Lecturer's book turns research spotlight on himself

Dr Mark Edward
Dr Mark Edward

A Wigan performance artist and academic has put his own work in the spotlight as the subject of his first full-length book.

Dr Mark Edward, who lectures at Edge Hill University, is bringing out Mesearch and the Performing Body in January looking back over more than two decades of his career.

Dr Edward, from Shevington, has cast a critical eye over his cutting-edge work in dance projects, art installations, photography-based research and film as well as exploring sociology, queer theory and whether older performers are supported by the dance scene as they should be.

He said the process of writing the book, which is available for pre-order now, was quite tough as it required total honesty about himself and the things he has achieved in academia and the arts.

The book comes as he is also celebrating becoming a reader in dance and performance at the Ormskirk-based university.

Dr Edward said: “The book is about me being both the researcher and the researched and it engages with social and cultural theory, sociology, queer theory, ageing and wellbeing and contemporary dance and ballet.

“It’s not self indulgent because it is extremely self-critical and analytical. It’s an anthology of my creative practices and how I’ve changed over two decades.

“It was quite hard. There are sections from my PhD, diary notes from years ago, elements from my work. It’s putting myself out for scrutiny. I just prefer to be honest about myself and I think if you develop a sense of authenticity and autonomy you are on to a winning track.

“I’m pleased with the book, even though it has been a lot of blood, sweat and tears. Ultimately I’ve written this because I think it’s important and I hope it is accessible beyond academia.

“People who’ve read the book have said as their feedback that it has made them think and feel they can put themselves out there and feel confident about it.

“If you don’t put things out for debate then culture and society will not move forwards.”

Mesearch and the Performing Body represents the first time Dr Edward has solely authored a book, although he has contributed chapters to many academic anthologies and journals before.

Among the projects he explores and revisits are Council House Movie Star, which involved him living for several weeks inside a dwelling built inside an art gallery, and Dying Swans and Dragged-Up Dames, a collaboration with Edge Hill colleague Prof Helen Newall in which he struck poses associated with famous dancers to explore how the artform regards ageing.

He also describes Falling Apart At The Seams, a project with Edge Hill colleague Julia Griffin, which provided one of his most thought-provoking experiences in looking at the ageing process in dance.

He said: “When we did that in the 1990s we were parodying getting old but ironically when I looked at the material more recently I could feel those changes in my body.

“I realised at one point I wasn’t parodying any more. It was playful on stage but it really made me think because we were getting older as well.

“I’ve got all the props for that in my attic because we want to be able to reconstruct it at any point.

“I remember giving a keynote speech at a conference at Sadler’s Wells about ageing in dance and I watched a couple of performances that blew me away. One was by two dancers who were 70 and 69 doing a duet, and that really moved me.

“Certain performance aesthetics in dance can be quite conservative and it aligns with slimness and athleticism, which then dominates the usual representation of bodies. I want to turn that on its head in my work.”

Dr Edward’s work also covers topics including ethics, the rave and drag cultures and work he did in schools engaging boys with dance education.

He said that in the 20 years covered by the book there has been progress on issues such as sexuality, gender and body issues but he still wants to continue raising questions about how they are dealt with in society.

He said: “When I first started in the late ‘90s there weren’t readings or conferences about ageing dancers.

“I remember I was at a party and I said that was what I was working on and practically everyone left the kitchen.

“No one wanted to be aligned with that dialogue. That made me laugh, I will never forget it.

“In the last five years in particular there has been a lot more healthy discussion and positive engagement with this.

“This is about bringing in broader debate about how certain bodies are invisible and discriminated against and how they are understood in our culture.”

Mesearch and the Performing Body, by Dr Mark Edward, is available for pre-order now.