory must not be just illustrating an idea or explaining a work, that ‘they are all research/ing – and that their differences mean they explore different areas/aspects/understanding and that they communicate and explicate different parts at differing times. That they need to all exist/coexist.

[7] You cannot know, really, what others make of it; people say encouraging things, comments are made, critical discussion takes place, you reflect on what you do – and know some things you might do differently if there was the time over. But it is never the same moment again.

[8] In the article ‘What is Multimodality’, Jeff Bezemer suggests that ‘Three interconnected theoretical assumptions underpin multimodality.’ To paraphrase: it (multimodality) assumes that: (i) communication always draws on a multiplicity of modes that all contribute to meaning; (ii) that resources are shaped overtime to become meaning-making resources that articulate the (social, individual/affective) meaning depending on the requirements of different communities; and (iii) that people orchestrate meaning through their selection and configuration of modes.


Updated: Jun 2

A Mixed-media Presentation to Explore How Art Itself Activates and Constitutes New Forms of Knowledge

DOI: https://doi.org/10.33008/IJCMR.2020.11 | Issue 4 | June 2020

Anna Walker

Plymouth University


In The Minor Gesture (2016), Erin Manning raises the question: how does art in and of itself activate and constitute new forms of knowledge, and can such knowledge be engagingly captured within the strictures of methodological ordering (Manning, 2016: 26)? For this article, I argue that something that was not known that becomes known through art creation and is disseminated as such is as quantifiable as any other form of knowledge under the heading ‘academic research’. New forms of knowledge require different forms of evaluation and a rethinking of what arts-practice as research can do.

Taking my own recent video, ‘Breathe Wind into Me, Chapter 1’, as a starting point, this article addresses how practice allows for a re-envisioning of the traditional role of the researcher. Using an amalgamation of text, moving imagery and sound, from current and past research, I will be discussing new knowledge, embodied and otherwise, that could only have ‘surfaced’ through making. I will discuss ‘the haptic’ as an important component of research and inquiry, where the transmission of ‘affect’ creates a particular form of embodied knowledge through being touched by the work. In addition, I will connect Maria Puig de la Bellacasa’s idea of haptic technologies as matters of care, and a means of ‘unpacking and co-shaping a notion of care in more than human worlds’ (2017: 95). Through methodological abundance (Hannulah, 2011), including auto-ethnography, I use my past, my memories and my experiences as a making and unmaking of the world. Auto-ethnography, in this instance, is a reformulation of ethnography or anthropology, an in-depth examination of context incorporating cross-disciplinary approaches where the research is one of enquiry and discovery, thinking through making, staying open to the emergent properties of the intra-psychic as well as the intersubjective.


And write yourself, the history of your kind, from the time you borrowed the sea’s rhythm and manner of breathing, until your return to me alive (Darwish, 2011: 20).

[…] a focus on life-processes requires us to attend not to materiality as such but to the fluxes and flows of materials. We are obliged, as Deleuze and Guattari say, to follow these flows, tracing the paths of form-generation, wherever they may lead (Ingold, 2010: 3).

In this article I will trace the trajectory of my own video, ‘Breathe Wind into Me, Chapter 1 (2019),’ through 3 propositions: Entanglements, The Spectral Breath, and The Haptic Breath, focusing on breathing as a making and unmaking of the world. Every breath we take is an entering into the world, a bringing of ourselves into the space of presence, a carrying or giving of our very being to be included in life’s process. It is also a daring to come in contact with the infinite finitude of another.

Images, ‘Breathe Wind into Me, Chapter 1,’ (2019).

‘Breathe Wind into Me, Chapter 1’ (2019) was first exhibited as part of a 2-screen and sound installation at Fabrica Arts Gallery, Brighton in January 2019. In the 23-minute video I am asking whether it is possible to be sensitive to the needs of the other through our breathing and whether a deepening awareness of one’s breath can create the circumstances where we can attend, not only to our bodies, but to the bodies of others, to animals, the oceans, nature, other cultures and on. Using this concept as a theoretical premise this article explores the relationship of the breath to communicable states of affect and the shared space. It also considers a respiratory approach to philosophy, an embodied relationship that extends to physical relations with the enveloping atmosphere, as Kathleen Stewart aptly writes, an ‘atmospheric attunement’ (2010: 4). It is a recreation of the world as an enchanted place of affective communication and attachment. It can be viewed in full here.

