“Artistic Practice-as-Research: A genealogical Account” – Teoma Naccarato

Naccarato, Teoma (2018). Artistic Practice as Research: A Genealogical Account. A World of Muscle, Bone & Organs: Research and Scholarship in Dance. Coventry: C-DaRE at Coventry University. 435-455 https://www.coventry.ac.uk/research/about-us/research-news/2018/c-dare-e-book/

The chapter adresses: how practice-as-research (PaR) is constituted; processes of exclusion of knowledge in the university and differentiations of practice/not practice, research, artistic research, practice-as-research.

The author questions the boundaries of practice-as-research and examines the value systems through which entangled knowledge becomes differentiated.

Research itself is a practice.

“In research practices, the motives and methods of the researchers are entangled with the knowledges produced.” – the author uses quotes that state against binary ideas throughout the whole text in order to emphasize entanglements (such as of practice and theory)

Political positioning: accountability for what knowledges are excluded from research in universities —–> ethical weight of exclusion

What is/ is not practice?

  • Establishing a practice requires repetition, duration and mastery
  • But how much? According to whom?
  • Quantitative measures
  • Foucault: disciplinary effects of power

Judgement of what constitutes either having of falling out of a disciplinary practice:

  • subjective
  • it depends on the disciplinary effects of power operating
  • In the arts: qualifications are largely self and peer defined / measures vary according to academic and professional circles / vary geographically
  • In scientific traditions (surgery, pharmacy): attempts to standardize for public safety / anyway vary geographically and over time

The Practice/ Theory Trap

Attempting to qualify a given practice in relation to theory reinforce the assumption that practice and theory emerge as separate processes —–> Cartesian metaphysics and its hierarchy: mind over body, ideas/matter, abstract/concrete ——> it implies that through practice we apply theory, not produce it.

“Meditations on First Philosophy” (1641) – René Descartes: urges skepticism regarding subjective, sensory perceptions derived from human experience (mind/body to overcome the nature of mortal matter in search of truth and God) ——-> doubt everything you see, remember etc. Nothing is certain.

“The doubt regarding experiential knowledge seeded by Descartes is consequential with regards to embodied practices – which all practices are – as meaninful modes of research. Whether in somatic or medical practice, physics or philosophy, if phenomenal processes such as vision, memory, body, and movement cannot be trusted, what then is the relationship of these processes, if any, to constructions of knowledge?”

Descartes wrote before Edmund Husserl‘s phenomenology (Phenomenology can be roughly described as the sustained attempt to describe experiences (and the “things themselves”) without metaphysical and theoretical speculations. Accounts for individual human experience. From a phenomenological perspective, Descartes’ “Meditations on First Philosophy” – written in first person – could be seen as “phenomenology of Descartes skepticism”.

Cartesianism —–> practice of objectivity —–> hard sciences | Phenomenology ——> practice of subjectivity —–> soft research in the arts and humanities

Entangled Practice: Positivism and Phenomenology

Both Descartes and Husserl radicalized the pregiven structure of scientific knowlwedge, disclosing a new world; not only a way to look at an old problem, but a totally new philosophical discourse whithin which the problem can be articulated.

“Only through these emergent contexts, i.e. “new worlds”, could Descartes’ and Husserl’s discursive conceptions of bodies and minds become salient. Short of deconstructive methods, if and when practices and theories stretch beyond the boundaries of existent discourse, they may remain incomprehensible – or even invisible – as contributions to knowledge within pre-existing cultures of research”.

Foucault: “This a priori is what, in a given period, delimits in the totality of experience a field of knowledge, defines the mode of being of the objects that appear in that field, provides man’s everyday perceptions with theorethical powers, and defines the conditions in which he can sustain a discourse about things that is recognized to be true.”

“In Foucault‘s account of knowledge, practices and theories are inextricably entangled through the disciplinary effects of power that regulate the boundaries of disciplinary discourse from within.”

What is (not) practice-as-research?

since 1960s (UK and internationally) —–> practicioner-researchers defended the value of alternative methods of knowledge production in academic context —–> “practice-turn”:

  • post-binary commitment to activity (rather than structure)
  • process (rather than fixity)
  • action (rather than representation)
  • collectiveness (rather than individualism)
  • reflexivity (rather than self-consciousness)

The discourse of PaR is not exclusive to the arts —–> practice is what the artists have in common with other forms of scholarship and research.

Only few artists associate their research explicitly with scientific discourse, however, there are still traces of the scientific method in curricular and assessment frameworks for PaR in academia. ——> e.g. such imperatives: identify research questions, objectives, methods, and contributions to knowledge.

“As disciplined artists, what do we hope to gain by insisting that artistic practice is, or can be, research?” “What do academic communities hope to gain by convincing artists to pursue and present their activities in the frame of PaR?”

Advocates of PaR enforce the boundaries of PaR by differentiating practice itself from practice that is research through the continual transposition of value systems from the sciencies to the humanities to the arts within the the curriculum and assessment frameworks.

Evaluating PaR

Blog “The Future of Practice Research” by Ben Johnson: 3 key pressures faced by practice researchers

  • pressure to demonstrate value for money
  • pressure to align practice-based research with institutional strategies
  • pressure to identify and engage with a wider research “standard” or “definition” that comes from practicing in a university context.

“…positioning artistic practice as a form of research has potential to challenge institutional and cultural notions of ‘what gets valued as knowledge’ and therefore, to expand the scope in which endeavors receive life-sustaining resources.”

“…the concept of PaR can be understood as a regulatory device employed within communities of practice in order to standardize practices of research within and across disciplinary cultures, in service of establishing ‘common ground’ and ‘shared knowledge’.

PaR as/and Research

“…the concept of paractice-as-research, when differentiated only cosmetically from research itself, can act as a strategy to recruit outlying practitioners into the frame of dominant and centrist discourse, such that these new ‘allies’ – including many artists – willingly reinforce, rather than destabilize, the status quo of what counts as knowledge.”

“From an idealistic standpoint, the encounter of quantitative and qualitative research methodologies with critical and counter-methodologies, such as feminist, indigenous, and artistic practices-as-research, has potential to destabilize the boundaries of cultures of research.” This destabilization may lead to “new worlds”, in which other(ed) knowledges become visible.

different ways of knowing —–> deconstructive methodologies —–> dismantle of hegemonic power and regulatory effects of power that sustain the conceptions of knowledge.

“original contributions to knowledge” —–> “Transposing the criteria for rigour and excellence from one disciplinary culture to another fails to account for knowledges that are excluded from, and invisible within, the frame of reference of a given assessment framework.”

Resisting the transposition of disciplinary norms across practices is not only a matter of critique; it also involves continual processes of destabilization of disciplinary boundaries. Only then there can be a shift of the frames of reference within which different knowledges come to matter differently for different people.