Lucy Cotter (b. Ireland) is a writer, curator, artist, and theorist, currently based in Portland, Oregon. Her interests lie in the in-between areas between art practice and theory as well as the relationship between art and other fields of enquiry. Her book Reclaiming Artistic Research (Hatje Cantz, 2019) foregrounds artistic thinking as a materially engaged, medium-led, embodied practice. She is currently completing a book entitled Art Knowledge: Between the Known and the Unknown. Cotter was curator of the Dutch pavilion 56th Venice Biennale, 2017 with Cinema Olanda featuring artist Wendelien van Oldenborgh as well as a wider national program of events and exhibitions at Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art, Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, EYE Film Museum, among other venues. Recent projects include the group exhibition and performance series The Unknown Artist at the Center for Contemporary Art and Culture, Portland, Oregon (2020). She writes regularly for international journals including Flash Art, Mousse and Frieze. She was guest editor of MaHKUscript Journal for Fine Art Research in 2018 and Art&Education's Classroom in 2019. Cotter developed and led the Master Artistic Research at the Royal Academy of Art, The Hague from 2010-2015. She has taught at BA, MA and PHD level at PhDarts, University of Leiden, the Sandberg Institute, Amsterdam, Portland State University and the Pacific Northwest College of Art, Portland, OR and lectures worldwide on areas related to artistic research. Her PhD in Cultural Analysis at the University of Amsterdam focused on the contiguity between aesthetics and politics in the curatorial field.
'Unfixed Landscape' Is it possible to define "place" through artistic practice? is an innovative exposition in its choice of subject matter (an alternative community) to explore a personal and collective experience of place, as well as in its choice of the experiential as a material source for the research. Its quality lies in the way it weaves together various artistic research approaches in relation to its subject matter, as well as in the self-reflexivity of its engagement.
The exposition allows the various elements of the artist’s work to be seen in relation to each other in a manner that demonstrates a wider area of engagement that is unlikely to be made visible to this extent through a standard exhibition format. The visuals are striking, being neither a portrait in the traditional sense of neither the word, nor a visual documentation in the documentary sense. The image-based work and the research at large hover in-between the two, facilitating a fascinating journey back and forward between the highly subjective and the social, between the philosophical and the anthropological.
The relationship between the artistic work and the issues discussed in the narrative text offers a subtle interweaving of ideas that reoccur and are addressed differently through different media and voices. It avoids any kind of didactic illustration. Its intellectual interest lies partly in this ability not to be closed down into any one academic area. This invites philosophical engagement as well as theorisation of the in-between spaces created.
It is fascinating that this alternative community appears to have survived the dramatically fluctuating economic-social developments within Ireland from the 1970s to the present. I miss some insight into the artist’s ideas about how the displaced ideals of the 1970s have translated into the present and how that shifts the artist’s sense of place now. This is hinted at in the background music of Bob Dylan’s The Times They Are A-changing in two video works. It comes up again in the audio work when one member of the community comments that while the community used to smoke dope they were now more interested in smoking fish. The wider implications of this remark (regarding the economy and sustainability of a community, the re-translation of its founding principles through time etc.) go unaddressed in the main text. Although this can hardly be engaged with in depth within the framework of the current research, passing observations may have been enough to allow the reader some insight into this background.
There are a number of issues identified by the artist that invite further academic engagement – in terms of medium – what, as the artist indicated, slowness might mean in relation to representation, the self-positioning of the viewer in relation to knowledge production through image making etc. as well as theoretical issues: what it means to represent oneself as part of a collective formed around an ethical ideal, the notion of comfort in relation to identification of place with belonging, the role of memory within phenomenological experience of place, among others. The research also raises the question of the auto-biographical as a form of knowledge production. This is an important subject in relation to the border between the traditionally perceived objectivity of academic knowledge production and the traditionally perceived subjectivity of artistic output.
In my initial feedback, I indicated that although the exposition was highly engaging and well presented, I had the sense that the artist had been somewhat reserved in what she shared. I found the artist’s discussions of the challenges of her self-positioning in relation to the research one of the most appealing parts of the text and encouraged her to consider the relationship between autobiography, emotion and knowledge production even more thoroughly and to take further risks in her writing to fully explore the possibilities of artistic research in this respect.
The revised version of the exposition is far more integrated in its interweaving of the artistic and theoretical. It is much more thorough in its engagement with the academic texts referred to, and more ambitious in its theorisation of the artist’s findings. Knowing how great the investment must have been to achieve this and not wanting to undermine the results, I nevertheless find it important to mention that the artist’s voice is now at times drowned out by or buried under the academic. In response to the request to define some of the recurring terms in the exposition (such as ‘place’, ‘experiential’, ‘utopian’, ‘comfortable’) for example, the definitions added are mostly drawn from existing theoretical sources. I was curious rather about your self-definition of those terms, which may lead to a renegotiation of existing theoretical terms through your own experiential research, as your revised title suggests. Your notion of “unfixed landscape” already implies a re-definition of “place”. Turlough swim is a wonderful addition to the revised version of the research exposition, communicating how the landscape becomes unfixed through physical sensory engagement and making palpable what you theorize elsewhere – the distinction between the objective and phenomenal body.