At the very beginning of my time as research professor at Fontys University of the Arts, I was asked to address staff and students – the first year students in particular – at the opening ceremony of the academic year. I was happy to do so, but with the idea of staying away from typical terminology of my field such as “research” and “inquiry”, “method” or the theme of my position, “Artistic Connective Practices.” I wanted to aim for an inspiring point, which contains some of my ideas behind my work at Fontys, but would still be open enough to speak to everyone in the audience (from heads of studies to teachers to students). I chose for two main points to make: asking questions and being engaged with our work. What follows is a slightly edited version of what I said.

The spoken word performance “The Butterfly Speaks” by Jörgen Gario & Joost van Kersbergen preceded my part. Some of the performance’s images and metaphors resonated with me and with what I was about to say:

  • “necessary isolation”
  • “epic stories of freedom”
  • “getting lost between dream and reality”

These are powerful images that point at the heart of some of the aspects I think studying at an art university is about. As students – and as artists – one sometimes needs to isolate oneself; to learn, to develop, to play and to make (or, in Beckett’s words, to try, to fail, try again, fail again, fail better). Somewhere between dream and reality there is freedom to explore, which might provide the possiblities to go further, to go forward.

These resonances are not the only quotes I am using here; in fact, a part of the text’s title is a quote:

Stay hungry, stay foolish.

Steve Jobs said this in his famous speech for graduate students at Stanford University in 2005. But it’s actually not from Jobs himself, he quoted it from a publication by Stuart Brand, “The Whole Earth Catalogue”, published in the 1960s. The quote was printed on the back of the last edition of this publication, and this was what Jobs wished the students for getting into life and work: Stay hungry, stay foolish.

Another two things Jobs said in this speech were: “Keep looking. Don’t settle.” and “Don’t be trapped by dogma, which is other people’s thinking.” And although Jobs didn’t talk to an art audience that day, I think these words are just as important to us. And these words lead us to the two points I want to explore: asking questions, and being engaged and responsible. These two things. And I will do this through a few other quotes that I find inspiring and insightful.

The first year students are just about to begin a new episode – starting life and learning at an arts university. I wholeheartedly congratulate them for being brave and bright enough to choose this path. Much of our education seems to be about the future: learning for the professional field, becoming a professional artist, musician, designer, performer, maker, and so on. But as bright as we like the future to be, much of if is also uncertain: A look at the news in the last couple of days might be enough to be overwhelmed by challenges and fears. But nevertheless, let us aim to see the future not with fear, insecurity and difficulty, but with brightness and the comfort of not-knowing what’s going to come; and with the will to do good, however big or small.

So first: Questions.

In most of my work, and how I see the work of making art, not knowing is not only essential in keeping an open mind, but also a necessary attitude and way of being, of acting and doing. Being curious, asking questions and daring to not know: and keeping all this while we grow older and more experienced. I honestly believe that continuing to ask questions and working with them is what enables us to follow our path into the future, even if we don’t have the slightest clue how this future will actually look like. Asking questions and working hard in order to find answers is what enables us to shape this future. And this does not only go for the arts, but for other disciplines and sciences as well. I found the following quote hugely inspiring, from Charles Rice, 2020 Nobel laureate in Medicine:

Rice makes a few important points here: to be honestly curious and work hard to follow this curiosity with all risk and consequences; and to truly embrace the unexpected, and embrace true transformation. By being truly curious, working hard and staying open, we have the chance to transformed (for the good!) by your own curiosity and searching. But what does it actually mean to ask meaningful questions? And what can we do with these questions? First, some questions as examples (mostly coming from bachelor students I have worked with):

  • How to balance making art and earning a living at the same time?
  • Is this question of balance actually a good question?
  • How to situate oneself in the art world?
  • How do you find people to work with that think similar to you?
  • What is or can be one’s individual role in an “industry”, in a field, in the “market”?
  • How do changes in the world affect us as art makers and creative professionals? How do we relate to these changes? What are the actual tools, techniques or materials we can really use in making work that reacts to these changes in meaningful ways?
  • What kind of change do we want to initiate ourselves?

