The pattern looks something like this: make a proposal, attempt to realise it, and then prove that it was realised. It’s not a flawed structure, but a flawed interpretation of a potentially very useful structure. Within the arts, as artists and perhaps also as academics, we’ve learnt to put a huge amount of emphasis on the ‘conclusion’ of a project: whether that’s the final argument of a book or the documentation or evaluation of a show. To the extent that it shapes the entire project – without this being a conscious structuring device.
It seems simple, but it takes great energy and discipline to move away from that cycle. It’s something I’ve come to greatly admire in François Matarasso’s recent work, and his decision to move away from a very successful career as an arts consultant and to invest his time primarily in creating experiments in collaboration with other artists.
It is easy to equate this kind of thinking with a ‘scientific model’. But it’s not the notion of a scientific or rational model that I’m having trouble with. It’s not the notion of having a hypothesis, conducting an experiment, and then drawing a conclusion, that is suspect. In fact, it’s a perfectly valid way of conducting research if the researcher/artist can remain open to the possibility of change, challenge and failure.
But our projects and our thinking as artists have become shaped to a great extent by what we believe to be models of success – so that we’re attempting to write the correct narrative about a project (the one, perhaps, that fits with the proposal we made in the first place) to such a great extent that we often fail to allow the project itself to drive us in our thinking and our discoveries.