Introduction to Art-as Research

Eivind Slettemeas



Reflections upon the intellectual/ artist's role in society- which roles are considered adequate and which roles are seen to have outlived their function- have long since emerged with his image as a public figure. During the sixties and seventies a universalist model of critique was forced into retreat, among other things because a consensus debate became more and more conscious of its isolated character and because one no longer had the same faith in the professional intellectual as keeper of the true, the good and the beautiful. At the same time comes a flourishing of alternative models with specific but also abstracted representations of intervention, analysis and critique of social relations. Later, representatives of this intellectual genre were being hailed as postmodern heroes or subject to indignant critisism. However, this was prerequisite to the current state of affairs where no method of interpretation any longer inhabits a dominant position, but rather is staged !
as a fashionable discourse or time-based theme for discussion. The biggest challenge has therefore been to maintain a level of interest in the media-based discussion for longer than just until the next critical marking.

It is therefore reasonably interesting to apply a research perspective in art, being able to work with long term projects, and dealing with reformative prospects. Contrary to an ideological reformation, critical-analytical work does not have to entail a redirection and following replacement of power-structures- that would mean an inclusion in and adaption of these relations. Even though we as cultural producers can and should reject the demand for a specific methodology for research (that would fall into either an enlightenment project or into experimentalism with no other goal then the liberation from material limitations) an analytical approach to the pedagogical creational practices of art should be shed light upon. An example of the pedagogical and conservatory function that has been tied up with the role of the artist is the use of the antagonizing figure associated with the exorcism of inner demons combined with social inadaptability or a general feeling of impotence. !
Oppositions are presented in dramatized form, for example through the historisizing of the cultural conservative. The cliché is here the caricature of the rebellious artist or the socially ostracised aestheticians vengeful attacks on established culture, pompous in its leanings towards self promotion and martyric posing as well as cross and negative towards good taste and the distanced viewer. Whether he is portrayed as degenerated or pubertal he is often written off from culture-critical potential. The precondition for a position within an institutionalised discourse is a hint of psychological or anthropological interpretation. The “strange” and “unpleasant” thereby becomes a disarming positioning of exterior and interior limits. The positioning of the conditions of production for art within a similar dialectic means that any intervention is connected with a form of disciplining and every liberatory project with a kind of powerlessness.

The pedagogic pretensions of art, whether they be based on mythical, technological or historical-analytical visions of development and teachings, construct the dialectic between the constructive and the destructive in the social organization and environment. From the last part of the 17th century and onward there is a widespread conception of art sharing and borrowing pedagogical ambitions with socio-biological history writing and ideas. It happily mediates the visionary ideas about culture spanning different phases from birth to death and is mirrored in the individual biographical development of the artist as a process moving towards conclusion and dissolution. Ernst Cassirer, in his “The Logic of the Cultural Sciences” from 1940 describes a similar rationalist stoicism. Through a universal organic functionalism culture and science has a shared symbolic basis for understanding that enables a connection and potential unity.

Art on the other hand has gone through a structural change, similar to that of psychology and ethnology, and no longer has its field of knowledge as a life form or organism but rather like these other fields expands the discursive in the crossroads of other humanist fields of science. In “the Order of Things” by Michel Foucault it is described how psychology and ethnology points to borderline experiences for the regimes of knowledge through the unconscious and the experience of the non-western.
In art globalisation shows how modules and displacements of representational forms and representations of the self form the conditions for the actual through discourse. These representations equip art with a notational machine of aesthetic-political objectivity that it incorporates in its formations of regimes and terminology.


A reflexive attitude, as it is used in the social sciences, can also be applied to art in order to replace the more structural self-understanding (art as a profession among other professions, differentiated between traditional art and interdisciplinay art). This attitude puts faith in the individual actor and individual initiative interprenating and communicating with other interpretations, and is perhaps closest to a liberalist rhetoric of a game(the art-game). It rests on the idea of a potential for self-realization through a heightened professionalism of the artist, a code-breaking and mastery concept, and therefore includes an inherent contradiction when is comes to the basis for a self-reflexive art. Strategies of communication and the application of games theory can in addition quickly come to reveal itself as confirming and supportive of art as a corporate-strategic means. Stephan Dillemuth and Anthony Davies have both questioned this understanding. The former through!
his positing of the dilettante as a model for art-production, with its dispelling function on the demands for an academic administration of identity, normalization and professionalized mediation. Davis has in collaboration with Simon Ford written the manifesto “Art Capital”, where the collection and control of information is described in a scenario with hybrids of these professions and network strategies: culturepreneurs, culture brokers and Total Role in Society shows how these free spaces are shrouded in secrecy and general post-fascism in the form of cultural mono-control.

Through increasing professionalization functions like accessibility, reproduction and circulation are maintained, but at the same time exclusion, closing off, limitation and denial of limitations are exercised. All in all the conditions for production and the determination of the process (the completion through frequency, developmental potential, ability to adjust to different agendas, generational patterns and communication effect as the goal of the political economy) are being claimed. At the same time the use of art for the differentiation of regimes and development of urban centres ensures that it is not necessary to aim for seamless networks and stable structures, as in state institutions (with the ideals being the national museum and the authority of the cultural celebrity).

