An Academy from Island to Continent.
by Charlotte Brüel, editor of Visual Art Politics
See also the video interview (in Danish)
CB: Congratulations with your new job. Recently we made an interview - in our mother tongue Danish. Today we will make a - shorter - one in English.
CB: Which are your professional dreams for your new job?
MB: My professional dreams, on a preliminary level, would be creating an artistic education, which should be among the best in Europe, or in Scandinavia, in terms of creating students or candidates and artists, being at a level of the society we are living in. Or to put it otherwise, creating artists - talented artists - fit for making a career in this region, being Copenhagen, Denmark or Europe considered as a region of the world, and in a globalized context. That is artists being able to manoeuvre in a world so to speak torn between regional problematics and and the problem of globalization.
CB: Yes, hot issue!
MB: (smiling) Hot issue, and a very important one.
MB: My formal duties? As a principal of the Art Academy, as a rector of the Art Academy I have the formal responsibility of education and research, so it is my formal duty to maintain and to develop the institution as to education and as research institution. And it is my formal duty in developing this institution, also to make a strategy for this development and to make policies for the development of the education and for the development of the artistic research, being made here - which is another “hot issue!”. We can come back to that later.
CB: Then I will go to ask from another side:
MB: Well, yes. The main question.
Artistic versus Scientific Research
CB: As part of taking the responsibility that society does not understand the contemporary art, maybe we should put the question: What is the difference between academic knowledge - the scientific tradition of the universities - and knowledge accumulated through artistic work by visual artists?
MB: That’s a very good question, and a very hard one to answer. As you know I got university background, myself, and I have been associated professor at the university (in Copenhagen) for 11 years, so I got some experience with university research, but also some with artistic research, since I have been supervising phd. candidates in the arts. And it has been tremendously interesting.
I must say there is a great difference, and there is also similarities. To start with the differences, which of course are crucial, as we have to define, what is specific about artistic research. University research, scientific research has a certain goal, a certain pragmatic goal, even if the process of research can be quite experimental - should be experimental - that is you set certain... you have a set of conditions, you have some questions, you try different methods, in order to shed light on these questions. That process is very much like an artistic process. You have a material to work in, you have an empirical background, you have a medium in which you work. But scientific research has a way of communicating itself, a certain pragmatics, which is very different from the artistic one. That is you write articles, you write books and you have a way of documenting the process in scientific research, which is quite different from the artistic one.
When you write a research article or a book, documenting research process, every thing have to be transparent , that is the whole process of research has to be documented in footnotes, in references, it has to be clear, what kind of books you have read. You have to make clear the whole research tradition in which you are positioning yourself, or up against which you develop your own research.
Artistic research has a similar process. You have a medium or a cluster of media in which you work, you have some problematics, you have themes, you have questions, you have a development, that is self reflective, you reflect on what you do, and there is a feed back from your material, but the way it is documented is quite different. That is it is not pragmatic. There is no demand of a communicability. It does not have to communicate a whole academic public. That is maybe the main difference, as I see it. But there are many others as well. So I think there is a whole process of research, which alines academic and artistic research, but there is a way of documenting that research, which is quite different.
Artistic research end up in some kind of work, in some kind of artistic work, where as academic research or scientific research ends up with a pragmatic communicable article or book, that documents all phases of process, and the work thing that artistic research ends up with, wether it is a traditional work, a painting within four frames or a sculpture, or something quite different from that, something completely unseen, always being inscribed in another kind of communication, which is more bound to the material, is more bound to the medium, and which is in itself experimenting.
That is artistic research has an experiment with the whole medium of research, with the whole communication of research, whereas making an experimental or experimenting with the way you communicates scientific research should be, to say the least, highly difficult.
MB: So in that sense artistic research is much more insecure, and much more self made, in a way.
I don’t think that should be considered a license to do whatever, and just to say: Well, I am an artist and what I do is per definition “research”. Since no one can tell me what research is, I invent my research myself; that would be too loosely defined, I think.
So I have not got the full answer to what is artistic research today, but I am sure, that will be a hot issue for the next 5-10 years, indeed.
But I am quite sure, that university research should not be the model for the way we do artistic research. Thats for one thing. And second I think, we should find a way of dealing with artistic research, that makes it definable on its own terms. That is, it is not the same as just making art, if I may say so. Even though there is an research aspect in all artistic processes. It is not artistic research in itself. It takes something, to call it research. And that thing, it takes, is a way of reflecting upon the process, while doing it. And a way of reflecting upon the platform you invent for making that research.
