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Who judges?

16 March 2010

Artistic Research: Evaluation and Canon Formation
Zurich University of the Arts, 29-30 April

There has been a recent shift in the debate about artistic research. The rhetorical battle over establishing PhDs in the arts seems to be largely fought: it is not that there are no doubts about them but they have become an institutional fact, even though it's unsure how long the present exponential growth in PhD programmes can last. But now that people are doing it all around Europe, and there is a larger body of work to judge, the question is rather how to judge it, and how to build upon it. The initial discussion has been large in epistemological terms, raising the rather abstract issue how 'art' could count as 'knowledge' - if that was a question that makes sense at all. This had led to such an enormous theoretical over-determination, both of the work and the reflection upon it, that it became almost impossible to say what was good work. And that seems the more interesting discussion.

Who judges? It is not just a matter of taste but also a matter of discipline formation. To develop a research infrastructure at art academies, it is crucial that the research can be cumulative, that artists doing research can build upon previous work. And this is problematic, because they are still a rather ideosyncratic lot, and because research in the arts so far has been largely identical with PhD programmes. So far, there is not really a point of reference: people may claim that artistic research constitutes a paradigm switch but then what is the paradigmatic work? To date, we haven't really seen a Newton or a Darwin of artistic research, or a research-based Demoiselles d'Avignon. And with the relative lack of "senior researchers" as compared to the number of doctoral students, and channels of dissemination still in development, the issue is not just who has the authority to judge but also where it will have an impact.

These issues have been addressed at length, I hope, at the Arts Research: publics and purposes conference in Dublin last month; at any rate, there is good reason to suppose they will be raised at the meeting organized in Zurich under the auspices of ELIA next month.
Artistic Research: Evaluation and Canon Formation
Zurich, Switzerland, 29-30 April 2010

Meeting organized by Zurich University of the Arts (ZHdK) under the auspices of ELIA

As artistic research is still a rather young discipline, most of the debates surrounding it have so far been concerned with questions of definition: the new field has to be mapped in both epistemological and aesthetic terms, and established politically and institutionally. Consequently, the issue of quality has often remained in the background – although it arises regularly as soon as PhD research or applications for research funding have to be evaluated. Therefore, a canonical body of artistic research projects has yet to emerge. References to such projects are rare and in many instances, accessibility to their documentation proves to be difficult. The connection between the debate on quality and concrete examples of artistic research projects is still rather tenuous.

The programme includes workshops on case studies and theoreticla reflections. Through a discussion of examples from all disciplines, the conference hopes to achieve a better understanding and more general criteria of what constitutes excellence in artistic research.

Download full programme

The proceedings of last year's ZHdK artistic research conference have recently been published as Zurich Yearbook of the Arts , vol. 6: Art and Artistic Research | Kunst und Künstlerische Forschung.

Queries: Fiona Siegenthaler, fiona.siegenthaler [at] zhdk.ch
Conference leader: Prof. dr. Corina Caduff, ZHdK

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