Academic journal article Australasian Drama Studies

Bewildering Behaviour: Practice as Research for Audiences and Other Creators of Immersive Performance

Academic journal article Australasian Drama Studies

Bewildering Behaviour: Practice as Research for Audiences and Other Creators of Immersive Performance

Article excerpt

Great claims have been made about the efficacy of immersive performance works that are 'open' and 'relational', by Kershaw,1 Rancière,2 Bourriard,3 Machón4 and others. In 1999, Kershaw noted that such works 'can somehow create access to new sources of collective empowerment'; 5 a decade later, Rancière identified an attempt to 'relaunch' the 'form of the total artwork' and so offer strategies to create an 'emancipated spectator' by means of'[re-]distribution of the sensible'.6 In 2013, Machón made the major claim that her interviews with leading British immersive theatre practitioners 'prove Bourriaud's theory that relational artistic activity can become a democratic means for positive societal and communal interaction'.7 From the same inter- views, Machón is also able to corroborate Bourriaud to 'identify the ongoing demand for immersive practice as an antidote to the alienating experiences of globalisation and virtual socialising and networking'.8 These claims are founded on the proposition that immersive artworks can 'activate the full range of the human sensorium within and across perceptual, emotional and intuitive dimensions of experience and interpretation'9 and, crucially, that they redistribute agency within the work in such a way that the audient must move beyond the role of'passive spectator [to] that of scientific investigator or experimenter'.10

What would happen if Rändere and those who have made similar claims were taken at their word, causing spectators to be seriously considered investigators, experimenters and therefore researchers? If an artwork positions its audience-participant as a researcher conducting an experiment in order to collaborate with it in the discovery meaning, as is the reported aim of much immersive work, what are the implications for knowledge production? In order to understand this turn, I will examine some of the implications of refocusing practice as research (PaR) methodologies from the 'expert' researcher to the 'everyday' audience. Immersive theatre experiences deliberately bewilder their audiences as a strategy to rehearse new behaviour in the 'real world'. This is approached as 'methods of bewildering' from the perspective of the artist-researcher creating an immersive performance. This in turn creates the need of 'tactics for the bewildered' that offer a way to begin conceptualising the application of PaR methodologies to audiences positioned as researchers. Finally, in recognition that practitioners, researchers and audiences are already immersed in everyday life, I offer a model of'everyday practice research' that might be useful in re-imagining the entrenched dichotomies of practice/ research and art/theory.

Recent developments in Practice as Research (PaR) reveal it to be an increasingly useful and legitimate 'third species of research',11 with its main articulation emerging from the specialised embodied knowledge of the 'professional' artist-researcher. An aim of arts research within the academy has been to legitimise the knowledge held in artworks as a disseminable outcome of research findings. However, as stated above, many immersive artworks position their audience-participants as researchers conducting an experiment in order to collaborate in the discovery meaning. More than most other forms, immersive performance has pursued Bourriaud's conception of 'relational aesthetics'12 and Umberto Eco's approach to the 'open work'13 to the extreme. First, many immersive artworks require the audience-participant to instantiate them - that is, to activate, enliven and sustain them performatively. The medium of the work is the live relationship between the people within an environment rather than a finished art object, film or play. Without this instantiation, the work itself does exist. Second, many immersive works incorporate the relative specificity of the individual audience-participant's perspectives and history to create open works that allow plurality of meaning and experience. …

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