Intra-action, Self and the Other; Drawing and Installation in the British Peak District
DOI: https://doi.org/10.33008/IJCMR.2022.11 | Issue 9 | Oct 2022
Sabine Kussmaul (University of Chester)
This research uses a creative arts practice emerging from the processes of drawing and installation to create and explore the relationships between the artist and the outdoor spaces of the British Peak District. A mobile working kit made from paper, fabric and wood is used to make temporary installations outdoors in response to wind, weather and topography. The mobile working kit modules are then returned to the studio and later installed in art exhibition spaces, their display indexing the connection between self, other and the outdoors. The multitude of processes in outdoor environments and their relationships to landscape and its inhabitants’ actions is used as a methodological template to frame change. Based on the dichotomy of mobility and inscription, artmaking actions and the research process are described through the conceptual lenses of ‘gesture’, ‘practice’ and an expanded understanding of drawing. Following this, a taxonomy is suggested that categorises the embodiment of artmaking events from the tensions between their experienced particularities and the artist’s perceived material practice frameworks.
Practice-based research approaches in the creative arts can address the sensuous and experiential dimensions of a research topic and make embodiment and aesthetic processes part of its methods and forms of expression. Challenged by the multiplicities and indeterminacies of the life-world and the limitations particular to any research approach, it may find itself having to justify its rigour and explain how it adheres to standards of accessibility, transparency and transferability, characteristics identified by Gray, Malins and Bristow (2018) as key to good research.
This article aims to offer a perspective on what practice-based research in the creative arts might be by describing how my doctoral research project uses an arts practice from drawing and installation to produce, sustain and investigate the relationships between self and the outdoor environments of the British Peak District.
Following Gray’s definition of practice-led research (1996: 3), the arts practice delivers the project’s content, methods and motivations, where practice-led research is ‘ … firstly, research which is initiated in practice, where questions, problems, challenges are identified and formed by the needs of practice and practitioners; and secondly, that the research strategy is carried out through practice, using predominantly methodologies and specific methods familiar to us as practitioners in the visual arts.‘
Using myself in the role of a visual artist and researcher who engages with the outdoor landscapes in the vicinity of Pott Shrigley, Macclesfield, this enquiry aims to answer the following questions: Which materials and practical methods does the arts practice use in order to function as a facilitator for the relationships between self and the outdoor environment of the British Peak District? (1). Which methodological framework might be used to describe how change occurs between environments, arts practice and the research process? (2). What are the determinants of the embodied engagement between self and outdoor environments? (3).
The project’s artmaking activities are focussed on the production and implementation of a mobile artmaking kit. This mobile working kit is produced in the studio and made from paper, fabric and wood. It is taken to the open spaces around Pott Shrigley where it is modified in response to wind, weather and topography. Artefacts are then returned to the studio and later installed in art exhibition spaces, their display indexing the connection between self, other and the outdoors. As the research enquiry unfolds, the arts practice is developed. The project’s objective is to develop the pragmatics of working with the materials of the mobile working kit and to formulate conceptual lenses to describe and analyse such artmaking and its subjective experience.
The following description of an outdoor artmaking event illustrates some of the practicalities and challenges of this outdoor arts practice. I am folding paper over a large rock, tucking it in at its edges and holding it down with my own body until I can fasten it with tent pegs. I want to model the paper over the rock surface, responding to its shape. This is difficult to do, because the paper has a limited folding potential and the result of my shaping efforts look very untidy. I am fighting the wind, which threatens to disentangle areas that are not solidly fixed. I am proceeding to use ink on the paper surface, drawing around my own body, as I stand or kneel on top of it. I also draw some of the observable landscape features. It starts to rain, and I have to be quick before all the ink-marks disappear in puddles of rain. The cold numbs my fingers, as I struggle to quickly roll up the drawing and take it downhill.
My practical artmaking approaches comprise of a range of creative methods. These either leave visual traces on surfaces, like footsteps on the ground or lines on paper, or they bring about new spatial arrangements on outdoor areas, changing the aesthetic dynamic of the land through mobile working kit installations. Such installations are only of temporary duration, lasting the length of time that I spend with them outdoors, which often are just a few hours. At the end of this time, the materials are de-installed, wrapped up, bundled together and taken back to the studio. Some of the project’s artmaking actions also occur on a desktop work station, where I make drawings using a digital drawing tablet. In moments of making such illustrations, I reflect about the project’s concept which leads to the clarification of terminology and further understanding. The illustrations visualise the project’s themes and its internal structure. I combine them into animated on-screen presentations when engaging with other researchers.
