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Academic research as art

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For the latest Praxis-Forum blog, Adam Knight reflects on a busy summer of activity, introducing his work where the academic and the artistic intersect.

Black and white film still of oil well

The past four years I have been working towards a part time MPhil. One of the qualities expected of practice or project-based research is that the process of investigation is held up and in turn, becomes part-focus for the project – as a reflexive device. This attempts to temper the tendency for art research to produce specific objects of knowledge, valorised and ready for consumption in a knowledge-based economy.

There is an uneasy relationship between so-called practice and theory (as practice) it seems that the idea of an artwork as constituting academic research is still unknown to many, especially institutions that deliver and support practice-based PhDs. Often genuinely dynamic moments that happen through an artwork transcend interpretive apparatuses of a research degree. There is good and bad research as there is good and bad art, however the criteria and judgement falls on the former rather than the latter. Working on a substantial body of text over 2-3 years also raises interesting challenges around the duration and focal length of writing. It operates at a much different rhythm to writing for work, and takes on a slippery sensibility which although is not unpleasant, is certainly harder for maintaining a sense of consistency.

Film still depicting satellite dish

Your own fallibilities as a writer are brought to the surface. Certain words, phrases and grammatical approaches repeat themselves months apart. As I near the end, thoughts are drawn to a conclusion or how it is even possible to conclude a body of research that revels in a sense of the fragmentary – a working constellation of partially formed suppositions. Writing fulfills an obligation towards naming and describing, whilst operatively able to defer a sense of commitment towards a set of answerable questions. The writing functions as a means to capture an uncertainty between text and the work. My supervisor suggests conclusion is not a good heading and I am tending to agree.

July’s forum gave me the opportunity to show a rough edit of a science fiction film that comprises my contribution to the practice component of my research submission. The film was shot in the Wende Museum, Los Angeles. The museum uniquely intersects the two chronological and geographical interests in the Former East and current West that form the subject of this research degree. The film is a concluding piece of practice extending from my research in the former East (Cultural Monuments of the GDR) and the current West (Trackingshot – Desert Sessions). As a result of the forum presentation, I entered into an email exchange with Joe Stevens (another Praxis artist) who helpfully pointed me in the direction of several interesting references that ended up in the film’s script.

Film still of archive

Lastly, I made a small work for a show in Stockholm as part of a gallery exchange. I decided to show something decidedly non-PhD based: a Karaoke video of Andy Kaufman’s ‘I Trusted You’. In the late 1970s alternative comedian Andy Kaufman, would perform the song ‘I Trusted You’ as part of his stand-up routine. Kaufman repeats the phrase ‘I Trusted You’ with increasing desperation and ferocity, accompanied by a live band repeating a simple musical phrase. Initially, the audience are taken in by Kaufman’s sentimental song to an unknown lover. However, by the end of the third minute, Kaufman loses the empathy of his audience and ‘I Trusted You’ becomes a comment on the lost faith of the agitated crowd. The musical score has been re-recorded as 2 guitar tracks and synchronised to a generated karaoke video. The microphone is left out in the gallery as an invitation to accompany the looped track.

Film still showing busts

It felt like an important marker for going forward; to continue to invest in longitudinal research project that yield a diverse set of working practices; alongside singular artworks that can be shown in gallery contexts. This is something I would like to think about for the open weekend next year as part of Praxis-Forum.

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