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What is research based art?

Research based arts practice is a term that is heard often, but what exactly does it mean? As with many things in the arts world it's not a one fits all answer! Undertaking arts based research means different things to different artists and can involve many types of art research methods. This may be the same for every facet of an artist's practice or it may be different for each piece of work they make.

We live in a time when we're lucky to be able to access many historical and arts archives both online and in person making research more accessible and easier to undertake.

For my research based arts practice this means gaining an understanding of the subject I'm creating art about; exploring the context and how people were impacted - my work narrates hidden stories so these always draw me in. I'm also looking for overlooked and quirky facts that will surprise people and make them really stop and think about what my work is saying. This research naturally leads me to making art with meaning.

I use many different artistic research methods and these vary depending on the work that is being created. Women's Work, shown in both images above, is asking what is embroidery? Is it women's work as it is often perceived to be and how did this come about. The very short answer to this is English embroidery in the Medieval times was highly sought after and almost always worked by men. Over the years it became more accessible and by the Victorian era was almost exclusively worked by women and being a good embroiderer was a sign of being a good wife! Now there's a shift towards seeing embroidery as art once again. The research for this work was undertaken online, in libraries and through a museum archive.

Another highly effective method of research is by talking to people. Many of my commissions are around telling hidden stories of families and who better to talk to than those who experienced the event. Grassroots, shown above, is really exploring how grassroots movements work with particular reference to the Suffragettes. I spent time talking to people involved with grassroots movements, learning how they gain traction for their cause and these are reflected in this work with signatures, excerpts from protest letters and so on. The elements in there regarding the Suffragettes are gained from online and second hand research.

I love working with archives and old documents, there's nothing like the feel of old papers and seeing things that others don't see on a day to day basis. This type of research adds so much to a piece of work. I'm always looking for the day to day, often untold stories, to bring them to life, honouring and protecting them in stitch.

Inequalities of Gloving, shown above, is a good example of this. During a residency in a museum I was using the archive for research purposes and discovered old gloving patterns alongside images of glovers. Looking more into their lives, I discovered that glovers were primarily women and the job was so poorly paid they lived in poverty with many resorting to prostitution to make ends meet. It was a vicious cycle - they learnt how to be glovers from a young age taught by their mothers and grandmothers and this was all they learnt. They were therefore unable to find alternative work and then became glovers themselves. There were some young women that were able to find an alternative type of employment although this was a low number. The work above contrasts the high quality living of those who wore the gloves against the poverty lifestyle of those who made the gloves.

Reading books and testimonials are another fantastic type of research. Currently, I'm creating a new body of work exploring identity and personality, specifically how we share different parts of ourselves with different groups of people, for example there is a difference in how you behave with colleagues than with loved ones. Part of the research I'm doing is exploring manipulative personalities and how these people are initially perceived. Reading about the personality types and how they have manifested in everyday situations is very informative and helpful to develop this piece of work.

Visiting places is another research method. Above is an image taken in Staithes when working on the Dene within a Dene collaboration. Visiting places helps with putting the subject into context and gives a greater understanding of how other pieces of research fit together.

Not every research method is used for every piece of work and some works are researched less than others. Neither is every piece of research used in work - it may be as the idea for the work becomes more refined that research is no longer relevant to it. It all adds to the making with meaning that I strive to do.

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2 bình luận

02 thg 10, 2023

Fascinating. Thank you.

02 thg 10, 2023
Phản hồi lại

Glad you enjoyed reading the blog post.


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