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Fresh issue still on sale! "I will leave this page open, looks like it's not loading. Let me know when it's working again." – Taavi Eelmaa & InferKit, "Triaad" (4/2022)


Artistic research fever

Raivo Kelomees (4/2018)

The new main building of the Estonian Academy of Arts (Eesti Kunstiakadeemia, EKA) is open! Raivo Kelomees explains the doctoral studies programmes that have been offered at EKA up until now and how this is all connected to international developments.


The compound word "loomeuurimus" (artistic research), which is increasingly used in Estonia, has been actively used as a term in local art history and practice since the end of the 2000s. Artistic research doctoral theses in the "Art and Design" curriculum have been defended at the Estonian Academy of Arts (EKA) since 2011. The term "artistic research" seems to include contradictory activities. According to the conventional understanding, "artistic" is associated with the spontaneous birth of inspirational and non-rational practice and "research" is understood as "scholarly activity", purely rational and intellectual, based on prior information and knowledge. That said, the dissemination of the term and practice of artistic research characterises a changing situation.

Discussing Estonian examples here, my approach centres foremost on EKA because I wrote this article for an art quarterly, but a great number of creative research doctoral theses have also been defended at the Estonian Academy of Music and Theatre (EAMT). I will try not to drown in referencing existing texts and documents and to present thoroughly considered reference points: institutional, historical and experiential.

Due to the prevalence of doctoral studies, there are rumours spreading even among sensible people about the cheapening of doctoral studies and its shifting toward the masses. Applied artists, who were formerly called industrial artists in Estonia, for example those working in textile and jewellery art, have also studied or are studying for doctorates. They are representatives of a traditionally material-based creative practice, and linking applied art to intellectual, reflective activity is perhaps unexpected at first glance. Delving into what is actually happening here reveals that, in fact, the content of the works are the various material and presentation practices in the context of contemporary art, technology, design as well as societal change.


Institutional and political backgrounds

In the context of higher education in art, doctoral studies are a practice that adheres to the third cycle of studies. A variety of titles are given to those who have completed the studies – DCA, DPhil, PhD, DFA. Broadly, this is an academisation of the field of art, which can be viewed as a historical and intellectual trend.1 The academisation is connected to art colleges becoming affiliated with universities from which they adopt the research criteria of the university. Second, creative research has the potential for a considerably more subjective approach to materials and practice, which makes it possible to find something new, which traditionally objective and impersonal academic approaches may not be able to produce.

As an example among theoreticians who have framed artistic research, Henk Borgdorff has named five elements, which promote the idea of considering artistic research as a separate paradigm: 1) institutions and organisations which support this paradigm and enable its legitimacy; 2) published books and magazines which analyse the main principles of the paradigm and allow access to the results of research; 3) conferences where the most recent developments are presented and discussed; 4) government organisations and funds which support the paradigm with formal and material methods; 5) institutions of higher education which introduce the approach and guide newcomers into it.2

The doctoral studies trend in art education became a reality after the signing of the Bologna declaration by European ministers of culture on 19 June 1999.3 The Bologna declaration itself mentions two study cycles; doctoral studies belong to the second. The main aim is the homogenisation of European higher education and a system of credit points, which allows credit points acquired in another country to be transferred to your own country.


Stereotypes and differences

Among cultural historians, Christopher Frayling has vibrantly described the stereotypes regarding the work of artists and academics. As if the "expressive" idiom belonged to the artist and the "cognitive" to the academic. This can also be called a Hollywood-esque cliché. Apparently, 31 per cent of the baddies in science fiction and horror films across the world are "mad scientists"; 40 per cent of the dangers in science fiction and horror films are caused by research in science and psychiatry. By contrast, only 11 per cent of the protagonists in horror films have been scientists. On the other hand, the anatomical drawings by Leonardo da Vinci (1452–1519), the horse paintings by George Stubbs (1724–1806) or the clouds by John Constable (1776–1837) were created in the "cognitive" idiom. Frayling's conclusion is that artists have actually been working in the cognitive idiom for as long as they have in the expressive one. In conclusion, he writes that doctoral degrees are awarded for presented and publicised work, but not for work where "the art speaks for itself".4 (And although this summary was written in 1993 and quite a lot has changed since then, it would also be rare now. Receiving a degree based on an art project without a written thesis is rather rare.)

