Practicing art - as a habit? / Att utöva konst - som en vana? (2017)

Annette Arlander

About this exposition

This bilingual exposition (English and Swedish) presents and problematizes the relationship between artistic practice and habit, describing two projects that deal with repetition and place. The projects 'Solsidan' and 'Summer at Söder' were undertaken during the years 2015-2016 in Stockholm. The idea of repetition and returning to the same site were crucial, as in much of my previous works. Unlike them, neither of these two projects involved performances for camera; in both the actual practice consisted of video recording the view. The shift in emphasis from an artistic practice aiming to produce an artwork, into an activity undertaken mainly as an exercise, an activity, could be seen as a strand in the general trend in contemporary art since the 1960s and accentuated in this century towards valuing the 'working' of art above the work of art as an object. This trend can also be related to research and linked to the preference for various terms like practice as research, performance as research, creative arts research or, indeed, artistic research. - This exposition combines a description of the actual practice, with an encounter with the material generated through that practice and proposes that these works can exemplify artistic research as a speculative practice.

Denna tvåspråkiga (svenska och engelska) exposition presenterar och problematiserar förhållandet mellan konstnärlig praktik och vana, och beskriver två projekt som handlar om upprepning och plats. Projekten ‘Solsidan’ och ‘Summer at Söder’ (Sommar på Söder) förverkligades under åren 2015-2016 i Stockholm. Tanken på upprepning och att återvända till samma ställe var avgörande för båda, precis som i många av mina tidigare arbeten. Till skillnad från dem innehöll ingetdera projektet uppträdande för kamera; i båda projekten bestod den egentliga praktiken, själva utövandet, av att spela in utsikten på video. Förvandlingen från en konstnärlig praktik, som avser att framställa ett konstverk, till en aktivitet som förverkligas huvudsakligen som en övning, en aktivitet, kunde ses som en tråd i den allmänna trenden inom samtidskonsten från och med 1960-talet och i synnerhet i detta århundrade att värdera konstens ”verkan”, som verksamhet, framom konstverket som ett objekt. Denna trend kan också sammankopplas med forskning och knytas till förkärleken för benämningar som praktik-forskning (practice as research), föreställningen som forskning (performance as research) kreativ konstforskning (creative arts research) och framför allt konstnärlig forskning. - Denna exposition kombinerar en beskrivning av det egentliga utövandet och mötet med det material som utövandet gett upphov till, och föreslår att dessa projekt kan exemplifiera konstnärlig forskning som spekulativ praktik.
typeresearch exposition
keywordsPractice, performance, habit, Practice-as-research, Performance-as-research, artistic research, repetition, place, speculative practice, environment, trees, landscape
last modified07/06/2017
affiliationUniversity of the Arts Helsinki
published inRuukku Studies in Artistic Research
portal issue7.
connected toStockholm University of the Arts

Ruukku portal comments: 2
Jyrki Siukonen 05/06/2017 at 21:35

Dear Annette, 

You are absolutely right about language. Dear A feels slightly different from Rakas A, not to say Kära A


As you can see, I am not writing this review anonymously. We’ve known each other long enough, sort of. 


It would feel pretending to say that I can do this blindfolded, as if playing hide and seek in a landscape where there is nowhere to hide.


Not even a tree.


So, let’s face it. Here we are, you and me. 


Thinking in language which is not really our own. Nej, jag har inte läst den svenska sidan


Your topic – everyday actions, habits, repetitions, life patterns – all that sounds familiar to me. My partner finds me boring because I seem to have a habit of visiting places where I’ve been before. You know, street corners and so on. 


To repeat something and to find pleasure in repetition. You must agree that at some point it may be a boring act to watch, no matter how meaningful it is for the practitioner. But let us not go to that yet. 


How is repetition related to practice? Are we now talking about practice as a profession or practice as an exercise of skill? You seem to stress the first mentioned, the artistic practice (and the Swedish utöva of course has another tone). The latter option gets mentioned but only in the negative. Namely you find out that your repeated practice has not improved your skill: “my primary reaction is irritation at the inconsistency of the framing, which is constantly shifting slightly; the horizon moves up and down and the vertical tree trunk moves sideways between one image and the next.” 


