Tate Papers ISSN 1753-9854

Diffractive Analysis: Embodied Encounters in Contemporary Artistic Video Practice

Amba Sayal-Bennett

This paper details how diffractive analysis, a practice-based research methodology combining methods from art practice, art history and cultural studies, can be used to understand the role of bodily experience and affect in the work of contemporary video artists.

This paper examines the ways in which practice-based research can inform art theory, a field that has traditionally drawn largely upon the work of philosophers and historians. The discussion outlines how embodied methods – those that involve using sensations in the body to collect and analyse data – that I have employed within my artistic practice have generated new insights into contemporary artistic video works. Using a hybrid research methodology that combines methods from art practice, art history and cultural studies, this article makes the case for the ways in which practice-based research can enrich and challenge prevailing conceptual discourses surrounding contemporary artistic video practice.

Drawing on my experiences of making, which include sculpture, drawing and installation, this paper explores the work of new media artists who use filmic editing techniques when working within the medium of video, such as cutting between the recorded action and image distortion. Focusing specifically on Cory Arcangel and Steve McQueen, I suggest that the application of filmic techniques to video by these artists can be theorised as a form of ‘diffractive analysis’. This concept, first proposed by feminist theorists Donna Haraway and Karen Barad, describes an inquiry into the material effects of difference through an embodied engagement with the materiality of the research data. In the present study, the research data can be understood as film and video, and the material effects of difference that I explore are the disruption or distorting effects caused by the encounter of the two different mediums of video and film within Arcangel and McQueen’s artworks. The embodied engagement is the bodily sensations generated by the encounter between video and film.

After outlining my experimentation with diffraction as a method in my own artistic practice, I delineate how contemporary artists’ video work challenges ‘representational’ understandings of film and video. By this I mean approaches to visual media that regard them as lacking a material base, seeing them rather as visual representations of absent objects or subjects. Following this I propose that the embodied form of viewing that is demanded by these video practices calls for an alternative theoretical framework to the ocular emphasis that is characteristic of film and screen theory.1 My conclusion considers how my practice-based research methodology enabled my embodied experiences of making to be integrated with my understanding of contemporary artistic video practice.

It is important to clarify that this research is practice-based, rather than practice-led, since the two terms are often used interchangeably.2 Practice-based research refers to a form of research in which the originality of the study and its contribution to knowledge are demonstrated through a creative artefact or outcome, such as images, music or performance.3 Practice-led research is that which focuses on practice itself, leading primarily to new understandings about practice.4 Given that the present research was developed with an investment in the agency of materiality – the enactment or arrangement of materials that produces bodily sensations and further actions – it can be defined as practice-based.

The problem of representational analysis

With reference to art historical and theoretical discourses, the problem with representational analysis is its detachment of an artwork from its methods of production.5 Writer and artist Paul Carter notes that representational analyses remain outside of creative processes by making sense of them purely on the basis of their outcomes, disconnecting the meaning of the artwork from the way in which it was created.6 As visual theorists Barbara Bolt and Estelle Barrett state: ‘[Art history’s] focus on artworks rather than practice has produced a gap in our understanding of the work of art as process.’7 Theorisation of art practice in representational terms necessarily excludes both practice and practitioners, because in attempting to understand and interpret the art object, practice is itself effaced. Such forms of analysis substitute a representation for an action.8

The main question I have addressed in the consideration of contemporary video practices has therefore been: what does standard art historical method silence? Which possible realities does it refuse through its insistence on the representational, and how might it be crafted differently? Art history and art practice are distinct investigative processes, as attested by their methodologies. My consideration of contemporary video works through practice-based methods was intended to respond to a gap between art history and art practice in order to reintegrate embodiment and materiality into the research process. In doing so I reconsider how artistic video practice can be theorised.

