Terrible twins: art & the academy

Yuji Sone

Yuji Sone, Rosalind Crisp

Yuji Sone, Rosalind Crisp

Deploying Emmanuel Levinas’ notion of irreducible otherness (alterity), my thesis examined hidden assumptions about cultural otherness in performance. Generally, understandings of it are based on recognisability and ultimately difference through representation. Alterity, however, cannot be accounted for in these terms and remains excessive to representation. In the practical component of the research, I explored artistic strategies and ways in which these concerns could be expressed in performance.

I like art works that make me think. Similarly, to make art is to think. In other words, I am interested in the process of making art which provides me with material on which I can speculate. This attitude toward art making is different from those of ‘product-centred’ and ‘market-driven’ art practices. The awarding of the doctoral degree has encouraged me to develop my particular manner of ‘art practice’ as academic research, and enabled me to continue consideration of methodological questions through my current postdoctoral research at UNSW.

Art versus theory

As a new form of degree, practice-based doctoral courses in Australia have not yet earned academic legitimacy, largely due to the ambiguity of their nature and purpose. I still feel I am sometimes seen as ‘suspect’ by both theorists and artists when I tell them that I hold a practice-based doctorate. They sometimes see me as not quite theorist, not quite artist. I don’t mind this in-between position, because it has been very productive for my work, but ‘practitioner-researcher’ doesn’t seem to fit easily into the disciplinary structure at art and academic institutions.

There has been a similar sentiment expressed, in regard to the ambiguous status of practice-based doctoral degrees, by academics in the UK (Robin Nelson,and Stuart Andrews, “Practice as Research: Regulations, Protocols and Guidelines’, PALATINE, www.lancs.ac.uk/palatine/dev-awards/par-report.htm, 2003).

I’ve found that the implicit division between theory and practice is problematic. Elizabeth Grosz pointed out in the late 1980s that art and theory see themselves as antagonists: “both art and theory aggrandise the capacity each sees in itself and thus construes its counterpart” (“Every Picture Tells a Story: Art and Theory Re-examined” in Gary Sangster, curator, Sighting References: ciphers, systems and codes in recent Australian visual art, Artspace, Surry Hills, NSW, 1987). According to Grosz, the practices should not be seen as “doubles (and thus also as opposites)” but as “twins” who share similarities, but differences as well. In fact, Grosz argues for a complementary relationship between theory and practice where ‘theory is one among many inspirational sources for art, and art, one of the critical vantage points from which theory can be assessed.”

I would also argue that the interaction between theory and art practice as research can yield new creative entities, the engendering and analysis of which can be employed legitimately as an academic research methodology.

This issue of the theory/practice divide was discussed at the RIP (Research Into Practice) Conference in 2004 at University of Hertfordshire, in the UK, which focused on the role of artefact in art and design research.

Peer review

The PARIP 2005 Conference, in partnership with University of Leeds, was the final public event of a 5-year research project under the directorship of Baz Kershaw of the University of Bristol. The project was designed to examine issues relating to practice as research in the performance media of theatre, dance, film, video, and television. Peer review was PARIP 2005’s particular focus.

The conference aimed to discuss methods and criteria for “the robust evaluation of performance as research by communities of practitioners-researchers” (conference program). It scheduled peer review sessions alongside panel and plenary sessions. In actuality, the conference made us aware that more studies and discussion on methodologies of peer review need to be done before implementing it on artworks.

Although PARIP 2005 brought together a broad field of practices across theatre, dance, performance art, film, television and new media, some common themes were not necessarily specific to a single, established art medium. I found particularly interesting topics such as “sound/space interface”, “body/space interface” and “PaR (practice as research) and New Technologies”, which cross traditional disciplinary boundaries and suggest new ways of discussing art projects.

The way forward

As universities respond to the ‘knowledge economy’, research culture in the creative arts has ‘forced’ a recognition of practice as an important vehicle for investigative work. “Increasingly there is perceived to be a need and a market for specific forms of doctoral research provision for advanced-level professional practitioners [in the creative arts]” (Bill Green and Adrian Kiernander, “Doctoral Education, Professional Practice and the Creative Arts: Research and Scholarship in a New Key?”, in Bill Green, TW Maxwell and Peter Shanahan eds, Doctoral Education and Professional Practice: The Next Generation?, Kardoorair Press, Armidale, NSW, 2001). Consequently, a growing number of Australian universities allow doctoral degrees to incorporate creative art works, such as visual art exhibition or music composition, as non-text-based research outcomes.

There are, however, noticeable differences between schools and faculties over the nature, course of study, thesis format and examination procedure of the practice-based doctoral research courses offered in Australian universities. The lack of agreement between universities on an appropriate assessment process complicates the acceptance of practice-based doctoral degrees as a legitimate mode of academic research. There is also no agreement on the question regarding the theory/practice divide, which goes to the heart of what we mean by research and the question of what language is appropriate to communicate and understand these academic research findings.

Until these issues are resolved, the question of how research outcomes can be discussed and disseminated more widely cannot be addressed.

Dr Yuji Sone is a performance practitioner-researcher and postdoctoral research fellow at The School of Media, Film and Theatre, University of New South Wales. His current research focuses on notions of intermediation in relation to media/technology-based performance, in addition to investigating methodological issues related to creative performance research. As part of his research project, Yuji is organising e-Performance and Plug-ins: A Mediatised Performance Conference at UNSW for late 2005.

This is an edited version of an email interview. KG

RealTime issue #68 Aug-Sept 2005 pg. 8

© Yuji Sone; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 August 2005
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