The Practice-As Research Manifesto Senses and Surfaces, Mediation and Objects, Youth and Activism.

Felicity Coleman

In order to ask how has practice as research left imprints in disciplinary boundaries, I have turned the question into a six-point manifesto for thinking about the system of practice itself, given form through distributed ideas that enable the different types of material fields to become visible (in political and in cultural terms). These six points have been given by Anna Hickey-Moody as coupled core ideas for thinking the contemporary arts field, and are: Senses and Surfaces, Mediations and Objects, Youth and Activism. Separating these, yet applying their fields as relational, in what follows I regard the ways in which these terms – as selected by Hickey-Moody – can articulate and also be generative of some of the manifestations of practice that we discuss today – as modalities through which research is modeled.

art work left over after practice based research

 Practice based research project
©Tate

As Activism

 As Activism. Activism. Activated. Active. Action. Before practice there is doing. The doing is impulsive. Action is motivated. Action is forced. Action is responsive, responsible, a doing engendered by need, by want, by desire, imagined and economically procured. Action, to arms. Action, to love. Action, to consume. Action to protest. Action, to shapes, spaces, to colour, to textures, to tastes. Action, to Anna! The interactions between different chemical and physical bodies move them, these bodies, in and into different configurations and forms. Activated, the body as macro and micro creates movement, and forms new doing in relation to movement itself. It is an act, this movement, that actions the matter of the world, and creates form. The act of energy. The action of electricity. To action a mattering. To the world in action. To the world, in action, we move our body. The body moves to face the world. The body is the world. A world of Action. A world of activism. Of activisms. To activate a practice of moving. To move to a doing. In moving we practice. To practice the action leads the body to a movement of repetition without difference, a making of thought conservative; an again that halts movement. Repeat the action, repeat the doing. Refine the action. Undo the again. Undermine the repetition of form.1 The movement is an activity. The practice is a doing. To practice is a making of movement, a gathering of energy, a formation of matter. To practice is to render matter. A romance. An idea. An ideal, A protest. A reformation. Activism presupposes a predication of a subject of the doing; the active body, the body that intervenes, that unmakes, that performs a cut to its normative movements; forcing a re-relationality2 To which body do we task this predicated future? This is the body of youth, an impossible and naive utopic ideal; an actuality and a practical form of energy made and remade. What does practice as activism as youth look like?

As Youth 

As Youth grabs for a colour, a shape, a noise. Words are formed spatially, rhythmically, intuitively. Youth will take the void and distort and un-form its central premise of the situation of a normative subjectivity. Informed, uninformed, fighting the word, resisting the law, youth reminds the lawmakers of intentions, of politics, of the normative logics of formed bodies; bodies as formed by the law of their actions. Unsettling.3 The youth affect the whole.4 The youth body wants to consume the thing to which it is drawn, attended to and by; to consume and be consumed by the colour the shape the noise the chemical the form. The youth activates the next forms, the ones that follow, making visible the ones that preceded by intervening, making catalytic, enacting boundaries that it was taught, a body of hate, a body of mutually entangled mattered actions and technologies. The platform of youth’s activism enables a perception of the specificity of localities; the youth’s bounded perceptual capacity makes it ripe for the mark; a marking of the modal changes in perceptual capacity that the mediations of technologies enable: the platforms of pen, loom, and tablet.  The body of the youth is perceived as a weapon to be feared to be revered to be shot down. The youth that protests against the corporate actions is removed. This practice of removal is as extreme as one can take, the practice of arms against another. Research into this practice accounts for, rather considers the transmission of the conditions of the production of the youth and all that its body could be but cannot become under law. Throw away the predications of youth! Youth can find its own language and create its own terms. The laws of the past do not work. The models of language are all fraught and unworthy of youthful ideals. Youth has to operate within the boundaries of normativity cultures that force a repression of the anguished cries of pain as the body grows and changes and sweats and suffers under hormone imbalances and synaptic misfiring. The cub does not want to be found and hides from her mother’s unnatural cries. The shameful behavior of corporate control of energy formations; the failure of the tools of education to teach the political language of the now; the coding of energy through new modes of being; these are the things that youth finds in the world. Teaching creative methodologies facilitates the bravery of youth; enabling the collective subjectivity to learn to read the figurative languages of code, of energy, so as to make the requisite materialist tools for life; not for making death. Not the cowardice tools of liberal politics, but assemblages of contracts of bodies in time, enabling access where there is none, rephrasing the law by moving through their actions to form aggregated spatial orders.

 As Mediations

As Mediations, practice requires this aggregated body; a medium for energy to be drawn up into, to be activated, actioned as matter. The tablets of transmission of mattered energy. The tablet that is called Youth’s folly, but which shows a record of a stumbling into matter. This matter, the mediatized energy is shown by youth to be more important than the things that create the noise of life; those things that the adults are clamouring for, killing each other for. Identified, the energy is free, the mediations demonstrate where the activity of life is, in mediations, in technologies. for mediations are the crafting of energy into and onto a media, a platform of technology where practice came to be actioned; comes to be made.  making, crafting, performing energy as matter. Not interchangeable, specific platforms mediate situated forms. Technology is the mediation, the computation of sensibility, of sense, of sensory apperception of the signs that come to be ordered by the making, in the action, to form a sensible object of thought; an idea of a form; an idea of an action as practice, as practiced media. The technology is the word, any body’s theory; an institution, a history, an economy of signs that perform, that action a particular kind of meaning making; performing an economy of truth, of culture, of knowing. An epistemic regime of mediations that art practice knows involves the keys for accessing systems that release other energies; the keys of privilege; keys for accessing the already made, the ready made that is the past but not the future, the accursed conservative collaboration across the dimensions enabled by the mediation; these are the economies of already activated territories in play but without temporal constraints; without the historical walls of oppression. The practice infers a medium, a material. When speaking of matter, we are speaking of energy, and it is the practitioners’ crafting of energy into a materially recognisable form that becomes the matter of a practice that we attempt to express, respond to, or create. What is the matter of practice?

