“So, back to my original question…”

I have listened back to my own podcast a couple of times now. Enough to know that some of the questions, in hindsight, I didn’t give enough thought or consideration to. 

The big one that is bugging me, is the avoidance of the question about research and my flippant answer “Oh I don’t do any of that!” Sarah pushed at it a little bit. But I still didn’t answer it properly. So I’ve been giving some thought as to why.

I think it comes down to what I think of as Proper Research. My MA research was crowbarred into the realm of (mainly) French philosophy. I found it very difficult to relate to any of it. Then the things that I did find valuable and interesting I was told would not cut the mustard academically. If I did another MA I might question that now a little more vehemently (unlikely!)

Actually, I do do a lot of research. So there. It’s just that I’m not used to labelling it as such, because I have been told that it isn’t the right sort of research… so I have believed this and been instrumental in my own invalidation.

I attended a talk/panel thing at the Art Party Conference in Scarborough in 2013. The one part of this that struck me as an artist rather than a teacher, was the point at which Pavel Bulcher said that aligning his work to any philosophy wasn’t his problem, but up to the academics. He wasn’t interested. His job was to make the work. 

So MY job is also to make the work. My research, whatever form it takes, serves that purpose only, to feed the work. The nutrients that I decide my work needs is entirely up to me. It’s got sod all to do with Derrida or Deleuze or Baudrillard. If you want to look at that you go ahead. Not my problem. (Although I am partial to a spot of ancient Aristotle)

So here, as a chance to redress the balance, I shall make a list. This is my research. This is for my own benefit, to remind me that it is proper research. If I am doing it and it is interesting and useful and has an effect on my work, then of course it is proper research, and I don’t need the crow bar. I’m no longer being assessed in a university context and I am still developing the confidence to stand up for myself and my practice.

I investigate the materials. Their physical properties and how they work in combination. I look at them also metaphorically, as people, as a family that rub against each other. I look at my own emotional responses (and later at the responses of my viewers).

I have a methodology that includes rules, and a vaguely scientific root.

I am playful in my approach too.

I look at other images from a variety of sources that are NOT other artists. I look at microscopic images of fungi, bacteria, viruses, cells: plant, mineral, animal. I look at imaging from the Wellcome Collection, I look at old photographs… my family and strangers’. I look at clothes and faces. I look at my own past practices. My research is in real life, real body, real mind. It is an up close and personal enquiry.

In some ways, I think when I look at the work of other artists I see that as a secondary source. Someone has already looked and responded. What I want is a primary source. The raw material… truer, purer?

Audience watching is also research. Feedback either from a gallery, exhibition experience or the performance angle is absorbed and feeds into the next. Talking to the women in the audience, and fellow female performers, after a gig is becoming a habit. I want to find out about their motivations and misgivings. Why are they there, or the absentees… why aren’t they there?

With feedback comes a re-assessment, and hopefully change, improvement, a different approach perhaps… then the circle loops round again.

Being ‘present’ in the performance is a skill. To be aware takes rehearsal and confidence. It is hard to be present if you are worried about the performance too much, or the equipment, or forgetting the words of the second verse (I am too scared, I have an iPad clamped to my mic stand just in case, but I’m getting better).

The artists I do look at closely are those around me. My interviewer Sarah Goudie is tremendously inspiring and questions me on a healthily regular basis. As does Bo Jones. I send work out over social media to be viewed and commented upon. The artists surrounding me are kindly supportive, but also critical commenters: Debra Eck, Kate Murdoch, Ruth Geldard. My studio neighbour Louise Blakeway. These people are of more value to me than the prize winners and the blockbusters. 

The songwriters I can talk to about the nitty gritty of the art/craft are instrumental (pun intended) in developing my skills, most often my Band mates Andy Jenkins, Ian Sutherland, Lloyd McKenzie, John Kirkman. Dan Whitehouse quite frankly changed the landscape of my practice over the last decade since I met him; Michael Clarke and his willingness to play, get it wrong, and find some magic; Nicki Kelly’s ability to throw herself at the world… regardless of fear. 

I have conversations with Laura Rhodes that inspire deep thought about art and the world (she is a young woman I have seen grow from a babe in arms to a gloriously talented photographer); My two sons too… proud mother I am…

And there are people I would like to share a table and a beverage with, that I have seen and heard from afar, who have shown me what can be done. My current musical crushes whose words I read like poems and prayers being John Elliot and Kathryn Williams… I binge-listen, hoping some of it will rub off.

Isn’t that what research is?

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