Fauxthentication Part III – Relevance, Inversion And The Creation Of History
Stockholm University of The Arts
Mann muss immer umkehren.1
– Carl Jacobi
The Eye Opener
MoAR, The Museum of Artistic Research, the expository part of my 80% research seminar and thus the 3rd part of my doctorate project at the Stockholm University of The Arts, is an attempt to conduct a large experiment, all through the method of Inversion.
In 2016, for my 30% public research seminar, I constructed a theory about the corruption and Big Businessification of the higher education industry. In order to test it, I commissioned a pre-written script by a Philippine academic2, as the foundation for the entirety of the seminar, including everything from my dress code to the opponent’s contribution, all of which was performed according to the scripted instructions. The procedure functioned as a meta-script, with the attempt to test both the grey market of academic writing-for-hire as well as the transfer of knowledge production.
After that trial, for the 50% seminar in 2017, I turned the cross hairs at my own territory or “site” – the discipline of artistic research, in particular at its aesthetic and theoretical pirouettes in the form of artefacts, behaviors, statements and ditto conceptual framings thereof. Hence, the commission became one of outsourcing my expository art production to a 3rd party: a photographer wanting to be a pop singer. I wanted to test if anything and everything created as art within the paradigm of artistic research, became as valid as the very same outside Academia. Or did it become a different animal altogether; transforming itself into a category I labelled “edu-art”?
In the months following that experiment, I became almost acutely aware of me pushing just about anything I’ve witnessed within artistic academia into a validation of my theory building. I had become a prime example of confirmation bias3… So, I asked myself: what if I’m mistaken in my accusations and (institutionalized) critique of artistic research as a field, in addition to its claims of new aspects of knowledge production? What if both the proclaimed assertions, as well as the results and findings, truly are groundbreaking and transforming for both The Academia and its ways of fabrication and representation of knowledge? Perhaps that also holds water for the various artistic disciplines outside the education sphere? What would the opposite of my present, “outside-ish”, institutionally critical position look like? What would become visible, what would ultimately emerge, if I focused on the very flip side of my criticism and argument? Following that train of thought, an interesting question occurred: what if the opposite was true?
The necessary act
So, in order to discern and truly examine my bold assertions, I commenced with the staging of the embodiment of academic artistic research – the art, the design, the literature, the music, the architecture etc – in as many manifested forms and shapes as possible. Hence the staging of MoAR, Museum of Artistic Research.
”The Baroque Theater will soon make disillusion – desengaño – to a moment of bitter grace, which suddenly gives eyesight to people who have been blinded for too long.”4
– Jean Starobinski
The empiric axiom of “All good theories are predictive but, sooner or later, they need supporting evidence” suddenly made a lot of sense. And, empiricism as a tool made me turn towards The Scientific Method, a model I understand somewhat like this:
Observation/Questioning leads to
Formulation of Hypothesis leads to
Prediction leads to
Experiment leads to
Results that lead to
Formulation of a Principal Theory (if the Hypothesis has been validated)
Rejection of Hypothesis (if the Hypothesis has been rejected); then the whole progression starting again.
The critique of the critique
To recapitulate; my site-specific critique of academia and its offshoot artistic research practices constituted of:
1.The economy of our labor as artists within artisticresearch-market determines what kind of practices that emerge and are regarded as value-formulating, i.e. the market of edu-art
2.The audience receiving the fruits of that labor are simultaneously also the laborers producing those very same merchandise (edu-art and edu-text; all like a snake swallowing its own tail). Here I also infer a real threat to what our edu-art genre can mean projected into the future, becoming self-referential and codified, coagulating into a new ‘-ism’ for the initiated, simultaneously as it aligns itself as a product line within the market economy of academic artistic-research.5
3.The quality of the edu-art commodities is not being addressed due to difficulties of discriminating of what that actually means at the same that the edu-text commodity is being addressed, evaluated, published and archived time after another.
4.The total absence of any risk-taking at all within one’s practice. In my case being an institutionalized critic within an edu-cultural institution whose power is never threatened by what any of the artist-researcher’s edu-art artefacts, so long as it’s done within the authorized “research through art” paradigm. Fundamentally differing from the traditional research methodologies, every artistic research project creates, is validated by and therefore manufactures its own brand of exploratory procedures, as even those research methodologies we abide by are personalized. The only common denominator I discern between all of the different artistic research projects I’ve come in contact with is, again, the textual-theoretical “text-bikini” the edu-art bride is being attired in.6
All of these theories are contested and challenged in an embodied and empirical form within the context of MoAR at the Baroque Hall of The Historical Museum in Stockholm: the economy argument, the audience paradigm, the quality concern and the risk-taking dilemma. The artistic statements/artefacts will be viewed by an overwhelming part of an audience that by definition are not the artistic researchers themselves. Also, the very act of elevating one’s creations (all the presented artefacts have been produced during the artist’s PhD/research education period at various universities) through the act of placing them in a museum context, will create a levelling and re-contextualization of the personalized artistic methodologies and practices – they will now be viewed so to speak “through the same lens” as the museum, a very particular lens indeed…
How things work. Until they don’t…
Now that the curator7 has chosen 15 out of circa 150 artistic research PhD’s and placed their examinatory work in The Museum of History, do they by default gain relevance? Merit…? And, will they now become history and be more likely to be remembered in, say, 200 years from now? So, how is history constructed, always being in hindsight? What then is relevance? Why are things – human behaviors, historical events, artworks or indeed artistic research deemed relevant and others considered not so?8
Is “the present” more relevant than the past? And who judges the parameters of this relevance? Does the latest, hottest ideological framing, philosophical paradigm, political issue or artistic trend become relevant simply because of their “nowness”?
