translation: Kevin Dooley
SIMONETTA FERFOGLIA (gangart): If I think about our project in Georgia – where a vacuum is already available, then I do think that certain situations can more easily emerge within this vacuum. Sometimes there is more space when everything is not revolving around conflicting interests and power struggles, and everybody doesn’t always feel the need to fill the room with their aura of coolness. If everything is important and difficult it becomes almost impossible to do things that are easy. The working-process is a lot less functional in a place pervaded by strong power relations or where the structure is so preconditioned that whenever you want to do something it ends up being polarised. But this also means that a work, although political, is also politically weak, if it pursues less a desire for power, and rather seeks to enter into a relation. What’s enormously important for good research is, however – and research is indeed action, and it implies a positioning towards one another – it’s enormously important that the roles of those involved are variable roles. We are not all monocultures, and the interplaying elements of people, materials, and situations are also shiftable units. For example, you don’t have to insist upon being defined as a producer, and also those who participate need not be restricted to one role. Accepting that we are poly-humans or poly-figures and that we are dealing with poly-material is not only a method, it is also an ethic.
JOHANNA SCHAFFER: You also give up, if you work along this method or ethic – power of definition, for example.
SIMONETTA FERFOGLIA (gangart): This is simply a different approach to the one with classical left-wing characteristics that is generally concerned with generating space by making a strong gesture. This strong and strongly assertive gesture fixes meanings to begin with, and this is exactly its purpose: to create a space… It is also interesting as a method. Because only once the space is free is it possible to form that space.
JOHANNA SCHAFFER: But as a practice this method is also frequently just very dominating.
SIMONETTA FERFOGLIA (gangart): But at the same time it is also realistic.
HEINRICH PICHLER (gangart): It is sometimes, in a particular environment, simply essential in order to operate reasonably effectively.
JOHANNA SCHAFFER: But aren’t your aesthetics and forms also about something other than simply being effective, isn’t it also about, not straight away steamrolling flat everything that is exciting?
SIMONETTA FERFOGLIA (gangart): But these things are not mutually exclusive. There could be a timeline in which one can operate so that this shifting of roles can be possible, where there could be a set of relations and an action with people within a narrative. And then there is a moment where things are communicated, and its possible to communicate them loudly. We have done projects that have communicated very loudly. And that is perhaps no mistake. Because then, if it fits with the work, it becomes possible to create other moments.
JOHANNA SCHAFFER: Which were your loudly communicating projects?
SIMONETTA FERFOGLIA (gangart): “Fiat!” was very loud and very effectively communicated. In this project, there were people who played the part of creating a space communicatively and organizationally, and that did not contradict other parts of the project. Today we no longer have the leisure to communicate in this way – you asked us yesterday if we no longer make big things… These big things were often big because we thought that we wanted to facilitate a stronger public. I think that the times have changed. Amazingly many people make so amazingly much (laughs) that the whole world is full of people who do something, and so we do other things today. Maybe that loudness isn’t so much fun for us anymore.
Another example: I was at the final event of Carola Dertnig’s class at Stephansplatz. Carola mentioned that the students decided not to advertise the date of the event on the academy website, but rather do the event just for themselves and for any passers-by. For me it made a lot of sense. And they really made some good work, whilst avoiding the current event-boom of the academy, and simply doing the stuff that they do because they do it. And the things they did were beautiful.
Extract from a discussion with Simonetta Ferfoglia & Heinrich Pichler (gangart), Triest, 03.09.2010
Image: Titel Page of des programme GANG ART FIAT! EIN THEATER EVENT IM SCHAURAUM DES FIATHAUSES. Wien, o.J., 16. Mai – 1. Juni (1988)
JOHANNA SCHAFFER: You mentioned that you first encountered the field of artistic research as an institutional field while being in London.
AXEL STOCKBURGER: It all happened quite coincidentally. My partner at the time wanted to do a PhD, but in a theoretical field – she had dealt with information architecture and information sciences – and we had a rather intense exchange about what she was doing and about research in general. At a barbecue I met someone who told me he was working on an artistic PhD, with a scholarship, and how great it was, because he can now read what he wants and also make his artistic work. I thought, this is brilliant, I also want to do this. And then he also told me that the deadline was in a week and a half and that I should apply. I did this, and then I was actually invited for an interview. During the interview I noticed that there was in fact interest in my artistic work. And that’s how I got involved with it.
