Back in 2009, Smith and Dean (2009:1) discussed creative practice as being one of the most exciting developments to occur within universities over the last two decades, drawing attention to its ‘accelerating influence’.
Whilst the significance of practice-based research has further accelerated over the past ten years since Smith and Dean made this comment, I feel that comparatively little attention has been paid to the many multiplicities of the creative practice methodology and how these complexities can be facilitated and supported. There have been a number of great events recently that have highlighted this shift. To provide an example, in 2019 I presented at the Artistic Doctorates in Europe (ADIE) event Per/Forming Futures: Investigating Artistic Doctorates in Dance and Performance at Middlesex University. One of the keynotes at this event, Robin Nelson, explained how practice-based PhDs are still battling to achieve the same recognition as scientific doctorates in the UK, compared to other countries in Europe. This illustrated a need for further work to be done in promoting the value of creative research in academic contexts. Due to this, I decided to run my own conference that placed importance on making space for practice, pointing towards the hub of activity at the time that was celebrating and encouraging creative outputs. My two-day event, Cracking the Established Order: Practice-based Research in Academia (CtEO) took place at De Montfort University on the 27th and 28th of June 2019. I ran the event with the assistance of an organising committee made up of interdisciplinary practice-based research doctoral researchers, with the conference made possible through to the generous Midlands4Cities Cohort Development Funding, itself supported by the AHRC.
This conference explored the ongoing ‘accelerating influence’ of practice-based research as it continues to shape new ways of thinking about research and creative methodologies. CtEO returned to the key question of ‘Can practice allow us to re-envision the role of a traditional researcher?’, as I wanted to re-investigate and reopen discussions surrounding this provocation in order to pay particular attention to the fruitful multiplicities of the creative methodologies that have not yet been developed. Through a busy schedule of innovative performances, workshops, performative lectures and papers from a variety of artistic backgrounds and disciplines, we looked for ways that practice-based research provides a possibility for the formation of new knowledge – both critical and embodied – that can be created and articulated through unique forms and formats. Initial thoughts stemmed from the CtEO conference concerned how creative practice was able to flourish within the flexible and informal nature of the two days, as opposed to more traditional conference formats. Discussions also moved towards how we must continue to challenge, break down and subvert heteronormative structures within the academy and use the practice itself to reflect this.
This Special Issue in International Journal of Creative Media Research invited speakers from CtEO, with the very welcome addition of Julia Machado, to draw together and expand on key discoveries and new questions from the conference. Speakers were asked to develop their conference presentations into innovative practice-based outputs. This Special Issue has, therefore, allowed the contributing artist-researchers to expand their original thinking on the productive potential and the challenges of practice-based research. Each of the contributors to this Special Issue bring with them a different artistic background, and a different way of making, appreciating and unpicking the triumphs and risks of practice-based research.
Altogether, this issue highlights the need to acknowledge the necessary multiplicity and heterogeneity of practice-based research, as well as the difficulty of categorising and defining creative practice approaches. However, this Special Issue also highlights shared questions and concerns arising around the nature of practice-based research and how to manage it alongside traditional research practices and commitments. The published submission within this Special Issue have an even deeper significance now that we are approaching a time of greater uncertainty in the HE landscape, where the balance between practice and theory may become increasingly turbulent due to the evolving options available for creative practitioners in a post-Covid-19 world. This brings with it many concerns regarding loss of liveness, touch and embodiment, and indeed how these things might be maintained through digital practice.
Alexa Wright, who provided a fascinating keynote at CtEO, considers in her article the benefits and challenges of maintaining an innovative image-based practice alongside working within an academic context. Focusing on the ‘doing’ within creative practice, Ana Rutter discusses and displays her video-based practice while considering the crossover points between practice, process and research and how to use this methodology in order to arrive at new research destinations. Complimenting this piece and in reference to her recent creative video work, Anna Walker then discusses and questions the role of the traditional researcher through an exploration of text, sound and moving imagery in order to illustrate what new knowledge can be discovered whilst ‘making’. Carl Jones encourages us to wonder, how democratic is the digital gaze? With an art through research approach, Jones uses his own art works to demonstrate how technology affects the representation of the nude figure. Next, Julia Machado’s article addresses the investigative potential and poetics of transgression in art films and how the combination of practice and research can be treated as a productive process of reflection. Mira Hirtz then provides a participatory and sensorial experience for the reader through a multi-piece portfolio of her practice-based research that gives insight into how mindful dance and multimedia collages hold a connection to thinking about ecologies. Finally, bringing this Spcial Issue to a close, Ruxundra Lupa discusses non-formalised film practices, namely those of the home movie, to discuss the possibility of utilising practice-based research as an explanatory process to generate new forms of knowledge.
Sophie Swoffer is a PhD student in Feminist Performance Art at De Montfort University, Leicester. She can be emailed at: email@example.com.