Sunday, October 09, 2011

Staying abreast of the (right) context

A cardinal rule in the research community: know what others have done with regards to your interests in the field of your expertise.

I don't have to explain here how it is crucial to the quality of the research; how the building of knowledge is founded on the teamwork of individuals, each responsible for making a few building blocks or cementing some of them together; why the game of citation is more than a matter of respect and how it creates visibility and therefore helps the dissemination on which everybody relies to know who is constructing with which materials and tools; in which ways it doesn't matter however recent, in which language and where in the world the blocks of knowledge are produced.

Academic scholars can profit from conferences and professional journals that cater categorically to expertise-bound interests. The internet can compensate for any lack of immediacy in bringing the latest developments to the doorstep of the researcher's den. Artistic researchers are relying on the hope to use the same sort of system, really, except that we don't have all the tools to ourselves, yet. We have to make do: by lack of sufficient(ly) discipline-specific journals and conferences, we mingle with our academic colleagues, wander around in their environment and partake in their perspectives. But this cannot be an excuse for replacing AR context with that of the academic world: it is like mixing the wrong cement for the type of bricks that go into someone else's building project. And yet, it happens. I have seen the disillusion in the eyes of audience members at artistic research gatherings when they were confronted with presentations that showed ignorance of their personal relevant contributions. In one case, academic quotes were aplenty while any AR context was not even touched upon (let alone equally developed and nuanced with references). In another case, familiarity with what has happened on the concert scene in the last 15 years could have compensated for the ignorance of existing AR output. In such instances, the presented research misses depth, focus and validity because of the lack of proper contextualisation. The academic world would not tolerate such inadequacies and would expose and correct them on the spot and publicly. That such didn't happen in these AR conference cases is symptomatic of a self-consciousness that still pervades this new discipline.

Beyond the personal frustration of a researcher being confronted with the invisibility of his work and professional profile lies a problem of choice. Even with all the right dissemination channels in place and in working order (whenever in the future that will be), artistic researchers may have to set priorities and favour artistic over academic context, especially if it is really impossible to keep updated on all the scholarly literature - academic and artistic - ánd on the artistic developments on stage. But at this moment, it is not really impossible yet. There is still so little real AR output that it is quite feasible to take careful notice of it all. The lack of multitude and diversity in AR output - many reseachers' interests have not been met with e.g. a doctoral AR dissertation in that field - provides a unique opportunity to look at the whole picture. If AR is a researcher's specialisation, it can only be beneficial to behold and savour that whole picture for as long as it small enough to fit the horizon. It is at least my experience that as much inspiration, if not more, can be drawn from AR output outside one's own field than from another discipline.

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