I know it’s a bit complicated, a bit tricky, but I think, you know, academic research, scientific research, has its quite secure platform. You have a research institution, you have articles, you have ways of making footnotes, and there are certain standards, how you build up an article, there are no standards - there are no similar standards about how to make an art work, and even it is so making artistic research. We have to invent it. And I think even if the coming years will - or we will see the emergence of some more , let’s say stable definitions of what artistic research can be considered to be, I think it will always be characteristic of artistic research, that it has to invent itself all the time.
CB: Content as well as form.
Communication of Visual Art in the Media
CB: You have experience from your former job - I think it was before the job you just left from the university - at the daily paper Information as an art critique. Is that correct?
MB: Thats correct. “Information” and “Week End Avisen”.
CB: What do you think can be done to improve the general communication of visual art relevant issues in the media?
MB: Oh, thats a difficult one. But an important one, of course. On the so called activist level, I think we should put pressure on the media, by constantly reminding them, that they are not doing their job well enough! And I personally do, what I can, every time I meet art critiques, colleagues and people I know in charge of daily and weekly newspapers in Copenhagen. I constantly remind them, or ask them: How come, that you have downsized the amount of criticism of fine art, or especially visual arts, since theatre and film and books are quite well covered today, but visual artists not so - so much.
So, put pressure on them.
Also, I think, create alternative media that can compete with and that could set a standard - new standard - for what art criticism is.
CB: An example of, what alternative media is / might be?
MB: Well, I think still that radio holds a great potential. Also alternative TV. We know of at least one example of alternative TV in Denmark - which is called “TV TV”. There has been other examples as well, within the last 10-15 years. That could be developed, I think.
One could think in terms of art magazines, which we had in Denmark, but no really broad band - broadly covering art magazine, as far as I can see.
So a lot of different ways of doing it, but we shouldn’t just give up on the traditional media, like daily newspapers, television and broadcasting companies. They are the most important and most far reaching media today.
CB: But sometimes I feel that, what is written on visual art in the daily papers, is kind of “fake” scientific. It could be much more simple, and in that sense be much more loyal to the art.
MB: Yes. I agree. I totally agree. Art criticism today - in Denmark at least - is characterized by a certain...well, on one hand at a certain academic attitude, which should be there, of course, since academicly based or reflecsive criticism is in opposition to impressionist criticism. It’s a good thing to have and is a way of securing a high standard or level of criticism, and then also it is considered as characteristic by being very much - especially among younger art critics, as far as I see it, as being very dependent on artistic... or dependent on the scene. That is you sense that the art critic is not very autonomous in the work.
CB: You think they are microphone holders?
MB: Microphone holder. They prefer interviews for independent criticism, and I think, it’s crucial and highly important today to insist on the independence, and the specificity of art criticism, and not art criticism as a medium through which artists should speak.
CB: Sometimes journalism or art critics is kind of translating what has been done, so that it comes between the public, the audience and the experience.
MB: I am not sure I agree with the premises of your comments. It is as if, there is a direct way of going to art works, and I do not think there is. I think there is always an intermediary and a distance between the audience and the art work, which comes from our way of simply perceiving art. You always have your own history, your own knowledge, your own way of approaching arts, which is already putting you in a certain position vis a vis the art work. So there is no direct way of going to the art work.
And art criticism is not about creating direct approaches to art. It’s about communicating, it’s about interpreting, it’s about developing and expanding the art work.
CB: A third angle to...
MB: It’s about finding an interesting angle that can be discussed with, and also, of course, which are...I know it’s not a very hip or does not sound very contemporary, but also about, I think, evaluating - assessing - the art work. To make an assessment of the artwork. Does it work?
CB: But that’s what we don’t see!
MB: That’s what we don’t see. “Does it succeed in what it wants?”.
And that is what art criticism is about.
Discussing with the art work as if it were a statement. Considering the art work as a statement about the world, about art, about itself, no matter what, and discus that statement, as if you were discussing with another person.
So what I miss in contemporary art criticism in Denmark, is the willingness to be in clinch with the art work. To discuss with it. To assess it. To evaluate it.
MB: O.K. I agree.
A dream which has to be developed
CB: I know you have been giving lots of interviews, besides this one. What is the most frequently asked question?
MB: The most frequently asked question is: “What will happen to the art academy, now?”
MB: Yes, ha: “What do you think?” (Laughter)
But that is cowardice, so I used to say: I am sure in a year or so, I will be much more able to answer that question - in a visionary way - because, of course I visions, I got dreams. But that dream is one to be developed along with the people I work with here, and it’s not something going on in my head. I am part of this island - ah, what would I say, I am part of this continent, and this continent consist of 8 professors, 15 assistant professors and 200 students. We should develop this academy together. Of course I am heading it, but I am steering the process, but I won’t do it alone.
Thank you for the interview - “Visual Art Politics” will be looking forward to the “After” interview in 2 or 3 years - when your dreams and daily work have been professional followers for some time.
MB: Your welcome.