A.3 Historical and Multicultural Perspectives on Research-Creation, Part 1

A.3 Perspectives historique et multiculturelle de la recherche-création, Partie 1

Wed Oct 20 / mer 20 oct / 9:30 – 11:00 PDT
voice_chat join

chairs / présidentes /

  • Isabelle Pichet, Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières
  • Cynthia I. Hammond, Concordia University

Whether we look to the humanist figures of the Italian Renaissance, the academicians of the Grand Siècle, conceptual artists of the second half of the twentieth century, or the cultural output of diverse Indigenous peoples worldwide, artists have long united creative undertakings with research, broadly defined. This approach, lately, has been named "research-creation." Although research-creation is generally viewed as an emerging field of practice, we would suggest that its characteristics position it within a discontinuous historical lineage, marked by interruptions and re-emergences rather than novelty, as much in traditional as in western societies. Throughout history, clues, fragments, and witnesses to this approach arise here and there; it is possible to find these traces in the artists' biographies, various literary sources, and of course, in works of art themselves.

Sous les figures de l'humaniste de la Renaissance italienne, de l'académicien du Grand Siècle ou encore des productions des diverses cultures des peuples autochtones à travers le monde, l'artiste a depuis longtemps uni sa pratique créatrice à une recherche réflexive dans le but de communiquer le sens de son travail. Cette démarche trouve sa forme présente sous l'expression relativement récente de « recherche-création ». Bien que pensée comme une approche émergente, les fondements de la recherche-création possèdent des constantes qui l'inscrivent dans un lignage historique discontinu, fait d'interruptions et de réémergences, tant dans les sociétés traditionnelles qu'Occidentales. Tout au long de l'histoire, des indices, des fragments ou des témoins de cette approche surgissent ici et là ; les artistes, les sources littéraires et les œuvres les ayant semés à travers leur parcours.

Isabelle Pichet est professeure associée à l'Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières depuis 2017 et commissaire d'expositions (P.-É. Borduas et O. Leduc). Ses recherches portent plus spécifiquement sur la question de l'histoire du public et des expositions publiques européennes aux 17e et 18e siècles. Elle a entre autres publié aux Éditions Hermann Le tapissier et les dispositifs discursifs au Salon (1750–1789) (2012), ainsi que Le Salon de l'Académie royale de peinture et sculpture (2014). Ses projets de recherche les plus récents, Le Corps sensoriel dans les expositions d'art au 18e siècle (CRSH/2018–20) et Aux sources de la recherche-création (CRSH/2020–22), proposent de nouvelles voies de recherche sur les Salons artistiques et l'Académie royale de Paris au 18e siècle, ainsi que sur la question de la recherche-création dans une perspective historique.

Cynthia Hammond is a Professor of Art History at Concordia University. She is an interdisciplinary artist and historian of the built environment. Presently she is the lead investigator for La Ville Extraordinaire, an oral history research-creation project that explores the urban knowledge of diverse older citizens (SSHRC PDG, 2020–23). Her research and creation focus on the relationships between women and built and biological landscapes. Cynthia has written many essays and one book on gender, urban memory, and research-creation as a tool for surfacing the exclusions of the built environment.

A.3.1 Strategies of Research-Creation in Modern Art: Appropriating and Subverting Colonial Propaganda in 1890s France

Marco Deyasi, Concordia University

Early Modern art in France provides a case study that reveals important aspects of research-creation, especially in terms of how artists navigated the dominant culture and attempted to use it for their own ends. In the late-nineteenth century, Symbolist artists and writers selectively appropriated the scientific knowledge promoted by the colonial state, deliberately "misreading" it in support of their own anti-racist politics. It was their interest in Theosophy and occultism that encouraged them to develop this strategy. They believed that the real truth of the world and our relationship to the divine was hidden but could be decoded through the careful application of occult principles to mainstream scholarship. A key example of this was artists and writers seeking out academic sources about Buddhism and East Asian culture, such as scholarly conferences at the newly-formed Musée Guimet. Even such overt propaganda as the colonial Indochina section of the 1889 Exposition Universelle was eagerly received in the pages of occultist journals. Articles in publications like L'Initiation made clear that these occultists forcefully dissented from imperialism, condemning both racism and specific colonial policies. Instead, their research "misread" this propaganda, subverting its political messages in support of their goal of uniting European and Asian cultures. For some Symbolist artists, this same Theosophical occultism was a major element of their rejection of Academic classicism and the cultural chauvinism that accompanied it.

What this history shows us is that anticolonial research-creation was not only undertaken by artists of colour or artists from oppressed groups, but also by people in the imperial metropole who dissented from colonial racism. As we struggle today to deal with forms of deeply-rooted injustice, we might learn from both contemporary and historical attempts by artists to build a new culture that transcends its origins in oppression.