The project faces a range of challenges and limitations. As the project is set up to facilitate engagement between self and outdoor places through the vehicle of an arts practice, more generalised conclusions about our relationships with outdoor environments need to be taken with care. A further challenge arises from the nature of an artistic, creative approach when used as part of a research process. As arts practices may gain the justification for their existence from the context that expressivity is an essential part of the human condition, its functionalisation in a research process can be problematic. Though creative practitioners identify themes and aims as part of their practices, the differentiation between object of enquiry and method may appear as an awkward imposition upon the nature of a creative process. In the face of this challenge, I employ particularly explicit documentation processes that allow analysis and evaluation of the Practice-as-Research process.
A third challenge is particular to this very project: when artefacts from outdoor artmaking situations are used for indoor gallery displays, their connection to the outdoor situations may become broken or distorted. I believe that this disconnection is symptomatic for our problematic relationship with nature and natural environments. An arts practice like this one can contribute to address this problem by making explicitly how and where disconnections occur.
In outdoor environments, process manifests in the form of objects, landscapes and interaction patterns by its inhabitants. Change is a core feature specific to process. When change occurs, materials move and bodies, objects and landscape features become reconstituted. In my role as an artist and researcher, I am interested in observing and engaging with the processes that take place in outdoor environments. My attention is also on my creative arts practice and on the research process as a whole. In each of these three contexts, change occurs and manifests in different ways. Changes to the artmaking practice can affect its material choices and technologies, whereas changes to the whole research process might mean that new ideas for conceptualising are discovered. Process in outdoors environments, in practical artmaking and in the research process might be seen as analogies of each other. As part of this enquiry, I question how the research process might benefit from this comparison. The relationship between process and form can reveal the contexts and conditions of knowledge generation. Framing this relationship forms the conceptual basis of the project’s methodology.
The actions of walking, drawing, installation and writing as part of this arts and research practice bring about change. The disciplinary frameworks of dance, performance and visual arts and their interdisciplinary connections allow to describe how change manifests in the making of time-based performances and three-dimensional artworks and how this impacts on the affected environments and subjects. This project draws its methodological connections to such practices and theoretical frameworks where they offer to describe how change registers between the sentient corporeality of the human body and the other than human material forms we engage with. The dancer Paula Kramer (2015) has developed a dance practice where she produced movement material based on the sentient connections between her own body and the materiality of the natural environment, whereas the visual artist Greig Burgoyne (2020) has used his own movements in outdoor spaces to shape the experiential space thus created. The outdoor world supports but also challenges our bodies and this is reflected in some of Joseph Beuys’ choices to use felt, fat and other materials and also in Studio Orta’s (2020) sculptures which resemble tents or oversized garments.
As a visual artist working outdoors, my experience of outdoor places is much determined by the physical engagement of my body when walking over the land, carrying materials, making installations or drawings, and getting back to the studio. There are many iterations and variations of such artmaking events. Each time spent outdoors I visually engage with the distant sections of the land whereas my direct corporeal contact with materials and surfaces is limited to areas in direct proximity to me. Through the rhythm of my breathing, my internal corporeal space is in continuous exchange with the space around me. Feeling the weather and atmosphere is another important dimension of spending time in the open. How distance, nearness, and atmosphere are registered by the faculties of my senses determines the experience my artmaking activities. My role as an artist in an outdoor world might be seen in analogy to the role of a researcher in a particular research territory. In both instances, proximity, distance and different modes of corporeal engagement are important aspects of the artist’s or researcher’s activity and any knowledge used or produced is always embedded, local and embodied.
Fig. 1. The mobile working kit in outdoor artmaking situations and as part of a gallery installation. (Kussmaul, 2019, 2021)
The first part of this article will describe how meteorological, metabolic and geological processes in outdoor environments can be understood as movement of materials and their reconstitution into new three-dimensional shapes. This manifests in landscape forms, but also in alterations to the land made by humans and other than humans like the construction of buildings or the digging of mines or dens.
The article will then continue to describe ‘mobility and inscription’ as a duality that captures how perceived change in outdoor environments manifests in the movements of materials on the one hand and their reconstitution into new forms on the other. How the artist and researcher experiences change is explained by using the concept of ‘gesture’, in adaptation of Noland’s (2015) concept. I will understand, ‘gesturing’ as a feeling of being in a sensuous correspondence between observed change in the environment, and our memories from previous experience. Perceived change around us also impacts on the way how we feel about ourselves. For this reason, I suggest an additional conceptual lens: Adorno’s approach to mimesis (Gebauer & Wulf, 1995) describes how self and other come about. It also describes how the production of meaning occurs in the creative arts.
In the article’s following section, I will describe my artmaking activities as ‘practice’ where individual artmaking events are embedded in a wider context of techniques, temporal rhythms of artmaking activity and preferred choices for tools and materials. As artmaking manifests in the development of techniques and produces artefacts, the practice can be seen to carry and visualise the knowledge of its own epistemic process.
The practical work of the arts practice is evidenced in three-dimensional installations, line-based illustrations, diagrams and written notes which are all seen as an expanded version of ‘drawing’. Such drawing is understood as the production of form through its extraction from the complexity of the life-world or through its embodied enactment.
