At a seminar organised in Helsinki a few years ago Janneke Wesseling referred to artistic research as a mode of speculative thought, which immediately inspired me to insist on artistic research as a form of speculative practice. That said, it is of course hard to imagine an artistic practice without thought. A few weeks later I had the opportunity to participate in a conversation on artistic research in Porto called “On Doing Research” and to discuss the matter further. Those conversations led to a small bilingual publication, artistic research does [i], or “Artistic research and/as interdisciplinarity”. Referring to the title I asked what can be done with or within artistic research, and focused on the potentiality of interdisciplinarity, the possibility of a meeting ground or a (relatively) free space for various disciplines to interact. I also claimed that the aspect of experimentation and play with alternatives, artistic research as a speculative practice, is more and more valued within Academia as well as in society at large. What seems the most obvious result of the debates and demonstrations so far is the diversity of the field today. There is not one form of artistic research but many types. In many cases, artistic research can be understood as an interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary activity and the different inter- or transdisciplinary entwinements lead to different types of artistic research (Arlander 2016).
Despite the diversification of the field, there are surprisingly few typologies created around artistic research; most categorisations concern the various relationships of art and research, often assuming a dichotomy, envisioning configurations (Elkins 2009), creating a third zone (Biggs & Karlsson 2011) emphasizing boundary work between the two (Borgdorff 2012), or suggesting various combinations (Keinonen 2006). Other typologies relate to methodology generally, adding a third dimension to quantitative and qualitative research, such as performative research (Haseman 2006), arts-based research (Leavy 2009) or conceptual research (Smith & Dean 2009). In an upcoming issue of Ruukku – Studies in Artistic Research (#7), on the theme of practicing and the practice of art, I suggest a typology based on emphasis between either product-oriented or practice-led artistic research on the one hand and either developmental or reflective artistic research on the other. But although fun, such exercises in categorisation are fairly meaningless in the end; each project wants to be unique.
In many cases artistic research nevertheless appears to find contact points with philosophical study, and to share its speculative freedom, despite inevitably also having an empirical dimension. We can think of artistic research as a speculative practice, not necessarily linked to speculative realism in philosophy, nor to the speculative economy (as in the call to a forthcoming issue of PARSE journal[ii]), but as an activity engaged in imagining alternatives, as a form of speculation through practice. The most varied forms of artistic research could be called speculative practices, if the speculation takes place with the help of and through artistic practice.
If we understand speculative in the sense of imagining, of envisioning alternatives, most artistic practices have a speculative dimension. Even my own practice, which is based on repeated visits to the same site, on creating a routine, is speculative in the sense of creating a basis for the unexpected to occur. Rather than speculate on alternative possibilities as a mental exercise, the speculation takes place by repeatedly creating the conditions for alternatives to appear, or not to appear, in and through the practice.
[i] “Artistic Research and/as Interdisciplinarity – Investigação em Arte e/como Interdisciplinaridade”. In artistic research does #1. Edited by Catarina Almeida & Andre Alves. NEA/12ADS Research Group in Arts Education/ Research Institute in Art, Design, Society; FBAUP Faculty of Fine Arts University of Porto. 2016, 1-27.