Owen Chapman, Associate Professor
Faculty of Arts and Science, Concordia University
Louis-Claude Paquin, Professor
Faculty of Communication, Université du Québec À Montréal
Louise Poissant, Dean
Faculty of Arts, Université du Québec À Montréal
Kim Sawchuk, Professor and Associate Dean
Faculty of Arts and Science, Concordia University
This text was originally written in both French and English. The French parts were translated in collaboration with Catriona LeBlanc.
This special issue of Media -N explores various permutations of the term “research-creation” in relation to the community linked to the Hexagram Network for Research-Creation in Media Arts, Design and Digital Culture. The main question for this thematic issue – “What is research-creation?” – was not intended to produce a definitive statement. It was meant to instigate a proliferation of responses stemming from the breadth of experience and practices represented by the Hexagram-affiliated writers, artists, thinkers, makers, and pedagogues contributing to the special issue.
Used primarily in academic research and higher education for over a decade, the term “research-creation” encompasses a variety of practices in art and communication and raises a multiplicity of questions that are methodological and epistemological, ideological and ethical. Research-creation, perhaps most crucially, invites reflection on aesthetics as a collaborative knowledge-making practice. How might our research-creation practices and associated methodologies lead to better understandings of the processes of invention, innovation, and creation? It is not a question of finding means and methods to produce or reproduce artwork to mimic scientific methodologies or to create experiments that can be precisely reproduced. While on the one hand, artistic creation cannot be equated or reduced to method or technique, on the other hand, why have methodology and methods remained taboo in discussions of aesthetics? To preserve the mystery of art and creation? To maintain an air of originality and to elevate the enigma of inspiration? Or, to avoid falling into a kind of technological reductionism, which conflates methods, and especially technologies, with content and ends?
The capacity of art to produce knowledge is an important question. Diversifying and combining artistic approaches with other perspectives borrowed from the social and hard sciences may open new avenues and different ways of asking questions and formulating solutions. More than simply evoking emotion or stimulating reflection by appealing to the imagination or personal experience, art can also produce knowledge, models, and procedures that can be transferred to other spheres of activity. Because research-creation does not reduce art to the role of illustrating theories developed elsewhere, research-creation stimulates innumerable points of connection between the arts and cognitive science, the arts and life sciences, design and management, dance and anthropology, modeling and physics, to name only a few particularly fertile pairings. From this point of view, artistic creation is characterized as an unique perspective that goes beyond considerations of form and matter and, without seeking to present classic scientific ‘conclusions,’ nonetheless provides solutions to very concrete problems and reformulates questions that may have previously appeared unanswerable.
Where research-creation is being most intensely developed is undoubtedly in technology and materials research. For some, this is the essential role of research within the artistic process. Often the product of interdisciplinary collaborations, these research projects produce experiments, trials, transfers – some would say detours – and the adjustment of methods and materials borrowed from other areas of activity, particularly industrial R&D. Combination and improvisation, invention and restoration, simulation and demonstration, operational and procedural design: research-creation’s scope is broad. The digital world of software, plug-ins, and applications recently has launched a frenzied exploration and quest for novelty that affects every aspect of research as much as other materials and production methods used in artistic creation. It is difficult to measure the impact of this research on creation itself. It is no doubt influential, but to what extent? How can the artistic value of research-creation be determined in this context?
The wide variety of approaches to research-creation as an arts-based practice currently emerging in Canada includes practice-based research (Freeman 2010); serendipity and critical making (Ratto 2011); practice-as-research (Allegue 2009), also known as performance as research (Riley & Hunter 2009); research-action (Schön 1992); research through design (Wallace & Yee 2013); cognitive maps (Goldstein, 2011); systems analysis (von Bertalanffy, Van der Maren, 1996); constructivism; autopoiesis (Lambert 2012); enaction (Varela); experimentation (During et al. 2009), and remediation (Bolter & Grusin 2000). This is but a selection of similar approaches guiding research through art, media production, and other forms of making.
The authors brought together in this issue represent the diversity and proliferation of methods represented by the research-creation ‘turn’ in Canada. The keen interest demonstrated in the multifarious research-creation practices and the methodologies that inform them promises many more surprises and astonishing discoveries.
