To cite this contribution:
Hutchens, Jessyca, Anita Paz, Naomi Vogt, and Nina Wakeford. ‘Introduction – Site Visits.’ OAR: The Oxford Artistic and Practice Based Research Platform Issue 1 (2017), http://www.oarplatform.com/introduction-site-visits/.
There is no such thing as ‘raw’ data. This is a central epistemological claim of numerous disciplines. In proposing that OAR hosts contributions on ‘sites of research’, we offer the provocation that there is no such thing as a ‘raw’ site. And, indeed, the implications – conceptual, practical, artistic – demonstrated by the contributions published here expand beyond an understanding of site as merely a locus or container of information. Frequently, the most experimental and experiential elements of a researcher’s interaction with multiple and shifting sites are suppressed, or vanish altogether, in the production of outputs. Certainly, for many disciplines, there is a heroics in which sites are ideally accessed – a ‘worlds apart’ culture or location, a difficult material, a tricky affect – yet we have gathered contributions here which propose different sets of criteria. As editors of OAR, our starting point was the need to address research sites to open up possibilities of releasing the concept from any standardised spatio-temporal research routines. As many of the contributions here attest, the site may emerge at various stages of the research – for sure, a site may bring itself to our attention at the outset of a project (as a delimited archaeological dig, or a laboratory, for instance). But, more often than not, the site is fundamentally reconceived as it is encountered and engaged with through materials, experiences, and thoughts. It may even appear to slip away entirely.
We are excited that the contributors to this issue rose to the challenge of addressing the site as not only a traditional field, but as crawlspace, anthem, performance, biro line, composited video layer, residency or, indeed, discipline itself as location. In the set of positions hosted here, a site always exceeds what research is ‘about’ or where it is ‘situated’. As anthropologists and others committed to intense engagement with field-sites know well, to be in a site is to be in the very middle of things: embedded, immersed, overwhelmed, in excess. Moreover, the sites usually considered to be the neutral locations of analysis and reflection – the office, the laptop screen, the whiteboard – are equally site-specific producers of knowledge. Situated subjectivity is often neutralised in such places. Yet as we experience sites (including the latter), the body reflects them, taking on new forms: tracking around the site, crawling in it, performing it, dwelling in it, becoming it.
OAR is itself a site of research. Conceiving practice based research as an epistemological category, it openly attempts to bring about movements within knowledge, across and between disciplines. For Sites of Research, we propose a reading order through the following cross-disciplinary clusters. Listing in itself may be yet another form of site-making. These clusters are proposed as modes of problematising, ideologies of approaching, ways of seeing, reading, and touching a site.
Mapping (The Cover and its Responses)
The artwork on the cover of this issue is a bibliography developed through dialogue with a geographer and cartographer, and doubles as an entrance to an external website, where the research is mapped out. Responding to this provocation are a collaborative essay that explores digital cartography’s potential to shape one’s experience of space in an area of conflict (namely Aleppo today), and a visual essay experimenting with schizoanalytic cartography. Together, they form the first cluster through which we propose to read this issue: that of mapping.
The issue continues with contributions that deal with hierarchies of sites and the processes by which certain spaces are positioned on the margins or outskirts of others. These works can be read as exercises in the blurring and remaking of boundaries: from a quasi-fictional investigation of a council estate, through to the inevitable contamination of the ‘message’ with its surrounding, to departing from a national archive into its peripheral banlieue context, and an exploration of performance writing centred on the figure of the lad.
In a movement from the peripheral to the edges, the following four contributions engage with and at frontiers, borders, limits, and what remains in-between. A contribution exploring the reality of restricted movement and immigration detention is juxtaposed with a film that is an ontological portrait of the U.S.-Mexico border, and with a personal account of almost unlimited mobility – questioning what it means to have been in a place. Addressing institutional borders, the fourth contribution develops a new lexicon towards the discussion of subtle transformations in employee habits through an artistic research programme in a Beijing factory.
Virtual Sites (9–11)
The idea of the interface carries us into the next cluster, with three contributions examining screens the virtual, and simulated site. Starting with an online intervention on the site of OAR (available here), continuing with an essay on the digital and IRL sites of Amalia Ulman’s artistic practice, and finishing with a moving image work which addresses video compositing and performance, these provocations raise questions as to how subjects might be produced by and in digital and virtual spaces, and how, in turn, the formation of the subject could undermine the site.
Addressing questions of artistic research into the subject’s experience of space, the following cluster of three contributions explore modes of carrying oneself in and around spaces, and conveying a sense of inhabitation. The section moves from the cumulative potential of a performance’s interrelated sites, to the possibilities of dwelling inside an artwork as one dwells in architecture, to first encountering the surface of an architectural site through video.
Notions of methodology, disciplinary, and internal boundaries are explicitly addressed in the penultimate cluster of four contributions. From an epistemological analysis of artistic research on the edge of scientific disciplines; to indisciplinarity as a generative space in itself; to the slips and slides of materials and gender that unfold during the firing of an Anagama kiln; and a challenge to ethnographic claims of ‘being there’ through an experimental reading of the exhibition Phantom Europe.
Our final cluster gathers examples of forms of visiting and re-visiting, and constitutes an invitation to do so yourself. From obsessive returns to theoretical proposals for how a site can be re-entered, these contributions are both myopic in their closeness to a singular site and wide-ranging in their analysis as they re-invent places of research. An anthem becomes a site to inhabit and be re-sung; through returns, a rubbish dump in East London becomes a host for an occult audio travelogue. The issue closes with an account of a line, drawn from paper to mouth: revisiting the drawing as an image, an act, a form, a path, a remainder, an artwork, a piece of writing, and a system of knowledge.
Through this issue, we suggest sites of research propose themselves in terms of accretion. The site of research where we, the editorial team, have gathered to complete the editorial and production process of this issue, during our a residency at the Bibliothek Andreas Züst in the Alpine mountain pass of St. Anton, Switzerland, is a place where knowledge is accumulated non-linearly. The library is arranged in a system that constantly undermines itself, a site in which data is never raw, but always interpersonal, already and necessarily interpreted, generously offering itself to exploration and imagination. We thank the residency programme, run by Mara Züst and Marilin Brun, for inviting us and giving OAR a temporary home. We would also like to thank Frances Whorrall-Campbell, our editorial assistant, and Julien Mercier, our graphic designer.
Jessyca Hutchens, Anita Paz, Naomi Vogt, Nina Wakeford
St. Anton, April 2017