WEEK 2 – ‘What is research?’

March 30 Week 2

What is research? In response to the support offered by MAP I have started to consider what I think research is, how the term is used by various arts bodies and what it might become.

The following was written with a spirit of naive enthusiasm. Its a haphazard flow of unreferenced thoughts. However it has prompted me to look more closely at the question of research. I’ve included links to a number of articles that present a rich and comprehensive overview of the question of research in connection to art, the university context, knowledge acquisition/representation and on into the political implications of such questions.

Week 1 March 23 – 31

I’m still trying to figure out how best to use the studio time MAP has provided.

And in particular what to do with the Wednesday night exchanges – which fit into the IndepenDance slot. There is no expectation that I continue with the established programme – its an opportunity which I feel needs to be responded to with a degree of effort and consideration

So it feels like these sessions need a question that can offer something broader – beyond my habits and interests.

Which has got me thinking about research and what it might be? Research and development?

I love the idea of research – and the practice of it or my version. For me research implies time, having or allowing the time it takes to get into something. I think of research as gathering resources guided by an idea/project or hunch. A return to study introduced me to the critical/philosophical push that has taken place in art and design programmes over the last decade or so. This exposure has been exciting and beneficial (although after ten plus years I’m still at 101 level) yet there are

less positive implications that go with such ‘research models’ which I’m slowly processing. I do love this type of theorizing and read daily but am not literate in any way when it comes to the vast field that is thinking and writing.

(Update . I’m interested in the idea of theory and what this might be. Above I am talking about a western academic tradition/s of theory derived(mostly) from a lineage of continental philosophy. Its narrow. What knowledge is and how alternative forms (of knowledge) might be recognized and engaged with also interests me.)

It seems that the default model for research comes from the University art and design courses, which evolved in response to conceptual art becoming more familiar(?). (This is soo inaccurate – ref articles below)

In many ways this university model seems fine in that it can call into question how and why, what does something (a gesture, idea, project) do and how it has been done before; presenting the opportunity to get at a project with renewed vigour which in turn frees up the process and offers alternatives to the product/object/endpoint outcomes that might have been sought in the past.

That’s the best that can come from it – an incomplete, generative process that looks to cause as much trouble as possible. (With hindsight I think I’m off track here – the University model is not designed to support research that falls outside of its ability to comprehend and evaluate)

The pattern of such ‘art as research’ or ‘practice led research’ appears fairly well set. An idea (concept) is required, a context evolves with reference to a critical field and an art historical frame,

supported by a review of the appropriate literature. This leads to a process of investigation employing a defined methodology towards stated outputs and concluding findings. The entire process is substantiated via reference to the established body of knowledge as made available by experts in the field and ultimately reviewed/assessed by the same.

Its a process of enquiry within certain parameters towards making a contribution to the existing knowledge pool. I think the goal is to bring a new rigour to art making, where artists develop an informed, inquisitive position that looks beyond the limits of a familiar scene or location.

(So is this about bringing a more scientific process to the making of art in order to be able to prove the outcomes?).

This rudimentary summary could be reviewed from many angles including a teaching and learning perspective. What sort of education does this structure provide? What are the broader implications when we consider such a process in relation to the market and neo liberal economic forces? Enough on that.

So what?

I think the above is a fairly generous account of art practise as research in a university setting. On the flip side the notion of research has been co opted by many institutions, agencies and businesses as evidence for the substance and quality of their products.

The shift is a blatant one – away from enquiry, process and investigation towards excellence, the setting of standards, profile, citations and often a celebration of nationhood/identity/success/international recognition/sustainability/creativity etc…..

The picture gets increasingly murky and confusing for those interested in art.

I’m sure if you chanced upon the right department in a university you would be encouraged to take up research in its richest, most generative and subversive form.(????) Yet increasingly it looks like the pressure is on for such programmes to produce specific outcomes – work that captures the imagination and market of the day; that communicates perfectly its unique status and is able to reflect the knowledge of experts, renewing yet deferring in a manner that reasserts the status quo.

Art funders, festivals, biennials and stakeholders seem to fare a little worse. If you were to be totally cynical for this group art is simply a business where all that matters is that the profile of the event and that the audience numbers grow with every report. The art has been completely overwhelmed by the market.

Its confusing for those trying to operate in this mess.

It seems that some hold onto the idea of having ‘a bet both ways’ whereby they are able to demand increasingly higher prices for their work whilst still applying themselves to the most demanding questions art can offer.

