As I have argued (Kirkkopelto 2015, 2017), artistic research constitutes a methodologically creative practice. This is due to its phenomenotechnical nature: not only does it indicate a pathway to certain presumably existing phenomena, it also produces those phenomena by showing or performing them. One should not see a contradiction here. On the contrary, this fact shifts attention to the methodologically specific features of artistic research. Of these features, I emphasise the importance of one in particular: its take on reality is artistic from the very beginning. For an artist-researcher as for an artist the, domain of research is an inherently emergent dimension capable of appearing in ever new forms and showing ever new facets and aspects.
Artistic research can be also understood and practised as a means for studying the implicit artistic aspects of the non-artistic phenomena and reality. In that case, the focus is no longer on the production of art works or the improvement of artistic practices. Instead, one has to presume that there are artistic phenomena and modes of thinking that are independent of the existence of art works, artists and their particular modes of perceiving or experiencing. As an artist-researcher I am interested in questioning and studying the existence of these artistic ingredients of reality, which in the last resort may also help to shed light on the provenance of the arts in their various and historical forms.
As I see it, a step towards this kind of reasoning has already been taken in that artists nowadays discuss and are interested in interspecies relations, or aim at creating artistic interfaces between human experience and non-human processes (see for instance Aloi 2015). From the wider perspective of academic research, this tendency implies an obvious dilemma. On the one hand, if we continue to lean uniquely on the scientific evidence arising from biology, psychology or cognitive science, for instance, these kinds of artistic endeavour risk sounding and looking, if not nonsensical, at least highly speculative. On the other hand, giving artistic agency to something non-human implies the need for radical changes in current epistemological and aesthetic paradigms. Resolving this dilemma constitutes a challenge for artistic research, which tends to serve as an intermediary between the arts and other modes of knowledge formation.
In the case of “Tick Variations”, the artistic practice or medium that changes into a research practice or medium (Kirkkopelto 2017) derives from the bodily techniques I have been developing with the Other Spaces group. The realm I study concerns the embodied aspects of experience: artistic bodily techniques are applied to study the corporeal aspects of interspecies relations and their epistemic conditions.
Problematic vs. Established Bodily Techniques
On the level of scientific discussion, “bodily techniques” or “techniques of the body” (Mauss 1934) concern emergent objects the genealogy and historical reality of which are dependent on actual practice. A bodily technique may have been recently invented, in which case it constitutes a problem and a challenge for the community in which it has been introduced. It may raise various questions, such as: Can we rely on this technique? Is it safe? Is it just a joke? Is it genuine or just copied or stolen from some other context? Does it “work”? In which conditions does it work? For whom is it convenient? Do I like it? Am I ready and willing to continue to practise it? It is problematic as long as it continues to raise questions of this type.
A bodily technique becomes established gradually through social embodiment, which tends to be based on an accumulation of quite heterogeneous evidence: a technique is widely practised, its practice is culturally unquestioned, it is fashionable or popular, there is scientific evidence and/or common unanimity concerning its benefits and efficiency in relation to the desired goals, it pleases personally and corresponds to one´s needs and beliefs, for example. One could consider such techniques cultural constructs that change the way one behaves, perceives and experiences them, both as a user and as an observer.
The same kind of dynamics are evident in the experimental and artistic bodily techniques of the Other Spaces group: a practice that was initially questionable and doubtful has little by little, after 16 years of practice, become more and more firmly established. At this point in time, one can agree that the Other Spaces exercises “work” without promoting them. They are not reducible to other techniques: they are safe; they produce repeatable, shareable and mutually comparable experiences among their practitioners, and the making of them is desirable and enjoyable for many. This does not deny the fact that the epistemic and ontological nature of that technique, as is the case with all artistic bodily techniques, remains enigmatic. Uncontestably, it is possible for a human being to adopt it, but how it is possible remains unclear and requires investigation that should not ignore its artistic nature.
The technique of a non-human practice
The easiest and clearest way to explain what happens in the exercises is to take an example. For that purpose, I will return to a case that I have demonstrated on many occasions, namely that of a “Pond Snail”. In the exercise, the performer gradually approaches the way of experiencing of a small invertebrate animal with a spiral-shaped shell (family: lymnaedae), which lives at the bottom of shallow freshwaters – rivers, lakes and ponds – and nourishes itself with vegetal material. The exercise is done collectively. The human gastropods move around slowly, communicating with each other via their antennas.
Below, a series of images in which the author demonstrates the way the human pond snail moves.