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EUFRAD at the Glasgow School of Art

05 September 2009

Live blogging from the European Forum for Research Degrees in Art and Design, Glasgow, 4-6 September

Every one in the art world now knows what artistic research is - or maybe no one knows, for why else would there be all these conferences about artistic research? As Klaus Jung said today, opening the EUFRAD conference at the Glasgow School of Art, we're all guinea pigs. Actually, he meant something different by that: EUFRAD is not a conference meant to define artistic research, but to create an open discussion between people doing artistic research around Europe, with a full spectrum of disciplines and approaches.

EUFRAD stands for European Forum for Research Degrees in Arts and Design, and it's one of the initiatives that artesnet is developing to keep track of what's going on in higher arts education. Another, closely related, is the overview of artistic research programmes that will appear on the artesnet site later this year and gradually develop from there. But so far, we're still in the informal stage.

Informal is also what EUFRAD should be. Still, the format is pretty tight: 5 minutes for the supervisor to present the school and programme, 15 minutes for the researcher to present his/her research, 5 minutes for a moderator to comment, and then questions. So far, we've had five of these blocks, and indeed they already have made clear the differences in approaches: from very texty taught PhD's to research programmes that emphasize "the process, not the product" and stress the importance of the viva voce presentation; from dancing designers to documenting filmers; from malleable composition to methodic idiocy.

One marked difference between artistic research programmes is that some are the direct follow-up to an MA, while others are focused more on accomplished artists with a professional record. As far as Edith Doove from IvOK (the Institute for Research in the Arts at Leuven) is concerned, the aim of artistic research is not to help people to a PhD: they should do it from a clear and sustained determination to investigate. And Cel Crabeels, her PhD student, is even more direct: "I have been working as an artist for 20 years, I don't need a PhD for my career or to get a job or something".

Cel's present project consists of filming people in a parking lot under a square, taken out of the public space into a blank space as it were. They are requested either to stand still or to act out their everyday live for one minute. The result reminds me very much of What makes you, the closing film of the ...I see you compilation ELIA made in 2007, where people are filmed with blank faces while in voiceover they describe what makes them happy, angry, and sad. Another of Cel's projects has been to document the fate of the glass sculpture by Dan Graham installed in a lowdown neighbourhood in Antwerp, that was vandalized twice and then rebuilt in a sculpture park. Whereas Graham strives to make work that impresses itself upon the public memory rather than last forever, Crabeels strive to preserve it in artistic record when it's too short-lived to impress itself in public memory whatsoever.

Stephen Forman, a percussionist of repute turned composer ("Steve doesn't want me to mention that he's worked with John Lennon", Steve Broad introduces him) is doing research on polyrhythm, nonstandard instrumentation, and malleable form at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama. The latter term, "malleable form", is of Stephen's own coinage, and incites a question from the audience: to what extent can and should artistic researchers develop their own terminology to talk about what they do? Stephen's pretty pragmatic about this: there just was no extant term that covered it. In fact, it's easier to communicate like this than with musical tech-speak. Still, to the extent that all artistic research presses against the limits of available terminology, the problem with comparing and exchanging results is clear.

The position of research in design at the Politecnico de Milano, Luca Guerrini explains, is problematic: the university is run by engineers that frown upon arty fads. Also, funding for PhDs in the arts is increasingly hard to find in Italy; going international is a matter of material need rather than luxury.

Francesca Telli investigates how performers and designers could learn from each other: not merely in terms of space design, but also in accomodating the body and conceptualizing space. For those for whom these may seem a bit too abstract, she has made a historical overview of parallel developments in performing arts and interior design, stretching from Bauhaus to breakdance and parkour. As a professional dancer, she has also founded the company Schuko, which exploits the potentials of interactive stage design and interventions in public space. I hope she'll burn me a dvd.

Stupidity in the arts is an under-investigated phenomenon, Christoper Poolman (Birmingham Institute of Art & Design) holds. To fill that gap, he has adopted a rather remarkble combination of theory and practice: while surveying the literature for how artist came to affirm themselves by acting weird, he also behaves like an idiot. Well, not onstage, unfortunately (it would have been fun); but the documentation will do to set off some intended giggling. It's good to have been warned beforehand by Joan Gibbons that application at BIAD is not a light-hearted matter.

Johan Stjernholm is a choreographer doing his PhD on Merce Cunningham's BIPED at London College of Fashion. Why is that?, Klaus Jung asks. Because it offered interdisciplinary openings that no dance school could offer, Johan answers. The structure of LCF's gradute education is indeed a plethora of research groups and mixed masters. Johan's own research is concerned with the perception of dance: a close analysis of parts of Cunningham's piece together with a theoretical analysis of how perception is also performative (that is, brings certain things about).

While we're discussing artistic research, workmen are roaming the corridors of GSA, and with the heating switched off, the Mackintosh lecture theatre is getting rather cold in September. Mackintosh was a great architect, but a poor interior designer, Klaus adds: the benches are less than comfy. Still, there are worse places on earth to discuss the state of the art.

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