It was partly very frustrating, precisely because the bureaucracy that you described at the beginning had also taken hold there, and fairly quickly. During this research work I had almost a year of pure preparation time in order to write out the application and to take the next step. The amount of money I received was also connected to this process, i.e. during this year I had about 10 appointments with my supervisor just in order to re-write a clarified application, all of this was paid. A whole year. And it was given back to me again and again. The greatest agony with it was the question, how I could provide my artistic work enough space within the project – so how to open a free space that is undefined, where there are things to do that still remain unresolved? That simultaneously contradicted the structure of the yet to-be-written PhDs, the order of the chapters, etc.
But then, after the application was done, I once again had greater freedom and that was also a brilliant process. I came across many different people from various fields of artistic engagement, but also with people from other areas; cultural theorists, architects. It was a very exciting period, and there was money for it, from which I also lived.
The scholarship was issued by the University of London resp. the London Consortium. I started in 2002 and was finished in 2006. For three of the four years I had funding and was at the LCC, the London College of Communication, there my supervisor was Alan Carlyle. The LCC has a long tradition that is more directed towards applied art, i.e. they did a lot of letterpress printing and typography and so on. But there was also a group of people around Carlyle, who still now has a research group there, which dealt very intensively with sound art and media culture. I went there because of this one person, and it was incredibly exciting to work with him there. And for me this way of working was really something new…
JOHANNA SCHAFFER: You also once mentioned that you’d decided at one point that you would not be doing an arts-based research but a scientific PhD.
AXEL STOCKBURGER: Yes, but I need to now go briefly into more detail regarding the theme. At the time I had spent some years making artistic work that had in various ways to do with people who play computer games. I was mostly concerned about the specific space that emerges in such games – on the one hand there’s a simulated space that is shared by others, on the other hand, there is the physical space in which one remains. This difference between the simulated moving space and the real space has interested me. It had also played a role during my studies with Peter Weibel. I was also fascinated by this image of people who sit motionlessly in front of a device, but actually move within the mind. This was the starting point for several of my works.
Then I noticed that there are other artists who were also interested in this medium of the computer game, some critical, some less critical, but it was as it were a scene of people who had begun to investigate computer games as a medium – in a similar manner perhaps to the way film in the 1970s became important for the arts. Interestingly, I also found that the theme was really completely rejected, at least in 2000, from contemporary art. It was simply mass culture, and therefore completely uninteresting.
There was at best a discussion about the portrayal of violence, and that was generally discussed in connection with children. In any case it was not to be found in museums etc. … This also interested me because in the classical art logic it is a perhaps similar phenomenon to comics at the time of pop art, i.e. as something that was really judged completely outside of the artistic. Then I did a lot of reading up on the subject and wrote the application for the research project. The application was concerned with setting up a relationship between the specific spatiality that is created in the game, and other forms of space, such as spatial representations in the visual arts or in film. My approach was based then on conceptions and representations of space. Over time, the discussion in game studies – that is in the research field that was forming back then- slowly started to accept that spatiality is actually a central moment in these games.
For me it was very exciting to see how a scientific engagement with a medium begins. There were of course, already ten years ago, people who had investigated games and computer games, but there still wasn’t a really dedicated field, no language. There were two or three books on the spatiality within these games, but they were all only interested in aesthetic moments, and not in also comprehending space and spatiality as a social process, and so also to think, what does it mean, where is it that’s being played, who plays there… to really understand space as a much more complex logic. At that point I saw an opportunity to really participate in the development of a research field. I went to conferences and looked – I simply wanted to know what this research was really about, what are the people involved doing, how does that work?
JOHANNA SCHAFFER: (laughs)
AXEL STOCKBURGER: Up to this moment i hadn’t really had anything to do with it. I had read theory, but I was never active in the scientific field. That was also an interesting game, because I constantly felt like an impostor. I was at various conferences, and was always thinking to myself, well, I’m not going to be taken really seriously if I say something. But then if you do this a few times, you realize that everyone washes with water, and that the texts that people present are fairly similar, and how it works with citation, and that very often the same names come up. And what you do if you now hold a lecture or present a paper at a conference, where the big names are also there. That its possible to attack them a bit, but not too much, so all these games that are played in the academic field. I found that interesting because I didn’t know it.
And then I did it a bit, but I realized how the production of art faded into the background. I then no longer knew how my art might have its own space, if I now write about other artists and their practice, claiming that they contain certain spatial aspects – it would therefore be trying to strengthen my theory with examples of these approaches. But how can I then, neutrally, or with a claim to a certain objectivity, position my own work in relation to these other artistic works that I am describing?
