The Epistemology of Creative Research in Computation

As both an artist and a researcher, Zach Blas has produce a body of work that’s aesthetically interesting and grabbing, critically sharp and pointed. As a result of such methodology – using artistic practice as a means of conducting research, the art work are generally drawing references from and contributing to the most relevant and heated topics related to technology, digital culture and how that shapes our lives. There are clearly a lot of benefits in such methods, where art and research in technology feeds into each other. With the input of the research the art work consolidates facts and data from the real world and tend to be thought-provoking by nature, and in turn the social commentary from the art work is crucial as a feedback to reflections of technological progression.

I’m fascinated by the amazing quality of Blas’s work, deeply touched by some. However, I am having a much easier time seeing the values of this for the art practice than understanding the validity of this as a research method.

By convention, the word “research” entails a set of rigorous methods including how to select sources, how to establish a scenario, how to collect feedback and analyze result and how to evaluate the process etc. The convention of a rigorous epistemological system creates a common ground for what can and cannot be accepted as knowledge within a discourse.

Perhaps my own understanding of research is too rigid, and perhaps using aesthetics and artefacts as a way of research can challenge and expand on the conventional understanding of academic research. My main issue with understanding the methodology of artistic practice being part of research lies in the question of what constitute the epistemology of this kind of research.

I have no doubt that art work created as part of research ask genuinely interesting questions that we can get some sort of answer from, or create hypothetical cases where we can test the responses. In a way, it’s somewhat similar to research in philosophy where thought experiment is being used as a tool to hypothesize a scenario to be evaluated. However, in academic conventions in philosophy, there are tools (e.g. logical inductions/deductions) that facilitate the evaluation of what can be considered true or false. In artistic research, the feedback is generally much more open-ended and allows various interpretations.

For example, in “Face Cages”, we can generally come to a similar emotional response to the materialized meshes that resemble the ones used for facial recognition technology – yes they are anxiety inducing, but even though it’s a stunning piece of art there seem to be a step missing regarding what are the knowledges we’ve gained in the process of this. Is it the emotional responses from the audience?

If that’s the answer it seems that our conclusion is already presupposed in the setup of this experiment. The metallic material presupposes a harsh feeling – cold, sharp and stiff. The 4 subjects being filmed remained still throughout the entire time visible, which suggests a lack of mobility and a sense of being trapped. From what I can see, what we can learn in this are not the results of open ended experiment, but rather a well-crafted critical response to the technology and how it’s used.

There might be better examples to show how aesthetic practice can be a valid research methodology, but just from what I’ve seen from Blas’s examples, I think I need more clarity on how he means it as an epistemological process.


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