As mentioned in my previous post, I have started working on the postdoctoral research project Common Ground. Practice, Philosophy and Ethics of Research at HKU since January 2019. In this post, I like to share a bit of the process during these first weeks of the project, and what the plans for the coming weeks are.

The central idea of the project is to empower students, teachers and researchers to improve doing, teaching, supervising and thinking about research.

This first phase is very much a time of “setting up”, characterized by mapping the fields and contexts in which the project inquires and operates, and what the different areas and potential opportunities and challenges within the organization will be. I work on different kinds of mappings, such as:

  • the knowledge on research methodology in the different areas of the institution;
  • the practice and education of research design in the broader field of higher education (including areas outside of the arts) in The Netherlands and its resonance with the project;
  • the actor-network of the project, both within the institution and beyond it;
  • the strategy of research itself.
Mapping activities in the design studio aka living room.

Next to the necessary exploration of the discourse and international discussion in the context of the research, I conduct interviews with the central actors of the projects: starting with the lectors (leading “associate professors” of the various research groups), I talk to the directors of the faculties involved (conservatoire, theatre, fine arts, art & economics, games & interaction, design, music & technology, media, and the master programme “crossover creativity”) and the respective research supervisors; in order to map knowledge, biographies, pedagogies and states of discussion concerning research strategy.

The first round of interviews with the professors is almost completed, and it is already possible to see what kind of image emerges from these conversations: All four professors come from quite different backgrounds and research traditions, as diverse as anthropology, action research and change management, theatre and literature sciences, information sciences and digital media. I expect that this will lead to a diversified and polyphonic image of philosophical, ethical and societal values of research at HKU – which provides the necessary foundation for an approach towards research design.

 

Design model

The conceptual core of the project is the creation of a model for designing research, which on the one hand offers a clear guideline to design research strategies, and on the other hand is flexible enough to be used in a large variety of possible research projects. The latter concerns both kinds of research, as well as different levels of research experience. To give a first introduction to the project, I like to share a schematic version of the model, obviously still in process, and briefly explore its different functions and possible applications. The development of this model departs from current theoretical and conceptual positions such as Henk Borgdorff’s notion of “methodological pluralism”, from my previous teaching experience concerning designing research, and from earlier experiments with such models in various master programmes.

The model contains four layers: Collection, Structure, Timing and Emergence. These four layers interact in a flexible, fluid and ephemeral structure of a network; they are not meant to be understood in a sequential order or hierarchy, but as four interconnected layers.

One of the first schematic in-progress iterations of the design model.

This model can act in a variety of functions: as a model to actually design research, as a framework for reflecting on a design or finished research project and for providing feedback on a research strategy. Another possibility is to use the model as a framework for supervisors with which they can ask questions to students in order to shed light on potentially underdeveloped aspects of a research design.

I will write a separate post dedicated to the details of this model in the next coming weeks. At the moment, especially the fourth layer, dealing with emergence and the yet-unknown during a research process is the most exciting area of inquiry, which promises to be a central area of exploration during this research project. It remains to be seen what will emerge!

In the last post of 2018 I wrote about a larger project I am going to do about artistic research methodology. This month it has become official that I am going to embark on a postdoctoral trajectory at HKU University of the Arts, under the flag of the lectorate Performative Processes. The title of the project is:

Common Ground. Practice, philosophy and ethics of research at HKU.

Together with a team at HKU I handed in the application for the project at the end of October, and recently it has been approved by SIA, the Dutch governmental organization for practice-based research in higher education. The application was assessed positively on all criteria, which I am very happy with: This was the first call of its kind to which the arts disciplines had access, so it means a lot on different levels that the project is assessed so well. I am starting as one of five postdoc researchers in the arts that have been approved by SIA.

This means the project runs officially in its first semester now. The initial hypothesis is that the quality of research processes, outcomes and impact can be increased considerably through a more thorough yet flexible approach to research design. The research will start by collecting and exploring various present approaches towards research, and inquire in which way these can be relevant for a more elaborated vision on methodology across the entire HKU and higher arts education in general. This does not mean to unify of all these different approaches into just one way of doing research. The point is to develop a shared approach and vision towards the design of research methodology, supported and inspired by the overall vision of HKU.

The research will be carried out in three phases:

  1. Exploration and development of the conceptual-ethical-philosophical underpinning and vision towards research and its values at HKU.
  2. Building, framing, articulating and practicing of a methodological model of four levels for research and education practice.
  3. Embedding of this approach in the research practice across HKU.

