A&HHE Special Issue August 2016AHHELogo-300x300

Performative sides/sites of knowledge: sharing knowledge in artistic ways

Kathleen Coessens
Royal Conservatoire Antwerp


Influenced by the contemporary knowledge society, artists and artist researchers have to communicate their understandings. By prioritizing academic presentation tools, they ignore their own resources, separate research transmission from artistic activity, and limit knowledge and transmission practices. This article considers the act of performance as a tool that can overcome this gap. Two examples, the Fluxus movement and performance-based research output, will illustrate the potential performance to enhance understanding and interpretation of knowledge. Austin’s and Searle’s concepts of performativity, translated to the domain of performance arts, allow us to analyse how effects and affects of communication depend upon both illocutionary forces – what the performer is attempting to do in that expression – and perlocutionary forces – the actual effect the performance of that expression has on the public. Performance as an ‘artistic embodied utterance’ opens new (artistic) ways of knowing, communicating and understanding (artistic) research: verbal and non-verbal, embodied, sensorial.


Artistic research, performativity, performance, illocutionary, perlocutionary, body

Preliminary thoughts about performance and research

Presence. A Body. An Artist

An embodied presence. An artist’s body. A present artist.

Presence as life. Presence as movement.

Presence as manifestation, intervention, transformation.

Presence as interpretation. Presence as creation.

Presence as art … Presence as essence …

Is there presence without a body?

A body as instrument. A body as medium. A body as metaphor.

A body as perspective. A body as archive. A body as sensorium.

A body that is hearing, seeing, smelling, touching, moving.

A body that is presenting, withdrawing, interacting, signifying.

An aesthetic body.

Powerful, vulnerable, questionable.

An artist’s body.

Shape, voice, encounter, metamorphosis.

An artist. A body. A presence.

A performance unfolds. Embodied.

Kathleen Coessens, 2014(i)

This poetic text with video opens a research presentation on the role of body in performance, its impact, meaning, tacit and explicit ways of communication and transmission. It is the introduction of a performance-lecture on artistic research and directs the attention of the audience in an artistic way to embodied presence. It offers a first approach in how performance and (artistic) research can be joined to reveal multiple layers of knowledge.

Performance is a liminal space where human sensibilities can be negotiated and shared. It happens inside the cultural framework of a ritual – where place, time, and role taking are defined. It continuously links experience with knowledge, private interpretation with cultural insights, the known with the unknown. It is captive and at the same time not imposing one way of thinking, as it allows for connotations and free associations of sensorial and embodied experiences, expectations and diverse layers of knowledge of both the audience and the performers. The body of the performer invites one to explore dialogues of emotion and feeling while it conveys complex ways of knowing.

A lecture of research seems to be at the opposite of artistic performance: it is a verbal presentation of the aims, method and outcome of the trajectory leading from a research question to new knowledge. It is analytic and rather clear as to what kind of knowledge it will contribute. It presents the context of justification – the theory or knowledge as the endpoint of the endeavour – while leaving out the context of discovery – both the wandering of the trajectory of research as the different sensorial, embodied and associative layers of knowledge.

This presents a major paradox in artistic research: while art contains a complexity of knowledge layers and experiences that are communicated – and appealed to – in multiple sensorial and embodied ways, research, in its positivistic format, aims at clarity and uniformity of outcome and communication.

How can we embed the richness of art forms combining multiple layers of tacit, implicit and sensorially conveyed knowledge, in artistic research presentations? A reductive approach of both the content and communication of artistic research that copies the format of other disciplines’ research omits essential aesthetic ways of knowing and communicating which are inherent in artistic expressions like poetry, literature, art installation or performance – music, dance, drama. The topic of this article is how the practice of performance offers a way of co-constructing text and performativity, the verbal and the corporeal, the conceptual and the playful, art and knowledge. By focusing on its performative aspects we want to explore how to negotiate experiences and meanings that could constitute and convey new knowledges.

