Toward Outcomes

Research Themes

So far my work for this project has been largely concerned with researching differing definitions of terms such as “work”, “site”, “practice”, “the studio” and so on, with the goal of somehow extending or augmenting last semester’s WORKSITE project.

The content of the WORKSITE blog was made up primarily of contributors‘ responses to a short Q&A text based around the themes mentioned above, and many included images of their own work alongside their answers. One of the ways that I imagined continuing WORKSITE was through conducting additional in-depth interviews with previous contributors and adding those to the blog. I also considered the possibility of conducting a number of studio visits, and adding more relevant resources to the site.

However, over the course of my research – and particularly while revisiting those contributions to the WORKSITE blog – I have began to identify a kind of “working theory” of the “work site” that I will try to articulate here. The ideas outlined below are something of a rough draft, though I do see some potential in refining these thoughts further into a more coherent thesis or some other outcome, for use on the WORKSITE blog, or elsewhere.

A Working Theory of Work/Site

This “theory of work/site” is based around the idea that all “art practice” is in some way a “collaboration” between the artist and their environment (or alternatively, between “work[er]” and “site”). In this sense, the artist – whether consciously or not – works in response to conditions of their chosen site – which may be a studio, domestic space, workshop, café, or somewhere entirely different. Each potential “work site” is characterized by its constraints (space, tools, materials, atmosphere, acoustics, temperature, geographical location, access, audience, etc.), while each artist / worker is defined by their own ability to adapt and respond to those constraints – by their ability to reframe them from negative “disabling constraints” to positive “enabling constraints”.

This push-pull “collaboration” or “dialogue” between artist and site may occur anywhere, at any time that the artist considers themselves to be “working” in a manner that responds to the specific “enabling constraints” of the site in which that work is taking place. However, as noted above, such a collaboration might also occur “unconsciously” or without direct consideration from the artist, as the constraints of any site are always implicit – part of the specific nature of the site itself. But by foregrounding the constraints of a site, it is possible that an artist might be able to enrich their understanding of their situation and go on to make work in more innovative and inventive ways.

In this way the mark of a “good” artist is that they are sensitive and responsive to the site(s) in which they work, in effect working in collaboration or dialogue with their own environment. This approach would extend previously held understandings of “site-specific art”, “environmental art” and even “land art” by making all art practice “site-specific” and – to a greater or lesser extent – the result of an artist’s collaboration with their chosen work site.

Toward Outcomes

With the above “working theory” in mind, I have a number of ideas for how to resolve my research project and produce one or more outcomes which would articulate my work in time for the upcoming deadline:

  1. The first and perhaps most essential task would be to develop and articulate the “working theory” outlined above into a more coherent form; this could be a written essay or “manifesto” of the thesis, or some other iteration which integrates illustrations or multimedia elements. Seth Price’s illustrated essay/booklet Dispersion comes to mind as an example / taking-off point for this kind of work, and my own thesis could be presented, like Price’s, in a number of differing formats, each one being sensitive and appropriate to its own particular “site”.
  2. A second idea would be to put the above theory into practice in some way, by inviting one or more artists to work in “collaboration” with the “enabling constraints” of one or more specific “sites”. This work could be documented on the blog or elsewhere – perhaps even making up an element of the thesis / manifesto as outlined in Idea 1. This possibility was raised quite early on in the project, with the proposed outcome of hosting a kind of “residency” in which invited artists would make work in or at a specific site. My current idea would constitute a development of this proposal, as now this work would be pitched more as a collaboration – working in dialogue with, rather than simply within, the site in question.
  3. A third option – which in a sense combines the two previous ideas – would be to compose some kind of portable/distributed “work book”, “guide book” or “diagnostic” which a reader could use to help them identify, consider and respond to the specific conditions of their own “work site”. This could be in the form of a questionnaire that incorporates or reflects elements of the thesis, or a series of card-based prompts not unlike Brian Eno’s Oblique Strategies. Ideally, I would then play-test this outcome on a number of artists, making adjustments as necessary, and recording all of the work on either this blog or on WORKSITE.

Next Steps

With the above ideas in mind – and with the deadline fast approaching – my next steps toward finalising my project will be:

  1. To develop at least one iteration of a text that coherently articulates the “working theory” of work/site (“site/work”?) outlined above;
  2. to develop and plan at least one achievable way of “testing” the thesis in collaboration with at least one invited artist;
  3. to develop some means of combining both thesis and play-test into a kind of “work book” or diagnostic, as outlined above.

Each of these prioritised “next steps” requires additional research on the art-historical theories and precedents suggested by both the theme and the proposed outcomes; starting points include Seth Price’s Dispersion and Brian Eno’s Oblique Strategies, as well as the field of instructional art and the studies undertaken as part of our Contemporary art and Open Learning course last year.

2 thoughts on “Toward Outcomes”

  1. I suggest that you weaken the hypothesis a bit by saying that your theory is propositional, that we ‘might’ choose to see things this way, rather than than ‘all things are this way’. The latter leaves your theory means you have to be 100% right; qualifying your proposition means you don’t. More importantly, since enabling constraints is something of a mindset (akin to positive thinking perhaps) it could be that you pursue this way of presenting your core concept i.e. that there’s lots to gain from seeing things this way (and less to gain from always seeing constraints as disabling)…

  2. Yes, you can project the theory onto all forms of artmaking – for example, the act of composing is, in many ways, about working well with what you have. Maybe, given what I have said about ‘site-specific’ being less than ideal, you could propose ‘enabling constraints’ as its replacement? It would appear to be more open as it doesn’t a) advocate ‘specificity’ b) doesn’t suggest that the place of work is a ‘neutral’ one awaiting discovery.

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