Access and Reuse 3: Paula Albuquerque’s “The Webcam as an Emerging Cinematic Medium”

As part of the Access and Reuse module, students were this year encouraged to visit any form of Moving Image presentation around Amsterdam and write a critical reflection on the curatorial practices of the institution as manifested in the presentation of the work. The penultimate article in the series was written by Ilse van der Spoel and Marin Rappard. Fig1_PAN The complex combination of art and academic research, labelled ‘artistic research’, has been widely discussed over the past two decades. But, as Schwab and Borgdorff argue, the “border between these two domains, constantly renegotiated and transgressed, remains unstable and contested”. Many scholars and artists do not see its value and it was not until art academies started reimagining themselves as research institutes by advertising and funding artistic research that the idea started garnering attention and acclaim. Ventures into this field are expected to be beneficial to both practices, and its interpretation differs from artist to artist and institution to institution, complicating its processes. This is already apparent in the way different art academies in the Netherlands offering Master’s programmes define ‘artistic research’. The Netherlands Film Academy for example states that artistic research distinguishes itself from “both academic research and the research that’s customary in the film world”. Key to what specifies artistic research is the attention to “the subjective drive of the maker” and “thinking outside the box, finding one’s own process and developing one’s own method”. Artistic research in this case seems to be about the artistic process, which is different from the definition or objective given by the KABK. They state the following on their website: “The articulation of ‘artistic research’ as a demarcated activity has emerged out of an enquiry into what sort of knowledge art can be said to contain, or embody, and how this knowledge relates to more traditionally academic knowledge. Artistic research can be understood as making space for research in the arts by artists (as opposed to research about the arts by non-artists).” For them it more about the reconceptualisation of knowledge (gathering) and research within the arts itself. Artistic research as a methodology within an academic context however, is still in development. The University of Amsterdam has developed a Research Masters programme in Artistic Research recently and the first PhDARTS initiatives came out of the collaborative effort of Royal Academy of Art in The Hague (KABK) and Leiden University in 2010, though funding back then was scarce. Recently, in January 2016, scholar and video artist Paula Albuquerque obtained her PhD in Artistic Research from a collaboration between the University of Amsterdam and the Gerrit Rietveld Academy, the first one toever receive the doctor’s title from this joint venture. Requirements for doing an Artistic Research oriented PhD are not fully in place yet in this case, as her supervisor Patricia Pisters stated during Albuquerque’s dissertation defence, but ensured everyone that “everything was legal”. This in a way already indicates that this type of research (especially from the academic viewpoint) is still considered ‘experimental’ and not fully institutionalised yet. The fact that this was the first already makes it interesting to look at critically and reflection how the theory and practice components of her work manifest themselves and relate to each other. Herproject, which uses and reflects on webcams as an “emerging cinematic medium”, raises many questions such as: what is her definition of artistic research and how do the dissertation and exhibition/artworks relate to each other: are they intertwined or operate more separately or both? And what new ways of either or both making art and doing academic research does she propose from her own project and do both the dissertation and the exhibition live up to this proposal? Simon Sheikh for example also argues for a differentiation between three types of artistic research, namely; research that investigates artistic practices and materials, research that is done through artistic practice, and research that is itself artistic. Hannula, Suaranta and Vadén add that this kind of practice-based research be “open-ended and self-critical historical context-aware”, meaning that the research be done inside the practice and while engaging in the practice.  First it is important to take into account the way she describes the project and her definition of ‘academic research’, as done in her dissertation: This doctoral program consists of an institutional form of artistic research providing me with the opportunity to study concepts that enhance my development of ideas about the contemporary cinematic world that envelop the individual on a daily basis. Furthermore, my study enables me to continue performing practice-based experiments with and about film production forms and aspects of surveillance cameras […] In summary, the relation between the two research components is based on an interweaving of writing text and making art that is mutually supportive yet methodologically independent, since artistic processes differ significantly from scientific ones. From this it becomes apparent that she both proposes an ‘interweaving’ of her academic and artistic work, while simultaneously stressing the importance of the independence of both: the dissertation should ‘work’ without the artworks, and the other way around too. She states that her doctoral program has enriched her art practice with a: “theoretical body of knowledge that allows my film-based artworks to achieve other layers of signification” while her “experiments with webcam material have further directed my studies through the pursuit of particular insights that theory fails to offer, namely, insights that occur as I experiment with the actual material and explore the potential that the medium affords” (21). This already raises questions, such as: is this really the case and does she really do what she sets out or aim to? Do the exhibition and dissertation ‘work’ independently as well as complimentary, and therefore: does the exhibition do what she aims and how is this balanced? The PhD defence, which took place on January 15th 2016, was in a way as ‘conventional’, as other dissertation defences: the academic defence was acted out