Tuesday 8 October 2019

Artistic Beachcombing

There are a lot of things wrong with the term 'artistic research'.
The very first of which is that it implies that any other kind of art doesn't do any research, which obviously isn't true. Even if we take the works of Picasso, the most blasé and romantic example of modern art, it is easy to see that his oeuvre progressed by constantly questioning his own working methods and reconsidering what he knew about painting to gain a greater understanding of his own capabilities. This is almost a definition of what research is.
So let us contrast his method with a short list of things I've seen presented as artistic research in exhibitions. Among many other things I can't recall, I've recently seen photographs of items labeled as contraband at JFK airport; metal washers arranged by date and location; a framed royal decoration; copied letters to a seismological institute and a 3D scan of a nineteenth century fountain.
All of these are unaltered materials that were simply found in the world. They were acquired through what can be considered exploratory research, but then they were not expanded or touched upon in any way. They simply were presented as they were already available in the world.
If you, as a researcher, are presenting stuff that you haven't altered, commented upon or added any kind of insight to, what you're presenting doesn't even remotely resemble research results and what you're presenting should be called source material.
It is thus ironic that 'artistic research' commonly seems to be the only kind of art that in fact doesn't do any research at all and merely presents what is already known. A term like 'artistic beachcombing' would be therefore be a much more accurate description, but I guess that would pretty difficult to sell so well.