The constellation of things and practices. Pluralistic paths in artistic research methodology
Artistic research methodology is pluralistic, variable and pliable. It is a constellation of research things and practices that contain numerous possibilities and solutions and it underpins a dualistic concept: the predefined path set by the researcher’s subjective background and the unprecedented path where new insights, understandings and products come into being. Percussionist and marimbist Adilia Yip proposes a two- step modus operandi – reduction and prejudice – to help artist-researchers develop and justify the appropriate tools and techniques in forming a method.
Artistieke onderzoeksmethodologie is pluralistisch, veranderlijk en buigzaam. Ze vormt een constellatie van onderzoeksdingen en -praktijken die een veelheid aan opties en mogelijkheden in zich dragen. Er is bovendien een dualistisch concept op gestoeld: het vooraf uitgestippelde pad bepaald door de subjectieve achtergrond van de onderzoeker versus het onvoorziene pad waarlangs nieuwe inzichten, opvattingen en producten opduiken. Als percussionist en marimbaspeler stelt Adilia Yip een modus operandi in twee stappen voor – reductie en vooroordeel – om kunstenaars-onderzoekers bij de ontwikkeling van een methode de juiste tools en technieken te helpen bepalen en verdedigen.
Methods in artistic research can be seen as a constellation of things and practices,1 made up of numerous intersections of possibilities and solutions, objects and subjects, processes and experiences, actions and thinking, interpretations and theories.2 I observe that methods are pluralistic, variable and pliable in nature – the methodological pluralism3 – for two reasons: first, artistic questions are capable of having more than one answer and different answers to the same question provide different levels of understanding and satisfaction to different audiences.4 Hence, the unique nature of art knowledge does not justify only a singular, linear method of research.5 Second, methods in artistic research are interpretative and idiosyncratic; they conjoin with the experience and the subjective background of the artist-researcher.6 Method is made up of intertwined paths of both predefined and unprecedented knowledge. In this article, I will refer to daily examples, literature, theories and projects of artistic research to validate my observations of methods and then, contribute a two-step modus operandi – reduction and prejudice – for artist researchers to justify the appropriate methods for their researches.
The pluralistic, variable and pliable nature of methods
Depending on the aims and questions of the artist-researcher, I argue that the methodological constellation contains a diverse range of ineffable/sayable, epistemic/experiential, intangible/tangible existences – the research things – such as thoughts, knowledge, narrations, reflections, artefacts, experiences, emotions, sensations, audience, environment, data and measurements, ideologies and theories. These things are connected by practices, meaning the activities, actions and processes that we do and perform to develop the research (Fig. 17 ).
Using music performance research as an example, I have rendered the constellation into a multidirectional distribution network model (Fig. 28 ), where the dots represent the things and the lines represent the numerous possibilities of practices.
Such a constellation is evidenced in the hermeneutical and experimental methods in each individual research,9 when the artist-researcher is often untangling the coiled up multidisciplinary knowledge and methodologies. For example, the research of artist filmmaker Julie Marsh (2019) is situated at the centre of the sociological, technological and historical oscillations between site, artist, device and viewer. To develop a site-integrity methodology, Marsh devised custom-made machines (recording and displaying devices) to adapt potentially and spontaneously to the needs of the site and to reveal the material, architectural, social, political and institutional discourses that were present at the site. The machine was therefore given a presence within the artwork itself. It acted as a multidimensional agency and worked as the object, subject, time machine, mediator, investigator and/or social operator. The machine has both provoked and rendered the numerous facets of experiences provided by the site to the viewer.10
Further, I will relate the artistic research constellation to the complexity and capability of the most powerful systems in the modern world – Internet of Things (IoT) and artificial intelligence.11 An IoT network can draw information from and communicate the real-time status to each member of the network without a human mediating that information. The network keeps track of and monitors the interrelated things once the information becomes available (i.e. human to network) and the network knows exactly when things need attention (i.e. network to network) (Fig. 3). So it seems the work of an artist-researcher will be simpler, if artificial intelligence and IoT may categorize and cluster the research things and practices. Pianist and researcher Giusy Caruso (2019) has applied AI to build a reference tool to study the performance practice12 of contemporary compositions. By using motion-capture technology, Caruso created the avatar13 – an augmented mirror of the embodiment of the researcher – to support the analysis and classification of the large quantitative14 data of gesture, sound and musical interpretations of playing piano. This helped her to perfect her performance practice based upon her artistic expectations, as well as the composers’.