And in that case doesn’t my artistic work become merely illustrative, when subordinated to the research and theory that I’m trying to develop? Because what I had been trying to develop was a kind of model, how can one talk about this kind of spatiality, how do you analyze it linguistically, or come to comprehend it. I had the feeling that if I start now to illustrate these moments of theory with artistic work, or try to make a work that sums up everything, then it would merely be an illustration of these theories. That’s not exciting. I just didn’t want to do that. So I took it all apart again. I found no way to produce art that could escape this if it was placed as part of a theoretical work. That would have simply been too separate from what I was doing in my theoretical approach. At this point I decided to give up the artistic-PhD, and to choose a purely theoretical course, so to write a theoretical PhD.
However, i could not have produced the work – and this is important and is also in the preface – had I not developed the artistic work in parallel. The scientific work was therefore not thinkable for me without the artistic practice, but my artistic practice was not placed in the foreground. It is exactly the reverse in my normal artistic work, where my research becomes visible in the artworks. In this case, the artistic engagement was poured into the theory. But if it had been otherwise I would not have been able to take my work seriously. I could not have seriously written about my artistic work analytically. That’s for somebody else to do. I cannot do it without it or explaining it to death.
JOHANNA SCHAFFER: Could you easily hand in this work then in such a way?
AXEL STOCKBURGER: It was a small fight. I had to discuss with them why I made the decision to do a purely scientific PhD work. They said, why don’t you just twist it into shape. I said no, I cannot take it seriously if I do it this way. And then the research board really decided, because of the existing preparatory work, lectures and publications, that I can complete the work in such a way. They said it is still interesting, let him finish it. But they weren’t thrilled, quite the contrary… Everybody was of course looking for examples of artistic research. However, I would say retrospectively that my work is still an example of artistic research, only not in the way that these people might have imagined it. In my case it was a matter of the artistic practice being absolutely necessary in order to produce the theory, but then it couldn’t be part of the results itself. I argued this in more detail in my Phd.
Download Axel Stockburgers PhD Thesis here
Extract from a discussion between Johanna Schaffer and Axel Stockburger, Vienna 28.09. 2010
Image: Axel Stockburger, Quake 1.0 (1998), Audio installation, wireless headphones, Secession, Vienna.
JOHANNA SCHAFFER: My own relationship to the term ‘artistic research’ is, because of the way in which this term is institutionally employed today, rather ambivalent. Simultaneously I find it interesting how that which allows itself to be understood as a description for a very fundamental component of artistic or creative, or also productive work, is additionally limited and also instrumentalized in a context that is, above all, concerned with profits from research funds and access of art institutions to symbolic capital. This narrowing down of a research concept can be found in many places, and particularly in contexts dealing with knowledge-management – i.e. art university managements and funding bodies. (Here I still find our collective letter to the Academy management quite fascinating – the rector Stephan Schmidt-Wulffen also described it, I think correctly, as a manifesto.) But what do you do yourself in your work, or in the variety of your work, with the concept of artistic research, arts-based research?
TOM HOLERT: First of all, “artistic research” is for me – as a discourse and as a practice, so as a discursive practice – a subject of investigation and study. I’m interested as a historian and as an art historian in the genesis and genealogy of this term, for its diverse, often conflictual pre-histories, its differing, deviant, and asynchronously developing narratives or narrations. I am interested also in the question of what this term might also be, independent of or beyond the institutional necessities of higher-education politics, which we can perhaps still speak about, on the one side as supposedly practical and accessible and what on the other side, makes it so difficult to comprehend. It is, after all, and contrary to the official rhetoric of implementation, a disputed and eminently contestable concept. This contentiousness or the attractiveness cum contentiousness distinguishes it for me already – namely as the object of my historical, genealogical interest, particularly in the history of artistic self-understanding, artistic self-comprehension and artistic knowledge.
This interest has been a relatively long preoccupation. I began in the late 1980s to write my doctoral thesis and to concern myself with concepts of artistic ability, artistic competence, and artistic aptitude in the environment of the 18th century French encyclopedists. However, this for me has always been less about forms of knowledge and cognition in a purely epistemological regard. My focus on social/practical, and thus institutional and economic distributions and territorialisations of access to knowledge was certainly shaped by French knowledge theory and science history and above all by their power-theoretical revision through Michel Foucault, but also by the studies on historical semantics in the underrated volumes on “Social Structure and Semantics” from the sociologist Niklas Luhmann – plus, of course, by the critical designs of feminist and post-colonial epistemologies.
