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Doing/Thinking: About (facing away from the direction of travel)

DOI: | 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:

  • 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:

  • 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:

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

[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.

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