Yet, the avatar can only draw conclusions and patterns from the vast amount of data learned from the art practice of the researcher (i.e. practising routine). It neither generates unprecedented, intuitive new knowledge and skills, nor adapts to the real-time changes in a live performance (i.e. acoustics of the concert hall). The same circumstances are observed in the application of AI in music creation. Creators of the pop industry are now excitedly experimenting with the recent advancement of AI to push their creativity forward, but suprisingly, not many people worry AI will displace musicians from their jobs.15 Despite AI being able to empower musicians’ creativity and enabling the impossible,16 the human mind is still the decision-maker (or the curator) and the one who categorizes, analyses and teaches AI the necessary musical data, let alone the pluralistic aesthetical and stylistic nuances. Taking this discussion to methodology in artistic research, the artist-researcher is still the one who puts the dots and lines (things and practices) together; while AI may streamline the workflow, such as the processing of an enormous amount of quantitative data.
The first step of the methodological modus operandi
With that said, we will still have to figure out how to structure and describe the pluralistic research constellation. In the next sections, I will centre on a two-step modus operandi to discern the approaches that are methodologically constitutive in producing knowledge and understanding, so that practices and things can talk to us – or talk back to us.17 The first step is the phenomenological reduction and staying-close to our subjects. In light of the Husserlian phenomenological reduction, we need to filter experience from those unwanted perceptions and knowledge. This is not to say those unwanted are unimportant and dispensable, but they do not describe the phenomenal experience of engaging and participating in the actual processes of working on things and practices. The method devised must lead us to what we want to achieve in the research and in our artistic practice. The participatory walking project of Martin Nachbar (2019) is an example of reducing to the experiential components of the participants when designing his research practice of choreography. He starts off with a few rather open research questions, before elaborating on the identity of the community:
My guiding hypothesis in this case is that walking is a movement that allows a wide range of people to actively participate in a choreographic performance, while the effects of this participation are intensified by taking it out onto the streets. […] Thus, while the theatre space clearly frames a temporary community of performers and audience, this community gets challenged on the streets. This challenge, I will argue, strengthens the sense of this walking performance as being a participatory experience, since it brings the participants of the performance together as an ensemble rather than as a community.18
Phenomenology is essentially a method rather than a set of theories and – at the risk of oversimplifying – its basic approach can be conveyed in a two-word command: describe phenomena. Bakewell (2017) defines describe phenomena by breaking it up into two elements: to describe means bail out extraneous materials, distractions, habits, clichés of thought, presumptions and received ideas, in order to return our attention to what is called the ‘things themselves’ – the heart of the experience. The second element is phenomena, which denotes any ordinary thing, or object, or event as it presents itself to my experience, rather than as it may or may not be in reality.19 I describe an object, a sense or an activity that is itself presenting an experience to me. The point of rigor is to keep asking questions about the experience in order to describe the phenomenal experience as fully as possible.
The intertwined paths of predefined and unprecedented knowledge
The second step of the methodological modus operandi focuses on the prejudice and subjective background that run behind every move of the artist-researcher in research and creative processes. But before that, I will further develop the constellation discourse by examining the etymology of methodology – a map of intertwined paths. In the Greek origin of the word methodology, meta (after), hodos (path, road), logos (word, reason) is literally translated into ‘the reason behind the road to travel’. Thus, methodology implies the explanation and manifestation of our choices and experiences of methods – the paths – during a research. On the one hand, we are bound to the paths that are destined to us (e.g. cultural root, education, family and nationality), but on the other hand, we are creating new paths that have emerged and been defined through walking on the vast land and abysses of research discoveries. In other words, methodology underpins a dualistic concept: the predefined path set by our subjective background and the unprecedented path where new insights, understandings and products come into being.20
Following the discourse on the predefined path, I may now address the second step of the methodological modus operandi. The predefined path is understood as the prejudice and the subjective background of the artist-researcher, in which according to Hans-Georg Gadamer (1976) and Lawrence Ferrara (1991), our prejudice influences our own interpretations of our experiences.21 Our individual subjective background – tradition – is constantly disposing, feeding and responding to the processes of observing and understanding the present research subjects.22 Neither can we avoid our own traditions, nor approach our subjects as a blank slate (tabula rasa). Gadamer defines, ‘prejudices are biases of our openness to the world. They are simply conditions whereby we experience something – whereby what we encounter says something to us.’23 I interact per se with all things and practices, but I can only recognize those experiences as knowledge if they correspond to my pre-understanding, my cultural and psychological prejudices. Hence, the research method is filtered and framed by the prejudice of who I am. It is reflexive in nature, is both designed thoughtfully from scratch, as well as emerging.24 In other words, part of the answer is always contained in the question of the research. In my research of the music practice of the balafon,25 the West African musicians would not essentialize the difficulties of learning the music under oral tradition. It is I, the foreign participant-observer, who finds the value of implementing such practice into the Western classical music world. Uniqueness and value become a relative term as I compared my tradition to that of the African.
