GHOSTS IN THE ARTISTIC PRACTICE
By Simone Aughterlony
There is this propensity to reject the ghosts of past creative practices and constructions. Although in many ways an artistic practice needn't be defined by any real beginning or end, that is to say it develops into a gamut of habits that are at liberty to shift and mutate as knowledge is produced, forming a continuum of processes that are both conscious and unconscious in manner, I still want to renounce my ghosts and expel them to some phantom junk yard of presences I have deemed inadequate or simply redundant in my creative practice. This expulsion (locking in the closet) is not from an ideology based on the necessary destruction of the old or established for the formation of something fresh but it may have something to do with this feeling that there probably won't be enough space for everybody – that these ghosts from former patterns of thought will ruin the party of new and exciting ideas that are emerging. And yes, in some ways this does have to do with a capacity to integrate information over time: it's anyway extremely difficult to identify the exact origin of seemingly contemporary thoughts and methods as so much of what we intend to do to is a reaction to or consequence of what we have already done.
My first three choreographic works all shared explorations in veiling, concealing and revealing a physical presence in image through the medium of video. Something of a ghostly practice in itself! However, recently I have inadvertently “banished” video from my artistic practice with the exception of filming the improvisational sessions for easy retrieval of “precious material”. As I am writing this I begin to question how certain approaches to working with image, frame and penetration of presence that became the staple research and language in those early works could have enhanced my practice lately, practice that has been more concerned with group behaviour and strategies as well as a specific written communication method, without necessarily employing video as means of presentation. In other words, I could have introduced my ghosts to my new bunch of friends, creating more connections and the potential for a deeper exploration or multilayered research, not to mention opening a potential for unpredictable connections.
Perhaps, the most promising of “ghostly meetings” would be in the dramaturgical questioning and structuring of already developed material as I think this particular process solicits and benefits from a broad scope of perspectives and ways of observing. This kind of “cross-pollinating” of approaches and questioning upon artistic material that exists in entirely different contexts could bring about a transformation of the patterns that haunt us, resulting in a loss of that irksome quality – becoming less scary in their familiarity and more inspiring in their “performance”. I must acknowledge that with regard to my approach to artistic practice and construction it is not fear of the unknown but fear of the all too well known that acts upon me. It is a case of negatively anticipating my various phantoms' performance ability and not allowing them to also develop and transform within my practice. Indeed, I am sure it is quite the opposite for other artists, those whose ghosts become shadows that walk with them along their artistic path and imbue them with confidence and assured strategies for producing work.
With an artistic method and an artistic object being so intimately involved, the object being a kind of response from the method's questioning, it's probably no great wonder I feel the need to consciously push away the tried methods in an effort to assure the next project doesn't too closely resemble or become a repetition of the previous work. Still, it is a slightly futile effort as you can't choose your own ghosts and to rid yourself of their presence would be quite a feat of alteration. On the contrary, to treat one's ghosts as part of the sum of artistic experience and allow them to remain present in the working environment might also invite the growth and transformation of your ghosts with you – reducing the need for an imposed separation and facilitating a fluid continuum of artistic practice. If we can think of our ghosts as an important part of that which constitutes the working method rather than a neglected other who hangs around unwanted, the integration of artistic method can only become more rich and layered or at the very least less haunted.
In itself the idea of discarding something because ones' desire or focus is directed towards the development of new experiences is not wholly bad but the benefits of recycling what remains, of repairing and re-using ideas and concepts in new contexts is appealing in contrast to our contemporary culture of consumption and the all too desperate search for the new and original. Maybe there are no new spirits but just the reincarnation of old ones. A challenge would be to improve the ability to recognize and articulate ones' ghosts – to welcome their presence in the studio or work space allow them to make a little noise from time to time. The notion of having short dialogues with lingering presences during a “new” process could enlighten and develop modes of thinking and go some way to keeping us out of the dark.
In the same way our body is not “in space” so much as inhabiting and haunting space, so must the ghostly remains of our actions and thoughts be ever present in the development of new patterns of thought or methods of artistic production. I'm coming to the conclusion that expressing ambivalence towards the remnants of past work can only lead to blockages in communication with our various selves, younger and older. To persistently ignore, or not articulate what has gone before can result in a sense of something missing or lacking. If, however, we offer and invite to invite; to switch the roles so that all ones' ghosts become hosts in the practice and act as constant reminder of possibilities for both tried and experimental exploration, one might feel slightly more at ease in their presence.