An Artistic Research Intersection
SSHRC Connection Grant Project

Along with my co-convenor, Natalia Esling, I conceived of SYMBIONT as an “intersection”—even, in a sense, as a productive, generative traffic jam. I arranged for the overlapping visits to Calgary, over five days, of three separate Artistic Research organizations: Toronto’s Nightwimming Theatre, with its “Pure Research” program (now in its 26th year); Teater SeaChange from Denmark, organizer of “Performing Arts Relay” (in only the second year of that program); and our own Articulating Artistic Research (AAR) Seminar (then in its sixth iteration). More than 60 individuals were brought together from 14 different countries via these three organizations. They were conspicuously varied in terms of their disciplines, training paradigms, priorities for the week, and preparedness in relation to what to expect from the event. “Pure Research” is built around the curiosity of professional artists seeking to pursue a pre-established creative question outside the context of a specific performance and through extensively prepared, focused and secluded sessions of exploration. Performing Arts Relay is also designed for professional artists, but regularly adopts a more spontaneous and improvisational approach to participant interaction. AAR, for its part, attracts artist-scholars who are often institutionally-based and who are seeking theoretically-contextualized exploration with similarly intentioned researchers, following pre-meeting online exchange over a period of several months.





The framework of SYMBIONT anticipated these substantial differences, but nonetheless invited all participants into a collaborative, responsive, and evolving set of laboratory workshops for the first 3 days of the event. Negotiating diverse topics of interest, broad cultural differences, disrupted routines of practice, and the absence of a shared language—both literally and conceptually—the participants were called upon to actively navigate this rich transgression of comfort zones and contested field of individual preferences. Each three-day laboratory was facilitated by one of a group of dramaturgs, who rotated through the multiple labs on a daily basis, providing for a fresh set of outside eyes with each gathering. To generate a degree of continuity for each group, each day of the labs concluded with a showing, debrief, and consultation with all event participants, in part so that the dramaturgs had a preliminary sense of where the group that they would be joining the next day had ‘landed’ the day before. The final two days of the week were dedicated to a structured symposium, featuring key-note speakers, Pecha Kucha presentations from each of the AAR participants, and participant-led, two hour workshops. The week concluded with a future-planning session, a dedicated interdisciplinary performance, an offsite reception, and a final day trip to the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity.

The event, which was supported by a SSHRC Connection Grant and a U of Calgary VP Research Award, was rambunctious, animated, intense and glorious. Befitting the subject matter, it was also conspicuously emergent, situated, and interdisciplinary. No one was fully satisfied or experienced precisely what they had come for, but virtually all concluded the week energized, enriched, provoked, and hungry for the next iteration. Through our follow-up survey of the participants, we have a clear sense that not only were individuals impacted, but, in some small but significant way, the field itself was shifted, advanced, disrupted and reframed. We are currently exploring plans for the next gathering.

There was a sense of care and love while we were grappling with difficult issues around misappropriation, colonization, and the displacement of one’s creative practice that is situated in institutions where power and hierarchy is embedded. Because of this, as a person of colour and an artist emerging from zones of many displacements/dislocation, I felt secured and whole to articulate my own critical subject-position without fear. Being part of the group and engaging in the workshops, I felt I was symbolically entering the global community of artist-scholars who are passionate in integrating the theories and practice of art making as a living and empowering body of discourse.” (SYMBIONT participant)