Among philosophers, Henk Borgdorff offers three distinct approaches: 1) research on the arts; 2) research for the arts; 3) research in the arts. The first of these is an approach where the researcher is removed from the object. This is a traditional academic humanist approach, for example, in art history, musicology, theatrical and literary research. Borgdorff calls this "the interpretative perspective". The second approach can be called "the instrumental perspective"; in other words, it is a study of the instruments and technologies of art used in the production of art – these could include new casting materials for sculptures or new electronic solutions for dance performances. They are "expanded technologies" in the employ of art. And third, research in art. This is the most contradictory approach. Here there is no distance between the researcher and the subject. It is "reflection in action", which has also been called "the performative perspective". The art practice is both a component of the research as well as the object, the method as well as the result. This relies on the assumption that there is no difference between theory and practice in the arts. Concepts, theories, practices, experiences and understandings are combined into a whole. Practice as research.

Artist Florian Dombois has written a very good overview of the same subject, which has concurrences with Borgdorff's classification. Dombois offers up six categories (I present them here with my additions): 1) research of art (Forschung über Kunst) – this is the study of art in the usual meaning: in terms of the theory of art, literature, music etc.; 2) research for art (Forschung für Kunst) – this is the study of the techniques of art: colour technologies, casting techniques, research in conservation and restoration etc., also research into the processes of producing, preserving and presenting art; 3) art based research, art about research (Kunst über Forschung) – this is artistic research based on scientific research, which was popular in the 1990s in the form of serious as well as pseudoscientific projects (the creation of scientific experimental environments in museum or gallery spaces) and this approach is clearly visible in biotechnological or transgenetic projects in which plants are bred or living organisms altered relying on the possibilities offered by the scientific laboratory; 4) art for research (Kunst für Forschung) – how experiments in art and the production of prototypes in art have affected research or actual industrial applications (the music box apparently affected the development of clockwork in the 18th century; visual experiments by artists in the 1990s and usability tests affected the development of software and hardware; video software designers have collaborated with video artists and film-makers to build programmes according to practical needs); 5) art through research (Kunst durch Forschung) – art practice takes place through research or during research (Leonardo's technical drawings can be considered art or Buckminster Fuller's (1895–1983) inventions, which have an aesthetic value in addition to their engineering value); 6) research through art (Forschung durch Kunst) – this is the most contentious approach: it is art as an alternative channel for knowledge.5

In conclusion, Borgdorff's research in the arts and Domois' research through art (Forschung durch Kunst), which they both consider to be contentious, is essentially what we can understand as artistic research. Artistic work is itself a channel of knowledge; there needn't be any distance between the researcher and the object. The artist's art practice is combined with reflection.6


Differences and questions

The well-known art historian James Elkins wrote in 2013 that since 2011, it is no longer possible to get an overview of the literature dealing with artistic research because the production of information in this field has grown to become unfathomable.7 That said, he also wrote that one can speak of different "PhD-cultures", of which he distinguishes six: the continental, Northern, British, Japanese, Chinese and North-American models. The weakest and most convoluted of these he considered the North-American model. Although here, one could comment that single countries or even institutions have different "PhD-cultures". Although this is not the place for comparative research, one can see differences between the doctoral theses of EKA and EAMT, for instance, as well as between theses defended as part of the various curricula at EKA; for example, "Art and Design", "Cultural Heritage and Conservation" and "Art History and Visual Culture". Understandably, the "doctoral school" of an institution strives towards a standard, at least in terms of the formal presentation of the written work.