The article concludes by suggesting a taxonomy for the embodied dimensions of outdoor artmaking by understanding their form-giving processes from the viewpoint of embodied cultures and material technology. It will describe agency as the tensions between the somatosensory determinants of the artmaking situation, categorised into tiers of complexity and formulated as the conceptual motives of ‘capture’, ‘carry’, ‘mark’ and ‘spend time’.
Wind, weather, drystone walls and artmaking
The windy pastures of Bakestonedale Moor above Pott Shrigley are covered with tall grasses, thistles and bracken. Sheep and hill walkers roam in changing numbers, their movements intersected by drystone walls and the landmarks left behind by mining for coal and fire clay. There are concrete-capped mine shafts overgrown by tall ferns, rock debris from historic quarrying and grassy ledges, the remainders of coal transportation trackways. The land appears like a bowl made of soil, grass and rock, turned upwards towards the incessant interchanges between clouds and sky, sun and rain. The landscape’s sounds are a polyphony of aircraft noises, voices of crows and song of skylarks mixed with the commotions from nearby farming. Human engagement and the actions of the other than human combine with the forces from geological, meteorological and metabolic processes, their patterns of change manifested in an unfathomable complexity. As human participants in such materials and processes, we subjectively experience place and ourselves when we spend time in such environments. My artmaking as the core approach of this enquiry is part of this experience.
An abundance of forms exists in such a rural outdoor environment: scree slopes, trees, drystone walls, sheep, the bodies of human visitors. All of these are three-dimensional forms – some of them alive bodies with fluids moving inside them, some of them conscious and sentient. In such a dynamic environment, change manifests in the movement of things and the reconstitution and deconstruction of bodies. Further to physical form, there is also the form that is generated through process: the movement patterns of a herd of sheep, the routes regularly walked by a hiker, my own patterns of returning to the place to make drawings, all have their own rhythmic and temporal dimensions, driven by intensions or instinct and ultimately connected to the flow of energy between sun and Earth.
Fig. 2. Bakestonedale Moor. (Kussmaul, 2021)
The genesis of form through process can be understood from Barad’s postulations that change comes about in a process of intra-action (2003): bodies co-constitute each other’s forms, characteristics and differences, making all change and knowledge-production relational and situated.
My position as a visual artist in outdoor places offers an example of our broader position in an outdoor world. We are never outside of our relationship with environments and our experience of this relationship is never distanced and objective. Being actively immersed in an unfolding relationship also carries the risk of loosing sight of my own role and position within it.
Harraway (1988) and Braidotti (2012) have based their philosophies on the relational, situated and enacted characteristics of knowledge and its production. Barad postulates that due to the situatedness of any research process, we need to consider the method of our enquiry and its object from the cohesive context of a ‘phenomenon’. When we use artmaking as a process for research, this means, that we have to consider creative methods as part of a wider creative practice.
Outdoor environments have many protagonists that use its space. Sheep, farmers, hill walkers, myself as a visual artist and researcher. We all share each other’s space, though our journeys and sojourns follow our own rhythms. We are within each other’s space as we go about our habits of using the outdoors when we camp, ski, pick blackberries, erect fences or observe birds. In comparison to natural outdoor spaces, urban environments are more segregated into sections of activity, their formal geometry often dominated by verticality. The horizontal extension of Bakestonedale Moor reaches far and the relationship between distance and nearness always features in our experience of it. The many iterations of natural processes, manifested in the repeat cycles of seasons, propagation, growth and decay, have an accumulative effect on the physical shapes and interaction patterns they produce. Many iterations of processes, expressed in multiple generations of lived activity or as material movements in geological time frames, impact on landscape forms, the interactivity patterns of living creatures and the natural designs of their organisms. Repetition can be associated with circular temporal patterns, whilst curves are the formal features of alive physical bodies. Such forms are also described by Nelson (2013: 53) when he writes about the hermeneutic-interpretative models for generating new knowledge. He associates their dynamics with form that is “ … not linear but figured as circles, spirals or networks with many points of entry.” However, in natural environments, repetition of geological processes may often produce layering and sedimentation. Deleuze’s concept of smooth versus striated space (Deleuze & Guattari, 2013) understands form and movement within open spaces as patterns of human material productivity expressed as the polarity between nomadic and static habitation.
Form can be seen in relation to the different conditions and methods of knowledge production. It seems of particular interest here, that architectural form in urban environments, as well as the forms of things that hold abstract knowledge – books, shelves and sheets of paper, present in a reduction of formal variety as verticals and horizontals.