#1 Entanglement

I am the daughter of migrants. I read a poem by the Palestinian, Mahmoud Darwish. I wanted to understand the escalating crisis around the notion of the foreign other, difference and migratory trauma. I wanted to remember further back, before I was born, to research the links between being exiled from one’s home and the ecological crisis. I wanted to reengage with the world through wonder and enchantment, a world where people care for and about each other.

Finnish philosopher, Juha Varto, suggests we should stop talking about the different types of knowing and admit, or even emphatically argue, that in art we are dealing with something that is ‘otherwise than knowing’ (2013). He goes on to ask:

Why is it important to so many that art remain art, and why are so many interested in doing research that is based on artistic activity and that takes seriously art's own way of operating, its manifestations and methods of conveying something to others, either through whispers, screams or discussions? (2013:1).

As such, Erin Manning and Brian Massumi consider every arts-practice an activation of thought, dancing is a thinking in movement, painting – a thinking through colour. They regard writing as an interference that communicates in the fragile difference between modes of thought. ‘For it is in the breaching that thought acts most intensely, in practices co-composing’ (2016: viii).

Balancing both of these concepts, the intention of my arts research is to go beyond the ‘knowing’, and indeed the creative practice of thought in action and activate an affective engagement with the space in-between, the space of remembering. As Karen Barad articulates:

Memory does not reside in the foods of individual brains; rather, memory is the enfolding of space-time matter written into the universe, or better, the enfolded articulations of the universe in its mattering […] Remembering is not a replay of a sting of moments, but an enlivening reconfiguring of past and future that is larger than any individual (2007: ix).

The research functions on a number of inter-related layers, operating both codependently and independently, linked always – though at times tenuously, the research is about becoming. It is an entangled tale of interference, woven through and enfolded in the other; methodological abundance, which embraces autoethnography and connects to Michel Serres’ notion of desmology, which is ‘not so much the state of things but the relations between them’ (2002: 204).

Writing is the entry point into this entanglement – a mixed up nonsensical space of disparate and correlative thoughts and dreams. Writing is also a process of exploration, of finding something out, a continual becoming; locating, in the in-between fragmented place, something sensed but not yet known. It is as Jacques Derrida writes, ‘entanglement or interlacing […] a binding-unbinding interlacing […] toward which we are incessantly and properly bring led back’ (2007: 60). An entanglement that occupies the borderland, the edge of the edge. Access into this space requires a specific type of listening that expands upon the qualitative, relational, voice-centred, feminist methodology of listening as suggested by Natasha Mauthner (2017:65). Rather it is a listening to the inner workings of an entangled breath within the self – the embodied self, a body that breathes. For as Helene Cixous writes, if you censor breath, you also censor the body and speech. She demands: ‘Write your self. Your body must be heard. Only then will the immense resources of the unconscious spring forth’ (1976: 880, italics added).