A lot of things are taking place now, some are appointed to have “nowness”, others not. When Hermann Melville wrote Moby Dick in 1851, he thought of it as the defining work of his life. He received mixed reviews, but the book didn’t sell, as neither of his later novels or poems – so he obtained the position as a customs inspector for the city of New York, maintained the same position for almost twenty years and died alone and poor in 1891. It took the world 75 years from the publication of the book to a re-definition of it as The Great American Novel…
In 1889 Vincent Van Gogh gave his portrait of Doctor Félix Rey to Dr Rey. The physician was not fond of the painting and used it to repair a chicken coop, then gave it away. In 2016, the portrait was housed at the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts and estimated to be worth over $50 million. And lastly, Franz Kafka, a writer totally unknown by his contemporaries, burning 90% of all his drafts. Who would have even suspected the influence he has had on the subsequent culture or the fact of having (posthumously) been made into an adjective in various languages…?9
Our view of the world is surprisingly static, given that, in retrospect, every second generation has challenged just about everything their grandparents believed in, listened to or deemed as an “important” authorship, artistry, philosophical or say, sexual modus operandi… The above argument is grounded in the principal contextual mental model, or, if you’d like, myth, we live in today – our prevailing paradigm of progress; the ingrained idea of how we become more enlightened throughout history, and that the spheres of science, technology, the arts, of politics, of philosophy, well, everything evolves.
“We live in a culture of casual certitude. This has always been the case, no matter how often that certainty has failed. Though no generation believes there’s nothing left to learn, every generation unconsciously assumes that what has already been defined and accepted is (probably) pretty close to how reality will be viewed in perpetuity. And then, of course, time passes. Ideas shift. Opinions invert. What once seemed reasonable eventually becomes absurd, replaced by modern perspectives that feel even more irrefutable and secure–until, of course, they don’t.”10
– Chuck Klosterman
The cognitive scientists studying the concept of relevance, Deirdre Wilson and Dan Sperber11 argue that there are two criteria that make information (exchanges) relevant12:
∙ How likely that new information is to stimulate a “positive cognitive effect” – to yield new conclusions that matter to you.
∙ How much effort is required to obtain and absorb that new information. The lower the effort, the higher the relevance.
The key phrase here is “…to yield new conclusions that matter to you.”
The “matterness” of things is of course purely arbitrary. “What matters” could be totally subjected to groupthink, to what we perceive as important to show or state towards the others with who we have emotional, status, economical and other dependencies and social investments. All the aforementioned, particularly if the contextuality of importance at any present moment in one’s everyday knowledge production procedures are imposed from above in one’s organization, as it is in contemporary Swedish national art education environments. In these environments the concept of research, attaining almost the aura of feel-good words like democracy or freedom, has become all-important. Research simply must be produced, all in the theatre of showing a well behaved and successful higher education environment; thus getting access to further funding and political and/or a higher institutional status.
In our case, as knowledge producers within the higher artistic education industry – what matters? Relevance for whom? For us, inside the field? For the process of our “knowledge products” trickling down to the lucky students at the BA & MA levels? For society outside academia? Is it as simple as that, we source relevance as an agreement, a position within a given context, consequently rendering it arbitrary and not really inherent in anything at all?
An eye opener for me has been the repeated fact of us artists making music, a short film or a dance piece, where after, if one is in any way producing and being visible in the public realm, a critic (or a philosopher in aesthetics, defining our praxis in convoluted theoretical shrouds…) showing up, using text as the means to elevate (or torpedo…) the piece/artefact/composition. The very same procedure can be witnessed within our realm of artistic research wherein the critic’s role is exchanged for the opponent (or “discussant”, making the etymology behind the term less martial). The opponent almost without exception (r-) elevates the project, simultaneously displaying her or his own equilibrist handling of language and critical thinking while strengthening her intellectual value portfolio with each act of opposition. After all, the members of the critic’s guild have their own bills to pay…
The critic/opponent literally creates relevance out of thin air – any other scenario is unthinkable while it would then render her/his part in this set–choreography meaningless. This symbiosis and symbolic choreography, needed by both parts in the dance of public presentations of our particular strand of Academia, artistic research, has profound implications on what we refer to as knowledge production.
