Artistic Research in Public Space. Participation in material-based art.

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School of Arts, Design and Architecture | Doctoral thesis (monograph)
Contemporary Art
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Aalto University publication series DOCTORAL DISSERTATIONS, 33/2014
There is a need to put more effort into exploring new ideas of what role material-based art can play in society today. There are many technical and political perspectives describing the role of materials in the participatory development of the public space, but still more knowledge about the artistic aspects of environmental issues is needed, because when the environment is materialized, a meaning is always created, and from a social and cultural perspective, this meaning is important. There has been extensive research undertaken on participatory design and material-based art, and on the multiple pathways for creative practice and research practice to come together, but research is lacking on the relationship between participatory design and material-based art. When considering ethnography, it has also been proposed that more artificial set-ups should be used, and more novel and exciting ways of thinking about the work of fieldwork should be practised. One should not only passively live in a specific culture to observe it, but ethnographers should, to a larger extent, participate, act up and act out, as in the early legendary ethnographic studies. Based on this, the main research question concerned how participatory processes could contribute to material-based art. The supporting research questions consider how collective concepts can emerge in a participatory process and how collective concepts can be materialized into artworks. A final supporting research question involved how the artworks could be implemented into a specific institution. The research questions contribute to self-identification in terms of the research outlook on participation in material-based art, aiming for an expanded understanding through a hermeneutic and descriptive research approach. Three public institutions were chosen as contexts for the case studies to create a sense of unity: a church, a school and a hospital were chosen because they are both pillars of society and institutional frameworks for specific occasions in life. Material-based art was produced and used actively through a participatory approach to create public art. The approach, findings and analysis were employed to identify any relevant issues and topics that concerned the people who were connected to the material-based arts, and to highlight any issues that were related to the skills and actions of material-based artists. This included the exploration of how practice was carried out, which issues were important and which issues emerged in the research community in different contexts. The issues and themes that were identified through exploring public participation in art practice were thus validated in relation to existing research and in relation to what may be required for an art-based transformation process in society. The issues identified through the artistic research were related to knowledge, skill and general competence, aspects that are relevant from an educational perspective for participation in material-based art. In such a knowledge domain, it is relevant to have specific knowledge of an artistic production process and to be able to describe the properties, potentials and useful qualities of relevant media and materials. Another issue is to know how material-based art can become an integrated part of a place as a transformative social force. Further, a relevant issue was to imagine innovative solutions by applying accumulated knowledge to new areas. In the skill domain, an issue is to know how to follow formalized processes in political and institutional frameworks to determine the consensual values of artistic practice. Relevant skills are to undertake interactive fieldwork to get a deeper insight into how cultural values and social-flow patterns can be directly related to a physical environment. Another relevant skill is to carry out interviews that include material-based art. A skill is to create spaces and opportunities that enable the participants to take part in a creative process that can contribute to a mutual openness, in seeing ‘the other’ as a source of knowledge and inspiration. A skill to generate a new conceptualization of a space is relevant. The ability to compose both colour and tactile aesthetics to create a new experience of sensuous presence are relevant skills. Further, a relevant skill is to materialize an artwork with motifs and forms that resonate with a specific concept or context. A general competency requirement in terms of practicing participation in material-based art is to engage collaborators in emerging concepts through participatory dialogues. The reflecting art practitioner can take advantage of using artistic freedom with regards to the implications that this has for the integrity of others. A general competence is to propose and handle provocative solutions to the point of acceptance to constitute a productive transition from something familiar into something unknown and eventually to develop conflicting values into new common ideas. Further competence is to involve relevant external reference groups to create a higher degree of intersubjectivity in the process. A relevant competence is to contribute to a physical and conceptual environment that enhances more-being by creating room for imagination, communication and dialogue. In particular, this study has identified new knowledge on participation in material-based art and, in general, has shown how artistic work can be multidisciplinary when working with public art. Through the intertwined connections of conceptualization, materialization and implementation, the research introduces a new approach to working with public art and for how to use art in the public space. Discussions on these issues have contributed to an early-stage epistemological framework for participation in material-based art and to an early-stage ontological circle for artistic research.
Supervising professor
Varto, Juha, Prof. Aalto University, School of Arts, Design and Architecture, Department of Art, Finland
Thesis advisor
Jakobsen, Mette Mo, Dr., UHR, Norway
Vihma, Susan, Prof., Aalto University, Finland
Varto, Juha, Prof., Aalto University, Finland
Heape, Cris, Dr., SDU, Denmark
Olsen, Roar, Prof., SINTEF, Norway
Participatory processes, material based art, artistic research, public art, participatory design
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