Nonetheless, rather than restricting where the researcher should go, methods are always under construction and led by the evolving conceptualization of the life-worldly practice26 of researching into art. Thus, art practice is not only the end result of a research, but also the methodological vehicle for new knowledge when the research unfolds in and through the practices of creating and performing.27 Practice is a modality of both knowing and knowledge.28 As a percussionist, my body movement of playing the instrument – the centre of my music practice – became the experimental subject that mediates a deeper understanding about my (the musician’s) embodiment of the instrument.29 Furthermore, the emergence30 of new knowledge and experience can happen at any point in the research design, be it the data collection, the analysis, or the experimentation. The artist-researcher can ‘never really know what lies on the other end of the phase transition until [they] press play and find out.’31 Despite the impossibility of predicting behaviour in advance, traces of the neglected intuitive idea, heuristic experience, or unconscious mind may evolve into valuable outcomes. We can use ethnographic methods – such as a log book, video and sound recording and computer software – to keep track of the alchemy of turning the tacit into explicable and sharable knowledge.32
The concluding thoughts
In a nutshell, I suggest the methodological modus operandi of reduction and prejudice may help us to tackle the constellation of methodology in artistic research. Comparable to the complex IoT and AI systems, the distribution network model and the map of numerous intertwined paths, we might feel at times that methodology is the labyrinth of Crete.33 But the way out is just where the entrance was. We will come out of it and carry with us the new experience, enlightenment and knowledge obtained through the process. In spite of the requirement of a full account of the research manoeuvre, the artist-researcher is encouraged to explore and invent in the jungle of practices and things. The interventions of the labyrinth minotaur and losing the way at the roundabout may bring to us, perhaps, the most valuable outcomes of the whole artistic research.
is a percussionist/marimbist based in Antwerp. She obtained her PhD from the Royal Conservatoire Antwerp and the University of Antwerp. She is the initiator of ‘Methods in Artist Research Seminar’ supported by the Antwerp Research Institute in the Arts (ARIA). firstname.lastname@example.org
- I intend to distinguish the differences between the existence of things – whether it is a metaphysical idea, belief, method, or material tool – and the application of these existences (the actions). I argue practice is a verb here, as if the artist-researcher is the alchemist who transforms things from one form to another. But indeed, the line is thin in this dichotomy; the broadest meaning of ‘practice’ should be the customary, habitual, or expected procedure, or the way of doing of something. Practice is a modality of both knowing and knowledge. Therefore, practice can mean ‘music practice’ (noun), a culture of music that is practised by a community of people; but the phrase is also understood as ‘musicking’ (verb), the actions which enable a community to transcend their sociocultural habits through making and performing. The concepts will be developed further in the text. See the mention of ‘things and practices’ in: Borgdorff, Henk, Peters, Peter & Pinch, Trevor. Dialogues Between Artistic Research and Science and Technology Studies. New York, Routledge, 2019. And the concepts of ‘musicking’: Small, Christopher. Musicking: The Meanings of Performing and Listening. Hanover, Wesleyan University Press, 1998. ↩
- Midgelow (2019) has mentioned more dual and triangular mappings of concepts: knowing-how, knowing-what, and knowing-that; tacit, implicit, and explicit; researcher and the researched; object and objective etc. Midgelow, Vida. "Practice-as-research". The Bloomsbury Companion to Dance Studies, edited by Sherril Dodds. London, Bloomsbury Academic, 2019, pp. 111-144. ↩
- Borgdorff, Henk. "The Production of Knowledge in Artistic Research." The Routledge Companion to Research in the Arts, edited by Michael Biggs & Henrik Karlsson. London, Routledge, 2010, p. 46. ↩