The in-between space of entanglement verges into the invisible, the full to expanding space of things not fully conscious. It is a cut-out consciousness occupied by the past, and a future not yet realised. A container, full to overflowing of all the potential of things to come, as well as the memories and the traces of connecting and disconnecting to the world. The action of writing is the beginning of disentanglement. I write myself into the word to gain entry into an alternative space and dimension. For I, woman, must put myself ‘into the text-as into the world and into history-by [my] own movement’ (Cixous, 1976: 875, italics added). Encouraged by Cixous, when she utters ‘[w]rite, let no one hold you back, let nothing stop you: not man; not imbecilic capitalist machinery […]’ (1976: 877), I circumvent the inner conditioning, and follow a thought onto the page, a ‘female-sexed text’ (ibid.) that leads me both away and back to my body. In this way, I weave a pathway to the visual and sound work, creating new meaning, deconstructing and exploring new forums to disseminate the analysis of the unknown. The process, of uncovering what lies dormant, is meandering and demands patience and constant returning to the original site – the body, to the original trauma of patriarchy, when man separated woman from the language of the world. ‘Breathe Wind into Me, Chapter 1’ is a reclaiming of the breath as a starting point to investigate the ruptured inhale and exhale of trauma and re-establish a mode of care that begins with the body and the self. I am seeking to create an interstitial space where traumatic remembering exists on the borders of exposure and concealment, absence and presence. Far from being completed, this work marks the beginning of research that links the breath to the voice, to language, to the movement of water and to bodies moving through water. It is a visual and auditory exploration of the inextricable link between the breath, sound and language, to the balancing of the air above the surface with the subconscious depths below.

The text for the video was taken from a series of journal entries (presented as an Appendix at the bottom of this article). A loosely, flowing stream of consciousness that questions what arises physically and philosophically when life is stripped back to the bare essentials. What are the consequences when the breath is interrupted, or ruptured, as in trauma? The words are layered on to the sounds of breathing, of life and its interruptions. The imagery collected over the past 2-years references the ordinariness of moving through life that witnessed, and then captured on film leans into the extra-ordinary, the enchanted.

#2: The Spectral Breath

The concept of spectral breath expands on Derrida’s notion of hauntology (1994: 10), the term he uses in Spectres of Marx (1994) to describe a spectre that defies an ontological framework. ‘Hauntology’ – a pun on ontology – links being and presence. The spectral not only arises from the past, but also from the concept of a future absence. ‘To haunt does not mean to be present, and it is necessary to introduce haunting into the very construction of a concept. Of every concept, beginning with the concepts of being and time’ (1994: 13). He suggests the difficulty in defining the spectre is because it is so embedded in our material presence, in our here and now. For example, it is impossible for us to view the present without getting caught up in the invisible and intangible webs of the past, and of thinking about a future without thinking about death. Through the figure of the ghost, the past and present are indistinguishable. ‘Repetition and first time: this is perhaps the question of the event as question of the ghost’ (1994: 10).

I am reminded of animism, from anima in Latin, (‘a current of air, wind, breath, the vital principle, life, soul’), sometimes equivalent to animus (mind). Which attributes a living soul in all objects – animals, plants, rocks, rivers, weather-related phenomena, deceased human beings, even words – to be animated is to be alive, possessing distinctive spirits, a presence. At the centre of our existence is our ability to breathe. Our relationship to everything around us is lived through a shared and oxygenated space. In Peter Sloterdijk’s words:

Air, the misunderstood element, finds ways and means of advancing to places where no one reckons with its presence; and, more significantly, it makes space on its own strength for strange places where there were previously none (2016: 28).

It is important not to underestimate the power of the breath or breathing. Its complexity as an evolutionary process was millions of years in the making, where ‘lungs, heart, trachea, a bronchial tree, and connecting blood vessels all contribute to the ingenious breathing system that brings oxygen to the blood and removes carbon dioxide’ (Schiefelbein, 1986: 132). Contained within every inhale and exhale is the entire history of humanities’ evolution. It is what connects us to each other, to every living thing and to the world we inhabit. If we could not breathe, we would not be alive. The absence of breath is an absence of life, deadness. I breathe with every living creature, and every living creature breathes through me. Each breath is a memory of the one before, each inhale marked with the trace of the previous one, back to when the Tetrapods first emerged from the water 300 million years ago and committed to inhale the sky and the earth. As anthropologist Tim Ingold writes: ‘There could be no life, in short, in a world where earth and sky do not mix and mingle’ (2010: 6).

My breath is haunted by the past, it is the spectral breath, embodied within me where the past is continually brought to life through every breath. ‘One cannot control its comings and goings because it begins by coming back’ (Derrida, 1994: 11). The breath leaves me, leaves a trace before returning. Through my body, through the body of the other. ‘[T]his trace is the opening of the first exteriority in general, the enigmatic relationship of the living to its other and of an inside to an outside: spacing’ (Derrida, 1974: 71).

