Perplexed by the ease with which invitations were extended to her to perform at some of Europe’s longest running performance art festivals, Centre for Work, Organisation and Wellbeing (WOW)-affiliated doctoral candidate, music student graduate, former Calliope (Central Queensland) resident, and then fledgling performance artist, Rebecca Clunn(nee Cunningham) wanted to know just who these people were, offering such generous access and global mobility?

WOW spent five minutes with Rebecca to learn a little more about her unique research into the role of trust in performance artists’ social networks.

What inspired your thesis topic/ area of research?

“How is it that a girl [having]…venture[d] into the field of performance art…after only two years is invited to one of the largest and longest running performance art festivals in Europe? [Now], [a]fter only five years of practice, I have performed live in numerous festivals on four continents, have had work presented in a wide range of events and countries, including UK, USA, France, Poland, Sweden, Russia, Indonesia, Singapore, Canada and Australia.”

“To put this simply, I think [it] strange….It was these experiences which compelled me to ask ‘How does trust operate within the Global Performance Art Network?'”

Rebecca Clunn, Action Art Festival. San Francisco, USA 2010 (image courtesy of Gabriel Ossa)

Rebecca Clunn. Action Art Festival, San Francisco, USA 2010 (image courtesy of Gabriel Ossa)

“As a performance artist, I experienced a strong synergy connecting performance artists, the work they make, the network they create and inhabit, and the trust that binds them together. I wanted to discover how that network operated. Therefore, my doctoral research project focused on the question, ‘How does trust operate within the global performance art network?’…With no known research into the global performance art network to date, [my] research will contribute to theory development and practical perspectives in relation to performance art.”

With the dual perspective of researcher and participant, Rebecca set to work with three studies as part of her PhD thesis. The first, she says, comprised an ethnographic qualitative participant observation of the artists’ social networks. The second involved qualitative interviews with network members, and the third, a cross-sectional longitudinal quantitative social network analysis (SNA).

What findings from your research were of particular interest?

“Social network analysis looks at the relationships between people.[A] social network analysis of this group demonstrated the shape of the network over time….Shapes of networks often exhibit distinct behaviours. Further, certain shapes are more effective than others, depending on the goal of said network. The most interesting finding…[from the]…thesis…is that the shape of the network I found demonstrated a highly disconnected and fragile network — with only a few key members having the majority of the connections over time….[Such a] network shape within the [O]rganisation literature often exhibits non-trusting behaviour. However, the global performance art network, through the interviews undertaken, demonstrated…a lot of trust between artists. Terms like family and love [were] used frequently. To me, this juxtaposition of a fragile network yet [with] members reporting trust, demonstrated that a network is not just its shape — you can’t judge a network just by its shape. In this instance, the ideology, attitudes and social norms proved stronger than the shape.”

“The findings…indicate that the experience of trust is intrinsic to the networks’ operation as artists’ trust themselves (self trust), artists trust their audience and other artists (interpersonal trust), and further, the….experience of generalised institutional trust…, as trust becomes a social norm within [it].”

Where to from here?

“From the PhD I am still working on digitising the archive I was allowed access to. This website, launched in March 2013 –…currently maps the Australian network of practitioners, venues and curators, enabling artists and curators to better connect and work together.”

“….[I]n collaboration with software engineer Kerstin Haustein, Performance Map will grow to be a digital mapping of the global performance art, action art and live art network from 1975 [to] present, cataloguing existing archives and online sources. Although multiple sources will eventually be part of this map, the current primary source of archival data is Die Schwartz Larde or The Black Kit,the largest known performance art archive in the world, with access provided by Boris Nieslony.”

Performance Map will also function as a live streaming state for performance art, that allows video streaming from Smartphone via the purpose built app ‘Crystal’…The website will also collect and collate existing performance archives of artists, festivals, email lists, Facebook pages etc..”

“Th[e] website seeks not to replicate existing materials or databases such as the National Review of Live Art Archive at Bristol University, The European Live Art Archive,or UbuWeb, but rather aims to collate and visualise the data as an accessible and user friendly resource.”

Rebecca’sdoctoral supervisors are WOW members, Dr Sheryl Ramsay and Dr Arthur Poropat.