- Biggs, Michael. "Learning from Experience: Approaches to the Experiential Component of Practice-based Research." Forskning, Reflektion, Utveckling, edited by by Henrik Karlsson. Stockholm, Vetenskapsradet, 2004, pp. 6-21. ↩
- Borgdorff, Henk. The Conflict of the Faculties: Perspectives on Artistic Research and Academia. PhD dissertation, Leiden University Press, 2012, p. 17. ↩
- Yip, Adilia. "The Creativity in Artistic Research Method." ESMUC Digital Barcelona, 2014. http://www.esmuc.cat/esmuc_digital/layout/set/print/Esmuc-digital/Revistes/Numero-31-octubre-2014/Espai-de-recerca ↩
- Badura, Jens, Dubach, Selma & Haarmann, Anke. Künstlerische Forschung: Ein Handbuch. Zürich/ Berlin, Diaphanes, 2015. ↩
- I have adapted the diagram ‘distribution network model’ created by Bruno Castro, retrieved from https://thenounproject.com/. For the clarity of the diagram, only a limited number of lines are drawn arbitrarily to represent the unlimited connections between the things (dots). ↩
- Midgelow, pp. 111-144. ↩
- Marsh, Julie. "Site-integrity: A Dynamic Exchange Between Site, Artist, Device and Audience." Journal for Artistic Research, 2019, https://www.researchcatalogue.net/view/596787/597477. ↩
- A detailed and accessible explanation of IoT. Clark, Jen. What is the Internet of Things?, 17 November 2016. https://www.ibm.com/blogs/internet-of-things/what-is-the-iot/. ↩
- In here, practice equals to things, meaning the techniques, ideologies, and philosophies practised by musicians. ↩
- Caruso, Giusy. “ ‘My Avatar and Me’: A Method to Assist Contemporary Music Performers in Monitoring Their Artistic Process.” Methods in Artistic Research Seminar. Antwerp Research Institute for the Arts & University of Antwerp, 7 February 2019. ↩
- AI uses quantitative data, as it transcodes the qualitative information of performance into numerical data. ↩
- Chow, Andrew R., “ ‘There’s a Wide Open Horizon of Possibility’ Musicians are using AI to Create Otherwise Impossible New Songs.” Time, 5 February 2020. https://time.com/5774723/ai-music/. ↩
- Ibid. ↩
- Bal, Mieke. Travelling Concepts in the Humanities: A Rough Guide. Toronto, University of Toronto Press, 2002, p. 61. Borgdorff, Henk, Peters, Peter & Pinch, Trevor. Dialogues Between Artistic Research and Science and Technology Studies. New York, Routledge, 2019. ↩
- Nachbar, Martin. "Once Around the Theatre: Walking as Choreographic Practice." FORUM+, autumn 2019. http://www.forum-online.be/nummers/herfst-2019/once-around-the-theatre/. ↩
- Bakewell, Sarah. At the Existentialist Café: Freedom, Being, and Apricot Cocktails. London, Vintage Publishing, 2016, p. 40, 43. ↩
- Borgdorff, 2010, p. 46. ↩
- Ferrara, Lawrence. "Should the Method Define the Tasks?" Philosophy and the Analysis of Music: Bridges to Musical Sound, Form and Reference. Bryn Mawr, Excelsior, 1991, p. 34. Gadamer, Hans-Georg. "The Universality of the Hermeneutical Problem." Philosophical Hermeneutics, 30th Anniversary Edition, ed. and translated by Linge, David E. 2nd ed. London, University of California Press, 2008, p. 9. ↩
- For instance, tradition and the present can be understood as the epistemic contacts between the traditions of the artist-researcher and the present form of the West African music experience. ↩
- Gadamer, 2008, p. 9. ↩
- Hübner, Falk. "In Search of Common Ground: On Designing and Sharing Research Methods." Methods in Artistic Research Seminar, Antwerp Research Institute for the Arts & University of Antwerp, 5-6 February 2020. ↩
- The balafon is a pentatonic idiophone keyboard, a member of the percussion instrument family from the peoples of Bobo and Bamana in West Africa. The balafon is one of the ethnic origins of the marimba, a Western percussion keyboard instrument. ↩
- Please refer to endnote 12 for the idea of practice in the current context. ↩
- Borgdorff, 2010, p. 46. ↩
- Midgelow, 2019, pp. 111-144. ↩
- Yip, Adilia. Inventing New Marimba Performance from the African Balafon Music Practice. PhD dissertation, University of Antwerp, 2018, pp. 121-151. ↩
- Hübner, 2020. ↩
- Hübner 2020 quoting Johnson, Steven. Emergence: The Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities, and Software. New York, Scribner, 2001, p. 233. ↩
- Vallack, Jocene. "Alchemy Methodology: Applying the Arts to Research." The Electronic Journal of Business Research Methods, vol. 15, no. 2, 2017, pp. 134-141. ↩
- The myth, definition and meaning of the labyrinth of Crete: Mark, Joshua, Labyrinth, 16 April 2018. https://www.ancient.eu/Labyrinth/. ↩