Loveless, Natalie (2019) How to Make Art at the End of the World: a Manifesto for Research-Creation. Durham: Duke University Press. <https://www.dukeupress.edu/how-to-make-art-at-the-end-of-the-world>
How to Make Art at the End of the World: A Manifesto for Research-Creation by Natalie Loveless is among the first monographs to be published on research-creation. It is a generous contribution to this burgeoning area of artistic research and a necessary read for artists and scholars who are drawn to, or already working with, artistically driven methods of teaching and researching. For those who are unfamiliar with the term, the introduction of the book sets the stage for what research-creation is, and why it is important. This text is not a ‘how-to’ but rather takes on the important work of grappling with the ethics and politics of research-creation, offering a much-needed feminist, queer, and anti-racist perspective. This expanded view of artistic research moves beyond simply including art in research, calling for a complete reimagining of the kinds of knowledge and research generated, their institutional value, and a reconfiguration of what the university could be.
Throughout the text, Loveless draws from her own experience as well as various examples by artists, scholars and graduate students engaged in research-creation. Chapter 1 (Haraway’s Dog), and Chapter 2 (Discipline[s]), set the foundation of the book, tracing research-creation’s academic lineage(s), and acknowledging the influences and impacts of interdisciplinary interventions in the academy, as well as the influences from feminist studies, critical race studies, and Indigenous studies, among others. One of the ways that she introduces the ethics and politics of doing research-creation is through the concepts of ‘telling stories that matter,’ drawing on both Donna Haraway and Thomas King. “The crafting of a research question” she writes, “is the crafting of a story that is also the crafting of an ethics” (p. 24). To this end, Loveless argues that research-creation is not concerned with disciplinary alliances and legibility, but instead to tell stories differently. The influence of queer theory, as well as gender and sexuality studies, is presenced in Chapter 3 (Polydisciplinamory), while Chapter 4 (Drive[s]), draws from her background in psychoanalysis. Loveless admits to Chapter 4 being her most technically driven Chapter, in which she aims to open up Lacan for the non-psychoanalytically inclined reader (p. 80).
One of the main contributions this book offers is the theoretical framework of polydisciplinamory (Chapter 3), drawing on the ethical responsibilities of polyamory. While considering what it means for research-creation to be polydisciplinamorous, in comparison to being interdisciplinary, Loveless emphasizes that the latter is focused on the ‘who’ (which disciplines you are engaged with or ‘committed’ to) while the former is concerned greatly with the ‘how’: calling us to a deeper ethic of care in tending to our interdisciplinary relationships and considering the ‘multiple’ not only in terms of content but also form. Loveless describes polydisciplinamory as an eros-driven-curiosity, stating that “Research-creation, understood in this way, is a practice of love. It is an erotic, driven, invested practice. And, as such, it fails to fit into those models that see interdisciplinarity as a way to streamline and multiply research productivities. It is too disruptive for that” (p. 70).
As a strategy of resistance within the university, Loveless also thinks through research-creation as an ‘uncanny’ practice, as invoked by Nicholas Royle, as well as addressing a Freudian uncanny and the anxiety of interdisciplinarity which comes with the discomfort of being unsettled, with the unfamiliar and unpredictable, and with never fully being at home within a particular discipline. Loveless views the discomfort of the uncanny as an invitation, arguing that in order to remake the university we have to make the familiar unfamiliar. Other concepts taken up by Loveless in this book include lures, desire, eros, and the anthropocene, though you will have to wait until the concluding chapter for the discussion of making art at the end of the world, that is promised by the book’s title.
So why a manifesto? And why at the end of the world? In the beginning chapters, Loveless is careful to locate research-creation as a term in the Canadian context, and takes time to tease out the nuances and distinctions which differentiate research-creation from other synonyms for artistic research, such as practice based, or artistic based research. As a manifesto, this is a declaration of the ethics and theoretical frameworks that drive Loveless’s personal work, and a call for other practitioners of research-creation to likewise take up this term alongside a commitment to feminist, anti-racist and decolonial ways of approaching research.
As for the second question, one needs only to look around at the catastrophic effects of climate change, the current and ongoing fights for Indigenous sovereignty, and the revolution against rampant anti-blackness, amid much more, to recognize that we are living at the end of the world, or the end of a version of it. Loveless is calling our attention to the fact that the university is itself as problematic as the society in which it is located. The crisis of the anthropocene is the crisis of the university, and we can’t tackle these problems externally without tackling them internally. Through the text, readers will gain a deeper understanding of how research-creation, beyond doing artistic research, is about creatively intervening in feminist and anti-racist research practices. Research-creation, driven by curiosity, ethical commitment and a desire for transformation, is one avenue we can take to ask different questions and to tell different types of stories.
Jo Billows (Northern Coast Salish) is a graduate student currently pursuing their MA in Social Justice Education at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at the University of Toronto. Billows has broad interests in Social Justice Education, stemming from their previous work experience in the arts and non-profit sectors. Their research interests are in queer theory, research-creation, Indigenous sovereignty and generative refusal.
Stephanie Springgay, Director of the School of the Arts (SOTA), at McMaster University, Canada. She is a leading scholar of research-creation with a focus on walking, affect, queer theory, and contemporary art as pedagogy. Her SSHRC-funded research-creation projects include WalkingLab (www.walkinglab.org) and The Pedagogical Impulse (www.thepedagogicalimpulse.com). She has published widely on contemporary art, queer-feminist anti-racist pedagogies, and social practice arts.