Louis-Claude Paquin and Marjolaine Béland have created a dialogue combining philosophical analysis and narratives of practice that addresses three aspects of research-creation considered through three phenomenological concepts: “chiasm” to qualify the link uniting research and creation, “flesh” to explore the site of research-creation, and “aletheia” to evaluate its results.
Samuel Bianchini begins from the following assertion: research focuses on means, creation on ends. These two distinct but not unconnected processes are the focus of considerable contemplation for the author, who asks: “How can the instrumental dimension, which is at the heart of most approaches in artistic research, be recognized, promoted, tested, organized, developed, and enhanced?” Although concerned with the highly technical, this position cannot be reduced to a ‘technicist’ approach. Calling upon Bernard Stiegler’s notion of organology, Bianchini speaks of organogenesis to designate the creation of instruments used to produce works of art.
Owen Chapman’s text features an interview with sound artist Peter Sinclair, co-director of the Locus Sonus lab at the École supérieure d’art d’Aix-en-Provence. Their conversation ranges over the similarities and differences between France, England, and Canada in terms of integrating creative practice into academia. Central to Chapman and Sinclair’s dialogue is a sustained consideration of the place of ‘artistic-merit’ within contemporary discourse around research-creation methods and outcomes.
Gregory Chatonsky proposes a new conception of research-creation in response to the exhausting, even bewildering, quest for novelty in the digital arts. He develops the notion of “disnovation” to describe works of art that may provide respite by deflecting the technological arts from utilitarian functionality. Chatonsky turns to post-digital practices that have abandoned both innovation and the characteristic spectacle of the 2000s to reveal the extent to which technology has besieged us.
Hart Cohen’s essay outlines the contours of research-creation as practice-based research in the national context of Australia. Cohen suggests that we take care not to over-emphasize research-creation as a mere bureaucratic category created by funders. Offering first a philosophical reflection on the term, Cohen suggests that it is time for practitioners, invested in research-creation, to share best practices to nurture future debate. He offers as example and point of discussion contributions to a 2014 Australian symposium.
Bio artist Tagny Duff asks us to imagine the scientific laboratory as a space for research-creation. In her essay, Duff provocatively and poetically re-conceptualizes Andrew Pickering’s concept of the mangle. The mangle, she writes, is the practice of laboratory science as a space where cultural tensions are articulated through accommodation and resistance to various rule sets and modes of engagement. Duff considers the mangle as a means to describe the complex intellectual, technical, and sensorial processes of her entanglement with biological materials.
David Howes and Chris Salter consider the imbrication of art, anthropology, the senses, and technology. Their piece provides a cogent discussion of the relevancy of the anthropology of the senses for those engaged in research-creation as well as their Mediations of Sensation collaboration. As they assert, fundamental to the sensory turn is the recognition that not only ‘what’ we perceive, but also ‘how’ we perceive, is shaped by culture. Perception is not merely cognitive, but distributed across all the techniques of the senses and technologies of communication.
Serge Lacasse and Sophie Stévance advance an elegant structure for research-creation initiatives in musical contexts based in collaborative projects, where roles are clearly defined. They focus on their recent experience working with Polaris prize winner Tanya Tagaq while mixing her 2014 album Animism. Researchers and creators work together while attending to their own areas of expertise. Such a conception is not closed to cross-fertilization, of course, where the musicologist contributes musical material to a project or a studied artist has a hand in determining research directions and outcomes. But the model of the lone ‘researcher-creator’ doing it all is compellingly contested.
François-Joseph Lapointe views research-creation through the art world’s relationships with the field of science in terms of both practice and ends. He compares research in artistic creation with research in scientific inquiry and the evaluation of results. He also highlights differences between research conducted in pure and applied sciences, as well as links between technology and artistic creation. He arrives at the concept of artscience as a collaborative research space for artists and scientists with a shared experimental approach.
Erin Manning and Brian Massumi address the different ways that research-creation opens up conceptual terrain focussed on process. They describe an open-ended series of tactics for allowing research-creation projects to emerge as dynamic events. This “process seed-bank” includes notions such as outlining “enabling constraints” that allow for the emergence of creative innovations. Manning and Massumi’s contribution ends with an invitation for the reader to suggest their own “process seeds” for maintaining research-creation as a force for radical thinking and practice within the university.
