The Plea

The Plea for Art-research – and maybe also against it

Dear All,  Here follows an earlier text,  based on my lecture in SARN  Swiss Art Research Network’s conference Luzern in 2012 “we, the public”.  It was first published  in written form  in the  documentation of the conference on this blog:

The earlier short discussion about the topic of this text was published in the book “37 Sculpture Quadrennial, Riga 2004, “European Space” where  we discussed Apolonia Šušteršič ‘s   Community Research Office in a London suburb and I said, that  artists are in a way forced to replace sociologists, psychiatrists and other workers  or to do social research  for  foundations,  because there is an error in the whole system. This is was in 2004.  In 2005 Apolonia published a highly interesting book about her project “Community Research Office: Art Spaces and the Gentrification Process in East London” (Englisch) publisher Taschenbuch Verlag– März 2005 with pretext by Anders Kreuger.

In these weeks  in 2014 the UNESCO announces  global research on the status  of artists, what can be also an interesting and important contribution  to the question


Here follows the PLEA for artistic research from 2012.

NOTES on :: SARN Conference :: we, the public” :: 26th/27th April 2012 :: in Luzern, Switzerland :: Swiss Artistic Research Network ::
Conference response
Róza El-Hassan (Artist and Researcher, Budapest)

The Plea – When we research, we can also judge

My approach is simple; it starts at yesterday’s welcome speech by the HSLU D&K Director Gabriela Christen.

She said in one sentence, that it is wishful thinking to want to build bridges between art research and other public realms; to our colleagues in science and in art and thus to hope to be able to find consensus and understanding for an incorporation of artistic research as a financed field of cultural and applied research. Is there really such a great divide between art and artistic research? I would like to question this and give a short ‘plaidoyer’ for artistic research and for interdisciplinary work within the institution of the art university, as this is where artistic research is being practiced.

Let me give you a different perspective to start with: In my practice I have experienced a most strange and painful division of art and artistic research and I usually associate this with a division of the art-market in terms of art as a product and art as practice and art as something next to science and many other fields of human knowledge. In other words I see my practice as a kind of public knowledge, which is real and not at all utopian.

Last week, I was in a beautiful castle at a conference on the art-market. Everyone at the conference was discussing the heavy problems of art-market and art-products:
they were curators, gallerists, artists, art historians and collectors.
At the end of these two days we came to the conclusion that the art-market is in a real crisis and that it might even collapse. So I find this very interesting, when we look to the role of the institutions. Maybe this is not so visible (or not experienced) here (in Luzern or Basel), but especially on the periphery of Europe, where I come from, people feel the instability.

Well, not only there, but also in Art-Cologne or previously in two art-fairs in New York, the instability was present. There is a lot of material, a vibrant stage, but very little money to really implement the „life of art“ into a public realm in the commercial sense. So, when we think of all the students who are in this classical (or traditional) university system, educated to create art-products and when we think about the incredible inflation of art-products and superficial production for the art-market, it makes sense to emphasize the importance of the other field, which was problematized in the welcome talk; the field of artistic research.

This necessity to think, contemplate and study before we act as artists – is a strong argument for artistic research.

Thinking about artistic research there’s one more aspect, argument, which I find interesting and crucial: We turn away from the individual art-product, from sensing and focussing on authorship and what is signed by the artist, as ‘real art’. Instead of that, we have collective works, many anonymous works, I would place this on a wide scale, starting with street-art, cyberspace, scientific art, photos and drawings circulating on the net without authorship and copyright, demonstration signs, spontaneous actions, political demonstrations in form of performances, flash mob actions, social design.

This realm is engaged in most – if not all – fields of human knowledge, we are right in the middle of a utopia; a new way of producing knowledge and it is happening right now.

But even without this perspective of utopian knowledge production, freelance artists are extremely flexible. Through their useful work and initiatives they fill niches and gaps where classical state-institutions cannot act anymore, where nothing works. Some of these spaces are the ‘blind-spots’ in the public educational system: artists often place their projects in the field of adult-education, education of people villages, they work with women in underprivileged areas, with young immigrants or they do workshops for endangered children, but they also fill the niches of urban architecture, urban gardening, just to mention a few contexts. Here I refer also to the role of the artist as described in Nicolas Bourriaud’s Relational Aesthetics.

So we turn away from the notion of art as an autonomous product, which doesn’t need any context, – this was the basic idea in the notion of completely autonomous art –

when we don’t need any text, we don’t need any context, we don’t need
social environment, this was the time of a universal piece of art, which stood for itself. The moment we turn away from this notion, the practice seems to be defined by expressions starting with the preface Inter: inter-media, interaction, and intervention, interdisciplinary and so on. So we find ourselves in activities and in a space, which is between all these different disciplines. Immediately there’s a total emptiness and also there’s some danger of chaos.

We discussed in the panel, that we still have to judge, when we leave the autonomous artistic discourse and we go onto the field of research. All the workshops showed this clearly. In the morning the city ++ project presentation provoked a quite dynamic and critical discussion. Or the project that had a research mode using tools that appear scientific but still demands that we judge its artistic values, and look for a quality standard. And this was also the case with the project “Revisiting Patrimony” which is about memories and objects of memories, often still in use, like wooden plates from the kitchen – how can we archive what is still alive? We need total alertness to live and define this.

We are confronted with this incredible field of chaotic knowledge without any certainly, with blurring borders of discourse and I think this is not necessary for art. When we research we can judge; we try to clarify; we try to draw the space of the intervention, the artwork or performative action, so that it is not lost in complete chaos. It becomes a statement. Art can do this even if it looks different to science, we can judge it and relate it to things.

In Sarat Maharaj’s keynote lecture we heard, that we have to experience the moment of enigma in art.

The No How that is not Know How is very important. When we enter this realm of No How, we are in the realm of the enigmatic moment of art. This enigma is not any less precise. I am sure you do not have to live in a completely chaotic undefined environment to experience the enigmatic moment of art or to express is.

I don’t know, how obvious this is for others, maybe this is my subjective experience, but if we can contextualize it and we know how to define the space, we know, where it stands. We are not in a topography that is completely unknown. We are in a much more precise topography and we have much more freedom to sense a message for art, a human message, that is basic and real. There is certain to be a public out there able to relate to that.

Róza El-Hassan,  2012 Basel

NOTES on :: SARN Conference :: we, the public” :: 26th/27th April 2012 :: in Luzern, Switzerland :: Swiss Artistic Research Network ::


Bourriaud, Nicolas. Relational Aesthetics. Paris, 2002, HYPERLINK BookSources/2840660601,
On flexibility of artists filling gaps of society, production and education: von Osten, Marion et al. Be Creative – der kreative Imperativ, exhibition and leaflet. Museum für Gestaltung, Zürich, 2003
On the blurring borders and changing realms of discourse:
Foucault, Michel. Les Mots et les Choses, Paris, 1966
References for art- production outside the professional art-world: our own archive of pictures and blogs from the Syrian revolution and its intense art-production in cyberspace ongoing since 2011 see Róza El- Hassan and Shadi Alshhadeh im Museums Beyond Crisis, CIMAM conference documentation on the internet and in printed form.
“Community Research Office: Art Spaces and the Gentrification Process in East London” (Englisch) publisher Taschenbuch Verlag– März 2005 with pretext by Anders Kreuger.
further research material : Qr codes for Syria, 2012
NOTES on :: SARN Conference :: we, the public” :: 26th/27th April 2012 :: in Luzern, Switzerland :: Swiss Artistic Research Network ::


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