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July 13, 2014

Artistic research ethics

Research ethics is a big topic, but in general, ethics are not widely discussed in our field. A while ago we brought it up in our supervisor's seminar and although the discussions were somewhat hesitant in the beginning we soon noticed a pressing need to dwell on the complexity of the theme. One part of research ethics is how we refer to other pieces of research, what should have a reference and what may be seen as general knowledge within the field. These lines may not be easy to draw but it is my impression that in science, the rule is to refer to the source for almost all knowledge used in the project.

For research questions that may already have been answered, the project has to validate its own reason to bring it up again. This is rarely a problem in artistic research, or the social sciences in general, as near to all questions will get a different angle in every project. That fact in itself is part of the larger effort of the research community: striving for multiplicity.

Not only being a young discipline but also one which departs from the century-old scientific paradigms in som important respects, artistic research, I believe, will have to start evaluating what research ethics should consist of more specifically. Especially the term research misconduct I believe is interesting for us to explore further. Research misconduct "usually refers to fabricating, falsifying, plagiarizing or stealing scientific data and results, that is, cheating in various ways" (http://www.codex.vr.se/en/etik6.shtml) and since all four criterias may well be part of any artistic work without ethical issues, it is essential to begin to discuss these.

Furthermore, looking at it from the field of artistic practice, holding on to the criterias of research misconduct may help to counteract the modernist concept of originality as a key aesthetic value. Taking a recent example where Beethoven's 5th symphony was re-interpreted by a Swedish composer and composed into a new work, using the paradigm of the theater director staging a play in a new context, it would be almost unthinkable for me to do the same thing. We all know that the result would be very different, the research results - would it also be turned into a research project - would be different, and the listening would different. For me to do it would be consistent with the very idea of the project to begin with, but these kinds of re-staging or art works is very rarely seen in practice. Visual arts have explored it to some extent, Matts Leiderstam in a notable example departing from 18th and 19th century painters, but there are contemporary examples as well.

This is obviously a problem in artistic research since it leads to artistic singletons, free floating artistic projects without clear connection to other artistic projects. To put it bluntly, summarizing the last fifteen years of research in the arts in Sweden, this is precisely the problem we have. All projects are unique, drawing on the originality standard - would they not be original, they would not be good art projects - and are more or less self referential.

What does this have to do with ethics? If we establish a tradition and a conceptual model of research ethics upon the four categories above, then artistic works part of an artistic research project should clearly state its references (where applicable), its point of departure and its raison d'ĂȘtre allowing it to unproblematically draw upon other works of art and research. Furthermore, this would counteract the dividing line between the writing involved in the project, often filled with references to all kinds of theoretical knowledge, and the artistic practice. Also, at best neutralizing the tendency to use the artwork as an assesment of a theory, not a problem per se, but unfortunate if it becomes the dominant method.

Back to research misconduct. What is it? The Swedish Research Council and SUHF has suggested the following definition:

Science misconduct includes acting or omission to act in connection with research, so that research results become false or distorted, or so that a person's contributions to the research get misrepresented. To be held accountable, a person must have performed the misconduct intentionally or shown great negligence.

The expression "must have performed the misconduct intentionally or shown great negligence" obviously makes it possible to always say that one wasn't aware of previous work. In combination with the lack of conformity in our field as to forms, formats, methods and theory this may in the end make it clearly impossible to judge wether negligence was intentional or not. The huge and never ending discussion on writing formats in artistic research becomes even more interesting in the context of research ethics. If I am not writing an academic text and use art works as my method, do I at all have to worry about research misconduct? Probably not.

However, my point here is that we should look at this as a possibility rather thatn a restriction. A possibility to allow different approaches to artistic production where carrying on someone elses work should be seen as a legimtimate course, one that should be encouraged. Unless the members of the artistic research community can show that they have a mutual interest in the works produced, no one else will.

