2018-2022

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The below text seeks to orient the reader in understanding how the practices work in tandem with the thesis for the practice research Ph.D. 

Abstract for practice research PhD:

"Ambidlala: Towards a method of Refluxivity in Play"

This practice research PhD is a multifaceted exploration and exposure of structural violence in play. It reveals that there is a reluctance in both my own past practice, as well as play and performance studies scholarship to examine play in relation to violence. Having lived under the apartheid regime and creating work in the post-apartheid years in South Africa has consequently meant that I am deeply sensitised to anti-exclusionary practices. My initial research question for this practice research was: how has my performance practice, that engages play as a method, been complicit with the violence of apartheid? This question challenged me to return to a past practice from 14 years ago, where blind-racial violence took place, to a work co-created in a “post”-apartheid context with Prince Khosi (pictured above) in his boxing gym in Johannesburg, South Africa in 2007.

 

Through autoethnography, semi-structured interviews and performative writing the research was conducted over three years in both the UK and South Africa. It includes three practices, the data from which I worked as material in creating the final practice research output: a polyvocal autoethnographic text which is at the heart of this thesis. From this text, I drew out three largely unexamined focal points related to the overarching theme of implicit violence in play: ambiguity, privilege and bodies. Drawing on feminist and performance studies theorists, I critically examine these three interrelated themes and their relation to implicit violence, insights from which inform the methodology of ambidlala and its method of refluxivity. Ambidlala (“ambi” = “both” in English and “dlala” = “play” in Zulu) is a reflexive methodology that requires critical awareness of the role of ambiguity, privilege and bodies in play in a “post”-apartheid context. In these ways, this thesis makes a unique, timely and important contribution to play and performance studies scholarship.

 

Practice Research as Method: 

Practice research as method is central to understanding the PhD. For theoretical and methodological guidance on practice research, I draw on Robin Nelson (2013) and, for a more up-to-date approach, James Bully and Özden Şahin’s report on practice research (2021). In this report, they define practice research as a kind of research where the practice, which could be a combination of performance documentation and writing, is the “the significant method conveyed in a research output” and that “practice research enables researchers to share the ways of knowing that emerge in practice” (Bully & Şahin, 2021, p. 4). For clarity, this practice research uses two main descriptive terms and their application that they have outlined:

 

1. Practice (by way of documentation): In this thesis, the primary function of these photographs and videos is to evidence and contextualise the project and add to the felt embodied experience of reading the practice research output, i.e. they do not and cannot function in isolation as art works in and of themselves.

 

- Boxing Games video (2007), photos, kin:be:jozi blog.

- Revisiting of Practice 1: video (2019), photos, writing.

- Photos of Wellcome Trust workshops (2020), writing.

 

2. Practice Research Output: This can be seen as the “main course” of the thesis, where through autoethnography and performative writing and the support of the practices, i.e. the documentation, the practice research output demonstrates how the practice is the significant method of the research. On the PRAG UK (Practice Research Advisory Group UK) it states that the output “[…] is the way in which the piece of creative work finds (or invents) the appropriate formal embodiment for the research questions it raises” (PRAG, 2022). Considering the hindering conditions such as the level of crime in Hillbrow and the COVID-19 pandemic, other possible outputs (on-site performance, film, etc.) were not possible. Thus, the most “appropriate formal embodiment” for me in this practice research, is the weaving of all of the material from the interviews and autoethnographic writing together, resulting in “The Practice on the Page”, the polyvocal autoethnographic text. Whilst practice four is embedded in the thesis, each of the three supporting practices can be accessed here on this website. 

My work has never been made in isolation and this thesis aims to continue this practice on the page. I chose the Boxing Games (2007) performance because, 14 years later, I still have a close, often wordless, relationship with the owner of the gym in Johannesburg, the ex-champion boxing coach, Prince, and we are still interested in the power of shared wordless embodied experiences of collective joy. However, in the first iteration of my performance Boxing Games (2007), while I saw Prince as a fellow co-creator, there was no inclusion of his or any of the other players’ thoughts, stories or voices. Focused on and somewhat blinded by the utopian motivations of play, there was also no reflexivity. The polyvocal text in the thesis, practice 4, seeks to remedy this with the inclusion of many voices and many truths. From this text emerged different themes, those of implicit violence, privilege, bodies, and ambiguity in play, which I then analyse in critical essays in the thesis, contributing new knowledge and new language to the scholarship around play. 

Finally, it was important to me that this research not only include many voices, but also for Prince and Mbesta to be financially compensated, both of whom were paid for their time. Upon returning to the gym in late 2021, it was incredibly heartwarming for me to see that Prince had put up mirrors in his gym and had started a takeaway kitchen at the back – a secondary source of income, such additions made possible through the financial contribution from Northumbria University.[1]

 

[1] I write this in full awareness of Zizek’s notion of the violence of the liberal communist: “Charity is the humanitarian mask hiding the face of economic exploitation” (Zizek 2010, p. 19). It may indeed be argued that this thesis participates in this violence.

Wynne, F. and Zizek, S (2010) Violence: Six Sideways Reflections Great Britain: Profile Books.