Practice-centered & Artistic Research at Culture-History Museums?

Foto: Luger/Daregård; published with kind permission of Etnografiska Museet Stockholm.

Marie-Therese Luger is a curator and researcher. Her book “Practice-centered & Artistic Research at Culture-History Museums? A pre-study” was published in 2020. It collects, describes and unfolds ideas on how practice-centered and artistic research might be better integrated into culture-history museums. 

Well, what is it then, this “Artistic Research”? 

 Given that it already is impossible to objectively explain what the term “Art” entails, a definition of Artistic Research seems futile. But it is actually not that hard: Artistic Research is an academic term and phenomenon. Embellished with the tags “practice-based” or “practice-led [1]“, Artistic Research docks onto the idea that practitioners of “The Arts” can produce new kinds of knowledge using their specific artistic practice[2] as a tool of research and investigation[3].

When I myself first came in contact with the concept of Artistic Research, I did not see its relevance for art-practitioners, who can be argued to always, not just since the conceptual or performative turn, have produced new kinds of knowledge through their practice. But – as a graduate of a double-degree-program combining Fine Arts and Humanities – I was endeared by Artistic Research as a concept that would help non-art-based academic practitioners understand the inherent value of more dualistic practices with a more complex and multifaceted relation to academia.

The relationship between the discipline of Art and the institutions of academia is surely a contested one. In elongation, Artistic Research can appear as a validation and acknowledgement for the work the Arts have contributed to society, but is also a statement that places this kind of research firmly within the framework of academia – which not all practitioners of Art would necessarily want to agree to.

But contrasting this claim with the societal perception of other disciplines reveals that academic art education in particular shape-shifts depending on its opponent. While practitioners inside the discipline of Art may lament over an institutional fortification of creativity, the “outside” world continues to engage in a rather ambiguous view on the discipline, the practice and the practitioners of Art: They are simultaneously coveted and shunned for their mysterious ways.

Ironically, “Art” or “creative thinking” are at the same time increasingly peddled as tools for commodification orinnovative intervention when more traditional ways of generating results seem to fail. In contrast, Artistic research is hardly perceived as an accepted alternative to “proper” science such as for example historical research. What is all to easily forgotten is the potential of Artistic Research – as the etymological interpretation of the word suggests – of synthesizing Art and science, instead of forcing Art into the scientific orbit or assisting science in appropriating Art. 

Approaching a re-combination of the traditionally separated disciplines of Art and science, the medium of the culture-history-exhibition appears to be a site where (representative) creativity and (collection-based) research are meant to merge and create a common context.

Malin Fajersson[4] has examined the role of “creativity” in the making of heritage-exhibitions, taking into account the organizational structures of culture-history-museums. She points towards the potential of using of more curatorial way of exhibition-making[5] but also notices that the inclusion of art-practitioners into museum-practice is often marked by resentment and the fear of non-compliance[6]. This might explains the often mere application of artists and artistic practices onto the context of the culture-history exhibition, such as commissioning visual artists to interpret objects from the collections but refraining from installing more long-term collaborations.

The aspect of a more curatorial approach is interesting, since it exemplifies another traditional divide between museum-practice and artistic practice: In the contemporary context the act of curating has long lost its inscription of merely sorting and arranging according to style, date, category or creator. Curators have been able to expand their practice beyond the task of assemblage, creating new knowledge through the medium itself. There is a broad activity of artist-curators as well as artist-led spaces, -galleries and-shows that expand curatorial practice. This includes the practice of Curating as Research[7]

 Within the walls of the culture-history museum curators are more often reduced to the role of the expert on objects, as the culture-history museum-exhibition is confined to a codex of truth and objectivity. In this setting, practitioners in the role of the exhibition producer might have more access to the curatorial framework of an exhibition but are in their turn confined to the task of creating attractive and representative environments to stage the already established knowledge and are not openly(!) granted the opportunity to create new knowledge through the curation of an exhibition. An often neglected factor in the production of culture-history-exhibitions is the fact that art or design themselves can and should be seen as problematic agents. This asks for a more discursive approach to exhibition-making that transcends ideas of representation being neutral or factual. 

