Praxi-to-taxi: An Improvisation

The experimental workshop day taxi-to-praxi at Goldsmiths started off with a positive vibe as about 35 people met in the seminar room underneath the 'squiggle' whereby this group consisted of about one third of people from Goldmiths, one third from other universities and one third of unaligned individuals working as artists or curators. After Prof Janis Jeffries, convenor of the PhD in Arts and Computation opened the session, a lively and stimulating day unfolded. In this account I try to piece together from notes and memories what were some of the main issues which emerged.

After an introduction by Adnan and me, the morning started with Jaromil prsenting the concept of solid knowledge. Describing himself as "a student for life but not subscribed to any institution" he formulated a challenge to teachers of any kind: If I learn something today, will it be useful in 20 years? Jaromil related this question to the area of software, where economic pressure drives people into dead end streets, rather than using proven tools which have been around in basic form for 40 years.

After he spoke some participants felt uneasy with the notion of 'solid' knowledge, maybe because in the digital age in which we allegedly live everything is supposed to be fluid. I thought maybe it is about knowledge which forms from the bottom­-up, a type of knowledge which is connected to a skill or activity, through which an understanding of the world is gained. In the area of computing for instance I have not really learned much at all apart from two things, how to deal with problems and how to use searches and evaluate the information found. Everything else is maybe more ephemeral. Corrado added to this discussion with the keywords "sustainable, lean and robust" - as characteristics of programming languages or software. I think especially in computing some departments have used the same proven methods for years. Papers are written in Latex and reading notes are created and managed using BibTex, metadata are separated from content. However, such good practice is not found everywhere. All too often one is asked to submit a .doc, even when the topic is something open sourcy.

Lindsay Brown started out by saying that she feels that people who do practice based PhDs in fine arts are forced into directions more scientific, more commercial, whereby the university owns the copyright. She reacts to this by inventing her own tale, creating a sort of metanarration combining scientific facts and 'saucy' tales, saucy because she plans to study the wreck of the sunken ship HMS Saucy. Lindsay explained that she intended to rely on Grounded Theory, a concept which emerged in critical sociology in the 1960ies. Instead of tackling a subject through a set of existing categories, the categories emerge through the study of the subject. One of the participants from sociology pointed out that there was an existing critique of Grounded Theory, as it was impossible to have no preconceptions. I am sure we will hear more from Lindsay on this subject, who also said that she tries to weave visual ways of working into her work.

This discussion on grounded theory could be related to the discussion around hierarchical taxonomies such as those created in semantic web and the oh so popular free tagging systems used in social software applications, such as this one here. It also related to the philosophical discussion between absolut truth and total relativism, maybe. In this section I also noted down "can intuition be a methodology" and the "quagmire of opinion", both interesting phrases on which maybe someone can elaborate more.

Something else that came to my mind during this presentation is Jutta Weber's concept of situated ontology. In science studies, through the influence of poststructuralism, the universal ontologies have been dismissed. This is a good step insofar as this destroys the myth of science being about objective knowledge or laws of nature. However, the world is not just text read against other texts. Weber argues that the critique of science formulated by poststructuralism is unable to stop the juggernaut of science which is, in the 'natural' sciences still naively positivistic, mostly, from creating it's monstrosities. As a way of overcoming the shortfalls in Latour, Derrida, Luhmanm and all their apostles, Weber proposes her concept of situated ontology - an ontology nevertheless but grounded in the subject and connected to a historic reality and not timeless, universal and absolute truth.

During the lively discussion after Lindsay's presentation several voices were heard who complained about problems they encountered with their PhD. As universities try to craete additional revenue streams the notion of intellectual property seems to be widely accepted by university management. Students are encouraged to buy into IP and submit their work to professional journals which are copyrighted and whose copyright is strongly enforced. The reification of knowledge gets accepted with no further questions asked. Someone from Chelsea mentioned that only 25% of the thesis could be put online. Somebody else had experienced a ban on peer generated knowledge. This raises the question if in todays context collective epistemologies can exist -- which again raises the question of not any epistemology is collective to some degree. Other problems stemmed from a complete lack of knowledge by higher university grandes about anything digital so that one PhD candidate had to submit a definition of 'blog' to an ethics committee.

After an excellent lunch provided by a vegetarian caterer who picks his own mushrooms - very open source - Jonas Andersson talked briefly about a series of Print-on-Demand (POD) books he had created together with Adnan and published cia the OpenMute website. Last year Deptford.TV Diaries I came out, followed by a similra reader this year, which can be downloaded as a PDF, bought as a book via OpenMute or Amazon and read chapter by chapter here, with us. Lisa Haskel gave a technical presentation about combining Drupal with versioning systems such as Subversion. Mia Jankowitz talked about her experience with the Disclosures festival. What I found interesting and expected to have been researched more already but am disappointed not to see is the connection between the notion of openness as it is now adopted in the art world and the older notion of process based work which was once fashionable in the sixties and seventies which then again could be a useful link between concptual art and media art. A 'process based' art form is maybe also one which shares its methodologies and creates an 'open process'. Mia, during her work leading up to Disclosures, also encountered what she called a 'mismatch between professional organisation and the wiki way of doing things'.