The term ‘affect’ can be defined as an inter-corporeal intensity that is related to, and yet distinct from, emotions and feelings. It describes the passage from one experiential state of the body to another, implying an augmentation in that body’s capacity to act. Affects are often perceived as surprising or somehow beyond the will and conscious intention of the affected body. This definition is specific to this field and differs from the general meaning of the term (a subjective feeling in response to a thought, stimulus, mood or emotion). This study’s methodology draws on Haraway’s commitment to the personal, affective and embodied minutiae of lived experience as the place from which a new kind of theorisation can emerge.9 Her notion of ‘situated knowledges’ can be used to elaborate the kind of insights produced by the embodied findings presented here.10 Haraway coined this term to refer to a type of knowledge that is specific to a given situation, one that accounts for both the agency of the knowledge-producer and that of the object of study. Haraway questioned the foundational myths of traditional objectivity, such as the subject as a singular point of empirical knowledge, and the object of inquiry as passive and stable. She has employed the concept of the embodied nature of all vision to consider other ways of seeing and achieving ‘partial, locatable, critical knowledge’.11 Using the metaphor of knowledge as vision, Haraway argues that a nuanced understanding of vision and perception demonstrates that an object of sight, or an object of knowledge, cannot be conceptually removed from an embodied context, in other words from a situated point of view.

Due to the ‘messiness’ of art practice, and its ability to forge and sustain multiple contradictory connections, I follow Haraway in attempting to maintain a ‘partial perspective’ that is faithful to the particular position from which insights are generated, as well as the possibility of other viewpoints.12 My practice-based research can therefore be situated within a feminist research tradition that uses experiences as a basis for thinking about artistic video practice.13 The methodology is built upon an investment in the agency of materiality and the epistemological potential of the arts, namely their role in generating rather than merely illustrating theory. Barad argues that to theorise is to be in touch with the world and that to know is to be in immanent relation to it – an idea that is explored in this study.14

Reflection and diffraction

Haraway and Barad have highlighted difficulties within the notion of reflection as means of gaining knowledge, and Barad offers diffraction as a productive model for thinking about non-representational methodological approaches.15 For Barad, reflection (or reflexivity) holds objects of investigation at a distance. It aims to find accurate representations, free of distortion, across different fields of study, and is concerned with the interaction of separate entities. Yet as Haraway states: ‘Reflexivity has been recommended as a critical practice, but my suspicion is that reflexivity, like reflection, only displaces the same elsewhere’.16

Unlike reflection, diffraction is a critical practice of engagement. Diffractive practices aim to understand the world from within. They place the emphasis on material experience, which means understanding that material objects and encounters are produced and reshaped through what Barad calls ‘intra-action’ – their relation to one another. Barad argues that learning, knowing, measuring, theorising and observing are all material practices intra-acting within the material world.17 They have a performative dimension, and are involved in the production of the world rather than offering a neutral and objective description of it. In this way, diffractive analysis accounts for the entanglement of researcher and researched, rather than considering the researched object in isolation, from a distance.

Central to the idea of diffraction as outlined by Barad and Haraway is the notion of difference.18 As a methodological approach, diffractive analysis explores how material objects and processes can be understood through the effects created by their difference, rather than observing what these differences are.19 As Haraway notes: ‘A diffraction pattern does not map where differences appear but rather maps where the effects of differences appear’.20

John D. Norton, Diffraction Diagram, published in ‘The Quantum Theory of Waves and Particles’, Pittsburgh 2001

John D. Norton
Diffraction Diagram, published in ‘The Quantum Theory of Waves and Particles’, Pittsburgh 2001
© John D. Norton 2018

This notion of difference is perhaps understood more clearly when we define diffraction in scientific terms. In that context, the word refers to the process by which waves combine when they encounter an obstacle (fig.1). When waves overlap at the same point in space, their amplitudes combine to form a composite wave. The resultant wave is a sum of the effects of each individual component wave. When the individual waves interfere with each other they produce a diffraction pattern. This way of combining effects is called superposition, something I experiment with as a generative process in my own artistic practice.

