Principles of research
Evolving research methods for practice that can bring together porous states of consciousness, an informed understanding of one’s own cultural roots, diverse moments of felt experience, and inquiries into form, concept, techniques of final outcomes and representations require one to consider artistic research methods that are more open. These methods need to create space for:
- Subjectivity: Allowing for autobiographical research, annotated studies of one's own work, making connections to one's flow of thought and consciousness in relation to one's cultural worldviews, observing leaps of imagination within the worlds of myth, and notions of consciousness that emerge from cultural or philosophical thought that the artist is grounded in.
- Experientiality: Suspending notions of reality that we believe to be absolute to allow for alternatives, where we can find appropriate language to describe felt experiences.
- Intuition: Intuition happens at an incredible pace of time, where innumerable connections are fired to create a great moment of clarity. While it may be impossible to trace all connections, acknowledging intuition as a valid aspect of research will create a conducive environment for intuition to rise, as well as allow the artist to practice/use that intuition with confidence in her work.
- Alogic/Ineffable: What would academic research look like if logic and rational argument were not its only driving force? What would alogical and illogical study look like if acceptable within the framework of research? This is an important question in artistic research and has multiple possible answers.
- Form: Form reveals intuitions, non-linear connections, and cultural perceptions that are otherwise inaccessible in formal academic writing. Form may also include linguistic expressions of poetry. Researching form and the principles and aesthetic philosophy that drive its origin is essential to unfold research. While the final outcome of form may appear to be drawn from a particular school of art, it is essential to also determine the philosophical beliefs and values of the artist to truly comprehend the work’s visuality and its inner meanings.
This exposition is part of my doctoral inquiry. The three methods that I use across my doctoral work are:
1. Transdisciplinary studies
- Developing an argument for positioning porosity at the intersection of ecological consciousness, environmental aesthetics, artistic practice, environmental ethics and philosophy, juxtaposing Indian cultural paradigms with Western epistemologies to evolve positions of research and practice. (This is not discussed in this exposition and the following three methods are discussed in short detail.)
- Within traditional Indian thought and aesthetics, I work with Kapila Vatsyayan’s methods of interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary studies and apply them to personal practice. Using Indian philosophical and aesthetic frameworks that are pervasive and enjoy a (relatively) continuous tradition of practice, insights are drawn from understanding relationships between environment and creativity in Indian thought. These insights are then applied to develop and analyse personal practice.
2. Tracing lineage
- Uncovering and working with intuition as a valid form of knowledge, I engage with studies of poetry, literature, visual art, and movement practices across India to trace my intuitions in practice.
3. Practice and artistic research
- Field studies and journaling.
- Reflective documentation and annotated practice.
Drawing a research and philosophical framework from classical Indian theories
In India, master artists and craftsman are traditionally recognised according to a code of cultural standards, from which artists are given titles and recognition. However, across time, the artist rarely speaks of his/her creative process, meaning that art critics, historians, and scholars take on the role of speaking for the artist. Artistic research, however, allows an artist to articulate, make evident, and clarify one’s own artistic journeys, or study the journeys of another artist with their own understanding of processes.
My work draws upon traditional Indian aesthetic frameworks that have evolved over the centuries, delving both into artistic and aesthetic consciousness as well as techniques and processes of practice. These methods of study draw on interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary approaches, in particular the work of Dr. Kapila Vatsyayan. Vatsyayan's key insights lie in understanding that Indian art, philosophy, and everyday life are to be explored as an ‘integral vision in lifestyle of cohesive communities and through the oral traditions.’
The second critical aspect of her method lies in drawing out the interrelationship between the Indian arts — architecture, dance, theatre, painting, sculpture, and music (Vatsyayan, 1997, p. 3). Seamless organic connections are drawn across art forms to elucidate key beliefs, worldviews, cosmologies, and principles of practice. In my practice, I draw upon this understanding to create a latticed networked practice across text, image, and movement.
‘The artist in India is synonymous with Prajāpati (the creator)’ (Kalyanasundaram, 2018, p. 159). Within the Indian tradition there is a philosophical acceptance that art creation is ‘sacrosanct’ and the focus of inquiries has largely been in relation to aesthetic experience rather than the artistic process itself. ‘The essence of creativity or artistic inspiration is termed pratibhā and ‘signifies a burst of enlightenment’. The Kāśmīr Śaiviteliterature articulates human creativity as an act born of bliss in re-enacting the nature of the universal consciousness’ (Dehejia, 2000, p. 4; Kalyanasundaram, 2018, p. 159). This idea is echoed in the words of Ganapathi Sthapathi, the architect-sculptor (Śilpi) who traces his lineage back to the tenth-century architects of the Brihadeesvara temple (Kailasam, 2004). Irrespective of profession or disciplinary boundary, creativity is an integral element of consciousness. Consciousness is individual at one level, universal at another, but what interests me is how it is porous. It is in porosity that consciousness allows for new relationships to emerge between the human and the more-than-human worlds. In the activating the porous principle, creativity is enacted as performance. But what are the ethical boundaries of creativity in the context of the natural world? What is its expanse within freedom and responsibility? What is its essence within the realm of human compassion in relationships? How does it bind us in a shared cosmic ecology?
