A Preface to my Dissertation

‘A Spoonful of Poetry’

An interactive poetry performance and
multimedia dissertation exploring the
causes of ‘social virus’ and its antidote.

This paper is not intended to be a commentary or evaluation, but merely a brief explanation of why my dissertation will be best presented in the form of multimedia performance.
Theory and Practice put in Context

I am, amongst other things, a poet and writer and I have been experimenting with visual art and multimedia presentation for a number of years.  I began my MA research after hearing an interview with Adam Philips on the South Bank show in 2005 where he suggested that the ‘best thing’ about poetry is that it is ‘marginalised’.  He goes on to say that it is precisely because there is no money or fame to be found in the art that it offers us ‘hope’.

Wider studies revealed different theorists linked by this assertion that society was in some way sick or dysfunctional.  Philips, building on the work of RD Laing, asked questions of sanity and madness in the consumer credit society.  He suggested simply that mass consumerism and the increasingly commodified nature of culture was damaging, and that normality may not be health, but rather, compliance with the laws of a sick society.  Williams, in his collection of essays entitled ‘Resources for Hope’, also suggests that we live under a form of disempowerment.  He expresses concerns that we exist under limitations on freedom based on the laws of profitability.  Laurence Lessig develops this idea of profitability limiting freedom in his book ‘Free Culture’ where he explores the more concerning aspects of copyright law and the limitation exercised over free and shared forms of culture.  In ‘At the Edge of Art’, Blais and Ippolito further question the health of society in the age of nanotechnology, when they suggest that technology is a virus in our social body moving too fast to be questioned or analysed and that maybe, rather than technology being tools under our control, we are instead under its dominance.

My research, therefore, is fundamentally concerned with exploring the remedies to this sickness, to join Blais and Ippolito in their search for the ‘antibody’ to this ‘virus’ and to further wonder what Philips and Williams mean by resourcing ‘hope’.  This has led me to become increasingly fascinated by the ontology of performance, collaboration and the interactive nature of online publishing and sharing.  These three areas are linked in my studies by their hopeful antibiotic properties.

Dissertation as Performance

Given that my dissertation seeks to explore the values of performance, collaboration and online sharing, it seems appropriate to think creatively about the form and delivery of my dissertation.  Much of my reading, which can be identified in my previous assignments, particularly my research and development paper, points to the value of performance as a less ‘commodified’ form and that this ‘power’ to resist ‘the machinery of reproduction’ (Phelan) marks performance as a unique form of exchange, as ‘interpretation is worked out between artists and spectators… the complicity of the audience’ (Jones and Stephenson).  Meaning is made in the space between people, collaborators and participators.  In this respect, performance is a better vehicle of communication if the desired intention is, as David Gauntlett asserts, to facilitate an audience to make meaning rather than to simply watch, receive or consume.

Likewise, web 2.0 digital production and publishing encourages all consumers to perceive of themselves as potential creative producers.  The possibility and opportunity to make valid contributions is an empowered and active chance and again the audience is repositioned.  At the same time the ‘open’ publishing of what Williams has called ‘back street’ art, challenges the grip of copyright and ‘permission’ culture.

It is for this reason that I have decided not to deliver my dissertation as an academic text or extended essay, but instead to align the content of my research with the form of my publication.  To engage in practice aligned with theory.  My dissertation will therefore be presented as a performance of word art related to my research.  This multimedia performance will include music, short films and poetry.  The whole performance will be delivered alongside a digital art installation where a website will be performed live and in real time.  Performance will also be informed by, and with, the collaborative audience and our works will be published on line as it is created.  We, as participators, will create, publish and share during the performative dissertation thereby affirming the values of what Lessig terms ‘Free Culture.’

The dissertation is to be performed in the Digital Art Gallery at the London South Bank University on 11th June 2009.  The dissertation will be an authentic performance of word art, collaboration and multi-media surfing, production and publishing.  All the content and visual art installation will be linked to the theory which informs this work.

Below is a short audio ‘mash-up’ which I edited to show something of the context I am hoping to address.  The ‘podcast’ will form the opening of my multi-media performance.

The clips will play as the audience moves around the gallery and considers, or interacts with the installation.  The following collage of audio clips are taken from a variety of sources and serve to create a tone – much like poetry.  No ultimate answer is being offered but the remix of thoughts around the themes of interaction, participation, social virus, imagination, performance, consumerism and technology create the audio back drop to visual installations of virus, computer simulations of life cycles and the interactive text website.

The first poem of the performance is entitled ‘Various Journeys Through Life Without Ever Actually Having to Get Up from the Office Chair’.  The poem explores the individualising dynamics of ‘man and monitor’.  Similarly, poems like ‘This World Made Me a Robot’ and ‘Give Me a Minute’ investigate the speed and relentlessness of technological development and some possible consequences.  A digital art installation will also be displayed around the gallery depicting algorithms programmed to replicate life cycles disrupted by viral anomalies.  Finally film clips will be used to add the voice of strangers to the performance; people stopped at random on the streets of London and asked to contribute thoughts will speak their poems into the show and stand as a representation of Jenkins’ idea that wisdom exists in a crowd.

While the performance will be structured around quotations and audio / video clips which explore the theoretical context informing the show, the intention is that the performance will not lecture an audience nor didactically explain an intended meaning, but rather invite spectators to become participators, firstly as interpreters and creators of meaning, and then also (if they so choose) as creative contributors to some poetic content we will collaboratively produce and publish.

Bibliography

Adorno, T (1991) The Culture Industry, London: Routledge.

Bansal, Keller, Lovink (Eds) (2006) In the Shade of the Commons, New Delhi: Impress.

Benjamin, W (1999) Illuminations, London: Pimlico.

Blais, J & Ippolito, J (2006) At the Edge of Art, London: Thames & Hudson.

Clarke, J & Hall, S & Jefferson, T & Roberts, B (1975) Subcultures, Cultures and Class in Hall, S & Jefferson, T (eds) Resistance through Rituals, Cambridge: Routledge.

Fiske, J (1989) Understanding Popular Culture, London and New York: Routledge.

Jones, A & Stephenson, A (1999) Performing the body/performing the text, London and New York: Routledge.

Lessig, L (2004) Free Culture, New York: The Penguin Press.

Phelan, P (1993) Unmarked, London and New York: Routledge.

Williams, R (1989) Resources of Hope, London and New York: Verso.

Willis, P (1990) Common Culture, Buckingham: Open University Press.

Internet Sources

Raymond, E (2000) The Cathedral and the Bazaar, Open Publication
License available for PDF download, Eric S. Raymond’s Home Page, 1/5/07, http://www.catb.org/~esr/writings.

Jenkins, H (2006) Collective Intelligence and the Wisdom of Crowds weblog, http://www.henryjenkings.org, 1/12/07).

Broadcasting: TV Programme

Philips, A (2205) The South Bank Show: Going Sane (6/3/2005, UK).


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About William Stopha

I am a performance poet and media artist who goes by the name of William Stopha. Also know as Chris by some. You can read, hear and watch my material at www.williamstopha.com or www.myspace.com/williamstopha. You can also follow my shorter bullet thoughts at www.twitter.com/williamstopha. My artwork and research explore grass roots creativity, collaboration, the communication of alternative ideology and the politics of performance.
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