Words are expected was a paper given at a seminar addressing the future of theory in the Art School.

I find the ioe a strange place, a brutalist modern building housing identikit seminar rooms. My place within this is in the incongruous small art, design and museology department on the 8th floor. Which offers a very different approach to social science research and educational training. Members of the department introduced the possibility for students to use a creative approach in their research 6 years ago against stiff opposition. So far there has been one practice based PhD student who successfully completed his research last year, with four more currently enrolled (as part of a wider group of research students).  That there is now a supportive group within a encouraging department allows for constructive discussion and collaboration.

It’s quite nice being out on a limb, most of the time. We are free of baggage of expectations or a house style, but we find ourselves in a precarious situation under scrutiny.

What do theory and practice mean in the ioe context? It appears to interest and be valid to a tiny minority, yet there is a move in social science circles for research to enact the social. What follows is part of the argument for this kind of creative practice research within an institution such as the ioe. Academics such as Urry and Law propose that we have outdated research methods, which no longer match the way we live. They see a need for:

A social fluid and decentred social science, with fluid and decentred modes for knowing the world allegorically, indirectly, perhaps pictorially, sensuously, poetically, a social science of partial connections’ (Urry and Law:?)

As I was reading this it seemed that this description could apply to relational aesthetics?

I have found myself justifying making art as social science research. In this environment the theory is seen as essential to justify the works of art. There has to be something written, some tangible academic rigor.

So from this angle, the problem of the position of theory in the art school is reframed and might look quite different. The situation of art in a social science institute might give a hint at how much pressure the art school is now under to promote research and theoretical rigor to justify its existence and funding. Where does that pressure come from though within or without?

I have to add the theory side of my own research /practice I have found fascinating and has begun to inform the way I work. So now for a dollop of theory before I move on to some practice…

‘Practical’ behaviour is not ‘atheoretical’ in the sense of ‘sightlessness’. The way it differs from theoretical behaviour does not lie simply in the fact that in theoretical behaviour one observes, while in practical behaviour one acts, and that action must employ theoretical cognition if it is not to remain blind; for the fact that observation is a kind of concern, is just as primordial as the fact that action has it’s own kind of sight. Theoretical looking is just looking without circumspection. But the fact that this looking is not circumspective does not mean that it follows no rules; it constructs a canon for itself in the form of method.

Heidegger. bt 1962 98-9

With this kind of method in mind, I made a film to help me think about today’s theme. Particularly in relation to my own research and my own location, But also to see what light might be shed on the discussion today. In making the film I became aware of the different ways of thinking involved in writing and making.

What I draw from Heidegger’s statement is that practice has its own kind of sight. So by making something to look at a theory or theories. I understand them in a different way than if I write about them. These processes can run side by side and come even closer in a film where words are added to images. The theoretical and the practical are for me always linked but not comfortably.

I am researching Parliament Square, and have to remind myself regularly how I arrived here. A final MA dissertation was a Debord inspired derive or research drift from the cenotaph to the 7/7 memorial. As navigated by a smart phone. For my PhD, I find myself slightly stuck in Parliament Square attempting to understand what is going on there by how it is represented online. Turning this process around, I am also looking at the similarities between the two dominated spaces. I am doing this through creative practice and a written section, joining a heavy dose of theory ranging from Heidegger to Henri Lefebvre with investigating social photography through the lens of a pinhole camera. The problem of how the two work together has been a constant throughout the research. The work should not illustrate the words and the words not be so far removed from the work as to render them two separate investigations.

So maybe now is a good time to look at the film


Making this film I uncovered the meta narrative of a lecture given at a museums futures conference last year. I came to a point of thinking that writing is part of the practice and therefore negating my initial worry about the join of visual and textual research. But before I go to far into the easy blurring of boundaries there are of course differences in method production and understanding and I am particularly concerned with what happens when the two are physically joined together.

Do the words replace the need for objects and images, or do the words become the artists material because of their use or proximity to image.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *