Over the past few weeks I have tried to think more carefully about how my interests relate, with a view to gathering them into a research project I can approach more systematically specifically within an academic context. To this end my method so far has been practice-based. This is a messy distinction to make, but I’m using the term to indicate that my secondary research decisions (what I choose to read, etc.) develop from my artwork: my primary research. I might messily try to say that my primary research develops decisions from itself, which is to say that it is – I think – researching itself: digging into itself to try to get at what it’s trying to say.

Practically speaking this means periodically returning to and reviewing my artwork and trying to draw themes together as an external critic might. Having revisited recent artwork and writing I have broadly located an ongoing interest in ‘framing’: hierarchical relationships between elements of a work or situation, and the potential each has for variously claiming authority for or over the other elements. On reflection I find that almost all of my projects can be described in these terms, from my object-based work on the distinction between art and life, and my lectures and texts that draw attention to their own surfaces, to my reviews of imaginary exhibitions, my translations, and my interest in distinguishing between both the roles and materialities of visual art and writing.

As I look at the texts I’ve most enjoyed reading over the past months I see the same concern recurring in separate but possibly homologous or analogous ideas. John Barth, Jorge Luis Borges and Flann O’Brien unsettle relations between authors, readers, characters and the worlds they inhabit in their novels and short stories; these issues are further explicated in Barth’s critical essays on literature of ‘exhaustion’ and ‘replenishment’. Giorgio Agamben’s Potentialities considers authenticity in auto/biography, poetry, narrative and the human voice. Maurice Blanchot’s The Infinite Conversation considers the notion of ‘the question’ in terms of in/completeness, which I would draw towards the position of translation and multilingualism as frame devices in language. I am trying to uncover a relationship between ‘the event’ (Blanchot, Yve Lomax, Alain Badiou) and Diderot’s conception of the painting-viewer relationship in Michael Fried’s Absorption and Theatricality. Allan Kaprow’s Essays on the Blurring of Art and Life is helping me to draw comparisons between what might be relevant parallel experiments in literature and art through the twentieth century.

I was talking to Michael about this the other week and he was concerned about the breadth of the field I’d chosen to locate my work, and the amount of reading I would have to cover to think about framing with any authority and to avoid any re-inventing of the wheel.

I agree that the field is potentially enormous (and even larger if it fringes on ideas of ‘the event’). But I think we differ slightly here as I am inclined in the first instance to limit my field via my own practice rather than by combing the existing literature. Combing the literature has to come later. The direction I want to take at the moment is to narrow rather than broaden my search, and once I have more clearly delineated my own very slight field I will look outwards again to contextualize and inform my work. Clearly the processes of defining (limiting) and contextualizing (broadening) are not this clear-cut in reality and I expect both movements to go on simultaneously and messily – but as my research (and the MA course) is practice-based, the impetus must come from my own work and not work that is already out there. (I don’t think one can reinvent wheels while research comes from practice, not least because making something that already exists is still an undiminished practice of making.)

As we concluded our discussion Michael said that based on his reading and his conversations with artists, he wonders whether the frame structure might no longer be an appropriate description or metaphor for contemporary relations, and wondered if we might try to replace ‘frame’ with ‘link’. There was little time to discuss this in depth during the tutorial, but I have since found it a very helpful opening in two respects:

First, it accounts for the unsatisfactoriness of the frame diagrams I have been trying to draw for fictions I’m reading (Borges, Barth, O’Brien etc.). The fact that none of these diagrams has been straightforward (I had to add on supplementary wormholes, arrows, asterisks and chronologies in each of them), suggests an implicit restlessness among these writers with traditional hierarchical structures of reality in fiction, which cannot be resolved by merely subverting these structures in their own terms by continuing to use hierarchical frames but, say, by arranging them in the wrong orders.

Second, it draws in a long-standing and never adequately articulated interest of mine in edges or points of equivalence between parallel or simultaneous realities or situations. Here, the movement is not of framing but rather of piercing: gouging through one fabric and plotting a point through the fissure into some other fabric. This interest shows in the matching but unrelated diagrams illustrating my What To Do talk, and in my undergraduate thesis where I try to make the writing come away from the page by ‘flattening’ the text through strategies of multilingualism, translation and quietened propositional force, and where I argue that “[t]he edge [of the text] closes the text as text, but only at the moment of closure can the text begin to shudder with bodily life as it draws itself clear of the paper”.

To proceed, I want to continue the ‘narrowing’ process I have described by systematically going through existing works of my own and considering how they add to my understanding of the field I have in mind. I will begin with What To Do and my undergraduate thesis. Making new work will be an indistinguishable part of this research (for instance, I’m currently writing a piece for Resonance which is helping me work through certain concerns as they appear in earlier works). This risks being a circular and rather insular process, and so I will work to carefully integrate ‘secondary research’ as soon as my own field is sufficiently defined as to resist being swept along by the existing literature.