Interacting: Art, Research and the Creative Practitioner
by Linda Candy and Ernest Edmonds, Editors
Libri Publishing, Oxford, UK, 2011
360 pp., illus. Paper, £ 35.00
Reviewed by Flutur Troshani
University of Shkoder
Were we seeking a term that conveys some of the significant transformations in contemporary art, research, and creative practice over the past decades, “interacting” would be among the first to come to mind. Its appeal is easy to understand given the increasing audience engagement with the artwork, its undeniable malleability, and the transformation of the museum into “interactive space.” Candy and Edmonds, the editors of this study, acknowledge its significance and indicate that practice-based research in interactive art appropriates and transforms contemporary discourse, the unstable contours of which suggest the critical depth of the epistemic questions that can be raised if creative practices and research methodologies are brought together. Deep down, the collective voice of these essays problematizes the demarcations between research methodologies and creative practices to the point that they come to be entangled into and to reconfigure each other’s domains. In doing so, step by step, these essays trace a heuristic methodology, which lays claims upon how research can be brought into creative practice, what is transformed during that process and how the interactive art practitioner mediates and refracts relations both within and between them.
These essays stretch back to the work of art, intended here as a complex where creative and research practices conflate, but they also stretch forward to the contemporary context, the epistemic and aesthetic protocols of which insist that the inherent nature of the artwork has been transformed both in terms of “conceptual models” and “procedural tropes.” The point is that interactive artworks have set before the artists, researchers, and academics a new model that moves beyond methodologies and frameworks imported from existing discourses and practices. From there, the value of interacting turns out to be central to practice-based research. To visit it within the tripartite relationships between/among “artworks and audience,” “creative practitioners from different disciplines,” and “practitioners and the norms of research” is to develop a particular discourse, the constituents of which are not only conceptual and aesthetic, but also collaborative, reflective and networked. Inevitably, this leads to apprehending how this discourse, however convoluted its dispositions may be, is to be interrogated and systematized. The challenge, in other words, is to put practice-based research into our conceptual mapping and into the agendas of contemporary art projects. As their response, Candy and Edmonds have brought together contributions that come from different disciplines, the collective voice of which is generally well-orchestrated, although, occasionally, given their inter-, trans-, and multidisciplinary and skewed approaches turns out to be dissonant and repetitive.
The structural designation of the essays falls into five distinct sections prefaced by brief introductions. These make sure that the essays do not veer away, invested as they are in idiosyncratic disruptions by their multidisciplinary drive. The methodical association of art and research provided by the first section, “Interactive Art and Research,” brings into sharp focus the working concepts and, more notably so, (re)configures them into ways that are crucial to maintain the theoretical coherence required to bring together the voices of the contributors. This also ensures that the forthcoming essays keep abreast the main argument and that the logical progression from one essay to the next remains unaltered. First, Edmonds begins by locating retrospectively interactive art within the early experimental practice of the twentieth century and pays special tribute to Duchamp’s role in undergirding interactive art. Then, his essay is followed by Candy’s contribution, which explains how “practice-based research is explored through the prism of practitioner research in interactive arts.” And, finally, Stephen Scrivener, a practitioner himself explains his personal “long-term experience of involvement in practice-based research” (17).
In the second section, “Curatorial and Reflective Practice,” the centrality of interaction breaks with the underpinnings of curatorial work as practiced in the setting of the traditional museum. It even pushes further the adoption of a more open-ended approach by means of which the stability of the interdisciplinary concepts together with the fluidity of their associated facts and practices are set afloat. By implication, here, the museum is both open and interconnected space, where the audience is directly engaged with the work itself. All the projects described in this study have been carried out at Beta_Space and the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney, which technically may provide the necessary infrastructure to bring these works to life.
It is understandable that in the overall dialectic of this study, the signifying and circulating power of interdisciplinarity does at one level subsume the individual and reflective, but, on the other, it also raises questions about the collaborative. Thus embedded, the third section, “Collaborative and Communication,” asks what happens de facto and how should we attend to collaboration carried among practitioners coming from different disciplines? An implicit trajectory of this discussion is pushed further in the next section, “Creative Engagement.” Here, looking into the interconnections between creative practice and research methodologies, ultimately, reveals their mutual containment, thus mirroring from there the active role of the audience. Finally, in the last section, “Art Practice,” the editors have included a discussion of artists who relate their own practice to theory and research.
In conclusion, this book advocates a practice-based research that is attentive to both praxis and behavior of interactive artworks. It is one that draws from the epistemological structures provided by creative practitioners who come from different disciplines. Acknowledging this, the argument goes, allows us to see how research can be brought into art practice and the other way around. Gradually, a theoretical cartography of working concepts in practice-based research emerges. Its continual transformations enable the resonance - at times even its dissonance - in how we practice both art and research today. There is a short biography of the contributors, bibliography and index at the end of this book.