in the ritual of the 15-minute introduction, then the committee arriving, after which there were 45 minutes of questioning. However, what made it different was firstly, the fact that during her introduction, parts of her work were projected onto a screen, which by means of absence of the exhibition at the location of the defence, served as an illustration of the works in the exhibition. Secondly, during the questioning by the committee, which was mostly on the theoretical components or considerations in her thesis, explicit reference was made to her exhibition and the relation between her dissertation and the exhibition, which the commission had already viewed the day before, while the audience could not have had this chance, as the exhibition would only open the day after. In a way, while the defence itself was generally conventional, these two aspects also add to the specific nature of an artistic research oriented PhD. To give an idea of how her work was shown over the three days following her defence, we will present a detailed description of it below. Fig2_SplitRecognition The accompanying exhibition was shown for only three days at the SMBA gallery, a subdivision of the Stedelijk Museum. In this space, which was for the most part a ‘white cube’, Albuquerque’s works were displayed in various forms and on various types of screens. The first screen the spectators encountered was a box-television set on the ground, displaying various fragments that were used during Albuquerque’s research but didn’t make it into an artwork. In the middle, larger space, OnScreen Débris (Paula Albuquerque 2013) was displayed on three flat screen TVs, the images sometimes colliding and sometimes flowing together, the screens turning off and on independently of each other. The back wall functioned as a screen for Unfinished Narratives (Paula Albuquerque 2013), looming over you as you viewed other pieces in the space. A black box room was situated on one of the sides of the central room, with one wall again functioning as screen for Portraying A’dam (Paula Albuquerque 2014), while a smaller flatscreen on another wall featured Bird’s Eye View (Paula Albuquerque 2013). While the different sounds accompanying works were audible in the space, this work needed headphones to hear the sounds of nature, increasing the solitude and quiet of the bird in the nest. Only in thelast room you could sit down to view PAN (Paula Albuquerque 2013), a slow-moving piece starring the panning technique so often used in film, thus requesting more contemplation. In fact, different cinematic techniques are present in the individual artworks, all together testifying to the idea of the “webcam as an emerging cinematic medium”. This shows that the individual artworks and the exhibition as a whole functioned interestingly and could exist independently from the dissertation.  However, at some point there was also an opening speech by Albuquerque and her PhD supervisors, in which again the dissertation and the PhD project was stressed and referenced thoroughly, rather than a focus on the exhibition and explain or speak about the artworks themselves. Also important to note is that aside from a poster and a quote at the beginning of the gallery, no texts were present to contextualise or explain the works, though copies of the dissertation were present to read. This was for us an intriguing, yet also a problematic and paradoxical choice regarding the presentation and curation of the works. While in a way it could definitely be argued that her dissertation and exhibition work very well together, and independently as well, we felt thatthis opening speech and lack of gallery texts is in a way already significant of how there still seemed to be a lack of balance between the two: the lack of texts indicates that works should speak for themselves, but the fact that the speech mainly referred to the dissertation contradicts this. At the same time, we felt that the artworks or exhibition as a whole sometimes lacked context and we felt we had gathered more knowledge about the artworks, and more specifically: what Albuquerque means by the webcam as an “emerging cinematic medium”, by reading the PhD dissertation, rather than by being in the exhibition. It became a multi-layered experience because of the PhD, but this dimension could have been present by just adding an introductory text in the exhibition as well. Therefore, though both the dissertation and the artworks/exhibition ‘work’ on their own, we felt that there was also a certain imbalance considering the exhibition. By specifically trying to avoid using text and emphatically trying to show that the works also speak for themselves, the exhibition lost some of its spectatorial guidance, context and therefore paradoxically also some of its power or significance. This “layer of significance” was exactly what Albuquerque said her dissertation or academic research added to her art practice. So while she can describe her experiments with her artworks in her dissertation, this layer of significance derived from the theoretical research seems absent or ‘lost’ in the exhibition, due to the lack of text. In conclusion, while artistic research projects (especially on PhD level) are still in development in the Netherlands and from Paula Albuquerque’s example shows that it can provide fruitful and intriguing ways of conducting academic research and creating art, we should remain critical of these endeavours. Therefore, we should constantly reflect on the definitions and methods of this artistic research and the balance between the practical and theoretical components, as well as curatorial choices regarding these projects, as from our analysis or experience of Albuquerque’s research already shows. Bibliography Albuquerque, Paula. The Webcam as an Emerging Cinematic Medium. PhD Thesis. University of Amsterdam,2016. Web. 12 January 2016. Hannula, Mika, Juha Suoranta and Tere Vadén. Artistic Research Methodology. New York: Peter Lang Publishing, Inc., 2014. Hellström, Tomas. “Evaluation of artistic research”. Research Evaluation. Vol. 19, No. 5, December 2010. p.306-316. Schwab, Michael and Henk Borgdorff, eds. The Exposition of Artistic Research: Publishing Art in Academia. Leiden: Leiden University Press, 2014. Sheikh, Simon. “Objects of study or commodification of knowledge? Remarks on artistic research”. Art and Research. Vol. 2, No. 2, Spring 2009.


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