Artistic Research?


This blog post originally appeared in December 2013 on my personal research blog. My thoughts have evolved quite a bit in the subsequent years but I’m reproducing it here for archival purposes.


As a feral academic from the US living in Europe, I occasionally stumble into pockets of language or concept that are at once familiar and foreign. None have been as recently persistent in my universe as the phrase Artistic Research.

I am not, at the moment, attempting to suggest that anything is or isn’t artistic or research, nor am I collecting examples (although I always love to see interesting work). I’m mostly just curious how widespread this idea is. I had not encountered it as a named category of work before I moved to Switzerland.

As far as I can tell, Artistic Research refers collectively to two closely paired notions: 1. That research can be undertaken using methodologies which were not traditionally recognized by established academic research communities and that 2. Knowledge itself can be acquired, understood, described and contained in ways which are not traditionally recognized by established academic research communities.

From a research perspective it seems to be primarily about acknowledging methods and strategies previously ignored. To enable a lecture to also be a performance, or to permit painting, drawing or other non-verbal methods to exist alongside writing and reading. To attempt to elevate these “methods of understanding” to augment or replace the traditional research-object (IE a written document).

From an artistic perspective it seems to be primarily about adding a layer of methodology to “tighten” your work. IE to describe a research question prior to executing the work as an experiment. Artists do this anyway, but this is a kind of formalization of the process in an effort to make the outcome more generalizable.

Across Europe, one major impetus for this seems to be the Bologna Accords, which mandated that all institutions of higher learning in the 47 member countries fund and support research. With this event, we find a number of schools (in particular art, design and theatre schools) struggling to come to terms with what constitutes research and how this can become part of their practice.

A few more datapoints:

• The grant I am working under (SINLAB) is part of the SINERGIA project and is hosted by the theatre school HETSR (Haute Ecole de Théâtre de Suisse Romande). In part they provided us a home as a tactical way of integrating research into their curriculum (it is a struggle.)

ZHdK offers “alternative” PhDs in collaboration with art schools which allow you to submit for final consideration either: A formal dissertation, a dissertation with an art object as a case study, an art object exclusively.

• Norway seems to be ahead of the curve, and has (among other things) hosted the Sensuous Knoweldge conference for nearly a decade. This conference is explicitly focused on the acquisition and retention of knowledge angle of AR.

• The Journal of Artistic Research was created to archive this sort of work (in part with support from the same individuals who architected the ZhDK PhD program). There is a companion tool for the creation of AR called the Research Catalogue.

• I recently attended the STS Turns Aesthetic conference hosted by ETH Zurich, which was largely about exploring this from an STS perspective: what happens when STS “turns” aesthetic, how can this particular practice absorb/observe/engage in artistic modes of exploration.

Finally, it is worth noting (In as non-cynical a view as possible), AR also seems to be a strategy for acquiring funding, as it makes research “sexier” and makes art “more rigorous.” This is acknowledged, but among practitioners there also seems to be a true belief that there is something new here.

I am trying to figure out if this is a widespread thing, a silly semantic exercise or an idea whose time has come (or all of the above.)

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