This thesis has presented a series of four practical projects, highlighting different - though related – dimensions of autoscenography.
This conclusive chapter will contain:
· The key findings from the project
· A case for the project’s original contribution to knowledge
· An outline of the potential audience for this project and who it is useful to
· A delineation of the limits of the research and directions for future development
· A final summary of the practice of autoscenography
Where findings relate to a particular research question, these are indicated in brackets (RQ1What is autoscenography?, RQ2What are the possibilities of autoscenography when explored through practice?, RQ3Why is autoscenography important and what does it reveal about the role and responsibilities of the scenographer and the contexts for scenographic practice?, RQ4How can the practice of autoscenography be made available/ accessible to others?).
As outlined in My Approach, here is a reminder of the different characters of each practical project, which predict the flavour of the overall project findings:
Project 1: A Scenographer Walks – Autoscenography as a solo, embodied practice which foregrounds the super-local relationship of the scenographer to the space they are moving through. This project applies materials found in the scenographer’s studio towards autoscenography and proposes the reflective potential of the practice.
Project 3: Dear John – Autoscenography that embodies the personal values and politics of the scenographer, and which here marks a turning point in the way the scenographer chooses to practice. The project demonstrates an intimate turn in terms of scale and the interpretation of the autoscenographic quality of the 'super-local', while emphasising the reflective power of autoscenography for the scenographer.
Project 4: Book Marks – Autoscenography that reaches out to - and may be instigated in the same model by - other people. The project furthers the capacity of autoscenography to operate temporally and offers a space for the scenographer to foreground the personal within research networks.
The Key Findings from the Project
· Autoscenography has emerged as a personal, individual creative space that is specific to the practice of scenography and the unique experiences, environments, skills, and materials belonging to the scenographer. It offers an example of the contemporary reading of scenography - and the scenographer - as having developed greater agency within the creation of performance work (Brejzek 2010, Staging Places 2019, Lotker & Gough 2013). It sits within a field of divergent practices which exceed traditional understandings (Hann 2019) of what a stage designer might do and where they might do it. In this last sense, it is notable that autoscenography is made on ‘stages’ defined by the scenographer, which may be intimate or expansive in scale and which need not be designated theatre spaces. (RQ1What is autoscenography?) (RQ2What are the possibilities of autoscenography when explored through practice?)
· Beyond being the recipient of the scenographic experience, the body of the scenographer is often foregrounded as a part of autoscenography, whether in action, through spoken commentary, as part of a scenographic assemblage, as the route to making artefacts or as an acknowledged part of the machine of production. This connects with existing practice which merges bodied activity with scenography, such as walking (Shearing 2014 or seen through the practice of Louise Ann Wilson) but also highlights the ‘hand’ or hands of the crafting artist, as is visible through Rosie Elnile’s Prayer (2020 – discussed in Practice Review Part 2) and the autobiographical work of artists within other disciplines (Baker 2019, Bechdel 2006/2012). (RQ1What is autoscenography?) ( RQ2What are the possibilities of autoscenography when explored through practice?) (RQ3Why is autoscenography important and what does it reveal about the role and responsibilities of the scenographer and the contexts for scenographic practice?)
· The practice of autoscenography can be a form of individual reflective practice sitting in parallel to other ways of ‘doing’ scenography, enabling scenographers to reflect on their values, professional aspirations and lived experiences. This reflection can thereafter enhance the way in which they make their work. This transaction is visible in Rosie Elnile’s Prayer (2020), with a reciprocity between reflection and practice also being visible in the work of practitioners from other disciplines (Bechdel 2012, Conti 2012, Mann 2015). (RQ2What are the possibilities of autoscenography when explored through practice?) ( RQ3Why is autoscenography important and what does it reveal about the role and responsibilities of the scenographer and the contexts for scenographic practice?)
· Having established its potential as reflective tool, autoscenography offers itself as a space to embody or explore politics and values away from the institutional frameworks in which scenography typically happens. This can be seen starkly in Rosie Elnile’s Prayer (2020) and her reflections on the role of the scenographer in relation to the politics and history of performance space, but also in the work of other artists who move into alternate spheres beyond their ‘home’ territory to reflect on the context for their practice (Bobby Baker – from fine art to performance, Nina Conti from live ventriloquist performance to documentary). In emerging as a form of scenography which does not require the context and institutional underpinnings of performance-making to be brought into being, autoscenography echoes feminist discourses which work to articulate the challenges of occupying institutional structures while defining a space of practice for oneself. (Ahmed 2017, hooks 2000/2001, Salami, 2020). (RQ2What are the possibilities of autoscenography when explored through practice?) ( RQ3Why is autoscenography important and what does it reveal about the role and responsibilities of the scenographer and the contexts for scenographic practice?) (RQ4How can the practice of autoscenography be made available/ accessible to others?)