Fig. 3. Mobile kit modules and the material textures of Bakestonedale Moor. (Kussmaul, 2020)
Ingold (2007: 29) writes that our engagement with the outdoors reaches deep into our bodies, rather than relying alone on sensation from the organs of touch or vision. Though our body surface and its skin can act like physical boundaries between self and the external, our engagement with landscape works through the porosity of this boundary. Our skin has properties to absorb fluids and gases and process the qualities of being touched. The physical action of an uphill walk passes through the skin barrier and impacts on a warming of muscles, the engagement resonating from our internal sentient structure. We experience our physical engagement with the world on a continuum between the sensed internal and perceived external places, sustained by our physical rhythms of breathing and the duality of perception and reflection.
Each time that I spend artmaking outdoors, the subjective experience of wind, weather, paper surfaces, my walking or running, unfold as a unique event. Some of these experiences build new memories and registers of knowing, doing and feeling. However, the singularity of each event always throws open more than what we already know, challenging our understanding, and through this, implicitly, connecting us to the unknown.
Experience and new knowledge emerges as a process that Ingold (Ingold, 2017) describes as a meshwork of ‘lines of becoming’ where continuous differentiation occurs, an open process that gives rise to the unexpected, temporal and relational.
Mobility versus inscription and the gestural process
Outdoor environments are constantly changing. Change manifests in live and inorganic forms and no matter if it occurs only once or as a repetitive pattern, the dislocation of matter is always part of it. This mobility of matter on the one hand and its inscription embodied into new forms on the other can describe two opposing dimensions of process. This duality not only applies to form in landscapes and biological processes, but also to people shaping stones into drystone walls, the artist making installations or the researcher introducing a new method for reflective writing. On an abstracted level, the duality between mobility and inscription also occurs in territories of knowledge, as change brings about an inscription into new frameworks and concepts.
Objects and bodies that are part of such processes carry the knowledge of their maker - if there is one such identifiable subject – and information about the context and unfolding structure of their making process. In this sense, the physical shapes and internal structures of objects and bodies are indicative of how they have changed and evolved. For this reason, they can be seen as ‘scripts’ not only of their own becoming but also of the conditions and situations they were part of. A research enquiry can use this epistemic dimension as a methodological strategy by incorporating and visualising the artmaking and research process through its artefacts, revealing its internal structure and different stages of development.
I am working outdoors on an exposed grassy slope, pegging down sheets of paper that I cut from a roll. This requires swift actions and a pin-and-overlap technique so that the wind has no chance to rip apart the growing paper platform. I dip a large brush into a glass jar full of ink and before my hand can get to the surface of the paper, the wind has already started to spread the black liquid, spitting it onto the white paper. I draw large circular shapes. In certain paper sections, the ink pools into puddles or forms little streams flowing down the papery slope. A light rain starts. It feels like the weather urges me on to hurry up, and now hail stones begin to fall, a crackling, crisp sound on the paper surface. The icy particles melt into the ink, some of them developing a black rim around their raised ice shapes.
The complexity of the outdoor world entwines with the intricacy of the artmaking process. My experience of this unfolds as a dialogue between myself and expressions of change that I pick up from the weather and the handling of materials. The artmaking event proceeds as I consciously take decisions or delay a response. Often, I do not know how different appearances in the environment might congregate to produce my subjective experience of the situation. However, I might feel, that the experience presents to me as if its expressive particularities were asking for my response.
In order to clarify my role as artist and researcher in such a subjective experience, I use an adaptation of Noland’s concept of gesture to describe it. Noland, a dancer, choreographer and writer, has developed the concept of gesture (2010) to describe the context of body movements in dance and corporeal activity. She explains that all embodied actions occur in a context where four aspects stand in a particular relationship to each other: firstly, there is the gesture - the movement of a part of our body – and, secondly, perceived kinaesthetic feedback from this movement. There is also, thirdly, our programs of knowing how to do things and, fourth, there are tools and materials that we might use. I believe that this concept can be adapted to describe the subjective experience of an outdoor artmaking situation where I perceive kinaesthetic feedback from actively moving myself, objects or materials, or where I feel ‘moved’ or ‘stirred’ by perceived difference.
Change between self, the environment and the artmaking agenda manifests in the subjective particularity of the gestural event. This unfolds as a sensuous dialogue between qualities of perceived difference, their resonance on subjective patterns of knowing place, artmaking and environment, and an awareness of the unfolding event. The artmaking event develops its own unfolding spatio-temporal shape, similar to an improvisation event amongst dancers or musicians which has been described by Sgorbati as ‘emerging form’ (2005).
Fig. 4. Outdoor ink drawings and illustrating the relationship between processes in the environment, artmaking and the forms of objects. (Kussmaul, 2020, 2021)
The dancer and choreographer Schiller (2014) has described how movement-based interaction creates the space of its own experience for its performer, a ‘dwelling space’ for the experience. The experience of artmaking or conducting research pools into the here and now and produces a subjectively perceived dwelling space. It also creates the transfer of momentary experience into more permanent knowledge and the transformation of existing knowledge into new forms. The experience of change and how this brings us into contact with the unknown is related to engaging with materials as Hunter suggests that: ‘… not-knowing’ is directly bound to working with materials. Artists and performers facilitate the production of new embodied knowledge as they, ‘…meddle with what we discursively and ontologically do not know and generate ways of knowing or becoming with that material.’ (Hunter, Krimmer & Lichtenfels, 2016: 3).