So, the practice you talk about is your self-governed way of doing art, which you here illustrate with two “as if” -cases from Stockholm. Perhaps you could clarify your terminology already in the very beginning: “To practice, to train, to rehearse – art, or whatever you can imagine. When we speak of a practice it immediately sounds more professional.” 


It may be that I’m only splitting hair, yet “practice” to me does not sound more professional unless I know what is meant with it. You see, you refer to training and rehearsing yet in the next moment you start to talk about your projects. I understand, since I know you, that they are interrelated but does the reader? 


Knowing that my language of thought is Finnish, to practice could mean “harjoittaa” but more often “harjoitella”. It occurs to me that someone unfamiliar with the genre could even (mis)translate practice-based research as “harjoitteluun pohjaava tutkimus”. That doesn’t sound overly professional, at least if the practicing person is someone who is still trying to learn a skill or two. We’ve seen also some of that in artistic research, of course. 


As for the everyday actions, habits, repetitions, life patterns, I think you could look at something outside the literature that often repeats itself in articles about practice and artistic research. What came to my mind is the book by Billy Ehn and Orvar Löfgren, The Secret World of Doing Nothing (2010). The second chapter deals with routines, the third with daydreaming, and so on. It is ethnography, I guess. 


Talking about myself, I can’t escape the topic of the first person narrative, especially since you point to the opposite: “The purpose of this text, however, is not to focus on the autobiographical.” 


I hope that as a seasoned professional you don’t mind a small good humoured experiment. I’ve done it sometimes with my students, hoping to show them what goes on in their texts. The rule is simple: to take out all that “I” is making. Here each line represents a text paragraph in your exposition. The paragraphs without “I” are marked with four dots. 


You can read it simply as a piece of experimental poetry (or, if you like, as a fragment of a wider poetics of artistic research).


Practising art – as a habit? 

I have, I shall, I have. 


I will, I want, I have, I have, I speak. 

I will, I am, I applied, I have. 

I experimented, I chose, I now have, I now deal. 

I am pondering, I did, I am, I will, I will. 

I have, I have, I was, I would have, I am. 

I have. 

I chose. I did not. I did not. I sat. I will. 


I stayed. I recorded. I spent. I had to. I took. I tried. I knew. I chose. I had. 

Summer at Söder 

I chose. I stayed. I walked. I recorded. I could. I decided. I discovered. I had. I wanted. 


I am. I stay. I do not have to. I did. 

I decided. I could. I did not have to. I returned. I realized. 

I show. I was. I was. I wanted. 

I already thought. I could. I was. I felt. I feel. I enter. 


I look. I have. I normally use. I made. I was. I had. I really enjoyed. 

I began. I included. I could. I made. I decided. I made. 

I could. I made. I made. 

I can. I chose. 

I have. I have. Have I. I do. I am. 

Sustainable routine 

I started. I tried. I forgot. I was. 

I did. 

. . . . 

What about research? 

. . . . 

. . . . 

. . . . 

I did. I knew. I have. 

. . . . 

. . . . 

I am. I am. 


You’re still there? What the poem says is that towards the end you let your “I” rest and concentrate more on something else. The paragraphs under the last heading deal mostly with the category problem – asking what is it that you have done, as practice, and to what degree it is speculative [this I like, perhaps because a dictionary puts it so nicely: speculative – based on conjecture rather than knowledge]. It is also here in the last paragraphs that the literature plays a part. Yet I find it hard to deny the essentially autobiographic nature of your exposition. It is about you. 


I am not surprised since I’m familiar with the way you work. You know, sitting on a stone and all that. Yet everything about performance really escapes me. Now you may wonder what sort of review is this really, I mean. 


I am drawn to images and the one thing that came to my mind is this: does it really matter who takes the images? You could have set a camera on a stand and set it to snap a picture every morning automatically. No shaking, no moving horizon. 


In a way I already know the answer: yes, it matters very much, because it is a practice that is performed by a person, not by a machine. Yet unlike the informed reader, an innocent viewer may only see a change of light, a change of season, a change of certain objects in the field of vision. 


As for me, I very much favour your set of still images that forms the right edge of your exposition. They run nicely with the text. I am not so excited about the changing ones on the front page, however. 