The elephant in the room is the assertion that the best art floats to the top of the market. The most expensive work is the ‘best’. I suppose from a market point of view this is unequivocally so.

There is no relation between the market and the potential for a work to function as art.

At a most basic level what does art do? It doesn’t communicate and it resists. These two things alone dont sell.

So again what’s the point? Im trying to figure out what research can offer.

What does art as a research project offer?

(One thing that the critical/philosophical push demands is that no matter what position I might take up I am implicated in all that goes on.( I might claim that its meaningless, its simply a brand, its art so its what artists do….. but there’s always more to this picture) This is not about a personal responsibility but maybe more to do with a collective response?).

So research – its an opportunity to experiment. I think its a means to challenge what I’m up to, a chance to reflect and get at ideas again and again ….

That’s one part I like about it – research supports persistence.

Its a chance to experiment, to investigate in a way that is more about what I don’t know – this is the good stuff, the bits that are obscured either by my habits or by the project itself.

There’s lots of ways that elements becomes obscured – I can feel it happening here where there’s pressure to be coherent and reliable, to have something of value to say in a direct and successful way. What I want to hide are all the failings, the poor grammar and sentence construction, the wild claims and random connections, the unsubstantiated assertions. I want to tidy it up, make it appear professional, informed even competent.

Whereas I think research can offers something else, its an opportunity to be inconsistent, to be misinformed or brazenly wrong/stupid –

I like the idea of a research process that is able to continue as though it were a conversation between friends – where its fine to say the wrong thing – to reveal the limits of your knowledge or experience – where the exchange is unguarded whilst your well-being remains guaranteed.

Research along these lines assumes the integrity of someone’s work or position. How it looks, what it reveals, the knowledge it bears – all these things are of no consequence.(UPDATE: These elements are definitely part of the picture) What it becomes is an activity in relation to other forces. Something that is alive and compelling for the researcher – a process of being in an investigation.(I think what Im trying to get my head around here is that the means we employ to get at a work of art are carried over from the default settings that impose order on a world.  There isnt a hidden secret system to be discovered that makes art come alive – the resources are the same.  MMMm will have to think on this)

When I think about the types of research we validate or promote it makes me very uncomfortable, for example the process of taking up a critical position, where particular established theories are referenced. I feel so ambivalent about this, even though I do it myself – as it seems to me that to have a working knowledge of a particular theory is impossible for a maker – we simply dont have the time to take on the nuances of a truly philosophical discourse and produce work. Reading philosophy is for philosophers.

What we have are responses to words, to short articles or isolated ideas, all bearing only the slightest connection to the original writing. And I think this is appropriate – its generative in ways that all forms of knowledge are, as unique and unreliable versions of things and the world.

Of course all work has a context, it has a realm in which it is fabricated – and it seems right to acknowledge this, and to fully participate. What’s interesting is the partial nature of this reference, how incomplete and inaccurate it will always be.

For me research is not about being smarter or better informed, or being the most inventive or surprising and art making is not a smartness competition – its way more interesting than that.

What can research offer?

I think research is about variation and enquiry. I don’t see any need to dismiss current approaches.

It would be more interesting to use what we already do to get at the implications that go with these choices. I’m interested in how alternatives appear. In part its helpful to look closely at what current research models do – and consider how these approaches shape or determine the art that results.

It could be said that in many ways we have the models we deserve – in that our actions produce the context we inhabit.

What if the default options weren’t adhered to? If we questioned what was meant by rigour or criticality. If we looked again at how art and the market are intertwined. And at the question of knowledge. Am I really trying to build knowledge? Have I thought about what this would mean? Maybe in part but how does this go with art? Am I suggesting that art making is an accumulative process that builds on what went before – that I present a reliable subject who can hand on something? This is not how I imagine art working at all – I think about it as a process of composition where what gathers is a cluster of ever changing relations that are entirely unstable and unreliable. Here communication and art are at odds.

I think it pays to keep an eye on current fashions and new market directions and consider how they come about and what they represent. They appear not via an overflow of knowledge or excess in a productive sense – its the opposite that determines the latest trend – again its all that’s missing from the picture that is defining the new, ‘this not this’ a process of negation to support judgements that are true in only one regard, that is a lack of an image of research.

Generosity, porousness, inclusivity, implication, misinformed, unreliable, incomplete, shambolic

  • a research approach.

Again this is not intended to be a coherent and informative view – Im trying to get started and to quickly put some thoughts down without a shadow of caution.

The following links are really worth a look.

