On Artistic Research (the Norwegian model)

Since the Norwegian Programme for Artistic Research was created in 2003, it has provided a strong anchorage in artistic performance and artistic processes in this country: ‘Artistic research covers artistic processes that lead to a publicly accessible artistic product. To this, also an explicit reflection around the development and presentation of the artistic product may be included.’ (UHR, 2007, p. 13, my translation), and ‘In Norway, we put particular emphasis on artistic methods and artistic result in artistic research, and we have gained accept and established understanding for this in national institutional relations.’  (UHR, 2015, p. 27, my translation).

Artistic research is about wondering, searching and sharing, corresponding to other research that also asks questions, explores and disseminates. The object is not the art work in itself, but it concerns a deep search into what happens in the processes that the artist carries toward work or performance, in one’s personal practice. 

The research begins in something the artist wonders about, has curiosity for, struggles with, finds friction in, in her artistic practice. From there, she searches in and with this, zooms in or out, tests, through art performance and herself. It may concern something that is ‘embarrassingly important’ to the artist, as Jon Fosse writes in his essay ‘Art and theory are opposites’, describing art and theory as night and day, meeting in the dusk. 


Art and theory are opposites. Maybe. Or at least in many ways. And if art and theory are opposites, and the theory in question is apparently aesthetics, that is art and literature theory, then we are talking about opposites where art and theory are not mutually excluding each other, rather, art and theory are each other’s prerequisite, thus we speak of opposites as being between day and night, no day without night, but of course the night, and night should be art, doesn’t need to like the day, as the day doesn’t need to like the night. In my view art and theory are opposites, but at the same time it is, at least in the contemporary situation, to the advantage of both if one resides in the dusk where art and theory meet. … Among the worst things that could happen to art, is that it should simplify itself according to some dogmatism, theoretically, politically, religiously or what; that type of dogmatic simplification is destructive to art exactly because art is simplification, not simplification in relation to for instance theory, but rather simplification of what is embarrassingly important in the individual artist’s life; one could say that art is a sort of adjustment, not to theory, but to the artist’s life. All other simplification and adjustment than to what feels embarrassingly important in the artist’s life, destroys art ... (Fosse, 1999, p. 66, my translation).


What this important friction, wondering, is about, is often not possible to capture in a single verbal sentence, especially not in the beginning of such a process, maybe it also changes shape during the process, or comes clearer into view in retrospect. As Nina Malterud describes here, it is not always a hypothesis formulated in traditional sense, that is the most relevant way to describe or frame the basis of the artistic research: 


The starting point may be formulated as some sort of hypothesis – but more often as an area of interest, a point of departure for an ambitious journey. Very seldom a so called research question will be formulated because many artists do not experience this as a useful tool. Sometimes the answer (the work/product) in some way reveals the question. But quite often the artistic result of high quality may be so complex that the simplified questions will reduce the optimal perception of the quality and strength of the work. When artists are asked about how they made their work, they often demonstrate in their answers the limitations of what can be explained within a classical logical discourse. Somewhere, an unexpected decision has been taken, for reasons that can hardly be articulated, only proven by the quality of the work in the end (Malterud, 2009, p. 2).


Instead of searching for answers, art and the research of the artist will rather search for deepening, where questions continually lead to new questions. 


'The nature of Art is poetry’, Heidegger says in The Origin of the Work of Art. And he continues: 'The nature of poetry is the constitution of truth’. ... Poetry has the truth. But in a way that the human beings don’t understand the truth. Every truth opens for new questions. ... Truth is a relational concept between being and the human being. Ultimately, it is art that constitutes truth between them, and between us human beings. (Holm, 2014, my translation). 


The arena for research is thus the artistic processes, and the research results will live in the art works and the performances that the processes lead to. In artistic research, the artist opens peepholes or windows into the processes, that conveys considerations, choices and turning points, and connections to contextual areas. Aslaug Nyrnes proposes that the artistic research is disseminated through three 'topoi': 


The core topos is the researcher's own language. The artistic process is always, in various ways embedded in the researcher's own words and expressions. ... this kind of language is organic; depends on the situation. ... A second topos in artistic research is located in the theory. ... I would suggest that it is possible to talk about theory as embedded in the art example itself ... in the way the current example indirectly comments on the principles of the genre. Theory in an artistic production is the series of other productions the one at hand is pointing towards. ...The third topos is the main one, being the energy centre of artistic research. This topos is the artistic material, the field, the artistic language developing into an artistic object or production (Nyrnes, 2006, pp. 14-17). 


Sharing happens through educational situations, meetings between artists, seminars and discussion fora, where the dialogues and meetings between artists expand and develop the research themes.  


Performers work in and with the ephemeral;


The materiality of the performance cannot exist beyond its duration. Rather, its spatiality, corporeality and tonality are brought forth in the course of the performance. This leads us to an inherent paradox of performance: it is ephemeral and transitory; however, whatever happens and takes shape in its course comes into being hic et nunc (here and now) and is experienced by the participants as being present in a particularly intense way (Fischer-Lichte, 2010, p. 31).


The rehearsal processes and the performance processes are transitory and intense. Something that seems important one day, moves to another place in the body the next day and the impact is changed. The ephemeral gives the processes a need for a certain speed. This demands that I as a performer must address my intuition, as in the sum of my experiences, and the directions where the flow goes, where the body wants, and where there in every moment seems to reside power or potensial. I experience that performance in great extent is about attitudes; positions that feed me into the moment, into the action, into what can only almost be repeated.