PhD Proposal

Submitted to the Edinburgh College of Art (ECA) 2014

My proposed research investigates a timely change in contemporary art practice: from a solo studio endeavour to a post‐studio group model, and inspects the social and phenomenological conditions that paved the way for this paradigm shift. What are the socio‐economic and cultural‐geographic reasons for the recent boom in group‐studio phenomenon within contemporary art practice, as specific to residencies, and how can that analysis better equip us as cultural producers to tailor this phenomenon to meet the current needs of artists? As part of my practice‐led research, I will create a set of three-week residencies that take place in Edinburgh and Minneapolis, which responds to the cultural, architectural and creative topography of each city, and further examine the value of phenomenological experience to the working artist.

In the past decade, models of this new mode of production have silently risen to at least 2,000 worldwide (AAC study, 2009; Here, dialogue with others is required during the time and place of making, an approach running parallel to dance and theater practices: working in company (or repertory); moving from production to production with durations set at six to 12 months; and frequent principal players. The old Modernist archetype of the artist who paints alone in her studio only to emerge a year later with a complete body of work is today rendered an irrelevant modality. By contrast, the new model requires ongoing dialogue with others throughout the creative process, from the very moment of ideation. We now have an almost urgent sense, as artists, of needing to be in dialogue with others – and their work – in order to go about the business of making.

My recent projects have demonstrated that emergent artists move most freely when in company, and possess a need to do so. This movement occurs through a broad variety of creative environments, such as joint studio practice, collaborative works, artists’ collectives, and residencies that vary by time and live‐in commitment. My research described here will focus specifically on residencies.

I plan to engage a practice‐led research PhD at ECA/University of Edinburgh to further advance the discourse in the field of contemporary art practice using a mix of quantitative and qualitative approaches. Through surveys, observation, and implementation of research through practice (Frayling, 1995), I will explore the conditions giving rise to residential group‐studio phenomenon. My own creative practice is lifted to a state of practical research in that it inherently includes an explicit understanding of how it contributes to the inquiry (Rust, Mottram, and Till 2008); the process of conducting a residency itself propagates further critical investigation of the inquiry.
In my own work, liminal, or in‐between, situations become places where collaborative creative think tanks for art‐making occur among a set number of artistic producers. These rhizomatic residencies include moveable built structures that exist in liminal spaces such as empty urban restaurants, abandoned homes, backyards, storage rooms and frozen ice. The structures effectively reflect social frames that encourage codified behaviours, such as schoolhouses, boxing rings, poker tables, and stages.

The locus of my artistic experience, which begins in sculpture, rests at a point between site‐specific art, relational aesthetics, and radical pedagogy. These practices, according to Claire Bishop (2004) explore the tensions between the traditional roles of “artist” and “participant” which are in constant negotiation, antagonism and harmony. She writes, “we are only just beginning the hard work of presenting the unstable” (Bishop 2004, p. 55). In these works, my role is at the juncture of instigator, co‐conspirator, and administrator. The triangulated exchanges between myself, artists and participants together produce the art‐experience, a definition that conflates the artist‐audience lateral exchange put forward by Bourriaud (1998). My research will continue to investigate the relationship of made or placed objects in situational experience which Bourriaud champions in his analysis of Liam Gillick, among others; the sculptural object being only a conduit for conversation (Bourriaud 1998).

My projects create immersive one‐to‐three month experiences for participants. I pay close attention to phenomenological experience within specific architecture, often adding self‐designed constructions. I examine and select “ambient” architecture, or that which is found, based on provoking a certain kind of lived experience through sensory and body relation, a phenomenology of place (Merleau‐Ponty 1964). For example, in my project Ten Chances, No Hustle, a defunct deli with built‐in 1958 glowing cases, countertops and wall ovens becomes a screen‐printing shop and kitchen, sparking new work and material from participating artists. In this way, I mindfully embrace the alchemy of intentionality and chance, unstable elements to which Claire Bishop referred (Bishop 2006). In this work, an audience or public is only present if a particular player requires them; process is most often reserved for the players alone. In this way, my work, like other group‐studio modes, seems to fall outside Suzanne Lacy’s four‐fold description of New Genre Public Art that necessitates an artists’ intent for social activism and also public interaction (Lacy 1995).

Today, each unique rhizomatic group‐studio model is mostly interdisciplinary, and often an artist‐driven “pop‐up”. French theorists Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari use the term rhizomatic to describe that which 1) operates outside an institutional framework; 2) is always a temporary event; 3) operates only from the middle; 4) sends out off‐shoots; and 5) has multiple entryways (Deleuze and Guattari, 2001). Creative practice in contemporary art now moves in a non‐linear fashion from one situation to the next, using a scaffolded means without heirarchical entry points. Drawing on Deleuze and Guattari’s theory enables me to ask a set of questions about their outcomes or resilience: How does the alchemy and ratio of characteristics in each specific environment—urban versus rural, public versus private, built versus ambient architecture, size of participant group, personality of individual players, duration, phenomenology of place, independent or institutional affiliation—affect the quality of new creative processes developed there?

I believe we can take accurate measurements that will reflect this effect. What can those measurements tell us about the new trend in this type of artistic engagement? How is it reflective of our changing times? What does it convey about our identity as social beings and artists, considered in the light of the “extended‐self”? Why does one choose to participate in a particular group‐studio production and not another, given her economic needs have been met and she has been invited?

