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Wise words from a house-builder

10 September 2009

Urban Knowledge at the Dutch Artistic Research Event, and something about EUFRAD too


It's been three days since the European Forum of Research Degrees in Art & Design closed off in an athmosphere of enthousiasm and community feeling. Even for the odd artistic research sceptic, it was the sort of moment that makes you proud and happy to be there. Dame Janet Ritterman reviewed the state of artistic research now, and Stuart Evans described with characteristic wit how he arrived there.

(Janet is, among many other things, behind the report of the Österreichische Wissenschaftsrat reviewed earlier on this blog, and will be keynote speaker at the ELIA Leadership Symposium in December. Stuart is revitalising the MATRIX conferences on artistic research that used to set the agenda before.)

Then, at the closing session, there was a long discussion about how to proceed, now that we have had a forum for three days. No concrete decisions were made, but the need for a continuing European Forum was felt widely. Elisabeth Belgrano tells that she attended a meeting of EURODOC, the European Network of Doctoral Researchers, in Gothenburg last week, and that she was surprised to find none of the representatives had ever heard of artistic research. Here EUFRAD could play a role.

Someone from the audience suggests that there could be more experimental forms of presentation more appropriate to artistic research. I can't find in my notes who it was, it wasn't me, but it's certainly a view I share. One would expect the presentation of an art-science-hybrid to be more of a hybrid event, not a powerpoint, but more something like a performance lecture. Experiments in this vein have been done in music at least (the so-called "audi0-lectures"), and it would make artistic research more accessible to the public if its events had something more of a festival format.



Something of such a festival format, in fact now running, is exemplified by the Dutch Artistic Research Event (DARE) in Utrecht. DARE is organized by the Utrecht Graduate School of Art and Design (MAHKU) at Utrecht School of the Arts, and features lectures, screenings, degree shows, and a symposium. This year's symposium, curated by Mika Hannula, revolved around the problems of curatorship for art in public space, under the title Urban Knowledge. It took place at the Centraal Museum Utrecht today, a monasterial maze of underground corridors and modern design interventions, with a medieval ship in the basement and video projections in the chapel.

That is not to say there was anything unconventional about the format of the symposium, except that you had to get plastic coins from Mika Hannula to get drinks afterwards. In fact, the link between curatorial practice and artistic research was not always clear. Four curators talked about the issues they had to deal with when commissioning work for public space, or at least outside the exhibition space. (Hans Haye van der Werf, who even curates work in prisons, objects against the use of 'public space' for 'everything else'.) Mika Hannula is quick to stress the political dimension of these issues: for him, the contribution of such artistic intervention lies in how to come from an awareness of social constructs to 'social imagination' that transforms them. Here, he points to engaged work such as John Johnston's with Belfast gangs, and Igor Grubic's with gay rights in Belgrade and Zagreb. "We should get rid of the illusion of neutrality. We're not innocent, we're part of the mess." Therefore, Hannula calls for art that is contextual, constructive, conflictual and compassionate; research that is not about knowing it all but about situating ourselves. In one phrase, it is about "how you are here".

A lighter note is struck by Jan-Erik Anderssen, who is introduced as "probably the only artist who lives in his research." Contrary to the Finnish tendency for white walls, he has gained his PhD by intervening in public space with his own dream house. The result, now two weeks inhabited, continues to affront architects who hold that such artistic projects do not qualify as architecture proper. But for Jan-Erik, a fruitful collaboration between architects and artists entails that you have to bracket the question "is this good architecture?" at least at the outset. In a sense, he has achieved what Claire Doherty described earlier as a true collaboration, where both parties are changed by the project. At a certain point, he discovered that "my own brain was probably not the best" and came to see collaboration as an art in itself, not a compromise. Hannula comments: "Wise words from a house builder."

Well, you can judge for yourself at www.anderssonart.com/leaf

Having laid my plastic coin down and swallowed the closing drink, there was still time to see the MAHKU design degree show 10 mins. away. What particularly impressed me was the way in which the MA thesis essays were presented at the exhibition as catalogues - something, certainly, that keeps the students from submitting a few photocopies in a binder. In terms of intervention in public space, there's a honourable mention for Pyo-Yae Wuong, who plans to link patches of vacant roof space with stairways bridging the street, and Ricardo Villagomes, whose three-dimensional, semi-public, semi-private living spaces are inspired by Mexican vecindads.



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