© 2019 Making From The Mess | All artwork © Ashely Fraser

Reflections on Mess and Research panel

10:00 - 11:00


“I propose a game of cards, or consequences, which plays with an anthropology of emerging art galleries by turning transcripts into scripts, while anonymising, disorganising, reassembling and re-narrating current and historical anecdotes or observations, and wondering what will, if anything, emerge from that worth holding on to.”

Panel participants

Renée Landell

Renée Landell is a first-year PhD student in Comparative Literature and Culture at Royal Holloway, University of London. Her prize-winning undergraduate dissertation was the beginning of a body of work and original ideas which form the foundation of her current work. Her doctoral research centres on the relationship between the degradation of the Caribbean body and the desecration of the Caribbean environment through an analysis of six pervasive stereotypes: The devoted ‘Mammy’, The seductive ‘Jezebel’, The Angry ‘Sapphire’, The Submissive ‘Sambo’, The Erotic ‘Mandingo Buck’ and ‘The Black Brute.’ She argues that the responses to, and demythologisation of, Western stereotypes by Anglophone Caribbean writers is an attempt to reclaim the Caribbean body and promote positive ecological practices. Employing resources from across the humanities, including post-colonial scholarship and eco-criticism, Renée argues that the reconstruction of Caribbean identity requires both looking backwards, to recuperate a suppressed history, and forwards, to attentive responses to the human, and the environmental, body.

'A Glorious Mess? Some thoughts on professionalism and “experimental” practices'

Tim Cowbury

Being professional is generally associated in society at large with being efficient, ordered and in control. To be professional, perhaps, is to scrub up and present well, whilst adhering to established boundaries and procedures. How far might these “neat and tidy” values also shape ideas of professionalism specifically in the arts? Do such values clash with the curious, free-spirited and perhaps inherently messy qualities generally associated with creative or experimental processes? And if so, what problems or opportunities might this present? In this paper I will begin to explore these questions in relation to my own theatre practice (-based research). Unearthing some peculiar tensions in British theatre around professionalism, process and product, I aim to consider how these tensions might be rooted in conflicted responses to wider ideas of productivity and work in a late capitalist economy.

Tim is a playwright, theatre-maker and researcher. As co-founder of contemporary performance company Made In China, he has created acclaimed works that have been performed across the UK, in Europe and USA. His solo writing has been performed at venues including Young Vic and Crucible Theatre, while in 2020 his play The Claim will be staged in multiple continents...and at Shoreditch Town Hall. Tim's practice-based PhD is concerned with the politics of “alternative” theatre-making in the contemporary British context. His work considers the ways this politics is rooted problematically in the theatrical and theoretical landscape of the late 1960s, with particular focus on the notion of The Spectacle (Debord, 1967). 

Martha Rose 

Accepting individual testimonies as mediated cultural processes rather than ‘direct’ experience, the process – as well as the product - of oral history is now broadly celebrated. Within this ‘turn’ scholars have become increasingly reflexive in their approach, pursuing the oral history interview as a dynamic, active, interaction between the thinking subject and the researcher. Driven, in particular, by feminist thinking, oral historians began to critically examine and celebrate the ‘mess’ of working as an oral historian. Key questions that emerged included: how might the researcher impact the interviewees narrative? Is a shared authority possible? Who has the interpretive authority of oral history? Is it ethically correct to re-interpret a text? And who owns the text?


This paper will not provide an intellectual history of these developments – which have already been well accounted for. In line with the theme of this conference, and located within this well-known theoretical turn, this talk will instead provide a personal reflection on working as an oral historian with contested histories of the Troubles in Northern Ireland, West Belfast. Specifically it will reflect upon the ‘messy’ issues of interpretation and ethical responsibility, with scope to raise some broader questions concerning the role of the oral historians when working with ‘active’ archives.