The development of these ideas has its origins in previous reflections on artistic research (e.g. Coessens, Crispin and Douglas, 2009; Coessens 2014) and in my work within CORPoREAL, an artistic research group in music, dance and drama at the Royal Conservatoire of Antwerp(ii). In CORPoREAL we reflect and work out research presentations that merge different formats: the reading of conceptual and theoretical background, poetic interventions, video material, performance parts which include both improvisation and prepared work. In these collaborative compositions and decompositions of paradoxical aspects of the body, ‘the corporeality of words, states and sounds’ are investigated, performed and demonstrated from different performance-backgrounds. Positions trigger contra-positions; improvisational interventions alternate with theoretical discussions and artistic demonstrations. The performing body is both subject and object: it is the body of research, of the researcher as well as the tool to reveal the research. The performing body is considered both as research input – artistic practice – and research output – artistic research. By refusing the monologue of a distanced (academic) presentation of research and by merging roles of performer and researcher, we want to open possibilities of communication and signification concerning human action and intent in art. Combining the experiential field of the performer with the complex research about the body in performance opens different levels of understanding – aesthetic, epistemic, sensorial, linguistic and non-linguistic. Such research outputs can be considered as hybrids between artistic practice, artistic reflection, contextualisation and research output. They confront us  both with the vulnerability of the performer and the difficult academic position of artistic research, merging subjectivity and objectivity, effect and affect, meaning and understanding in multi-layered ways, clearly different from a a traditional positivist scientific paradigm.

The following text is shaped in three parts. In the first part, ‘About artistic knowledge and its spaces’, the contemporary situation of artistic knowledge and research and the difficulty – or should we say the different potential – of expressing these will be described. Secondly, in ‘Understanding research by way of artistic practices’, I will develop the notion of performance as a tool for understanding knowledge in different ways. Two examples of performance that enhance understanding will be shortly discussed. The first one, the Fluxus movement, opens insight into artistic practices and processes of knowledge by participation in performance. The second one, performance-based research output, will reveal the power of performance as a tool to convey knowledge of different disciplines. In the third part, ‘The performative potential of performance: multiple ways of revealing knowledge’, I will concentrate on how the format of a performance allows to transmit knowledge and and research output in new and interesting ways. The analysis of the performative aspects of a performance ans its multi-sensorial communicative capacity relay upon Austin’s notion of performativity in language. The article will conclude in favour of performance as a tool of presentation and communication of research output offering complementary and different ways to bring knowledge to the fore – in contrast to traditional research formats like lectures and articles.

About artistic knowledge and its spaces

What knowledges emerge about a particular setting are the result of constant negotiations between researcher and researched, negotiations that are deeply shaped by the meaningful materiality of the bodies that come into contact through the shared space of the research site. (Lea et al., 2011: 17)

Artistic research, which has been an implicit part of many artistic practices for a long time, has become a recognised discipline since the 1900s. However, problems of content, method, output valorisation and institutionalisation remain. While the last two decades have discussed the value and need of the new discipline (e.g. Frayling, 1993; Baers, 2011; Borgdorff, 2012; Coessens, Crispin and Douglas, 2009), artistic research happens and takes more and more place along the continuing meta-discourse on the subject. The organisation of research centres both embedded in higher education art schools and related to academic structures and/or universities, the facilities for funding (even if still meagre), the evolving curricula of the doctorate, bachelor and master in the arts, the growth of conferences and research discussion platforms like the Association Européennes des Conservatoires, AEC, or the development of discipline-specific journals (e.g. Journal in Artistic Research or JAR, in Europe, Art Research Journal in Brazil) in the last ten years, confirm its evidence as a domain of knowledge. Concerns see to have changed, or at least the focus has changed. They are no more about whether artistic research should or should not be embraced, rather it is about how to articulate, objectivize, express, verbalise, justify, communicate its multiple knowledges.

Artistic research is now challenged to open the plane of interaction and negotiation between the ongoing practices and the constructed discursive and epistemic evidence (Coessens, 2016 forthcoming). The space of questions and answers, interpretations and representations that can emerge in a discipline are determined by the repertoire of available practices and knowledge. Different disciplinary and intellectual niches – different over time and space – have different opinions over what counts as knowledge, and even more importantly, what is desirable as knowledge.