Marco Deyasi is a Limited-Term Assistant Professor at Concordia University. His research focuses on re-examining modern art in France through a postcolonial lens. His book, French Modern Art and "Indochina," 1889–1931: Modernism, Colonialism, and Primitivism, will be published by Routledge later this year. He is working on a new project, tentatively entitled Classicism Contested: Archaism, Colonialism, and Modernist Sculpture in France, 1890–1940, which re-considers the role of classicism in French culture at the height of the modern colonial period. This new project is influenced by both postcolonial theory and critical race art history.

A.3.2 "Chaining the lightning to his will:" The Intersection of Art and Science in Leo Daft's Photographs of Electric Sparks

Tara Allen-Flanagan, Independent Scholar

In 1875, The Photographic Times published four stereographic photographs of electric currents taken by British-born inventor Leo Daft. A letter written by Daft, explaining how he produced the images and invited readers to contact him should they wish to borrow the required materials to make their own, was included alongside these photographs of white lines of electricity on a black background. In this paper, I argue that Leo Daft's foray into photography was not a deviation from his lifelong interest in electricity, but a manifestation of this interest in an artistic mode practiced by his idols: the European inventors and electrical engineers who gained fame in the early-nineteenth century.

Daft had a longstanding interest in electricity and its uses, which culminated in his invention of an early electric tram system. Photography, then a relatively new technology, was an ideal site for him to continue his experiments with quick bursts of electricity into the more long-lasting realm of art. The stereographic format, in particular, allowed him to restage the photographic process for viewers. The original photographs, varying images of the same electric spark, were placed side by side on a single card. When viewed with a stereoscope, a device that isolates the vision of each eye, a visual effect creates the illusion of movement. In other words, the moment that the photograph was taken is brought to life.

The actinic power of Daft's electric sparks, or the ability to cause the photochemical reactions that allow photographs to be made, reveals the subject of the photographs themselves to be a key factor in their existence. Or, put simply, the light from Daft's carefully controlled electric sparks is the same light that allowed him to capture these same sparks and their erratic energy on a photographic plate. Ultimately, Daft's photographs of electric sparks, and subsequent publication of their creation, demonstrate how, to a subset of multidisciplinary Western intellectuals who worked alongside one another in the late-nineteenth century, the boundaries between photography, science, and art were blurred.

Tara Allen-Flanagan recently graduated from McGill University with an MA in art history. Her thesis, written under the supervision of Dr. Mary Hunter, considers the influence of Japonisme and consumer culture on paintings of women applying makeup produced by artists Edouard Manet and Berthe Morisot in late nineteenth-century France.

A.3.3 Journeys, Merged Objects, and Public Art: Revisiting Practices of Salish Weaving as Research-Creation

Alison Ariss, University of British Columbia

In the 1986 publication Hands of our Ancestors, Elizabeth Johnson and Kathryn Bernick celebrated the work of Salish blanket weavers, noting how [t]he people responsible for the revival taught themselves, studying examples of old weavings and questioning elders to learn whatever they remembered of the art (2). If research-creation is enduring rather than emergent, Johnson and Bernick's words offer an entry point to trace its presence in the practice of this particular form of Indigenous weaving. In the history of art, Indigenous textiles were situated as domestic craft, as technical copy-making, and as "traditional" or functional objects, as were many forms of Indigenous women's creative production. Texts written about Salish weaving practices between the 1960s (the Salish Weavers Guild) and 1980s (the Musqueam Weavers) position it as the revival of an ancient practice with economic potential as a craft form for Indigenous women. But what did the weavers think? The paper will focus on specific aspects of Salish weaving documented since the 1960s to explore how weavers have spoken about their practices. The research takes an Indigenous feminist approach to center the experience of Salish weavers, to shift perceptions of Salish weaving, and to unsettle structural omissions of this textile from critical discourses of Indigenous art. What challenges did they face in light of settler-colonial erasure and attempts to disrupt inter-generational knowledge transmission through the history of prohibitions against cultural practices in the Indian Act? While it is under-represented in the canon of Northwest Coast Indigenous art, Salish weaving is simultaneously an important part of the re-cognition of Salish cultural production. Through a focus on their words, the weavings and the weaver's practices become visible as sites of inter-generational knowledge sharing, innovation, complex social relations, and continuity. They become visible as a particularly Salish form of research-creation.

Alison Ariss is a PhD candidate in AHVA at UBC. She earned her art history MA at UBC and holds a BA Honours in anthropology from Waterloo. As a settler-scholar, Ariss finds her research is an (un)learning experience, one guided by Indigenous feminist approaches and critiques of institutions. Along with professional experience in the field of research administration and development with universities in Canada, Alison has volunteered with public interest research organizations, community groups and museums as a volunteer board member, program developer, and curatorial assistant.