POOR COPY: FAN PRACTICES AND PRODUCERLY ART MAKING
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This thesis includes a body of artworks including performance, video, photography and audio installation, a zine, and textile artwork, documentation of which is presented via a YouTube channel, also titled Poor Copy.
This research explores methodological similarities between fan and art practices, and analyses how fans, artists, and their methods of making engage with extant narratives. Two histories act as a narrative throughline for this investigation: a 1999 Michael Jackson concert in Barnstaple, North Devon, where the performer may or may not have been a tribute artist; and a day in 2002 when Michael Jackson visited Exeter City Football Club, Devon. I use these intersecting histories as a narrative way in to making a new body of art work as a practitioner-researcher, to ask how might art-making processes and products foster, embrace and represent activities that empower participants (artists, fans, and audiences) to create, change or build on dominant histories and mythologies?
I analyse the notion of ‘tribute’ via my experiences at Europe’s largest Elvis tribute artist competition, and a subsequent practice-research experiment at the Experimentica live art festival at Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff. Using theory from both fan and performance studies, I position tribute as a transformative practice: in which an existing ‘text’ is re-enacted with new expression; and in which both performers and audience go through a significant (though temporary) change. Elvis tribute artists act simultaneously as ‘the’ Elvis and as Elvis fan, and audiences act as co-conspirators in this performance ‘resurrection’ of ‘The King’. I identify how Michael Jackson tribute artists highlight tribute’s ability to unpack identity performances as iterative, which is underscored by Jackson’s changing and complex performances of identity. Representations of Jackson’s performances and histories via performances and artworks contribute to his star text; intertextuality means that when additional Jackson-related narratives come to light, such as the allegations of child sexual abuse, these artworks are often received differently, and new exhibition platforms should consider how to sensitively handle critical discussion. Not all representations of Jackson need be a ‘tribute’.
I create two practice-research artworks, Yes, It Really Did Happen and No Such Event Took Place, to demonstrate that fannish engagements with archival fragments can happen within institutional archives, and that these participations are characterised by treating the material as producerly: following John Fiske, these are texts which are open, containing gaps, irresolutions and contradictions. Producerly texts invite creative re-inventions. I make a practice-research video work raremjvideos1, and zine and banner artworks to draw comparisons between fan and contemporary art practices: both use appropriation and repetition to platform subjectivity; the notion of an established canon (and at times narrative clarity) are set aside, to embrace fannish myth-making. My practice-research acts as fan art of fan art, and demonstrates that when re-presenting archival texts, myth and memory blur the lines between ‘then’ and ‘again’. I develop and stage a versioned practice-research performance work Like A Pantomime which positions verbatim theatre techniques as a way to engage with and platform a multiplicity of community voices, and their perspectives of cultural memory.
Through this practice-research, I position Jackson’s narratives and performances as producerly texts which beget producerly practices. By producerly practices, I mean appropriative practices which transform the originary for the producers’ own purposes and pleasures. Producerly practices are similarly open and malleable in their reading and reception as a producerly text is, and often will invite future interpretations. Producerly practices are also inherently iterative, offering opportunities for the sharing, discussion, and repetition of artworks with and by communities, allowing for changes in (and critical reflection of) narrative-construction. When working with archival fragments, cultural memories, and community historiographies, understandings and perspectives of the past will vary. I propose several discursive strategies of art-making to platform a variety of voices in artworks which engage with the past: re- versioning, verbatim, and agonism. These dialogic methods recognise that ethics are at the fore of research projects which speak of contentious histories, but acknowledges that an ethical approach does not necessarily mean a neutral one. An agonist methodology in particular respects and gives voice not only to community members, but also to the subjectivity of the practice-researcher: by platforming often-conflicting retellings, the artwork deconstructs the idea of an objective historical narrative, and instead celebrates fannish myth-making.