Amba Sayal-Bennett, Weight Table 2015

Amba Sayal-Bennett
Weight Table 2015
© Amba Sayal-Bennett

Amba Sayal-Bennett, Flint 2015

Amba Sayal-Bennett
Flint 2015
Drawing projection, paper, mount board
3.2 x 2.1 x 0.9 m
© Amba Sayal-Bennett

By experimenting with the mechanism of translation in my work, I have experienced the productive potential of disruptive effects caused by the movement of drawn elements, such as particular shapes or colour compositions, across mediums. I have become particularly interested in the role of material disruptions in the creation of sensations, and how these sensations affect or alter the development of my work. To give an example, I projected acetate prints of my drawings, such as the graphite, ink and ProMarker work Weight Table 2015 (fig.2), into spaces using overhead projectors, and worked back into them site-specifically. This involved layering the prints with other prints of my drawings, obscuring sections of the projection bed and using paper, objects and tape in order to alter the light fall of the projected image, resulting in installations such as Flint 2015 (fig.3). I wanted to explore how the drawings changed through this transposition, and how structural dissonances and disruptions created by the movement across sites (from paper to room) affected how I worked back into them. What I found was that the translated elements, in this case the scanned drawings, became material, or non-human, agents in the creation of sensations. By this I mean that the disruptions of the drawn forms caused by their overlay, or diffraction, created new visual effects which I had not seen before. These visual sensations enabled the development of my work as they caused me to encounter the materials in a different way. They changed my relationship to the materials at hand by making me aware of new potentials within each medium.

The common difficulty in understanding the concept of non-human or material agency is most likely linked to a prevailing idea of agency that connects it to conscious decision-making and personal intention. As such, there is generally little scope for considering agency beyond the strictly human realm.21 The world as conceived in this human-centred way posits the environment as a collection of things under our control, designed to serve human ends.22 From this perspective agency is only a property and attribute of humans. However, the idea of decentralised agency has gained momentum across the social sciences over the past two decades.23 The focus of this paper is aligned with these new materialist accounts, which seek more dynamic ways of understanding the multitude of materialities we encounter in our everyday lives, and which aim to bring into focus processes of materialisation, intensities, forces and potentialities that are not solely human, transforming the divide between mute objects and speaking subjects.24

In this example in which I used acetate prints of my scanned drawings to create large-scale projection installations, the effects of difference, created through the act of translating the work from one medium to another, gave me new ideas about how to use the materials with which I was working. The process of overlaying or diffracting the scanned drawings produced new visual effects. My embodied experience of these visual effects enabled me to think about other ways to physically manipulate the projected image, such as placing card, paper and tape within the projected area of light. This diffraction of material elements and the projected image produced further distorting visual effects. For example, in Flint the angle of the two leaning pieces of card against the wall moved part of the image away from the wall and into the physical space of the room. The agency that drove the development of the projection work was therefore distributed between the constituent parts of the assemblage, which consisted of my body, the projector, the context, the acetates, the paper, the card and the tape.

By responding to the phenomena – the visual sensations – that were produced within this specific material arrangement, the assemblage developed through a transferral of affect. This affective encounter can be understood as the way in which the visual sensations augmented my capacity to act, by making me aware of new ways to use the other materials such as card, paper and tape. The combining, layering or excluding of elements in the assemblage did not take place according to any preconceived or organisational logic; rather, these actions were specific material responses to the changing affective intensities, or embodied sensations, created by the assemblage. The superposition of different elements – for example, the layering of acetate prints of my drawings, or the incorporation of objects and paper into the projected area of light – produced different diffraction phenomena that can be understood as a form of material agency that drove the development of the work. Through these moments of disruption, matter became an active and indispensable participant in the work’s development.