None of these questions have obvious or easy answers. And what is necessary to work with such questions? As I discuss with students regularly, it is important to not just let these questions circle around in one’s head – we need to do something with them. What is necessary to know, what kind of information do you need and where can you get it; what can you do practically; who can you talk to? Going back to Steve Jobs: Keep looking. Don’t settle.

And to be clear: Clear-cut answers are not the most important thing to find. To some of these questions it is possible to find answers, such as to questions about materials in creative work, such as the right colours, places, inspirations, texts, harmonies or sounds. Some questions are not possible to be answered with language, but through doing: one might find a “way to do things”, and this is the answer to a question – wordless. But actually it is the act of asking questions itself that matters, to keep asking meaningful questions, and keep looking for possible ways to answer them – which might lead you to new questions, to new puzzlement, confusion – to more “getting lost between dream and reality.” Honestly asking questions keeps us on the edge of what we can do, brings us to new discoveries, keeps us moving, and keeps us on the side of the not-knowing.

And that’s the inspiring journey. Keep looking. Don’t settle. Stay hungry, stay foolish.

So second: Engagement.

We are artists, designers, makers, teachers. With this comes a huge amount of freedom and possibility, – “epic stories of freedom” – but also responsibility. We cannot choose not to do something meaningful with what is given to us. But responsibility for whom? For ourselves, our talents and abilities; our audience; our students, younger and older people? Society – what can we give, or give back? Responsibility for the work itself, for the case – for what literally matters.

Dear students: Within the programmes you study are loads of requirements. But I urge you, don’t just fulfill these for the degree, or even just for your personal development. Obviously you are all here to learn, to train yourself, to be trained, to practice, to make, to develop yourself. And that’s all fine, all great: You really need to become such great designers, amazing performers or wonderful teachers. But we need to keep in mind that on the long run, it’s not about us; not about our own names or genius ideas, or great accomplishments – our work is about the other person.

It’s the audience you are performing for or with, if you are a performer. If you are an architect, it’s about the people inhabiting your designs and live in your buildings, parks or other kinds of architecture. If you are an actor or dancer, it’s also about the others on stage, the ones with whom you are creating moments and encounters that the audience will experience. And maybe this work of yours will look like one of these images:

And this idea of “for the other” is not limited to persons. Our work is also about the city we live and work in, or the cities we travel to. The country we live in, or where we come from. It can be about experiences we have on the streets, the experience of being in a global lockdown, missing the encounters and hugs with our friends and sometimes families.

And just as a very short example from my own city, Rotterdam: a video with text from Rotterdam-based poet Moses Roffa, from the time during the first Covid-lockdown.

At this moment, this video already feels like a memory from quite far away, now that everything starts to being more open again, at a moment in which we can do education physically and live again rather than only from laptops in our homes. But the poetry, the sounds and images in this video moved me about 1,5 years ago, and brought some kind of hope and comfort in a time when the streets were still empty.

So our work can be a reaction or a reflection on what happens in society in the world. Or it can be an effort to bring change. And this is what American writer Toni Morrison means with:

“This is precisely the time when artists go to work. There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilizations heal.”

Toni Morrison (1931-2019)

This quote comes from the time of Donald Trump’s election as president of the United States, and was her reaction to the further upcoming drift towards the political right, to racism and white supremacy.

I think at the end of the day, there is only one thing we actually cannot do among the “epic stories of freedom” – not relate. We all have a gifts, talents and an enormous power – each of us in her or his own way. I believe we shouldn’t use them just for yourself. We have these gifts and talents and have not only the right, but also the responsibility to develop them, to use them, to work with them, to bring them into the world and do good with them.

Jörgen en Joost are right when they mention “necessary isolation” during the time of studying – as this also means safety to develop one’s work & ideas, to experiment, and to look for the right questions. But this isolation only works to some extent, and at some point it needs the outside world. Without the outside world, isolation is nothing.

