I recently wrote a book chapter called That Thing Produced and in it I explore the epistemic conditions and possibilities of practice-research. Here’s a small sample:
In this chapter, I use the term knowledge in the conflated and ambiguous way – both intellectual endeavour and a tool for the knowledge economy. I do so to recognise its common usage in contemporary higher education, and to acknowledge that the absence of nuance enables academics rather fortuitously to speak with different audiences in the academy (with different goals, desires, histories and understandings) as if we are talking about the same thing. For example, even the statement “I am doing research” comes loaded with ambiguity because of how different people might understand differently the epistemic value and purpose of doing research. (p.483)
The chapter is part of a book called A World of Muscle, Bone & Organs: Research and Scholarship in Dance, and it is an open access PDF available from: www.coventry.ac.uk/c-dare/e-book.
Henk Borgdorff’s The Conflict of the Faculties : Perspectives on Artistic Research and Academia is a fantastic text about practice-research. It’s a goldmine really, but I particularly like the way he is very clear about the way in PaR that the art pratice is entangled with research and artistic development:
The entanglement of artistic research with art practice and with artistic development is so close that a conceptual distinction often appears contrived. (p.144)
He includes the footnote:
Such distinctions are usually made by people who first create a caricature of the one activity, believing they are protecting the other activity by doing so.
He then follows on with what is pretty old news, but does such a fantastic job of articulating the ways in which context helps to clarify the nature of the research:
Another distinguishing feature is that contemporary art practice constitutes the relevant context for the research, alongside the academic forum. The research derives its significance not only from the new in-sights it contributes to the discourse on art, but also from the outcomes in the form of new products and experiences which are meaningful in the world of art. In part, then, the outcomes of artistic research are art-works, installations, performances, and other artistic practices; and this is another quality that differentiates it from humanities or social science research, where art practice may be the object of the research, but not the outcome. This means that art practice is paramount as the subject matter, the method, the context, and the outcome of artistic research. That is what is meant by expressions like ‘practice-based’ or ‘studio-based’ research. (p.146)
The book is open access.
Borgdorff, Hendrik Anne Henk. 2012. The Conflict of the Faculties : Perspectives on Artistic Research and Academia. Leiden: Leiden University Press : Amsterdam. https://openaccess.leidenuniv.nl/handle/1887/18704.
Last month I linked to Tim Ingold’s talk at the Centre for Contemporary Art in Glasgow. If you haven’t had a chance to listen to it it’s well worth it. Some things that Tim said stood out for me:
Research is the pursuit of truth.
Truth is aspirational.
It is absolutely not objective fact.
Truth is the unison of imagination and experience in a world to which we are alive and that is alive to us.
Truth requires that we take ourselves into the world. We can’t remain outside of it.
There is danger in conflating truth and objectivity.
It is the search for truth that underpins research.
Search and search again. Research is continually conducted in the dark.
Most of this bit happens at about 45min into the talk.
Listening to the talk made me want to own my search for truth; and because truth is a word that seems to have been spurned in the academy (and certainly in the arts and humanities), that now seems an ideal time to welcome its pursuit. That there things at stake in the claims we make as artist-scholars.
Here’s a bit more from Paul Magee, and from the same article as last week. This time it’s the part where he is talking about examining an “incoherent task”:
I am referring to that familiar examiner’s predicament of excusing poor art work because there is something good in the scholarly accompaniment, and excusing poor scholarship because there is something good in the artwork; and then excusing the fact that ‘there is something good in it’ is not good enough as far as either of these endeavours are concerned, on the grounds that it is actually unjust to fail a candidate set such an incoherent task in the first place. Each part of the practice-led research dissertation package has its alibi in the other and the whole offers an alibi for performance as well.
– Paul Magee, “Introduction. Part 1: Beyond Accountability?.” Text. October, 2012. http://www.textjournal.com.au/speciss/issue14/Magee%20(Intro%201).pdf, p.10
It seems to be reasonably (and surprisingly) common for artist-researchers to include some kind of interviews as part of their approaches. Interviewing – and the analysis of interviews – is a complex process, and certainly not something to be taken lightly. I tend to warn away my PhD students (PaR or otherwise) from using interviews unless they have training and experience in working with them.
This blog post from Pat Thomson is a thoughtful introduction into the complexity of interviews:
How do we record and then analyse the important sensory elements of interviews? What does it mean to leave them out?
Does our desire to find patterns (themes) lead us to skip over important tensions and individual idiosyncrasies? What does it mean to leave them out?
Does the use of particular forms of software accentuate our gaze on broad themes rather than emergent narratives and subtle underpinning metaphors? What does it mean to leave them out?
Do the ways in which we transcribe recordings pay sufficient attention to silences, stumbles, awkwardness, intonations, irony, sarcasm and so on? What does it mean to leave them out?
The distinctiveness of artistic research, nevertheless, derives from the paramount place that artistic practice occupies as the subject, context, method, and outcome of the research. Methodological pluralism – the view that various approaches deriving from the humanities, social sciences, or science and technology may play a part in artistic research – should be regarded as complementary to the principle that the research takes place in and through the creation of art.
– Borgdorff, Henk. 2012. The Conflict of the Faculties : Perspectives on Artistic Research and Academia. Leiden: Leiden University Press : Amsterdam. https://openaccess.leidenuniv.nl/handle/1887/18704, p.147