THE LIVING ROOM SERIES: Practice Led Research
Dean has just completed his first year of PhD study at Central St Martins under the supervisory guidance of Dr Roger Sabin (Director of Studies), Susan Trangmar (Reader) & Jane Gibb.
This paper was delivered as part of a presentation at the University of Arts, London Research Symposium on Wednesday 1st July 2009.
LIVING ROOM: AN ENQUIRY INTO MASCULINE IDENTITY THROUGH A MULTIMEDIA ARTS PRACTICE DRAWING ON REPRESENTATIONS WITHIN BRITISH SITUATION COMEDY.
SUBJECT AREA, AIMS AND OBJECTIVES
The subject area addressed by this research is British situation comedy explored through a process of re-appropriation and performative visual arts practice utilising multimedia approaches.
RESEARCH QUESTION: What formulations of masculine identity does the medium of situation comedy produce?
This question will be answered by examination of the construction of masculine gender stereotypes in three situation comedies from the 1950’s, 1960’s and 1970’s. Selections from original source material will be re-appropriated and utilised in my own visual arts practice. The resulting dialogue between historical source material and contemporary artwork will create a critical interrogation of cultural and gendered stereotypes which problematises their apparent ‘naturalness’ when viewed through the lens of nostalgia. What are we nostalgic about? Did those events really happen, if so, did they occur in the way we perceived them to have happened? How is nostalgia constructed?
In order to address these aims the following objectives have been identified : -
• Appropriation of original material relating to identified stereotypes through the production of a series of sketch book/ journals that are self-reflexive, providing the opportunity to take up a critical stance.
• The production of a series of multi media artworks using in particular photography/performance/text that interrogate, critique and also re-engage the audience with the problematic nature of stereotypical mass media representations of masculinity.
• Engagement through the performative aspect of the work with a series of representational spaces (eg.the gallery and/or the street) so addressing the site of reception of the artwork and opening the privatised domestic space of situation comedy consumption to a socially shared space for public critique.
My place within this research project is as catalyst and originator of the material explored as both author/performer and intermediary. Choice of source material is from my own personal nostalgic experiences and memories of the repeated programmes.
Supplementary points of importance to this investigation concern: -
• The relationship between the living room depicted within the situation comedy and the living room in which it is consumed.
• The relationship in the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s and what is the relationship now given the altered circumstances derived from viewing repeats or DVDs in the 21st century.
Situation comedy is a genre of comedy performance in which recurring characters operate in apparently humorous story lines located in a common environment, such as a family home or workplace. Sitcoms were originally devised for radio, but since the 1950’s and the progression of shows such as “Hancock’s Half Hour” to television, the genre has been presented and re-presented on the small screen. This project explores the privileged position situation comedies have occupied in television broadcasting schedules, and by examining their cultural relevancy asserts that they are political and social markers, “Hancock’s Half Hour”, “Steptoe and Son” and “Whatever Happened to The Likely Lads?”
Cultural context, defines the sitcom socially and politically, which in return acts as a mirror that reflects the era’s motifs back upon itself. I aim to produce a body of practical and contextual work that explores notions of gendered class identity within the vista of British sitcoms.
Alongside the research source of the situation comedy there will be parallel research into modes of production and presentation within contemporary art practice. Bas Jan Ader’s practice and approach to performance is of particular interest in terms of historical practitioners. The assertion by Ader that the process of performance delivers “…accidental truths.” (Ader, 1970) has a particular resonance when using a methodology that relates to specific period sources. When considering audience it has to be acknowledged that specific period sources may not exist within the experience of individual consumers, therefore Ader’s approach has value when considering strategies of performance and display. The research project will also demonstrate an engagement with Brechtian theories, in particular Frederic Jameson’s assertion that describes the creator of the work not as Brecht the individual, but rather as 'Brecht': a collective subject.
Cindy Sherman’s approach to photographically recording self-performances encourages dialogue about culturally constructed identities and is thus of significant relevance as a research and methodological model. Both Adrian Piper and Elenaor Antin explore issues of identity and public site through photographically recorded performances. Other contemporary practitioners who adopt similar approaches to the proposed methodology are Jim Lambie’s installations critiquing nostalgia and appropriation; Fiona Banner’s work appropriating text from popular cultural sources and Jeremy Deller’s practice of re-enactments and staged events.
Key contemporary texts dealing with the positioning of the situation comedy in socially current and resonant contexts are Stephen Wagg’s edited collection of texts entitled “Because I Tell A Joke Or Two: Comedy, Politics and Social Difference” along with Andy Medhurst’s “A National Joke”. Within these publications the authors question what comedy is as well as re-evaluating the situation comedy in terms of the reciprocal exchange between scripted event and actual historical event, actor and viewer, political content, notions of difference and the comedian as heroic victim. Frederic Jameson’s “Postmodernism or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism” references a questioning of nostalgia as a misguided perception of a time period and would be a significant research source when reflecting upon past events/representations through re-appropriation.
These theories would support an ongoing practical examination that derives focal points from specified situation comedy productions.
I will utilise and appropriate visual and textual fragments from British sit-com episodes to re-enact and re-present significant events, re-creating and interrogating individualised portraits of masculinity created by the scriptwriters and actors. I aim to generate an individualised take on Shermanesque documentation of performance thus establishing a number of approaches under the umbrella of nostalgia and memory that have a specific and significant relationship to the key area of gender as portrayed within situation comedy. This will also form part of the contemporary context I intend to provide for an examination of constructed gender identity and national memory.
To evaluate and examine the processes and theoretical models referred to at inception and development of practical work I will establish an ongoing series of journals that address each aspect of the practical and theoretical process. This recording process has associations with male comedians such as Les Dawson and Kenneth Williams who meticulously kept journals and will reference the process, journey and resolutions.
The practice-based methodology will provide an opportunity to explore the subject area through a process of performative art works whilst also providing mechanisms for critical distancing and evaluation that will contribute to theories around contemporary art practice, cultural studies and drama performance.
All Comedy is Tragedy? Hancock as Heroic Victim and Tortured Genius. (Practice/Theory)
Title: Living Room Series: Episode 1 “The Man Who Never Was”
I’ve Got To Get Away. Harry H. and Harold - the impossible escape. Working Class failures are funnier. (Practice/Theory)
Working Title: Living Room Series: Episode 2 “The Desperate Hours”
What Happened To You? The Bob Ferris Syndrome – Life imitates the Sit-com, the sit-com imitates life. (Practice/Theory)
Working Title: Living Room Series: Episode 3 “Oh What Happened To You?”
PREDICTION OF THE FORM OF THE FINAL OUTCOME
Anticipated outcomes include a series of works combining performance, photography, and appropriation intended to result in site-specific events and/or exhibition(s), a catalogue and a written thesis. A contribution will be made to academic discussions surrounding the construction of national identity, the position of popular cultural references in relation to constructed identity and the value of referencing nostalgia and memory in the process of contemporary practice. The structure of the artwork will have a reflexive relationship with the written thesis and there will be a dovetailing between the journal, artworks and publication.
©Dean Kelland 2008/09