NiTRO Creative Matters

Perspectives on creative arts in higher education

Artistic Research and Film Practice in Europe: Stockholm University of the Arts, 22 January 2020 – A Report

by Professor Herman Van Eyken — In the Scandinavian countries, Artistic Research is often defined as the creation of an original work of art in combination with a critical reflection on the process of creation, and publication is when the art work meets an audience and the critical reflection is disseminated to the broader community of artists in the field.

The Norwegian Film School has long participated in the national Artistic Research Fellowship Programme, which has provided a 3rd cycle alternative (not a formal PhD) to all arts academies in the country. This is in the process of becoming a formal PhD in Fine Arts, and they are working to establish this PhD for film, television and related media sometime in 2020.

The Norwegian Film School is privileged to be operating in one of the countries where Artistic Research is enshrined in the laws governing higher education and research, and seen as something separate from but also equal to academic research. Recently (2018) the government also created the possibility for institutions to create PhDs in Artistic Research and the Norwegian Film School is working on establishing one within film and the broader audio-visual arts. The Norwegian example reflects the current status of only a few film schools in Europe. Some are in a more advanced phase already others are not there yet. But it is encouraging to see there is an increased focus in the European Film Schools on this topic.

Sweden has a long tradition of artistic research for knowledge production and well-established doctoral programmes. Here, as everywhere, there is always a tension between practice and practice as research. Considering practice as a form of research encourages the making of films that forge new connections, is rooted in curiosity and has a dialogue with the discipline but also the other disciplines. It encourages interdisciplinarity and risk taking.

It was therefore a good choice for all the European Film Schools to gather and discuss Artistic Research and Film Practice in the first GEECT Thematic Day at the Film & Media department of the Stockholm University of the Arts (GEECT is the European Association of CILECT). Invited to present, participate and to attend this thought-provoking event, I am sharing some of my notes here for other film researchers from Australia, who were unable to go there in person.

It is not the first time the European Film Schools have gathered to discuss Artistic Research in Film Schools. The first attempt to bring all the interested schools together was at LaFEMIS in Paris in April 2015 and coincided with the launch of their prestigious SACRe PHD collaboration with Universite PSL, a fully funded endeavour for the happy few and lucky chosen to work on and produce long feature film work. This event was mainly a taking stock exercise, and a moment of self-realisation that very few film schools were ready to embark on this tricky and new terrain. Many left with the intention to go and do something about it.

In 2018, the Latin American Film Schools Association, CIBA, gathered in Mexico City for a series of workshops and a conference, emerging from a number of questions from member schools from that region seeking to understand how they could develop relevant film programs able to contribute to cinema praxis through creative research, in the light of the growth of post-graduate degrees in the Ibero-American Region of CILECT. In Mexico City 3 fundamental axes were proposed through a classic call for papers. The first was around creative research resulting in audio visual productions, the second around research using audio visual productions as a methodology of source of empiric data, and finally research that centres around technology and innovation in audio visual methods. Workshops focussed on creative processes, the state of creativity, or even on manifestos. Keynotes highlighted the development of new knowledge through artistic research in and through cinema, Eisenstein as an example of interaction between practice and theoretical reflection, or even the production of new knowledge through film pedagogy with notes on the intersections of theory and practice.

Just over a year later, GEECT keynote, Professor Andrea B. Braidt from the University of Vienna and the current President of ELIA, focused on a better understanding of the Definitions, the Approaches and some Examples of Artistic Research and Film Practice.

As ELIA is a globally connected European network that provides a dynamic platform for professional exchange and development in higher arts education over 250 members in 47 countries, it represents some 300.000 students in all arts disciplines, makes it an ideal network partner for CILECT (with a similar member status) and for GEECT in particular. ELIA was instrumental in producing policy papers about artistic research. ELIA members are higher arts education institutions from all artistic disciplines, that include the major film schools. ELIA has also been at the forefront of the ‘professionalisation’ of artistic research, serving in the first place the urgent needs for ARTS UNIVERSITIES to get a common understanding of what was and would be expected from them and the best way forward to make this work for them. The puzzle was not a simple one with some members having degree awarding powers and others not.

Professor Braidt therefore insisted on making sure we could bring all the attendees on the same page in terms to understand Artistic Research with clear working definitions, while highlighting clearly its roots: the Bologna agreement, the Florence Principles around the Doctorates in Artistic Research developed in 2016 by ELIA and endorsed by all the major partner networks such as AEC, CILECT, Cumulus, EAAE and SAR. The bottom line is that artistic research produces art and contains a reflexive, documentary and discursive component. In discussions there was a strong argument (from Sweden) that the research could be all in the practice. But the reflection can be documentary. Supervision is separated from assessment – important move from previous years when it was the supervisor who awarded the PhD.

Finally, the Frascati Manual (Italy seems to be the fertile ground to come up with these grand ideas), comes up with criteria to evaluate research in maths and statistics. It gets updated every 10 years. So far, artistic research is not considered to adhere to any of these criteria which has detrimental implications for funding for research. R&D activities are considered along 5 core criteria: it all needs to be novel, creative, uncertain, systematic and transferable and/or reproduceable. Artistic performances are bound to be failing the novelty test of R&D as they are looking for a new expression, rather than a new knowledge. Also, the reproducibility is not met. As a consequence, arts colleges and university arts departments cannot be assumed to perform R&D without additional supporting evidence. The recommendation here however, is to adopt an ‘institutional’ approach and only take into account the artistic practice recognised by R&D by higher education institutions as potential R&D.

In order then, to have valid approaches, Professor Braidt made 3 distinctions between the Critical Approach coming with a promise of unsettlement, the Essentialist Approach working though singular explorations based in intuition or finally the Pragmatic Approach where Artistic Approach is not any different in any way from other research, and therefore meets all the 5 core principles from the Frascati Manual, and is simply measured by the research community itself. As an important suggestion, Professor Braidt insisted on making the research question explicit and making the method transparent.

Professor Braidt’s keynote was followed by a very interesting panel discussion around Artistic Research as a pedagogic approach, a strategy rather than a method: how can you teach curiosity and uncertainty? Creating a space for experimentation, where students go on a journey with you. How do you frame an enquiry? Criticality, reflexivity and reflection. Knowledge is situated and anchored by hegemonic frameworks. Epistemological approaches are situated in a canon. There needs to be an awareness of place, aesthetics and ethics and strategies of foregrounding the political choices of ethics and aesthetics. Why are you choosing this form of representation?

Artists have been always doing research. It’s about expressing it in terms of systemic procedures. We need to beware of thinking we don’t need to justify ourselves; we can just explain artistic research in terms of intuition.

The day concluded with the promise by Professor Manuel Jose Damasio, Chair of GEECT that the new Frascati discussions will be announced in a new Vienna declaration on artistic research later this year. We are going to keep an eye on these. And then it is time to have our own gathering around this hot topic in the Asia Pacific Region. I am working on that.

Professor Herman Van Eyken has a background in script writing, producing and directing. He directed more than 200 films. In addition, Herman’s research interests lay in the area of film policies and film training needs for professionals.  Herman originally crafted his film and education career in Brussels, at Ritcs. In 2005, he founded Singapore’s first film degree and headed the Puttnam School of Film at LASALLE College of the Arts.

He now heads the Griffith Film School, Brisbane –Australia’s largest film school.

In 2014 he was elected as Chair of CAPA, the CILECT Asia Pacific Association, comprising the major film schools in Asia and the Pacific.

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