As Elkins writes, whether doctoral studies can be applied to creative arts is an ever prominent question. This was discussed in the second half of the 20th century and more actively at the beginning of the 21st century. Elkins, who has also given lectures in Tallinn and is a passionate defender of artistic research, considers it important not to forget the fundamental questions which form the basis of artistic research education. Is it suitable to pose the question of research and research education in the arts? Why are doctoral studies in the arts necessary? Who does it serve? Whose interests does it represent? How is it connected to a culture that is not institutionalised and functions in other contexts? Which cultural workers are developed and grown in this manner?8


Historical backgrounds

Researching the context of contemporary art and art history it soon becomes clear that research-based, rational and reflective practice in the arts was not "born yesterday". We can even reference Renaissance artists – numerous multitalented creators, who were able to invent, paint and make scientific discoveries due to their capabilities and industriousness. Leonardo da Vinci is the oft-used stereotype of an artist-scientist-engineer-researcher.

A great amount of literature has been published, conferences held, festivals organised concerning the historical relationship and parallels between art and science. Observing the field of media art and digital art – digital appliances, engineering competency, design, a scientific approach and visual art are creating a hybrid, which is being called "hybrid media" and "hybrid art". Biotechnology has also been added to this combination. In the context of the "Ars Electronica" festival, one of the best-known events tying the scientific to art practice, hybrid art is considered bio-based. Indeed, all of 20th century art sprouted from constant dialogue and communication between scientific advances and the development of art. The innovative approaches at art academies and design schools in various countries during the first decades of the 20th century is a wide research topic, which has received considerable attention.9

Art historian Heie Treier writes in her doctoral thesis that early modernism brought with it an attempt among Estonian artists to solve "scientific" formal problems on canvas.10 She writes, "The pragmatic modernist artist can often be called a "visual scientist"; in other words, they are conducting research based on visual experiences."11 In fact, one of the subchapters in her doctoral thesis bears the title "The "visual scientists" of Eesti Kunstnikkude Ryhm (Group of Estonian Artists, GEA) and Pallas".12 Here, Treier analyses the "non-inspirationalist" and "rule and law based" approaches of the GEA, based on the letters of Märt Laarman, and reaches the "optical art tradition" and universalism of the Pallas artists. We can say that these art movements in the first decades of the century can be considered the forerunners of the objective and scientific trends of the 1960s and 1970s in Estonia. In conclusion, Treier writes, ""Eradicating" the "scientific" aspect from an analysis of Estonian modernist art, indeed, allows us to say that new directions were not only adopted stylistically in Estonia, but also in terms of content and on an intellectual level."13

In 20th century art history, it is often referenced to the influence of conceptualism in the 1960s, which emphasised art as a cognitive activity. The groups Experiments in Art and Technology (1965–1981) and Artist Placement Group (1965–1979) are often cited. The latter worked at tying artists to organisations. The former, on the other hand, is known more as a collaborative project between artists working with technology and engineers.

As a modern day parallel in terms of tying artists and scientific institutions, we could look to the Swiss collaborative trend, the Artists-in-Labs programme since 2006.14 Artists were placed in scientific and research facilities where they produced their projects. These often took the form of simply using scientific technology to illustrate ideas. In terms of critiquing the results, above all else, it has a political and reputation-shaping aim, to promote diversity in cultural life and create new trends. That said, the mentioned series of undertakings has continued.

Historically, the 1960s series of art exhibitions and conferences "Nove tendencije" (New Tendencies) in the former Yugoslavia, precisely in Zagreb, have been mentioned less. This series has been placed in the context of art history and media art and was "discovered" only in the last few decades. These exhibitions developed into an international movement in 1961–1973, which included artists from Yugoslavia, Italy, Austria, Switzerland, Germany, Hungary, Argentina, Spain, Holland, USA, the Soviet Union, etc. In 1962–1963 they actively collaborated with the Paris group GRAV (Groupe de Recherche d'Art Visuel). Incidentally, "research" was also included in GRAV's name.

After 1963, the name was changed, "Nouvelle Tendance – recherche continuelle" (NTrc) or "New Tendencies – continuing research". In terms of the "new tendencies", they also cover network-based practice, which is a topical approach in current web-based works. They were in contact with and collaborated with the group Zero from Germany, the groups N and T from Italy, and Equipo 57 from Spain.15 In the Soviet Union, there was the group Движение (Movement), which included engineers and artists. "New Tendencies" was a movement that introduced the current trends in art and which has now been included in art history with respectable exhibitions and catalogues.