I am fundamentally interested in regimes of knowledge, and in the way in which power and knowledge constitute themselves as power-knowledge. Because next to the strongly emphasized approach to the economic and material conditions of such processes, this genealogical knowledge and analysis of practice is for me one of the few possibilities of carrying on the work of the Entselbstverständlichung (“dismantling the self-evident”) of artistic praxis: in that one asks oneself, how does it happen that people know and do something in a certain way, and encounter the results of this knowing and doing with a certain reception and flow into certain processes of channelling, or processes of forgetting. And that has to do with, among other things, whether there is a correlation between the way in which a society in a particular historical situation orientates itself along particular philosophical and ideological lines, as well as particular scientific paradigms, and whether these orientations then, and this has been the task of art since modernism, are disputed or affirmed by art.
A central interest within my current research projects is also therefore to see to what extent certain forms of artistic research, that emerge as such very explicitly or more or less explicitly, already mirror existing or dominant forms of presenting processes of knowledge, or to what extent they develop something like an alternative form of knowledge production, an alternative form of pedagogy, a counter-informational practice, which might then even evade the habitual form of the rules and agreements within other sectors of society, with counter-information or counter-knowledge, or act again critically for that purpose.
This also interests me because one of the main problems of legitimizing artistic research in this third cycle area of the art universities, in the post-graduate context, can be found in the question, what differentiates this form of knowledge-practice, from artistic-scientific practice, and from science in the traditional sense. Can this field convincingly communicate and reason why it’s necessary to create separate studies for this? And how can this field cope with the unmanageable, and for good and now historical reasons, non-limitable spectrum of possible interests, possible research subjects? (laughs)
JOHANNA SCHAFFER: Whats your answer? To the question of how it differentiates…
TOM HOLERT: I’m currently reading a newly published book, in which two architectural theorists try to solve this problem within their field: “The Knowledge of Architecture” from Gerd de Bruyn and Wolf Reuter. With architects it’s not so dissimilar to the situation with fine artists, just a little more extreme. Architecture is also facing the loss of recognition as an individual discipline due to the threat posed by the changes to higher education, the pressure of budget cuts and bologna-isation.
And what it threatens, at least according to the authors, is the sad existence of an applied subject in colleges, and a shadow existence in the art universities. So they try to emphasize architecture as a science and therefore as something worth researching. They do this by addressing the specifics of planning knowledge. They emphasize that the planning process and design process etc. are things that have a unique quality, something so specific that it can only be part of its own scientific discipline, which is then called architecture, a discipline in which it is taught, learnt, and researched.
This doesn’t totally convince me. Because within this search for the epistemologically unique features of architecture as a practice, a strong disciplinary moment is hidden, a withdrawal from the transdisciplinary spaces of movement that were fought for in the engagement with the modernist tradition in architecture, and certainly even more so in the fine arts.
As for artistic research, I see nearly no possibility of justifying in this way the definition of a type of core existence or a core field of abilities that can then be sorted according to various considerations of use. I think its more a matter – and in this regard artistic research is then effectively perhaps in the best sense a modernist discipline – of constantly posing the question of what such a self-justification might look like. Artistic research therefore has to constantly work with pre-definitions, just that this work would not happen whilst trusting the sustainability of such definitions.
This is very cumbersomely formulated. And basically I will probably all too gladly hover around the answer to this question, and for now propose artistic research as a relatively arbitrary term that could be helpful for the establishment of a new type of postgraduate study at art academies, which – as unlikely as success here might be – would continuously deal with its own conditions and functions within the neoliberal university. I would have nothing against deciding at some point to call it something completely different, and simply say that after a Masters course there is another level of education where artists, in a more or less protected institutional framework, can delve into certain questions, also very fundamental ontological questions, in order to then in turn let that engagement influence their practice.
But trying to grasp something like artistic research as a field separate from scientific research leads, in my opinion – and I’ll gladly repeat this – to an essentialism of art. Because its precisely there, where its unexpected and not at all obvious to do this, that the differentiation, the distinction, ultimately only becomes possible by overloading the concept of art with substantialist terms or attributes such as spontaneity, experimentality, intuition, creativity, the feeling for form or whatever. Ultimately one can’t say anything more about it, because in that moment where one might say, critical thinking or (laughs) etc. one becomes very non-specific.