This can be elaborated upon by means of educational theorist Hillevi Lenz Taguchi’s discussion of diffractive analysis as a:

transcorporeal process of becoming-minoritarian with the data … [In this process] the researcher is attentive to those bodymind faculties that register smell, touch, pressure, tension, and force in the interconnections emerging in between different matter, matter and discourse, in the event of engagement with data.25

In the case of my own practice, diffraction became an operative mode that functioned at two levels of the making process. The first is structural, in terms of the layering of media. The second is affective, in terms of my ‘becoming-minoritarian’: sensations travelled between my body and the materials with which I was working, allowing the process to change both me (my actions and agency) and the development of the work. This notion of becoming-minoritarian highlights a crucial difference between diffractive and representational analyses – between transformative and non-transformative methods of enquiry. As this example has shown, diffractive analysis enables and acknowledges the mutual enfolding, or intra-action, of the researcher and the researched artist and artwork. It will be demonstrated later in this article that this engagement with the process of translation and diffraction as a generative device in my artwork produced insights into the effects and affects of filmic devices being used in video works by artists Arcangel and McQueen.

Barbara Bolt similarly discusses the way in which observations about other artists’ practices often arise out of sustained material enquiry.26 Bolt describes how David Hockney, in his book Secret Knowledge: Rediscovering the Lost Techniques of the Old Masters, suggests that the uncannily accurate drawings made by old master artists were made using projection devices.27 Through his knowledge as a practitioner, in particular his analysis of the lines in the drawings, Hockney presents the argument that the old masters had relied on optics to create ‘living projections’ which they then used to create lifelike renditions. Bolt describes how Hockney’s particular knowledge came from his experience of working with pencils, charcoal, paint, projections and the camera in realising his own artworks.28

In my examination of contemporary video works I was able to draw upon material thinking, a form of thought that was enabled through my connection to materials, and affective insight, an awareness fostered by the embodied sensations that occurred in my process of making. This enabled me to move away from representational analyses, which, as we have seen, sit outside of these making processes by studying only their outcomes. I have therefore focused on the processual, rather than representational, aspects of the video works that I examine, specifically the dynamic material exchange that occurs between the bodies and images involved in the viewing of the works. In order to explore the diffractive nature of these contemporary video practices, it is first necessary to examine the problematic relationship between film and video within art historical and art theoretical discourse.

Video: Analyses and processes

Film and media theorist John Conomos has endorsed Raymond Bellour’s analysis of the way that VCRs (Video Cassette Recorders) reconfigured spectatorship based on his recognition of the return of the filmic ‘still’.29 Conomos argues that since the 1970s, with the introduction of the VCR into homes, viewers have been able to intervene in and manipulate the narrative sequence of recorded action by accelerating and/or slowing down the rate of play, or by pausing and repeating sequences.30 In a conversation with Arcangel, video artist Dara Birnbaum notes that before VCR, viewers’ experience of television was unilateral: the relationship between viewers and media images was one-way in that they could not perform such pausing or rewinding actions.31 This new ability to pause or rewind therefore awarded greater agency to the viewer. For Birnbaum, pirating and re-appropriating video footage formed a way to ‘talk back’ to the media when there was originally no way to do so: ‘the stuff was coming one way to you and there was no way to arrest it, stop the action, divert it, alter the vocabulary, or change the syntax’.32 Technological development, initially in the form of the VCR, and now in the form of the internet, has provided a new means for artists to critically intervene and engage with media images. Whereas in the 1970s and 1980s Birnbaum had to obtain most of the images for her videos illegally, relying on people in the television industry to provide pirate material for her work, contemporary artistic video appropriation, such as that in Arcangel’s work, comes from a point of almost total accessibility in the age of the internet.33 This reflects a marked difference between those born in Arcangel’s generation, who grew up with computers, and those born in Birnbaum’s, who did not.

