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  • Writer's pictureRitchard Allaway

26/05/21 - Field Research

Updated: Jun 8, 2021

This text states thoughts and concerns of mine when taking into account the purpose of site-specific field research.


- Purpose of field research

- Method of data collection and analyse

- Validation of data

- Ethics of field research


Field research is defined as a qualitative method of data collection. Field research typically begins in a specific setting although the end objective of the study is to observe and analyse the specific behaviour of a subject in that setting. The cause and effect of a certain behaviour, though, is tough to analyse due to presence of multiple variables in a natural environment. This definition is seen as a standard method of undertaking such research however, how is it formulated through a creative practice? I believe that I will obviously need research this further but for the argument of this text, I would state that scientific and creative field research does not differ far from each other. Within James Elkin’s ‘Artists with PhDs: On the new Doctoral Degree in Studio Art’ (2009) there is discussion on the purpose and validation of an arts PhD over a scientific PhD. ‘Paul Dikker emphasizes the gap between art and science is unbridgeable. Scientists he argues are concerned with the description and explanation of ‘reality’... artists on the contrary express not ‘the’ but ‘a’ reality, namely their own reality, which functions as an ‘expressive tool’, not an object of perception or observation.’ What then makes a scientific research degree more valuable than an art one? Or one that is seen to be valid? Without going into this in detail, what I am making a connection to is; what is the difference or similarities between the scientific method of field research to the artistic field research and does one type of research practice take precedence over the other and is one credited or can they work within the same framework of validation and credited outcomes?


Site-specific research is a given in the relation to the desired outcomes from my research proposal. Whether it be that of an artistic degree of research, a scientific or both forms of field research, I will be partaking in the production of site-specific research. The location will be within the Arctic circle and within the desired location I will try to require an understanding of how to require the sublime qualities found within the romantic era of painting (1700 -1870). To immerse oneself within the land or in this case the research topic, will hopefully develop my understanding of such a place and drive/influence production of work.


A couple of concerns of mine are that of, what will I produce when I am there? How will I produce outcomes via materials? (I work with artificial light… socket nearby anyone?) Accessibility to materials is my concern and to top that is the fear of if I spend time on a residency what happens if I do not produce any work or I struggle to find an outcome. Is this an actual problem or is it ok to not know? Surely the residency is there to inspire and to allow for a temporal unfolding of knowledge to be discovered. I should maybe be more in-tune with myself that I am not there to stick a light in the arctic field, there are other means of production and those means of production can still be a part of the research aim. The methods of photographic imagery, moving imagery, accounts from the people I meet, my journals, the journey getting there etc can all be used as a form of documented evidence.


Snæbjörnsdóttir/Wilson’s ‘White Noise’ (2014) and ‘Home’ (1999) are excellent site-specific work that link to my concern. ‘White Noise’ is a performance artwork, which saw both artists walk for five days across Greenland. On their return they reflected and referenced the journey one sentence at a time intermitted. Their thoughts become a narration of haunting terror as they account their memories of that dangerous journey. ‘Home’ was ten-day walking expedition through remote Icelandic landscapes where each artist was tasked to return home without aid or help, just their will, instinct, and determination. This was documented via sequenced photographic imagery and presented to an audience.



‘White Noise’ (2014)


‘Home’ (1999)


Chris Dobrowolski’s ‘Antarctica’ (2008/09) - His work is interesting in that it is this understanding that although travelling 10,000 odd miles to Antarctica to make a sledge out of gold picture frames, only for engineers who are bored to make frames out of sledges, the work is ironic and there is a sense of failure. Chris Dabrowski is attempting to take in the landscape, and because he finds it so overwhelming, so powering through those sublime qualities that he is unable to represent the landscape in an artistic format. This gives me a kind of reassurance that although we can go so far to a site-specific location and have a plan put in place to create work etc we may not be able to perform as we wanted to do so or hope to do so. Field research is questionable. I'd like to think it is purposeful but it is also worrying that sense of failure will be 'achieved' by not achieving what you wanted.... how does one achieve something without being in a place to know how to achieve it?


‘Antartica’ (2008-09)


An ethical issue is my take on Anthropocene and although I wish to highlight humanities effect on nature and the north and south pole, what affect do I have on this landscape when undertaking a residency there? How am I adding to the problem, or can I avert this problem by using more eco-friendly methods of travel or sustainable lifestyle when situated there? Why would I utilize a landscape that is being terrorised by humanity? Although I'm trying to highlight these issues of climate change and the loss of wonder, can I not do this without being in the landscape itself? Can I not focus on the Arctic without entering the Arctic and is their enough data to extract from not being on site? It is a complex issue and as you read you can see the questions I am compelled by. I believe it is right for me to address the complexity and magnitude of this and it is an issue that will need to be dissected and considered throughout the residency and field research stages, as well as the overall research degree.

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