Project 4: Book Marks
This is the final project in this PhD portfolio, made in the spring and summer of 2021. Book Marks proposes the scattering of a personalised bookmark in borrowed or second-hand books as a method for making connections within research and scholarship. It stemmed from the surprise discovery of the details of a previous owner inside a second-hand book I was reading for my Practice Review, which led me to design a serendipitous future connection between myself and other researchers. In this regard, autoscenography reveals the personal context in which research or practice is situated, allowing people researching in parallel territories the opportunity to connect with each other across past and present. The project emphasises the space-time possibilities of scenography and autoscenography via an open-ended timeframe for the project and unpredictability about the nature of the stages on which it will play out.
Book Marks grew out of the process of creating the Practice Review for this PhD project. In opening a second-hand book, I encountered the time and space (see Practice Review Part 1) of a former reader, and this provoked an autoscenographic project that sought to reach out to and connect with others. The audience for this project were fellow scenographer-researchers at the TaPRA Online Conference 2021, imagined fellow researchers in other disciplines to whom I might present the project, and an unknown audience of people who might own the books on my shelves in the future.
The project supports the position taken in my Practice Review (see Part 1) – to embrace, value – and in this case generate - a broad spectrum of references and connections for practice research (Salami 2020, Nelson 2013). As an outcome of a particular time within the arc of the PhD process, it is a clear product of the intersection of the scenographer’s story, i.e., “I am working in lockdown isolation and writing my practice review” with questions from her ongoing practice i.e., “how do I wish to be a scenographer/researcher?”. The project makes space for consideration of the 'institutions' of research and how the transmission and sharing of knowledge can enfold serendipity as well as more intentional network-building. It is therefore a continuation of Dear John and the ‘radically soft’ (Mathis 2015) feminist quest to challenge the environment in which one works (hooks 2001, Ahmed 2017/2021), this time reflecting on the institutional structures – i.e. universities, libraries, research territories - that hold the postgraduate scenographer-researcher.
While I do not occupy the project in an embodied sense, Book Marks has a relationship to the feminist performance art of Bobby Baker in that it attempts to disrupt norms of research connection-making through the phenomenon of the ‘happy accident’, in the same way as Baker resisted her 'home' territory and training in fine art through the use of domestic materials, such as food, in her work (Baker 2019). Book Marks may therefore be read as a gentle provocation or protest, echoing the doctored library book covers of the playwright Joe Orton, which are referenced in the recorded presentation below. The project argues for greater space to be made for the ‘who’ of the researcher, as an extension of the motivation of autoscenography to foreground the ‘who’ of scenographic practice.
Book Marks explores autoscenography as a practice which happens on an intimate ‘stage’ of hard-copy books. The project is tangibly paper based in the same way as Dear John but aims to show how the intimacy and rootedness in lived experience of autoscenography also has the potential for significant reach in terms of the way it operates as scenography, in time and space, and with the continuing motif of distance in play. The creation of a paper artefact to be discovered in the pages of a book at an indeterminate time creates the possibility of a solo encounter with place re-orientation (Hann 2019) as I experienced on opening my second-hand copy of Getting a Life: The Everyday Uses of Autobiography (Smith and Watson 1996).
Like Dear John, Book Marks is a project that continues to reflect on the values of the originating scenographer-researcher, but this time in the context of practice research as opposed to the ‘professional’ practice of scenography. The project invites participation and shares the autoscenographic approach for the use and enjoyment of others, expanding the autoscenographic quality of the 'super-local' identified in Autoscenography, She Wrote to encompass the intimate physical stage of a hardcopy book, held by researchers past, present and future.
This project was presented as a paper to the Scenography Working Group at the TaPRA Conference in September 2021. It is twenty-one minutes long, accessible here as a short film. A transcript of the film commentary can be found here.
Having reached the final practical project of four, the next section will conclude this thesis by drawing together the overall findings of the project and identifying its original contribution to knowledge.