community of practice

In her blog patter, Pat Thomson wrote earlier today about keeping up with the literatures. There’s great advice in the blog about not only attempting to keep abreast of what is current in one’s field, but also in not getting caught up in attempting to read all of everything:

I haven’t read the paper in entirety yet, but I do already know enough about it to be able to go back to it, if or when I need to. I may decide, depending on whether the paper is central to my own work or not, to eventually read the paper thoroughly.

She also mentions a service called Browzine which I wasn’t familiar with. It looks great for keeping on top of a lot of publications at once.

Of course this all serves the traditionally published aspects of one’s community of practice in PaR. Yet, we have a responsibility also to keep abreast of current creative practices (in the professional and academic communities) and how these inform – and are in dialogue with – our own creative practices. Sadly, there is no centralised type of Browzine for artistic practices. Perhaps though you have suggestions for how you keep up to speed on current creative practices?

cognitive biases and the search for meaning

Buster Benson wrote a Cognitive Bias Cheat Sheet in 2016 and it’s worth a look:

medium.com/better-humans/cognitive-bias-cheat-sheet-55a472476b18#.ha7akki5q

Benson’s descriptions of various cognitive biases on wikipedia can be narrowed down to what he describes as four problems:

Problem 1: Too much information.
Problem 2: Not enough meaning.
Problem 3: Need to act fast.
Problem 4: What should we remember?

That is: a) “we don’t see everything”; b) “our search for meaning can conjure illusions”; c) “quick decisions can be seriously flawed”; d) “our memory reinforces errors”.

This might seem to have little to do with practice-as-research but I want to use problem 2 to share some ideas. In practice-as-research, we are in general dealing with experientially rich or “high-resolution” situations: think of complex the act of performing; or perhaps creating poetically detailed threads of meaning and metaphor in film. The conditions and conventions of PaR ask us to somehow make sense of those complexities or experientially rich situations: to search for and generate meaning. Often we do this through reading and para-phrasing theory to create or establish a way to understand what work our research (as practice) does. (I’m being deliberately crude or simplistic here). The danger is that in our desire to search for and find meaning, we simply conjure up texts and contexts that are less rich or what I could call “low-resolution”.

The trade-off between high-res experiences and practices and generating low-resolution texts or materials (such as materials of documentation) is a key problem in PaR.

bolt explains

Barbara Bolt has written an "explainer" called "What is artistic research?" for the University of Melbourne’s online (and offline) magazine.

She focuses on the role of the artist and their privileged position as being both inside and outside of the artistic research; that artistic research has made it possible for artists to "find their voice where hitherto they have been the object of study by art historians, musicologists, critics, curators, and cultural theorists, amongst others."

According to Bolt, the researcher as "maker and observer" identifies and argues the "research’s claim to new knowledge, or rather new ways of knowing".

It’s strange to me that Bolt would imply that the research is laying claim to knowledge, and, rather confusingly, that it is the researcher who identities and argues for this claim. Perhaps this isn’t quite what she meant, but as it stands there’s circular logic here, a snake biting its own tail: the research has claims to new ways of knowing, but only until that is identified by the researcher, who has also made the research, which in turn claims …

What a mess.

And then Bolt suggests that somehow the researcher is some kind of decoder or interpreter; the person to unlock the mysteries that aren’t yet "open to others":

The role of the artistic researcher is not to describe his or her work, nor to interpret the work, but rather to recognise and map the ruptures and movements that are the work of art in a way not necessarily open to others. The artist-as-researcher offers a particular and unique perspective on the work of art from inside-out as well as outside-in.

I think there is terrible danger in overstating the value of the researcher as subject; the researcher as all powerful, knowing and loving. Here’s Hans-Jörg Rheinberger (again):

This also means getting rid of the age-old thinking about Erkenntnistheorie as being about an I, an ego, a subject that tries to cast a theoretical net over an object. Instead, let us be a little bit more humble and see the experimenting subject as engaged in an activity that has, to put it in Ian Hacking’s (1983,150) words, "a life of its own," and one that is in need of many good eyes to see and many good ears to hear. Let us get rid of what could be called the tyranny of the subject.[1]

[1]: Rheinberger, Hans-Jörg, and Michael Schwab. ‘Forming and Being Informed’. In Experimental Systems: Future Knowledge in Artistic Research, 198–219. Orpheus Institute Series. Leuven: Leuven University Press, 2013, p.199.

a mess

A while back I read Kieran Healy’s book about using plain text[1] 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.[2]

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.[3]


  1. 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.  ↩
  2. Kieran Healy, The Plain Person’s Guide to Plain Text Social Science. https://kieranhealy.org/files/papers/plain-person-text.pdf, 2018, p.4.  ↩
  3. 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.  ↩

culture of research

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.

that thing produced

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.