Each artmaking event feels like a dialogue with an unfolding situation that not only contains my contribution but also the expressions picked up by myself from the current weather, the forms of thistles taller than myself, the hollow shape of a path, and the feeling that the folded paper object suggests a way of drawing on it different from what I already know.
Fig. 5. Using the illustration process to reflect, develop and communicate about the gesturing concept of this enquiry. (Kussmaul, 2021)
Fig. 6. The gesturing process as a dialogue between artist and perceived change. (Kussmaul, 2021)
Mimesis, self and artmaking
Each artmaking or research event changes the artist and researcher, and in doing so, brings about a different understanding of myself and other. When engaging with the things of the world, we firstly register them as a resonance felt on our own sentient system. This then allows us to differentiate between ourselves and the other. Hunter describes this as ‘morphing’, as that which ‘…happens when the somatic complexity of being changes because it recognizes something else. ‘ (2016: 5). I believe that Hunter’s description points to a mimetic dynamic, a process that I think underwrites all processes of gestural engagement. Mimetic dynamics inform how our selves and the other come about in actions of artmaking but also when a person engages with artwork. Adorno has described mimesis in connection to artwork (Gebauer & Wulf, 1995: 281): the aesthetic qualities of an artwork might offer ambiguities to its audiences or otherwise escape the production of equivocal statements. For that reason, it facilitates meaning making based on affect. ‘Mimetic movement encompasses these pre- and nonrational elements, which represent the essential aspects of art that are anchored in the ambiguity of the somatic. ‘ (1995: 290). For this reason, artwork can reveal knowledge about our relationship with outdoor places and embodied material cultures that are only available subconsciously or inaccessible for other reasons. The mobile working kit and its installations aim to startle the viewer and disturb their understanding about the role of an artmaker and the outdoor practices that we are familiar with. O’Sullivan (2010: 205) explains that contemporary art has the function to orientate itself towards the future: ‘Art ruptures dominant regimes and habitual formations and in so doing actualises other durations, other possibilities for life.’
‘Practice’ as vehicle of knowledge production
Over many millennia, our engagement with land has led to the development of techniques for shelter, food production and other unique material cultures. Iterations of singular actions have gradually improved our habits to grow crops, dry fish, use skis to spend time on snowy slopes or walk on countryside footpaths. Repetition and variation of processes not only shape objects but also the processes in which we create them. Techniques and technologies store embodied knowledge and in doing so, allow a transfer of such knowledge to those who share such methods with us. Mauss is often referred to as the founder of our understanding for ‘techniques of the body’ (1973), describing them in the context of their societal determinants. His understanding of ‘technique’ does not only comprise how we use materials and our bodies, but also how we develop habits based on our engagement with our feelings and emotions, exemplifying this in his descriptions of the technique of making oneself fall asleep.
Patterns of knowing how to feel, make and do things, can be seen as ‘practice’, also comprising techniques, material technologies and the intentions and values of its practitioners.
I have learnt how to feel and rate my momentary experience of the weather, the surface of the paper or the effort to walk up a steep hill in comparison to similar previous situations.
My embodied actions are also experienced from a register of organising and directing my artmaking actions from the framework of a professional visual artist, with respective goals and intentions. And then, this arts practice becomes a method within the framework of this research enquiry, where drawing and installation are joined by different methods of writing, each such drawing, installation or writing event a gesturing between materials, the environment and a particular register of knowing. Each practice event features as a singularity of experience but also resonates on my frameworks of sensuous experience and acquired techniques.
The mobile working kit contains modules that are made from paper, wood, fabric and string. Folding, bending, cutting and joining are the basic actions applied in the fashioning of the modules. Some actions permanently change the shape of the mobile working kit modules whilst others are temporary. Many repetitions and variations of such processes have gradually shaped this project’s practice techniques and I have learnt which ones to perform how and to what aim. However, beyond the mobile working kit’s role in this practice, its elements and their outdoor and indoor installations appeal to our knowledge about joinery techniques, garment production, leather crafts and bookbinding. I consciously use the mobile working kit so its elements appear decontextualised from their original material technology. This creates ambiguities of meaning to the installation and therefore questions our knowledge about them.
I use journals as writing and reflection platforms and I document practice development in photographic catalogues. Wall hung displays and installations in gallery spaces enable me to communicate with the public or with academic audiences. I also document practice development by allowing early steps of multi-stage assemblage processes to remain visible. Pencil pre-drawings or marks from pre-permanent assemblage processes will remain as valued parts of the artefact’s aesthetic. The unfolding arts practice has also led to the production of wall storage modules and frames for mid-room displays. Gray, Malins and Bristow (2018) have postulated that creative practice-based PhD enquiries might use a final exhibition, as an ‘exposition’, to demonstrate their processes and results. I believe that the visualisation of the project’s development at any stage will increase its internal coherence and raise its potential to communicate with audiences.
