1. Artistic Research – definitions of the term
“Art and science are not separate domains, but rather two dimensions in the common cultural space”, states Julian Klein in his paper “What is Artistic Research” (Klein 2010).
The discourse on the term has gained momentum over the last couple of decades, and while several people have come up with concrete, usable definitions, opinions on what it conveys in detail may differ.
Christopher Frayling introduced a baseline in 1993, by marking out three possible variants of Artistic Research, which Henk Borgdorff refined and redefined:
research into art and design (Borgdorff: research on the arts)
research through art and design (Borgdorff: research for the arts)
research for art and design (Borgdorff: research in the arts)
(Frayling 1993, p5, Borgdorff 2006, p5f.)
Adding another layer of complexity to the subject, Simon Sheikh comes up with the following:
- research that is artistic, i.e. an aesthetic approach to science
As can be seen, there appears to have crystallised a general thrust, where Artistic Research is broadly divided into three areas, the first two of which seem straightforward enough. By consensus, the first case would be research which has art practice as the object to be investigated theoretically (Cp. Borgdorff, 2006), while the second case would be research that ultimately and deliberately leads to artistic practice, or is necessary for it. (Cp. Frayling 1993, p5, Borgdorff 2006, p5f.)
The third area is the most difficult-to-grasp, where artistic practice is immanent to the research process and result. (Cp. Borgdorff 2006, p6, Hellström, 2010)
The common aim of these approaches is the deliberate and intentional acquisition of knowledge and understanding, and ideally the documentation of the processes and findings. (Cp. Borgdorff 2006, p9f.)
In the following I will examine how specific elements of our DMSP constitute Artistic Research, and how successful they were in that regard.
2. The Emotiv EPOC headset at the core of the installation and the research process regarding sound
From the outset, we focused on three key areas we wanted to work on that would gravitate around a ‘performer’ whose affective state, influenced by one medium, would be picked up by the Neuroheadset and then being output into another medium. These were sound, visuals, and a participative element regarding the audience.
Since our main interest lay in the influence of sensitory stimuli on the performer’s brain, signal flow had to be considered, but would be secondary in importance to making conscious decisions about the nature, qualities, and expected effect of what we were to input.
As we settled for the ordering: audience triggers sound – sound stimulates performer’s brain – reactive brain activity is output as mostly abstract visuals – audience is able to see cause-effect relation, obviously knowledge gained (through, of course, research) and publicised by others regarding sound and its influence on the listener had to be considered and implemented – since we were looking for some systematic in our approach in order to see whether we could obtain any validation of our assumptions regarding the affective qualities sound from the resulting headset data. Further, the specifics of our intended installation setup (i.e. location, audience, blindfolded performer) had to be taken into consideration as well.
Both Robbie Christie’s and my own essays illustrate some of the research process that went into our work, specifically where acousmatic sound, timbral and frequency characteristics, and listening situation are concerned. (Cp. Christie, 2014, Thomas, 2014)
In the same vein, we conducted some spectral and waveform analyses of our sounds (Cp. Thomas 2014), to see whether we could find stringent relationships with data we got from the Emotiv EPOC.
Consequently, a large part of our preparatory process leading up to the actual presentation of our installation was taken up by multiple experimentation runs, during which volunteers would wear the headset blindfolded, and were exposed to our sounds. Headset data was recorded as were the test persons’ verbal descriptions of how they felt when listening.
At the time of writing, both sets of data are still being processed, but we are looking to eventually be able to publish our findings.
In conclusion, and in line with the definition provided in chapter 1 of this essay, I think it is pefectly valid to apply the term “research” to the work described here.
3. The DMSP installation as a piece of art
While the research processes described in chapter 2 formed an essential part of our work, undoubtedly it was also our objective to create a coherent piece of art, that would be considered such on its own merit, and with a distinct aesthetic. Due to the constraints of this essay, I will again restrict myself mainly to discussing the sound element of the installation.
Countering the Emotiv EPOC’s glossy hi-tech appearance and its obvious connection to the 0 and 1 world of digital processes, where its output is concerned, and at the same time emphasising the brain as possibly the ultimate analog “device”, we set out to create mostly mechanical or analog sound objects, many of them at least partly “hacked” household devices or instruments.
In no small part inspired by the scrapyard-like atmosphere of room G11 in Alison House (where a lot of the material-sourcing and building took place), as well as the naked, workplace-alluding style of room B28 (where we had been hoping to present from fairly early on), we were looking to build objects that would be visually engaging, mostly in a shabby, DIY way, as well as being haptically/physically inviting to the audience. Digital technology was very consciously either hidden, or kept to a minimum.
Generally, the idea was to break up and contrast the neuroheadset’s connotations of a clean, highly technological science laboratory setting with some real-world dirtiness and quirky charm to create a sense of tension within the installation.
While the jury is out on how we fared in terms of artistic merit, I do think the above illustrates some of the clearly artistic and aesthetics-driven intentions of the project.
4. Conclusion – Can the ‘Brain Drain’ installation be classified as Artistic Research?
I would suggest that – while flawed in its execution, especially where the actual presentation is concerned – our work is a textbook example of the term. Adhering to the categories outlined in chapter 1, and considering that in this case “the artistic practice itself is an essential component of both the research process and the research results” (Borgdorff 2006, p9f.), it should be classified as “research in the arts/research that is artistic”.
At the core of the project lay research, that – if not scientific in the sense of a traditional, strict laboratory setting (Cp. Nordmann, 2009, p10) – clearly fulfils the criteria outlined above, the results of which were presented in an equally clearly and intentionally aestheticised and artful way.
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CHRISTIE, R. (2014) Music and Emotion, dmsp.digital.eca.ed.ac.uk [online], The University Of Edinburgh,dmsp.digital.eca.ed.ac.uk/blog/braindrain2014/robbie- christie/ [accessed 24/04/2014]
FRAYLING, C. (1993) Research in Art and Design, Royal College of Art Research Papers, Volume 1 Number 1, 1993/94, Royal College of Art, London, available from: www.transart.org/wp-content/uploads/group- documents/79/1372332724-Frayling_Research-in-Art-and-Design.pdf [accessed 22/04/2014]
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KLEIN, J. (2009) WHAT IS ARTISTIC RESEARCH?, published in German in: Gegenworte 23, Berlin-Brandenburgische Akademie der Wissenschaften 2010, available from: www.researchcatalogue.net/view/15292/15293 [accessed 23/04/2014]
NORDMANN, A. (2009) Experiment Zukunft – Die Künste im Zeitalter der Technowissenschaften, subtexte 03 Künstlerische Forschung – Positionen und Perspektiven, p.8-22, Rey, A., Schöbi, S. (Eds.), ipf – Institute for the Performing Arts and Film Departement Darstellende Künste und Film, ZHdK
SHEIKH, S. (2009) Objects of Study or Commodification of Knowledge? Remarks on Artistic Research, Art & Research, A journal of ideas, contexts and methods, volume 2, number 2, spring 2009, available from: www.artandresearch.org.uk/v2n2/sheikh.html [accessed 22/04/2014]
THOMAS, W. (2014) Aspects of sound perception in absence of visual stimulae in relation to the ‘Brain Drain’ installation,dmsp.digital.eca.ed.ac.uk [online], The University Of Edinburgh,dmsp.digital.eca.ed.ac.uk/blog/braindrain2014/wolfgang- thomas/ [accessed 25/04/2014]