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Practice-based Research Methodologies


PbR is an action methodology, which focuses as much on the process of creation as on the artifact produced and the theoretical aspects of that process. PbR was invented to provide a methodology that would be in concert with the creative process. For a long time academic research in the Humanities has privileged a theoretical dimension. The traditional separation between theory and practice, researching and doing, was first questioned by Donald Schön’s account of the reflective practitioner and his argument that knowledge is produced in action (1983). His studies became an incentive towards new forms of learning by doing in school, and for the introduction of practice in art and design doctoral programs. The first practice-based PhDs were introduced in Australia and the UK in the 80s, when artefacts began to be included alongside a written dissertation as part of the submission. The growing influence of PbR stems in part from the recognition of the value of academic engagement with real-world initiatives. It is also increasingly recognised as the most suitable way of conducting research in the arts. Some strong proponents of practice-based research also assert that all research is practice-based (sometimes this is called action-research).

Yet, after several decades there are no universally accepted definitions, evaluation criteria and methods for PbR. Different terminology is still used (Research-led Practice, Art-based Research, Practice as Research all refer to similar methodologies but with different nuances). Perhaps one point of agreement is that usually the research practitioner is also the research subject. Another common trait is a cyclical process of trial and error, evaluation and implementation. This results in a continuous feedback loop between artefact and research.

Debates arisen from PbR primarily concern the relationships between artwork and knowledge, particularly around two main issues:

  1. the role of the artefact (does it embody the knowledge? or is it just a tool to achieve new knowledge? does it need a text or is it autonomous?)
  2. what kind of knowledge emerges from art-making? (subjective, local, affective? tacit and embodied? knowing as action / dynamic? or transferable and applicable to other domains? In any case we face an expansion of what can be considered a ‘contribution to knowledge’)

Some takes on the issue:

  • focus on aesthetic experience and interpretation > enriching theory (but not specific to the maker > practice-led).
  • use of visual methodologies as instrumental to non-artistic research, for instance in sociology, anthropology, medicine or psychology etc.
  • self-centred approach: researcher and research subject coincide, reflection on making process, analysis of own process.

Activity 1: using the materials provided, create mind-maps or posters to address one or more of the following questions. You can identify keywords, connect issues, reflect on your own experience, add further questions and so forth.

– How can you translate practice into knowledge / How do you discover something new by making / doing?

– Do creative research methods necessarily involve the production of material artefacts? What else can be the outcome?

– What challenges and limitations are associated with practice-based creative research methodologies?

– What can the role of collaboration or participation be in practice-based research?

– What is your own definition of practice-based research?

– How can we demarcate art as research from art practice (which often involves research)?


Possible methods for PbR:

notes, reflection, analysis of own practice, ethnography of practice //  interviews, collecting feedback from public or peers // artefacts as proof of concept or to test, explore hypothesis // RtD: artefacts to elicit people’s ideas, desires, attitudes (for design) // artefacts to respond to specific problem creatively and designerly // artefacts that makes explicit certain relationships, issues, concepts // media archaeology.

Typologies of knowledge outcomes emerging from PbR in the arts:

  •         Introduction of new methods and methodologies
  •         Practical guidance for artists, designers and makers
  •         Technological advancement / innovation
  •         Introduction of new areas of exploration or research
  •         Sociological or psychological insight / understanding of people’s relationship to art or technology




New Media Art > Occupy the Screen by Paul Sermon and Charlotte Gould

“The installation takes live camera shots from above the screens of two separate audience groups in Berlin and Riga, both located on large blue ground sheets, which then combines them on screen via a chroma-key video switcher in a single composited image. As the merged audiences start to explore this collaborative, shared telepresent space they discover the ground beneath them, as it appears on screen as a digital backdrop, locates them in a variety of surprising and intriguing anamorphic environments. These backgrounds directly reference their social and cultural setting, containing converged scenes of Riga and Berlin in a 3D ludic game world.”

Commissioned by Connecting Cities, but published as research as part of their academic roles at Brighton University  and presented in a paper at ISEA 2015 where the project is explicitly described as practice-based research and as a case study.

