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EUFRAD at the Glasgow School of Art (2)

06 September 2009

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

What's the litmus test for what's good artistic research? According to Johan Haarberg, coordinator of the Norwegian Stipendiatsprogrammet, it's when teachers will tell their colleagues to go and see it. The Norwegian programme, he adds with a slight tone of irony in his voice, does not include a course on methodology. After all the headings 'methodology' that we've seen passing by over the last one and a half days, that's a relief. When artists are supposed to add a header 'methodology' as a disclaimer to their work, and the content of that disclaimer is French thinkers in English translation, one senses that something has gone terribly wrong, particularly in the UK.

EUFRAD is a very friendly meeting of people that want to learn from each other and have a shared interest in art that's difficult, but that doesn't mean there aren't grave controversies. One of them in particular is about entry level. We're not too eager to have fresh MA graduates, people from Leuven and Bergen state. We want experienced artists that know what they're doing when they embark upon a three/four-year project. That's fine, the objection comes, but then we're not talking about PhD level anymore. If the requirement for admission is international standing, then you're hiring senior researchers. And also, who's going to do the quality assurance? Should the supervisors be on a higher level than their pupils? (An equally ironical glance goes in the direction of the Leuven delegation, where one of the students is grey.)

It's a pity there's no one from GradCAM around. GradCAM is the Graduate school for Creative Arts and Media that covers the whole of Ireland, and in that it is similar to the Norwegian and (to some extent) the Flemish programmes, while adhering more to a UK model. Now, it seems as if the UK on the one hand and Norway and Flanders on the other define opposite poles.

Still, for all the differences, there is a common denominator to most programmes: interdisciplinarity, a mix of theory and practice, a large philosophical input, and it's terribly hard to get in.

And there's healthy fun too. Anne-Liis Poll, from the Estonian Academy of Music and Theatre, has invented new way of vocal training based on improvisation. They start with rather dadaistic exchanges of all the unvoiced consonants in the Estonian language. (You don't have to speak Estonian for it.) From there, it goes to voiced consonants, vowels, and syllables – but all of them meaningless in the strict sense. And there's a lot you can do with meaningless noise. You can raise and lower your voice, stretch the sounds or let them follow in rapid progression, move your tongue a bit and see what happens, and engage in wordless dialogue. Together with a student from Glasgow, she engages in highly musical meaningless quibble. It's a great tool, she says, tohelp musically illiterate teenagers discover what they can do with their voice. I think it would be great for a course in phonetics too.

It wouldn't be too bad to be in Wolfgang Ranft's art class either. Wolfgang is at the graduate school at University of the Arts Berlin, and turns the anti-art of Martin Kippenberger into pedagogical practice. After years of being required to be creative with some paint & pastels at prep school, it must be a relief to learn that you can also have others paint for you (“Dear Painter, paint for me”) and that you can mock hostile criticism by standing in the corner and being ostentatively ashamed of yourself.

Elisabeth Belgrano investigates laments and madness scenes in 17th century opera. It's not exactly historical reconstruction what she does, although she takes the trouble of trying a corset and contemporary shoes for two weeks. Rather, she goes all the way exploring sheer madness, giving vent to it in a modern voice. What you get is like Cathy Berberian in the inverse.

Then, there is Ulli Oberlack's wearable light, originally a spin-off from her light-emitting jewellery involving into performance & installation work; there is Jean-Sebastien Poncet's intentionally unobtrusive landmark art; there's Mikael Eriksson who explains that a sound designer is not the sound guy, and Thierry Lagrange who dissects the architect's eye. There have been other presentations today; in fact there have been fifteen over the last two days. Together they give a fair overview of what's going on, even though we're missing both GradCAM and the Orpheus Institute, who are preparing their own research festival two weeks hence. Tommorow there will be keynotes and conclusions, and a plane back home. At 11:45 PM insular time, it seems a good moment to close off for today and see if there's others still at the bar of the Center for Contemporary Arts.

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