[-empyre-] practice as a means towards academic self-criticism / research as a curatorial enterprise

Johannes Birringer Johannes.Birringer at brunel.ac.uk
Thu Feb 23 07:35:22 EST 2012

dear soft_skinned listeners:

these last days of reading all of your posts brought many inspiring moments, and I wish to thank all the writers here, there is much to grapple with as we moved forward a bit from noise/free improvisation/Noise and Capitalism
to the very precise thoughts laid out now by Marie, Magda, Ioana, Lasse, Menotti and others. In fact, i wish to congratulate Magda for being so excellent at writing what she is grappling with, and it caused some depression, here on my end of course, and I wonder whether other readers get incensed as well when they think of situations they may know -  where questions of how artistic practice is condoned/accepted/judged as Phd research are politicized or processed in some form of normal bureaucratic choreography......   Some of you here may work in universities, as I do at times, and some here may also be advisers of Phd practice-based projects, or be directly involved in some.  Others in the empyre community may have less time to worry about those things, or find them mildly corrosive.  I find some of issues debated here (how you write up your artistic practice as research for the low academy) corrosively upsetting. 

One might see the humor also in the old high academy positions (Lasse, did you not say that Karlsruhe has no room for practice based Phds and prefers you to write a theoretical/analytical one?), and thus Magda is probably suggesting free improvisations with institutional critique, and those of you who commented that "exams and degrees are already gamification of education" (Rob) are probably spot on. That is a sickening growing awareness amongst us too, well, at least as far as i am concerned. 

Wait: Isn't the economization of academia through impact points and evaluations exactly what gamification is about? But fortunately, News of the World is a nice example of circular causality because it bends the very rules that produced it (the demand for peer reviewed publishing).  If gamification is to "save" academia, I think it should be through  playing against it (think of speedruns and meta-gaming).>>> [Lasse]

Well, how do you play in Karlsruhe, Lasse, or how would you play?
and incidentally, is not the "practice-as-research" Phd a particularized, and located problem or challenge/opportunity ? (in the UK, in Australia, in The Netherlands, in some places in the US,  i am not sure where it came from, how it spread, and how the phenomenon is managed or surveilled by national research councils and boards etc;   i heard from a music colleague recently that practice-based Phd's in the UK may have a limited time before they might be abolished again.  But that may have been a rumor? 

But exams and degrees are already gamification of education. And badge-based accreditation of achievement outside the academy is a way of  reproducing this. So I think copying the aesthetic of gamification  inside the academy would be less of a shift than people might think.[Rob]

I get a feeling that many of the recent messages revolved around a question or proposition, not only whether art (in the humanities)  and science research methodology paradigms are comparable or compatible,. but whether your artistic (and critical) practice can cross over into a humanities paradigm or generate its own independent form and acceptance.

Some challenges I am facing in my attempt to move across different disciplines (theatre and performance studies; philosophy; media studies), and between theory and practice in my academic and artistic work are:
How can I embody and live what I theorize, without letting it close down my possibilities of experiencing? How can I make of my performance-making practice a learning experience (that materializes in some kind of knowledge acquisition or understanding) rather than an application of the theoretical outcomes of my research? (How) am I to justify my art practice in relation to my theoretical research and demonstrate its relevance to the latter? (this question matters because mine is a theory-focused PhD; its outcome will be a dissertation)  [Magda]

What is sickening (or interesting perhaps to you, Magda, from the point of view of your curatorial performances of "commoning) is that often I hear the school/the discipline/the examiner or examination boards suggest to researchers that they need to pay more attention in their writing up to some fundamentals, such a spelling out clearly in the beginning your research question and your objectives and then your methodology and your case studies (your own work?) and the theory informing your reflections and contextualizations and inferences and findings and summaries with the bibliographical apparatues and the appendices with your finely honed DVD and CD offering the films and the slides not of what you "enacted" or experienced (Magda) but what you edited to show about the research (not the art work) process and why that is an original contribution to knowledge, and if you work in "commoning" or in collaborations or in groups, that is really tough luck as you will have to prove what you own original contribution to knowledge is and not that of your noise band.

Now in the high level of impact rich champions league universities, this what just described is a normal facet of accreditation and must be taken very seriously. Lower level leagues also aspire to the rigor that science departments promote and show (and, this includes the social sciences, there is a lovely emphasis on the inclusion of empirical data and control groups).  Magda, i would think your performance practices and the curating experiments are interface enactments and they are lived of course, and yet you might agree, they can be recorded, they can be edited, narrated, mythologized, and written up or down meshed with images....... The practice-based decorum,  and (as sculptor John Newling uses the phrase when examining sites for his art works) "tacit agreements and assumptions" harnessed by academic site, will evolve and emerge inevitably, and you forgot to mention the advisory dramaturgy, how does that one fit anything? the relationals are intriguing, and yet, often traumatizing as well?

Sorry, i have no point to make,  I am expressing my depression over having gotten caught up in a dilemma of advising artists who want to get Phds and Phd researchers who wants to make art. Or rather, researchers who make art and also want to get a Phd and who are told by institutions that there are guidelines and rules as one might expect from an institution.  I think this is not a new debate (it showed up over many months on the PIRATES listserv and was perhaps infuriatingly demoralizing) but the issues you all raised need to be discussed again and again.  And language won't go away, obviously, we'll need it to address ideas and reflect on them.  It might be possible, however, to free-improvise the utopian idea that a piece of music or sound installation, or a curatorial project (just think of the Platforms that Igbo Nigerian-born American curator, art critic, writer & poet Okwui Enwezor proposed and choreographed for documenta 11), could be experienced by the examiners whereupon a degree is awarded.

PS.  Lasse, what does it mean to say: "I use Cybernetics to  argue that interfaces are "enacted" through use as much as they are  the designed a priori of interaction"?  please can you talk more about this argument?  Are interfaces not necessarily enactive or enacted, otherwise we would not know them, in a social and experiential sense as interfaces;  one cannot program an interface, only design potentials of interaction through certain dramaturgies, or product designs or architectures that enable use and adaptation?

with regards
Johannes Birringer 

Magda schreibt: 

> I wonder if this implies that what is specific to academic work is just a
particular way of accounting for
> anything - coming down, precisely (purely?), to an issue of language and
form. Could it be? (Menotti)

I wonder that too. I don't know much about scientific research at all, but I
would guess that's very much the case in sciences.  I came across a
statement that 'engineers don't discover, but they invent' which in itself
is an interesting use of language. Another thing would be that  many (most?)
of science phd's are practice based, often attached to a specific project
with defined aims and objectives.  So what's the difference between science
and art practice-based research and how it is articulated in academia? I
would say that is where 'discipline' comes in as an institutionalising
factor and language is one of the tools for that.

> And going back to a question from previous weeks: how do we preserve
> what could not be written down in the first place, and will inevitably get
lost in the bureaucratic translation?
> Is part of the work of the researcher to make more graspable the less
visible structures s/he tackles
> and employs? Should one provide to his/her examiners the means for his/her
own assessment?  What about the posterity?

Thanks for bringing up this question again. This is a hard one, and I am a
bit stuck on its language indeed, so I will reiterate it again: how do we
preserve, what is difficult to preserve (represent) in a widely accepted
form in academia which is written text, but what might also be lost when
going through that process? I don't want to be romantic about it, but what I
would want to preserve for my own practice is the recognition that there is
knowledge that is hard to categorise and then that it might become something
else (another knowledge) after the process of translation into what we can
understand through language. I think that as important for the future too.


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