[-empyre-] scalability and 'knowledge production

Simon Biggs s.biggs at eca.ac.uk
Thu Feb 12 21:03:17 EST 2009

I read Tom Holert¹s piece the other day. He makes a fundamental error
conflating research and instrumentalisation in his efforts to distinguish
(as somehow intrinsically better) artistic practice. Let they who cast the
first stone, etc...

Research can be as creative as artistic practice. Research need not be goal
driven. Research can be as dangerous, exciting, ethically and morally
challenging as the best of art. Research is something that any experimental
artist has to do if they are to be experimental.

Yes, there are pressures coming from government and industry (pressures that
the current economic situation will probably exacerbate) for research and
practice to prove their social (e.g: economic) worth. The US Senate¹s recent
rejection of Obama¹s culture bill on the grounds that (paraphrasing from
memory) museums, galleries, road-side decoration, are not a priority in a
time of economic crisis (end paraphrase) evidences this demand of creative
and experimental activities (whether in the creative arts, physical and
social sciences or the humanities) to instrumentalise themselves. In England
the government¹s decision to prioritise research funding away from pure
research in the arts and sciences towards applied research (STEM subjects -
science, technology, engineering and medicine) is also part of this dynamic.
In Scotland we await the deliberations of government to find out how the pie
will be carved for the next few years.

In contesting the instrumentalisation of cultural practice Holert is well
intentioned. However, to identify the bogey as research is wrong. Much
research, in both the sciences and humanities, represents the very opposite
of instrumentalisation. It could be argued that significant radical activity
in our society happens in the guise of research. In this respect the thesis
the paper forwards, arguing that to equate practice with research is a
process of instrumentalisation, is fundamentally flawed. The enemy of
creativity is not science and it is not research. The enemy is the required
acquiescence of creativity, whether in practice or research, to the
bureaucratically defined needs of society. Creativity, as I understand its
value, cannot be constrained by such a need. It has to be allowed to be
dangerous and inimical to the concerns of planners. Scientists, just as much
as artists, need this freedom. We are all Kafka¹s children.

I would also identify some errors in the paper. For example, the section on
PARIP (which some people here are probably members of) contains a mistake,
describing it as a research group initiated by the UK¹s Research Assessment
Exercise (RAE). PARIP currently exists as a loose network of
practitioner/researchers around what was a research project initiated at
Bristol University. It has no affiliation with the RAE or the research
councils and set itself the objective of critically inquiring into the RAE
and research council¹s definitions of creative practice (in performing
arts). They were research council funded but, so far as I am aware, had no
remit from the funders. The arm¹s length principle, overseen by sector peer
review, is default in the UK. The manner in which Holert describes the
relations between creative arts educational institutions and their funders
suggests his knowledge in the area is not very deep, his own research
lacking rigour. He might be advised to pay more attention to the value of
research to his arguments.

This is all relevant to Christina¹s question regarding art as research in
the university context and how this relates to the idea of research as
knowledge production. Talking to researchers in other subject areas, in the
sciences and elsewhere, it is clear there is a lot of discomfort about what
they do being typified as production. They are as uncomfortable with that
remit as artists are with being described as workers in the cultural
industries. We need to be very careful in how we use terms like Oknowledge
production¹ and Ocultural industries¹ as they are the product of a political
imperative that cares little about creativity or knowledge, as Adorno



On 12/2/09 01:00, Christina McPhee wrote:

> Tom Holert has written recently,  " A point of tension that can become
> productive here is the traditional claim that artists almost
> constitutively work on the hind side of rationalist, explicated
> knowledge?in the realms of non-knowledge (or emergent knowledge). As a
> response to the prohibition and marginalization of certain other
> knowledges by the powers that be, the apparent incompatibility of non-
> knowledge with values and maxims of knowledge-based economies
> (efficiency, innovation, and transferability) may provide strategies
> for escaping such dominant regimes."

Simon Biggs
Research Professor
edinburgh college of art
s.biggs at eca.ac.uk

simon at littlepig.org.uk
AIM/Skype: simonbiggsuk

Edinburgh College of Art (eca) is a charity registered in Scotland, number SC009201

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