My Situated Practice As Research

This is essentially a post for me to think more in-depth about my Practice As Research (PAR). I touched on a few issues in the Autoethnographic post, but in this one it’s about digging a little deeper than that…


Robert Morris: Much attention had been focused on the analysis of the content of art making… but there has been little attention focused on [the] means… that particular interaction between one’s actions and the materials of the environment. This amounts to the submerged side of the art iceberg.


For me, Artistic research is a mode of enquiry in art which utilises material thinking (a concept coined by artist Paul Carter) which deals with the physical handling of work and tacit knowledge of making as an alternate mode of thinking through which we can understand certain aspects of the world and the creative process. It relates to the larger bodies of knowledge that artwork can refer to, but focuses more on the handlability and materiality of the creative process. It is a way of addressing the ideas-led, meanings-focussed approach of the critical cultural turn. It relates to the ‘submerged side of the art iceberg’ that Robert Morris talks about, the way that process is being shoved aside for the critical analysis and content of the work. Material thinking is a way to readdress this balance.

Artistic Research and Practice-based research are more about helping to open-up questions and confront dominant representations. It is in this line of enquiry and rupture of dominant representation that I find my practice to be a form of research, as I seek to enquire about mixed-race identity, caribbean subjectivity, and post-colonial representations of the caribbean. The power-plays and hierarchies between them all are what I find interesting and the way that taxonomies aren’t useful to interracial subjects is what seems to drive and draw questions out of this.

The way that artistic research accepts and seems to encourage the validity of subjectivity rather than a notion of objectivity is the reason I feel my work and the ideas I explore can be considered research and considered useful. It is the way you can address the ‘self’ in the research that Morwenna Griffiths speaks of that enables me to consider my work research.It’s the way that, as she says, “In arts-based, practice-based research the self is inescapable, because the person creating, responding to, working on, developing or evaluating [artwork] is central to those activities.”(Griffiths, 2010)

I work within a very specific, situated, subjective experience of life (that is, my own life experiences of being British and Bahamian, living in both places, being a woman, making art) and while there are many who will share this experience in some way or another, my own set of life experiences are entirely unique to me and everything else becomes understood through translation. There is criticism about what Daichendt calls art’s ‘contingent situatedness’, or its nature of seemingly only contributing to itself for itself (that is, within the discipline for the discipline). But I find Donna Harraway’s notions of situated knowledge to be a refreshing way around this.  What Harraway calls the ‘god trick’ or the assumed possibility of being objective is understanding that true objectivity is artificial, a farce of sorts. But she argues that by openly admitting your own very personal situation and set of circumstances, the research you undertake can be understood by its translation to the subjective experiences of others. While in some ways it may only translate to a specific groups rather than on a global scale, I feel that my own research contributes to understanding caribbean and mixed-identity in a way that is part-sociological, part ethnographic, part auto-ethnographic in its translations to these areas and contributes in this way.

In thinking about my Disjointed/Cultural Cartographies piece, there is a tension between the articulateness of the work versus how I speak about it.

“[In terms of the eloquence of the works in comparison to speaking about them the problem is, if anything, an excess of articulateness. They are articulate precisely because they are articulated – jointed or joined together – in a variety of ways and dimensions. Theirs is a symbolic representation of the phenomenal, a picture of thew ay the world is constructed that participates in its complexity rather than eliminates it” (Carter, 2004). And it is on this level that I feel that my work works as well as my identity: something jointed and disjointed and made of many seemingly disparate parts, and between the joints and hinges is where the interesting things unfold and you find the things worth investigating.

The thing that makes the Caribbean side of things so appealing to deal with artistically in my work is the fact that, as the eternally lovely Jamaican Cultural Theorist Stuart Hall says (bless his soul) is that the Caribbean is a place with no longstanding idea of an origin as everyone who got there kind of just arrived there. Many of them came against their will in some form or other, especially when thinking about slaves and people seeking religious freedom. It’s this lack of a notion of origin that helps to make it so peculiarly modern, and not in the technological magic way.. It’s more to do with how the people of the Caribbean are, as Hall describes, the ‘conscripts’ of modernity. People who had no major part to play in the actualization of modernity, but came to it nonetheless – whether or not they wanted to. This lack of origin and arrival at modernity has instigated a lot of questions, and problems, for situating Caribbean identity and this is the reason why it’s so interesting to use as a line of enquiry in my work. It often tends to open up more questions than answers, and the questions don’t just relate to caribbean national identity but also to the colonial past and its relation to Western identity. This is where I seem to fall into. The gray area inbetween these places, between Occident and Other, which is why I think I feel that the process of placing myself when I’m making or building homes in my work seems to be so important. It’s a way of addressing this homelessness of being caribbean and mixed, but this homelessness isn’t a sort of desire or feeling of lack, it’s more to do with homelessness equating to having many homes and a multiplicity of homes.