Derrida considers cinema an appropriate medium for spectrality, and his negotiation of the in-between space of absence and presence, inside and outside. The viewer, while watching a film, is in communication with some work of the unconscious that, by definition, can be compared with the work of haunting, or the Freudian concept of the ‘uncanny’ (unheimlich) (2015: 26). Freud’s essay, written in 1919, describes the uncanny as belonging to the terrible, ‘to all that arouses dread and creeping horror’ calling forth feelings of unpleasantness and repulsion (1919: 1). It is that ‘class of the terrifying which leads back to something long known to us, once very familiar’ (Freud, 1919: 2). The true logic of uncanniness, Derrida argues, is a phantom-logic, a necessity of learning to live with ghosts, phantoms, and spirits, because ‘there is no Dasein without the uncanniness, without the strange familiarity [Unheimlichkeit] of some specter’ (1994: 125). It is a state of being that is to be always and everywhere haunted by ghosts, phantoms or spirits: the ‘visibility of the invisible’ (ibid.). Spectral logic is the presence related to the otherness of the self, or the self that is found within the other (whether person, place or time). In honour of Barthes, he writes: ‘Ghosts: the concept of the other in the same, the punctum in the studium, the completely other, dead, living in me’ (Derrida, 2003: 42). This ghostly punctum is linked to the voice of the other, it is the ‘accompaniment, the song, the accord’ (2003: 43). It is also the breath that both haunts the body and is haunted by the body.

In ‘Breathe Wind in to me, Chapter 1’, the breath is audible, moves with my voice, spills from me, every particle expanding the boundaries of skin to be swallowed by the technology, leaking into the exhibition space and into the body of the other. It is through a giving of the self that the breath and the voice create a space outside of self. Once departed there is little control over how that voice, the breath is heard or received. My voice and the sounds of my breath are divorced entities. Having departed from my body they exist in their own right. In a haunted sense, as Stephen Connor explains:

Voices do not merely drift apart from their origins […] nor are they inadvertently lost: they are ripped or wrested. A voice without a body suggests some prior act of mutilation: for every unbodied voice, it seems, there is always some more-or-less violently muted body (Connor, 2012: 1).

There are a multitude of disembodied voices embedded into the imagery of ‘Breath Wind into Me, Chapter 1,’ which in Connor's words seem to ‘summon in their wake the phantasm of some originating body, effect convening cause’ (2012). It is, to quote Holzman and Rousey, a ‘complex confrontation experience’ brought about by the ‘loss of anchorage’ … [and] loss of the cathected familiar’ (1966, Connor, 2000: 84). I experience the hearing of my voice, as a part of me that has been disembodied but still retains life a way of ‘being me in my going out from myself’ (Connor, 2000: 4). Despite this separation, this movement outwards, I still breathe.

Lisa Blackman, in Immaterial Bodies (2012), writes about the paradoxical voice that is neither entirely inside nor outside, self or other, material or immaterial. ‘It is neither fully defined by matter nor completely beyond it’ (2012: 138). It is matter in circulation. Listening, also, is not confined to the interior. To quote Mark Peter Wright: ‘It suggests a listening out or otherwise of hard knowledge and a listening in to ethico-spectral becomings’ (2017: 25). We are both inside and outside in the process of listening. The external sounds finding their way into the body, subsequently means to be open without as well as within. Listening brings us into proximity with the other and vice versa. It connects us and establishes the interconnected space of relation. The sounds of my breath, of me breathing breaches the divide and connects me to the other, to the breath of the other on such a deep level that the breath of each other becomes indecipherable. Wright describes a Noisy Nonself, ‘a chimeric figuration’ and asks, ‘what are the consequences of hearing our own monsters?’ (2017: 25):

The Noisy-Nonself is ‘more-than-reflexive.’ It is a diffractive agent that brings about categorical crisis and horrific self-revelation. Listening out for the Noisy-Nonself is an apophenic search riddled with uncanny hauntings that ‘arrive to recount a lesson in the complexity of temporality. History is a tangle, full of loops and doublings-back (Wright, 2017: 35, Cohen, 1996: 441).