If one is looking for something very art-specific – and that’s why I keep on posing this question, if I know that after that no answer is possible, or only one, the unavoidable disappointment is left out – then there is always the threat of a relapse into aesthetic fundamentalism or existentialism. This is especially valid for the attempts currently underway to establish this distinction in the search for a sharply distinctive notion of the “artistic” within artistic research. Which might be encountered by saying: so our concept of art is one that is dominated by institutional critique, that is, it always already regards art as a discursive or social production, as always already historically and socially conditioned etc. Also this turn is, I find, not so satisfactory, not least because it’s so trivial.
In this respect I’d rather advise not allowing this definitional stress to trouble one’s own actions too much (laughs)… and to try and establish specific contexts in which its possible, among other things, to think about these issues, but also about others, and exactly about those that one can solve with aesthetic, poetic and artistic means – whatever they might be. And it’s not at all possible, or even imaginable here, to have a formulation of what fine art is that avoids being very generalising.
Excerpt from an interview with Tom Holert, Vienna, 25.10.2010.
JOHANNA SCHAFFER: What do you find helpful about the term artistic research in your own practice, and what not?
JOHANNES PORSCH: Difficult. I think that what’s helpful and opens up an opportunity is that it’s a term in need of constant explanation. So participation in a project about artistic research, in working on this clarification, offers the possibility of locating one’s own practice – and not just by saying that one is doing artistic research, but in working with such a term one can with this word, (long pause) one can within their own practice (pause) … I think the term enables me to define my own form of work. This however happens less concerning the concept itself, and more in terms of the way ongoing calls for historical and contemporary artistic positions exist around or above the concept, its these with which one is occupied. Moreover this conceptual field allows me to make the statement: “I make art.” Previously I couldn’t have said it in this way, simply because I have not worked in the field of art – although I very well comprehend my practice as an artistic practice. The concept or the moment at which I come into the field of artistic research, opens the field of art for me as a participant. And that is because the concept brings with it a certain ambivalence as openness or obscurity, which however also needs to be clarified. Within this work of clarification, I can sometimes cooperate and in this way locate myself.
JOHANNA SCHAFFER: Yes, that makes a lot of sense to me – it also seems to have a lot to do with your work in recent years, I think.
JOHANNES PORSCH: Yes. I’ve worked a lot on the question of performance and exhibition, and how representing or presenting also contain moments of performance, and thus exhibition; and how in the transmission of content the narrative style of the moment comes into play in the mediality itself – through a certain bringing-into-play of mediality, for example the mediality of language, or in the arrangement of images and text, or in the interaction of space, image and text (ask?). This also means that knowledge-transfer functions firstly in the activation of one’s own way of reading and in challenging ways of reading more generally – so actually in the problematisation of knowledge-transfer through the exhibition as a site of performance.
This is also true for my project jardin d’hiver after Marcel Broodthaers, or also the project with Hedi Sachsenhuber, “Art and Politics”, whereby it was perhaps the most reduced because there we really worked purely visually, or “China Production”, or the “Moscheen Buch” (“Book of Mosques”), in which the concern was to present these considerations in the medium of a book, and as a strategy in public space.
JOHANNA SCHAFFER: Heinrich Pichler from gangart suggested that for him the term artistic research also enabled him to describe his, or gangart’s work, that they anyway always do, which untill that point had remained unthematized and unpaid, but was still a necessary component of the work. With the term artistic research this part or this dimension of the work gained a framework, became presentable, and became reclaimable as part of their practice.
JOHANNES PORSCH: I have the impression though, that this part is nevertheless not really valid as art, not as art with a capital A.
JOHANNA SCHAFFER: Ah, so you now make a different move to Heinrich. He described artistic research as part of his production and you use it as the name for a practice, not as part of a practice… but actually an artistic practice.
JOHANNES PORSCH: But this is a practice that cannot be closed. Generally, there are of course no secure genres anymore, they have all unravelled. But in cases of artistic research it is once again different, because on the one side it’s a new type of tendency that’s called for, and on the other it is anyway simultaneously also a part of every practice. Everyone who produces needs to research.
Extract from a discussion with Johannes Porsch, Vienna, 14.09.2010
Image: Content Pages, in: Johannes Porsch, Architekturzentrum Wien (Hg.): Un jardin d’hiver*, präsentiert : 3.4 ways of power ; wie Architektur in Modernisierungsabläufen Vorrichtung ist, … ; [*nach: Marcel Broodthaers, Un jardin d'hiver (objet-sujet), 1974]. Hintergrund 32, Wien 2006.