All three phases will happen by means of conversation, observation, theoretical work and – what is most essential – through practice. Practice means teaching and my own supervision practice, artistic research practice. Especially in the third phase I plan to work in design sessions with teacher-researchers and supervisors, to explore possibilities of a shared practice in diverse contexts of doing and teaching research. My own practice as artist-researcher includes taking part in three projects:

  1. In Search of Stories within the lectorate Performative Processes, in which an interdisciplinary group of artists will work with cancer patients;
  2. taking part as active researcher in the “Werkplaats Muzisch Onderzoek” lead by Peter Rombouts and Bart van Rosmalen;
  3. a collaboration with Marloeke van der Vlugt and London-based social scientist Carey Jewitt, on the experience of touch.

More information about these projects will follow soon. All activities of the project will involve the network within HKU. I will by no means work alone, but collaborate with the Centre of Expertise for Research and Innovation, the professorships and the relevant teachers and research supervisors at the various schools.

The primary relevance and impact of the project is thus situated in the way research is conducted at HKU in the context of professorships, teacher-researchers and pre-PhD research; and the programmes of HKU itself, with regard to how teachers work with students on the methodology of their research. In summary, the project will impact both the practice as well as the pedagogy of research design. This goes for the context of HKU and on the wider field, the (inter)national discourse of research methodology in the arts.

There are a number of people, both inside and outside of HKU who provide me with feedback and inspire me with all kinds of various sources, questions and ideas. These include Nirav Christophe, Bart van Rosmalen, Marjanne Paardekoper, Debbie Straver (all from HKU), philosopher and Professor of auditory culture Marcel Cobussen and Professor Emerita in learning and leadership Judi Marshall. I am very happy to work with so many highly skilled people, who surround me and the project with their great minds, inspiration and kindness.

(lector Nirav Christophe, Marcel Cobussen and Judi Marshall)

To conclude 2018, I just want to provide some catching up, as it was a little silent on this blog for a few weeks. This was not because there was nothing to write about, on the contrary.

Bio Orchestra Installation in Arnhem and Wageningen

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Bio Orchestra Installation.

Back in October first results of the Bio Orchestra (see my August 2018 post for more information) were presented to a broader audience: KunstLAB presented a number of its projects, among them the Bio Orchestra installation, at the INNOVATE festival in Arnhem.

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Manipulating the sound.

The installation translates the four different growth phases of the plants (seedling, rosette, flowering, senescence) into musical material. Participants can manipulate the sound in different ways, as a parallel to different kinds of genetic manipulation that happens in the laboratory. Adults and children alike enjoyed stepping into the role of plant scientist Sander van der Krol and experience the manipulation of plants in a musical way.

 

 

 

Articulating Artistic Research seminar in Calgary

In my previous post in October, I already wrote about the Articulating Artistic Research seminar that took place in Calgary, Canada in November. The group of participants, lead and facilitated by Bruce Barton and Natalia Esling, worked for intense two days on forms of artistic research and its articulation. Participants came from all around the world: the UK, US, Canada, Europe, up to the Philippines.

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Seminar leader and facilitator Bruce Barton.

On both days, a keynote in the morning was followed by a series of Pecha Kucha presentation of the participants, and two practical workshops in the afternoon. The workshops were prepared by four groups of participants prior to the seminar (see here for the complete schedule). I was personally most inspired by Lynette Hunter’s keynote, in which she talked about the difference between documenting and articulation of performance and about how documenting can move towards articulation. In her own work Hunter has developed a practice of “performative critical writing”, such as overlay texts or texts that combine academic/critical language with more poetic forms.

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Participants at work during one of the workshops.

There’s more…

There is more to come next year: I will start a larger project on artistic research methodology and ethics in early 2019, next to working on a publication on the musician in society, as a reflection on earlier seminars and recent developments in the institutions I work. The Bio Orchestra project will have a more performative follow-up in late 2019, and there will be more transdisciplinary work coming between artistic practice and health care. A lot to look forward to!

For now, I wish everybody a peaceful Christmas time. With best regards, Falk.

 

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From 14 to 17 November this year I will participate in the sixth edition of the Articulating Artistic Research seminar in Calgary, Canada. This international seminar facilitates embodied exploration, articulation and dissemination of artistic research in collaborative and performative fashion, and is hosted by Bruce Barton (University of Calgary) and Natalia Esling (University of Toronto.

The focus of this year’s seminar is context: how do the environments in which artistic research is conducted inspire, facilitate, determine, restrict and otherwise define what can be asked, explored, discovered and imagined. “Context” in this instance is understood as a multifaceted situation: person and communal backgrounds, training, education, institutional and other affiliations, material conditions and culture are just the most obvious of determinants. Through the intensive exchange during the seminar, participants are invited to experience the transposition of their familiar practices, knowledges, methods and objectives, and will be challenged to explore the emergent potential to be found in a diverse number of “border crossings.”