There is an art to listening – listening well. It is to be actively engaged with everything outside, locating oneself in the surrounding space, while aware of sound’s penetration, the transition across the porous border of being and the affective response as the sounds, the voice moves through the body. It can hurt to listen. It can also be a blessed relief. Through listening I can consciously align my breath to the breath of the other. The other’s breath breaches the divide and strays into my body, returns, a loop of intertwined entanglement, a contagious exchange.

Through the making of ‘Breathe Wind into Me, Chapter 1’, I become one with the work. The toil of my breath is embedded within the sounds and the imagery. I impart my breath to the audience, to share, to breathe along with, to feel the interruptions, the constant inhales without release, the discomfort of being told to breathe, of being reminded of our breath, of being human. Trauma is the ruptured breath, the interrupted breath, I listen to where mine is interrupted, pause, realign, begin again. There is space for the viewer to follow, to register their own breathing through the imagery, the other familiar sounds that are woven through the narrating voice. There is laughter, singing, the rumble of something in the distance. And still I breathe. Is it possible then that an alternative world could rest on a new culture of breath as the basic element of inter-connectedness? One, where we breathe with the other, breathe through our differences. Can a video such as Breathe Wind into Me, Chapter 1’ guide an audience into a deeper relationship with themselves, with others? And if it does, or doesn’t should I care? Will it change the work?

For Luce Irigaray, the breath is ‘the first autonomous gesture of the living human being’ (1999: 3). In the third phase of her philosophy she links the breath with silence and listening and argues for an ethical becoming to direct us towards respect for ourselves, each other and the world we live in. It is a silence that is attentive to others. The original place in our bodies and selves, reserved for the welcome of the other, for respect for the other despite our differences. Silence is the inner ‘speaking’ of the threshold. The inner listening to the breath.

In I Love to You (1996), she writes:

This touching upon asks for silence [...] This touching upon needs attentiveness to the sensible qualities of speech, to voice tone, to the modulations and rhythm of discourse, to the semantic and phonic choice of words [...] The touching upon cannot be appropriation, capture, seduction – to me, toward me, in me – nor envelopment. Rather it is to be the other’s awakening to him/her and a call to co-exist, to act together and dialogue (Irigaray, 1996: 125).

Here, she leaves a critique of patriarchy to the development of a foundation for a possible inter-subjectivity between the two sexes. She poses the question: how can we move to a new era of sexual difference in which women and men establish lasting relations with one another without reducing the other to the status of object?

More recently, Karen Barad eloquently articulates:

All touching entails an infinite alterity, so that touching the other is touching all others, including the ‘self’, and touching the ‘self’ entails touching the strangers within. Even the smallest bits of matter are an unfathomable multitude. Each ‘individual’ always already includes all possible intra-actions with ‘itself’ through all the virtual others, including those that are non contemporaneous with ‘itself’. That is, every finite being is always already threaded through with an infinite alterity diffracted through being and time (2012: 7).

# 3: The Haptic Breath

Which brings me to the concept of the haptic breath, derived from Laura Marks, and Giles Deleuze’s notion of haptic visuality, as a way of seeing or knowing that exceeds sensory conventions. The haptic breath is the breath that both touches the self and touches the other, it is a coming into contact with the ‘exteriority within’, a realisation of the active embodiment of matter, of ‘being in the world in its dynamic specificity’ (Barad, 2007: 377).

The etymological root of haptic in Greek is haptein – to take hold of an object, fasten onto, or to touch it. A term derived from the art historian Alois Riegl (1901) and picked up by Deleuze (2002), which looks at the distinction between haptic and optical images as vision that is tactile, ‘as though one were touching a film with one’s eyes’ (Marks, 2000: xi). Marks writes: ‘Haptic criticism is mimetic: it presses up to the object and takes its shape. Mimesis is a form of representation based on getting close enough to the other thing to become it’ (2002: xiii).