JOHANNA SCHAFFER: What do you do with the term artistic research, what does it bring you? Does it bring you anything at all?
DIEDRICH DIEDERICHSEN: On two levels I was hoping that it would at least bring me something. The first level concerns the ordinary business of art criticism and arguing about art. Because these new label-like terms have, if any, the advantage of making certain stages of development identifiable, which can then – after the adoption of such categories, that are indeed still vulnerable – no longer be discussed as entirely without preconditions. This saves energy and is helpful for the community close to the discussion, even if it continually leads to the names of certain things being generally regarded as granted, and those things that are then taken for granted are different things. But I had thought that this term was able to describe something – namely, a state, from which it became apparent during the 1990s that it was no longer up to date: that artistic works co-thematize their own frameworks, or if not, specifically ignore them. The hope was that ‘artistic research’, just by awakening institutional greed and institutions that also wanted to establish something, might be able to give this state of 90s art and it’s mistakes and shortcomings a name.
The other hope was directly connected to what was happening in institutions. It wasn’t in Vienna that I was first confronted with the term, but much earlier, towards the end of the 1990s at the Merz Academy in Stuttgart. At this university we were interested in the implementation of a specific engagement with theory and generally the genre of discussion, that it wasn’t only about a table of contents and already pre-recorded knowledge, but about being involved in the creation of this knowledge oneself.
At the same time, it was also about promoting all of this, and not only in discussions amongst colleagues and students, but also in terms of external financing. At the Merz Academy, part of a private college that was also dependent on support from public funds, this term was extremely useful. It also corresponded very well to the mode of operation there, far better than that of an art academy, because the people working there were already much more oriented towards intermediate targets, because they were either filmmakers or graphic designers or so-called new media people. And these three areas all have much more to do with intermediate outcomes or relatively short-term project objectives, or simply just have an idea about it. And this is a way of working that much more closely resembles the conventional idea of research. That the term research also promised another standard and thus another level, was also not so bad.
But that was also the time in which I was first confronted with the political and educational reality of this term. During this period you were strongly thrown back into international debates, like those had in organizations such as ELIA, and if you wanted money and support you had to be geared towards the term artistic research that then existed in Brussels.
JOHANNA SCHAFFER: When was that?
DIEDRICH DIEDERICHSEN: Around about 2000 or 2002. The Merz Academy was, in accordance with German law, only a college, but it also offered a Masters course as part of a European network. The EU regulation at the time meant that if a university in such a network could offer a Masters and graduation in the same area, then other universities in connection with this university could also do the same. So we then also offered a Masters course, and I supervised PhDs at this university that were formally issued by the University of Portsmouth, whichever way it had to be involved. For this reason this university was also very closely connected with the British higher-education landscape and had this specifically British and often very bureaucratically led version of the debate around its neck very early on. But one also of course experienced the resistance that was then forming against this in the UK at the time.
And then there was this conference about artistic research – my first conference of this kind. And I was shocked at what they meant with research… they simply meant that if you work artistically then you simply also research a little bit and so… (laughs) that was staggering. At this first conference in which I was involved there were people, like those we also know from Vienna, that were simply anti-intellectual. And then there were those who had already made their peace with this idea, but the peace was created out of a crushing pragmatism. So there were people from music universities there who said e.g. if you want to play a violin piece from the 18th century then you’ll need to concern yourself with how rhings were back in the 18th century. That’s then research. That was the second experience with the term.
And then there is also a third, as I realized to what extent the term artistic research is an integral part of the Bologna process; that artistic research is a term that emerged in the process of the unification of universities, that only receive certain funds if they can demonstrate research – and that’s naturally a category that is referenced when discussing the connection of universities to the requirements of the private sector. The art universities now had to develop artistic research, and they still do not have a sense of the extent to which, at least conceptually, they participate in the discourse on the utilitarianisation and economisation of higher education. People like us always think: research is just a totally useful term and so the political and educational context fades away: as a rule research in the natural sciences means product development – fortunately there are such anaologous products in the art field – and not at all in the humanities, but in that case there would perhaps be no artistic research at all.
At any rate, this context is heading in a totally different direction than my erstwhile youthfully naive idea to use “artistic research” to ennoble the advanced practices that already exist at most universities; or what does ennobling mean, it simply becomes the way in which it is institutionalized. One defends it, gives it certain rights within the university, so that instead of being what it was up till that point, namely an outsider, it is suddenly an indispensable part of the university. That would in itself be an interesting opportunity, but there are of course very different forces within the university system, and therefore it does not usually come to this.
