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The Angel of Art Sees The Future Even When She Flies Backwards: Enabling Deep Relational Encounter Through Participatory Practice-based Research.


This research addresses the current lack of opportunity within interdisciplinary arts practices for deep one-to-one relational encounters between creative practitioners operating in applied arts, performance, and workshop contexts with participant-subjects. This artistic problem is situated within the wider culture of pervasive social media, which continues to shape our interactions into forms that are characteristically faster, shorter, and more fragmented than ever before. Such dispersal of our attention is also accelerating our inability to deeply focus or relate for any real length of time. These modes of engaging within our technologically permeated, cosmopolitan and global society is escalating relational problems. Coupled with a constant bombardment of unrealistic visual images, mental health difficulties are also consequently rising, cultivating further issues such as identity ‘splitting’, (Lopez-Fernandez, 2019). In the context of the arts, this thesis proposes that such relational lack cannot be solved by one singular art form, one media modality, one existing engagement approach, or within a short participatory timeframe.

Key to the originality of my thesis is the deliberate embodiment of a maternal experience. Feminist Lise Haller-Ross’ proposes that there is a ‘mother shaped hole in the art world’ and that, ‘as with the essence of the doughnut – we don’t need another hole for the doughnut, we need a whole new recipe’ (conference address, 2015). Indeed, her assertion encapsulates a need for different types of artistic and relational ingredients to be found. I propose these can be discovered within particular forms of maternal love; nurture; caring, and through conceptual relational states of courtship; intercourse; gestation, and birth. Furthermore, my maternal emphasis builds on: feminist, artist, and psychotherapist Bracha Ettinger’s (2006; 2015) notions of maternal, cohabitation and carrying; architect and phenomenologist Juhani Pallasmaa’s (2012) views on sensing and feeling; child psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott’s (1971) thoughts on transitional phenomena and perceptions of holding. Such psychotherapeutic and phenomenological theories are imbricated in-action within my multimodal arts processes. Additionally, by deliberately not privileging the ocular, I engage all my project participants senses and distil their multimodal data through an extended form of somatic and artistic Interpretive Phenomenological Analysis (IPA), (Smith, Flowers, and Larkin, 2009). IPA usefully focuses on the importance of the thematic and idiographic in terms of new knowledge generation, with an analytical focus on lived experience. Indeed, whilst the specifics of the participants in my minor and major projects are unique, my research activates and makes valid, findings that are collectively beneficial to the disciplines of applied and interdisciplinary arts; the field of practice-based research, and beyond.

My original contribution to new knowledge as argued by this thesis, comprises both this text exposition and my practice. This sees the final generation of a new multimodal arts Participatory Practice-Based Framework (PartPb). Through this framework, the researcher-practitioner is seen to adopt a maternal role to gently guide project participants through four phases of co-created multimodal artwork generation. The four participatory ‘Phases’ are: Phase 1: Courtship – Digital Dialogues; Phase 2: Intercourse – Performative Encounters; Phase 3: Gestation – Screen Narratives; Phase 4: Birth – Relational Artworks. The framework also contains six researcher-only ‘Stages’: Stage 1: Participant Selection; Stage 2: Checking Distilled Themes; Stage 3: Location and Object Planning; Stage 4: Noticing, Logging, Sourcing; Stage 5: Collaboration and Construction; Stage 6: Releasing, Gifting, Recruiting. This new PartPb framework, is realised within a series of five practice-based (Pb) artworks called, ‘Minor Projects 1-5’, (2015-16) and Final Major Project, ‘Transformational Encounters: Touch, Traction, Transform’ (TETTT), (2018). These projects are likewise shaped through action-research processes of iterative testing, as developed from Candy and Edmonds (2010) Practice-based Research (PbR) trajectory. In my new PartPb framework, Candy, and Edmonds’ PbR processes are originally combined with a form of Fritz and Laura Perl’s Gestalt Experience Cycle (1947). This innovative fusion I come to term as a form of ‘Feeling Architecture,’ which is procedurally proven to hold and carry both researcher and participants alike, safely, ethically, and creatively through all Phases and Stages of artefact generation. Specifically, my new multimodal PartPb framework offers new knowledge to the field of Practice-Based Research (PbR) and practitioners working in multimodal arts and applied performance contexts. Due to its participatory focus, I develop on the term Practice-Based Research, (Candy and Edmonds, 2010) to coin the term Participatory Practice-Based Research, (PartPbR).

The unique combination of multimodal arts and social-psychological methodologies underpinning my framework also has the potential to contribute to broader Arts, Well-Being, and Creative Health agendas, such as the UK government’s Social Prescribing and Arts and Health initiatives. My original framework offers future researchers’ opportunities to further develop, enhance and enrich individual and community well-being through its application to their own projects, and, in doing so, also starts to challenge unhelpful art binaries that still position community arts practices as somehow lesser to higher art disciplines

Citation: Bell, A, C 2021, The Angel of Art Sees the Future Even as She Flies Backwards: Enabling Deep Relational Encounter Through Participatory Practice-Based Research. PhD thesis, De Montfort University: Leicester, UK 

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