 As Objects

As Objects, practice is aggregated; a glued dimensionality; the bonds of situated points coming together. Forced together and rendered apart through informing incoming energy forces, forcing entropy; a ‘device for unlimited speculation’ which the practitioners know only too well – to make something is to unmake another form, to watch something develop is to see the inverse in surrounding ideas, forms, objects.5 An image of this movement; this object is not always as it seems, to the delight of the youth; of the youthful. What is this action of creation of objects? Of an image of thought, an idea of object, a creative entropic mediating action? An image, it takes multiple forms. We expect certain things we expect models that we relate to other known requirements for work, political territory, resources. As formed, as form, this is the opportunity; das Ding; for creative practice to form itself; show off its matter as an artefact of the movements of energies, determined by the modalities of action, of activism, of practice as a specific media form, as spoken written, lived, dug, fleshed, sewn, crafted, painted, spliced, sighted, built, situated, sexed; ‘semiotic energetics’.6 But as youth knows, the plastic arts are now the plastic mind/ minds schooling swarming collecting moving in a pack moving as far apart as their energy fields will allow on the grids of possibility. We may compare artefacts as they appear before us in multiple forms and tones, smells, and tastes. And, in the cognitive plasticity of their apprehension, the conditions of perceptual activism are measured, given value. These objects are devices for an expression of energy, even as it materializes as a value system. The points of each created object are the contracts for future actions. It is no longer enough to state that these objects have an affect, or particular kinds of corporeal affects as the singular points only work in collectivity. Sensorial senses systems must be counted.  But the ways in which this counting occurs require the intervention of creative practices, for the measured object is rendered as a thing within the hierarchy, a work item supported by a system of unwaged nurturing, that critical creative research still seeks to destroy, inverting the object, returning it to be an idea that must be intuited, not given, but sensed.

As Senses 

As Senses, as sensible, as sensation forming matter, forming energy through kinetic, potential, technological platforms, the practice is imbued with a rich resource, as research of the senses; which youth comes to know by its doing of image and of a figurative, symbolic language. Senses are predicated on technology; upon their mediations. Not all bodies are alike or able and the sensorially activated being must replicate itself, mimicking others, finding a common sensory register by which all energies can be plugged into and balanced and checked to move against and together in their activation of the world. The collaborative function may be alongside; against, complementary, or a co-efficient, enabling a shared, a collective energy to increase its manifold powers; this is the unstable potential of sense; sometimes called inhuman, posthuman, but which youth knows as a buzz; a mattered cogito of thought, of perceptual possibility that compels the body to plug into other bodies to come to form. The tactical sense. The good sense that youth resists and or embraces according to their activated political objects of sense. The senses are a diaphora; they build spatial meanings, a movement into forums for auctioning senses off into actioned objects. The shopping malls of protest, over a superstition, out of a sense of incivility, injustice, inadequate distribution of resources of energy. The objects, as sensed, are to be grasped. And then the sensation comes. And then the sensation is perceived. And then the sensation is remembered. The dirt tastes just so. The earth feels just so and propels the thought of the body in its action to another place. Intuiting sensory situations, and perceiving of the principle and minor conductors is in itself subject to access, a privilege of operational movements of information. The patterns of energy are formed into dead objects; images that symbolically provide a ghosting of sensational states. We imagine, we nostalgically recall the senses in their actioned movements. How does matter become a temporal entity?

As Surfaces

As Surfaces, and upon the surface, we plot the actors, the signatures of bodies, the access of bodies into surfaces, the signatures of energies, to code the topology into a territory. The surface is the wall that organizes the active bodies in space and becomes an infinite field of political data; a temporal entity, a surface of mattered energy where objects both immaterial and material are bound. We require mediations – technologies of all forms in order to model matter – to perceive of energy / to access activisms. the surfaces of perception are not just experienced affects, or historical artefacts, or learned senses. Perceptual research practices engaged with the activation of the world as mattered contain a dense field of applied experiments, detritus of energies, where semantic searches for meanings might be refigured as distributional and not hierarchical.

In and through this engagement with materiality – the surface of creativity, and the surface of the arts we find that the disciplinary boundaries themselves (to speak of specific media, literature, art, music, philosophy) are redundant, as in fact we are already using the language of the gestural, the figurative, the code; as we speak of materials and tendencies. Practice as research stages an intervention into material codes and technological and philosophical discourses. Activity communicates a mediality;7 a creativity in the design and expression of research. In examining materials and their tendencies, we find expression of ideas and their systems that can account for the movements, the activism of matter, the forms through and by which energy can move and be situated locally through mediating platforms that themselves are both physical and virtual objects that provides youth with its advanced sense of the surface of life – as not just a material thing, but as an energy field that is politically determined into a territory but which can also be folded into another kind of shape; a different place to inhabit.

 Notes