"New Tendencies" was characterised by rational, scientific research in the sense of the visual and art, and making the terminology more precise to avoid mistakes in interpretation. Methods from the natural sciences, like objectivity, transparency and verifiability facilitated a new form of artistic legitimacy. They also sought to abandon the earlier idea of the "genius", which is a by-product of religious art, and to ensure objective and collective bases for art research. Here they relied on the experiences of the classical 20th century avant-garde, De Stijl, Bauhaus, constructivism, and stood in contrast against abstract expressionism, Arte Informale art and tachisme.16

In conclusion, we can see the development of new types of trends and artists already in the 1960s, when artist-engineers, artist-researchers, artist-designers and artist-product developers emerged. We can consider the main characteristics of the 1960s as: 1) a synthesis and collaboration of fields – artworks and performances were created as the collaborative sum of the competencies of artists, technicians, engineers, musicians and scientists; 2) The artwork had an "open programming" or the viewer could create their own experience – the artwork was not a "dead" entity which the viewer was unable to add to (the beginning of participatory and interactive art); new technology was used in the production of the artwork; the creation of the artwork was preceded by research into new technical as well as visual solutions.


Research and the scientific in Estonian art

I stopped briefly above at the statements in Heie Treier's doctoral thesis concerning GEA and Pallas as "visual scientists". An optical, scientific and universalist approach is also apparent in the various forms of the later op-art and geometric abstractionism, which produced intertwined results. We see this at "New Tendencies" exhibitions at the beginning of the 1960s, where kinetic, optical, electronic and geometric works and early computer art where shown side-by-side. It was mainly art created on rational bases.

These influences reached the practices of the artist group "Visarid", which was active around the art department of the University of Tartu in the 1960s, and undoubtedly also the work of Kaljo Põllu and the work by artists associated with the group ANK 64 in Tallinn. Connections are also drawn between them and the pre-Second World War Pallas. Treier has written: "The flow of the impressionist direction of the Pallas school into op-art in the 1960s and photorealism in the 1980s with "modernised viewing technologies" was actually a logical step in the development of art."17 Indeed, the last part of the statement is arguable; here I rely on my own memories and experiences: Tartu hyperrealism didn't have all that much connection to positivism and trends in "viewing technology". Instead, it was more of a domestication of the Western trend. However, a detailed analysis of this phenomenon is not the main subject of this article.

In relation to a research approach and art, we can refer to the serial trend in Estonian printmaking, which as Leonhard Lapin claimed in 2007, was influenced by Ülo Sooster (1924–1970) and came through Tõnis Vint. "Apparently, Sooster emphasised to Tõnis Vint that one should work in series."18 He also says that Sooster had got this from the Pallas era, someone had taught him this. Lapin's famous 1975 text "Objective Art" is also a canonical text here which introduces a new type of art practice, which we could call "objective" and "research-based". Reading this text, we find a homage to precisely that kind of optical-technical-geometrical and machine-like art, as was present internationally. Lapin writes there that an objective artwork is not an expression of reality, but rather a part of reality itself. He stressed that an objective artist does not express, but constructs; their creative process is not so much emotional-spontaneous as intellectual. "Intellectual" is a key term here, the appearance of which we continue to see in artistic research.

Lapin places the earlier GEA in the list of examples of objective art and its forerunners – in addition to the activities of ANK 64, Tõnis Vint, Malle Leis, Aili Vint – and cites Märt Laarman's standpoints from his 1928 "Uue kunsti raamat" (On New Art), which Treier also cites in her 2004 doctoral thesis. Lapin's motivation in formulating "objective art" seems to be in contrast to the "lyrical-romantic direction" by which he means the Pallas traditions and which are a combination of impressionism, fauvism, expressionism and cubism, as he writes.19 Here we see a certain contradiction, which emerges from the texts of various writers and researchers; if Lapin considers Pallas to be lyrical-romantic, then Treier refers to the "optical" (then the rational, analytical) effects, while considering later Estonian art, she writes, "the analytical-reductionist method didn't take root in local art in a defined sense, instead they are synthesisers even when they rely analytically on the style that developed in western art".20 Although the predecessors of early modernist art (end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th) were "analytical" and based on scientific discoveries, this positivist spirit didn't completely reach Estonian art.

