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Exploring opportunities for integrated arts & culture research

The Smart Cultures Conference 2017, organised by the NWO (Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research) took place on the 23rd and 24th of November in De Rode Hoed, Amsterdam. Various talks and interviews shed light on the added value of a more integrated approach between the arts and academic research. A brief conference report by Jesse de Vos, who presented the Game On! project.

Professor Premesh Lalu, from South Africa, kicked off with an eloquent keynote. He advocated to open up the senses through the interchange of arts and academics. A call that was illustrated by his own first experiment as a documentary maker. Through this experimental film in which he portrayed the Handspring Puppet Company, he wanted to find a different way to engage with his topic of research.

The following days we saw the diverse forms that the exchange between arts and academics can take. Two artists that are currently doing a PhD were interviewed. Ruchama Noorda (topic of research: the Lebensreform movement) and Paula Albuquerque (topic: surveillance cinema in the age of the webcam) explained how for them their art was just as much a valid outcome of their research. They were hesitant about the notion that their academic research had to somehow explain the art they made. The artworks to them were independent outcomes of their research.

Smart Culture Conference 2017_2.jpgSome general remarks about the collaboration between arts and academic research at the end of the conference.

Questions were asked about the collaboration between museums and academic research. Often the museum is purely being seen as a way of valorising findings at the end of a research period by a curator, in an exhibition. But museums have to be engaged more before and during the research. At the end of the conference one of the suggestions therefore was to enable museums to apply for NWO funding, which was greeted with applause.

In the “Knowledge and (re)cognition”-track in the afternoon, varied examples of collaborations were presented. To mention just two:

  • Caro Verbeek presented her research on scents, mostly in the futurist movement. The olfactory is a much under-appreciated aspect, which her research shows can engage museum audiences more fully. She made us smell a reconstruction of the battle of Waterloo. Surprisingly pleasant! Probably because Napoleon was soaked in Eau de Cologne before and during battle.
  • The SEMIA project as presented by prof. Giovanna Fossati and Christian Olesen, proposes to enable researchers, artists and other creatives to engage with large audiovisual collections in a more sensory way. The tools developed within the project will be enable users to browse archives using elements such as light and colour, shape or movement.

The discussion towards the end of the conference made clear that there was a shared desire for more integrated research communities. Research communities that include artists, museums and ‘citizen science’. In this way new types of knowledge can be found, that are not only cerebral but also deeply sensory.