· As an adjunct to exploring the scenographer’s values, autoscenography proposes a self-oriented practice that could feasibly be the conduit for engaging with bigger themes within the discourses of expanded scenography. By considering their values and politics a scenographer might find themselves at the beginning of a journey with, for example, ecoscenography, the decolonisation of scenography or the consideration of scenography in relation to social justice (Beer 2020, Elnile & Hann 2020, Hann 2020 respectively). This positions autoscenography as being a part of the way in which a scenographer might explore or examine their self-accountability. ( RQ2What are the possibilities of autoscenography when explored through practice?) (RQ3Why is autoscenography important and what does it reveal about the role and responsibilities of the scenographer and the contexts for scenographic practice?) (RQ4How can the practice of autoscenography be made available/ accessible to others?)
· Autoscenography is aligned with feminist strategies for plural forms of knowledge production (Salami, Nelson, Makela). It acknowledges the role of the personal in practice and builds space for practitioners whose training or work culture may propose them as facilitators rather than instigating artists, or where their gender may inform their experience of equity within professional practice. (hooks 2000/2001, Ahmed 2017, Baker 2007, Barnes 2018). While the original motivation for the feminist autoscenographic project Dear John was a sense of frustration, the feminist dimension of autoscenography is ultimately art-centred rather than power-centred. Autoscenography creates a space to practice scenography that is meaningful to the individual scenographer. It does not require participation in institutional frameworks or hierarchy and resists (but does not exclude) established traditions of staging. (RQ2What are the possibilities of autoscenography when explored through practice?) (RQ3Why is autoscenography important and what does it reveal about the role and responsibilities of the scenographer and the contexts for scenographic practice?)
The Original Contribution to Knowledge
The project foregrounds the relationship between the scenographer’s practice and their autobiography/lived experience which was formerly visible via limited example or as oblique glimpses within different modes of scenographic practice. This has the potential to enrich and extend scenographic practice, whether this lies in the production of theory, professional stage design or in practice research. Autoscenography is a practice which may encompass - but also operates beyond - autobiographical performance made by a scenographer. (RQ1What is autoscenography?) (RQ2What are the possibilities of autoscenography when explored through practice?)
Autoscenography advances themes of agency present within contemporary discourse on scenography, found within discussion of the designer’s status and powers of influence (Howard 2002, Staging Places 2019, Brejzek 2010) or within arguments for scenography as a uniquely powerful, stand-alone means of leading the moment of performance (Lotker & Gough 2013, Hann 2019, McKinney and Butterworth 2009). The project evidences a discrete strand of scenographic practice which challenges long-established assumptions of stage design as a ‘service’ within the wider process of making performance. (RQ2What are the possibilities of autoscenography when explored through practice?) (RQ4How can the practice of autoscenography be made available/ accessible to others?)
The project builds on existing examples of autoscenography glimpsed through the accounts of making, experiencing, or analysing scenography written and spoken by practitioners (McKinney 2015, Hann 2019, Shearing 2012, Herbert in Courtney 1993, Pavelka 2015, Howard 2002, Baugh 2003, Raven 2019, Beer 2020) and in the key example of Prayer (Elnile 2020), to offer artistic endeavours explicitly sited at the point of intersection between a scenographer’s lived experience, and the way in which they practice their art of scenography. (RQ2What are the possibilities of autoscenography when explored through practice?)
Within a field of autobiographical practices, this project offers a fresh example of the identified move towards visuality (Smith & Watson 2002 & 2008) by bringing together autobiographical performance and an individual practice of scenography that has visuality at its core, predominantly manifest through space. This builds on the relationship between place and autobiography expressed through Dee Heddon’s definition of autotopography, extending this explicitly toward autobiography through the design of performance space, unconstrained by located place or geography (2008). It makes manifest the connection made by Sidonie Smith and highlighted by Dee Heddon, that selfhood can be considered as operating spatially (Smith 1993). (RQ2What are the possibilities of autoscenography when explored through practice?) (RQ3Why is autoscenography important and what does it reveal about the role and responsibilities of the scenographer and the contexts for scenographic practice?) ( RQ4How can the practice of autoscenography be made available/ accessible to others?)
Considering the specific context of women’s autobiographical practices, autoscenography expands this territory towards scenography, through work made by a woman-scenographer, in relationship to - and spilling from - the lineage of other artists making autobiographical performance (Bobby Baker, Caroline Horton, Bryony Kimmings) and beyond in film, illustration and photography (Nina Conti, Alison Bechdel, Sally Mann). (RQ2What are the possibilities of autoscenography when explored through practice?) (RQ3Why is autoscenography important and what does it reveal about the role and responsibilities of the scenographer and the contexts for scenographic practice?) (RQ4How can the practice of autoscenography be made available/ accessible to others?)