While arguing for a more curatorial approach to exhibition-making is one opportunity for Artistic Research to expand museum-practice, such practices rely on collective working processes. 

Museum-practitioners themselves[8] have made a case for practice-centered research in museum institutions. Emily Pringle argues for the development of a new role, the role of the “practitioner-researcher[9]“, describing “museum professionals” that are working “across the disciplines” and “who are arguing for their practice to be understood as a form of research[10].” For Pringle, this research must be a version of research that expands the model of research of “academics and scholars working in collaboration with museum curators, learning curators and conservators.[11]

Oonagh Murphy agrees with this trajectory by highlighting the “interplay between museums and universities in developing practice-based research and teaching[12]” and concludes that such collaborations can only come to fruition through a focus on critical praxis[13] and can come about by seeking out new methodologies[14]. Summarized it can be said that both Emily Pringle and Oonagh Murphy call for practice-centered research that is experimental, critical and interdisciplinary (as opposed to multidisciplinary). 

Applying the triptych model to both museum practice as well as artistic practice reveals that neither of these practices can meet all three conditions in a traditional setting and sticking to traditional roles. Circling back to the initial question of the nature and composition of Artistic Research it should become clear that the urges and trajectories of Artistic Research and the sketched up “scholar-practitioner” are not that different from each other, leading up to a question on how these practices could begin to merge. 

This question can only be answered if a critical stance towards the segregation between criticality and operationality is given as much attention as the segregation between Art and science: Practice-centered and Artistic Research could attempt to multipluralize museum-exhibitions and museum-institutions if their practitioners can be integrated into the modi operandi of culture-history museums, instead of being merely applied to them. This can only be attempted if methodological inventiveness is encouraged, interdisciplinarity is better understood and critical discourse (as opposed to problem-solving) is not shunned and thus can lead to multi-layered research. The duality of Artistic Research as both artistic as well as academic could enable a different approach to this endeavor. 

As I was compiling the pre-study “Practice-centered & Artistic Research at Culture-History-Museums?” which this article is based upon, Bogdan Szybers artistic research-project and doctoral thesis “Fauxthentication[15]” was media-effectively dismissed by the grading committee[16]

It is Szybers “failure” in achieving his academic degree by means of his specifically applied artistic practice (Quod erat demonstrandum!) and the therefrom extrapolating critical discourse that renders it as an actually rather “successful” example of Artistic Research: practice-centered, methodologically inventive, interdisciplinary and critical. And that is what the hell it should be then, this Artistic Research. Also at museums of culture-history. 

Marie-Therese Luger 

Marie-Therese Luger is a curator and researcher.

[1] The tag “practice-based” often attached to Artistic Research refers to the direct production of knowledge through practice while “practice-led” is indicating the generating of research that that has operational significance for the practice in question. I propose the term “practice-centered” to describe research that does both at the same time.

[2] I use the term artistic practice specifically to describe methodologies and bodies of work coming out of the art-schools since this is the preamble for Artistic Research as a concept: “Any academic art education should include moments of introspection in order to identify and construct a practice, exercise the practice, reflect on or deconstruct the practice and – in particular – train the practitioner in ways of communicating their specific practice in ways that can be understood by others to enable further discourse and development. In addition to skills of self-research into the own practice, art-education within the academy also usually aims to mediate the skills of negotiation the choices and trajectories made within the framework. This usually is achieved by a circuit of critique, feedback and discussion serving a simple goal: challenging the practice and thereby researching and developing it.” (Luger, 2020:27)

[3] “In this case, art practice is not the object of study, but its objective.(…) We can justifiably speak of artistic research ( ́research in the arts ́) when that artistic practice is not only the result of the research, but also its methodological vehicle, when the research unfolds in and through the acts of creating and performing.” (Borgdorff, 2010:46)

[4] Malin Fajersson was Director of Department of Exhibitions and Education at Statens Maritima Museer between 2004-2011; since 2011 Utställningsproducent/Sakkunnig

(https://se.linkedin.com/in/malin-fajersson-a1726a48) samt (https://marinmuseum.newsroom.cision.com/releasedetail.html?marinmuseum-har-oppnat-ny-utstallning—-svenskt-sjoforsvar-under-500-ar-&releaseIdentifier=EB7A35C171DA2CFC)

[5] “En diskussion kring hur man kan utveckla detta arbetssätt utifrån ett mera curatoriellt sätt att använda samlingarna skulle kunna vara fruktbart.” (ibid.)

