The format of this dissertation requires a few words of introduction, both in regard to concept and to technical conventions.
To begin with the conceptual: this is a performative document. It has evolved in tandem with the aspects of the project that are presented elsewhere (a gallery show and a website), those other artefacts ostensibly serving as the creative work. To me this distinction is artificial, a dualism belied by the reflexive and reflective methods that unify these two expressions of The Parallaxis. The writing has been a part of the practice; the practice has been a part of the writing.
The contemporary Australian artist Lesley Duxbury writes of breaking down this barrier in creative practice research, noting that such a breach allows the practitioner to share something of the ‘context of production’ (2011, p. 41) that is essential to gaining insight from an artwork-as-research. She argues that ‘if an exegetical text is developed in and through the art project as a working project in itself, where all aspects of the project reflect in and off each other not as a retrospectively produced text, it may come closer to [this] intention’ (ibid.).
The narrative that I present here is chronological, and draws on autoethnographic methods (Ellis & Bochner 2000) to convey a researcher’s journey through the unfolding of a project. In constructing this dissertation I have initiated the only deliberate “doubling” in The Parallaxis, which has manifested several other parallactic doublings of its own accord. This specific doubling is that of a braided narrative, which acknowledges the reciprocal relationship between practice and theory in a research project. The braiding is implemented as a central text punctuated by additional commentary; when a black triangle appears in the main text, click on it to reveal this secondary discourse (and click again to collapse it). T1
T1:Smith and Dean (2009, p. 8) have written at length about the relationship between theory and practice, incorporating what they refer to as ‘practice-led research and research-led practice’ into an ‘iterative cyclic web’ model. ‘This model combines the cycle (alternations between practice and research), the web (numerous points of entry, exit, cross-referencing and cross-transit within the practice-research cycle), and iteration (many sub-cycles in which creative practice or research processes are repeated with variation)’ (ibid.).
The authors further note that the reciprocity between practice and research has taken many different forms in their own collaborative work. These forms include ‘symbiosis between research and creative practice in which each feeds on the other; hybridisation of the many discourses surrounding them; transference of the characteristics of research onto practice and vice versa; and alternations between research and creative practice, often within a single project’ (ibid. p. 11).
My original intent was to use the primary text exclusively for the narrative of practice and the secondary text for theory, and to maintain a strict chronological correlation between the two. I would only introduce a theoretical component if I had already encountered it at that point in the project, and I would indicate the extent to which I was aware of its influence. Over time these references would begin to knit themselves together, into the framework of theory and practice that I was traveling toward.
This proved to be a slippery proposition on both accounts. First came the issue of keeping practice and theory in their designated places. While editing an advanced draft of this dissertation I realised that long passages of theoretical discussion had made their way into the “white space” of the central narrative, and brief reflections on practice had occasionally crept into the shadow text. Confronted with the bleak prospect of having to restructure the entire dissertation, I went through the document and made detailed notes about these textual slippages.
To my relief I discovered that the experiment had not been a failure — or at least not entirely, I hope. Rather, my evolving methods had transgressed boundaries that had felt more like natural contours when I first began the project. Three years on I could now detect a patterning of method: following Smith and Dean’s ‘iterative cyclic web’ model, I was cycling between practice-led research and research-led practice. When the weather was warm and amenable to walking, practice led. In winter, theoretical research typically dominated. And without fail, the central narrative was slipping into theory each time winter rolled around. With this understanding in mind I have allowed the slippages to remain. They adhere to my original intent, which was to tell the story of this project’s unfolding as it happened. In winter I immersed myself in theory, and the dissertation moves to this seasonal rhythm.
This brings me to my second constraint, that of maintaining a strict chronology of theory, which has proven far more difficult to negotiate. In fact on this account I would say that I have failed; or have found the approach to be incompatible with the job description set out for the dissertation; or both. Perhaps this is too critical, for in fact most of the shadow text keeps pace with the main narrative — and where it breaks with linearity I have made note of the departure. Objectively I would remark that this aspect of the project remains unresolved, perhaps to be revisited as a research question in its own right.
Media studies scholar Peter Zhang speaks of yin texts, such as the I Ching, which in their ‘discontinuity, resonance, uncertainty, indeterminacy, and undecidability’ (2014, p. 454) require ‘maximum participation on the part of the reader’ (ibid. p. 455). Duxbury notes similarly that ‘although it will not be an easy thing to do, the challenge for artist-researchers is to produce texts, which allow for multiple readings or ambiguity in order to engage the imagination’ (2011, p. 42).
Both the yin and the yang of this narrative contain ruptures, repetitions, ambiguities and allusions that have been left for the reader to enact. The images throughout, which are all original works that I have produced as part of this research project, have likewise been offered not as ‘mere illustration to support the text’ (Sousanis 2015, p. 54) but in recognition of ‘what can be made visible when we work in a form that is not only about, but is also the thing itself’ (ibid. p. 59). As such, no table of figures has been provided.