I understand my outdoor artmaking practice in relation to the rhythms and habits performed and shared by other creatures outdoors and in connection to the processes driven by the physical forces outdoors. In each artmaking event, engagement in the here and now gestures towards its own and other practice frameworks, creating patterns of refraction between them.
Fig. 7. Using the mobile working kit to visualise practice and research development: An installation demonstrates material choices as part of a four-tier taxonomy. Wall storage racks. (Kussmaul, 2021
Fig. 8. Assembly and surface treatment methods. (Author’s own photographs, 2021)
Fig. 9. Communicating about practice and research development: A poster explains what the artist does in an outdoor artmaking event. (Kussmaul, 2020)
Drawing as extraction and enactment of from
Using the mobile working kit to make drawings and installations outdoors, my own body also changes the spatial situations of the environment by leaving traces on the ground or, when working at the desktop work station, by producing illustrations and written text. These actions also build and reconstitute the project’s framework. Such intra-active engagement between materials, myself and environments also affects the temporal dimensions of working patterns and extends to research dissemination situations. When I engage with other researchers, I might demonstrate my artmaking actions in a live conference situation or use illustrations and words to engage with them through on-screen presentations, each such event producing its own choreography of bodies and artefacts, words and images.
I use several practice log-books as digital writing platforms where photographs, diagrams and text come together so that reflection and analysis can take place across and between these different forms of information. With each iteration of engaging with a practice log-book, my current thoughts and observations are revealed as expressions of change that gesture towards previously established knowledge, leading to the perception of difference.
The previously introduced concepts of ‘gesture’ and ‘practice’ have framed the subjective experience of change and the rhythms and techniques of knowledge acquisition.
It appears useful to describe the artmaking methods explained above through a conceptual lens that relates them to notions of mark making from a context of drawing. The verb ‘to draw’, in its various Germanic and Proto-Germanic forms refers to acts of ‘pulling’, ‘dragging’ or ‘carrying’ out (Online Etymology Dictionary, 2022). Common to these historic roots is their reference to the notion of ‘extraction from a context’ but also the performance of an act that receives its form by means of its enactment. These two actions, firstly, the pulling out or extraction of a thing from a context and secondly, the performing of an action, both bring identity to the process in question. In this expanded sense, my artmaking can be seen as drawing, as the action of producing and enacting form within a complexity.
I step onto the paper rock cover and kneel down. With a marker pen, I draw around the perimeter of my legs, bent at the knees, folded under but slightly pushed to the side, as my body’s weight rests on my right thigh. I have to pass the marker pen from my right to the left hand to get all the way around my body. Now that I have marked my own position into the drawing, I use the pen to draw lines that represent the visual rhythms of the drystone walls, the curvatures of hills and their clusters of grasses and bracken. Drawing produces and enacts form and brings a new dynamic to our experience of existing space.
I use many metres of elastic string wound up on sticks or cones as mobile mark-making devices on the land. As I walk and carry with me such a cone of string, I swing the stick in a circular motion, unwinding more metres of it as I walk along, and, at certain intervals, pinning the string to the ground, stretching it over the surface of big rocks, bending it and twisting it around others. Although these actions of walking, spindling and marking, form a process with its own enacted nature, it is often difficult to determine whether this process of enactment is positioned within the disciplinary framework of dance, performance or visual arts. I believe that this is due to the fact that the experiential dimension of such actions gain their relevance from the primary or primeval connection between the self, environment and materials rather than rely on meaning-making dynamics based on references to contemporary forms of ‘dance’, ‘performance’ or ‘installation’.
Fig. 10. Extracting and enacting form: Handling and engaging with the mobile working kit and installations that change the dynamic of its outdoor places. (Kussmaul, 2020 and 20
Fig. 11. Methodology journal: engaging with photographs and different modes of writing to progress the project. (Kussmaul, 2021).
I might make drawings with the intentions of representing a past artmaking experience that I want to record and document. The role of drawing here is similar to the way an industrial designer might use a sketch to plan the development of an object. The sketching process visualises the planning stage but it also represents a creative artmaking arena in its own right interfering with the planning process.