The paper situates the project against a theoretical background (literature review) which addresses the topics of urban screens and urban sociality; play; art as intervention; interactivity. The project is also located in continuity with previous work by the artists.

It outlines specific research aims: “what the opportunities are for creativity, intervention and public cohesion through these screens?”

It identify a methodology: “the authors utilise a method which maps the five elements of play, as defined by Hans Scheuerl in 1965 to measure open and closed system”. They analysed and compared the behaviours observed in the participants (through live observation + recordings) to the features (elements) of play to identify and classify ways of structuring urban interaction to stimulate agency and sociability (including for instance “closeness of the game”, “ambivalence” and “virtuality”).

It claims clear contributions to knowledge: “a framework for artists and curators to maximise engagement with public audiences through play”.


Sound and participatory art > UrbanRemix by Jason Freeman, Carl DiSalvo, Michael Nitsche

UrbanRemix is a collaborative and locative sound project that enables participants to explore, the acoustic identity of communities, based on sounds they discover, record, and remix. Participants use mobile phone software to record and share geo-tagged sounds captured from the urban environment. A web-based tools enable anyone to browse and remix those sounds with an intuitive map-based interface.

Aims: “our original intentions with Urban Remix: to re-engage citizens with their surroundings with the help of locative sound; to engage community members in a creative use of smartphone technology.”

Background: other project with locative media and sound (UR is claimed to be different for stronger accent on community). The acoustic ecology work pioneered by R. Murray Schafer. Public and participatory art.

It consists of three key elements:

  • a mobile application for capturing geo-tagged sounds
  • an interactive online map for exploring and remixing sounds
  • a range of outreach workshops and live performance events.

Design and Implementation:  mobile applications for iOS and Android. The web site enables users to browse, explore, and remix the content that has been uploaded . The map view serves as both a browsing mechanism and a spatial remixing engine. On the map, paths become a means to remix audio content into spatialized soundscapes. Users can draw paths directly on the map or compute directions between two locations. The path is rendered as an audio soundscape, mixing together the sounds closest to the path.

Public Presentations: UrbanRemix is organized around workshops and public events in specific urban neighborhoods. Each event typically begins with a period of sound and image collection. After collection is complete, DJs and/or VJs prepare a public performance in the neighborhood, using only the contributed content in their remix.

Discussion and Future Work: “We are currently implementing two key extensions to the existing UrbanRemix platform. First, we are making image content more integral to the platform, in particular by enabling the map-based interface to remix images in a similar manner to the current functionality for sounds. Second, we are complementing the existing map-based remixing functionality with a locative remixing feature for mobile devices.” “we look forward to seeing how we can continue to collaboratively discover, explore, capture, repurpose, and share the unique urban spaces we so often take for granted.”

Depending on the context the value of the project could change: eg. in area about to be redeveloped in Atlanta it became a form of acoustic virtual heritage that allows an audio-exploration of places whose character is bound to change rapidly in the near future.

Limitations: “Participation still depends on availability of relatively expensive smart phones, for example. Although we provide devices during the workshops, many other citizens remain excluded.”


Curation > Artistic Prototypes by Gabi Arrigoni

My research introduces new kinds of understandings of artistic practice taking place in laboratories and engaging with the design, production and critique of technological artefacts. More specifically, I identify the concept of artistic prototype to describe the outcome of a great deal of research in the field of new media art, design and physical computing.

Mine is a practice-based PhD where the practice is curation, so I developed a number of projects (exhibitions, workshops, seminars) to gain knowledge about my topic. My methodology is a combination of different approaches and every project has a different role in my research. This is partially due to the lack of models to look at, since the few existing curatorial PbR PhDs were mainly based on analysing audience behaviour, while my own focus is on what artists do.

Research Questions + Contributions

What happens when art practice is involved in research? What kind of aesthetic object emerges from artistic research? How is research influencing art practice?

The most notable characteristics identified in artworks produced in research and media labs resulted in their prototypicality. Essentially, these artworks are presented in a state of constant suspension and becoming. They do not aim at a final arrangement but at transformation and proliferation, extending themselves into multiple versions. This led to a second set of questions:

Why are prototypes so frequently the outcome of artistic practice conducted in labs? Which are their specific features and behaviours? How can we talk about them?

