Archives for category: Research-Creation

Interaction is a noun. Vaguely, it can be used to mean some force affecting another. The cue striking the eightball would be an example. But this could also be described as a reaction. in that sense, we could consider one use of ‘reaction’, as in a chemical reaction. There, chemicals react predictably. To act is to perform some action, but also initiate some action. Thus,  intentionality seems to be implied in the word ‘interaction’.

“Inter” means between. While this could be the action of one body towards another, it is better captured by the sense of two or more bodies acting upon one another. Thus while one pool ball may be deformed when it impacts another, this is not the same category as when a person gestures at another. The struck pool ball has no intentionality towards the first. The change in the first pool ball is due to its motion and conveys no intentionality. In the second case, the act of waving (a gesture) may change the person waving. They may anticipate a smile or a wave back.

So, my brief account here defines interaction and its various conjugations as describing a change in the initiator of the interaction as much as the object. Indeed, it would be a mistake not to consider both (or more) parties as subjects.

One attempt to think about the relationship between spectators and interactive art is presented by Carlos Castellanos.

“Symbiogenic experiences are those that give rise to a sense that we are co-emergent, that is, that we exist in mutually influential relationships with our increasingly technological environment.” Castellanos 2016

Castellanos, Carlos. “Co-evolution, neo-cybernetic emergence and phenomenologies of ambiguity: Towards a framework for understanding interactive arts experiences.” Technoetic Arts 14, no. 3 (2016): 159-168.


Precis of my Research

The tree stump refuses to budge. It is substantial, but the judicious application of a shovel blade, an axe, and a chain saw, all lubricated by choice language, has severed most of the root structure. It should be moveable with a strong back. Now with a length of rope secured round it, I am still cursing its parentage, its probable future and itsself. I tug vigorously, and for long moments it seems to tug back. My opponent says nothing (when stumps start talking to you, you’ve been too long in the sun). It occasionally creaks, then as it seems about to give way, it springs back. Eventually, my adversary is extracted from the ground, I wipe the sweat from my eyes, and give it a final curse, before turning my attention to the next chore.

Alfred Gell, in his book Art and Agency(1998) discusses at length how people grant agency to inanimate objects. One familiar example is how drivers ascribe betrayal to their cars, when the vehicle suffers a breakdown. The actual facts in the situation, that normal wear and tear, or more bitingly, lack of maintenance has caused a part to fail is often not acknowledged. It is perhaps more satisfying to berate that “stupid car”. Ascribing agency to objets d’art is another facet of this behaviour, in Gell’s view. “Guernica”, Picasso’s response to atrocities from the Spanish civil war, as moved many people. Other works can be said to have an effect. Yet, we understand that the agency of an art object is not the same as that of a human. After all, unlike objects, humans move, speak, gesture……………hmmmm.

The way we understand that we are subjectivities has been described as folk psychology by some philosophers. People, and recent research has shown, many animals, exhibit a theory of mind. That is to say, we interpret other’s behaviour based on the assumption that it is driven by another mind. Yet the nature of our own subjectivity is still poorly described, questioned by psychology and critiqued by such philosophers as Daniel Dennett. He argues that there is no such thing a subject. He has developed a theory where what he describes as mental fields interact creating in humans the false impression of a subject. Our experience of agency, that we choose and intend towards the world around us, is an error according to Dennett(1993). I will refrain from discussing exactly what his arguments are for his position, at this time. However, I do not accept this position.

What I do accept, is that explaining consciousness is difficult. Philosopher’s have conjectured about it at least since Descartes, with is cogito ergo sum. Contemporary philosopher’s, especially Alva Noe, Shaun Gallagher and Dan Zahavi argue that subjectivity need not reside in a metaphysical soul, but actually relies on the fleshy bodies of human beings. In that respect, they reject the mind/body duality espoused by Descartes, and instead try to accommodate human consciousness in a material world. I take as axiomatic that we are subjects. This subjectivity is important because the fact of its existence, I believe, has potential for important insights into ontology. Currently, modern science cannot account for consciousness. It cannot clearly explain how matter generates consciousness. But the current absence of a adequate theory does not seem to require that we abandon the quest. Galen Strawson recently wrote “The mistake is to think we know enough about the nature of physical reality to have any good reason to think that consciousness can’t be physical.”(Strawson 2015). He has also said more pithily that we must use math to describe the physical universe because we understand it so little, that math is all we have.

My three research proposals, intertwined as they are:the exploration of consciousness through playing physical games, phenomenological analysis of that play, and demonstrating the utility of abductive logic in research endeavours, such as my doctoral research.

We can explore consciousness,(the Other Minds problem) through physical play. This play can be refined somewhat by means of structuring it as game, which allows us to select our variables. Indeed, examining variations is considered vital to most approaches to phenomenological analysis. It seems to me that artistic variations offers a means to that. Another element of phenomenology is the concept of bracketing, or attempting to temporarily examine phenomena separate from the greater social and historical context in which it occurs. This sounds remarkably like the accounts of a “state of play” that theorists such as Huizinga describe.