From the point of view of transmitting art and its knowledge, we could argue that the arts have a long tradition of developing distinctive and proper sites and approaches of expressing intents, signification and knowledge. Arts, and their sibling craftsmanship, have transmitted their knowledges through intimate relationships of master-pupil, specialist groups, coaches and co-teachers. Pedagogical instruction, imitation, repetition, training, participation inside of a community with a specific know-how, have been dominant ways of acquiring traditional knowledges that connect body and mind. Artistic knowledge has thus been transmitted to a few, those within the discipline, rather than being disseminated more widely. Aims have been to survive as art practices, by transmitting the artistic knowledge inside closed circles of practitioners. it has only been the output, the artwork, which has been disseminated. The processes of knowledge behind the artistic output, which are complex: both embodied and verbal, implicit and explicit, intuitive and reflective, remained confined in the background. In this constellation, artistic know-how is foregrounded, while artistic knowledge tends to stay hidden within the practice itself. Intellectual and cultural knowledge can only be implicitly embedded in the know-how expressed in individual events.

In contrast, other scientific disciplines focus on the know-that, the theory, as a general device, while the know-how of laboratory practices and methods of inquiry remain in the background – their role is to provide the justification of the theory. Know-how and know-that are positioned differently in terms of hierarchy in these different disciplines, or at least in terms of their visibility. Knowledge in artistic practice is embedded in perceptual, aesthetic and creative experiences, while knowledge in academic discourse has separated the intellectual outcome from the more empirical and practice-based experiences.

What about these differences in the development of artistic research? Artistic research reverses the order of know-how and know-that that prevails in arts. This brings the discipline into a paradoxical situation. Artistic research output has a tendency to follow the respected rules, guidelines and other requirements for science to be communicated. However, there is no pure ‘theory’, as there may be for example in physics or chemistry, which can be formulated. Fundamentally, artistic research is dependent upon an ongoing practice, a process of know-how that can be analysed in particular instances, where transmitted expertise is continuously negotiated within new unique and creative contexts of artist, material and space. Artistic research, broadly defined as the reflection upon and the contextualisation and documentation of artistic processes – like experimentation, creation, interpretation and thought in art practices – opens domains of tacit and implicit knowledge that contribute to the development of both the artistic specific field and other disciplines – e.g. creativity in psychology. Artistic research is dependent upon the ongoing art practice which means that the knowledge comes from within: the researcher is the artist, the researched is his or her creation.

The question how we can articulate the inscription of artistic practice in artistic research – and vice versa – will open another question: how can we present, communicate artistic research? We will here focus on the potential of the presentation of (artistic) research in and as performance and argue that the performativity of a performance as a model for research output facilitates understandings and opens new possibilities of coping with the previous paradox – between artistic outcome and research outcome.

Understanding research by way of artistic practices

From the novels of Shakespeare, opening understandings of human motives and emotions, over the movies of Eisenstein, revealing social positions, to architecture like the Jewish museum in Berlin from Daniel Liebeskind, remembering human history, we can find many art-forms that have a force to reveal and communicate knowledge beyond their pure aesthetic aspect. They reveal knowledge in ways that are accessible in different ways than written history of theory. In the last decennia, a growing awareness of this potential – concerned with mainly passive participation – has been enriched with forms of active and participatory art practices. Pedagogical or cultural projects engage in artistic interactive and collaborative approaches; musea offer interactive expositions, and more and more artists concentrate on sharing knowledge in and through their art. Bringing art to socially discriminated or poor groups, sharing and creating art with the public, criticising political and social problems in artistic settings help to empower and emancipate people, enrich understandings and share knowledge. Bourdieu’s concept of cultural capital goes much farther than just ‘cultural knowledge’ that helps to acquire a position in society; it also leads to an understanding of one’s identity and history and the possibility to acquire, beyond an education system, knowledge about the world.

One of these artistic tools are performances, of which we will shortly discuss two examples. The first one, Fluxus, is an artistic reconsideration of performance in which the collaboration between performer and audience blurs traditional distinctions. The second one, research output proposed in the format of a performance, reveals the force of performance to convey new knowledge.

Example 1: Fluxus’ collaborative art practices

The Fluxus movement in art flourished in the second half of the 20th Century and revolutionized ways of communicating and sharing artistic insights and experiences. Fluxus brought artistic practices, and the processes of creating art, to the fore. Artists organised ‘happenings’: performance-like artistic experiences that were shared and often co-created by the public present. A happening was an artistic experiment, meant to bridge art and life, performer and audience, the creative and the performative (Kaprow, 1993). The artists had a desire to communicate the process of the artwork, to reveal the artist as both a creator and a human being, and to engage the audience in a direct way: ‘The effort to make this happen can be described as the performative element of all Fluxus work: the audience has to do something to complete the work.’ (Higgins, 1964: 25). Higgins points here already to a concept that we will develop in the next part: the performativity in performance that empowers the audience. From Marcel Duchamps and Allan Kaprow in the visual arts, over Bertolt Brecht in theatre, to John Cage in music, the Fluxus aesthetics considered performance as a complex field of sensorial activities – movement, vision, sound, text – that offered a ‘discourse’ in the broad sense of the word; a discourse that was interactive, embodied, performed and conceptual.