On the ground, instances where artistic growth is found through artist‐made and driven temporary situations are more abundant than ever before, which may be due to the sheer numbers today of self‐identified practicing artists. A 2008 study by the Alliance of Artists’ Communities saw a global increase in the number of artists’ residencies of 50% in the last ten years. (AAC, 2009) Of those, 70% fall into this type of rhizomatic model as defined earlier: independent of institution, artist‐driven, multi‐player, and multi‐entryway.

The data show that this ideology in visual arts practice had increased modestly in the 1960s and ‘70s and then suddenly bloomed just before the millennium, breaking ground for such current projects as Mildred’s Lane in upstate NY, a recurring project by artist Morgan Pruett; The Territory in Paris; and the remote temporality of Andrea Zittel’s upcoming Indy Island, a floating styrofoam iceberg that will host 12 resident artists this summer. This everyday group‐practice has grown specifically in the Americas, Europe, UK, Middle East, and Asia, and, once historically reserved for academia, is changing the very fabric of the creative process outside the institution.

Current academic research has not critically assessed the reasons for the steep influx of these models; they have only presented data. The Alliance of Artists Communities (AAC), formed in New York City in 1991, was founded with seed money from The MacArthur Foundation and has now risen as an advocate for artists and art residencies (Strokosch). It effectively lobbied the NEA to form in 2008 a new funding category: Artist Community. It’s sister organization in Europe, artisres, began in 1993 and now is host to 400 group‐studio productions. It is unclear which of these fit the definition of rhizomatic, as outlined here.

Late 2009, artisres hosted a 3‐day conference in Poland called “Re‐tooling Residencies.” Professionals in the field gathered to brainstorm and debate the proper place of residencies in the art world and the economy. However, while panels covered topical issues, such as: Different approaches to residencies; Connections between East and West; Introducing New Disciplines, it’s primary focus seemed to remain on institutionally‐funded residencies, and how to keep the money coming. The conference itself was funded in part by the European Commission. At the time of the conference, Kickstarter was one year old.

While many artists await funds from institutions for residential group‐studio projects, most have taken it upon themselves to find alternative means. In 2012, Kickstarter will have funded more projects than the NEA (Emami). Scrappy start‐up projects, like my own, have tapped a combination of personal funds, small project‐specific grants, and social media platforms like Kickstarter or IndieGoGo to achieve their ends. Quantitative research alongside survey and interview will show to what extent these popular crowdfunding sites have laid the groundwork for artist‐driven group‐studio productions. This analysis will lead us to further inquiry.

My research methodology involves quantitative (information‐gathering; statistical analysis) and qualitative (interviews; Creative/Field Work) strategies:

  1. Research broadly using the databases and, journals, and art‐specific publications to locate and define various forms of artistic rhizomatic group‐studio models, focusing specifically on Northern Europe and North America, asking each group to complete an initial quantitative survey regarding the pragmatics of their project.

    A preliminary list includes: Land 2 (Bristol, UK); Watershed (Bristol); WASPS (Glasgow); Block T (Dublin); Florence Trust (London); Delfina (London); Gasworks (London); Quartier 21 (Austria); The Territory (Paris); Palais de Tokyo (Paris); Mildred’s Lane (NY); Suburban (Chicago, IL); Poor Farm Studios (WI); BHQF/U (NYC); The Artists’ Institute (NYC); Lower Manhattan Cultural Council’s Swing Space (NYC); Eyebeam (NYC); Bemis (Omaha, NE); Indy Island (Indpls); They Won’t Find Us Here (Mpls); 18th Street (Santa Monica, CA); Birdhouse (Austin, TX)
  2. Narrow this field down to a set of case studies which meet the criteria of: artist‐run and driven; temporary duration; independent of institution, to visit within 2 years time, initially targeting 10.
  3. Visit each of this final set for at least one week, collecting data, which includes interviews, a blueprint of the space, map of geographical location, sound recordings of interior/exterior, interviews and recordings of neighbors up to a 150‐yard radius, description of main factor(s) in physical and phenomenological situation, e.g. – on a mountaintop, on a city street full of bodegas, on a boat which travels the ocean
  4. Draw comparisons and analyze ‐ What do the findings show us about…
    1. contemporary practice and needs; and
    2. trends in decision‐making? What is the cause and effect of high numbers of artists engaging in ideation and practice this way?
  5. In the summer of 2015, I will create as part of my PhD research a Rhizomatic Residency in Edinburgh. Returning to my Minneapolis model 10 Chances, No Hustle, it will explore Edinburgh’s architecture/s, both built and ambient, which intervene with lived experience for the resident cohort.

    This involves:
  • Investigate various urban places; determine/gauge how they might create certain types of phenomenological experience for the residency cohort;
  • Seek location;
  • Secure funding: AHRC, Kickstarter campaign, small project‐specific grants, self‐funded, patronage
  • Call for application: research and select participants, both local and non‐local (late winter 2015);
  • Selection of Guest Lecturers, in tandem with the resident cohort;
  • Participate in duration of residency
  • Collect data (see above Step 3)
  • reflect

Patricia Healy McMeans
Submitted: 2014-10-01

By pattymcmeans

Patricia Healy McMeans is a current PhD candidate study contemporary art practice and social studios at the University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh College of Art (ECA) This web log will attempt to document her personal research under the direction of Neil Mulholland.