Danny Butt – writer/thinker/artist.

http://dannybutt.net/2015/02/ Research Methods in Community Cultural Development – Draft Reading List

Danny starts this course with the question ‘what is research?’

Theses on art and knowledge


Week 2

Prep ‘Its a long way …. ‘ for part 1 of this weeks session and work on question of research. Sketch thoughts on $$.


My initial plan for the Wed sessions was to show a draft of a different work each week and to use these to get the conversation going.

Wk 1 was ‘make it/disappear’.  Slight problem in that this wk is technically complex – so of course I ran out of time and resources.

Still very unsure about  this as an approach.  Lots of discussion with those who attended about what might be constructive.  New plan for next week – the session will be divided in 2. Part 1 will focus around another work ‘Its a long way from what can be imagined to what might appear'(poetry meets a gunslinging documentary)  and then part 2 will be wine and talk.  More accurately its a round table with refreshments designed to give time to the more challenging or awkward questions that might come up.  People are welcome to attend part or all.

There is an issue of $$ lurking in here that will need to be addressed. I have some thoughts on this.

Mon 23 March

Decided on a slight change of plan for this weeks Wed session.

Will still focus on ‘make it/disappear’ but instead of a complete performance the session will examine more closely the component parts as a vehicle for discussion. Hopefully this will be more hands on for anyone who might attend

Will also raise the question of choreography per se and how we use the term. What does choreography refer to?

A loose version.

My hunch is that the forces associated with art – being regeneration, variation and uncertainty are alive in all activities. I imagine all I do as a constant process of composition, where everything that’s familiar is always being refreshed and remade to give the appearance of stability.

And that each version that appears is just one variation of might appear.

And the version that I live with is incomplete – the way in which it is produced means that something is favoured over something else, so that connected to each component are variations that have been obscured.

I haven’t really tried to ‘define’ choreography for a while but I think it gets described along the following lines

the writing of movement

action in space and time

sensory experimentation towards alternative experience

sensory composition that accesses alternative forms of knowledge or experience. Embodied.

More random thoughts….

Research – what?? (Update. First sketchy thoughts on what research might be? Whats involved? How am I understanding it?)

Ongoing – so all that happens inspite of a show or work. Perhaps a work can function as research but its unlikely (Update: of course it can – on reflection given the right image of research all works can be approached as such.  I think this is exciting in that it makes the process of research inclusive and always active) given the context most showings occur in – where judgement, success, appeal, fashion, competition, identity and money are overwhelming (this last part is pointless griping.  With a little time to reconsider I can see no benefit in such a negative stance – the default positions geared towards a market are as informative as they are seemingly constraining)

Humanizing – a process of exposure and fallibility, imperfect, full of contradictions and paradox. (Not really interested in a human only or human first perspective but I do think there’s something more here in terms of a process that allows the factors or conditions shaping it to be ever present, including gaps in knowledge, inaccuracies, folly etc)

The failure, the fragility, smallness, personal – allow empathy to be present and exposed….. (empathy doesn’t necessarily go with these things. OFF track.)

In contrast tidy, sharp events that assert competence, knowledge, expertise – maybe brittle gestures? overwhelmed by the above – the art has disappeared as has the empathy (More griping, dull. The only thing that might come of this is again paying attention to all that is in action through a work that includes efforts to tidy things up, design, to present a complete thing, make ready….. these efforts again offer up more info as to the process, context and potential of a work etc ..  Daft to dismiss something for being tidy.) ( a gesture is an interesting thing – ….)

Incoherent Soapbox Thought of the Day – To be continued….

That perhaps the misfirings of a work have no impact on its vitality or potential for it to operate as art.  This is crazy – but the hunch is that maybe art forces are brought forward through a process of investigation, so that they are not fabricated into or allowed or made clear by the artist, but are engaged through a willingness to approach a situation as art. And that such forces reside in any given situation.  Its not the magic of the artist or work but the working into all that is in operation in a particular setting…..

An artwork offers up a working site just as the conjuring of the most familiar also activates unknowable forces?

This line is problematic on so many fronts.  It seems to completely miss the point of art making which at a most basic level is to not communicate and resist the knowable/known.  How do habitual or familiar situations fit with this??

No matter which way this goes I think its important to reassert the unsystematic – so that any line doesn’t begin to enforce a blueprint or correct approach.  Its the unknowable part that’s interesting.  To have this alive in the most mundane is an exciting yet chilling prospect.

Im very unsure about putting such unformed ramblings out there – but here goes. Hopefully by the end of five weeks the research group will steer this in a positive direction.

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