Within the context of art historical and theoretical discourse, this power to pause or arrest the video image has been aligned problematically with the editorial manipulation of film, and has been subjected to the critical analysis applied to photography. Both of these mediums are structurally very different to video. Video, unlike film, has no discrete break between frames; rather, its image is constituted by interlacing electronic scan lines.34 This is perceptually evident in Douglas Gordon’s video work 24 Hour Psycho 1993, in which the artist projects the original Alfred Hitchcock film Psycho (1960) in its entirety, slowed down to a twenty-four hour duration. The original is a film, with frames, but Gordon transferred it to video. The result of this deceleration of Psycho in video form is that the video’s pixels show a continuous narrative, whereas if the original film were played at this speed then the intervals between frames would be visible to the viewer.35

The digital video image, when paused on a computer or television screen, appears as a still image, but this involves a constant processing and refreshing of data. It is projected through an interface at a frame rate that scans fast enough to simulate the appearance of stasis. In this way the image is capable of supporting the interactivity of the user and can be modified at any time.36 As Bellour describes, the power to slow down film or arrest its pace for textual analysis was once reserved for academics and professionals who had access to 16 mm or 35 mm flatbed editing tables.37 Other critics, such as Laura Mulvey, Pavel Büchler and Tanya Leighton, have also explored the significance of this power to arrest the image.38 They discuss how this pausing function has made video available to forms of critical analysis which have long been applied to still images and photography. Yet by exploring stasis within video through the notion of the filmic ‘still’ and photographic editing techniques, such forms of analysis overlook the dynamic interactivity of which video is capable, and fails to reflect on how the ‘paused’ image is constituted.

Art historian Rosalind Krauss has examined the work of early structuralist video in relation to other forms of art practice.39 Structuralist video artists of the 1970s turned the camera on itself, making recordings of the video’s own production. These avant-garde practices produced abstract results that purposefully framed and amplified the techniques and properties of the camera and recording mechanism, such as panning, zoom and the ability to record and play video footage instantaneously. In one example discussed by Krauss, Vito Acconci’s  Air Time 1973, the artist sits between the video camera and a large mirror which he faces, addressing his own reflection for thirty-five minutes with a monologue in which the two terms ‘I’ and ‘you’ are used repeatedly. Although it is suggested that this he is referring to himself and an absent lover, the terms also allude to the interaction between Acconci and his own image. Also analysed by Krauss is Boomerang 1974 by Richard Serra and Nancy Holt, which is set in a recording studio. In it, Holt is shown close up wearing a technician’s headset, and as she begins to talk her words are fed back to her through her earphones. There is a slight delay between her actual words and the audio feedback to which she is listening. In the video, Holt describes for ten minutes how the feedback interferes with her thought processes and the confusion that results from the lack of synchronism between her speech and its delayed recording. In both Air Time and Boomerang, the response of the performer is to a continually renewed image or sound of themselves.

Rather than analysing the process involved in the production of this kind of work in relation to other media such as film and photography, Krauss focuses on its relation to psychoanalysis.40 Her theories serve as a useful counterpart to the notion of diffraction which I use to examine the work of Arcangel and McQueen. These two artists’ practices could be seen to challenge Krauss’s failure to discuss the material and physical elements used in the production of the video image. They do so by creating viewing experiences that foreground both the viewer’s embodiment and the materiality of the video works.

At the time that Krauss was writing, in the mid-1970s, scholars and curators were apprehensive towards the idea of allowing video, as a new medium, to enter the art historical canon. During this period the divisions separating artistic practices were starting to blur, and Krauss suggests that the rift between video and other visual art forms points to the structural condition of video as being psychological rather than physical.41 She describes how, with regard to early video art, the human body and the simultaneous use of recording and transmitting devices to produce an instant feedback (a mechanism specific to video) were both used frequently.42 These works exploited the closed circuit, real-time nature of video, a feature that distinguishes it from film, which has to be processed before it can be screened. By contrast, the video image is instantly recorded and playable.43 Krauss notes that in these early structuralist video works, the body is often featured between two machines (the monitor and the camera) that, in combination, re-project the performer’s image with the immediacy of a mirror.44 She argues that these situations of spatial closure or self-encapsulation were constructed in order to promote a condition of self-reflection. By excluding any trace of the past and substituting it for the mirror reflection (an instantaneous present), the works present a body or self that is understood to have no past, and no connection to any external object. As this mirroring function of video feedback involves a process of drawing attention away from the object of display (the electronic equipment and its capabilities), Krauss suggests that it is inappropriate to discuss video in terms of the medium’s physical properties.45 Instead, she argues, the objects involved in video art or video installation (the camera and monitor) are merely pieces of apparatus that facilitate the manifestation of video’s ‘real’ medium: the psychological dynamic whereby attention is withdrawn from all external objects and reflected back onto the subject.