Brandstetter (2017: 48) has formulated this dimension of drawing as seen from the viewpoint of a score for dance. She writes that the score ‘…. oscillates between record (as documentation) and conception (as outline), it self-reflectively marks its relational position between work and performance, between image/text and body/movement.‘
From the comfort of an armchair at home, I am making a sequence of drawings on A4-size sheets of paper. I use faint pencil lines and then an ink-liner to gradually visualise the recent artmaking event outdoors, where I had made a paper covering for a large rock, folding and bending thick lengths of lining paper over the lichen-covered stone surface. As I keep drawing, I weave backwards and forwards in my thoughts between the past event and the drawing situation as it develops now, remembering how the wind and the cold made the situation a difficult endeavour. My drawing actions now resonate on my knowledge about the effective use of line and shading in making an illustration, altering it in the process, but also changing my understanding of the original event outdoors. My engagement with past artmaking is enacted by my momentary drawing actions whilst the finished drawing functions as a script of this interaction.
The notion of ‘practice’ as described earlier is a form-giving enactment in its own right and applies to the creative arts practice and the research practice. With each practice and research event, experience pools into the dwelling space of its enactment, changing the artist and researcher each time. Haseman (2010) has developed a concept for understanding research as performative when it is based on researchers that ‘… do not merely “think” their way through or out of a problem, but rather they “practice” to a resolution. ‘ (2010: 147) . He also postulates that ‘… the expressive forms of research work performatively. It not only expresses the research, but in that expression becomes the research itself.’ (2010: 148).
Brisson-Darveau and Brunner (2021:4) have developed a different way of contextualising multi-facetted experience. Their concept of ‘texturing space’ explores how research activity can produce space with ‘…. texture as an entry point into practicing techniques for activating new potentials for sensation.’ Their explorations are very similar to this project’s endeavour to describe how perceived form comes about through engagement. However, I understand that their project takes its starting and end point from within the conceptualised landscape of interdisciplinary research whereas my project aims to start and end with the open spaces of the Peak District.
The performed patterns and rhythms of outdoor processes and my artmaking and research practices can be seen to combine as a life-world with its own embodied knowledge. This life-world expresses an intelligence that fits the ‘4 Es’ of cognition: embodied, enacted, embedded and extended are the adjectives associated with cognitive processes with the latter two referring to actions and their manifestations in forms whose material parts are distributed in the environment. Shusterman (2013: 49) has suggested that these attributes of cognition need to be complemented by the affective and aesthetic dimensions, characteristics specific to the aesthetic processes that are part of a creative practice.
I am out at the top of Pott Shrigley, spreading lengths of paper over the grass, pinning it down with pegs and making incisions into it so that the openings created allow the paper to move around protruding stones or rocks. I then use black ink and a big brush to make simple circular marks onto the paper-platform. The ink not only leaves the traces of my gestural movements but it also drools down on the paper in response to the sloping of the landscape, marking its own path of movement and pooling in certain areas. My activities out there, on this Friday afternoon, with a low sun and its dramatic, large shadows seem to bring a strange feeling to the place. I feel observed as if my own actions have brought a ‘seeing presence’ to the place, as if the place has acquired a capacity to see and know for itself, and it now looks back at me.
The concepts of gesture, practice and drawing might suit to explain some dimensions of this event. However, the limitations of their conceptual reach are more than evident.
Fig. 12. Artmaking actions become enacted forms when using the mobile working kit, and drawing to represent experience and visualise concept. (Kussmaul, 2019, 2021).
A taxonomy for embodied engagement between self and outdoor environment
The mobile working kit consists of studio-fashioned modules made from rolls of lining paper, double sided leatherette, elastic textile string and wooden sticks. It also contains metal artefacts like tent pegs and blades to cut string. Though the material origins of these artefacts have been derived from natural resources, they still have gone through a combination of industrial production processes. Their reintroduction to a natural environment appears like an aesthetic mis-fit to my eyes. They appear ‘out of place’ and this feeling is particularly striking in the case of white paper, its smooth surface in stark contrast to all other outdoor forms, none of which have such distinct surfaces. Rather than exclude paper from my materials choices, I believe that its inclusion can visualise our problematic relationship with outdoor places as we experience them through the lens of the many technologies that determine our embodied engagement with them. We do not ‘return’ to the open places from an archaic or innocent position. We wear shoes and clothing when spending time outdoors, and we fashion our sojourns there according to the abilities of our bodies and their needs for warmth, food and shelter, which most of us find in the urbanity of our homes.
The concepts of ‘gesture’, ‘practice’ and ‘drawing’ have brought order to the multiplicity of processes in outdoor artmaking. However, my artmaking requires a pragmatic criticality that allows me to describe, compare and analyse project installations and drawings and to take decisions about future developments. For this reason, I suggest a taxonomy that categorises the engagement between myself, artmaking materials and outdoor places into levels of complexity considering outdoor places and their specific material and spatial contexts.
On a very elemental level (level 1), our engagement between ourselves and the outdoor places occurs between our bodies and the physical shape of the land. Our walking, running, and the time spent outdoors unfolds as a combination of actions where our embodied selves and the bodies of other materials ‘bend’ or ‘fold’, ‘connect’, ‘join’ or ‘divide in relation to each other. In each such engagement, the interactions come about as a negotiation between yielding to the forces of the other or offering resistance. This dichotomy between resistance or compliance in embodied interactions also manifests in the artist’s emotions in association to the artmaking event and can be seen in relation to a practice-specific intentionality.