Considering playfulness as an aesthetic experience opens up new research methodologies. These methods deploy abductive logic, which might be considered the logic of art, to complement the humanities and the sciences. Thus my research reflects on why these methods should be deployed as opposed to more conventional approaches. Thus I want to not only use playful, artistic methods to explore the nature of human consciousness, but I intend to make an argument as to why I should use these methods, and how they can be deployed to complement methods found in the Humanities and the Sciences, both social and physical.

I began this precis with an account of pulling a stump with a rope. By contrasting this with the experience of playing various instantiations of tug o’ war against fleshy human bodies, I home to make progress toward explaining how we come to awareness of our own subjectivity through the movement of fleshy bodies, and in the specific experience of play. The theoretical arguments for this approach I will only nod to here. Edmund Husserl’s phenomenological methods and subsequent refinements by other scholars are significant. Artistic practices, such as the early work of Chris Burden provided inspiration. The discussion of research-creation by Kim Sawchuk, Owen Chapman and Andrew Murphie initiated my interest in exploring the nature of art-as-research and its potential affordances. An elaboration as to how exactly to consider the ramifications of this research lies ahead in conversations with my committee members, and other scholars.

Dennett, Daniel C. Consciousness explained. Penguin UK, 1993.
Gell, Alfred. Art and Agency: An Anthropological Theory. Clarendon Press, 1998
Strawson, Galen.”Consciousness myth”. Time Literary Supplement, 25 February 2015