JOHANNA SCHAFFER: What do you mean with advanced practices?
DIEDRICH DIEDERICHSEN: To put it mundanely everything that’s not covered by the canonized subjects – painting, sculpture and new media. Although to a large extent, new media could even belong within this. Everything that isn’t shaped on the one hand by an ideology of handicraft, and on the other by the ideology of artistry, so everything that happens beyond the criteria of originality and craftsmanship. This can be project-oriented work in space, but it can also be aesthetic research, which starts with the sensory organs, or politics or psychodelia. Somehow it’s also exactly about the things that end up repeatedly stranded… So if one looks at the people who don’t really fit in anywhere within the traditional subjects, who then end up in such activities somewhere, they are the ones doing the most different things, and are not cocooned within this departmental logic. They are mostly either politically engaged people or they are headstrong crackpots, or both …
JOHANNA SCHAFFER: But just about every art university today says that they would want to have a structure in which people can move freely and could e.g. work in a project-oriented manner. And other people who teach at universities anyway find that they help people, above all, to be artists. But what happens when these positions, that you now describe on one side in regards to content and on the other as being simply headstrong, so as political or as very headstrong …
DIEDRICH DIEDERICHSEN: Political for me in this case is also still not in regards to content.
JOHANNA SCHAFFER: Ok, but in this way of defining and describing don’t you end up producing a new genre (and I ask myself whether this has already happened in our PhD in Practice)… The point I want to make is that after a certain point it’s perhaps simply also more important to understand this term of research purely tactically and to keep it as open as possible. But your argument is also effectively tactical, right? You did say that the term interested you because you had believed that it’s possible to affirm certain forms of work – that are continuously marginalized at art universities – as necessary.
DIEDRICH DIEDERICHSEN: Yes but for me it’s not about everything that’s marginalized, but rather those that are marginalized for the wrong reasons. Bad reasons are either already obsolete disciplinary reasons i.e. defined in a discipline or through informal and non-transparent conventions that have ensued in the everyday. I don’t mean that artistic research should be a collection bowl for all those who, for whatever reasons, don’t fit in anywhere, but for those who want to make something else out of the concrete negation, who want to make something else out of the experience of being specifically restricted; who don’t do it from an absolute negation, because they actually would have preferred to be lawyers or kindergarten teachers, but rather from a concrete negation because there are very specific things that they cannot make; but also still want to develop the argument that they have already developed; and who don’t want to accept this argument simply as whim or fate, but rather those who are systematically interested in their own conflicts and confrontations.
Extract from a discussion with Diedrich Diederichsen, Berlin 29.01. 2011
JOHANNA SCHAFFER: What do you do with the concept ‘künstlerische Forschung’ or ‘artistic research’? Does it bring you anything? Do you use it in your own practice?
STEFANIE SEIBOLD: Within my own practice I don’t find it to be so useful. For the combination of a group such as ours, that understands itself as a research group, I find it helpful, on certain… but that’s the case for many terms, whether its ‘cubism’ or whatever, you don’t always know exactly where they come from and if they bring something, and sometimes they do bring something. And in the sense of a community that at least comes together temporarily… or to place attention on one aspect of our work, that for some probably happens more normally… and it may even be interesting for a while, to reflect on things under a certain label. Also in relation to individual working methods – our project is also about this – to look at them again from another standpoint, or to illuminate them from a different point of view.. or to ask oneself, am I actually doing that which is referred to as ‘artistic research’?
And where is research, where is the artistic, and where or when do they meet? And also to consider, within the group, how the various working approaches differ from one another – which also helps in looking at individual working methods in another way. This is done using very simple questions, e.g. how text-intensive is a practice, and what differentiates, or doesn’t differentiate, that which a theorist does, from that which I do. Questions such as these have enabled me to find myself in relation to the project. And there’s also a reason why you’ve asked me whether I’d participate in the project, so there’s something that connects that is not only called up by me, but that also functions for others. And to use that – and I find that I can use this well in the project – that brings me something. But if I think of my own artistic work and what I want with it, the label artistic research would almost be misleading. Then it’s almost debilitating.
JOHANNA SCHAFFER: What do you mean with debilitating, or that it can be misleading?
