OAR: The Oxford Artistic and Practice Based Research Platform emerged in 2014 out of a set of conversations held within a theory and practice-led doctoral program at the Ruskin School of Art, University of Oxford. A group of us were trying to find a productive focus for the debates and discussions around the ways the terms ‘artistic research’ and ‘practice-based research’ were being mobilized in educational and art institutions to offer particular forms of research greater visibility and legitimation. As an editorial group with a range of disciplinary affiliations and alignments (art practice, art history, philosophy, law, English, sociology, visual anthropology) we were especially interested in treating practice-based research as a broad cross-disciplinary epistemological category. We did not want to valorise cross-disciplinarity in and of itself, but to recognise that, as practice-based research has emerged as a key paradigm across different disciplines – well established in some sub-fields such as visual anthropology, or still in its infancy in others – it remains largely theoretically enclosed within the arts, primarily associated with contemporary art and its knowledge production. Yet while these debates may originate in one discipline, they also have a tendency to point outwards, with practice-based researchers often looking to the criteria and protocols of disciplines not their own (consider the well-worn debates around an ethnographic turn in contemporary art).1 We wanted to contribute to an arena where practice-based research is coalescing, accreting its own methods, citations, practices, and histories. Our inclusion of both practice-based research and artistic research within our editorial remit was in part an acceptance that these terms are still highly mobile, with different meanings and expediencies in different contexts. Our aim in creating and sustaining OAR was not to stabilize terminology in a way that might be unproductive to a lively field. There is a tendency for practice-based research to appear boundless and imprecise (what research does not involve practices?) or for artistic research to contain wildly divergent notions of what counts as ‘artistic’. We address this in our editorial process, by publishing work that navigates and sometimes actively contests these categories, inviting new ways of thinking about and doing research.

Editorially, we accept a range of submissions that roughly fall in the following categories (though these are by no means neatly separable):

  • Contributions that are demonstrative ­– as artworks, interventions, papers – of practice-based research, while providing less direct and opaque reflections on process or methodology. We believe it is important that artistic research does not always need to be meta-critical or self-reflexive; such as Patrick Goddard’s ‘Looking for the Ocean Estate’, or Eiko Soga’s ‘Autumn Salmon.’2 Both these moving image works orthogonally reference ethnographic research: the ethnographic assumptions of the film-maker (Goddard), and the value of making as ethnographic method (Soga), whereas artistic research itself is not discursively addressed.
  • Contributions that theorise, reflect on, or participate in key debates and issues concerning practice-based research, without making claims for employing practice-based methodologies themselves; such as Vid Simoniti’s ‘Artistic Research at the Edge of Science’ which addressed bio-art, exploring the relations between artistic research and other disciplines.3
  • Contributions that combine these two practices, often in unique ways, or employ practice-based methodologies as theory, reflection, critique, or exploration of process; such as Claire Potter’s ‘How does it feel when you put it on?’, an interactive PDF addressing performances of masculinity and performance writing, reflecting on the academy’s ability to receive this practice. Likewise, Joey Bryniarska and Martin Westwood’s ‘On/Off-Message’ explores the residue and noise of a cross-disciplinary encounter through image and text, relating different fields of inquiry and artistic research.4
  • Contributions by researchers newly conceiving of and reflecting on their research as practice-based. We understand ‘practice-based research’ as nearing a truism in some contexts, but also understand it as a valuable frame for approaching research methods across disciplines and allowing researchers new vantage and criticality on their processes; such as historian Avner Ofrath’s ‘On Leaving the Archive’, a reflection on the urban and suburban surroundings of the French National Archives in relation to archival research practices, or Clive Scott’s ‘Movement, Intuition and the Validity of Literary Translation’, which argues for the value of practice-based research methods in practices of translation and reading.5

Framing research as practice-based can stimulate new ways of producing knowledge, yet conversely – as we argue in our second Issue on ‘Validity6 – practice-based research can offer new ways of conceptualising the legitimacy, sufficiency and adequacy of research. This is a position in which artistic research publications are actively engaged. For example, we sought to make all our published works openly accessible and amenable to traditional citation and therefore legible to audits of research evaluation (whether through the UK Research Excellence Framework or similar schemes). We used a well-established form of academic citation, working with our graphic designer to make it clear and accessible at the start of each submission, and applying this format to all of our published contributions – a moving image work, theoretical paper, multimedia project, or indeed an intervention in the very infrastructure of our platform.7 Simultaneously, in doing so we attempt to level established hierarchies, such as those between media types, forms, or concerning questions of volume (text length or media running time). Following an article by Patti Lather which had stimulated our first editorial discussion for Issue 2, we posed the term validity as a ‘fertile obsession’ which acts as an ‘incitement to discourse.’8 Practice-based research has itself generated a wealth of debate, much of it auto-critical. How can practice-based research and researchers incite new validities? Practice-based research is often (perhaps overly cynically) seen as a way for institutions to instrumentalise varied kinds of outputs, while such outputs are at the same time minimized. But as we aimed to show in that issue, artistic and practice-based researchers are innovating and sharing their own protocols for validating what they do.

Our concerns are shared by certain authors within the JAR Network pages. Both Sean Lowry and Julian Klein address the ‘when’ of artistic and practice-based research.9 As with other publication platforms, the contributions we publish reflect a variety of stages within wider projects, and we consider both proposals and ‘completed’ submissions for review. OAR attempts to offer an alternative temporality to that of a traditional academic journal and make best use of the affordances of a digital platform. Themed issues of the online journal appear twice yearly, and are composed of both commissioned contributions and accepted submissions following an open call. The launch of an issue is simply its publishing event and the issue is not considered finished or final at this stage. Instead, we expand upon each issue through a response section, for which there is a rolling open call. Responses receive the same editorial review and accrete on the right hand side of each Issue page. The temporality of this response mode was designed differently than the quick mode of a comment or a blog – giving it equal weight as a research contribution. We wished to make use of our online structure to allow knowledge to continue to expand around particular issues for a longer time-span.

A key dilemma for us remains the question of how to engage and sometimes resist institutional cultures that seek to increase research outputs and therefore have an interest in making more parts of research processes and on-going projects viable for publication – while also being open to the complex temporal working of practice-based research. Demanding more from practice-based research might ultimately mean producing less. But the ‘more’ might reside in a single page. Our up-coming issue ‘That’s All There Is10 is another incitement, this time seeking to question the issue of endings, finalities and sufficiency in research.