These questions have been answered by articulating the concept of artistic prototype and developing a conceptual framework to analyse and interpret its behaviour and its aesthetic dimension.

The framework is based on the investigation of a number of examples and case studies encountered through my curatorial practice. Beyond its role as an interpretative and critical tool, it is intended to support and inspire innovative curatorial strategies and methods, responding to a further research question:

How can curators respond to the notion of artistic prototypes? Are new potential avenues for practice being disclosed? How can a renewed understanding of prototyping influence the way artworks and collections are being presented to the public?

These last questions is answered through the analysis of two curatorial projects organised as part of my PhD, but also looking at current emerging tendencies advanced by other practitioners, and eventually suggesting further possibilities which have not been tested in practice yet.

 A Hybrid Methodology

Initial projects (prototyping and design fiction workshops; exhibitions in CL) helped me to familiarise with the potential of prototyping to share ideas and engage the public; to generate new questions; to collect approaches and reflections from artists-researchers.

The central project (a group show at the NewBridge Gallery) was a materialisation of my research; a way to get closer to artistic practice through interviews and ongoing collaboration; a way to visualise and categorise a number of features of artistic prototypes to develop a conceptual framework.

The last projects (exhibitions and engagement program) were applications of my framework and previous insights in the field of curatorial practice and heritage work; ways of demonstrating that the theories advanced in the thesis can have a direct impact of practitioners.

Differently from most PbR in the arts, here the focus is outside the researcher’s practice: the object of investigation is what other practitioners do. There is also a movement from the particular, the specific experience, to general, abstractable elements.


Activity 2: Read the methodologies extracted from a set of existing research projects and discuss them in group highlighting strengths and weaknesses, and trying to relate them to your own practice and potential future research endeavors.

The middle of nowhere

While one may need to immerse himself in the community for a certain period of time in order to discover the way how people make meaning of something, could an ethnographer at the same time treat himself as one of the participants during the observation too?

There are certain kinds of distinctive attitudes between an inhabitant and a tourist. Insiders and outsiders surely experience landscapes differently for some reasons.

An example of mine would be the first time when I was in high school in Saigon, I used to be called “Tàu Khựa”, meaning a dirty Chinese. Fair enough, so would Vietnam be my home actually? What was wrong with us for speaking Vietnamese and Cantonese at the same time, I wondered? That is still a question.

Then as time flew, I was settled in a Japanese workplace. By saving my week holidays for years to decide to have to trip to a land that I thought at least I could see the experience as an insider, Hong Kong was the decision I made. Unfortunately, I was wrong again, because the Hongkongers called me “越南鬼”, which meant Vietnamese demon. What was I supposed to react? What else could I do except for pretending I did not understand what they said? Denis Cosgrove indicated “The way people see their world is a vital clue to the way they understand that world and their relationship with it.” (Cosgrove, 1985). What if one tried his best but no luck for forming the relationship with the land? We cannot deny the reality that almost everyone needs a better place to live. But a better place to live has nothing to do with modern high technology or the luxury, but about the word home. If one lives in a palace with Lamborghini cars, but never feels home, then neither an insider nor outsider he would be, and he would be stuck in the middle of nowhere.

One may never stop seeking a land, a land where he belongs to, to dwell in a real home. If Maurice Merleau-Ponty once has said that nobody would understand better than the insiders do how the miracle in their world is worked (Merleau-Ponty, 1962), Xu Liu on the other hand, described on the Old Book of Tang a phrase “當局者迷,旁觀者清”, that those who have already involved in the game cannot see the most of the game (Liu, 1975). It is clear that somehow I was unsuccessful to try to be an insider, but somehow I failed to identify myself as an outsider in both of the countries.

There is no doubt that being an insider or outsider is considered an unremarkable topic to discuss, observing the way how they interact with us, the cultural homeless people, might be the first exercise to do to study and define a place which we are proud to call a real “home”.