The Vedic conceptualisation of the divine being lies in the concept of ṛta, or cosmic order, which is seen as the organising principle of life at three levels: the natural, the social-moral, and the spiritual (Khanna, 2004; Panikkar, 1977; Sivaramamurti, 1969). Further, in the conceptualisation of Puruṣa as a universal being — as interpreted in the Puruṣa Suktam (Hymn 10.90 of the Rigvedā) (Swami Krishnananda, n.d.) — the view of all life as one integral being takes shape.
Puruṣa Suktam is not without problems, however. Ambedkar, one of India's constitution builders and part of the historically lower-caste category of untouchables (Dalits), has been a key leader in fighting against injustice and inequality of this community by other upper castes. He critiques verse 12 of Puruṣa Suktam as a religious sanction of the caste system in India (Ambedkar, 1970). This remains a key socio-political critique of the text. However, several other researchers, while acknowledging the historical injustice meted out to Dalits, point out issues with this reading of the suktam (Nadkarni, 2003; Venkataraman, 2016; Hardikar & Dhar, 2016).
The translation of these cosmic laws into artistic traditions in terms of form, technique, experience, and aesthetics is of critical importance if we wish to understand the integral vision of an ecologically grounded consciousness that pervades the Indian cultural and aesthetic ethos. Further, it provides us with an alternative worldview to construct ideas of creativity, its roots, and its practice as embedded within larger laws or path— dharma. The philosophical dictum Sarvaṃ Sarvātmakam (Yoga sutra Bhashya III.14), meaning ‘everything is related to the totality’, is a central idea in Indian culture (Vatsyayan & Baumer, 1996, p. xi). This idea is extended by the Tamil saints (cittars), who state Andamē pindaṃ, Pindamē andaṃ —the universe is the individual body and the individual body is the universe.
"Modern physics has shown the idea that the subject is forever apart from what it surveys to be wrong. The Vedic view goes further and claims that consciousness provides a means for subject and object to become one, a process in which the cognitive centres are transformed into doorways of holistic perception" (Kak, 2000).
According to the ‘Hindu’ tradition, the creative process is viewed as a means of ‘suggesting or recreating a vision, however fleeting, of a divine truth’. This is a sādhanā, a practice that opens the means to experiencing ānanda or transcendence. The tradition requires that the rasikā or the aesthete also be in a state of preparedness to respond and receive the nuanced vision of the artist, thereby becoming a sahṛdaya, sharing oneness of spirit with the artist (Vatsyayan, 1977, pp. 3-7). The training and initiation of the spectator is considered equally critical as the training of the artist (Vatsyayan, 1977, pp. 3-7). In this exchange between artist and rasikā, and the experience of transcendence by contemplating on the divine truth of oneness, lies an alternative vision of creativity.
A balanced worldview located in the panchabhūtas, or five elements, creates a deep awareness of the cosmic and earthly rhythms that impact human lives. An ecological understanding that emerges from these aspects of the traditional worldview could offer critical ways for building a harmonious interrelationship with nature in today’s context. ‘The arts serve as a bridge between concepts, myths, ritual, and life forms and hence they particularly express and mediate on ecological consciousness’ (Vatsyayan & Baumer, 1996, p. viii).
While Indian philosophical traditions were grounded in a cosmic ecology, much of today’s practices have become human-centred religious rituals divorced from their ecological roots. The philosophical and spiritual basis bound in ṛta (cosmic natural law) has been reduced to ‘dialogues and debates around human salvation, abstracted and far removed from the ethical, social, and spiritual order that was woven around natural laws’ (Kalyanasundaram, 2018, p. 162).
Research occurs in the realms of the subjective, intuitive, and imaginative, as well as those of seeing and perception. In keeping with the nature of inquiry into porosity, the research approach looks at non-conclusive, uncertain states of being, making, and approaches to creating form. The quality of research becomes an act of unfolding, unravelling, and transitioning placed in diverse temporalities and spatialities that allow for non-sequential, continuous, rhythmic, and recursive ways of experiencing. Integral to Eastern notions of intuition are self-assessment strategies, rigour, and methods for judgment or assessment (Burtt, 1953). This sensibility of artistic research invites the unknown and the tacit-invisible. In painting, my nascent and shy inquiry acquires form. Throughout the process of form-making, thoughts settle, inquiries take shape, intuitive understanding drifts in. Solutions and resolutions emerge in ephemerality and transience, acquiring form and shape. As one enquiry rests, another emerges in that stillness. Sometimes there are long periods of stillness, rest, and then a rich movement trembles in…
Recording these nuanced journeys and explorations are essential as contributions of research to studying practice. While one may be able to study another artist by asking these same questions and adopting these methods, in studying the self as subject one encounters hidden pathways, invisible journeys, and unexpected encounters with one's own past, present, and future, giving a remarkable window of time to study. This kind of research asks what is most vulnerable within oneself. And it also allows reveals principles and methods of practice, engagement, and research that could be unique to a particular individual, while building a framework to study the same in others. In artistic research, where the artist studies one's own work, she creates the possibility for unique forms of understanding, incorporating experiences as they are translated into form/artistic works across several years of being and becoming. These particular principles of research investigate the mystical, metaphysical aspects of a porous experience through the conditions under which such an experience can exist.
The artistic research approach taken here draws from traditional perspectives of mysticism and classical traditions of philosophy and aesthetics. It brings to light culturally shaped ideas of artistic research into an ecologically inclined and porous consciousness. As emphasised earlier, the classical Indian tradition is pluralistic rather than a singular body of knowledge, meaning what I make visible as a pathway to artistic research could be very different from someone else — even if they occupy the same mystical-theological and aesthetic-philosophical frameworks.