The Fluxus movement brings us to the heart of what a performance can offer as a shared event, as an experience. By way of its social engagement and the interactive nature of its experience, it overcomes both the distanced traditional Western art performance ritual and the distanced presentation of independent objective written text, or artwork. Drawing upon intellectual and interdisciplinary sources as well as upon rich cultural practices, ‘Fluxus performances situate the body in the center of knowledge as the principal means by which to interrogate the very conditions in which individuals interact with things and thereby produce social meaning’ (Stiles, 1993: 65). While the performance-like events were not primarily meant to be tools to communicate knowledge, they indeed contributed to new (ways of) understandings.

In the first place, Fluxus artists recontextualised the art object in a dynamic embodied, multi-sensorial and conceptual way. Secondly, they offered insight into creative processes. Thirdly, they enhanced human commitment and interaction which had an effect on and affected the public. The body in the performance became a pivotal point of understanding: ‘The body, in addition to its role as subject, is itself presented as an object. Together, subject and object create a changing and interrelated perceptual field for the investigation between actions, language, objects and sounds.’ (Stiles, 1993: 65)

Example 2: Performance-based communication of research

Fluxus happenings offer an artistic approach in and to performance, where the focus is upon the experience and where knowledge remains in the background. Other disciplines use consciously art-based approaches to communicate and consciously expose research. The integration of arts-based methods and practices with research is a marginal but ongoing practice – for example in the humanities, social sciences, and education. Various studies reveal that the use of the artistic format of a performance in pedagogical and research situations enhances understanding both for the performers and the audience (Lafrenière and Cox, 2012; Lea et al., 2011). Art-framed formats ‘generate possibilities for fresh approaches to creating, translating, and exchanging knowledge’ (Lea et al., 2011: 2).

An interesting example is offered by Lafrenière and Cox in ‘Means of Knowledge Dissemination: Are the Café Scientifique and the Artistic Performance Equally Effective?’ (Lafrenière and Cox, 2012). The researchers compared two formats of dissemination and communication of the same topic in health research to a wide audience: the scientific café and the artistic performance. The questions at the heart of this experiment concerned the effectiveness of transference of research knowledge. The first format, the research café, involved the introduction of the topic ‘being a human subject in health research’ and three formal ten-minute oral presentations by experts, without visual aids. The public was then invited to engage in the discussion for 50 minutes. The second format, an artistic presentation, involved a collaboration with artists who realised a performance embedding the content of the same relevant themes on health research in different artistic forms – poetry, drama, song and visual arts (Lafrenière and Cox, 2012: 192). Both formats were accompanied by a questionnaire the respondents (audience) were invited to fill in.

The results of this research offer insights into knowledge transfer at different levels. In the first place, the authors mention that attention, credibility and trustworthiness as well as emotional response increase when experiential expertise is communicated first hand (Lafrenière and Cox, 2012: 196). The presentation of research by experts when it involved their own experiences – and not just the exposition of theory – was received very positively. The means of conveying this was also very important. In the performance situation the research findings were presented through artistic messengers, and responders could easily connect with them, as the situations expressed were close to their personal experiences.

A second reflection of the authors is that the transfer of the message by artistic means opens up multiple layers of interpretation and reflection. In contrast with the analytic format of research presentation in the café offering factual and concise knowledge, artistic performance was more open and provoked aesthetic, ethic and emotional responses. Overall comparison of both formats revealed that the artistic tool of performance for disseminating research enhances a diversity of understandings as it appeals both to the creative and the theoretical, to emotion and intellect, to the linguistic and non-linguistic:

The artistic performance (…) triggers more emotions among audience members, generated more questions on the topic discussed, and influences a greater number of individuals to alter their opinion and initial understanding of an issue. The Café Scientifique and the artistic performance both help participants to better understand the topic examined. The arts, however, shine a different light on the issue. (Lafrenière and Cox, 2012: 198).

