Edited by Smiljana Glisovic
With this edition we are continuing the conversation around research reporting and assessment of creative practice research outputs. The first thing to say is that the focus on measurement, accounting, and evaluating is not the only conversation to be having, and that in order to get that part ‘right’ what we need is to seriously engage with the philosophical underpinnings that guide the pragmatics around doing creative practice research in the academy. For example, are the categories of ‘traditional’ and ‘non-traditional’ still apt? Or are these categories built on certain assumptions that we ought to put into question? Is the best way forward to compare the emergence of new ways of doing research with pillars that were instituted in very different times, or should we be reassessing some of these understandings? And perhaps this is the impulse for the Australian Universities Accord and ARC Review. That creative practice research came into the university relatively recently, allows it to be a good kind of ‘disruptor’ in relation to some much larger questions around ‘knowledge’ and ‘research’.
Whilst it’s critical that we consciously think about what philosophical frameworks ought to inform any reforms in university agendas and operations, and how creative practice research sits within that ecology, this edition, with its rather narrow focus on research reporting, is an attempt to make visible the detail and real impacts of the models we may implement.
For this edition, an invitation went out to our national community of creative practice researchers to share a particular research output which they had submitted to their institutions for reporting purposes, along with any accompanying material. In most cases, but not all, this included a Research Statement (of the old ERA kind, 2000 characters with subheadings: Background, Contribution, Significance). As a way to understand whether the author felt this material was ‘sufficient’ in order for their institution to assess the work ‘fairly’, we also invited everyone to submit any other kind of ‘exposition’ or material that would help an assessor evaluate the research in terms the author felt were proper to it. Authors were also invited to share anything else about their experiences of reporting creative practice research outputs worth sharing with the broader community. I am emphasising ‘research’ in relation to assessment. A work of art can be assessed in any number of ways, on any number of merits, but within the university we are assessing the works as research, and therefore need to understand the research dimension of the work. It is also interesting to note when an author deems it appropriate to assess the work in other terms, for example terms set by industry.
The work showcased here is impressive! With this edition, apart from an attempt to do particular work around processes, it’s also just such a pleasure to get a sense of the range of work being made within the research context. What this edition shows is an incredible group of craftspeople, artists, thinkers, philosophers, innovators, radicals, experts. What the works also show is that all of the outputs are more than one thing, be that in terms of concepts being explored, innovation in methodology, interdisciplinary experiments, novel collaborations.
If I was to make a collective statement on what I hear in the commentary of what has been submitted to this edition I would say that on the one hand we want to simplify things, take the extra labour out of the process, we want to equal the playing field; and on the other hand, equaling the playing field may require detailed assessment to account for the idiosyncratic and wide range of research outputs produced under the umbrella of creative practice research.
Given this range, our concerns also don’t always align. For example, some of us that work in long-form mediums want to align the ‘length’ with the ‘weight’ it carries toward the overall accounting of our annual research outputs; but those of us that don’t work in long-form mediums we are likely not going to push this agenda. Sometimes our research intentions are satisfied in 10 minutes of a film, sometimes in 20 hours of a podcast, sometimes in a 80 000 word novel. Do we need to ‘account’ all of this? Do we need to find equivalence for it all? Does equality come to us in this form, or is there another way to ‘value’ what we do? Is there another way that does not follow mathematical equations for what we are always arguing is not a science of that kind? Is there another language altogether? Can we be guided by other kinds of questions around ‘knowledge contribution’? Can we separate that out from the size of the work or the labour put into it? What central tenets are we guided by when we answer these questions? What kinds of cultures do we want to enable? What kinds of thinking and doing do we want to flourish?
Something else the submissions here demonstrate is the importance of research design. A design, forethought, that can make room for all of the improvisations and surprises and intuitive turns as well as be able to document to process, be a container for reflection, interrogation, evidence; a tool to allow engagement with community, dissemination of the knowledge in ways that further the impact of the research. And I use the buzzwords here because I think they have somewhat lost their meaning in all the policy-speak and I wonder if we can re-enliven them and make them inspiring again.
This is a long editorial, but it’s a big edition and many dimensions have been raised here which, rather than understand them as ‘problems’, or only that, we might see them as evidence of the abundance of the field that is creative practice research. One of the joys of showing this kind of range here is that we can critically engage with what we think is working or not working, needed or not needed as accompaniment to the creative artefact.
Without further ado…
Kam (Zeynep Akcay) is a powerful film that is working across multiple aesthetics and forms. The statement articulates these interrelationships and cogently argues for the meaningful ‘dance’ between form and content – the materiality and techniques used are inextricably linked to the subject matter the author is exploring. The additional material the author included in this submission brings our attention to further intellectual and theoretical work that arose from the creative output, where the author could share methodological choices. This example also brings attention to the copyright and exclusive rights issues that practitioners can encounter as they straddle the industry/university spaces.