She emphasises the tactile and contagious quality of cinema as something viewers brush up against like another body, as she writes: ‘The words contact, contingent, and contagion all share the Latin root contingere, ‘to have contact with; pollute; befall’ (Marks, 2000: xii). Psychoanalytically, the haptic is an aspect of the visual that moves between identification and immersion. As she comments: ‘The engagement of the haptic viewer occurs not simply in psychic registers but in the sensorium’ (Marks, 2002: 18). Haptic vision is the close-to-the-body form of perception of film as skin, which moves the work into ‘circulation among different audiences, all of which mark it with their presence’ (Marks, 2000: xi), where ‘the eyes themselves function like organs of touch’, (ibid.: 62) and ‘move over the surface of its object to discern texture’ (ibid.), thereby taking in, or absorbing the imagery into the body. The haptic visual does not depend on the viewer identifying with a recognisable figure or character but on a more sensuous bodily relationship between the viewer and the subject, ‘haptic images and haptic visuality encourage a subjective position of intimacy and mutual entanglement between viewer and viewed’ (Marks, 2015: 227). Through accessing the haptic visual, we re-evaluate our relationship to space. The conscious engagement with the haptic visual creates the possibility for an increase in awareness of one’s body, of its physicality, and the interaction with what is on the screen.

‘Breathe Wind into Me, Chapter 1’ highlights the relationship not only between haptic visuality and the breath but sound too. Marks writes about the uncanniness of sound, impacting the listener in ways that are not easy to explain. Sound, she writes, comes into ‘play insofar as it is experienced kinaesthetically; for example, the booming in the chest caused by deep bass tones, or the complex effects of rhythm on the body’ (Marks, 2000: xvi). Embedded into the skin of the video, is the layered sounds of my breath, the rhythm of the waves of the sea, the movement of the wind through the trees, the noises of London. The layers are so deeply entwined they are each an extension of the other. To breathe is to be touched, to haptically engage with an image is to be touched, one level of touch or touching is indecipherable from the other. I am touched by the image and breathe. I breathe and touch the image with my eyes. So too with sound. I breathe I hear. I hear I breathe. The sound of my breath, of the other’s breath. I breathe through film, I breathe breath into the space where the viewer sits, watches and listens. We are all breathing together. My breath touches upon the other, infiltrates and transmutes in its very particles the affect of being touched and of wanting to touch. The power and discomfort of touch, the loving empathy of touch. It is a complex business, this breathing into the inter-connected space. It is a matter of taking care as an intention, and then letting go.

Donna Haraway asks why should our bodies end at the skin? (1991:178). I am aware that the positioning of the skin as a vast visual organ, sensitises an audience to witnessing the work from a plurality of perspectives. The engagement of the whole body as a tool for seeing and hearing shifts the gaze and the listening to inhabit both the exterior as well as the interior. In The Tactile Eye (2008), Jennifer Barker writes about muscular empathy, where viewers empathise with the body of a film so much so that they can experience and ‘grasp,’ the imagery in their muscles and tendons the exhilaration of the ‘close call’ or the intimacy of a closeup. The viewer opens out and therefore opens to absorb the sounds and the visuals on a complexity of levels. The body responds. In the process of sensing, seeing or hearing copy and contact are part of the same process (Taussig, 1992: 2). A listening can be a contraction, a discomfort, or alternatively a softening, a coming into the space and into being with the skin of the film and to the relationship of the self and of the other. Breathing links the visual to the body, the information is carried on the wave of each breath. The breath is communication.

Taussig insists that ‘what is crucial in the resurgence of the mimetic faculty’ is precisely the ‘palpable, sensuous, connection between the very body of the perceiver and the perceived’ (1992: 2). He goes on to write about the depth and the complexity of the relationship between the image and the bodily involvement of the perceiver. A complexity we too easily regard as non-mysterious with terms that simultaneously ‘depend upon and erase all that is powerful and obscure in the network of associations conjured by the notion of the mimetic’ (1992: 2).