By restricting the understanding of video works that incorporate filmic techniques to the analytic conventions of other media (film and photography) and of psychology, such as in Krauss’s analysis, representational forms of enquiry overlook the material processes, machines and bodies that produce the video image. Philosopher and critic Steven Shaviro criticises and rejects the use of the psychoanalytic model within film theory, specifically its obsessive focus on invocations of ‘lack’, ‘castration’ and ‘the phallus’.46 He suggests that semiotic and psychoanalytic film theory is largely a phobic construct due to its preoccupation with loss and the emptiness of the image, and observes that in this analytic framework images are kept at a distance.47 As with Krauss’s interpretation of structuralist video, in these theories the fundamental characteristic of the image is said to be one of material lack. This creates the idea that images are false, since they have been separated from the real situations that they claim to represent, as well as the material conditions in which they have been produced. This conception relies on an understanding of film or indeed any visual image as being purely referential, as a restaging of a ‘real’ event or situation.48 However, by exploring the structural differences between video and film, video practices that incorporate filmic techniques pose a challenge to representational and psychoanalytic understandings of video. The affective viewing experiences that they generate necessitate a consideration of the embodied, material and somatic (that which is felt by the body), rather than any form of ‘lack’.

Diffractive video practice

Cory Arcangel, Colors 2006 (still)

Cory Arcangel
Colors 2006 (still)
Video, projection, colour and sound (stereo)
792 hours
Tate L02995
© Cory Arcangel

In Arcangel’s video work Colors 2006 (fig.4) the artist breaks down a 1988 feature film of the same name into shifting strips of colour.49 To make it he developed a computer program to recode the cinematic images of this film and abstract them by playing the video one horizontal line of pixels at a time, each of which starts at the top of the screen and works its way down. Each line of pixels has been stretched to fill the screen, resulting in the work’s animated bands of colour.50 Arcangel developed Colors out of an interest in slit-scan photography, a technique in which a movable slide with a slit cut out of it is inserted between the camera and the subject being photographed. This was a process originally used in static photography to achieve blurriness or distortion in images, and for the creation of special effects in film. It enabled cinematographers to create a psychedelic flow of colours – effects which are achieved today predominantly through digital processes in computer animation.51 By taking an outmoded process previously used to manipulate a static medium and applying it to the newer medium of video, Colors sensitises viewers to changes in technological processes. It does so through the disturbances or effects of difference that are created by superposing analogue techniques and digital technology.

Although created through the physical use of a camera rather than a computer program or editing techniques, McQueen’s video Catch 1997 (fig.5) similarly draws attention to the video’s physical production through moments of disruption in the recorded sequence. Catch features footage from a video camera that was set to ‘record’ while being thrown back and forth between the artist and his sister in a garden. In this work McQueen elevates the experiential conditions surrounding the physical use of the camera over any visual impression that it might record. When projected at a large scale onto a gallery wall, the dizzying effect of the video produces disequilibrium in the viewer. Unlike conventional forms of disembodied and virtual cinema experience, in which the viewer, engrossed in the narrative action, is distracted from his or her physical state, Catch renders the viewing space both haptic and optical.

