Between 2009-2013, I undertook my PhD research in Fine Art at Slade School of Fine Art, University College London. I wrote an 80,000 word thesis The Physical and Poetic Processes of Running (downloaded >4180 times across Europe, US, Asia), and created a 1000-day performance & body of creative practice Kaidie’s 1000-Day Search for The Meaning of Life (film, locative media, installation, etc). I was a UCL scholar (Graduate Research Scholarship and Overseas Research Scholarship), and accepted additional funding from National Arts Council Singapore (total £142,560). Described as ‘exceptional’, impressive’, ‘enjoyable’ & ‘thought provoking’ in how it traverses ‘diverse range of academic disciplines’ and ‘weaves together a provocative mix of text, image and kinetic sense’, my PhD research marked the start of my leadership of Creative Running Studies (eg Filmer 2020).
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Supervisors: Profs Susan Collins (then Slade Director), Sharon Morris (Deputy Director Head of Doctoral Research), Jon Thomson (of ‘media art royalty’ Thomson & Craighead)
Viva: October 2013 during which I led examiners for a run around Gordon Square
Examiners: UCL Prof of Geography Alan Latham, Dr Peter Ride (Westminster)
Certification awarded: March 2014
- The cultural tradition of walking was historically centred around bodies that are white, male and ableist, and celebrated as the foundation of Western civilisation (Finkielkraut et al)
- Running was studied as a sport or fitness activity, and widely scoffed as a neoliberalist commodity, and even as fascist tradition (Zizek, Greif, Baudrillard et al)
- Even within emerging ‘running studies’ or cultures (Bale 2004), running was reserved for high-performance athletic male bodies and by/in social scientific context
My PhD thesis performs a discourse of what I term ‘trans-running’ – running physically and poetically, as subject and medium – as a playful way to transform our world today. Trans-running aims to be trans-cultural, trans-disciplinary, transgressive and transformative. Totalling 100,000 words across 323 pages, there are two components: the written thesis and creative practice (documented as Appendices within submitted bound thesis)
In my written thesis (Part I), I propose that trans-running enables us to claim ownership of the city and resist political control in the ‘real world’, as well as dodge online surveillance in the ‘digital world’. Running physically can cause the ‘runner’s high’, which I argue may create a euphoric, poetic mode of thinking applicable for the exploration of discourses. Since ‘discourse’ means ‘running from place to place’ in Latin, and as runners were historically ambassadors, I additionally propose the ‘trans-runner’ as the new ‘running-ambassador’ capable of activating new discourses and creating new knowledge. Framing myself as a running-ambassador, I ‘run’ back-and-forth between different discourses. Apart from art and sport, I draw on the Chinese Daoist wanderers’ playful, poetic, techno-sceptic and transgressive ways to generate a playful, performative practice of writing and art-making. Mobilising ‘run’-related idioms, wordplay, alliteration, etymology, metaphor and analogy, my written thesis and artworks are performative. I invite ‘you’ the reader/audience, to perform trans-running yourselves, to better grasp it.
Comprising artistic outputs and outcomes online and offline, my creative practice (documented in Part II) is collectively entitled Kaidie’s 1000-Day Trans-Run 12.12.2009-09.09.2012. I play ‘Kaidie’, a ‘trans-runner’ who mobilises trans-running to instigate creative interventions in the physical (particularly urban), digital (especially Facebook)and creative intellectual realms. This is a large body of processes and artefacts with/in different directions, digressions and discoveries, traversing and trespassing the genres of drawing (including GPS drawing and mapping), film and photography, socially-engaged art and interactive art, installation, live/performance art, performance-lecture and critical text. Key was a 1000-day durational performance, auto-ethnographic action research and embodied learning. I took up endurance running as a non-runner, and subsequently participated as ‘Kaidie’ in 9 marathons (including 2011 London Virgin marathon while raising £1500 for homelessness charity Shelter), and worked as London Ambassador for the 2012 Olympics (selected from 34,000 applicants, and awarded Excellence Award by Greater London Authority). Over the 4 years, I showed/performed/talked about different versions of this research in 63 exhibitions/publications/presentations.
Taken together, the two parts of the thesis can be understood as a creative intervention that performs the discourses of the trans-runner. Themes and areas weaved throughout include: digital aesthetics, Daoism (Taoism), running (its neuroscience, paleo-anthropology, cultural and political histories, biomechanics), travelogue, Situationism and so on.
Contributions to knowledge
- My practice-related Fine Art thesis is a pioneer of the discussion of running as a creative arts and humanities discourse.
- The research introduces ‘running’ to the art and academia to give the cultural canon of walking a good run for its money, and successfully shifts the discussion and practice of running beyond a sport/fitness practice, or something reserved for privileged bodies divorced from socio-political contexts, by synthesising for the first time emerging, historical and non-western research from neuroscience, paleoanthropology, philosophy, literature, visual arts, digital humanities, performance studies and more
- Utilising non-Western and non-canonical discourses, it is an important contribution to decolonisation, equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) within art, culture and research
- With running as a mode of relating distinct discourses, and activation of running metaphors to evoke kinesis in language, provides creative alternative to academic voice
- As creative intervention itself, the thesis explores running as a subject matter, as well as enact and evoke running, covering running as methodology and practice, and not just as an activity or verb but a metaphor, concept, noun. Integrating theory and practice, the thesis complicates ongoing discussions of the remit and possibilities artistic/creative research, creative arts and humanities, practice as research, fine art research and more
- The PhD report describes thesis as ‘exceptional’ in its ease to move across ‘diverse range of academic disciplines’
- PhD Examiner Prof of Geography Alan Latham: ‘I thought the dissertation and the various performances described within it were impressive. They all weave together a provocative mix of text, image and kinetic sense, which are both enjoyable and thought provoking’. He adds that ‘examining Dr Tan’s PhD suggested a whole range of productive new ways of thinking about my own research’
- Alan and I went on to co-curate the interdisciplinary RUN! RUN! RUN! Biennale in 2014, which opened up a new pathway for researchers of all walks
- Says Alan in a report for my SFHEA (2016), in which I extended our interdisciplinary method of ‘productive antagonisms’ (Latham and Tan 2016) into a research-based student-centred teaching/learning method, ‘Collaborating with Dr Tan has been an intellectually energising experience. In all sorts of ways it has challenged me to rethink how I go about doing my research. And it has informed much of my recent work’, and ‘Dr Tan will produce research that is intellectually challenging, radically interdisciplinary and important’