It is this complexity, this entanglement I unravel to better understand the ruptured breath. I wonder if there is such a thing as a haptic rupture, or indeed what a haptic rupture would look, or sound like. The rupture that touches beyond the self in communication with other bodies. A rupture that arises out of the continued experiencing of trauma or from such a catastrophic event that it sears the body to such an extent it can never go back to what it was before. The breath can also be ruptured through the continual application of power, or pressure on the body.

The body reacts to the forces, manifest as shifting material alignments and changes in potential, and becomes not simply the received but also the transmitter or local source of the signal or sign that operates through it (Barad, 2007: 189).

A rupture shifts our sense of reality to address the monsters and the monstrous. It can mark an ending, a breaking, a new beginning. For Barthes: ‘It is this element which rises from the scene, shoots out of it like an arrow and pierces me. […] that accident which pricks me (but also bruises me, is poignant to me)’ (1981: 27). ‘It is acute yet muffled, it cries out in silence. Odd contradiction: a floating flash’ (ibid.: 53). Every rupture carries with it a vision of the future, flashing up at a moment of danger, which creates a fragmented terrain, an interstitial space where traumatic remembering exists on the borders of exposure and concealment, absence and presence. It is an instability that Julia Kristeva describes as: ‘The in-between, the ambiguous, the composite’ (1982: 10).

In Powers of Horror (1982), Kristeva repeatedly posits a connection between abjection and the border, where abjection is that which disturbs identity, system and order. The abject does not respect borders, positions or rules (1982: 4). It is outside of, literally what is thrown away or discarded. Abjection is ambiguity arising from the impact of a rupture. The abject is neither subject nor object, inside or outside, neither here nor there, rather it is ‘immoral, sinister, scheming, and shady: a terror that dissembles, a hatred that smiles’ (ibid.: 4), what is abject, she writes, ‘draws me toward the place where meaning collapses’ (ibid.: 2). A place of incomprehensibility, in which the contents are actively being erased. And where is the breath in relation to the abject? It is beyond the narrative, behind the music of language, it is in the broken rhythm of sentences, and the rasping whispers of the unspeakable. For as Kristeva writes, ‘[…] abjection, when all is said and done, is the other facet of religious, moral, and ideological codes on which rest the sleep of individuals and the breathing spells of societies’ (ibid.: 209).


The interconnected breath, breathing in union, in communion, with all of its ruptured interruptions is about embracing the tension between the concrete and speculative, sensing and knowing. It means being in touch with oneself, the other, the world. It is expanding the awareness of how the breath touches the other, while engaging actively with the embodiment of perception, affect, thinking and caring.

For Puig de la Bellacasa, ‘Embodiment, relationality, and engagement are all themes that have marked feminist epistemology and knowledge politics’ (2017: 97). Being in touch with how the visual and the aural penetrates one’s body is to consciously be aware of the breath. Questioning the affect is to re-appropriate, in Haraway’s words, the ‘persistence of vision’. As she writes, ‘I would like to insist on the embodied nature of all vision, and so reclaim the sensory system that has been used to signify a leap out of the marked body and into a conquering gaze from nowhere’ (1998: 678). Bringing awareness to the breath and how it touches us expands Haraway’s ‘situated knowledge’, to embrace a knowledge beyond knowing. It is to participate in Puig de la Bellacasa’s reclamation of touch as a form of ‘caring knowing’, thinking with touch as a means to question anew (2017: 98).

‘Breath Wind into Me, Chapter 1’ is about caring, it extends the concept of the breath as a touching upon and with the visual, and it links a complex interplay of affect and sensation to reframe Bergson’s concept of ‘attentive recognition’ through a feminist epistemology.

Attentive recognition is the way a perceiver oscillates between seeing the object, recalling virtual images that it brings to memory, and comparing the virtual object thus created with the one before us. In so doing we create anew ‘not only the object perceived, but also the ever-widening systems with which it maybe bound up’ (Bergson [1911] 1988: 105) (Marks, 2000: 48).


