For many people, the term research is often associated with fieldwork, data collection or laboratories. But for crew members aboard SHUTTLE, it means something entirely different—mobile performance desert art.
The collaborative research project began last Monday when eight international artists, researchers, designers and performers set out on a journey across the American Southwest. Traveling in one van across the Sonoran and Mohave deserts and the Great Basin, the crew intends "to generate new creative practices and works that shuttle between registers of knowing and unknowing by exploring performances of mobility," according a news release. Their adventure will culminate in a final performance at the Tucson Museum of Art.
The project originated as a proposal for the Performance Studies international #19 conference Now Then: Performance & Temporality, at Stanford University from June 26 to June 30.
The goal was "doing something that actually could be something more about the process of making work as opposed to talking about work that's already been made," said Beth Weinstein, an organizer of the project and a SHUTTLE crew member who describes the project as "one big, multifaceted, evolving work in progress."
The journey includes indigenous sites as well as natural sites that reflect the strong legacy of landscape art within the American West, she added.
"This would be something quite rich to work with—potentially as material, as well as just the whole journey, the road trip, the voyage, the adventure," Weinstein said.
Last Monday, crew members participated in a "projective conversation" as a way to introduce themselves to each other and learn about the locations where the group would be heading from Tucson.
"Many of us are meeting each other for the first time during this trip, so it's also about the kinds of encounters that happen between people from both different disciplines and different histories and backgrounds," Weinstein said
Though the crew is made up mostly of people who were invited to participate, some crew members contacted the project organizers via the PSi network to ask about joining the team.
"It's not just, you know, people who are known to us and are familiar with our working methods, but people who are like a wild card," Weinstein said. "We have no idea what they're going to bring."
And after just a few days of traveling in the moving art-mobile, SHUTTLE crew members found themselves on a bumpy ride—literally and figuratively.
"Some days have had a tremendous number of miles and rough road," Weinstein said. "I think we're all a little bleary-eyed, in addition to having really sore rear-ends from sitting in a car."
Along with the physical challenges—such as sunburns, soreness and blisters—was the challenge of group decision-making, although it hasn't stopped the creative process.
"There's also a lot of goodwill, a lot of good fun," Weinstein said. "We're having a good time."
The SHUTTLE crew will participate in performance installation breakfasts at Stanford before embarking on the journey home to Tucson for the final performance. The content of the performance, however, remains a mystery.
"They won't know until they've sort of unfolded what they plan to do," said Julie Sasse, chief curator and curator of modern and contemporary art at TMA. "In a way, I think that's what's going to be so exciting ... because they'll have learned from all their prior interactions, you know, things that work or don't work, building on what they have done along the way."
Sasse said the project is an experimental venture that has never been done before. "It's a way of expanding people's awareness of what art can be," she said.
"I think it's going to be very simple. I don't think it's going to be bells and whistles and, you know, lots of excitement and things to see. It's not like they're going to be bringing spectacle to us. But I could be wrong. You never know. They won't know till they complete the trip, and they're learning along the way what they're going to do."