[spectre] Re: SPECTRE Digest, Vol 31, Issue 13

Simon Biggs simon at littlepig.org.uk
Thu Sep 8 22:37:09 CEST 2005

I will try to clarify my comments.

Rene Beekman wrote:
> From: Simon Biggs
>> Research and development has commonly been undertaken within academic
>> structures and thus these are often appropriate for that.
> true, academics has traditionally undertaken research and development
> but - being the devil's advocate - i would strongly contest that most
> research and development is undertaken by academia or even that it is
> the most appropriate place for research and development per se.
> certain kinds of research and developments could never place within
> academia while others would find it hard to find fertile ground
> elsewhere. so here we would have to define what kind of research and
> development we're interested in to see if academia would be an
> appropriate place for it or whether we should try to find new or other
> places for this research to happen.
Academic research means different things in different places. What research
is undertaken and what its likely outcomes are tends to be determined by
where the money comes from. In the USA, where most money comes from either
the state (largely through the NSF or the Pentagon) or industry, research is
often tied to more applied work (Eisenhower's military-industrial complex is
alive and well). Nevertheless blue-sky and creative research does happen,
but in an increasingly difficult environment. The pressures on the MediaLab
and similar places are evidence of this.

In other countries research funding is through peer reviewed funding
councils and thus the situation is different. Blue sky is the norm and
applied research less default. In the UK (although this is now being
trialled in Canada and Australia - the Oz government has hired Gareth
Roberts, who led the setting up of the UK's research system, to organise its
new system) the concept of practice based research in the creative arts has
been formalised within a research council (the Arts and Humanities Research
Council). The amounts of money are, compared to areas like biotech,
engineering or medicine, small but already academic funding for creative
arts practice is starting to challenge the traditional funding avenues, such
as the Arts Councils, as the artists first port of call for support.

This combines with the fact that Universities are funded in relation to
their research profiles. As artists are now formally recognised as
researchers they become important to these institutions. An artist's
international profile translates directly into hard cash for the institution
that employs them as a researcher, thus it makes sense to pay an artist a
decent salary to pursue their work as the institution, if it plays its cards
right, can translate that into a profit. This is having a profound effect on
how artists work in the UK and how the artworld functions.

However, I will accept that this is only one context within which research
can be undertaken. The artist's practice and studio can be founded upon many
models and diverse economic platforms. The traditional funding avenues,
whilst diminishing in importance, are still there and the option of
"non-funded" work always exists (of course this means the artist funds their
own work, by other means). For some the art market offers succour.

Whatever, the choice the artist makes to ensure their being able to work
will be a loaded one. Politics is always there. What you find least
distasteful usually says a lot about your political position.

> From: Simon Biggs
>> Funding and promotion have their tradiitonal systems, depending on how
>> art, money and patronage fit together in specific cultures (both the
>> State and private
>> enterprise have their roles here).
> could you define these roles in more specific terms and how they would
> be applicable to media art centres?
> how could we come up with new systems for funding and promotion that
> would enable media art centres to operate in a different way?
I think my above comments begin to address this issue. It is, I think we
will all agree, all about money. That has to come from somewhere. There are
always strings attached. Ideology, power and patronage is always present.
Different cultures (as I observed in respect to the differences between a
Capitalist US and a more mixed UK) will offer different mechanisms and
opportunities. It is often the case that artists are highly mobile and
choose the country they live and work in due to such factors (unlike most of
the world's population, which does not have the luxury of choosing where it

> concert is about to start - have to leave it at this for now
> more over the next few days
Hope you enjoyed the concert.



Simon Biggs
simon at littlepig.org.uk

Professor, Art and Design Research Centre
Sheffield Hallam University, UK

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