As an artist who works with social relations as a site, medium or context of production, the key questions that I want to address through my practice research are 1) how to engender relations that have a mutual benefit for participants; 2) how to bring that into representation; and 3) how to work with the surplus value extracted from the interaction (in the form of art) so that it does not reinforce the property model of social relations.
The questions are important and challenging for several reasons.
It is important because ethical matters are at stake concerning human dignity, equality, power, and exploitation.
It is important because political matters are at stake, concerning the reproduction of social relations of domination and/or the challenging of those forms of social relation. Matters of social justice are implicated.
It is important because of the consequences for our understanding of critical art practice – what it is and what it does.
It is challenging because the approach to and consequences of working with social relations as a site, medium or context of production is complex and contested and has to be re-examined as part of each engagement to maintain a critical stance.
It is challenging because framing these interactions as art is contentious and has consequences which are open to question in terms of benefits.
It is challenging because the matter of bringing social relations into form or representation at anything other than a scale of 1:1 is necessarily reductive and therefore constitutes a kind of distortion.
It is challenging because art necessarily emerges as a kind of unpredictable excess, something which cannot be captured fully by language, something that is otherwise than knowing. This excess can also be approached as a kind of surplus value. In the context of a society structured by capitalist social relations, the artist needs to accrue some of that surplus value as cultural capital in order to trade. However, for art to attempt to operate outside a framework of property relations, that surplus value has to be somehow renegotiated.
In the course of my research I intend to consider some of these questions, through a combination of theoretical inquiry and critical practice-based experimentation. Through this aspect of the research I propose to contribute to understandings of the practice generally described as social practice or socially engaged art practice. This element of the research can therefore be understood as practice-led, in so far as it is concerned with the nature of practice, leading to new knowledge that has operational significance for that practice.
My research also contains elements of practice-based research, meaning that it is my intention to produce new knowledge by means of practice and the outcomes of that practice. Through creative outcomes, which will include both artefacts and performative happenings, claims of originality and contribution to knowledge will be demonstrated. The significance and context of the claims will be described in words, but a full understanding will only be obtained with direct reference to the creative outcomes.
The theoretical work that I undertake will not only reflect on or critically interrogate the practice, but will also function as part of the infrastructure of the practice, something carried out in advance of or alongside the practice, to inform choices and decisions that have to be made within the practice.