Form-Shifting is a method for taking core texts, and transforming the original source material into another medium, by identifying and staying true to the formal qualities of the original. This method allows the artist to connect with the source material through their analysis of it’s form, and in so doing aims to create a connection between the creator and the source material that transcends cultural and social assumption and appropriation, by way of their shifting the source material into a form that is intuitive and comfortable for the artist. This new method is not concerned with how we use our material but rather it is concerned with how we can transform these materials. Form challenges the mind to think outside of conventional methods of interpretation by taking a close look at the form of any given written, visual, or experiential text, and then identifying how to re-create this in a different genre or medium. Through this page I will share some examples of pedagogical research and experimentation in form shifting in my classes, and through my own research.
Form shifting shapes the driving question of an experimental 5-day writing and art course that my collaborator Heidi Stalla and I have designed and lead in India, the UAE, and Singapore. We ask students at the start of the trip: where does your story begin? And then we ask that question over and over again and get them to answer through words, through paint, through sound, through collage, through sculpture—because beginnings change, they are constantly revised, and we want them to feel and even delight in this ambiguous space.
Form-shifting is also at the core of my own experimental compositional research. I have created a variety of compositions, and hybrid media pieces that use Form-Shifting as their methodology for creation. I delved into form shifting as a part of my doctoral research, and further developed a methodological approach to form shifting in the context of materials of cultural heritage, in my dissertation.
In a composition the beginning signals the birth of an interpretive act—it sends a message to its audience that a tone has been struck, a decision has been made that momentarily reduces the direction that an author’s mind can take on a particular theme—and then when this tiny commitment is made the mind takes off, and the possibilities are infinite again. Yes, once you start beginning it’s impossible to stop. Even the best endings—as everyone who reads and writes and teaches knows—are beginnings in and of themselves. Real endings, endings with truth, don’t shut things down, they open things up. They are like deep breaths, pauses, entry points into a new conversation. (Heidi Stalla)