Building on these perspectives, the next set of questions to address concerns the detail of what effects and affects a performance-based research output can realise, and how they may be achieved. The theory of performativity of Austin and Searle offers an interesting approach on the non-verbal, implicit and embodied layers on communication – language or performance.

The performative potential of performance: multiple components of revealing knowledge

An artistic performance triggers, pleases, confronts, surprises, bewilders, astonishes, extends, questions, invites the other. By way of aesthetic and artistic know-how it provokes the senses and weaves new threads through the intellectual and cultural capital of the audience. It presents now only content: a piece of music, dance, drama. At the same time it reveals an art of embodied know-how, and triggers understanding on different sensorial, cultural and intellectual levels. It imposes itself as an experience without imposing a unique meaning, a unique understanding. It opens different possibilities of interpretation and signification. As such a performance can be considered as a performative act: it impacts on humans and life, it ‘does’ something, it ‘transforms'(iii).

Performativity is used in linguistics to explain the power of ‘action’ of words and sentences to impact upon the world. How to do things with words is the name of the famous book by Austin (1962) that launched speech act theory and the awareness of performativity in language. Words and sentences are not just some meaningful thoughts or verbal representations of events that are uttered, nor are they simply categorising experiences in the world; they realise an intervention in the world. By translating these notions from verbal into performance arts in an artistic research context, our key issue if ‘How to reveal knowledge with performance’.

Austin introduced the notion of the performative as an important aspect of utterance, one that has no truth value since it does not describe the world, but acts upon it: it does things with words. Such utterances allow experiences to be realised and recognised, they have a performative force of doing things in/with the world. Think of the utterance ‘I declare war’ in the right context – the war ‘is’. To understand the effect of utterances, Austin makes a distinction between three aspects: the illocutionary and the perlocutionary force.

The first aspect of an utterance is the locutionary act: ‘we perform a locutionary act, which is roughly equivalent to uttering a certain sentence with a certain sense and reference, which again is roughly equivalent to ‘meaning’ in the traditional sense.’ (Austin, 1962:108) The locutionary act is the basic act of uttering words in a meaningful way of sense and reference: saying something understandable – the sounds and the grammar and their basic meaning.

Secondly, the illocutionary aspect already drives the meaning towards what is expected and what happens: it is the convention and intention of what is said. As Austin writes: ‘we also perform illocutionary acts such as informing, ordering, warning, undertaking, etc., i.e. utterances which have a certain (conventional) force.’ (Austin, 1962: 108) But there is a second sense of an ‘illocutionary’ act, namely the “performance of an act ‘in’ saying something as opposed to performance of an act ‘of’ saying something” (Austin, 1962: 99). The accent is on the simultaneous compositional elements of saying and doing.


we may also perform perlocutionary acts: what we bring about of achieve by saying something, such as convincing, persuading, deterring, and even, say, surprising or misleading. Saying something will often, or even normally, produce certain consequential effects upon the feelings, thoughts or actions of the audience, or of the speaker, or of other persons. (Austin, 1962: 108)

Perlocutionary acts are those components of the utterance that lead to the effect of the utterance upon the listener. While a speaker hopes to achieve a certain effect, the effects can be contingent, infinite and unpredictable:

Since our acts are acts, we must always remember the distinctions between producing effects or consequences which are intended or unintended; and (i) when the speaker intends to produce an effect it may nevertheless not occur, and (ii) when he does not intend to produce it or intends not to produce it it may nevertheless occur. (Austin, 1962: 105)

Austin’s speech act theory focuses on the notion of performativity in speech, both as an intention of the actor and as an effect upon the receiver. In a similar way, we can question the potential of the performative in a performance as the potential of corporeal utterances – in analogy with speech utterances – that do not only show, represent, imitate, but that act upon the world, that have an impact by way of and beyond the performance act itself.

First, a corporeal utterance in a performance is a kinetic act, similar to the locutionary act, in that it has a certain sense and reference, a meaning in the traditional sense. Like a series of words, each series of movements or gestures has its meaning. Performers can enact a movement of shaking a hand, or of sitting on a char, kinetic acts that an audience will understand if the context is familiar to some degree.

