Lisa Watts

32 Significant Moments: An Artist's Practice as Research

32 Significant Moments: An Artist’s Practice as Research is primarily aimed at an academic audience in the creative and cultural industries. Indeed, it provides an invaluable resource for those trying to explain or justify their art practice within the occasionally restrictive frameworks required by the academy. However it also provides a fascinating insight into the creative process behind Watts’ work and can be regarded as a valuable resource in its own right. The book contains a range of photographs documenting Watts’ process as she works through, moves away from, and returns to a range of ideas about the plasticity of gum and the female body. Her theoretical references include Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Elizabeth Grosz, Julia Kristeva, and Peggy Phelan. Although Watts’ works through key theoretical ideas she largely responds to the theoretical material in an associative way, for example she works through Kristeva’s ideas about the maternal and the abject but rather than closing the potential of those ideas down she retains them as jumping off points for further experiments and forays into the unknown. For me, this book is pleasurable both for the insight it lends into a thoughtful yet slightly anarchic approach and the system of notation provided by the Studio Activity Sheets. – Sarah Gorman – writer/ academic at Roehampton University.

Literature review

This booklet is different and unique in comparison to contemporary published literature on art on many accounts. The following explains these accounts. Most published literature concerned with art is written by a cultural theorist or writer once the art has been shown, whereas this booklet is written by the artist explaining her thoughts, intentions and actions at an in-depth level during the making of the art. To add to this point, almost all literature in this arena is concerned with art once it has been exhibited, whereas this booklet discusses the complex journey of the processes in the making of art. Moreover, if any literature does discuss the processes in the making of art it is most often in the form of an interview with the artist and these interviews are often ‘one offs’ rather than a series of interviews with the artist. In contrast, this booklet is written from a series of time, note sheets titled SASs that were devised by myself and are completed whilst making art in the studio. Furthermore, in the interviews with artists that are published the artist talks at a distance from the making of the art, rather than during the making and in these interviews the artist discusses their general practice in art making; thus not specific chronological points in the process of making art that occurs in my booklet. In addition, this booklet intervenes on existing literature about process by offering an example of in-depth analysis of a single piece of art. This method of closely monitoring the processes of a single artwork means that it becomes possible to relate to outcomes incidents that occur during the making process, such as decisions taken and the realisations of ideas. My literature review of English books revealed that there were no other books like this.

Structure of the booklet

The booklet is 23,000 words and is structured with an introduction and the SASs are shown as charts on several pages. Then the main body of the book is in thirty two sections. Each section starts at on a fresh page and can involve a quote from the studio, photographs, text that explains the moment and on twelve occasions an in-depth essay into the moment captured. The book is written in a creative fun manner.

An excerpt from the booklet titled, 32 Significant Moments: An Artist's Practice as Research

A few hours into playing with the gum I realise the gum is very similar in tone and in pigment to my skin and therefore I can stretch a pad of gum across my nipple and it submerges. It almost looks like my nipples never existed. After another hour or so of further experiments with various chewing gum types and I understand that it has to be the chewing gum made by the Wrigley’s Company Ltd, and in particular, their Spearmint brand, recognisable by its white paper wrapper for it to camouflage parts of my body. Beside me is my note book and I write down, "I realised that I can make things invisible. Think of dancer and his use of the body with deconstruction by turning the skin over to hide nipples and the penis with the scrotum" (Jeremy Bel). Many thoughts are going through my mind as I work with the material, but I only write down the ones that I consider relevant to furthering my performance and call the sections of notes in my notebook ‘Significant Moments’. Significant moments can be a variety of things for instance: an idea; a question; a statement; an experiment, or a failure. 

This particular writing in my note book which recalls an image of the disappearing penis behind the scrotum stays with me whilst another ‘significant moment’ appears– “didn't Peggy Phelan write about disappearance, invisibility and performance?” Again I make a note in my notebook which is to read her essay later and then I continue to experiment with making my nipples disappear under gum. At times I take photos of these experiments with the camera on a tripod using a shutter on a timer (seen above). Then I leave the studio to go and re-read Phelan's essay, The Ontology of Performance: Representation without Reproduction (1993).

Dr Peggy Phelan is an American writer who researches using the academic disciplines of linguistics, post-structuralism and psychoanalysis to then analyse the production of cultural meaning when experiencing art and performance. According to Phelan, performance work inherently, in its ontology, resists predominant structures of representations in our patriarchal, capitalist, western cultures. In this particular essay she initially discusses how performance has a particular viewing experience that involves a sense of death because of its short life span. Performance is not an object that will be there in its same form when you return months later therefore the watching of a performance is charged with exhilarations of the anticipated sense of loss before it is, in fact, lost.