Mark Sholtez (Twilight on the Trail) speaks about this industry/university relationship as well, having been established in the music industry before entering academia, and connects this to the challenge of not disrupting the creative process. So the question is: what is it about the academic environment that feels stifling to the creative process? Perhaps the model of the reflective practitioner is useful here, where the creative act is allowed the space to emerge, and the ‘scholarly’ act happens afterwords as an act of reflection. This reflection ‘from the inside’ can be offered up as ‘new knowledge’ to the field as a result of the practice (ie it’s different to the critical gesture an ‘outsider’ – not the creator – may perform in relation to the work). And so, when the author names the creative artefact ‘material evidence’ in the research statement, a question emerges: where is the ‘new knowledge’? How can someone glean the discoveries the practitioner made? Is it in the material evidence or in another more discursive mode?
Spook is an exhibition arising out of David Usher’s PhD research. The research statement is dense in a way that demonstrates the work is informed by scholarly and art-historical practices. What the statement reveals is that the research exceeds the artefacts themselves – though they are integral to it – hence the encounter with the paintings and the research statement does not feel like a ‘complete’ experience. This research is operating in highly conceptual as well as material spaces and the ‘knowledge’ generated in the process of this research seems to me to need to be communicated in various ways. For example, a number of methodologies are mentioned in the statement, which I am curious to understand how they interrelate and how their specific dance together speaks to the materiality and subject matter of the paintings and ceramics?
The Still and Moving Street (Melissa Howe) also came out of PhD research. The statement reads as informed, rigorous and engaging directly with the conceptual and material histories of the field. Again, I am inspired to know more, there is a depth to this research that one cannot access through the images and research statement alone. Having said that, there is enough here for me to understand the scope, the contribution, and the integrity of the work as research.
Linda Clark and Ellie Coleman share with us their exhibition Becoming. The words they give us about the work show clearly the informed questions that drove their work, a curiosity in finding ways to express something through a material practice.
Reflecting on the visual art submissions, I’m wondering whether there is something about how visual art is taught in undergraduate and postgraduate studies that trains researchers in the language of understanding their material practices within the context of theoretical and conceptual concerns? This makes for good research statement writing skills!
Spinning World (Agnieszka Golda and Jo Law) has a video attached which details the journey of the research project. This video is demonstrating an excellent tool for communicating research, the processes, the complexities of design and collaboration, the intentions as well as the outcomes, in evocative and instructive terms. A beautiful example of a generative relationship between art and science and how the methodologies, thinking and processes intersected in ways that gave rise to truly novel approaches and outcomes for both disciplines.
There are many aspects to the submission Seeking Vision – a Virtual Exhibition of Illustration co-curated by Dr Ari Chand & Dr Andrew Howells. Chand and Howells have included their own statements and extensive reflections on Illustration Research, but we also include a catalogue with research statements from each of the artist-researchers included in the exhibition. This is a feast, a real example of where Illustration research is at.
In Jan Brueggemeier’s additional statement to the audio work Salmon Tales, he raises an interesting point about the way the assessment panels instituted in most universities that review creative practice research outputs are highly subjective. The implication is that parity is harder to achieve when committees are so idiosyncratic. I’ve often wondered whether these assessment sessions should welcome anyone that wants to be there – very interesting conversations happen on these panels; and an open-door policy could engender trust. In the research statement for Salmon Tales I am once again fascinated to know more about how the work combines ‘literature theory and environmental accounting’, which is not something I am able to glean from encountering the work alone. How do I engage with this notion in a meaningful way beyond the creative artefact itself?
Between the Tides (Dr Aaron Burton and Madeline Goddard) is an interesting example because the aesthetic form – a documentary – allows the researchers to be more explicit in their articulation of the research within the frame of the work itself, whilst still able to engage with the poetic and aesthetic aspects of the form. The research statement allows the researchers to articulate those less explicit aspects of the work – how the particular aesthetic choices allow a new emergence in the subject matter.
A similar example in terms of form can be seen with Sisters of the Sun (Patrick West and Simon Wilmot). The film is operating within some documentary tropes which allows some of the ‘research’ to be explicit in the encounter with the work. The statement alludes to other dimensions of the project which are less explicit or accessible by watching the film alone. The statement does gesture toward further interpretive work that can be performed in relation to the film and its knowledge claims. One question that comes to mind is: how, where, by whom, should this interpretive work be done?
Tonya Meyrick (Avant Garden) discusses another instance of the issue of ‘measure’, of scope and size and points acquisition process. This was a complex project with a number of iterations, a number of research questions, with collaborators, and numerous outcomes. The issue here was ‘to portfolio or not to portfolio’ as this has implications for how many research outputs it amounts to, which then has implications for one’s workload allocation. This is not the same in every institution, so Meyrick’s particular issues were particular to the institutional structure where this work was submitted. On the basis of the research statement alone, it isn’t possible to comment on how the scope and complexity of the project speak to the research claims. Does a project of this size need space for a more in-depth articulation of the knowledge contributions? I also feel we need to experience the work in order to be able to assess this fairly. Again, the author draws attention to the dissonance in expectations from universities and what is actually happening in industry. This matters in an environment where universities are pushing the ‘industry engagement’ agenda.
