Invisible Building



The Compulsive Browse: the role of research in contemporary Canadian art practices


  Mark Dion's Gull Appreciation Unit
    In the heat of SUMMER!, a detail from Watching Water: Views of Niagara Falls, Leisure Projects’ contribution to the Alphabet City Press WATER anthology.
Upper Left: Mark Soo's "Monochrome Sunset (English Bay—Oppenheimer Park)" 2006

A research project by Rebecca Duclos

Follow updates on this project on via The Compulsive Browse blog.

I am interested in what library scientists call the “information-seeking behaviours” of artists—how and why arts practitioners pursue research, often in the form of primary source archives, objects, and interviews, but also from sources as diverse as statistical records, song lyrics, scientific data, archaeological reports, amateur film, architectural plans, found documents, unpublished recordings, and so on. While not necessarily new, this desire to examine, extract, and enfold “real world” information into artistic practice is a phenomenon that, in my twenty years as an artist, curator, art historian, and now MFA director, I have seen intensify significantly in recent years.

As a Fellow in the Jarislowsky Centre, I have proposed a close study of contemporary work being produced in Canada since the mid-1980s as a way to begin assessing what I see as a new vigour and rigour driving artists’ research. I hope to document and analyze not just the “what” and “how” of these information-seeking behaviours (which is the domain of library science) but the why of artists’ in-depth investigations. Do research-focused practices find affinities with process-based artworks prevalent in the 1970s? Are these methodologies, in part, informed by a rejection of a 1980s artworld so heavily invested in post-structuralist theory? Are we seeing a return to the tangibilities of material culture and archival evidence as a counterbalance to the performativity of relational aesthetics in an era Nicolas Bourriaud has recently described as the “alter-modern”?

My research diverges significantly from claims made by theorists who variously see creative practice as a form of research or who aim to infuse traditional research practice with “creative methods” derived from the arts. My approach is perhaps closer to what Paul Carter has called material thinking (“how ideas are turned into artworks”) in that I wish to develop an analysis of interpretive studio processes that embrace a research-based posture to recuperate micro-histories, investigate obscure archives, and locate esoteric ephemera. I am also interested in documenting artists’ own methodological vocabularies that describe research processes that are often intuitive, associative, synchronous, non-linear, and highly subjective.