 

Studio 118: An environment for learning, doing and sharing research

This topic related exceptionally well to the development of the research environment at the HKU Utrechts Conservatoire, where Tet Koffeman and and I work on creating and developing the context of Studio 118, a space for research within the conservatoire. Envisioned broadly as an “environment for doing research”, Studio 118 is a physical location in the conservatoire that offers different kinds of “spaces”: artistic, laboratory/explorative, and educational. The objective of Studio 118 is three-fold:

  • providing a context and environment for literally doing research
  • a learning environment in which research is taught and “promoted” to students
  • a place for multiple ways of disseminating, sharing and connecting research

One of the project’s research foci was the relation between the different practical and reflective activities – experimental collaborative practice, study of sources (reading, watching, listening), conversations or collaborative writing situations – in the context in which they were carried out: Rather than utilizing different spaces (studio, home, library), these different activities all happened in Studio 118, thus in one and the same location.

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At work during the lab in Studio 118 at the HKU Utrechts Conservatoire.

This particular setting of encapsulated contexts – the live video research project itself in Studio 118 in the conservatoire – leads to several possibilities regarding connections between these contexts. As a pilot within Studio 118, the live video research project provokes multiple ideas: for a more intense relationship between practice and theory in one space, and for a utilization of this work in an educational setting by being a real-life example, rather than a case study to be talked about in lessons. These ideas and connections emerge directly from the practice of doing research as an artist-researcher-educator in a context such as Studio 118; it is this connection that I like to explore more fully during the Articulating Artistic Research seminar.

For more information about the seminar and conference, see www.symbiont2018.ca.

 

It is already some time ago that I presented a rough outline of the concept of my long term ongoing project “Artistic Research as Integrative Practice”, in November 2017 at the Protean Musician conference in Oslo. During the first weeks of this academic year, in September 2018, I had the chance to deliver a few lectures in which I could take the next step.

The essential point in Oslo was to frame the two overarching concepts of the project: the contemporary hybrid practice of musicians, and the 21st Century Skills as essential concept for being able to fully participate in our 21st Century society (see here for the blog post on the conference). In this post I make one further step and share some ideas on the understanding of research when framed as integrative practice. The theoretical-conceptual substantiation of these elements still has to be done; what you are reading is in process and relatively rough, yet at the same time grounded in my daily practice of making, thinking and teaching. This is also how I present the different elements to students, with a primary means to inspire, to spark ideas and exchange, rather than giving a coherent conceptual outline grounded in a scholarly discourse. I strongly believe that this should happen more, both in the contexts of education as well as academia: On the one hand, thoughts that are still in process can be explored not only alone, but primarily with others; and on the other hand it is fascinating to make students an active part of this exchange, and by this empower them and encourage ownership in current debates and developments.

The main point of the idea of Artistic Research as Integrative Practice is that research is not something one does next to the main professional activities. Research, instead, can be understood as a perspective, and practiced as a habit from which any professional activities can be carried out. The point of departure is that the often scattered, extremely diversified activities of a hybrid professional identity can be seen as nodes in a network, in which research is seen as a “hub” that connects all of these different nodes. Research does not necessarily need to be a distinct activity in this network (however, it could be – “I am working on my research today.” – see the hashtag #PhDweekend on Twitter to see what I mean), but more of a habit and process how to carry out these different activities and how to interconnect them in one’s own professional identity (see the slide 6 and 7 “Hybrid Practice” of the previously mentioned presentation in Oslo).

In short, I understand doing research as an investigative activity and process, from which the student/artist/professional can work, think, develop and design. Research is then more of an attitude, behavior and habit that encompasses all aspects of the professional identity: fully integrated rather than a thing one does next to other work (or, as for some students, next to the “real” work such as performing or composing). I see the activity, behavior and habit of doing research as a central element in the network of the diversified activities of a hybrid professional practice, as an element that connects all of these different activities of the network: Composing can be connected to, and used in teaching, which in turn might connect to giving workshops, or feed back into the conceptual thinking regarding composing. Obviously these connections happen very often anyways, such as giving workshops will profit from earlier teaching experience. However, when these connections are made through research as a form of a habit, first, more exemplification and reflection is possible that ultimately results in much deeper learning. Second, particularly the connection between less obvious activities can facilitate unexpected connections, which might produce entirely new forms of practice, reflection, understanding and learning.

 

From pyramids to networks

The understanding that the different activities of a hybrid professional identity form a network resonates with the work of Dutch philosopher Henk Oosterling. He argues that, as a participatory and networked society at large, we have to abandon the understanding of pyramids (bottom up, top down) and start thinking in networks. For Oosterling, members of society are not autonomous, but nodes in a network, cross-linked and relational autonomous.

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Henk Oosterling

In music, especially in classical music, different professional profiles are traditionally often understood or perceived as some form of a pyramid, which translates to a hierarchy: Performing as a solo musician (in classical music) is seen as the top of the pyramid (in the case of performers), followed by working as a leader (concert master or leader of other sections) in a symphony orchestra, and by playing chamber music. After this playing as a regular member of the orchestra, and then, after quite some empty space, teaching comes, followed by working as a music teacher at secondary schools working as a music therapist. Of course I am terribly exaggerating here, but I do this just to make the point clear (however, try asking a third or fourth year classical music student to join an ensemble with students from the music education department).