Helen Sloan talked about curating as research, a notion which she has already briefly outlined here. A problem with some of those interdisciplinary collaborations between art and science which are increasingly forced on us through funding bodies such as the AHRC is that for artists it is hardly possible to maintain any level of autonomy at all. The scientists usually (maybe not always but in 99%) don't change their methodology or thinking at all. The artists can only comment on the science or, what is often expected from them, illustrate difficult to understand scientific concept - the artist as a cheap science communicator.

Lottie Child talked about her concept of street training, a way of dealing with urban spaces in a playful way and of reconquering space through behaviour. She also investigates how women navigate dangerous streets and how she deals herself with fear, by confronting it head on. Is London an 'open' city or can we open up the 'protocols' that govern behaviour in public spaces?

Peter Westenberg from Constant, Brussels, talked about the work of the group which researches ways of how open source changes their production in Graphics design, audio, video. he also mentioned the idea of having a searchable video wiki and talked about the work of the group about gender and technology. Can a server be 'feminist'?

Cel Crabeels briefly introduced his idea of 'documentary' and of using a system such as drupal to foster collaboration on art and documentary issues.

Alex McLean talked about live coding as a practice where development time and use time which are normally separated in software are folded into one. He also compared the notion of the programming language with being just a tool or a real language which has other implications.

Ismail Malik talked about his idea of howto give very talented young programmers a chance to get a university degree. In his experience young programmers are often reluctant to go to university as they already have established their practice and fear for their creativity being squashed. Some of them only years later recognise that it would be of aadvantage to them to study. Ismail also thought about the notion of the apprenticeship in this context. Could a 'free' academy combine open coursework such as provided by the MIT with an apprenticeship to get a degree?

Apologies if I have left out anyone, as my notetaking was a bit sporadic and often quite associative. We are looking still forward to other people giving their accounts and uploading images and, hopefully, the video.


Some Thought on Critical Points Raised

I am still putting together some of my notes from the past 18 months for my PhD transfer on the 24th July so am really busy, but thought that these reflections on the questions raised after my talk regarding my methodologies, may be of interest and re-spark some debate. I think that both Armin and Cel raised the issue of intuition being a methodology, and to some extent (in my opinion) it can be as you will see from my comments below...

Some useful pointers of criticism were:

1) (RE: Grounded Theory) How can you say that a theory is inherent in the subject, when the category system used to define the theory, comes from decisions made from an individual whose life experience influences those categories?

2) Do I view a methodology to be an extension of my world view?

3) Is not the method of assigning categories in Grounded Theory Reductionist in nature? (therefore moving directly against the ethos of GT which is emergent in nature)

Retrospective answers to these questions would be that:

1) Firstly, in future I will have to be clearer about what I mean about a methodology! I have no intention of becoming a social scientist or of using Grounded Theory in its strictest sense. What I am doing is appropriating methods from existing methodologies to make up my own ways of logically proceeding in my work as an artist-researcher. The system of using category to allow key concepts to emerge, seems to make sense in a subject whose theory is not always apparent at the outset. The question of whether or not my life experience influences this system is to some extent not relevant and questioning this is counter productive in the intuitive process we call art-making. In respects of this intuition and the way an artist uses this to produce work, is the method of Grounded Theory not doing exactly as it says on the tin? Making a theory of the artist as thinker as creator of art object?(1) In respects of my own project where I am intending to use experimentation and anecdotal evidence to make a myth, is this question not also irrelevant. Myth is a narrative based on partial truth. The whole point of my project is to uncover some new form of ‘truth’ to what is happening around the sunken wreck HMS Saucy. This new truth will reveal itself through experimentations and anecdotal evidence, alongside readings of psychology and philosophy and categorised by me. If the intention of the project at the outset is to create a myth of my own making, I must therefore accept that the theory must also be mythical, and based on partial truths.

2) If I view my methodology as a framework for the collection of evidence, and accept that part of this theory must be an intuitive answer to my own creativity then with respect to the part of my practice that utilises Grounded Theory, my answer to question two, must be that the part of my methodological process based within this particular strategy, must contain an element of my world view. However, one of the beauties of spaces within spaces such as categorisations, is that I can continue to move between them, find new concepts and meanings from which I can look at the spaces around them, thus enabling my research to be mutable and not fixed.

3) Finally in response to the question, ‘Is not the method of assigning categories Reductionist in nature?,’ the answer is yes, delightfully so … and what a great way to look at it, thanks! I love dichotomy.

(1) It is at this point once again, that we see a theory of art intrinsic in the process rather than the object.