The same goes for “getting lost between dream and reality.” Please do get lost! And enjoy the experience of getting lost. And then, when the time is right, use the dreams, and reality, to do something good in the world. And at that moment, I wish that to everyone’s work will happen what happened to the butterfly in the spoken word performance before:

It will be heard.

From September 2021 on I will take a new position and start an entirely new journey: As professor (Dutch: lector) of Artistic Connective Practices at Fontys University of the Arts in Tilburg, The Netherlands (FHK). The new lectorate aims to investigate how artists and their artistic (research) practices can contribute to the transformation towards a sustainable and resilient society.

This new position gives me the chance to further develop my ideas on the arts, and specifically artistic research, in social and societal contexts, and combine a number of interests of the past years in one place. This includes exploring how we as artistic researchers can contribute to society, being right in the midst of it – how we can give artistic research a place in the social sphere and its communities. Our strength is to ask questions from an artistic perspective, towards what an environment, a situation or context offers to explore, any maybe to change. We do so with a commitment to participate in the ‘larger conversation’ that goes beyond our own work or discipline: with citizens and the various communities, or other sectors such as healthcare or the creative industries.

The new lectorate will operate in different areas, which includes the actual development of (the concept of) artistic connective practices, next to building and further developing the research environment at the institution and connecting to the national and international artistic research field. The lectorate will work in various places and contexts: at FHK, the broader context of Fontys as a cross-sectoral and transdisciplinary institution, and the social field in the region, the city, its neighborhoods and communities.

So what are “Artistic Connective Practices”, actually? Without the artistic, the term “connective practices” is used by sociologist Martin Haigh in educational theory; Haigh describes connective practices as “affective educational strategies that invite learners to build an emotional and conative connection beyond their individual selves and their immediate social circle.” (Haigh 2017) He sees such practices in “the context of education for a sustainable future”, where it “links with the pedagogies of Deep Ecology, Social Sculpture and Invitational Education.” (Haigh 2017)

However, next to this bit of theoretical framing the term is not yet widely used and still quite open, especially when it comes to artistic practice and research. Prior to the new lectorate, designer Cynthia Hathaway has carried out a two-year research together with the FHK community, and “developed an FHK position towards inclusive and multidisciplary collaborations between the arts and society.” (Hathaway) This work lead to the publication DISCO, and inspiring magazine that is “part report, manifesto, institutional recommendation and a ‘do-it-together’ starting manual for a new lectorate.” Definitely worth a read, and even accompanied with a song list as musical background while reading!

The Bulding of Fontys University of the Arts in Tilburg.

The above are just a few first ideas and materials on which the initial work of the lectorate will build. I hope I will be able to inspire the community of students, teachers and researchers, to strengthen the connections that already exist between the disciplines and in the field of research, and to develop new connections in a sustainable way. Besides the focus on Artistic Connective Practices, this will also be a lectorate for everyone at FHK. After all, connectivity is not only the theme of the lectorate, it must also become its approach and fundamental attitude. This means to explore through collaboration, co-creation and collectivity; and along the lines of one of my favourite phenomena, emergence, and working in and through “emergent strategies” – a term by the wonderful Adrienne Maree Brown.

Where will this new inquiry take us? As common at the beginning of every new research project, I don’t know. I will use this site as a space of writing as inquiry, to share this journey and let readers follow it, engage with it as we go.

Obviously this update comes far later than I wanted, but later is still beter than never. For who has not yet seen it:

I had the immense honor and pleasure to work as a guest editor of the penultimate, quasi-recent Forum+ issue, a special issue on methods and methodology, and the first “real” bilingual issue. Our editorial team received a strikingly high number of submissions in English. In order to accommodate the growing multilingual author- and readership, we decided to publish English and Dutch articles side by side. We believe this reflects both the international and multilingual discourse on research methods and methodology in the arts, as well as the international dynamics of the arts field at large.