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Two more pyramids on “Artistic Influence”, from William J. Stevens’ presentation at the Protean Musician conference in Oslo, November 2017.

 

Even if this exaggerated hierarchy might be more nuanced, and happening more unconscious in daily practice, I am sure it is not unfamiliar to many students and teachers in the field of music. Such kind of hierarchy can also be at work in how musicians understand the different activities of their own hybrid identity. Composing and performing are regarded as most important, and as the core of the profession for many, whereas teaching or writing grant applications might be considered less central to this identity, but rather as something necessary to carry out the actual core activities. I do not intend to make a judgment about any of these views. My point is that, by understanding these diversified activities as being part of an essentially non-hierarchical network, with the habit of research and inquiry as a central connection, all of these activities can be linked to each other, to achieve more deepened and sustainable learning and development.

 

Epilogue

I always feel grateful when I have the possibility to share a concept that it is still in development, especially by presenting for students. I believe not only that the moment of sharing is essential to research, but that specifically sharing the processes and moments in-between, rather than just the final outcomes, facilitates the possibility of feedback, of a mutual conversation; because the subject of discussion is not yet finished. This enables me to test, to review, to revisit, to discover yet unknown layers – and to change.

During the final months of the past season it has been relatively silent on this site. The main reason for this was a quite intensive time of supervision and reading student research work, which was followed by the final weeks of the season in June and July, in which I devoted more time to my own writing and thinking, combined with preparations for upcoming projects.

But this will change again very soon! Some exciting projects have been in the works, so there will be enough material to write about in the coming months. To start with, the focus of some of my work at HKU and ArtEZ will slightly change:

At ArtEZ IMAE (International Master Artist Educator) I have been assigned the role of “Director of Theory and Writing”. I will continue to develop the strand of text-based work within the program, very closely related to research. Of course I won’t be doing this alone, but collaborate with the beautiful team of lecturers and the core team around John Johnston, who remains one of the most inspiring programme leaders I have met to date.

Parallel to this area of research and writing, I will start with a two-year research at HKU, initiated by lector Nirav Christophe, director of the Centre of Research and Innovation Marjanne Paardekoper and myself. The project will focus on the development of the design of (artistic) research methodology, and the practice of carrying out this design. This work will be carried out on various schools and faculties of HKU and thereby have a strong interdisciplinary focus. It is intended to support the research work of the different professorships (“lectoraten”), as well as the separate schools, teachers and supervisors in their work with students, and the research strands within their programmes.

What actually thrills me most is that these two roles complement each other beautifully: Both are focused on research, with one being related to methodology and the other to writing. Producing text in a variety of ways is an essential part of nearly every research project and methodology, and a research design can implement different forms of writing. This goes for the actual research process, including the more explorative and divergent part, as well as in the convergent and final phases, and during writing up the report. I am very curious how the both projects will add up and will be able to support each other. In both institutions and roles, I will continue to work on the area and practice of ethics, in (artistic) research, practice and education.

 

New artistic collaboration: Bio Orchestra

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Arabidopsis plant (source).

Since early Spring I am working as a composer on a project called “Bio Orchestra” in collaboration with KunstLab Arnhem and Wageningen University. Initiated by plant scientist Sander van der Krol and KunstLab artistic director Tom Kortbeek, this project aims to creatively translate plant data into image, sound and performance. This will result in an installation presented in Arnhem this autumn, and a performance in spring 2019. This projects offers yet another perspective on how art and science can collaborate, and I am very enthusiast and curious about what we will come up with. Next to the artistic outcome I aim to reflect on this work through writing as well. More specific news and information on all this, including dates and locations, will come soon!

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Sander van der Krol, Tom Kortbeek and myself discussing ideas at KunstLab Arnhem.

As mentioned in the earlier post on the Reflective Conservatoire Conference, I gave a presentation at the conference, together with London-based pianist and researcher Christina Guillaumier. Christina is also a Creative Director of the Innovative Conservatoire.

Our presentation, “The Musician in Society. From Craftsman to Creative Citizen”, was part of the ICON session at the Reflective Conservatoire (about practices of the Innovative Conservatoire), chaired by Celia Duffy. I had been looking forward to this lecture for already quite some time, as it closes a series of work on the musician in society, with exactly the focus from where I left in the beginning: the reality at conservatoires nowadays and in which way the institution lacks an understanding and consciousness of the social reality of the community outside of itself, especially when it comes to educating young musicians.

Previously at the conference: Gillian Moore, the facilitator of the invited panel “What does artistic citizenship mean for us as artists?”, which took place on the same morning as our presentation, asked an intriguing question: “Are we training artists in the right way to become artistic citizens?” This question leads perfectly to the perspective on artistic citizenship that Christina Guillaumier and I had chosen for our own presentation.