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Appendix: Anna Walker – Journal Entry (2 December 2018)

Today, I am overwhelmed. My breathing is tight and shallow as I reflect on the future, on time running out. I have to consciously exhale – breathing down and out to remind me of the moment – that I am here, now.

Dyspnoea means difficult or laboured breathing. As in – gasping she reaches out to catch her breath.


I take it for granted. I am breath, I breathe. My breath moves through me. I am breathing.


My sister has been practising freestyle breathing to improve her speed and agility under water!

I can’t swim. I've tried learning many times. But fear of drowning keeps me on dry land. Land-bound I watch jealously as she glides seamlessly through the water. Parting the Thames with her body, I imagine what that must feel like. Cutting through the weight of the River, all that history moving in and out, around and through her, as she drops just below its surface to rise again into the air. The cold dark River Thames flowing between her fingers, her toes, her hair!

I would love to feel the Thames push down on me and know that I could survive.

New swimmers tend to hold their breath underwater instead of breathing out when swimming. When your face is submerged in water, you should be breathing out gently – bubbles rising to the surface.

I hold my breath in or out of water. It is a habit of mine!

Breathe. Just breathe.

I dream a lot about water, flying and driving cars too.

In my dreams I can swim like a fish and fly like a bird.

I drive my mother's blue mini really fast until it disappears and it's just me peddling my legs as quickly as I can soaring along just 3 feet above the ground. Then I flap my arms like wings and up I go higher and higher, elated at my ability to fly before dipping down close to the surface of the ocean, teasing the waves as they reach to catch me. I ride them, like a surfer, skimming the top as the sea foam hits my skin. I wake myself up laughing with glee, my face wet with tears, the taste of salt on my lips. I am always disappointed upon waking. I wonder if everyone feels this way.

Like rock paper scissors I don't know which comes first! Is it air or is it water, earth, fire?

The first 9 months of life are lived in amniotic liquid – before emerging cruelly into the world.

Dangled by my right leg flailing into life, gasping for air searching for a breath, for my mother –

for the warmth of her body.

Rachel Carson writes: ‘The deep blue water of the open sea far from land, [which] is the colour of emptiness and barrenness’ – she prefers ‘the green water of the coastal areas, with all its varying hues – the color of life’ (1951).

In my dream the whole ocean is alive – breathing, raging, crying and sometimes laughing.

Once, I sailed the length of the East Coast of America, from the Florida Keys to New York Harbour aboard the QE II. It was 3-months after 9/11 and the ship was welcomed into New York with pomp and ceremony in the early hours of the morning by Mayor Guiliani. I slept warmly in my narrow bed, missing it all, glad I didn't have to disembark. Instead I sailed back again to Florida. The ship was quiet. At night I would roam the decks searching for the shore, imagining what it must have been like to discover this huge land for the first time.


Derrida uses the word souffle to describe running out of breath – a low murmuring or blowing sound heard through a stethoscope.

With a tiny accent it becomes soufflé – whisked egg whites that rise and exhale in the heat.

In a conversation with Helene Cixous, Derrida writes:

‘I master nothing, I submit to the oracles. This risk is the condition of my creative energy and of

my discoveries. It can happen that I run out of breath [souffle], that something loses steam

[s'essouffle]. I saw myself clearly in your incredible text on Artaud, La parole soufflé, in this

bivalence of the souffle, a word whispered given by someone else, and a word stolen, whisked

away’ (2008: 167).

And in the notes, translated by Ashley Thompson – Souffler means to breathe, to whisper,

including when one whispers a secret, but also to steal, such that the expression la parole souffle can mean either to whisper or to tell (someone) the word (the secret word, the forgotten word) or to take or steal the word – Trans.

Whispering is so close to the breath, an exhale or a sigh embedded with words barely audible. Inhaling and exhaling through the nostrils, slowing down the breath.

I breathe.


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