Artistic research, like the world of a work of art, is presented in multiple ways in its often-uneven passage from conception through production to dissemination. And like a work of art, it can manifest across a complex distribution of materialisations. This complexity invariably presents challenges. Given the indeterminate nature and material manifestations that might constitute a single project, it can be particularly difficult to determine how and when it is best represented. This state of affairs can invite the question: are there more or less appropriate moments in the passage from conception to “realisation” in which to evaluate and represent artistic research? Although most established models tend to focus upon evaluating a project at its perceived point of realisation or conclusion (documentation/experience), Project Anywhere’s focus is instead directed toward the task of evaluating and representing artistic research at the proposal stage (speculation). Significantly, Project Anywhere regards a project’s potential produce new knowledge as something that might indeed. exist in its imagined or hypothetical potential rather than any tangible or measurable outcome. Moreover, by removing direct aesthetic experience as an evaluative mode, a very different sense of a new knowledge capacity is potentially introduced.
Project Anywhere is a double-blind peer reviewed global exhibition program dedicated to promoting artistic research at the outermost limits of location-specificity. Since its inception in 2012, it has hosted between 4 and 8 projects annually. Although descriptions and images of hosted projects are featured on a dedicated website, it is important to stress that Project Anywhere is neither an online exhibition space nor a journal. It is instead a vehicle conceived to capture something of the conception, potential and formative instigation of projects located anywhere and elsewhere in space and time. It is perhaps best imagined as an exhibition space comprising the entire globe in which the role of curator is replaced with a peer evaluation system.
Project Anywhere’s evaluation criteria stress that all proposals must make a clear and compelling case for a proposed project’s potential to contribute to knowledge in an identified field of creative practice. Accordingly, it is expected that proposals identify related artistic precedents and relevant literature. Projects can however be highly speculative or discursive in nature and might extend or contradict existing methodologies. Importantly, all proposals are reviewed by at 4 artist academics of international standing. Consequently, and irrespective of any final determination, all applicants receive a comprehensive compilation of critical feedback for future consideration. As already indicated, this approach has both merits and shortcomings.
The benefits of employing double-blind peer evaluation at the proposal stage for artistic research might be summarised as:
- Offering an alternative to the curator as a cultural gate-keeper.
- Attenuating the perceived symbolic value of cultural capital—i.e. professional reputation, academic qualifications or exhibition track record. (To date, Project Anywhere has hosted projects from established artists and academics together with undergraduate students and non-affiliated artists. Emerging artists are can and are sometimes selected over established artists with international reputations.)
- The latent influence of name-based discrimination. (Research on name-based discrimination points to systemic bias. The historical example of 21-year old undergraduate Asian-American student Maya Lin—whose successful and later controversial blind proposal submission to a public design competition in 1981 for the ground-breaking Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington DC—offers a good example of artistic innovation made possible as a consequence of blind peer evaluation).
Some of the limitations include:
- Unnecessarily attenuating the role that the subjectivity of the artist(s) might play within of the constellation of meaning making elements in an artistic project.
- The inevitability of some peer reviewers gleaning potentially attributive information in searching terms contained in project proposals. (Perhaps all that can be done here is to specifically encourage applicants to submit non-attributive support material.)
- The challenge of adequately contextualising radically distinct language sets, epistemologies, and artistic perspectives without access to potentially attributive information.
Artistic research is often underscored by assertions that art can produce both epistemological and experiential claims to knowledge. A common claim is that certain ideas are inimitably developed and communicated via processes of doing and experiencing doing. Although research accompanying art might succeed as research whilst not succeeding as art, it remains debatable whether or not it should still be described as ‘artistic research’. Like art, artistic research takes place in a radically spatialised network of elements that sustain but do not delimit or define it. And like art, artistic research is characterised by a productive indeterminacy that is at once difficult to capture and significant in the formation of new knowledge. Within this sometimes radically distributed matrix of competing and mediated considerations, and coupled with the sometimes remote and/or radically distributed nature of the activities themselves, it is understandably difficult to point to a singular or optimum point of entry into the world of the project. Accordingly, it is probably sensible to concede up front that the task of adequately representing a project occurring elsewhere in space and time in a format commensurate with meaningful dialogue and evaluation is bound to be a mixed enterprise. Perhaps at best we offer a placeholder with to provisionally counter assumptions that new knowledge is best communicated in text-based formats and that that non-traditional formats present barriers to value.
Project Anywhere’s blind peer evaluation model seeks to balance consistency and open-endedness. With no need to emphasise specific thematic or epistemological orientations within a specific curatorial framework on om an issue by issue basis, there is no need for curatorial input from the Editorial Committee to develop the exhibition program. Instead, the Committee’s role is to determine the final raking and cut-off mark for proposals that are provisionally accepted through the peer evaluation process for each year’s program. This model is particularly suited to unpredictable and initially uncategorisable projects that might otherwise be resistant to thematic curatorial organisation. In addition, it enables projects to remain open to revision at any point during the hosting period. Perhaps the most interesting thing about evaluation at the proposal stage is that it occurs whilst the project is at its most speculative. It is therefore less an assessment of any demonstration of new knowledge and rather a speculation upon whether or not a proposed project possesses a capacity to produce new knowledge.
At the cessation of Project Anywhere’s annual hosting period, all projects are eligible (irrespective as to any demonstrated capacity to meet proposed objectives) for inclusion in the biennial conference Anywhere and Elsewhere hosted by Parsons School of Design in New York. Interestingly, it is at this juncture that curatorship is introduced to the mix. This free two-day event is curated by Sean Lowry and Simone Douglas and features presentations from artists that have successfully navigated blind peer evaluation through Project Anywhere, together with a complementary selection of invited presentations from established artists, curators and writers. Following the conference, participants are invited to develop material for our biennial publication titledAnywhere. This publication features contributions ranging from scholarly texts to photo essays to annotated diagrams and graphic illustrations (or indeed any other page based representation that points toward artistic projects located elsewhere in space and time).
Considered together, Project Anywhere, Anywhere and Elsewhere, and Anywhere all seek to locate alternative reflective moments in the process from conception through production to dissemination to reflect upon the value and inherent indeterminacy of artistic research.
Sean Lowry is a Melbourne-based visual artist, writer, curator and musician. He holds a PhD in Visual Arts from the University of Sydney and is currently Head of Critical and Theoretical Studies in Art at Victorian College of the Arts, University of Melbourne. Lowry has exhibited and performed extensively both nationally and internationally, and his writing appears in numerous journals and edited volumes. He is also Founder and Executive Director of global blind peer reviewed exhibition program Project Anywhere (www.projectanywhere.net)—which is currently supported as part of a partnership between the Centre of Visual Art (University of Melbourne) and Parsons Fine Art (Parsons School of Design, The New School). Lowry is also one half (with Ilmar Taimre) of The Ghosts of Nothing (www.ghostsofnothing.com). For more information, please visit www.seanlowry.com