See here for the slides of the presentation.

We started by framing artistic citizenship and providing just a few examples of engaged practice, to set the stage for context and possible practice, and collect three very basic premises to work form:

  1. The arts are made for and by people.
  2. Art making and art taking need to be integrated with personal and community life.
  3. The arts as inherently social practices should be viewed, studied and practiced as forms of ethically guided citizenship.

As David Elliott puts it in the introduction of the wonderful publication Artistic Citizenship. Artistry, Social Responsibility, and Ethical Praxis: There is no option not to relate. Building on Bourdieu’s notion of “habitus” as the habits, skills, and dispositions of each and every one of us, drawn from our life experience, Christina and I argued that it is the responsibility of the institution to create an environment for students not just to understand and learn conceptually what Artistic Citizenship is. Students should instead be able to develop their own concept of it, through practice, and should be facilitated in this as an essential part of their professional education. This cannot be achieved through implementation of distinct subjects, courses or projects, but is rather meant as an essential foundation of the institution’s, teachers’ and students’ work, a foundation of relating and engaging.

A few examples of such engaging practice are projects such as the Guerilla Generation in Greece, Theatre of Witness in Derry, Nothern Ireland, Bedside Buskers (image below) in The Netherlands or the HEAR initiative in Philadelphia, Australia.

Almost contrary to the impressions from these different kinds of work, be collected a number of observations and reflections related to conservatoire practice nowadays:

  • The profession of musicians is (still) often perceived in a vertical and hierarchical fashion
  • There is still a strong emphasis on principal studies, especially in classical music – which relates to questions of locating “craft” from Helena Gaunt’s keynote
  • A strong focus on mostly traditional professional profiles, virtually ignoring hybrid professional practices of today
  • A solid tradition that reproduces itself: Passed on from one-to-one teaching before and strengthened during the time at the conservatoire
  • Jazz & Pop practice is usually more diversified than practices in the classical, which is part of its own tradition, already including different kinds of performing situations, teaching, interdisciplinarity; but there is still a disconnection between conservatoire and society observable
  • As institutions, we need to change the self-understanding of our role as conservatoires within the perspective of lifelong learning, as “transitory stations”

There are lots of questions concerning these observations and their consequences. First of all, far from everybody would agree to these observations, for different reasons. There is no hard, or exact right or wrong in a complex area such as education; as these observations are made from a specific perspective and vision, and there are other, sometimes contrasting perspectives and visions as well.

Question are manifold as to which change of this situation is exactly necessary, and how this might possibly be put in practice. In our presentation, we chose the perspective of “transferable skills”, a term which has been coined by Helena Gaunt and that is actively used and practiced at ICON seminars, such as the recent seminar on listening. ICON operates from the conceptual framework of the arts as embedded, and being in the centre of our society, and aims to create strong relationships between practice and reflection, through an action research approach and feedback loops of doing and thinking. With transferable skills, we mean skills that are essentially trained through music: literally “musical skills”, which are then applied in and transferred to a huge variety of contexts, within and outside the strict realm of musical practice. These skills can then become “tools” of training artistic citizenship, as both students and teachers already practice these skills in their daily training; they understand the inner workings of these skills and already recognize them as essential, which makes them much easier to be made transferable.

Without being too concerned about working these concepts out in the presentation, we left the presentation itself open-ended at this point and made the direct transition to the practical ICON session, led by ICON Creative Directors Dinah Stabb and Jo Hensel, both from Guildhall. In this session, we did physical work with the group, as well as conducting a few exercises of listening, and by this putting the previously mentioned transferred skills in practice. What I personally found most striking in this session in its entirety was that what we at ICON call “transformative power” of the work that we do there, was observable in London as well, despite the short duration of the session with the group.

I am looking forward to continuing this work: at ICON, at the conservatoires where I am working, and most notably a series of workshops that I will conduct with others in the research environment of the HKU Utrechts Conservatoire, Studio 118. To be continued soon…

Together with the core team of the HKU professorship Performative Processes I am very happy to announce that the Perilous Experience CARPA5 Colloquium Proceedings are published, in the Helsinki Performing Arts Research Centre’s online publication series Nivel.

In late August 2017, Nirav Christophe, Henny Dörr, Joris Weijdom, Marieke Nooren and I gave a “polyvocal presentation” on the IYANTWAY project, in which we worked together with a group of youngsters who suffer from absence seizure. For more information on the project and a previous post on the colloquium see here.

For the direct link to the professorship’s contribution to the proceedings click here. The article works well as a complement and introduction to our recent book publication on IYANTWAY. Next to the information on the specific project the article includes our more imaginative and provocative Prague Provocations and Helsinki Hindsights. Enjoy the read!