Let us pose an analogy within the field of art. Since Marcel Duchamp and especially since the rise of conceptual art tradition in the mid 1960’s, anything the artist proclaims as art becomes art. Of course the artist must in her/his turn become this proclaimer; here the contextual web of dependencies like colleagues, critics, institutions, financiers, former education, in short the field, lends the artist this authority. Any taxi driver in the street cannot put his faeces in a can and sell it for its weight in gold like Piero Manzoni, it is the context wherein the artist function that makes the act possible. So – will anything an artistic researcher does and/or write become Research and/or Knowledge? In the art world this depends on the hierarchical position one has. Is it the same with artistic researchers? From hegemony analysis perspective: Does position equal quality?
If this indeed is the case, still there must be some system, some hierarchy of values, determining what, so to speak, “works” (and what doesn’t…), within the institutional structure of artistic research. Just as it is impossible for a fish to observe it being immersed in water until it is lifted outside of the aquarium, it is extremely difficult to perceive the ideological belief systems one is immersed in and breathes in at any given moment in history.
Here, again, I refer to my foundations of treating my whole doctoral project as a kind of site-specific meta-investigation. Hence I will make it simple for myself and conclude that any active participant in any institutional structure (be it the court at Versailles during the reign of Louis XIV, the film industry during the McCarthy era in the US or any French university during the summer of 1968; the examples being deliberately explicit in order to make my point), will (un-)consciously be immersed inside the present trends and fashions of the historical here-and-now.
The artistic researcher as a fish
What is our ideological “water” we all swim in? Which ideas and ideals are cherished and which are not? The “ins” and the “outs” of our times, so to say. What ideas that are so accepted, so transparent to us, so taken-for-granted, that we dare not dispute them…? In our case, within the logics of institutional critique, the every- and any-thingness of what we create, write about and lay a claim to as knowledge production, may very well dilute what knowledge is or rather what it could be.
Picture this short socio-historical scenario: Suddenly, the knowledge production of artists is proclaimed as valid as, say, a historian or an engineer – from a beautiful and idealistic point of observation to humanity’s reading of the world. A whole (artistic…?) field is suddenly created within the economy of education, not the usual financing domain of art and culture.
This new field lays ground careers for thousands of PhD and MA students, professors, lecturers, assistant professors, technicians, cleaners and administrators of every kind one can imagine. The (almost alchemical/magical) notion of “research” is instigated into this ecosystem; the idea being that it is to permeate it at all levels, creating the foundations for knowledge production, resulting in torrents of edu-art and edu-theory13 from everyone but the cleaners and the administrators.
This field or contextual vessel, positioned within the production logic of The Higher Education Industry, develops its own sub-culture, in addition to a splintering of sub-sub-cultures and discourses between the different institutional “hubs” – witness the differentiation and competition between, in Sweden, Gothenburg University and Stockholm University of The Arts, or in Finland the Sibelius- and Aalto academies, not to mention also the whole geographical differences between, e.g. the German speaking countries and artistic research developments in Great Britain.14
Blue skies and navels
What makes actions and artefacts of edu-art and edu-theory significant? Who decides their positions within the edu-field? How does meaning and substance appear? Who and/or what systemic structure decides importance, coherence, weight? Simply put: in what ways does hegemony materialize? Does an institutionalized, ideologically impeccable performance within academia lend us more credibility in the market of artistic research? And if the answer to the last question is yes – what does that mean for our understanding of the ideals governing the hierarchies of our field?
In the other end of the spectrum of visible and recognizable relevance is artistic research doodling with a finger in it’s navel, referencing it to the “blue skies research”-concept15 from other scientific disciplines, i.e. research where “real-world” applications are not immediately apparent. Of course one cannot know, not even say with any degree of conviction what does and what doesn’t widen anybody’s understanding of the world.
The challenge as well as the potential potency inherent within artistic research is the very subjectivity it claims as the core difference in comparison to these other proper and traditional scientific methodologies.16 Here the circle closes on our discourse yet again, coming back to the relevance-subjectivityobfuscation-current ideological trendiness. And back.
An impossible peek into the glorious future
Relevance is a shot in the dark. Who can predict with certainty what will “…yield new conclusions that matter” to the world while making an edu-art piece or writing an edu-theory treatise? The full host of cognitive bias, notwithstanding the lure of the herd instinct, reinforced by one’s institutional culture intra-politics, presents a formidable intellectual and moral morass, luring us into the kicking in of wide open political and ideological doors, while patting ourselves on our shoulders by calling the process “Knowledge Production”. Will we ever even get a mere glimpse of the “belief community” we are, and re-create, every day of our working week?