Commoning Methodologies and Modes of Collectivity in Dialogical Social Arts Practice
Artistic Research exploring four case studies in Ireland, 2019 – 2020
My research investigates commoning methodologies developed by artists working in collaborative, co-operative, conversational social arts practices.
I consider my own practice – that consists of long term, dialogical, collaborative art projects – as a starting point for an empirical research into how artists build partnerships and autonomous, cooperating environments based on trust and shared values, while working with participants and communities.
Many artists working in social(ly engaged) arts practice, together with their collaborators, develop unique ways of social cooperation and partnerships. Some of these projects start as grass root structures, operating without any funding from governmental or commercial sources, maintaining their independence from political and economic systems. As equal partners in these projects, collaborators create autonomous methods of working centered on shared aims and values. Mutuality and reciprocity are essential for these inclusive artistic processes where all or most elements and stages of a project are co-created, and authorship and ownership of events and artistic outcomes are shared.
My research is centered on commoners and commoning in the context of durational projects addressing discrimination, social injustice and the environmental/climate crisis.
While social collaboration and cooperation is created to various degrees in social arts practices, I believe that those practitioners who choose commoning working processes and forge social partnerships based on shared values, vision, mutuality, co-ownership and co-authorship, create a different, more equal map of connections.
This ongoing research aims to empirically observe, explore and critically reflect on specific commoning strategies and conditions, forms of social cooperation and their potential wider social effect or impact. The research methods aim to support the asking and perhaps the answering of the following questions:
- How can we define creative commons and commoning methodologies within social arts practices?
- What are the necessary conditions for commons and commoners?
- How do artists and project partners work with and relate to each-other in collaborative, participatory contexts where relationships would have been, traditionally, organised along hierarchies? How do artists see and define their roles?
- To what extent project partners (artists, participants, collaborators etc.) are aiming, or are prepared for commoning methods of producing work? Is this a conscious choice?
- What are their shared values, goals or expectations? How do they coordinate and manage decision making processes and deal with conflict? How do they discuss, understand and appreciate aesthetic values of outcomes and processes of their work?
- How these artists value and share peer critique, difficulties, challenges, critical reflection or experiences of failure in their practice?
- Do commoning artists see the commons as a sustainable, desirable working model for other segments of society? How and by whom are these commoning processes supported?
I have started the process of initiating the start of Y Commons: a collective of artists, educators and therapists with varied backgrounds and expertise – sharing common concerns about the environmental and ecological crises and environmental, social injustice. We work in holistic ways, share interests in learning from each-others experiences and exploring possible forms of collective action. Eight of us began our process in June 2020, through conversation, gathering and learning how to share and how to be together during times of physical distancing and social restrictions under the current Covid19 pandemic.
For updates about Y Commons, please see: www.tundetoth.com/artistic-research-y-commons/
Case studies identified for this research project in Ireland include:
Drummin Bog raised bog wetland preservation project and eco-social arts practice in Co. Carlow, www.drumminbog.com
Utopia Ducks collaborative project in the North-West of Ireland with artist Bernadette Hopkins and collaborators
Deenview Project in rural Ireland in Co. Kilkenny 2017–2019 – with adults with intellectual disabilities and support needs. www.deenviewproject.com
The research methodologies described below have been interrupted and significantly altered during the current pandemic. Projects and research processes were put on hold and research questions had to be reconsidered. My participatory, inclusive research method that is built on dialogue and exchange, had new, pressing questions emerging: how can we work together when we can not be together? The new attempts at re-connecting with people are Distanced Dialogues: mainly digital connections, written exchanges, sharing of archives. How long can online connections be maintained meaningfully for long term, durational projects?
RESEARCH PROCESS and METHODOLOGIES
Identified Support Structures:
Initial phases of this research identified elements of the (temporary and long term) infrastructure around the research and helped to articulate the support structures inherent in my practice. This is a continuously developing mapping process that builds a network of contributors and collaborators. Supporting partnerships have been developed with arts practitioners working on the Drummin Bog project, including artist and researcher Dr. Cathy Fiztgerald who offered her guidance and support with action research methodologies and theoretical frameworks of eco social arts practice. Her online course “Haumea – Eco-literacy for Artists and Educators” provided a grounding in theories and philosophies for changes towards ecological thinking and related social arts practice. Supporters and contributors include Claire Wilson (Deenview Project coordinator and trainer), Jen Castle (Artist, environmental and ecological practice) and CASCO Art Institute in The Netherlands.
Conversation and Dialogue as Relational Research Practice:
My research process is dialogical, built on conversation and exchange with the aim to learn and listen to experiences of others. This manifests through visits to commoning artists, ongoing social art projects and building connections with arts organizations.
Forms of engagement with case studies include recorded conversations and interviews with artists, project partners, participants, collaborators. For each case study the relevant questions are considered and chosen carefully. These exchanges are based on the research questions stated above – while understanding that not all questions are (equally) important or relevant for the specific conditions of each project. These discussions are often reflective or retrospective of recent or past experiences and will build an archive of conversations.
The research process is immersive and situated within arts practices and projects. Participatory and action research methods are inherent in the initiation of Y Commons.
Documentation, Writing and Critical Reflection:
Relevant ethical questions are discussed and considered, and conditions are created accordingly. Contributors and participants are consulted about appropriate forms of recording and documenting, including the possibilities of collective, cooperative forms of documentation.
The questions of co-ownership, co-authorship are discussed with contributors and participatory research consent forms are signed for recorded interviews and conversations.
Sharing and Communicating Research:
Throughout my working process I consider what, when and how to share, this is discussed and decided collaboratively with people involved. Unique experiences and specific documentation of case studies may be shared in different ways.
I envisage the future output(s) and outcome(s) of this research to be a series of small public events, interactive presentations, publications, and dissemination of outcomes through online platforms. A co-created website/blog is planned for accessible content as a documentation platform and research archive.
Image credits: Anette Baldauf, If we can’t come together, we will all fall apart, 2005, detail of cover image on Spaces of Commoning, Publication Series of the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna, Vol.18. 2016, Sternberg Press; Jen Castle, Nature Meander – An Speir Ark Map, 2020; All other images: Tunde Toth
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