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Artistic Research Creates New Insights

Muskelstolen – en apparat för mätning av män, Vägra Döda, Carl Johan Erikson, Björn Larsson,

Over the summer, the terms of artistic research have been debated. The rejection of Bogdan Szyber’s thesis Fauxthentication: Art Academia and Authorship (or the site-specifics of the Academic Artist) lit the spark for a lively exchange of views on whether the academy’s form inhibits the freedom that underlies the modern conception of art. It is an important discussion, at a time when artistic research has established itself as a new research area that is taking on greater significance in both academic research and the artistic field. The conflict between artistic freedom and institutional protocol is also a driving force in the thesis. It points to how easily one latches a new research area on to pre-determined methods and forms of presentation in order to gain legitimacy, and how the text’s central role in the academic tradition makes it more difficult for other forms of expression, such as painting, sculpture, and moving images to take place with the same gravity. Are academic research and fine art incompatible entities, then?

I mean to say that the impression that this summer’s debate has given off – of the fine artist completely unbound and non-commissioned, on the one hand, and the researcher ensnared in the institution’s suffocating net, on the other – is both polarized and misleading. The fine artist is seldom as free as we wish to think, but a part of art’s selection process, grants committees, collectors, critics and curators. In artistic research, we find artists who, based on the practice of fine art, create new knowledge in close exchange with art at-large. But, I would like to emphasize, it is crucial that we dare to take an open stance towards what artistic research can be, and give it the opportunity to find its methods and formulate for itself what it means to conduct research on an artistic basis. Otherwise, it risks solidifying into a pale and ineffective simulacrum of other fields of research.

At the Royal Institute of Art, we have consciously chosen an experimental attitude of what the art academy can be, aware that a new research area can only become truly innovative if it dares to find its own untrodden paths. This attitude has resulted in new knowledge and important works of art that have a bearing on both artistic research and a larger art context. I am often asked what distinguishes our research from other forms of art making. Much and little, I usually answer, and point to an open process that is part of a critical conversation with other researchers, and a substantiation and sharing of knowledge as the crucial threshold. Our research has a strong focus on artistic practice, which often takes place in our workshops and studios. The form of our results therefore has a wide span – a film, an exhibition, a book, a magic trick, a concert – which means that our research exists in an intensive conversation with a larger world than the academy’s conventionally closed seminar rooms.

An interesting question is why artistic research has grown so strongly in recent years. This summer’s debate emphasizes an economic incentive. Where there is money, the artists come. I believe that there is a more definitive reason. Today, we see a shift and widening of the art field—where artists seek new areas, and new definitions of what art is. This challenges the idea of the artist who works by herself in her studio, without a commissioning client. Artists seek out collaborations from a variety of areas, and find new ways of working. In our research environment, we want to be sensitive to such changes and stimulate research that develops art’s forms and contexts. This fall, our courses for advanced-education for professional artists at the research level will address topics such as art in the public space and new collaborative artistic forms of practice. In this way, the art academy opens up to the development of art, and the knowledge we create has an impact on both artistic research and art at-large.

Art schools have always been places where art is made. For an experimental and research-based art form that has had difficulty finding a place within the traditional mediation channels of art, some art schools have become important centers for art creation, that today would most likely be categorized under artistic research. Legendary examples include, of course, Black Mountain College – where John Cage and Merce Cunningham, among others, made groundbreaking works – or the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, which for decades was an important platform for conceptual art, installations, and land art, with names like Dan Graham, Lucy Lippard, Miriam Schapiro and Robert Smithson. I think the kind of probing places that spur mobility between teaching and research, the studio and the academy, school and a larger world are still productive models for the research environment at an art academy.

Sara Arrhenius is currently on administrative leave from her role as Vice-Chancellor in order to research and conduct strategic work at the Royal Institute of Art.