Project 1: A Scenographer Walks
This is the first practical project undertaken for my PhD, at a point early in the project where the focus was different to that of autoscenography. This project focused on my experience of walking (alone) in the Lake District, as a scenographer. I carried scale model pieces and used these to stage interventions in the landscape as I walked, recording these and other embodied explorations on my camera. Following each walk I wrote reflectively about the experience of walking the fells, as a scenographer who designs performance space. This eventually became a narrative account published in Performance Research Journal (Vol 24. Issue 2) entitled Figure with Landscape: A Scenographer Walks.
The Lake District location is not significant to the overarching exploration of autoscenography but after twenty years of collaborative theatre design practice, the independent focus on how my body moved through and interacted with space was significant. Thus, the second part of the title of the Performance Research article documenting this experience; “A scenographer walks”, represents the beginnings of autoscenography – to consider the scenographer’s own experience of space and to undertake this reflection as an individual practice that sits away from the processes of professional theatre-making.
The reflective potential of autoscenography to the practitioner is manifest in this project within the concept of ‘entfernung’ – a phenomenological experience of space framed by Heidegger and unpacked in this article in relation to the experience of looking across landscape to see places walked or yet to be walked. This offers a metaphor for considering one’s own practice - past, present, and future - and the ways in which it might evolve. In this respect A Scenographer Walks could be considered a typical first PhD project – containing the beginnings of the final thesis, while reflecting a scenographer-researcher at the threshold of a change in practice that will unfold over the course of the PhD journey.
Further commentary on the relationship of this project to the development and exploration of autoscenography will be incised between article pages, with additional images not included in the published article. Highlighted and numbered sections within the original article refer to numbered sections of commentary. As a final nod towards work made at the intersection of the scenographer’s story with her practice, it feels significant to note that this project happened shortly after the end of a long-term personal relationship, and the combining of research with a (newly) solo walking trip is partly a result of those circumstances. Referring back to two of the three qualities of autoscenography identified in Autoscenography, She Wrote, this project therefore offers space to explore the 'super-local' immediacy of the scenographer's relationship to space alongside the subtextual 'personal' dimension of walking alone.
A Note on Sexist Walking References
Having published the Performance Research article in July 2017, I saw the tweet above from Clare Qualmann, who was attending a conference on walking art. As someone who was new to walking art practice and had learned a great deal about it subsequent to publication, I realised that I was guilty of the same sexism within my journal article. I set about putting this right through a visiting lecture called The Hills are Alive with the Sound of Scenographic Practice Research at Central School of Speech and Drama. In this lecture, I took the conference paper from which the article had stemmed and brought in references I considered to be missing, positioning Qualmann's tweet as the catalyst for this re-framing. This action was important to the exploration of autoscenography, in the light of the feminist dimension the overall project and in terms of embodying another of the three qualities of autoscenography, that of 'self-accountability' (see Autoscenography, She Wrote). Artists, writers, and practitioners cited included Cathy Turner, Louise Ann Wilson, Lizzie Philips, Simone Kenyon, Nan Shepherd, Aileen Harvey and Janet Cardiff.
A Note on Being in Costume
In presenting this project as a conference paper at the Performing Mountains Symposium (University of Leeds, 2017) and later in its re-framed version within The Hills Are Alive... I wore the 'costume' of my walking practice (waterproof jacket, rucksack, and boots) to support telling the story of the project. In terms of autoscenography, this can be understood as a strategy to blend the persona of the 'presenting practitioner' with the reality of being the person who was present within the actions of practice research. It enabled me to participate within the formality of a conference setting in a way that felt congruent with the project and my identity as a scenographer-researcher and allowed me to highlight my subjectivity to the assembled audiences. This predicted an emergent interest within the overarching PhD project, in the possibility of being 'the same person' whether I was presenting at a conference, writing reflectively or in the middle of a practical project, with all the subjectivity this suggests.
Project 1 sees the scenographer embedded in the activity of ‘doing’ research, as outlined in My Approach. Continuing this theme of doing - and looking ahead to the framing of autoscenography with existing forms of practice and theory – the next section is the first part of a three-part Practice Review.