Rose Michael in relation to her novel The Art of Navigation raises a common observation that creative works build evidence of their impact over time, and we need to make sure our processes allow for the records to capture this. Similarly, the research itself can ‘change’ over time, in the sense that the researcher, upon reflection at different stages in their own development, can gain different insights into their own work. What we do is sometimes hidden to us and over time and with more conscious attention to it, it is revealed to us. I don’t think this is about getting that research statement perfect, or exact. The statement is a tool that needs to perform a very particular function. That the work exceeds the statement, and that the researcher ‘outgrows’ it, is not a problem, or shouldn’t be. The statement is not the work. We just need to be clear on what function the statement has, and not give it any more importance than that.
Another example of concern over measure, scope and size in the example of the novel Hasina by Michelle Aung Thin. Michelle’s suggestion that one should be able to nominate whether the work is minor or major does in fact happen in some institutions, but perhaps not in hers. She also shows that the ‘life’ of a work continues after we report it in the first instance and that there needs to be a way to keep capturing this – if this is an important measure for those that are evaluating. I know this is made possible in some institutions, but perhaps not all.
Kate Hunter, with her submission Earshot, raises another example of a tension between industry standards and creative arts funding bodies, and that of the university. The often iterative nature of performance works, how their questions and research agendas change over time and with each season, is an aspect that is attractive to funding bodies. For this reason artists often maintain the same title for a work, even as it goes through various changes, iterations, and seasons. However, this does not align with university expectations, where one would strategically change the title of a work if the work had developed enough to be expanding on the knowledge contribution it is making. This case brings up the larger questions around how arts funding, or funding that is not specific to research funding, relates to the institution, and whether the expectations are the same or sometimes at odds. Creative practice researchers have to navigate a number of different terrains, their languages, expectations, models of excellence.
We are pleased to include a journalism submission, a portfolio of 3 pieces Rates, Roads and Rubbish: The civic function of Hyperlocal Journalism from critical self-reflective practice by Josie Vine. In my experience journalism as a practice has been challenging to report along the NTRO guidelines. Perhaps because journalism has its own set of discursive rules, in terms of form and function, it is often difficult to glean the critical/theoretical/scholarly work that is attendant to journalism research. In this case the researcher’s ‘practice’ is in the process as much as it is in the outcomes – the articles. And whilst this practice is somewhat evident in the articles themselves, the ‘reflective’ aspect discussed in the additional material for this submission can’t be gleaned from the pieces themselves, we need the attendant reflection, the part that situates the work within a set of preoccupations within journalism scholarship and/or practice. There’s a lot more going on here in terms of what the contribution of these pieces can be as research rather than just the information dissemination to the community. And this cannot exist in the artefacts themselves, because those artefacts have another, quite narrow remit of what they need to do in the context of a local newspaper.
Jude Lovell and Kathleen Kemarre Wallace offer us another example of how one work of art can spawn a whole range of enquiries that are not all claimed for the artwork alone, in this case, Monstrous Breaches, but require development and communication in other modes. Though this is one of very few that did not require a research statement in order to be reported as a research output. This example shows how particular things can be activated, recuperated as ‘knowledge’ in the encounter with the artwork; yet other things from understanding the process of the making; yet other things when situating the work and theorising it in relation to other fields and conceptual framings. What the authors show is that they are artist, researcher, cultural theorist, reflective practitioner – they have taken up many roles in relation to their work over a period of time. The authors share a statement and a paper written in relation to the artwork which discusses, amongst other things, the way that, as collaborators, they are situated within particular cultural contexts that circumscribe the nature of that collaboration. This is likely not what one would encounter as ‘knowledge’ in the artwork, though may be able to see the ‘material evidence’ of it, upon reflection.
We are very excited to include the book 100 Atmospheres (The MECO Network) which shows us that the categories of traditional/non-traditional are not always fit to describe the work we do. In this work we observe a beautiful movement of the explicit becoming poetic and ineffable, before surfacing again in more explicit terms. What is scholarly, what is artistic, what is critical, what is mysterious and arising out of intuitive spaces interweaves in this work. For this reason it seems to exceed the current definitions we may be working with along the lines of traditional/nontraditional, scholarly/artistic etc.
This is such an exciting time and it is so good to have so many of you onboard participating in this conversation so that the panels and committees making these decisions have access to your voices and experiences and ideas on how we can do this better.
There’s more to be said, and unraveled and debated, and I invite you to contribute to this momentum by writing to firstname.lastname@example.org with comments/thoughts/feedback that I can share in our rolling part of the website. It can be anonymous, it can be authored, it can be whatever you need it to be so long as it’s helpful in generating a meaningful, considered, informed, expansive way forward.