A while back I read Kieran Healy’s book about using plain text in the social sciences. He writes this early on:
The problem is that doing scholarly work is intrinsically a mess. There’s the annoying business of getting ideas and writing them down, of course, but also everything before, during, and around it: data analysis and all that comes with it, and the tedious but unavoidable machinery of scholarly papers—especially citations and references. There is a lot to keep track of, a lot to get right, and a lot to draw together at the time of writing.
Healy is of course talking about the nuts and bolts of collecting ideas, managing materials, etc, but his writing did make me think about the beautiful messiness of practice-as-research in particular. It can be a remarkable cocktail of uncertainty, rigour, care, intuition, desperation, and failed experimentation.
- Any of you who follow my personal blog will likely know that I am interested in text-based workflows. See https://simonkellis.wordpress.com/2016/01/03/word-academia-and-just-writing/ if you are super keen. ↩
- Kieran Healy, The Plain Person’s Guide to Plain Text Social Science. https://kieranhealy.org/files/papers/plain-person-text.pdf, 2018, p.4. ↩
- I’m currently reading Experimental Systems: Future Knowledge in Artistic Research (edited by Michael Schwab, 2013) and I’ll discuss the book – and the nature of experimentation in practice-as-research – in a future post. ↩
Long time between posts …
I went to Becky Hilton’s workshop at Independent Dance back in December. It was a rich and playful weekend.
At one stage we were each given a certain amount of time to ask something or do something (I forget now). The group was quite mixed – artists, people just starting out on PhDs, others working in academia – and I asked them a question:
What is this culture of research doing (or has done) to art, performance and dance?
Someone said that it had given them time and space to work (perhaps this was referring to doing a PhD?), another felt that it had made the climate more competitive (perhaps this was about academia?). My sense is that the academic climate has become more competitive in general (after all, competition and neoliberalism are old pals: http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/politicsandpolicy/the-cult-of-competitiveness/), and that it would be hard to say that a culture of reseach has done this to the arts.
Another person mentioned that the Arts Council still thinks of research in terms of research and development. That research is the thing you do before you get to make the piece.
Becky described her sense of the “continuity of community” that the research culture has made possible. Reading between the lines I’d imagine that this – at least in part – has to do with the responsibility of engaging with communities of practice that is vital to research processes and practices.
And another person mentioned that they felt that research in the arts had become an antidote to R&D and projects. I like this, that research enables us to rethink the ways in which we pursue our curiosity and imaginations.
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.