For over twenty years the associates of the Institute of Cultural Inquiry have developed a unique form of artmaking they call ‘visual research.’ The term ‘research’ was chosen, in part, to delineate an alternative path for the ICI, one that veered away from the Gallery-Industrial-Complex, as Holland Cotter terms it, with its show-and-sale mandate. ‘Research’ also reflected the ICI’s tie to science through many of its associates who. besides a background in art, were trained in its varied disciplines.
Over time, the partnership between art and research has become more and more contested – first in the art world, and now in the academy, as many institutions debate the merits of a PhD in studio art. Here, at the ICI, we found that our curious spectators were suddenly equating the research part of our artmaking ways with that “PhD thing in art,” a response that was undoubtedly fueled by our Visualist-in-Residence project that brought artist researchers to the ICI for 1-3 month residencies. More and more, we found ourselves being drawn into the debate surrounding studio-based research. Although it was a discussion we did not seek it was also one we couldn’t ignore. By keeping quiet the history of our unique practices might be reduced to catchy phrases and tired neologisms.
With Everything but the Monkey Head: theorizing art’s untheorizable processes marks our entry into the highly contested discussion surrounding studio-based research in the visual arts. Eschewing the borrowed, tired theories of postmodern art and the antiquated, pre-Feyerabend methods of traditional science that are being used to quickly write a ‘canon’ for this burgeoning discipline, the ICI’s goal is to build a theory of visual research by examining nine actual studio-based research projects undertaken at the ICI within the last 5 years. Together with the visual researchers who brought these projects to our spaces, their interlocutors, and our inquisitive public, we hope to create a treatise on our practice of visual research, a kind of theoretical playbook or cookbook that can be used to build a tradition of research-based art-making outside of the academy/museo/gallery complex.