The Staging Of A Museum Of Artistic Research

Erik Berg


Museum of Artistic Research is an attempt to encompass the field of artistic research from a historical perspective; its specificity, width, excellence, its different aesthetic or ideological characteristics and traditions. The staging is a part of Bogdan Szyber’s PhD candidacy project “Fauxthentication”. To be precise, it is a part-exposition of his research concurring with Szyber’s 80% public research seminar. Throughout his research (2014-), his most notable claim on artistic research is that it is a “deliberate fabrication”. Through a series of staged operations, Szyber has advocated his theory of fraud, and his expositions have in various forms been meant to support this claim, often leaving him in the line of fire from institutions and other artistic researchers.

As a curator, I was tasked to make an exhibition in an attempt to falsify his theory, all in the good spirit and ethics of research. In order to do so, I had to try to get a grip on what artistic research is. I had some prerequisite knowledge of the field, but since I did not regard it as up to me and my own taste and liking to proclaim what artistic research is other than fraud, I had to dig deeper. In my quest in searching for something or someone who could tell me what it is, I started looking for a decree. Well aware that I mostly dug where I stood, I could not find anyone.

So I followed the money. The heaviest institutional body, The Swedish Research Council, put out a list that could until recently be found online, where they listed the ones whose research has been funded and approved as being “artistic”. I was later to find out that some of the researchers had found it “interesting” or sometimes “wrong” that their names and works was included in that list, but there it was. This list became the fundament of my curatorial effort in the staging of a Museum for Artistic Research, because it included the names of the artistic researchers who were there when it happened.

The exhibition features 15 artists/artistic researchers and their works, all exclusively from their respective PhD candidacies. In order to ensure that we are explicitly dealing with artistic research and its actual products, I have taken measures to safeguard that the works exhibited have been conceived during their PhD candidacy. I did this mainly to be able to rely on the very idea that the works presented, now transcended from their place of conception, the milieu of artistic research, could be read with another critical distance, all in an attempt to encompass the brief history of artistic research in Sweden. This staging attempts to enable our critiquing gaze to – hands on – deal with the history that artistic research as a practice is inscribing in Sweden. The method in our work has been to extract the artefacts of artistic research from their entanglement in the language matrix of the field. These artefacts are not necessarily the final outcome of artistic research practices but rather their mediums in the field of their respective craft. We are injecting them into the Baroque Hall of The Swedish History Museum.

With this staging we hope to foster critical dialogue on artistic research practices. The exhibition creates a body that represents what artistic research could be through our learning from history. The curatorial selection is lined with the project’s ambition, dealing explicitly with representation. Out of roughly 150 artistic researchers who have passed their dissertation in Sweden, 15 have been chosen, an approximate 10%. This representation, taken from the statistics of The Swedish Research Council, is guild proportional: Design and Crafts: 6 persons, Theatre, dance, music, literature: 4 persons, Fine Arts: 3 persons, Photo, film, digital media: 1 person, Architecture, 1 person. It is worth noticing that the guild categories are stated in the document from The Swedish Research Council, and thus not a product of my mine. The exhibition is, to the best of my knowledge, the very first one of its kind in Sweden, even in Scandinavia.

Artistic research in its current form, where an artist can be funded for a minimum of a four year period, commencing research on a topic agreed upon with the candidate’s supervisors, researching that topic through her/his artistic practice, earning the mandatory 240 credits, staging a exposition part, presenting a minimum of four public seminars, publishing a dissertation – all in the safe confines of a university; has been around since early 2000’s in Sweden. Roughly 150 artists have passed through this needle eye, and have quite possibly harvested, exposed and published an immense bank of new knowledge. But to whom is this knowledge accessible? To whom is this knowledge passed? Museum of Artistic Research offers, among its many others, one major possibility, perhaps a utopian one: the possibility that artistic research, whilst making itself public and feeding itself on the knowledge of its history, could also be exposed in the eyes of the public, becoming as valid as any other museum artefact. In this act of exposing, encounters beyond the safe-haven of text could be fostered; the art produced in the field of artistic research to be exhibited. But in a museum, in the home turf of artefacts from history, this art has to state its claim subtracted from its language matrix. That is the rule.

But really – What is artistic research?

The question to end all seminars, open all seminars, to be discussed during the coffee breaks, at one’s colleagues 80% seminar, in the light of a new publication, on the appointment of new PhD candidates. The question that bores you, the question that excites you, the question you only seem to think about when you are in the rooms of artistic research, the conferences, the keynotes, the presentations. The question whose answer you have hopes for – that it will change something, that you dread – since it might change everything, or that you suspect, would not make any difference at all. This question often put out in the never-ending quest to identify those who govern the discourse. The question you put out to overthrow their authority – or to ally with them, becoming that very authority. The question that would give your experience quantifiable stakes, real measures, goals you can meet, boxes to tick. The question: whose answer has the power to validate your experience?

Jacques Lacan would argue that the way fantasy works, is that we can only imagine what we already have language for. All experiences that remain nameless escape our possibility to account for them in an analytical setting. We simply can’t share them, as they are tied down to our senses. An experience is not complete, noticeable and made conscious until there is language. Our fantasy is therefore always inherently connected to language, as well as our ability to vocalize our experience only ever arises within the act of sharing through language.

The truth about what artistic research is, could very well happen right before our eyes, but until we have a temporarily unifying language attached to it we might not register it while it’s taking place. So in our quest to form a language, while not maintaining the ambition to unify or solidify those signifiers, we let the experiences of artistic research escape our analysis. If there is no language definition, no writing on the wall in response to what artistic research is, we can’t analyse it, only experience it. In this staging, we try to look on what it is, rather than what it is not.

What is artistic research? The exhibition is to be experienced in response to this very question, a question that in itself has its particular dynamics, categorized in sub-questions like: What makes a specific art-practice artistic research? What are the key points and checkboxes of artistic research? What is the turning point in artistic practice into well-funded artistic research? The answer to all these questions might very well be: language.

Neither this text nor this exhibition aims to answer the question to what artistic research is. Instead, it is offered as a projection surface, based on the art conceived in the field of artistic research, by the very works of artists and researchers who are artistic researchers. This is what a museum of artistic research could look like. If we would regard artistic research in its current form as a practice where its history matters, this is what it could be like. This leads me to believe I have created an exhibition of the field, a museum of artistic research, the very museum I had hoped to find in my research, when tasked to encounter the question: what is artistic research, if it isn’t a “deliberate fabrication”?