Beyond the fields of scenography or autobiographical practice, this project contributes a scenographic response to the field of practice research. It considers the themes of research and how this may be done, documented, and disseminated through the lens of scenography. Developing the practice of autoscenography has yielded a clutch of fresh examples of the practice research ‘artefact’. These contribute to discussions within the field of practice research, which propose the linking of practice research processes and outcomes congruently with the ways in which we share them. (Makela 2007, Hilevaara & Orley 2018, Nelson 2013) This project evidences ways to ‘write’ or otherwise disseminate research that operate beyond the conventions of written text (Hilevaara & Orley 2018), mirroring the way that scenography ‘writes’ on the ‘stage’ (see Autoscenography, She Wrote for the etymology of the word scenography ) as a crafted, affective atmosphere (Hann 2019). (RQ2What are the possibilities of autoscenography when explored through practice?) ( RQ3Why is autoscenography important and what does it reveal about the role and responsibilities of the scenographer and the contexts for scenographic practice?) (RQ4How can the practice of autoscenography be made available/ accessible to others?)
The Audience for this Project and Who it is Useful For
(RQ4How can the practice of autoscenography be made available/ accessible to others?)
Scenographers, Performance Designers, Theatre Designers, Designers
The practice of autoscenography offers scenographers of all stripes a parallel space to professional practice that complements, enhances, or expands the way they habitually or routinely work. It is a space that is for the scenographer and encourages the exploration of the materials, processes, and conditions of scenography in the service of personal artistic development, exploring subjectivity or self-reflection.
Autoscenography is way of practising scenography that may be meaningful to practitioners between professional engagements, addressing the myth that you are only a stage designer if you have an ongoing professional engagement or are moving steadily through a traditional professional hierarchy. Autoscenography positions scenography as a root artistic practice that does not need the institutional conditions of performance-making to come into being. Autoscenography offers a path for established practitioners to step away from their institutional contexts and consider themselves in relation to their practice in a way that may be uncommon within their working life.
Autoscenography is proposed in counterpoint to the dominant mode of training of performance designers, theatre designers and scenographers, where the scenographer is envisaged as working within a professional or commercial theatre framework and is thus cast in the role of artistic service-provider. A scenographer may not have considered scenography as an independent practice because they have often been trained to serve within performance-making processes, rather than initiating or leading them.
Autoscenography may likewise appeal to theatre design practitioners who do not identify themselves as scenographers, but who may specialise in a particular dimension of performance design – the often-distinct professional disciplines of lighting or sound design, for example, or designers working within the different encodings of ‘set and costume design’ described as theatre, performance or stage design.
Performance Design Education
Autoscenography has the potential to engage students of performance design in autoscenographic practices to support their creative development and as part of their preparation for professional practice. In my own work, writing an undergraduate programme for the conservatoire where I teach, I have included a module called The Whole Designer in which students keep a hybrid diary-sketchbook, which is designed to sit at the intersection of who the designer is and the influences they absorb.
There is space within contemporary approaches to performance design training for projects that are self-initiated by emergent performance designers, and which might have lived experience at their core, thereby manifesting autoscenography.
Autoscenography potentially lends itself to other design disciplines that engage with similar elements, such as architecture, product design or fashion design, which approach scenographic themes of embodiment, space, environment, or atmosphere. It offers a way of approaching these practices that places the autobiography or story of the originating practitioner at the centre of the work, in a way that may not be common within ‘traditional’ practice of the discipline.
This project offers a case study for people who may be considering a move from professional practice in the arts to practice research. This includes acknowledging the system or frameworks supporting former creative employment, reflecting on previous professional experience, and re-connecting with the fundamental principles and processes of their work while allowing them space to reflect on how and why they wish to use their craft. The project evidences the transition from professional life to practice research as one of growth and positive transformation. Autoscenography suggests a model for artists of other stripes who may wish to move from a system of employment for production or service, to practice for its own rewards.
For practice researchers looking for examples or models of ways to approach practice research and its dissemination, this project explores approaches that deviate from traditional, europatriarchal modes of presentation and/or knowledge production. This project has attempted to expand the qualities and attributes of scenography into methods for practice research, and thus might prompt practice researchers of other disciplines to use scenography as a model for research enquiry or a methodology.
More generally, there are approaches within the project that are relevant to a range of artforms, including the use of conference papers to further the research journey, the blending of everyday life into the story of research, alongside alternative formats for disseminating practice. These methods could be adopted without committing to autoscenography as a practice.
The Limits of the Research
The project is situated in the perspective of a white-skinned, cis-gender, British, able-bodied woman in her forties, and this specificity limits the scope of an enquiry situated in the autobiography and lived experience of one scenographer. Scenographers and their practices are plural, which means that while this project articulates and frames the practice of autoscenography, there will be multiple approaches to practicing it that cannot be articulated by a single project driven by one scenographer.
