Socially Engaged Art as a Boundary-Rider
This chapter presents a case study of a socially engaged artistic research project, Lucas Ihlein's Bilateral Petersham (2007), a project that proposes blogging as a form of 'aesthetic auto-ethnography'. The aim of the chapter is to test the provocation that the political and emancipatory nature of Participatory Action Research (PAR) is at work in artistic research. This 'provocation' was raised by the feminist philosopher Iris van der Tuin in her opening remarks to the gender studies symposium at Utrecht in 2012, Is Action Research in the Genealogy of Artistic/Creative Research? In this address, van der Tuin stepped out the deeply political and emancipatory nature of 'action research' in the 1970s. Worried that action research has now been bypassed and forgotten, she proposed that action research is still at work in artistic research. She put forward the following questions: How would an action researcher approach artistic/creative research? What can artistic/creative researchers offer action research? How does artistic/creative research allow social action practitioners to embrace the surprises of research, its unexpected processes and outcomes? While there are intersections and crossovers between action research and socially engaged art, for example, the claim that the principles underpinning action research are alive inside artistic research needs examination. Can we assume that action research is at work in artistic research? Can we assume that the history, the material and conceptual basis that underpin the 'artistic interven- tion' makes it compatible with the values and premises that underpin action research? This chapter offers a dialogue between two voices-those of Barbara Bolt and Lucas Ihlein, two artists investigating the role of socially engaged and artistic research-in addressing the questions of what artists and artistic research can bring to action research. It will proceed in three movements. Firstly, it will test the assumption that action research is still at work in artistic research by comparing the characteristics exhibited in Ihlein's Bilateral Petersham with the principles that underpin PAR. Secondly, it will 'trouble' the 'fit' by looking more closely at the operations of Bilateral Petersham and asking the questions: What are the primary 'allegiances' of this socially engaged art project; how do the interventions of this artistic research differ from the 'interventions' of action research; and what are the consequences? Finally, this paper will give voice to the artist Lucas Ihlein, whose work Bilateral Petersham is the subject of this analysis, in order to draw out the nature of exchange that is possible between these two domains of research.