Have you ever wondered why CAS is the way it is, who we are, or how we work?
When David Dixon first invited artists to become CAS Associates in December 2013, he introduced them to the concept of Autopoietic Morphogenesis. Also known as A.M, it is an emerging methodology that has informed CAS artistic activity ever since.
As part of Arts Council funded R&D, Dawn Evans and I have compiled the following notes on the evolution of the CAS approach and the influence of David’s A.M. methodology. It’s important to note that A.M. comes from David’s own art research and practice, and he has infused its key principles into the way he has developed CAS as an organisation.
The A.M. Methodology is good for…
- Encouraging experimentation, improvisation and play
- Exploring a concept through practice-based enquiry
- Developing a collaborative practice
- Reflecting on artists interactions and entanglements as part of the art process
- Inviting the cross-pollination of ideas
- Encouraging serendipitous ‘happenings’ that impact our considerations of both theory and practice.
The A.M. method is based on “Autopoietic morphogenesis”.
‘Autopoiesis’ refers to a system capable of reproducing and maintaining itself.
‘Morphogenesis’ is the process that:
- causes an organism to develop its shape.
- controls the organised spatial distribution of cells during the embryonic development of an organism.
- describes the evolution of a body structure within a taxonomic group.
When planning an A.M. session artists are encouraged to consider the four key interrelated classes of event that characterize biological development:
- Patterning: The setting up of the positions of future events across space (at a variety of scales)
- Regulation of timing: The ‘clock’ mechanisms that regulate when events happen and can drive the evolution of new body plans.
- Cell differentiation: Changes in a cell’s set of expressed genes (its molecular phenotype)
- Morphogenesis: The processes that generate tissue organisation and shape
David says “First you set the rules of engagement and structure. The rules shouldn’t strive to manipulate or control artists behaviour. An integral part of the A.M. methodology is resisting fixed outcomes, allowing space for innovation and growth. This is where chaos theory comes in: a sensitive dependence upon initial conditions. Activity within an A.M. system naturally creates turbulence, until the originating dynamic eventually collapses and evolves into a different form.”
a.m. sessions, a history
In 2013 1.a.m was used to launch the CAS Associates group – the artists spent a day divided into two groups who took it in turns to experiment with materials in the Chapel. The outcome was a performative, collaborative, sculptural live art installation that bonded the artists and familiarised participants with practice-based collaboration. It had a strong impact on all future CAS projects. It established an ethos of inclusivity and open dialogue. My write up of the 1.am. experiment can be found here.
In 2014 monthly creative evenings usually followed the same format, based around material prompts. Associates took it in turns to host a session, and pose an invitation. (See CAS #StudioLab)
In 2015 CAS artists formed themselves into four smaller ‘cell groups’ in order to explore the theme of Dissent in the Winchester Gallery.The Laboratory of Dissent helped artists explore the tension between the individual and the collective. The inclusion of the artist as part of the art process – in a self reflective or performative manner – was even more firmly established. A.M recognises each artist represents an input of energy into the system, which agitates, and provokes movement. Equally, each group represents a cell in a self-organising system.
In 2016 artists continued to meet to improvise with material and explore their interactions. These monthly Studio Lab creative evenings continued to reinforce a practice-led approach. Each session was led by a different Associate Artist who used their own practice and interests as a starting point and set the conditions for engagement. Each individual artist was free to interpret the invitation in their own way, respond with varying degrees of organic impact on the whole. Throughout the year a theoretical framework began to emerge. Artists understanding of dissent, diffraction, and dialogue deepened through practice-based research. A record of these entanglements can be found on the CAS blog using the tag #StudioLab.
8 March 2017
CAS Associates have been experimenting with collaborative methods of working, making their interactions the subject of an exploration, and generating ideas through improvised play, often working in “cell groups” in a dialogic way.
A.M. provides a framework for a large number of artists to explore a concept or idea without compromising their individuality. Large groups are divided into small cell groups working within the same space. For smaller groups, each individual represents a cell.
CAS has used A.M. to disseminate and investigate new concepts, picking the theme and then scattering it to groups/cells of artists for practice-based reflection. Its purpose, to encourage artists to play freely, whilst inviting potential interruptions, interactions and entanglements between each of the groups/cells involved.
A.M. resists fixed outcomes, anticipating a series of informed questions that offer points of further departure for each artist and the collective.
Exploring concepts and/or materials, A.M. sessions allows a cross-pollination of ideas. The collaborative structure encourages reflections on questions of “ownership”, boundaries, “territory” and hierarchical structures/rules, it allows the opportunity for serendipitous “happenings”, unexpected occurrences and connections.
A.M. emphasises art dialogue and encourages performative responses. A constituent part is reflection on live art happenings including artist interactions.
Artists benefit from returning to the collective group and reflect upon the exercise in order to discuss what has been discovered/identified/produced. Reflection and writing for dissemination of insights, development, and experience is also encouraged.