STEFANIE SEIBOLD: Within the project I found it to be partially misleading. I sometimes had the feeling, on the basis of this label, or project-proposal-budget-titles, that I now needed to research like mad and keep records on gridded paper. The term ‘research’ sometimes settled upon me like a great weight on the neck… like a shadow, that… and this self-conception, with which I’d otherwise go to the library, or do something elsewhere, was replaced with ‘I must now prove how much I research’. And then I had other moments where I thought, wait a minute, I don’t need to prove anything, not to myself nor to anybody else.
But I find it a very powerful term – ‘research’ – very much referring to the scientific context from which it came, regardless of whether the word artistic now comes before it or not. This connects it very strongly with normative ideas: how I should sit, and that I should make an entry for the slightest discrepancy in a long list or table, which I then upload onto a computer… so is it really possible to discover something empirically or prove it with this kind of research? But in fact artistic work is not actually about proving something, this I had to constantly point out to myself.
I found it interesting that I was simultaneously working in a more concentrated manner and more on this research, and also, for a long time, didn’t exactly know what the outcome would be. Then I realized, it is important for me to consider where that might lead, because I would otherwise think to myself that I am not a researcher, why do I sit here and look at everything a hundred times over? Almost like a school-assignment… And that’s normally, if I do something, also not the case
Then I’d look at something and perhaps more quickly extract that which interests me. But I don’t find that wrong, everything came together very well. I only mean that this term for me whilst working was sometimes a pain in the neck, and also, that it is a misconception that originated with the term research, and so also the results… you put something online and need to be at every meeting. There were so many things that I saw as strange, and yet also understood as a normative pressure, although it turned out – and probably quite differently for everyone involved – that it doesn’t function that way at all, but that we rather have to find entirely different forms.
JOHANNA SCHAFFER: This normative pressure also comes from many sides.
STEFANIE SEIBOLD: From the funding bodies or from the idea of funding bodies…
JOHANNA SCHAFFER: Yes. And the feeling that one has to explain oneself and legitimize the fact that one gets so much money. But I want to come back again to another one of your thoughts – you stated that with this research imperative came a self-conception – with which you always went to the library – that suddenly got lost and was replaced by a nerdy ‘one must now make it precisely so, and even more precisely’…
STEFANIE SEIBOLD: … and dig out the final document from the last corner…
JOHANNA SCHAFFER: and make space… there’s also already an interesting difference, but that’s also effectively what research requires in the humanities. Good research means you know as much as possible about the subject in which you are working. This is not a norm that is valid for an artistic work. But you describe that suddenly for you, as an artist working under the banner of research, how this standard suddenly took hold, and that you had to proceed more thoroughly and comprehensively. And then, you say, that’s not necessarily just a mistake, you also then found it interesting at some point.
STEFANIE SEIBOLD: Yes, and still this term research produces pressure, and it directs itself against other artistic techniques that aren’t so easily formulated with words. That’s what I find difficult. Because here at the art academy, there are still many different techniques and approaches on offer, and one actually has quite a lot to choose from…
JOHANNA SCHAFFER: You were also talking about another institution of art education that was very much headed in the direction of the artistic research notion in the mid-1990s, and simultaneously closed down its screen-printing workshops…
STEFANIE SEIBOLD: Yes, as if artworks no longer needed to be materialized. And if there’s a format that lends itself to conceptual and post-conceptual practice then it must be print. If need be one can use the machines to produce books.
JOHANNA SCHAFFER: Yeah but the people that talk about social processes of deskilling and reskilling in the art profession would maybe say that today the artist just delegates the screen-printing. However what that neglects, it seems to me, is that as an ambitious artist today one needs to mediate a believable material proficiency.
STEFANIE SEIBOLD: An educational situation is, in my opinion, a very specific situation in the process of becoming an artist, and therefore it’s important to try things out oneself. You need experience in creating and making things yourself. You not only produce knowledge, but through a process of making and a certain throwing away, and then making something else, and through seeing the colours, you gain significant insight, and this enables you to later say how you want to have something. Making is also a way of thinking with materials, forms, and content.
Making is thinking. You can’t award a building contract for a sculpture if you don’t know whether the wood will split, even if there is always a certain unknown factor. But thinking with material can only take place like this. And this learning with the material, whether its screen-printing or whatever else, doesn’t mean you have to be great at it in the end, but the engagement with it is somehow part of a learning process that also concerns what it’s later possible to delegate to companies.
Extract from a discussion with Stefanie Seibold, Vienna 16.03. 2011
Image: Stefanie Seibold, detail from Queer-Frieze, Galerie Klemm’s, Berlin 2009