From 20th to 23rd of February, the Reflective Conservatoire Conference (RCC) took place at the Guildhall School for Music and Drama in London. This was the third and last in a series of three conferences and seminars regarding the artist in society (after the ICON seminar on listening in October 2017 and the Protean Musician conference in Oslo in November 2017), and by this represented a wonderful closure of a huge amount of input to be processed, specifically in regarding to conservatoire education. It was particularly fascinating to experience the three very different formats of these events: ICON’s interactive modes of engaging practice, Oslo’s small core group of “bright minds” (Darla Crispin) working on the theme of the Protean for three days, and the large scale and extensive program of the RCC.

⇒ the RCC on Twitter: @rconservatoire, and #rcc2018.

Next to being an engaging conference, these days were a gathering of many friends and colleagues, from HKU, ArtEZ, the team of ICON creative directors, many former ICON participants and international networks such as the AEC or EPARM. It has been wonderful to experience these days with so many well-known – and new – people together. As the conference had an extremely extensive program, I could only attend a part of the presentations. I chose a few of them to write about here that I think were most remarkable, or most useful in the larger endeavor of developing a concept on the musician in society. Seen the length of this post, I also decided to write about the collaborative presentation with Christina Guillaumier, as well as the overarching ICON session in which we presented, at a slightly later moment in one or two weeks.

Opening by Helena Gaunt

On the first afternoon, after the initial welcome from Guildhall principal Lynne Williams, Vice-Principal & Director of Guildhall Innovation Helena Gaunt introduced the conference theme, its issues and challenges, and asked a few intriguing questions to inspire the participants’ thinking and engagement during the next few days.

Gaunt started with an elaboration of the theme of the Artist as Citizen – and why it is such an important one at this moment. We live in a time of both great pressure on, and enormous opportunity for the arts. Pressures are reducing of public subsidy, a lowering political will and, specifically in Great Britain, the very real threats to the quality of the arts coming with Brexit. Opportunities are digitalization, the rise of the creative industries, the process of moving into an experience culture, the continuous exploration of co-creation of artistic experiences, new domains of artists working as populations age; strategies of how we meet marginalized groups of society such as refugees, prisoners or mentally ill people, and addressing humanity in a time when we see major failures of leadership in our global corporate economies. According to Helena Gaunt, these pressures and opportunities ask us to dig down and think about what our purpose as artists is, or can be. What can the fundamental elements and characteristics of the arts – provoking, disturbing, illuminating – bring to the wider world?

Regarding changes and challenges that are provoked by the discussion of the artist as citizen, Gaunt touched on one aspect that is crucial to the fundamental values and principles of musicians in particular: the notion of craft. She observed that craft and academic or professional skills don’t seem to combine very well in our daily practice as musicians, and that there is a tension between them.

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However, craft is so much about utility as well. The case of a glasblower illustrates this, as one who creates a most beautiful and artful object, which has a clear function at the same time as being artful. Gaunt suggests a shift in our understanding of craft towards being embedded in purpose and identity on the one hand, and expression in the world on the other. She calls this “expanded craft”: a partnering of values, rather than their separation. The interesting question for our practice and our education is then: How do we get these values to become partners?

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Gaunt further elaborated on embedded craft, as being a concept that works across disciplines, sectors and cultures. Her elaboration was marked by four terms that each connect to a powerful pair of seemingly contradictory terms, which provide food for further thought:

  • Innovation: imagination and enterprise
  • Sustained purposeful work: doing/creating and reflecting
  • Connected communities: individual and ensembles
  • Resilience: perfection and lifelong growth

Especially the last pair is an interesting one for music education: Craft is often associated with perfection, exacerbated by virtuosity and the recording industry, among others. At the same time, however, the process of failing and trying again is utterly critical in order to develop continuous and lifelong learning.

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At the end of Gaunt’s introduction we turned towards a more practical and explorative work form, in which the conference participants were asked to take a few minutes to collect “burning questions” about the conference theme of artists as citizens, and collect sources that illuminate the relationship between “artist” and “citizen”. Both could than be tweeted under the hashtag of the conference, and by this collected online. The resulting feed was projected onto the large screen, and be discussed further.

Keynote 1: Geoffrey Crossick “Arts, citizenship and civil society”

Professor of the Humanities, and Director of the Arts & Humanities Research Council’s Cultural Value Project Geoffrey Crossick offered the first keynote speech of the conference. He distinguished and elaborated on three dimensions of arts, citizenship and civil society:

  • artists as citizens
  • participants as citizens
  • how civil society & citizenship constituted through the arts

He discussed these dimension on the background of the report of the Cultural Value Project: Understanding the value of arts & culture; a large scale research project of the Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC, see here for the final publication, written by Crossick & Patrycja Kaszynska). The leading question of the report was how we obtain evidence of that value of arts and culture in society. One of the report’s objectives was questioning claims of this value that weren’t supported by adequate evidence.