Research somehow becomes self-evident in instances where surveillance and the gathering and testing of information is raised against withholding, manipulation and control on behalf of power. This can be retraced to classic schemas of intelligence or journalism, while with art theories of information reflect the kind of ties information is subject to. Single reactions, protests or subversive means is not enough against the mega-machines of media and information-highways. It becomes more important for the artist to appear with an accent, a local consciousness, than with an imaginary world language he himself has the grammatical understanding of. While it is pointed out, among others by Hardt and Negri in “Empire”, how the new capitalism itself produces the local, an attempt at controlling production through isolating disconnections will not be an alternative to a theory for the liberation of the means of production. An ontological absence is here pointed out, a systematic lac!
k in thinking, as opposed to a surveying understanding where any local identity is dispelled and works only rhetorically by pointing to something it itself is not, but uses as its testground and performs tentatively. In the by now traditional but multi-faceted state-capital axiom, where the political economy is increasingly pure bred on the terms of capitalism and turns a traditional rebellion upon itself, the subversive becomes a pattern of communication, and any short term tendency is reflected in the economy. At the same time long term political planning maintains its knowledge and power over life and the subject through bio-political means. These are, roughly retold, described by Foucault as the evolution of power technologies that interfere in the individual's self-constitution as productive desire, and today represent a transitional state towards more sophisticated mechanisms of control in the global economy.


The discourse of globalisation demonstrates how the socio-cultural field is systematized through psychological and ethnologic areas of knowledge. They are deciding for the terminology and direction of globalisation, based on their self-referentiality and methods for founding the conditions of cultural conceptualising. We can also see that this knowledge has a privileged role where the political economy makes advances as globalisation-ideology. Global art can contribute with dearly needed promises of a quasi-universal community where local conditions stand in the way of market-liberalist expectations of development and motivation.

Art-as-research should make clear to itself which means are at its disposal (knowledge-formations), but should avoid naming a goal or a motivation that re-installs a new knowledge regime (a theoretical model with a specific use). This does not mean that it acts as a counter-science, but that it points to knowledge being created, either under a larger schema of discourses and systems or relating analytically to these. Against the expansion and appropriation of these regimes this kind of research is without a “field” to work within. The field “art” is for example subject to psychological and ethnological analysis that make it a quasi-abstract dimension of reality, as symbolic value. What is important is to show how art avoids internment in categories that serve a knowledge-regime only to be circulated in a program of institutions, identity-production and political-economic interests. Alternatively, the production itself represents a subjection to an apparatus of meaning-produc!
tion that catches up with art and gives it a goal. Likewise but inverted, the subjective-paranoid anti-production entails a precise reconstruction of the apparatus as a code-machine.

The internal production of art has a similar form of self-confirmation in the external production. Not only does art relate to its own internal economy of desires, fears or dreams, but it is also defined into a fluid economy of identities and possible motives in global art. With globalisation it shows how this new administration of identities reproduces local relations of knowledge, but delinated from any connection with concepts of social self-determination. Also, it is possible to locate a fluid transition between the local and the global in the denial of the border it inserts between a universal strategy and a local tactic by instituting individually tailored solutions. This is the same problem that ethnology encounters in field work, where it becomes dependent on constituting the “primitive” as an identity. In order to construct a universal account the ethnologist must distance himself from the primitive reality of the primitive, unless he himself wants to surrender his !
pretension to universality and himself become primitive.

Again, it is a positive task for art-as-research to foreclose and reject dimensions like global subjectivity, while at the same time relocating a concept as a minority art that is not reducible, or possible to enlarge, to subjective entities. Later on this might give birth to deformed concepts like global art or intersubjective art, but the starting point is that this kind of art comes into being (intrudes) within a self-referential system and thereafter develops its own uniqueness. Within the system, it poses the possibility of breaking down the system, emulgating or dispersing from it . A condition for this is that art is produced at a level of abstraction that is the hallmark of all minority art, that no longer is self-referential but communicates with its externality (as a confrontation between different modes of understanding) and render all meetings physical confrontations that vary in duration, that surface and then disappear without giving itself away and that no lon!
ger only institutes demarcation lines through its intensity but mark the intensification of relations by the powers that be. As the staging of meetings, a minority art produces leitmotifs and refrains, possibly viruses, that put the way power speaks and operates out of play. Minority art and refrains as they are described by Deleuze and Guattari in “A Thousand Plateaux” are examples of how concepts work as tools for critical analysis, or art-as-research if so preferred.

No matter which direction this “work” takes, it directly or indirectly describes a relation to power, or rather a distance to power that need not claim to be critique. That it still challenges as provocation or affects a level of tolerance, is connected with the affective way in which such a project is constructed. Academically established discourses may not correlate to the conditions for communication and exchange, which will necessarily appear as tapping, breaks and interruptions with these discourses that are established inside the regimes that need an affective rethinking- i.e. as amateurish and through affection/contamination. This is however a principle that describes activist groups, minority movements and pressure groups, who by confronting power, regimes and a general fascist “lifeform” pressure these to give up more and more of their self-confirming postulates. In any case a temporary rejection of an individual and global control-force is enacted through the coll!
ective utterances of subjectivity, rather than by the subject matter itself.