This project errs on the side of intimacy or closeness to the scenographer, rather than expanding towards autobiographical performance made by a scenographer for a public audience. Making autobiographical performance was what brought me to practice research in the first place, but in examining what autoscenography is or can be, the scale of the work that has been made has shrunk, which naturally reflects a close focus on what is happening when the scenographer’s story meets her practice. The project has not explored public presentation of autoscenography beyond conference audiences, which arguably approach the performed moment through a different lens.
The feminist response of this project to the structures and institutions that frame professional performance design stops short of a gendered analysis of the role of the scenographer, for example, how this may be read as a ‘midwife’ role birthing the ideas of others or gendered assumptions about the ways scenographic responsibilities are perceived, within design for space or costume. There is undoubtedly space for greater interrogation of sexism and patriarchal influences on professional performance design practice and within production roles in general, but while this has been a part of my professional experience, it is beyond the scope of this exploration of autoscenography to provide such analysis.
Through discussion of Rosie Elnile’s Prayer (2020), the subjectivity of the scenographer was highlighted. The meaning of ‘subjectivity’ within this project is constrained by the notion of the scenographer’s story, which might include personal history or lived experiences. There are other dimensions of subjectivity, sitting perhaps outside the scenographer’s immediate awareness, which could form the basis for future research and analysis, such as the way that a designers’ biases - beyond taste or aesthetic preference - might influence their scenographic output.
Suggestions for Further Research
A clear avenue for further research is to explore what happens when autoscenography is made for a public audience. This might include examining the effect of bringing autoscenography back into – or towards - the performance space or into a live performance that is theatrical rather than academic in context.
In terms of life-writing, there is space for the autobiography and lived experience of scenographers to have a greater prominence, bringing their visibility in line with the attention bestowed upon other theatre roles, such as the playwright, actor, or director. This would mean moving beyond publications documenting a lifetime of professional practice, towards understanding something of who the scenographer is and how this underpins their work.
‘Where the scenographer is’ has been a significant part of this project, in terms of their location, their stage of creative development and their process. Having made more than one project or presentation which acknowledges and utilises the working space of the scenographer as one stage on which their work happens, there is more to be understood about the working environment of the scenographer and how this – as place, space, or as the scenography of the domestic or studio context – orientates (Ahmed 2010) their artistic output.
As outlined above, in the section on the limitations of this research, the theme of equity in scenographic practice glances the lived experience of any scenographer making work today. Autobiographical projects focused on the lived experiences of scenographers working within different professional and institutional contexts seem likely to grow in number as the field of performance-making - and scenography within this – reflects on the different and often hidden ways in which arts practitioners can experience discrimination. Autoscenography may have a role to play in bringing scenographers’ stories into these important discussions.
Autoscenography is the scenographer-focused dimension of scenographic practice, through which the scenographer can explore:
· The nature of their training and modes of professional practice.
· Their values and accountability as an artist and practitioner.
· Their super-local, embodied relation to the materials and environment of their practice.
· The future for their professional/collaborative and independent scenographic practice.
· The relationship of their lived experience and story to their practice, and the potential of these to inform and develop scenography.
Autoscenography is proposed to scenographers practicing at all levels – including those in training, emerging into professional practice or after years of established work – as a nourishing, fruitful parallel practice to the prevailing ways one might ‘do’ the work of scenography. It stands to strengthen and support traditional forms of scenographic practice - where collaboration or design as ‘service-provision’ may be the habitual modes of working - by affirming the story (identity, values, history) of the designer as a valuable and visible component of practice.
Autoscenography contributes to the discourses around 'expanded' scenography, agency, and the autonomy of the designer, by offering a route through which scenography can be framed as an artform or mode of self-expression. This could herald a transition away from expected contexts for performance design work towards a personal artistic practice, which may represent re-invention and re-orientation for the scenographer, enabling them to re-think their place in the traditional hierarchies and power-dynamics of theatre production. This potentially has a bearing on the values they communicate to their peers.
Rosie Elnile’s Prayer (2020) was a rare example of a scenographer making practical autoscenography, through a web-based interactive experience with intimate narration provided by the scenographer. This example offers a model - alongside this thesis - for the way in which the intersection between the life of the scenographer and their practice may be creatively explored – by scenographers, theatre designers, performance designers - through design, performance and/or scenography.
To conclude on a personal note, through autoscenography, I have been able to evolve a ‘set and costume design’ practice into a rewarding mode of research enquiry that has detached itself from the conditions that can make performance design feel facilitatory or disembodied. With space to consider my subjectivity in relation to my work as a scenographer I have opened the door to a spectrum of alternative ways in which I - and now also others - can choose to practice in future.