I found this notion of “adequate evidence” particularly intriguing, as it reminded me of the importance of artists as being researchers, as we ourselves are responsible for actually delivering data on the importance of our work, which goes much further than just telling our own stories and vision. From this perspective, Crossick made an important argument towards research in the arts: for a narrative about the arts’ values in society, from the perspective of the arts themselves. This narrative should not just consist of artists’ anecdotes, but should include research and outcomes based on actually useful data, which is essential for making specific aspects clear about one’s projects, their value and impact.

Crossick thinks of the report as a response to four key questions about the value of arts and culture:

  1. Who wants to know and why? Governments always want to hear, but mostly in relation to economical values.
  2. What is the phenomenon whose value we’re trying to understand? Most analysis’ look predominantly at subsidized culture, neglecting commercial areas of cultural production and activity, including streaming & games, amateur production and participatory co-creation.
  3. Are we looking in the right places in our search for value? Looking at impact outcomes is not always the most appropriate, or enough: The report includes six full chapters on what is called “components” of cultural value.
  4. By what methods should we find and evidence that value? Quantitative methods can be valuable, but are not more rigorous or useful in themselves per se! The equal validity of methods from the arts, humanities or qualitative sciences has to be accepted, which include close reading of texts, language, images and performances. If these are not taken into account, the value of arts and culture will never be understood.

Crossick’s argument here is that the methods have to follow that what we try to understand, not the other way round. But artists’ stories and anecdotes are not data to sufficiently support a value-related narrative, but artists do have to take ownership of evaluation; so that they can construct narratives they believe in, about why the arts matter, about what are the values of arts in society, from the perspective of the arts! – And based on good evidence.

“We should understand the variety of methods that flow from the arts, individuals and society, and we should insist on the need to explain how we know what we claim is indeed the case – including what we as artists achieve when acting as citizens.” (Geoffrey Crossick)

In the final sections of his talk, Crossick offered a number of case studies, and elaborated more on how artists actually position their engagement as citizens in relation, or as a part of their artistic work: “It’s what many artists do, and what they want to do.” Many artists who work in these areas do not do this because they cannot “make it” as “pure artists” (as others often claim), but because social engagement is part of what drives them as artists. They see most of this work equal to their own artistic practice, and don’t necessarily make a crucial difference between both. This also underlines how outdated these traditional images of “autonomous” artistic work are, which often seem to suggest that a total detachment from artistic work to external influences. The kind of work is extremely varied, and is situated in the areas of health, aging, dementia, criminal justice, education, youth and community work, urban planning and development, up to the design of new urban spaces. Some of the projects here connected specifically to improving of life quality, while others were broader oriented, towards experience and appreciation of arts and culture in general.

Crossick closed his keynote with a few interesting questions about quality of the artistic within this kind of work: “If engagement with the arts has beneficial, social or health outcomes, does the excellency of the artistic product itself make any difference to the outcome? We know that it does, from research in literature, self-understanding and empathy.”

Keynote 2 – Vikki Heywood “Old wood and green shoots. Clearing the way for young artists as citizens.

In the second keynote of the conference, Vikki Heywood focussed more directly on education, and on the relation between education and the students’ training in becoming citizens. Heywood shared a few tendencies in current practice, addressed several aspects of critique on the institutions as they are now, and then presented a new institution, Mountview, which seeks to address these issues.

Two of the tendencies Heywood observes are that it slowly becomes the norm that arts venues act as a hub for the local community, and that the gap between professional and amateur players is breaking down and disappearing. She addressed the need of institutions to react on these developments and actually reflect the society we live in. According to Heywood the institutions should become meeting points for students, creative professionals and the community, and by this reflect the society and community in which the institutions are situated, as many arts venues already do. “We don’t want our kids to learn in a bubble.” This includes the challenge that our organizations and institutions are not diverse enough, in terms of ethnically, gender and sexuality.

“None of our institutions perfectly reflect the society we are living in.” (Vikki Heywood)

Heywood presented an institution that is still very young, as response to these challenges: Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts. It is an institution that takes the historical meaning of the word “conservatoire” serious: looking after people, rather than looking after repertoire. The institution provides space for professionals, students, teachers and the community. One of the basic stances from which Mountview works is that students deserve to have their culture to be reflected in their training.

“There are no road maps for training artists as citizens, so we created one.”

I found it particularly interesting to hear that Mountview’s team scouts talented youngsters, as part of a socially motivated attitude – “not because we need applications, but because we are convinced that the system is not fair.” (Heywood) They are specifically looking for candidates who might otherwise never opt for auditioning, among others because of their seemingly low social or financial status. The next quote, which closes my report on this keynote, connects beautifully to this, as it defies what I often perceive as a sense of hierarchy and raking between institutions, closely connected to the problematic notion of excellency: “We are us, and we are very good at being us.” I would love to see more institutions, and more conservatoires, sending out a message such as this.