Steve McQueen, Catch 1997 (still)

Steve McQueen
Catch 1997 (still)
Colour video projection, silent
1 min, 54 sec
© Steve McQueen, courtesy the artist and Marian Goodman Gallery, London

McQueen and Arcangel’s video works both create sites of disruption within the recorded action through the incorporation of filmic techniques. Arcangel’s Colors disrupts video’s diachronic flow, preventing it from moving through time by isolating single elements (one pixel line at a time of the visual information that makes up the film’s narrative). Meanwhile, McQueen’s Catch renders the cinematic ‘cut’ visible through the literal act of throwing the camera back and forth, dramatising in real time the absence of breaks between the recorded action that would be present between a film’s frames. Rather, McQueen and his sister perform this break between frames by throwing the camera to each other; in doing so they incorporate the filmic interval – the breaks between the frames – within the video recording.52 It is the effect created by the incorporation of this filmic element that causes the work to be experienced in haptic and optic terms. By throwing the camera, rather than ‘cutting’ instantly between the alternating viewpoints, McQueen disrupts the video’s visual coherence. The distorting effect on the figures, and the disorienting effects caused by the motion of the video camera with each toss, prevent the viewer’s identification with the image or the subjects featured within it. In this way, the video effects created by the performance of the filmic interval cause the viewer to become increasingly aware of his or her physical setting and embodied experience within it.

Thinking with matter: A new image of affective thought

The effects of difference created by combining video and filmic techniques create ‘affection-images’, to use film theorist Anna Powell’s term, in that they foreground affect over representation, and embodied and material conditions of display over referential or representational clarity.53 Affect has had a central role within my own practice-based research as it has enabled me to form new material insights into Arcangel and McQueen’s practices. These insights were produced by my research assemblage, discussed above, which was not exclusively human in that it consisted of the projector, myself, drawings, tape, card, paper, acetates and the video works. This raises questions regarding who and what is responsible for generating new insights within practice-based research, and causes us to consider the active role that materials play within the process of theorisation.

Cultural theorist and philosopher Erin Manning argues that the body is always more than human, and that affect is always collective.54 As described above, affect is the capacity of the body to experience itself as more than itself, to be in excess of one’s actual state.55 Most affect theorists, despite their disagreements on the epistemological and ontological nature of the concept, agree that affects travel between (human and non-human) bodies, and are experienced a-subjectively.56 Affect is significant because its capacity to ‘move’ a person or subject means that it is part of a process, changing that which it affects.57 Affect can be understood as integral to a body’s perceptualbecoming’, in which that body is always becoming other than what it is. For philosopher Giles Deleuze, becoming is material and intensive, sensed by the body and immanent to all life, human and non-human.58 He suggests that matter and mind are not separate but productively inextricable.59 In his Cinema books, this philosophy is used to propose a model for thinking with cinema.60 Deleuze considers how cinema has enabled new ways of conceptualising our connection to the world by generating new modes of perception, enabling us to think with matter.

As I have discussed, affective encounters within my own studio practice changed my relation to my body and the materials at hand. The capacity to be moved and transformed through encounters with the non-human in the form of affect enabled me to think with the materials that I was using in my consideration of McQueen and Arcangel’s video works. In this way the total cognitive capacity of my research assemblage exceeded my individual knowledge. Through my affective studio experiences, my research, methods and self were produced in new ways as unfamiliar experiences that fostered new conceptual and embodied frameworks for engaging with the video practices. What I learned was therefore not solely the property of myself as a human subject, but arose from the intra-action of the elements in my research assemblage: the video works, my projections and drawings, and art historical and theoretical discourse.

The material insights I produced were contingent on connectedness, and my experience of knowing was one of participation.61 My practice-based research methodology accounts for the active role of non-human bodies in processes of research, bodies that other anthropocentric and representational modes of analysis have understood as merely passive tools.62 This methodology responds to a gap between art history and art practice, allowing embodiment and materiality to be reintegrated into the research process.