Chantal Provost engages with research-creation from the perspective of knowledge production. She uses characteristics of Michael Gibbons’ Mode 2 of science present within the specific context of transdisciplinary collaboration between artists, scientists, engineers, and social actants. She examines several issues, including knowledge production and results evaluation.
David Szanto explores the confluences between the field of food studies and research-creation. The problem of temporality is raised – when is a project finished? What are the material outcomes that can or should be expected? Citing numerous examples, Szanto outlines what he describes as “research-creation reporting,” involving the momentary crystallization of a research-creation project in the form of an event and/or demonstration. Such a conception is not only or even principally about the diffusion of results. Moments of reporting are where results are constructed and advanced, only to be re-complexified and pushed into new directions.
Sound artist and media theorist Samuel Thulin brings to the discussion the concept of looping to apprehend the articulation between sound and place. Thulin proffers loopiness as a characteristic of research-creation, as a process that turns back on itself in a recursive manner. This “strange loopiness” opens the space for an understanding of the unsteadiness of the two terms research and creation in their inter-relation; it also affirms the value of leaving time and space for repetitions, recursive gestures, and movements that do not follow predetermined pathways.
Finally, following an ontogenetic approach inspired by Simondon’s philosophy of individuation, Gisèle Trudel’s research focuses on documenting residual matter, specifically waste, in a variety of sites where she conducts her activities – video and audio capture, performance, and more. Trudel’s goal is to provoke new sensations and behaviours that make us pay attention. Ultimately, through a kind of pragmatic reversal, she hopes that spectators will develop a feeling of being invested as actants. This participative process seeks to create transdisciplinary, transductive reticulation or network building.
Owen Chapman is co-director of the Montreal Mobile Media Lab, located in the Communication Studies department at Concordia University, where he is also an Associate Professor in Sound Production and Scholarship. His written works have appeared in The Canadian Journal of Communication, Esse, M/C Journal, Public, Wi: Journal of Mobile Media, and Organised Sound. Current projects include AudioMobile (a mobile app for geolocated audio field recording), Echoscape (a virtual audio composition environment) and Audio Toy Box (designing and building communication therapy toys for children with global developmental delay).
Louis-Claude Paquin, professor at the École des médias, is a founding member of Hexagram’s International Network for Research-Creation in Media Arts, Design, Technology, and Digital Culture. Following an extended career teaching and studying the rhetoric and creation of interactive multimedia, he now teaches and contributes to research-creation methodology in Experimental Media and Art Studies and Practices. The book he is currently writing on the topic is available online under a Creative Commons license (http://lcpaquin.com/ methoRC).
Louise Poissant is the Dean of the Faculty of Arts at Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM), where she has directed the Media Arts Research Group (Groupe de recherche en arts médiatiques – GRAM) since 1989. She also directed Interuniversity Centre for Media Arts (Centre interuniversitaire des arts médiatiques – HexagramCIAM), which brings together researchers from Concordia, Université de Montréal, McGill, and UQAM, from 2001 to 2006. She has published many books and articles on media arts in a variety of journals in Canada, France, and the United States. Her accomplishments include directing the compilation of a media arts dictionary published with the PUQ and its English translation in association with MIT Press’ Leonardo journal. An electronic version is available online. This encyclopedic version involves the participation of international artists whose works are excerpted. Her current research examines new technologies in the performing arts as well as bioarts.
Kim Sawchuk is a professor in the Department of Communication Studies, Research Chair in Mobile Media Studies, and Associate Dean of Research and Graduate Studies (Faculty of Arts and Science) at Concordia University in Montreal, Canada. A feminist media studies scholar, her research and writing has long addressed the relationship between embodiment, discourses and experiences of technology. Her current work on this subject traverses two major areas: wireless, mobile communications and biomedical imaging. Dr. Kim Sawchuk is former editor of the Canadian Journal of Communication (www.cjc-online.ca) and co-editor of Wi: Journal of Mobile Media (www.wi-not.ca). Dr. Sawchuk is one of the directors of the Mobile Media Lab (Montreal-Toronto) co-located in the Department of Communication Studies, Concordia University and the Department of Design, York University, Toronto. She is the co-editor of Sampling the Wireless Spectrum, University of Toronto Press (2010).