The second performative aspect of a corporeal utterance is not just the prevalent meaning of the act, but the performer’s aim and intention to bring that act with its meaning: the performance of an act, and of ‘saying’ something, in doing something, as opposed to the performance of an act of doing something. The kinetic act (locutionary) becomes here an embodied (illocutionary) act. A simple example would be declaring love by offering a rose.

Thirdly, perlocution translated into embodied expression refers to the effect the kinetic and embodied act has on the audience, its emotions, feelings, thoughts. Where we named the locutionary act in performance the kinetic act and the illocutionary the embodied act, we can consider the perlocutionary act as a moving act where the motion of the performer provokes possible layers of emotion and response. In a corporeal utterance the illocutionary force or embodied force is what the artist is attempting to do in that expression (the artist’s embodied force) while the perlocutionary effect or moving effect is the effect the performance of that expression has on the public. Both the illocutionary/embodied and perlocutionary/moving aspects of an act point to the inherent performative nature of an artistic act.

Performance, and broader art, can thus be seen as

an action in that it creates, stages, actualizes, dramatizes, or performs itself. The answer to what work is, will then be that the work is what the work does. The work is its action. As audiences, we must orientate ourselves, not only on what work is, but also how it is. That is, how it works, how it presents itself and not least how I, as a viewer, interact with it. (Jalving, 2011:14)

The tension for performers resides in the in-between of the illocutionary and the perlocutionary aspects of an embodied act (a performance). A tension arises between the performer’s intentions and artistic choices on the one hand and the conventional, socially transmitted values which are shared in a culture on the other hand. Further on, the unexpected, the effects of affects and the affects of effects can interfere with, disturb as well as emerge from the artist’s act and potentially transcend the artist’s intentions as well as the conventions of the shared world. A performative space opens: ‘The performative is the gap, the rupture, the spacing that unfolds the next moment allowing change to happen’ (Dewsbury, 2000: 475). The tension lies between what an artist intends, expects, aims to convey, and what transgresses these elements; and between what a culture, an audience of that culture expects and what transgresses these elements. This in-between zone is the ‘performative’ aspect of performance.

What are the implications, then, for framing performativity in performance? And further on, for framing performance as a medium for research communication? To consider these, we first need to define the parameters of artistic performance: its temporal-spatial, material and relational conditions. The space, content and format of a performance are of course embedded in specific culture. As Schechner mentions, the space-time frame of it is clearly structured: ‘A performer leaves her daily world and by means of preparations and warm ups enters into performing. When the performance is over, the performer cools down and re-enters ordinary world’. (2003: 64). A performance is the execution of an artistic act now, here, in the present; it is a live moment, rehearsed or prepared, provisional and potentially reiterable. Inside that format, performances can propose encounters with the ‘not-yet-known’: they are risky, continually testing our insecurities, our embodied competences and their (un)intended consequences. They also trigger our expectations and knowledge. In addition, the presence of an instrument or electronic device, of a text or a score, of a dance floor, of an installation, – and always the presence of a body, an artist’s body – are the constituents on stage for a performance, whether this is in dance, music or drama. Lastly, a performance is different from other artistic practices in that it also involves an audience:

performance rests on an assumption of responsibility to an audience for a display of communicative virtuosity. […] In this sense of performance, then, the act of expression itself is framed as display: objectified, lifted out to a degree from its contextual surroundings, and opened up to interpretive and evaluative scrutiny by an audience both in terms of its intrinsic qualities and its associational resonances. (Bauman, 2004: 9).

This brings us to the performative. Performativity comes to be about the dynamics of the performance that reach out into the public, beyond the here and now, in other context – e.g. concerning identities of gender, concerning societal and cultural values and expectations. The performative dynamics of a performance emerge in the live experience of the interaction between performers, material performed and receivers; in the articulation of the reception of the experience in the lives and identities of both receivers and performers. A performative act is thus an act in which you implicate somebody.

The performative is at the same time what is articulated by way of the performance and what transcends the performance. The performance opens performative affordances: results of effect and affect vehiculated through the corporeal utterances. There is a continuity of the ‘performative’ in culture, and even over cultures, like a textuality that opens the context and intention of the first performative expression and reception and unfolds into a continuous field of possible interpretations and new affordances. Each performance broadens and relates the context and intention from one performative expression and reception towards another. However, a performance cannot control its performative outcome, it can only show certain intentions but leave the interpretations and impact over to life and experience:

first, performativity is nontextual and nondiscursive in that it is … irretrievable, or it is not at all. Second, performativity itself is indeterminate, in that it does not rest on there being intentionality behind it. (…) Finally, performativity is excessive, in that it expends unaccountable energies and is affective rather than purely effective. (Dewsbury, 2000: 474)

As such, while the performance is a one space/one time experience, the performative continues in its discursive and embodied aspects as it is in continual construction and reconstruction of discourses on both tacit and explicit levels. It opens new encounters through the dimensionality of time and space.

