Research-Creation: Methodological Issues | Leonardo

Research-Creation: Methodological Issues

By Patricia Bentson

Editorial by Louise Poissant

Hexagram | CIAM (Inter-University Center for Media Arts), a research center based in Concordia University and the Université du Québec à Montréal, is currently launching a large-scale investigation into research-creation methodologies as part of a series of conferences that will begin in March 2014 (see www and culminate in the 10th Anniversary International Conference on the Histories of Media Art, Science and Technology. The conference will feature a symposium entitled “2015, RE-CREATE: Theories, Methods and Practices of Research-Creation in the Histories of Media Art, Science and Technology,” to be held in Montreal by Hexagram and McGill University’s Center for Interdisciplinary Research in Music Media and Technology (CIRMMT).

These symposia are intended to re-address various attempts to name and describe what determines an artist’s creative process—the influence of theory, which is now ever-more significant and crystallized in artistic works; the impact of technique and material circumstances; cognitive and physical tendencies; sociocultural backgrounds, including the habits and stimulants that nurture creation; the role played by chance and mistakes; the central role of the spectator and of the network used to disseminate works of art. How can innovations in the field of art be explained?

Research, whether it concerns materials, techniques or know-how, or the themes and ideas given shape in works of art, necessarily imposes constraints and dictates the manners in which creation takes place. In a time when research’s agenda is being transformed and is being expressed in various currents—research-development, research-innovation and research-intervention—that enable it to be paired more immediately with economic and social activities, it is now vital to investigate the field and the impact of research-creation.

The diversity of practices employed in the current art scene renders the issue more complex, and new types of methodological approaches to art are gradually beginning to take shape. Indeed, we are witnessing the emergence of a series of studies addressing the various new approaches artists use. Amongst these are autopoiesis; cognitive mapping; constructivism; demo (or die); deviation practice; enactivism; experimentation; heuristic, process-based and systemic approaches; imitation; modeling; remediation; schematization; simulation; tinkering; and trial and error. These are but some of the approaches that artists and researchers are attempting to describe in order to come to a better understanding of the processes of discovery, innovation and creation.

The increased employment of research-action and of creation-intervention involving the public as a partner in artists’ creative processes is also a harbinger of new experimental approaches. These types of life laboratories, which can occur on the street, in public, in hospitals or in workplaces, require methodological thinking. In what ways are these research-action methodologies reshaping research agendas and the meaning of art? What principles can be derived from the thought processes behind research-action?

Art and science are now coming closer together than ever before. Artists and scientists are teaming together on many projects. Such interactions serve to modify approaches even though requirements in the two areas are of a different nature. One element of the criteria for scientific validation does indeed concern the reproducibility of an experiment, which means that each stage in a procedure must be recorded step by step. In art, expectations are of a completely different sort, since the artistic production process normally remains unpredictable and enigmatic. One can try to grasp and describe the broad lines of a work but one will realize that, irrespective of one’s degree of success in terms of understanding, analysis, empathy and proximity, there will also be something unfathomable in every work of art. Even though one understands the process involved, a work will still also be the product of that unforeseeable nothing, as Bergson put it, that makes all the difference.

The role played by chance or haphazard methods—an object of increasing study—must not be forgotten. Several artists, following in the footsteps of John Cage, employ chance as a trigger mechanism or an aid. Processes that employ the irrational, the random, the unexpected and the accidental feed into innovation and into the discovery of new forms. The digital age—a common denominator between media and methods of expression—is also a generator of serendipity, as it increases the number of unforeseen connections and links between disparate elements and flows of signifiers.

In the current climate, what role does research-creation play in relation to artistic creation? What impact can it have on aesthetic, technical and methodological innovation? Can it serve to shed some light on artists’ creative processes? These questions are vital in relation to the important work being undertaken in the fields of aesthetics, epistemology and cognitive science.

Louise Poissant
Leonardo Editorial Advisor
Université du Québec à Montréal

Editorial published in Leonardo 47:1 (2014)