- Cosgrove, D. E. (1985). Social formation and symbolic landscape. Madison, Wis : University of Wisconsin Press.
- Merleau-Ponty, M. (1962). Phenomenology of perception. London, Routledge & Paul; New York, Humanities.
- Liu, X. (1975). Old Book Of Tang 旧唐书. 中华书局.

Project Work: tests with tint()

Tint function using the mouse position to control the alpha channel and thus the blending.

here the alpha is controlled by data from the distance sensor, it’s not smooth and the readings are really wild switching from 10 to 100 and back. Either the sensor is inaccurate or I’m doing something wrong with the Arduino sketch.

Research: Place & Space


While my final project work involves two disciplines from curating and digital interaction, selecting which roles to match with parts in the work is difficult.

In this concert of Jay Chou in 2013 for instance, the company Digital Domain, innovative visual production house, grouped together hologram technicians, sound artists, visual effect artists in order to work in a transdisciplinary practice.

To work separately as a hologram technician or a sound artist is not hard, but to come in one place a purpose for a final work at one space, all experts would have to do research on each other, so that one can not only understand the role of  himself, but also pull co-worker’s perspectives and apply into his practice.



Research: Text & Design Strategies


In Designing the Spectator Experience, researchers indicated that there are four design strategies. Hidden manipulations, enable the spectator to act as a performer, reveal effects, and a suspenseful method.


Sometimes it could be called precision, but sometimes acceptable inaccuracy could become an original idea (Bowers, 2014). Errors doesn’t mean wrong and degradation, but in fact brings some excitements not only to participants but also the bystanders who are watching the piece of art and waiting for their turn.


While giving audience the privilege to explore the non-errors piece from visuals to techniques, considering the acceptable inaccuracies as part of the artwork has a role for creative practitioners to play with.


- Bowers, J. (2014). HSS8120 Tutorial.
- Reeves, S. and Benford, S. and Fraser, M. (2005). Designing the Spectator Experience.

Thanks to Dr. Tom Schofield for the article.

Research: Desire in Design



When I was supposed to walk back to the city centre from part-time work, unconsciously I was lost up to Coast Road. By catching this little bridge on my wandering, it suggested that things could come with signs and symbols.
The word DESIGN in this case for example, can be split into two aspects.
One is DE which means to re-do something, to re-construct something.
Another one is SIGN which means a symbol or a sign.
So DESIGN literally means to re-create something from something that already had?


In terms of individualism, a problem occurs that everyone will try to make their own understanding by adding their own background and story into (Barthes, 1967).
So designers are those who always fail because they could never ever serve everyone even for the same sign?
Red could be luck to her, but could be danger to him? Maybe?
If designers make things because they were already in their world, then will the thing they call passion conquers all?

Exist but not exist

Design might be just design rather than a story of a thing that tells a story of another thing. A river might be just a river rather than a life flow. A bridge might be just a bridge rather than a relationship between people.
We “rarely does the eye light on a thing, and then only when it has recognised that thing as the sign of another thing” (Calvino, 1978).


- Roland Barthes. The Death of the Author. Retrieved October 12, 2014, from the TBook website:
- Calvino, I. (1978). Invisible cities. New York, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.
- Calvino, I. (1977). The nonexistent knight & The cloven viscount. New York, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.

Project Work: early prototype


Following Ben’s workshop on Thursday, some initial ideas staring to converge.

Modifying the 2 potentiometer sketch and using instead distance sensor to trigger and manipulate sounds in PD. Hope the sensors bought on ebay get here in time for the Live Performance.

Project Work: Making and Recording


Thinking of using Thursday’s Live Performance as a way to test some early prototypes for the Creative project. More contact mics the better, showcasing my soldering skills, using myself as a instrument to record samples.