While the exploration of the performative in performance seems to have led us away from artistic research, the mentioned characteristics of the performative in performance offer different and new ways for sharing, evaluating and interpreting knowledge. Firstly the fixed time-space offers a safe frame of and for attention and concentration, while it culturally transmits – and questions – values and knowledge over long time periods. Secondly, the expectations of a performance are rather open and new knowledge can be explored freely, both in a personal way and socially shared. Thirdly, a performance can allow for different kinds of knowledge reception: sensorial, intellectual, embodied. Let us explore this more deeply in the last part.

Conclusion: on the performative in performance-based artistic research output

Performativity is the sense of experimentation that greets us everyday; it is our ongoing tentative endeavour to enact local utopias that seek to create situations for joyful encounters, to enact performances that work in such a way that they do not question the superiority of one body over another, but rather compose a rhythm that sustains and eases. Performances are venturesome couplings … that are creative in that they negotiate the new, enabling ways to ‘go on’. (Dewsbury, 2000: 494)

There are limits to words. There are limits to verbal explanations. There are limits to academic presentations. There are limits to acts. There are limits to artistic performances. These are limits of signification, limits of understanding, limits of experience. Speaking about the performativity of a performance means outlining specific aspects of meaning of a performance related to the epistemic and aesthetic impact upon the participants; it means a shift of the performance as a time-based experience towards the opening of a horizon of experience and knowledge. In that sense, research too can be performative “inasmuch at least it possesses the capacity to change to make things happen.” (John Freeman in Symonds and Taylor, 2004: 294). Awareness as well as implementation of the performative components of a performance in artistic research output enables implicit practices of knowledge to be disclosed, the interactions and relations between implicit and explicit knowledge and between presentation and reception to be understood. From art to artistic research, the artist is confronted with an experience-led approach and with the need to articulate, situate, explicate and contextualise (subjective) artistic relations and knowledge practices (Coessens, 2016 forthcoming).

Artistic research is still in search of tools to expose its knowledge and processes, but also of methods to inquire into its own practices. The trajectory of the ideas and actions leading to this text forced me as a performer and researcher to rethink the relations between content, method and output of research. How may the process of performing conceptual and practical concerns within artistic research deepen and enrich a performer’s experience of those concerns? How can an audience better understand the tacit and explicit, embodied and conceptual aspects of what research in performance is by way of a performance-based research output? The answers are not straightforward. Both the Fluxus movement and the methods of arts-based research point to the viability and the added value of performance as a tool of disseminating ideas and knowledge, and for uncovering reflection, interpretation and signification in ways that go beyond traditional approaches. Artistic research exploring embodiment in performance has to juggle with both the view from within – on stage – and the view from the outside – an interdisciplinary and more theoretical inquiry into the body.

Performance as a tool of presentation and communication can offer complementary, different ways to bring the knowledge from within to the fore. On the one hand, performance arts have long-established and fine-tuned ways of communicating, based on high levels of expertise to enhance the audience’s comprehension on both implicit and explicit levels. On the other hand, different disciplines in the last century have revealed immense knowledge of the body: philosophy, sociology, phenomenology, anthropology, neurosciences. Bringing these dimensions into dialogue, recent institutional developments of research in higher art education are opening new possibilities and opportunities for revealing knowledge, knowledge of the kind that previously tended to be hidden in the space of the atelier or in the pedagogical interaction between master and student or training space. A performance-based research output that combines know-how and know-that has the potential to consolidate the use of art-based research inside the arts themselves. The artist who engages in this process becomes at the same time a meta-artist, an artist who undertakes research in an artistic way. A dissolution of the boundaries between the ‘creative’ and the ‘theoretical’ can thus be set in motion (Springgay et al., 2005: 909).