While being the thickest issue of the journal to date, it provides a wealth of perspectives on method and methodology: Some of the contributions share concrete methods and case studies from artistic research practice, others are more reflective or associative in nature. For everyone who wants to read further than this issue we have included four reviews of publications relevant for the field as well: On qualitative research, non-representational methodologies, arts-based research and even a handbook for artistic research.

An overview on the entire issue is here. All contributions are in either Dutch or English, the central article by Joost Vanmaele and myself is available in both languages, Dutch and English. We hope that this issue of Forum+ contributes to the already huge discourse on method and methodology in research in and through artistic practices, and that there is something new to discover for anyone interested in method and methodology!

I am finally able to pick up writing posts again, after a few months of relative digital silence. Shortly before the summer vacation came to its close, I visited Helsinki for the 6th Colloquium for Artistic Research in Performing Arts, CARPA. The title of this year’s conference was “Artistic Research Performs and Transforms: Bridging Practices, Contexts, Traditions & Futures.”

This was my third Carpa conference, after having presented our collaborative artistic research project IYANTWAY last time, in 2017, together with the team of the HKU Professorship Performative Processes. I continue to enjoy the broad spectrum of different areas within the performing arts, combined with a great wealth of presentation formats and work forms. This year, I came to Helsinki specifically in the context of my postdoctoral research on artistic research methodology, and presenting at the conference was a great opportunity to structure a lot of the material I have already gathered, and bring it into a more or less coherent argument.

Keynotes: Erin Manning, Sybille Peters and Adrian Heathfield

Erin Manning delivered the opening keynote speech, “How do we repair?” (abstract). In her talk, she elaborated on the exhibition Goat Island, We Discovered the Performance by Making it, and unpacked her own artistic process as a response to this exhibition, with fascinating materials such as written texts in notebooks made from canvas:

The second keynote by researcher and performance artist Sybille Peters had a comparable impact on me as the 2018 keynote presentation by Helen Marriage during the Reflective Conservatoire conference. Peters’ work is guided by a strong social and political motivation, by the notions of participation and collective research. Peters manages to make artistic research relevant and urgent for societal issues and she gives it a place at the forefront of the arts in society (see here for the open access publication “Performing Citizenship”).

Starting from the notion of “the right to research”, Peters elaborated on a number of participatory art-based research projects she has been involved in. Peters is artistic director of the Fundus Theater, “Theatre of Research” in Hamburg, a place of research and theatre making for and with children. Another project is the “Kaputt-Akademie” (“Academy of Desctruction”), first a project of Tate Modern London and now in Peters’ own theatre in Hamburg (see here for the Kaputt Manifesto – scroll down for video). Here, grown-ups work together with children and explore different kinds of destruction. Finally, the project “Animals of Manchester (including Humanz)” creates a huge participatory installation and performance in the public space, in which animals and humans are presented as being equal in the shared surrounding of a park in Manchester.

For ages human beings thought they were different from all other animals – they thought they were superior, they thought they were the masters, they thought only human beings had free will, they thought only human beings had language. Children always had their doubts about that, and today, finally, adults start to see, that the kids were right. We all are animals together. Imagine what Manchester, what any city, would look like if all animals in that city were equal, including humanz?

(quoted from Sybille Peters’ slides)

In the third keynote Adrian Heathfield reflected on works of performance art through creative writing. Heathfield explored the different layers of writing about other people’s work, elaborating on this process of watching, interpreting and translating to another artistic medium, creating writing, through writing

And further

Next to the keynote lectures, Carpa6 included a huge variety of presentations and presentation formats, indoors and outdoors, some performative, some participatory: a collective lecture performance by Esa Kirkkopelto and a group of actors; an outdoor workshop by Javier R. Casado, “devoted to the exploration and discussion of different ways of performing idleness.” (quoted from abstract) Elina Saloranta carried out a performative experiment on “Letter-writing as Artistic Research.” One highlight for me was the collaborative lecture demonstration by Annette Arlander, Hanna Järvinen, Tero Nauha and Pilvi Porkola; consisting of four seemingly independent talks read out loud, including a participatory disco event. It was a fascinating way to include four relatively independent research trajectories in one presentation, which gave insight into the four projects, while also made it possible to relate them to each other – a mode that reminds me of Heiner Goebbels’ “polyphony of elements” in music theatre, now in the context of a conference presentation.