The reason is that I already have a habit of watching kelikamera images. You know, an automatic webcam by a roadside that shows you the weather conditions in that particular location. My favourites are the really faraway ones in Lapland. There are days when you never see traffic, only the changing images of an empty road – for example, the camera pointing to the direction of Sevettijärvi on road 971, location Nitsijärvi. 


Typologically your two bare-bone case studies come, in my view, close to what a remote kelikamera produces somewhere outside the artistic discourse. 


So, my personal problem is that I do get something out of these changing images without having to ponder the academic question how does this relate to a performative practice. 


And, finally, to the point. If I am not totally mistaken, in your exposition you ask to what extent your habitual practice results in a performative piece when you move yourself out of the image. Is this routine of taking a picture from the same place still to be called an artistic practice resulting in an artwork? Then you answer by admitting that the habit of doing is there even if you are not sure about the material’s worth as an actual edited piece. In order to locate your activity you refer to a division in your earlier text: a) product-oriented, b) practice-led, and then you introduce a more refined 2x2 matrix where the locus of present examples is found in “practice-led and contemplative.” 


In other words it is something that plays a part in your artistic profession regardless of its wider function. It is about your habits of contemplation. And it is precisely for this reason that I, as a viewer, find your question “What would be the speculative or imaginative dimension in recording the same view repeatedly?” no more interesting than to ask for the logic of the Nitsijärvi kelikamera


There is a difference between the habit (practice) of making and the habit (practice) of watching, and I seemingly cannot cross the bridge from my side to your side. Therefore the position you take “by maintaining and showing every repetition I am foregrounding the practice itself as a performance” remains, in my eyes at least, hermetic. You perform as you like and that is it. 


I noticed an article in your bibliography with an intriguing title: “Beyond Solipsism in Artistic Research.” Here the performative quality is defined somewhat differently: “The work that art does is its performative quality. This can relate to the process of making the artwork and the effects for the artists and for the field, and/or to the effects that the artwork may generate in the world.” Your habit, as explained in your exposition, might relate to the first mentioned dimension, yet you were not exactly sure if you were making artworks. As for the effects, I don’t really know. 


Dear Annette, I found your exposition clearly written and difficult to relate to. As you may know, I am not practicing performance when I do my things and perhaps that is also the very reason why I have not always understood your aspect well enough. Moreover, there exists the tight bond between your practice as performance and your practice as research, which I find complicated, especially now as the visual results fail to tempt me. Thus the movement from near-zero performances to near-zero research questions appears unstrained yet not the most inviting. 


I hope that these notes are not altogether useless to you. I tried to be sincere, come what may. 


Looking forward to see you soon, 


Paula Kramer 12/06/2017 at 09:09

I’ve engaged with this exposition on several occasions, in various settings and countries. Reading the text and seeing the films on a desk at ETLAB in Helsinki, in my home in Berlin, on a train to Hamburg and on a desk in the public library of the Topography of Terror in Berlin, quite close to a site that I currently work on – habitually, as a way of keeping up my practice, as a way of doing research, as a way of preparing performance?


It has kept me good company.


I am reviewing from the viewpoint of a “junior colleague” – I work in a neighbouring field and have known Annette’s work for several years. We first met in person in 2016, in the framework of the British AHRC research network “Rock/Body”. Since the autumn of 2016 we are loosely colleagues in the context of Uniarts Helsinki/TeaK.


I much enjoyed about this exposition the sense that it wants to be seen, read and understood. Both in language and in layout I find it straightforward, engaging and easy to navigate. The issues raised are interesting for people concerned with regular artistic practice, repeated actions or habits, for those working in natural environments, those busy with questioning/dealing with artistic research as well as (media) artists working with still cameras, outdoors etc.


My review deals most specifically with proposals brought forth in the text, which has to do with my own expertise but also with the limitations of the small screen and slow machine that I currently work with. The technology I have available could not do the films much justice.


Yet observing my online viewing habits more generally I feel that all of the video materials might be too long for a presentation context like this. I wonder how many people see the full arch of the films? However – I understand that the artistic position might be that 25 min 30 sec is the duration of the work. I still think it might be worth considering 3 – 7 min long films in the context of an RC exposition.