The circle is complete: the performer-researcher, continuously investigating the presence of the body of the artist, first from inside the performance discipline, then from a researcher’s perspective, is able to realise a performance that both integrates the findings and opens new questions on the role of the body. The findings are re-situated and re-contextualised on the stage and research is ‘performed’ and becomes performative in multiple ways, both for the performers and the audience. Meaning making and presence co-occur, as do aesthetics and knowledge, the linguistic and the sensorial, the creative and the conceptual. A performative hermeneutics unfolds.


Austin, JL (1962) How To Do Things With Words. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Baers, M (2011) Inside the Box: Notes From Within the European Artistic Research Debate. E-flux, Journal 26, 06/11. Retrieved from http://www.e-flux.com/journal/inside-the-box-notes-from-within-the-european-artistic-research-debate/

Bauman, R (2004) A World of Others’ Words: Cross-Cultural Perspecitves on Intertextuality. Malden: Blackwell.

Borgdorff H (2012) The Conflict of the Faculties – Perspectives on Artistic Research and Academia. Leiden: Leiden University Press.

Coessens K, Crispin D and Douglas A (2009) The Artistic Turn. Leuven: Leuven University Press.

Coessens K (2014) On the art of research in the arts – Tracing praxis and reflection, in ARJ – Art Research Journal/Revista de Pesquisa em Arte (Bresil), 1 (2): 1-20. Available at http://www.periodicos.ufrn.br/artresearchjournal/article/view/5423/4422 (accessed 14 July 2015)

Coessens K (2016 forthcoming) To submit or not to submit – Negotiating artistic research in the academic world. In: Ysebaert W, van Kerckhoven B and Martens B (eds) Evaluating Research in the Arts. Brussels: ASP.

Dewsbury J-D (2000) Performativity and the event: enacting a philosophy of difference. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, 18: 473-496.

Fischer-Lichte E (2008) The Transformative Power of Performance. A new aesthetics. New York: Routledge.

Frayling C (1993) Research in art and design. Royal College of Art Research Papers series 1(1): 1-5. London: Royal College of Art,.

Higgins H (1964) Fluxus Experience. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press.

Jalving C (2011) Værk som Handling: Performativitet, kunst og metode. Museum Tusculanums Forlag.

Kaprow A (1993) Essays on the blurring of art and life. Kelley J (ed). Berkeley and Los Angeles CA: University of California Press.

Lafrenière D and Cox SM (2012) Means of Knowledge Dissemination: Are the Café Scientifique and the Artistic Performance Equally Effective? Sociology Mind 2 (2): 191-199.

Lea GW, Belliveau G, Wager A, Beck JL  (2011) A Loud Silence: Working with Research-based Theatre and A/R/Tography. International Journal of Education & the Arts 12 (16):1-19.

Schechner R (2003) Performance Theory. New York: Routledge.

Springgay S, Irwin RL and Kind SW (2005) A/r/tography as living inquiry through art and text. Qualitative Inquiry, 11(6), 897-912.

Stiles K (1993) Between Water and Stone; Fluxus Performance, A Metaphysics of Acts. In:  Armstrong  E and Rothfuss J (eds) In the Spirit of Fluxus: 62-69. Minneapolis: Walker Art Center.

Symonds D and Taylor M (2004) Gestures of Music Theater: The Performativity of Song and Dance. Oxford: Oxford University Press.


This text, auditive part of a video, was part of diverse performance lectures in Antwerp, London and Brussels.

[1]               [1]            In the collaborative and trans-arts (music-dance-drama) research group CORPoREAL at the Conservatoire of Antwerp — launched Autumn 2013, postdoc and predoc artist-researchers investigate corporeality in performance. In May 2014, CORPoREAL presented a more than two hours research-performance at LABO21 — international conference on ‘thinking bodies, moving minds’ (http://www.labo21.eu/). In February 2015 a new output was realised at the Reflective Conservatoire conference at the Guildhall School, London.  The different perspectives of the artist in these presentations were implicit embodied knowledge in dance (Aline Veiga Loureiro); the impact of the body on (electronic) sound creation (Jan Schacher); the limits of embodied aesthetics of pain (Niko Raes); the corporeality of text in drama (Neal Leemput); the embodied movement from balafon to marimba (Adilia Jip on Ying ) ; the sensorial human potential (Kathleen Coessens).

[1]     See also The Transformative Power of Performance  where the author concentrates on the impact of performance as artistic medium (Fischer-Lichte, 2008).