About Art and Research

Martina Leeker, a longtime scholar in media performance studies with a focus on artistic research, digital cultures, and performance, invited me to a conversation about Art and Research on September 21, 2023. Our conversation is part of her current research project on artistic research, for which she has interviewed scholars and colleagues such as Anke Haarmann, Nishant Shah, and Florian Cramer. Her eight questions and my eight answers are now online in the form of a video interview. The transcript of my answers can be found below.

The video is stored right here, on the Vimeo-platform:

“To move beyond counting, measuring, interpreting.”

1. What is Artistic Research?

Within the field of sound and sensory studies, I would argue that:

all research approaches that employ artistic practices of listening, recording, producing, performing, sensing, experiencing, and communicating can and must be considered artistic research.

More specifically, any research that investigates any research question and does so by working with the aforementioned artistic means is most definitely artistic research.

2. What is the difference between artistic research and research in Natural Sciences and the Humanities?

Artistic research broadens the range of research methods.

I refer here to the Australian artist and art theorist Barbara Bolt: in her understanding of artistic research, this approach is not a new and additional field of research in itself.

On the contrary, it is a research strategy consisting of a potentially infinite number of individual methods; a methodological swarm, so to speak.

In this interpretation, artistic research is positioned alongside, for example, quantitative or qualitative research.

It is therefore neither. It is a research strategy in its own right. It adds a third set of research methods to those two existing ones.

3. What is the added value of artistic research?

Artistic research goes beyond the accepted canon of academic research practices.

These are usually reduced to practices of counting, measuring, interpreting, and arguing. It is a culture of writing as far as the institutionally recognized documents of research are concerned.

Although in everyday practices, on the rather ignored or relegated side of research, all sorts of practices take place: chatting and smoking, consuming caffeine and eating, laughing and dancing, listening and cooking, running, cycling, singing, inventing, imagining, programming, knitting, and a wide range of games, sports, and other activities.

These, however, don’t generally figure as worthy and noble research methods in, say, an academic article or dissertation.

According to institutional rules, these practices are considered non-academic.

So they are on the outside of research.

I think this is a strange and unconvincing, highly selective reduction of what researchers actually do and what actually contributes to a research process.

4. Is there an “existential” necessity, and urgence for artistic research?

Most certainly. The urgency comes from all the realities of research practices I just mentioned.

Younger researchers and artists in particular feel this strange disconnect more and more.

The historically grown and systematically argued system of research methods and strategies seems more and more arbitrary and outdated.

A strange idiosyncrasy, an acquired habit with sometimes rather obsessive features – not a really informed choice.


5. What is the relevance of artistic research for art education and cultural education?

Education in the present and future can no longer be limited to an assumed core curriculum of reading, counting, measuring, interpreting, and arguing.

This limitation looks more and more ridiculous,

honestly – especially in a habitual culture of media use and all kinds of creations within digital cultures.

Recording practices and listening practices need to be part of cultural and artistic education across the board, fx. the whole range of sensory practices, practices of tasting and movement, of interacting, playing, dancing, singing.

I don’t see why these practices are not crucial to arts education or cultural education.

6. When does artistic research start historically and does it go through changes concerning understanding, concepts or methods since then?

As I understand it, artistic research is as old as the arts: as old as artists being interested in how the world works – and how new crafts and genres, skills and practices can be developed.

On the other hand, it began in a narrower sense, first with the avant-garde’s interest in using and experimenting with research methods within the academy – and then with various countercultural and subcultural movements that have sought to transform and reorganize traditional research institutions since the 1960s.

One could argue that as soon as the parareligious dispositive of writing cultures and the rituals and practices of argumentation were recognized as historical idiosyncrasies and arbitrary choices within science and cultural history, as soon as these traditions were questioned, artistic researchers began to add and inoculate their home institutions with this surprisingly radical and open strand of research methods.

7. Is there a relationship between artistic research and digital cultures?

Hm. Tricky question. Both fields have developed together over a long period of time.

But from my perspective, a decidedly post-digital perspective (in the sense of Florian Cramer), I would argue that artistic research can of course take place within and through the means and tools and technologies of digital cultures.

In fact, it often does, because digital cultures and their practices and apparatuses make it so much easier or even merely possible to record, store, transport, edit, share, and republish all artifacts that are not just static text in a sequence of words.

Digital cultures support artistic research, so to speak. But their support is not a necessary condition for doing artistic research.

Especially within sonic artistic research, there are many performances, listening practices, performing practices that do clearly not come from digital cultures, nor do they require any apparatuses or practices related to them.

In some cases, they even reject all of the existing digital means of production altogether.

8. What is the future of artistic research?

My hope is that:

artistic research will be recognized more and more in universities as a research strategy.

It is already more and more recognized, in various European countries, within art academies, for example in Scotland, in the Netherlands, also in Finland.

But only when it is recognized within the more traditional, academic institutions, it seems to me that it will indeed achieve its most noble goal;

which is:

to provide methods, forms of presentation, forms of publication, and a whole swarm of discourses and discussions that transcend the writing cultures and the alphanumeric form of communication that are at the core of institutionalized academic work in general.

To move beyond counting, measuring, interpreting, and arguing – and into listening and sensing, tasting, eating, or dancing as recognized and legitimate research methods.