In relation to the early trends in research and the scientific I have referenced above, the formula-based nature of Raul Meel's series "Under the Sky" (Taeva all, 1973–1992), has given reason to speak about the deeply rational "rules and procedures in the art of Raul Meel".21 Meel has himself described the serial and rational approach in 1983, "Indeed, making series of artworks resembles working experiments, where the object of the experiment is studied in optimal working conditions based on as clean and precisely bordered a standpoint as possible. Often the changes in each factor are observed in stages; new objects appear one-by-one." However, he also writes, "The development of the "concept of seriality" in art is certainly due to contemporary scientific thinking."22

Again, the key terms here are "studied" and "scientific thinking". Although the aims of Meel and Lapin, as well as others who produced serial prints, were connected to the production of physical artefacts, print series23, not so much with written and reflective expressions, as we see in the current artistic research practice, the appearance of the key terms "research", "scientific" and "intellectual" is important, and is enough of a basis to consider them the forerunners of such an approach in Estonian art.

Therefore, we could say in conclusion that the foundation for a rational and scientific attitude in Estonian art was laid in the 1920s, when the influences came again from the "analytical-reductionist" branch of modernism. The rational, constructivist, geometric, technological, collective and computerised trends in art in the 1960s entered the Soviet Union and Estonia practically simultaneously. In this, we can see these trends as a formal pre-trend to the tendencies of rationalisation and a research-based approach in art.


Artistic research

Artistic research is an activity in the art field, which brings with it a preceding, proceeding or a simultaneously discursive and reflective practice by the artist. To phrase it more simply, the artist doesn't just produce and present art, but tries to clothe the experience with a textual form while producing, afterwards or along with it, based on the experiences of others or historical experiences in addition to their own.

The reflective practice goes hand-in-hand with the performative: creating and analysing in writing. Textual, theoretical, historical and other information is tied to the practice, which again requires a reflective-discursive approach after its creation, to materialise it into "theses" or written text, with which the practical expression is understandable as an artistic research doctoral thesis. There are many options, but the changes taking place in the art field connected to technology, enterprise, art education, integrating people into the job market, and so on, are also important in addition to the driving forces connected to the Bologna process.

In artistic research, the emphasis is on making art and exhibitions and the historical, theoretical and technical written analysis of the activities. Based on current experience, the text, which should be but one component of artistic research, is forced into the role of writing an academic research text, with the conventional requirements for references and formatting. For example, superficially and simply, the artistic research texts at EKA are like "little brothers" of art history research. There haven't been any extreme incidents yet, but we could easily imagine the written text as the work and art-artefact itself. If this had to be accompanied by an analytical text, we would reach a certain absurd moment, especially if placed in the context of artistic research: the written text as the work is practical and the analytical text is theoretical, both are texts, though. One text is used to analyse the other text. The question arises, is this artistic research? If we rely on the aforementioned articles by Borgdorff and Elkins, such an approach should be acceptable. (I also refer here to the work by Nick Sousanis and Katrina Palmer, examples of which are available on the internet.)




The new building of Estonian Academy of Arts
2018, photographed after its opening
Photo by Tõnu Tunnel



Overviews and experiences of artistic research doctoral theses at EKA

The "Art and Design" doctoral programme at EKA was entered into the register of curricula at the Ministry of Education and Research on 8 June 2005; the first thesis was defended in 2011 and by now 11 doctoral theses have been defended as part of this programme. At that time, in 2005, the programme was written by Andres Tali, then the Vice Rector for Academic Affairs, with Kärt Summatavet, who had just received a doctorate in design from the Art and Design University in Helsinki, which is now part of Aalto University. They consulted extensively with Jan Kaila in Finland, who improved the art doctorate programme at the Helsinki Art Academy, which is now the Art University of Helsinki.

