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Who is afraid of Artistic Research?

One-day symposium about the epistemology and context of practice-based research

Who is afraid of Artistic Research?

On Friday, 8th May 2009, the PhD Forum at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art & Design, University of Dundee will host another one-day symposium about the context and methodologies of Artistic Research. The event is a follow-up to the two previous events held on 22 May 2008 and 23 October 2008. Like its predecessors, the symposium
will again bring together an international group of leading theoreticians and reflective practitioners in the field of “practice-based research in art and design”.

While in Europe the discussion is comparatively young and has evolved in recent years mainly as an outcome of the Bologna reforms, practice-based art and design research in the UK has more than a decade of experience. It is one aim of the symposium to interlink these different backgrounds. Another aim is to map the terrain of the diverse approaches to practice-based research and discuss the
different philosophical and art theoretical backgrounds which inform the different models.

What is the difference between research-based art and art-based
research? Why would an artist want to become a researcher? Does the artist researcher conflict with the notion of artistic autonomy? What does the epistemological shift from art production to knowledge
production imply for the actors involved in the field? What are the specificities and styles of artistic knowledge production? How can they become the topics of a research practice that can be regarded as both scientifically and artistically based? What are the goals of such research? What is the desired outcome? These are just some of the
questions which will be explored at this event.

The framework of the “practice-based research in art and design” is still very open and integrative. It allows the artist researcher to develop his/her own methodology within a research process which is highly individual and dependent on the specific subject matter.
Entering the arena of ongoing discussion, negotiation and re-adjustment and engaging in the discourse about epistemology and
methodology essentially contributes to constituting this freedom.


  • Prof Dr Tom Holert (Art historian, Academy of Fine Art Vienna)
  • Dr Sophia Lycouris, artist/ researcher (Edinburgh College of Art)
  • Prof Hinrich Sachs (artist, Royal University College of Fine Arts Stockholm)
  • Prof Dr Gavin Renwick, artist/researcher (Dundee University)

Chair: Dr Ken Neil, artist/researcher (Glasgow School of Art)
Organised by: PhD Forum DoJ, Lindsay Brown and Cornelia Sollfrank

Location: Dundee Contemporary Arts · Nethergate 152 · Dundee DD1 4DX · Meeting Room

The event is free, but advance booking is required: 01382-909900

Tom Holert: Research vs. Research?

The debate on practice-led PhDs and related issues is marked by numerous attempts to reach a working definition of 'research' in the visual arts. To distinguish research that informs artistic practice (by gathering knowledge and collecting material and immaterial references relevant to a particular project) from research that pursues the generation of new knowledge in the realm of practice itself, appears to be one of the more pressing issues in claiming legitimacy for artistic research as such. This endeavour, that prioritises the research-through-practice approach, seems to be as much in accordance with dominant ideas of scientificity and scholarship as in contradiction to notions of research that put an emphasis on social and political agendas of collaborative, self- organized forms of knowledge acquisition and knowledge production within and outside of the disciplinary boundaries of the visual arts, for instance in the tradition of 'militant investigations'.

Elaborating this line of thought, my contribution will try to map some antagonisms of the current discourse on artistic research.

Hinrich Sachs: The Coming 200 Years of Artistic Autonomy

One of the specifics of academic research is its 'comprehensibility', and it is easy to recognise the central role that language plays in this. If one were to accept this tenet as fundamental, requiring linguistic reconstruction of processes and presupposing the linguistic preparation and planning of processes, it is the prospective, written development of issues that leads the artist straight into an obvious conflict with the older concept of the autonomy of art.

Starting from this point, the talk briefly reconstructs the development and significance that the notion of the autonomy of art occupies within the European context of the history of ideas. In the following, various loose forms of the way 'autonomy' is understood and used today are identified. On the one hand artists, gallerists and collectors share a nostalgic view, which is dismissed on the other hand by socially engaged artists and public commissioners, while at the same time it is co-opted under the auspices of today's academia and its research terminology. Perhaps only a rejection of all these uses might be able to point towards the possibilities of a contemporary autonomous artistic practice.

Sophia Lycouris: Towards new metaphors for the relationship between theory and practice in practice-based research

In a dialogue with Michel Foucault, Gilles Deleuze suggested that the relationship between theory and practice can be understood as "a system of relays within a larger sphere, within a multiplicity of parts that are both theoretical and practical" (in Foucault 1977, 206). This was a principle and a metaphor I chose to use in the mid 90s, in order to both explain and justify the processes of my research for a PhD in movement improvisation, which was one of the first practice-based PhDs in dance in the UK. These processes were totally driven by my approach to artistic practice, and therefore it is not surprising that I treated the development of this research as a process of (artistic) composition and visualised the outcome as a piece of choreography, according to my own understanding of this term and how this understanding has been driving my artistic practice for more than twenty years.

Although it was not necessary to be explicit about the kinds of knowledge and processes of knowledge production which were assumed and implied by my approach at the time, these are issues which have become increasingly important since then. To acknowledge the political relevance of such debates and take into account the emphasis on the relationship between academic research and economic development (at least within the European context), it is crucial to understand the character of power relationships operating between different groups with relatively conflicting interests. Despite my intense involvement with the academy in the recent years, the ways in which I respond, make choices and act as an academic, continue to be informed by what I would call an ‘artistic vision’. An important aspect of this vision is to facilitate the development of links between artistic practice and academic research, in order to demonstrate the kinds of insight that artistic practice can offer to academic research. To work towards this aim in the continuously shifting current landscape, I need to engage with debates about the legitimisation of knowledge and alternative modes of knowledge production, become more specific about my notion of academic research as (artistic) composition, and identify/develop new principles and metaphors about the relationship between theory and practice in practice-based research, of course without falling into the trap of formalisation.

For further information about the event including abstracts and biographies please visithttp://www.vrc.dundee.ac.uk/Research/PhD_forum_upcoming_events.html


prof hinrich sachs | talks
prof tom holert | talks
dr sophia lycouris | talks
prof dr gavin renwick | talks


Date and Time:

8 May 2009 at 10:30 am


1 hour



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