Keynote 3 – Helen Marriage

In the last keynote presentation of the conference, artistic director Helen Marriage presented the work of her company, Artichoke. The company produces large scale artistic works, events and experiences, with the aims of reaching the largest audience possible, and providing disruptive and live changing experiences.

The Sultan's Elephant, Royal de Luxe, 2006. Produced by Artichoke in London. Photo by Matthew Andrews.
The Sultan’s Elephant, Royal de Luxe, 2006. Produced by Artichoke in London. Photo by Matthew Andrews.

Artichoke set the tone of their work already with the first production,The Sultan’s Elephant, created in London in 2006. It is a work that takes over the city and disrupts public life quite literally, as it required closing down the inner city of London for four days (!). Marriage specifically elaborated on the process that lead to these four days, which took seven years of negotiation – the idea that an artist would lead the stage of the city was entirely unnegotiable to the city’s council. In the end, it became a transformative moment for London: The events were engaging with an audience that weren’t trapped by a building such as a theatre of a concert hall, and the happenings and huge moving objects shared public space with people who would otherwise never meet.

“Our cities don’t have to be dedicated to shopping and traffic. They don’t.” (Helen Marriage)

After Sultan’s Elephant, Artichoke was asked to do more work such as this. However, they chose not doing work exactly like it, but continued exploring public space with this kind of work. One of these projects is One & Other, London 2009:

Another good example of this is London 1666 (2016), a “festival of arts and ideas” marking the 350th anniversary of the Great Fire of London, in which Artichoke “invited artists and academics to respond to the Great Fire and consider the modern threats faced by the world cities today: from climate change to conflict.” Centre of the Great Fire 350 umbrella season of events was a 120-metre-long sculpture of the 17th century London skyline, London’s Burning, set alight on the River Thames. To me, one of the strongest aspects of this work is that the wooden sculpture was built by a group of young people from the poorest areas of London: The artists trained these young people in order to do everything necessary to build the enormous sculpture, including wood work, coming in time and, in one case, “eating a tomato because the young boy had never seen a vegetable in his life.” Just as in Sultan’s Elephant, Artichoke devised a project that many others deemed impossible, even more so as they did not just develop memories, but real opportunities: Many of these young people found work through this project.

”What we are saying to these young people is: You can do this.”

The final remarks and statements of Helen Marriage finally sold me to her and her company’s work and vision on the arts in society and artists as citizens: Although one hallmark of their work is the deliberate disruption of daily life, of what people think is normal, they do not not aim to do only that, but commit to a quality of the work that is so high that it offers an even bigger payback to the citizens than the disruption they are faced with. To offer them an experience that stays with them for life.

The team of
The team of “London’s burning.”

2018 is just a month old, and there are already several news and new activities happening.

The most recent publication of the Professorship Performative Processes is out! In december we published If you are not there, where are you? Mapping the Experience of Absence Seizures through Art, edited by Henny Dörr and myself. The book presents the written outcome of the two-year transdisciplinary artistic research project IYANTWAY, in which a team of nine artists from various disciplines worked with eight youngsters on artistic utterances that match their experiences before, during or after a seizure. On Tuesday, 27th of February, we will officially present and launch the book, beautifully designed by Anton Feddema, at the HKU in Utrecht.

In only one and a half week, Christina Guillaumier and I, both creative directors of the Innovative Conservatoire (ICON), will give a joint presentation at the Reflective Conservatoire Conference 2018: “The musician in society – from craftsman to creative citizen”. For the ones who read the posts on this website regularly it will come with no surprise that I am very enthusiastic about presenting and participating at the Reflective Conservatoire: It is the third large-scale event about the musician in society for me, after the ICON seminar on the Musician in Society in October 2018 and the Protean Musician conference in Oslo last November, thus finishing a series that has provided me with enormous input on this topic.

On the 3rd of March, the new music theatre performance with trumpet player Sef Hermans, silencio, will be performed in its first version for the very first time, in Pamplona, Spain. I am very excited to show this first complete version of the piece, which is inspired by David Lynch’s “club silencio” in Mulholland Drive and the notion of the “ghost light” in theatre. This is also the first time in which the fabulous poem by Lynley Edmeades, Remainder, will be performed in one of my works. I know Lynley since we met at a performance studies conference in Prague, and this is the first actual result of this encounter, with which I am truly happy.

 

 

Epilogue

In the mean time, I have also re-joined the team of researchers of the HKU Professorship “Muzische Professionalisering” in the one-year long “Werkplaats Muzische Professionalisering”. I will publish a first post on my work here soon, but it is incredibly exciting to connect my various research projects with what lector Bart van Rosmalen calls “musal research”, in an inspiring team lead by Bart himself, Daan Andriessen and Peter Rombouts.