SoAH Research Residency: The Object of Research

The Object of Research : SoAH Research Residency

The Object of Research: SoAH Research Residency
A process-led residency and enquiry into method for researchers from RCA, UAL and Kingston
Led by Professor Rebecca Fortnum & Dr Chantal Faust in association with Professor Sonia Boyce and Professor Fran Lloyd
Hosted by University of Cumbria, Carlisle/Ambleside
Supported by Conflux funding from TECHNE AHRC consortium
8th – 14th, July 2018

Participants pdf >

In his essay ‘Sonic Thought’ Christoph Cox poses an important conundrum for researchers with a material practice.  He writes,

For millennia, philosophy has conceived itself as the ‘queen of the sciences,’ claiming the ability to reveal what its object cannot reveal about itself: the essence, nature, or fundamental reality of that object. Philosophy thus dominates its object, subjecting it to philosophical rule. Convinced that its object is fundamentally ignorant about itself, philosophy is little concerned with what that object has to say on its own behalf. How might one challenge this domination, allow the object to speak, put it on an equal footing with philosophical thinking, permit it to generate concepts rather than solely to be subject to them? 

(Cox, 2015:123)

Most research symposia privilege the word, that is they are usually based on the sharing of written accounts of research.  When artworks and artefacts are present it is almost always as image rather than as material – referred to in secondary forms such a photographs or other digital forms in presentations.  The Object of Research will trial a new form of sharing research in progress by creating a space for artist-researchers to come together to make, allowing access to material forms of research not often possible within research forums.

When Rudolf Arnheim wrote about the difficulty of documenting and analysing artists’ processes in 1961 he could be seen as pre-empting a scepticism about art practice as a method of research. As he states,

Artists have learned to tread cautiously when it comes to reporting the internal events that produce their works.  They watch with suspicion all attempts to invade the inner workshop and systematise its secrets. (Arnheim:1961)

The introduction of the term ‘methodology’, that is a systematic form of enquiry, in relation to creative processes has continued to be met with some doubt. Early reflections on the introduction of research degrees into university fine art departments echoed such concerns that, cut loose from its traditional critical and commercial structures (the ‘art world’), fine art research practices could become meaningless.  Although more recently these fears have become allayed, with art practice as research being understood as a valid method of enquiry, one that reserves the right to adopt a methodology that allows room for lateral thinking, leaps of faith, ‘intuition’ or ‘not knowing’ (Fisher & Fortnum, 2013).   Most importantly the notion of ‘thinking through making’ as proposed by Tim Ingold and others, introduces the haptic and tacit knowledges of the fine art researcher into the discourse around method.  This symposium expands upon conventional means of knowledge exchange by developing an experimental strand of practice-based thinking into the discussion, as participants come together to explore and formulate strategies for arts practice-based methodologies. 

As well as providing participants with a means of extending and testing knowledge generated through making, this event will also enable network members to solidify cross-institutional links, through spending an intensive period of time working alongside each other. A programme of evening events will take place in conjunction with the residency to open up the work of the network. Participants will be asked to commit fully to the symposium. Cumbria has been selected for its historic relation to the production of art, which we will make the subject of discussion through visits/walks selected from The Wordsworth Trust, Tullie House and Museum, Merz Barn, Grizedale, Hadrian’s Wall or Ruskin Museum. Apart from these visits the days will be devoted to working in the studios on individual research projects and the evenings will host a speaker and discussion and other group activities that may evolve.  The project will consist of five working days and participants will variously be undertaking the following activities, some of which will be timetabled:


The setting of the symposium in Carlisle & Ambleside, close to the Lake District is designed to facilitate a different mode of communication within the group.  Walking is established as a mode to facilitate thinking, yet more recently it has also been seen as a way to communicate through groups though more often in relation to urban walking.


The residency will establish the participants in temporary studios within the Cumbria Institute in which they will be able to generate work in relation to their individual practice-based research projects.  How the work communicates or articulates their research concerns will be part of our evening group discussions.


Juxtaposing various practices side by side as well as watching the processes of fabrication can bring about tacit understanding between practitioners without recourse to verbal and textual analysis.


The studios will also be a place for writing . Participants will be able to share some of this endeavour with each other and with guests as appropriate. Some will no doubt use the studio groupings as an opportunity for writing workshops and experimental exchanges.


Participants may like to use their time reading in the studio, if this is what seems most appropriate to their studies. Spontaneous small group readings of particular texts are also envisaged.


In the evenings students will engage in listening to each other as they bring their various writings and works to the group.  There will also be presentations by each guest visitor, chosen to reflect some of the concerns of the group.  We will be reflecting consciously on what it means to listen to others.


During the evening sessions participants will engage in discussion and close readings in proximity to the works produced during the day and this will be facilitated by a visitor. 


Arnheim R (1961) Picasso’s Guernica: the genesis of a painting, University of California Press

Cox C, (2015) Sonic Thought in Realism Materialism Art (eds. C Cox, J Jaskey, S Malik) Center for Curatorial Studies – Bard College, Sternberg Press

Fisher E & Fortnum R (2013) On Not Knowing: How artists think, Black Dog Press

Ingold T (2013) Making: Anthropology, Archaeology, Art and Architecture, Routledge