The engagement between body and land gains more complexity when we consider the inclusion of additional artmaking materials. Introducing paper surfaces, tent pegs, drawing ink, and string (level 2), brings materials to the environment whose introduction and use may appear in aesthetic dissonance to the current environmental context. However, on this second level, these materials also become part of the bending, folding, joining, separating and connecting actions, contributing to interactions with their specific embodied potential.
On yet another level of complexity (level 3) materials engaged with can be seen as part of a material culture and represented by particular material technologies like building fences in farming, or using fabric in sewing and tailoring. Such material cultures use raw and manufactured materials and their methods have been developed and improved over long periods of time in relationship to societal and economic dynamics and the power structures associated with them. The material cultures referenced by the artist’s use of mobile working kit materials may be different from such material practices found in this particular outdoor environment. In such an instance, their use creates a sense of contrast and dissonance.
This creative arts practice with its particular material choices and methods can be understood as a particular version of such a material culture. I assign it to its own tier (level 4), though the practice-specific methods like drawing, installation and documentation also manifest as body-land relationships (level 1), are expressed using artmaking materials (level 2) and reference material cultures (level 3). In this sense, the arts practice is seen as a framework of material culture in its own right and it folds back into itself to reinforce its own methods and actions and thus building complexity. Such re-implementation of structure into its generic context reminds me of evolutionary processes where the effectivity of organisms is gradually improved over time in response to its engagement with the environment.
Relating different aesthetic and materials components of an installation to the frameworks of embodied material cultures offers a way to describe how the installation produces its agency: agency is produced by the tensions between embodied resonance from material components of the installations and how these produce connotations and dissonances in reference to material culture frameworks, a process that can gains complexity by layering and feedback into itself.
Fig. 13. A taxonomy for engagement with materials and outdoor environments. (Kussmaul, 2021).
As a way of describing the agentic potential of an object or artefact, I suggest to question it from the viewpoint of four conceptual motives: ‘Capture’, ‘carry’, ‘mark’, and ‘shape time’, each refer to a different aspect of an object’s properties to exhibit its relationships between form, knowledge and process. I believe that these terms are able to categorise the epistemic dimensions of any material artefact, embodied practice or, in more abstract terms, the form of a research process. ‘Capture’ refers to the events of form creation where in moments ‘of the catch’ the object or knowledge came about, whereas ‘carry’ means its potential to store and transport knowledge. ‘Mark’ refers to the particular spatial and material components that make up its form. ‘Shape time’ aims to describe how patterns of change and development, growth and decay bring structure to the perception of time, also raising the question, who might bring about such temporal patterns and who perceives them.
Fig. 14. Sewing and textile technologies are used as assembly methods and as a material culture reference framework. The human body and other materials engage by bending, connecting, joining, dividing or folding. (Kussmaul, 2021).
Artmaking activities on Bakestonedale Moor have created relationships between the artist and its open places which have then become the focus point of these research explorations. Drawing and installation processes, the rhythms of natural processes on the land, and the methods of conducting research have been framed in consideration of their connections between form and process, based on the dichotomy of mobility and inscription. Whilst ‘gesturing’ framed the subjective artmaking experience as a dialogue between self and the unfolding event, underwritten by a mimetic dynamic, ‘practice’ was used to describe the knowledge-building processes of repeat-and-variation patterns of making and feeling. The practical methods of installation, illustration and writing were understood as an expanded form of drawing, producing form by ‘drawing it out’ from a context or by enacting it. In addition to this, a taxonomy has been suggested that charts how agency comes about from the tensions between the perceived particularities of materials and bodies and the subject’s material culture frameworks.
The methodology’s focus on form and process arose from the need to develop a practice-based criticality for artmaking that can explain the pragmatics of working with the mobile working kit and facilitate choices between using fabric or paper, between cutting, ripping or tearing, between sewing together or using temporary assembly techniques.
The combination of the enquiry’s conceptual lenses has allowed me to describe flow and development as a subjectively experienced dialogue between self, the complexity of outdoor environments and the specificity of the momentary event. Such conceptualisations also allowed me to understand the artist’s actions in analogy to the rhythms and habits by the other than human actors encountered outdoors.
Some of the forces that drive the processes in outdoor environments may be associated with conscious intentions by sentient beings whilst others are based on instinct or geological and meteorological activity. The multiplicity of processes and their intentions might be understood as a choreographic texture between land and human and other than human actors. As this research enquiry has not yet reached its end point, I wonder how its framework might be extened to include emotion, conscious intention, instinct and physical forces as drivers for change specific to the theatrical dimension of place.
Fig. 15. Ink drawings on the slopes of Bakestonedale Moor. (Kussmaul, 2020).
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