Currently, artistic research is defined rather broadly in terms of its link to academic work on EKA's homepage. This includes architecture, design, conservation and contemporary art. In this article, I am interested in the "Art and Design" programme. The definition of artistic research or the artistic doctoral thesis at EKA in the doctoral studies statute section 4.1.2 is as follows: "An artistic (practice-based) doctoral thesis is a high-level research and creative work accompanied by an analytical explanatory text (approximately 80,000 characters). An artistic thesis shall generally consist of three publicly presented and peer-reviewed art, design or conservation projects."24

There are clear reference points here: a text and three publicly presented art projects. The word "generally" also allows unconventional solutions. In addition, the phrase "shifting the borders of the field and concentrated on the process" is characteristic. The non-regimented nature and allowance for exceptions provides broad options in these declarations for interdisciplinary activities and contentious occurrences – how these are reflected in the actual assessment context is another thing. An explanation is also provided on the summary page of the EKA Doctoral School, where art history and artistic research are clearly distinguished, "If art history is clearly a humanities field, then the doctoral programme in art and design means artistic research or practice-based research, which is currently becoming prominent around the world, in which the artist or designer creates new work and a written contextualisation."25

A simplified presentation, let's say, because new work and a written contextualisation are in a causal relationship, but there is no need to be pedantic because the artistic research doctoral programme at EKA is in development and the introductory texts will continue to change. Furthermore, the official documents don't have to cover all the borderline situations. The assessments made concerning the projects of doctoral students, both the peer-reviewed art projects as well as the finished whole, with added text, are produced by the sum of the subjective opinions of the reviewers and members of the commission. Unfortunately, we can't escape differences of opinion and emotions here.

As further illustration, I will now take a look at the artistic research doctoral theses that have been defended at EKA up to now. At present, Reet Aus, Ivar Sakk, Liina Keevallik, Erki Kasemets, Signe-Fideelia Roots, Kärt Ojavee, Tüüne-Kristin Vaikla, Carla Castiliajo, Stacey Koosel, Piibe Piirma and Ülo Pikkov have defended their doctoral theses at EKA and Varvara Guljajeva is about to defend. I will provide a brief review of them with comments, but without the assessment, and I suggest anyone interested downloads them from EKA's homepage (they are in Estonian, English and French).

The design and production model "Trash to Trend" was at the centre of the doctoral thesis by Reet Aus "Trash to Trend – Using Upcycling in Fashion Design" (2011). In addition to a clothes collection, the results were a web platform and brand which mapped recycling and textile left-overs, but also descriptions of art projects and performances at which Aus participated as a designer. Chicken and the egg dilemma arose here: did Aus make the design project for her doctoral thesis or would she have done it anyway as a creator of fashion and as a designer? I suspect the latter. Aus' doctoral thesis was "ideal" in the sense that these were actual design products, but the design solutions would also have existed without it.

Ivar Sakk's "Conceptualisation of the monograph "From Aa to Zz. The concise history of typography"" (2012) is an example of a doctoral thesis, where one publication (visual textual material) is analysed by and reflects on the other (text). As a whole, it consisted of an exhibition, a publication and an accompanying text, which conceptualised it. Here we see that the author is purposefully diminishing the "artistic quality" of a work created as a design object, making it possible to present the history of typography. Therefore, the art-design artefact is duplicitous – as an artwork, the work itself, and as a medium, the mediator of rational content.

Liina Keevallik's "La Figure Visuelle des Arts Joues. Ses Rapports au Mythe. Une Recherche sur la Création de Figures Cinématigraphiques par des Moyens Mythologiques" (The Visual Figure in Playful Art Forms. Its Relation to Myth. A Study of the Creation of Cinematic Figures by Mythological Means, 2012) was defended at the Paris 8 University as part of an agreement between universities. In the Estonian summary, Keevallik writes that she will talk about the visual form of film; that is, the talking picture, which never repeats the main narratives, but speaks its own story, in its own language. To simplify, Keevallik researched the visual metaphor of film and its connection to mythological thinking.

Kärt Ojavee's "Active Smart Interior Textiles: Interactive Soft Displays" (2013) was based on her clever innovations in the field of interior textiles. They were produced for exhibition spaces as well as, for example, the hospital environment. The artist also created a series of products and made installations. Once again, this is an applied as well as artistic design project, which has a world-improving dimension.