Posted by henrikfr at 10:55 AM | Comments (0)

July 11, 2014

Creative writing in research

We have seen the topic of writing (essays, creative writing, academic writing) popping up quite often in the field of artistic research. It may come as no surprise that artists, investigating their own artistic processes find it difficult to accept academic writing as the only means to document and reflect upon their work. I personally don't have a strong opinion for or against academic versus creative writing but I do find it interesting that the question of academic or non-academic writing, is getting more interest than the question of the quality of the content. Now, obviously, the formal academic writing method is partly a system for assesment, a way to efficiently evaluate the quality of a paper. But is there any one topic that could not equally well be described in academic writing as well as creative?

As for our own field, artistic research, I believe my problem with creative writing is that it tends to make the reader expect the text itself to be an artwork. This may not be a problem in some cases, but if we have a composer documenting his artistic and creative work and publishing his results in creative writing that asks for an artistic interpretation, nothing has really been gained in terms of knowledge about composition. Whether academic or fictional, I believe that a distance between the modes of descritpion and that which is described is useful. Which initself is an argument for using creative writing in the social and natural sciences.

Posted by henrikfr at 09:21 PM | Comments (0)

July 10, 2014

On methods by Arlander

Reading "On methods of artistic research" by Anette Arlander in the recent yearbook of artistic research from the Swedish Research Council. It is a overview of some of the many voices heard in the last decade on the topic of methods and I am left in a feeling of general despair. The actual article is not to be blamed for my feelings, rather it is being reminded of the never ending argument concerning the nature of artistic research.

Artistic research is never, and should never, be only one thing. There are and will be times where examing the artistic outcome is the data for the research and there are times when the same approach would be ludicrous. Each artistic project will have its optimal mode of expressing its research potential. The project can start with a data gathering excursion fed into the artistic work or the project can start with the art work and open up into the world of science. As a field it holds information too important to for it to be confined in one modus operandi.

Arlander is quoting Tuomas Nevanlinna, finnish philosopher with a special interest in artistic research, commenting the statement that artists are researching his or her own works: "There are at least two alternatives of interpreting this: either the artist investigates the works as if they were not his or her works at all, or then he or she subjectively reflects on their background and intentions." Nevanlinna finds both of these interpretations bad. I have hear an opponent at a Finnish dissertation making the same claim his main critique against an artistic PhD thesis.

Apart from the fact that I haven't come across many artists saying they research their own works the comment is an example of a common mistake made when discussing artistic research. Making art and thinking are two distinct activities and one of the very reasons we should at all engage in artistic research is that we have too little of that which is the substance of art in that which is the substance of thinking. In the last sentence we may substitute konwledge for thinking.

In other words, it not at all such a bad idea for a researcher to research his or her own works. It is only exceptionally difficult, but with the right methods it should be possible. It would be an activity of translation. Translating the artistic content to language and such a translation is likely to say something about the artistic process that could not have been gathered otherwise. Furthermore, it may contribute to thinking and knowing in that it uses something essentially non-verbal, but with a high density of information, in a context with a very different kind of information.

At the end Arlander suggests all artistic researchers to consider her advice to hold on to at least one of the question, the method or the material. I think this is an excellent point that it is well worth remembering. Although I can think of some projects where it would not have been possible - e.g. where there is a movement within the project and the question becomes the method or similar - and while I can also think of some projects where the question or the method is plain missing, it is a powerful way to structure the work.

As a final note I am surprised by the sentence "The easiest way to avoid the inherent duality of the 'do first - write later' model is to alternate between the two." I think the bigger problem with the model is that it differs 'do' from 'write' and gives the latter the priority of research. Research is not writing, not in artistic research, nor in any other kind of research. Unless, of course, we look at 'writing' in the expanded sense, as recording. But that only moves 'write' even closer to 'do' and there is no reason at all to bring up the order as a problem.

Posted by henrikfr at 08:25 PM | Comments (0)