This essay talks about a space, or perhaps a path that is called research-creation. This imagined territory, this utopia, or this dead-end, according to some critics, plays with some concepts of how we can use “art objects” to make statements about the world. It that sense, research-creation maps onto the world. Despite some similarities between the four papers I reviewed, there are some marked differences, and these seem to stem from the difficulty in defining research creation.
In their paper “Research-Creation: Intervention, analysis and “Family resemblances”, Owen Chapman and Kim Sawchuk argue that research- creation provides a useful and important intervention against the hegemony of methods drawn from the sciences. Moreover, they argue for four major divisions within research creation:”Research for creation”, “research from creation”, “creative presentations of research” and “creation as research”. Briefly, they characterise the fundamental ethos of research-creation as “trying things out, as opposed to gathering data”. These concerns are echoed by Andrew Murphie (Murphie, Clone Your Techniques)but rather than presenting a schema for developing a territory for research-creation, he advocates that all research be considered as research creation. His argument for a “radical empiricism” looks to break down disciplinary imperatives that he implicitly ascribes to institutional politics, rather than some noumenal or eschatological goal. Murphie gives Pavlov’s experiments with dogs as examples of the power and limitation of more limited empirical methods. He points out that Pavlov was interested in making very limited claims about the behaviour of animals. Yet despite the cruelty of some of his experiments(conditioning a dog to salivate from a mild electric shock) Pavlov was concerned about the welfare of his subjects. Murphie questions whether the narrow empirical methods betrayed greater insights that could have been found in his relationship with the dogs. This brought to mind a brief article in NPR written by Alva Noë, who observed that objectivity is an axiomatic value of physical science research. Noë argues that values underlie the particular methods by which research is conducted. This doesn’t reduce science to an essentially subjective enterprise, but rather that values must be elevated in their importance to research. To the objection as to which values should underlie research, I will assert that valuing is an ontological state for human beings, and it is disingenuous to ignore them. The particular value in question may be subject to critique, and indeed Murphie, as well as Manning and Massumi in their “Immediations” book proposal address the polysemous  nature of research creation. At the same time, bracketing this very human phenomena yields certain knowledge, and our relationship to the world requires a great degree of ongoing judgement. Chapman and Sawchuk’s argument hinges on Ludvig Wittgenstein’s  concept of family resemblances, that allows us to deal with phenomena that are conceptually fluid or difficult to delimit. This fluidity of subject requires an equally fluid approach, one that Chapman and Sawchuk  argue must “deploy examples” and “make them perform”.
Research For Creation
This zone, in Sawchuck and Chapman’s paper, discusses how artists conduct research in order to realise an art work. I can offer the example of a friend who, in preparing a bid for the new National Holocaust Memorial, spent time looking at historical buildings from Montréal’s Jewish community, spoke with Rabbi’s and Holocaust survivors, and read accounts of the Shoah. In some respects, this could be a very subversive approach, because conceivably it could escape a final vision from the artist who creates with it. Rather it emphasises process rather than 
end product.
Research From Creation
In this zone, art objects provide raw data from which arguments can be drawn. Typically, this is the disciplinary province of art Historians and cultural anthropologists. the art was not created to necessarily make a particular argument. For example, the pastoral portraits of 18th century English country squires were commissioned primarily as statements of wealth and refinement for those who would have identified themselves as “Tories”. Other readings by, for example, Marxist scholars, seem valid, but weren’t intended in the original production, especially given as these works pre-dated Marx by more than a century.
Creative Presentations of Research
This is probably the least contentious zone at least in current theoretical terms. The academic poster is a mainstay of contemporary physical science practice, as a means of communication. it faces more resistance from the humanities because the written word is priveleged over other means. As one philosopher said to me”pictures lie”. However Murphie argues that writing is not merely a report that could transparently present findings, but is in itself significant in creating meaning. Thus the claim that “All research is research-creation” because the communication becomes intrinsic to the research. This brings us to the final zone that Sawchuck and Chapman present- the zone of creation as research. In Henk Borgdorff’s paper, “The Debate on Research in the Arts”, this category is not explicitly addressed in his schema (Borgdorff p.9) unlike the other three categories that have analogs in both his and Sawchuk & Chapman’s paper.
Creation as Research
The challenge of delineating this category is that the truly porous nature of research becomes very evident. Not the least of this is because the previous categories all seem to fall sway to “research as creation”. Especially when we consider the creative element a process, then it can become a metaphorical path that makes its way across the borders of the previous zones and, albeit with some resistance, across the borders of preterritorialisation that Murphie critiques. For example, a degree of standardisation is explicit when terms such as standard deviation are employed(Murphie 3). These practices implicitly would vary from one academic discipline to another.
Borgondorff’s argument resemble’s Murphie’s discussion by using the term practice in a similar way to performance. Like Sawchuk & Chapman, he recognises that the “very ability to elude strict classifications and demarcations”(Borgondorff 7) that is usually considered intrinsic to artistic practices causes research creation to resemble a family rather than an easily categorisable type.
Creation’s implicit definitions
Much of the previous discussion compared various methodologies of research creation with those of other forms of research. However, the term creation was not theorised, although linked to what may be called artistic practice. In the sense that all research, properly understood as such, involves producing new information and arguments, it seems to me that analysing the concept of creation itself, might shed light on how it’s methodologies be developed. It would also suggest how it complements other forms of research.
perhaps the most troubling element of a research -creation project would be replying to the critique that because the work has an envisioned end, it cannot be considered research, as it has already given itself its answer. However, over-determining research outcomes is a potential problem faced in all disciplines. Murphie’s argument that disciplines “preterritorrialize” is part of that. Another problem lies in the successful cases, such the physical sciences inductively describe a principle, but then isolate it to one variable. Thus the claim that masses exert an measurable attractive force on each other on each other can be independently verified, but is inadequate for describing all the forces and interactions between bodies. For human beings, this seems especially true when regarding ourselves and our interactions.Borgdorff addresses this problem, at least partially, by asserting that academic researchers do not necessarily rely on an external standard for research validity, but but “develop methods and techniques as they go”(ibid p.8), responding to what I would describe as the particular calling of a given research project. This sui generis characteristic of research, and of research creation in particular, is strongly alluded to when Murphie qoutes Brian Massumi as to “Worlding”which Murphie takes to mean to have “subject and object integrate” into the research process (Murphie p.2).
Borgdorff asks what we mean by research and offers the official definition offered by the Research Assessment Exercise of “Original investigation undertaken in order to gain knowledge and understanding”(Borgdorff 9). Borgdorff derives from this that research must be intended, original and enhance knowledge and understanding(ibid p.9). This is useful because it also allow us to make a stronger argument for the one presented by Murphie’s use of preterritorialisation as a critique. Disciplinary research methodologies over determine results. At its best this yields precise if narrow results. For example, work is still being done in physics to further refine the measurement of the speed of light. At it’s worst it can severely limit the questions that can be asked. In retrospect, I see this as a failure of methodology but it does bring us to the question which is not explicitly addressed: What do we mean by creation? Borgdorff denotes creation by the process and object and suggests method must be appropriate to these(Borgdorff p. 8). I think this begins to address the question of originality that is considered salient to research, and also the relationship between contexts that Borgdorff mentions as the third element of the art(ibid). Perhapswe can consider the text of a powerful essay for a physics journal as an aesthetics of clarity- the documentation should be pellucid and not detract from the very narrow point that a paper of this short strives to make. However the intrinsic aesthetics  of research-creation seek to emphasise the context in which the research and the phenomena/object occur. The debate is to whether any research reveals the world, or merely maps it, and whether the map was drawn before the world was even explored.

Borgdorff, Henk. “The debate on research in the arts”.Focus on Artistic Research and Development, no. 02 (2007), Bergen: Bergen National Academy of the Arts. Accessed 29 September 2013
Chapman, Owen and Kim Sawchuk. “Research-Creation: Intervention, analysis and ‘family resemblances’”. Canadian Journal of Communication Vol 37 (2012) 5-26
Murphie, Andrew Clone Your Technics: Research creation, radical empiricism and the constraints of models INFLeXions No. 1- How is Research-Creation? (May 2008) accessed 29 September 2013
Noë, Alva. “Why Science And Values Can’t Be Untangled”.
accessed 29 September 2013
Sense Lab Immediations (Book series proposal)