Stacey May Koosel's doctoral thesis "The Renegotiated Self: Social Media's Effects on Identity" (2015) was based on seven articles, the research aim of which was to observe the effect of social media and compare the methodological approaches used to study digital identity. Koosel observed digital identity from the perspective of culture, placing more emphasis on media theory, philosophy and cultural criticism. The technologies which help people create identities through technical affordances adhere to social and psychological pressure.

Piibe Piirma's doctoral thesis "Hybrid Practices: Art and Science in Artistic Research" (2015) attempted to answer the question, how does the fast development of science and technology affect art. The answer is, deeply, because neither art nor technology is isolated from the world surrounding it, but exists within it. The exhibitions she organised were connected to this.

The aim of Carla Castiajo's doctoral thesis "Purity or Promiscuity? Exploring Hair as a Raw Material in Jewellery and Art" (2016) was to research those jewellery artists who use hair as a raw material and learn from this, and also to identify the techniques and knowledge that was used in the past. She provides an overview of the motivations for making jewellery out of hair.

Tüüne-Kristin Vaikla writes in her doctoral thesis "Re-purposing Space: the Role and Potential of Spatial Intervention" (2017) that changing space and spatial interventions have interested her as a practitioner of space; that is, as a practicing interior architect as well as an artist and as a person – the (temporary) reviving of deserted places, treading the borders somewhere between planning and realising.

Erki Kasemets "Outside the Ordinary: Party, Garbage and Polygon Theatre. Bricolage as a Creative and Research Method" (2017). The author describes his broad working method, which is bricolage, and relies on the approaches of Claude Lévi-Strauss. The author manages to combine into a whole his everyday practice, documenting his personal life through collecting everything that pertains to it, trash art, polygon theatre, performances, kinetic art, sociological experiments etc. The rather diverse work and problems are tied together by the most original element of the ideas – the matrix graph.

In her doctoral thesis "Woman as a Hero" (2017) Fideelia-Signe Roots studied the woman as a model of the hero using the methods of contemporary art. The author attempted to ask, what the model of a female hero should be, is it possible for a woman to surface as a hero. The basis for the ideas are three exhibitions that took place in Tallinn and Luunja. Roots also mentions a potential "stumbling block", which is tying the writing as theory to the artistic work as practice, while conceding that writing is also artistic work, although by writing she means theorising. Therefore, it is apparent here that the doctoral students are struggling with a contradiction, which is the writing of a reflective research text based on their own artistic work, and an understanding that that too is an artistic practice, although not an equally valuable as a text, and that the real text has to be a "theorising" one.

Ülo Pikkov's "Anti-Animation: Textures of Eastern European Animated Film" (2018) offers a selection of the main elements and characteristics for the analysis of Eastern European animation from the Second World War until the fall of the Berlin Wall. The author also tries to provoke discussions using the term "anti-animation", but he means foremost that the animations were created in a totalitarian regime, in contrast to the "free world", and were produced in the circumstances of a controlled economy and political censorship. Pikkov, who is aware of the discussions concerning artistic research, indicates his contribution, which includes published articles, film and documentation of film.

As a final example, I will mention Varvara Guljajeva's doctoral thesis "From Interaction to Post-participation: The Disappearing Role of the Active Participant", which will be defended in December 2018. Guljajeva observes how active participation in interactive art has been replaced by passivity. Her main innovation is the coining of the term "post-participation" and the textual part of the work is strongly connected to the projects created in collaboration between Varvara and Mar.


In conclusion

The aim of this text was to provide an overview of the current state of artistic research in connection to the doctoral theses defended at EKA. I also referred to the historical precedents, terminological arguments and trends, which have developed in some countries, while others are as yet finding their form. That said, although this is my personal opinion, it seems that gradually a "division of labour" is developing between the various programmes, by this I mean that in "Art and Design" they expect to see artistic research; that is, a practice-based work as the result, and if someone wishes to theorise and present only a textual result, then the "Art History" doctoral programme or, in fact, the programme at some other university might be more suitable.

EKA's experience still seems to be a little too fresh to provide an opportunity for the creation of a ground-breaking work; therefore, the written section inevitably becomes a sub-format of the canonical academic publishing practice. And here we could ask, why do we need to shake such a new canon (i.e., art project(s) plus written theses)? Even this format is a challenge for many, becoming a refreshing "intellectual turn" in the context of local art.