Annette Arlander reading about holding hands with Juniper.
Participatory research disco!
Sometimes it is just a joy to experience unexpected encounters: Tanja Becher graduated from HKU MA Scenography last year, and I remember reading her MA thesis with fascination and great pleasure. Tanja is living and studying in Helsinki now, while still maintaining connections to the work we are doing at HKU.

My own presentation: The Common Ground Model

In this spectrum my own presentation, admittedly, had the form of a rather traditional paper presentation. Nevertheless, I think this mode was fitting regarding what the presentation was about and what I was trying to achieve: a consistent and transparent overview of what the approach is that I am working on, and to be able to start a conversation about its structure, arguments and potential usefulness.

In the months since my last post on the methodology project Common Ground, the model has taken quite a different form: Initially I presented the four phases (collection, structure, timing and emergence) as a table, simply mentioning them and giving a short explanation what each phase entails. This representation has developed towards a form that acknowledges the interconnection between the different layers, specifically the layers of collection, structure and time (notice that “timing” has been changed to “time”, on which I will elaborate in a later post). It places emergences much more central, by giving it a place from which it can “do its work” on different elements of a research design, and presented emergence more as an underlying or overall counter-acting force, rather that a separate layer in a four-layer-system:

The Common Ground Model.

“Crafting Methods” is positioned in the centre of this model: This concept is inspired and influenced by Erin Manning’s 2015 article “Against Method”; it argues against framing “method” as something predefined in terms of procedure, participants/actors and outcomes and taken shape by tradition, but rather devised “from scratch”, from the very experience and reality of playing and making. And, again, I use the idea of interconnectedness, actually the metaphor of a network, to think about research methodology.

The concept of Crafting Methods contains four elements: Actors/objects, activities, data/information/knowledge, and reflection. Depending on the frame of reference, actors (from Latour and ANT) or objects (referring to Graham Harman and Object-Oriented Ontology). Essentially, this is about who/what is doing what, taking which role/function. The term actors or objects suggest a much wider framework than just the researcher (and/or artist), acknowledging both human and non-human subjects. Activities is thought from a practical and performative point of view: what are we (or any kind of objects) going to do, how are we engaging. Reflection can happen in many different forms: individual, collective, through conversation, writing, drawing, sketching, meditating, and so on. This is also an element that might be designed in itself, rather than just taken for granted in form and function. The somewhat clumsy element data, information, knowledge aims to indicate the outcome or output of a method: What is learned, what is taken further, possibly as input then, to the next method. What do we want to learn, what do we want to do, and what can we do in order to explore that?

 

The interconnected elements of Crafting Methods. 

Finally, these thoughts and visualizations result in a first careful suggestion of how “method” might be reframed: as a flexible network of actors/objects, activities, information/data/knowledge, and reflection. I would not call this framing “in-progress” but rather “pre-progress”, but I include the idea here nevertheless – it may spark some thought by others.

Obviously, there are still a number of gaps that need further elaboration and development in the coming months, and which I will try to address in future posts: the notion of time in research design; the just-mentioned concept of “crafting methods”, as being a flexible network, and as a re-framing of what a method is or can be; and a more decent framing of emergence as an essential force while designing and carrying out artistic research. Apart from the area of methodology in particular, the discussion after the presentation at Carpa opened a few interesting thoughts in the area of education, and the time we give master students for carrying out a research during their two years of study. For example, the mentioned category of time suggests an approach of taking time and giving time to activities, objects, people, spending the time it needs for developing more depth, learning, and so on – which is often the opposite of thinking in terms of tempo or efficiency. Yet, the short amount of time for research during a master programme suggests much more to think in terms of being effective while carrying out the master research. Hopefully this seeming mismatch will lead to a few more thoughts and fruitful critique on how we tend to approach research trajectories in MA programmes. 

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

IMG_8643
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.