[6] Fajersson quotes Ann Sofie-Köping: “På samma sätt har jag upplevt att det finns spänningar mellan de soma arbetar direkt med det kreativa arbetet och andra yrkeskompetenser. Detta uppstår när det logiskt rationella möter det intuitiva och emotionella”. (Fajersson, 2016:68)

[7] O´Neill, Wilson (Eds.): “Curating Research”, 2015

[8] Emily Pringle, Head of Research at the Tate London and Oonagh Murphy, Lecturer in Arts Management at Goldsmiths, have created fundamental work in relation to practice-centered research within the museum-institution. 

[9] Emily Pringle, ‘Developing the Practitioner-Researcher Within the Art Museum’, in Tate Papers, no.29, Spring 2018, https://www.tate.org.uk/research/ publications/tate-papers/29/developing-practitioner-researcher-within-art- museum, accessed 31 August 2020 

[10] ibid.

[11] ibid.

[12] Oonagh Murphy, ‘Museum Studies as Critical Praxis: Developing an Active Approach to Teaching, Research and Practice’, in Tate Papers, no.29, Spring 2018, https://www.tate.org.uk/research/publications/tate-papers/29/museum- studies-critical-praxis, accessed 31 August 2020 

[13] “Critical praxis brings the spheres of theory and practice together, and as such presents a theoretical framework from which to challenge such tensions.” This includes a need to “identify, record, and critique the culture of museums and their working practices (…) in order to broaden the wider body of knowledge on the complex, political and biased nature of the museum as a social construct” (ibid.)

[14] “Methodological inventiveness – the creating of new research methods or the altering of existing methods – is an established practice within education and healthcare, particularly within action-research projects where such methods support the development of solution based research outcomes. In other words, if museums strive to be as innovative as these fields of practice, then there is a need to develop (…) practices that support risk, as risk is an essential component for the development of methodologically inventive research methods” (Ibid.)

[15] “Fauxthentication – Art, Academia & Authorship (or the site-specifics of the Academic Artist)” was published in April 2020 

LINK: (http://uniarts.diva-portal.org/smash/record.jsf?dswid=-4042&faces-redirect=true&language=sv&searchType=SIMPLE&query=&af=%5B%5D&aq=%5B%5B%5D%5D&aq2=%5B%5B%5D%5D&aqe=%5B%5D&pid=diva2%3A1424392&noOfRows=50&sortOrder=author_sort_asc&sortOrder2=title_sort_asc&onlyFullText=false&sf=all)

[16] Stasinski, Robert in “Kunstkritikk”, 30.06.2020 ( https://kunstkritikk.se/underkandes-nar-han-kritiserade-konstnarlig-forskning/ )

Bibliography

Borgdorff, Henk: “The production of Knowledge in Artistic Research”, 2010 

Fajersson, Malin: “Museicheferna och kreativiteten – Om institutioner, kreativitet, förhandlingspositioner och spårbundenhet vid Statens Maritima Museer”, Linköpings Universitet, 2016

Luger, Marie-Therese: “Practice-centered & Artistic Research at Culture-History Museums? A pre-study”, 2020

Other Sources

Murphy, Oonagh: “Museum Studies as Critical Praxis: Developing an Active Approach to Teaching, Research and Practice”; in Tate Papers, no.29, Spring 2018 

Pringle, Emily: “Developing the Practitioner-Researcher Within the Art Museum”; in Tate Papers, no.29, Spring 2018

Stasinski, Robert: Underkändes när han kritiserade konstnärlig forskning; in: Kunstkritikk”, 30.06.2020  https://kunstkritikk.se/underkandes-nar-han-kritiserade-konstnarlig-forskning/

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