If professional circles are used to a writing, self-aware and multi-disciplinary artist, then the field of public society still tends to see the artist as an expressive and "lyrical-romantic" type. Now, though, good conditions have been created for the birth of a new mental context, which promotes the intellectual and the pragmatic without excluding the traditional and the romantic.


1 Michael Biggs, Henrik Karlsson (Eds.), Foundations. – The Routledge Companion to Research in the Arts. London, New York: Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group, 2011, p xxxi.

2 Henk Borgdorff, The Conflict of the Faculties. Perspectives on Artistic Research and Academia. Leiden University Press, 2012, p 110.

3 The Estonian minister of culture at the time, Tõnis Lukas, also signed it, see

4 Christopher Frayling, Research in Art and Design. – Royal College of Art Research Papers 1993, No 1, p 1–5.

5 Florian Dombois, 0-1-1-2-3-5-8-. Zur Forschung an der Hochschule der Künste Bern. – Forschung. Hochschule der Künste Bern Jahrbuch 2009, No 4, p 11–23.

6 See also Donald A. Schön, The Reflective Practitioner: How Professionals Think in Action. London: Temple Smith, 1983.

7 James Elkins, Six Cultures of the PhD. – Mick Wilson, Schelte van Ruiten (Eds.), SHARE Handbook for Artistic Research Education. Amsterdam, Dublin, Gothenburg: SHARE Network, 2013 p 10; In "The Conflict of the Faculties. Perspectives on Artistic Research and Academia" (Leiden University Press, 2012, p 111–113) Henk Borgdorff provides a list of 21 books dealing with artistic research.

8 Elkins, p 18, 22.

9 For example, Sabine Flach writes about the work of Wassily Kandinsky as the head of the psychophysical department at the Imperial Academy of Arts in Russia and his manifesto of synthetic art. According to Kandinsky's interpretation, synthetic art is art that is produced with the tools of various arts. See Sabine Flach, Through the Looking Glass. Art and Science at the Time of the Avant-Garde: The Example of Wassily Kandinsky's Working Method in his Synthetic Art. – Florian Dombois, Ute Meta Bauer, Claudia Mareis, Michael Schwab (Eds.), Intellectual Birdhouse. Artistic Practice as Research. London: Koenig Books, 2012, p 125–139.

10 Heie Treier, Local Modernity in Art. Tallinn: Estonian Academy of Arts, 2004, p 27.

11 Ibid., p 28.

12 Ibid., p 34.

13 Ibid., p 38.

14 Jill Scott, Artists-in-Labs: Processes of Inquiry. Vienna: Springer Verlag, 2006, p 136 and DVD.

15 Darko Fritz, New Tendencies. – Oris, No 54, 2008, p 189.

16 Margit Rosen, Die Maschinen sind angekommen. Die [Neuen] Tendenzen – visuelle Forschung und Computer. – Bit international (exhibition catalogue). Graz: Neue Galerie Graz, 2007.

17 Treier, p 38.

18 Raivo Kelomees, Postmateriality in Art. Indeterministic Art Practices and Non-Material Art. Tallinn: Estonian Academy of Arts, 2009, p 148.

19 Leonhard Lapin, Objective Art. – Leonhard Lapin, Two Arts. Tallinn: Kunst, 1997, p 55.

20 Treier, p 33.

21 Kelomees, p 150–159.

22 Raul Meel, Seeriaprintsiip kunstis. – Kunst 1983, No 61, p 40–43.

23 The collective happenings and films by Jüri Okas from the end of the 1960s and beginning of the 1970s remained "underground", i.e. not shown at public exhibitions. Indirectly, Okas' land art experiments and photographic documentations reached his printmaking.

24 Statute of Doctoral Studies at the EAA (ratified 3. XI 2015), see

25 See


Raivo Kelomees (PhD) is a senior researcher at the fine art department of the Estonian Academy of Arts and a member of the doctoral degree commission in the "art and design" field, although he also has a remarkable background as a practicing artist.

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