From the Journey Behind to the Road Ahead – Part 1

In late May 2022 I delivered a keynote presentation at the Fontys Research Festival, which offered me the chance to think about the journey of the still-young professorship so far and to reflect upon where we are at this point, close to the end of its first academic year; so I decided to write a post on it. In fact, due to too much material I have decided to write two posts, and this is the first one: I share a bit on the approach of “thinking together”, our conceptual framework of artistic connectivity and the different “circles” that have worked on this. The second post will feature two practices as case studies of artistic connectivity: The work of visual artist Bart Lodewijks and curator and performance maker Lara Staal. Both have been guests at our Connective Conversations.

The Professorship in its First Year: The Journey Behind Us

For the ones who do not yet know anything about the professorship Artistic Connective Practices: We explore how artists and specifically artistic researchers can make a contribution, right in the midst of society. Our strength is to ask questions from an artistic attitude towards what an environment, a situation or context offers to explore. 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 economy.

Our work takes place in various places and contexts, at the intersection of artistic, cultural, social, educational and philosophical dimensions of communities, organisations and larger contexts – and thus aims to give artistic research a more prominent and defined place in society. Next to, but especially as a counterbalance to economic-monetary and political perspectives, the artistic perspective offers alternative opportunities to explore, deepen and concretise connectivity. We argue that the point of our work is not so much the idea of “solving societal issues”, but rather to ask questions and develop imaginative proposals, or speculative imaginaries from an artistic perspective towards what an environment, a situation or context offers: a notion of “thinking through art.”

Working in circles towards conceptual clouds

The professorship works with the core principles of collectivity, collaboration, trust and emergence. In order to explore and develop the notion of Artistic Connective Practices, one central methodological approach is collectively thinking together. This happens in different “circles”, teams or groups, which also contribute to the growing network of the research community at FHK, typically through conversations, writing, reading and discussing resonances with artistic works and practitioners. The first circle I gathered around me is the Connective Intra-Activiteam (which’s name is inspired by Karen Barad’s notion of intra-action). By extending these circles, one step at a time, the overall research network has grown throughout the year: from the core team of the professorship surrounding the conceptual development of ACP, to student groups within the master programmes, to the guests and audiences in the Connective Conversations.

This set of circles becomes further extended with the audience at the research festival, and with more to follow in the coming months.

The Connective Intra-Activiteam works on an elaborate conceptual framing of Artistic Connective Practices, as flexible as such a framing might be, or as unfinished, as work-in-progress as necessary in order to actually make meaningful work – and meaningful connections. We have worked on this conceptualisation in the form of three “conceptal clouds”: the artistic, connectivity and practices. These clouds consist of a network of interrelated elements that, as a collective, offer a way of framing and understanding the term in question – without defining it in clear-cut terms.

First, the network of elements framing our understanding of connectivity:

I will elaborate on all of these elements in a later text, but just a little bit more here on spending time together: The point of the notion of “time spent wasted” is that we spend time together because of mutual interest, affinity, a thorough curiosity in each other; not because we need to arrive at a certain tangible product, via an efficient process or plan, in a precisely defined time span. The point here is to spend time with each other without a precise plan, time that is not framed, but spent on a clear (common) ground, such as a context, a frame as basis for a common understanding; in order to avoid the risk of simply fetishising social exchange.

The metaphor of connective tissue

Lastly, just a little more elaboration on the metaphor of connective tissue. First of all, working with metaphors is a methodological approach inspired by Donna Haraway’s work with string figures and SF, an abbreviation for, among other ideas, speculative fabulation and science fact (see e.g. Haraway elaborating on these two word pairs here). The basic idea is to “take” a metaphor, spend time with it and try to understand it as fully as possible within its own realm or discipline, on its own ground. Then, as a second step, take it seriously to the fullest extent while transposing it to the context in which one wants to work with it (for more information regarding the notion of transposition, see Schwaab 2018). What has the metaphor to offer for the context to which it is transposed? The aim is to “unpack” a metaphor, as Bart van Rosmalen calls it in his (Dutch-spoken) podcast “Unpack a Metaphor“: Try to get everything out of it, including its different forms, shapes and qualities, and use one’s imagination to make it meaningful in its new context.

Connective tissue is one type of animal tissue, next to muscle or nerve tissue, for example. It consists of three main components: fibers (elastic and collagen), ground substance and cells. One kind of categorisation (among others) relies on three types of connective tissue: loose, dense and specialised connective tissue. Concerning the function of connective tissue, the website of the NIC (National Cancer Institute) states: “Connective tissues bind structures together, form a framework and support for organs and the body as a whole, store fat, transport substances, protect against disease, and help repair tissue damage.” (https://training.seer.cancer.gov/anatomy/cells_tissues_membranes/tissues/connective.html) The entry on connective tissue in Britannica defines it as “[t]issue in the body that maintains the form of the body and its organs and provides cohesion and internal support […].” (https://www.britannica.com/summary/connective-tissue)

The types of connective tissue have a variety of functions, of which the most interesting for our context are:

  • protect: being safe; stand in for one another; shielding.
  • support: being there for the other / for one another – closely related to the notion of care.
  • connect & bind: bringing together, seeing potential for relations and connections; long-term, sustainable yet flexible connections. But beware: in the case of harm, the types of connective tissue that fulfill this function might not heal easily – vulnerability and necessity of being taken care of.
Collagenous fibres. From https://www.britannica.com/summary/connective-tissue#/media/1/132995/39842

The other conceptual cloud I briefly mention here is the “artistic”: A number of related elements that we find interesting when we talk about what we perceive and frame as being artistic:

As mentioned already, we are not interested to define what artistic is, should or should not be. The conceptual cloud is not about a fixed and solid idea of what the artistic is, but of what we regard as important elements when we talk and think about it. It should be clear that aspects of the imaginative, the speculative and open alternatives play important roles for us. However, despite its apparent “traditional” sound, the notion of craftmanship is an important part of this, too. Philosopher Henk Oosterling relates very explicitly to this when he refers to artists as professionals who “have learned to listen to their medium” – who are sensitive to their medium (sound, paint, images, data, light, and all kinds of other materials) and able to work and create with it.

To be continued…

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