I cannot see the swinging films anymore without being reminded of a set-up during the 2017 SAR conference in which Annette showed some (different) film material that included people swinging. In a gym type setting we as audience members were invited to swing with films. I hope you as a reader can imagine this too.


Questions this review process raised for me:


- I wonder about formulations such as “let the trees, rocks, waves, wind and weather perform” (p. 1) and “letting the elements of the environment perform for them” (p. 10) [perform for the agency of technology, the automatic functions of the camera]. I struggle with the formulation “letting … perform”. If we speak about performance I wonder if entities and materials would not better be considered as performing “with” rather than “for” technology. Otherwise I would like to see the concept of letting a landscape perform framed or discussed further. How does this happen outside of or in connection to human perception and/or framing ‘as performance’? Who “lets” perform?


- I further wonder about the usage of the term “image” throughout the text when referring to short films – e.g. on p. 3 “four images of roughly one-minute duration”. I wonder if alternative terms could be “clip” or “take” in this context, although I also sense the emphasis on the still camera or frame that “image” might carry more strongly than the proposed alternatives.


- I am also still pondering the categorisations of artistic research on p. 8-9. In my own artistic research practice I cannot make the distinction between “product” and “practice” as different types of research, both are entirely intermeshed in my work. It is exactly through the creation of a “product” – i.e. artwork/performance, (which can be entirely processes based!) that I also express and/or explore a “knowledge interest”– etc. Since the author similarly recognises that the proposed divisions are contested, maybe there is another way of making this line of thinking more productive/operational. Is it not exactly across such divisions as “developmental” and “reflective” that artistic research unfolds its potentials? Whilst it is useful to be conscious of differences, I would rather think towards vectors, intensities and mixtures than separate categories placed on a quadrant (in this case).


- I resonate with and feel excited about the connection between speculation and practice in the very end of the text and the proposal that speculation “takes places by repeatedly creating the conditions for alternatives to appear” (p. 10). I would have enjoyed a further development of this section as a whole in this text and am similarly looking forward to see it taken further elsewhere!


Writing such a final peer review made me wonder about the usefulness of publishing a peer review. I agree that it is interesting to know who is asked to review which exposition and what these people think/contribute. Still a lot of the review process remains hidden. Maybe it is interesting to consider if also a final author’s statement could be useful, one that can speak to the process of creation and review as a whole, responding also to the final peer review.

Comments are only available for registered users.

i have forgotten my password
join the research catalogue
Portals The research catalogue serves:
Journal for Artistic Research
a peer-reviewed international journal for all art disciplines
KC Research Portal
Research Portal of the Royal Conservatoire, The Hague
Norwegian Artistic Research Programme
The portal of the Norwegian Artistic Research Programme
Ruukku Studies in Artistic Research
Taiteellisen tutkimuksen kausijulkaisu / Studies in Artistic Research
University of Applied Arts Vienna
RC portal of the University of Applied Arts Vienna
Journal of Sonic Studies
A peer-reviewed, international journal on sound studies and auditory culture
Academy of Creative and Performing Arts
Portal of the Academy of Creative and Performing Arts, Leiden University
SHAPE - Artistic Research and Institutional Impact
SHAPE aims to describe the impact of artistic research within specific frameworks.
Faculty of Fine Art, Music and Design, University of Bergen
Portal of Faculty of Fine Art, Music and Design
Portal of Codarts, University of the Arts, Rotterdam
Stockholm University of the Arts
Stockholm University of the Arts (Uniarts) provides education and conducts research in the fields of choreography, film & media, opera and performing arts.
University of the Arts Helsinki
University of the Arts Helsinki was launched in 2013 upon the merging of the Finnish Academy of Fine Arts, Sibelius Academy, and Theatre Academy Helsinki.
Norwegian Academy of Music
A leading artistic and academic university college with over 600 students. Located in Oslo, Norway.
The Danish National School of Performing Arts
This portal is a platform for distribution of knowledge produced through artistic research at the Danish National School of Performing Arts.
VIS – Nordic Journal for Artistic Research
VIS – Nordic Journal for Artistic Research
Rhythmic Music Conservatory Copenhagen
The portal of Rhythmic Music Conservatory Copenhagen
Konstfack – University of Arts, Crafts and Design
Konstfack – University of Arts, Crafts and Design, Stockholm