Project Work: Encouraging Participation

Building on the previous post, I found this article, a case study that sets a framework in users participation in Digital Live Art. It identifies ‘wittingness’ as individual’s or group of people’s knowledge or awareness of the performance frame. It can be
used as a device for tempting performative interaction, or the interaction that occurs within and as a result of the performance

‘Digital Live Art (DLA) [24] is the intersection of live art,
computing and human-computer interaction (HCI). Research
has begun to investigate how the methods and theories in the
performance arts can be used to understand human-computer
interaction in DLA. Our interest is in how we can encourage
people to participate in technically-mediated public

Evaluating and measuring interaction in public performance is
very different to the frameworks and measures used to
understand interaction in more ‘traditional’ forms of HCI.
Traditional HCI has focused on understanding interaction in
desktop computing applications. This has typically concentrated
on task-based computing and designing interfaces which
increase efficiency of task execution, for instance. However, as
computing moves away from the desktop to mobile and
wireless ubiquitous environments, we see a shift to non taskbased
uses of computing [6, 18] and understanding the needs of
users as performers [24]. To better understand these needs HCI
requires an understanding of performance framing.
Gregory Bateson first identified the concept of the
‘performance frame’ in his paper titled A Theory of Play and
Fantasy [2]. The performance frame is the cognitive context
where the rules of behavior, symbols and their interpretations
are bound within a particular activity within its own structure.
The concept has been used extensively in many contexts,
including understanding face-to-face encounters in the everyday
[13]. In this paper, we update earlier descriptions of
performance framing in DLA [5, 11, 23] to include our
definition of wittingness.’

(Jennifer G. Sheridan, Nick Bryan-Kinns, and Alice Bayliss. 2007. Encouraging witting participation and performance in digital live art. In Proceedings of the 21st British HCI Group Annual Conference on People and Computers: HCI…but not as we know it – Volume 1 (BCS-HCI ’07), Vol. 1. British Computer Society, Swinton, UK, UK, 13-23.

Project Work: Further Research

From previous research highlighted two things:

1. The idea of ludic play as a way of encouraging interaction, Case study The Drift Table:

‘Observing the Drift Table in long-term use also
uncovered new aspects of designing for ludic
engagement. These can be summarized by the
following lessons about ludic activities:
1 Support social engagement in ludic activities.
Using the Drift Table was engaging as a solitary pursuit,
but people liked to gather round it, discussing their
current view and how to reach new destinations. The
small size of the viewport was frustrating in social
situations, but other features of the table made it well
suited for group use.
2 Allow the ludic to be interleaved with everyday
utilitarian activities. People often engaged with the
Drift Table as an occasional break from their routine
household activities. We had not explicitly anticipated
this in the table’s design, but its slow speed, the use of
a persistent input (weight) and the sheer enormity of
its data set combined to allow periodic use.
3 Don’t expect ludic designs to leave everyday
activities untouched. The Drift Table was conceived
as a kind of augmented coffee table, but its use was
not a simple extension of coffee table use. This became
clearest in the way that weighty objects were
specifically selected and deployed on the table. We
speculate that similar effects will be found generally for
this sort of augmented artefact.
4 Don’t seek to meet users’ immediate desires. In
designing the Drift Table, we consciously restrained
ourselves from adding features to support expectable
demands (e.g. moving quickly to a particular location).
Many people in fact voiced exactly the desires we had
decided not to support. Over time, however, our
decisions appeared justified as a noticeable subset of
users accepted the table for what it was, and
relinquished the desire to engage with it to achieve
obvious tasks. For these individuals, the table worked
to encourage the exploration of new activities and
appreciations.’ (William W. Gaver, John Bowers, Andrew Boucher, Hans Gellerson, Sarah Pennington, Albrecht Schmidt, Anthony Steed, Nicholas Villars, and Brendan Walker. 2004. The drift table: designing for ludic engagement. In CHI ’04 Extended Abstracts on Human Factors in Computing Systems(CHI EA ’04).

2. The value of cultural probes as a way to ‘encourage subjective engagement’ and as communication between designers and potential users:

If Probes are collections
of materials posing tasks to
which people respond over time, then
“probology” is an approach that uses
Probes to encourage subjective engagement,
empathetic interpretation, and a
pervasive sense of uncertainty as positive
values for design. We accept that Probes,
the technique, may be appropriated for a
variety of different ends. We hope, however,
that other researchers and designers
will embrace “probology” as well as
Probes in pursuing design for everyday
(William W. Gaver, Andrew Boucher, Sarah Pennington, and Brendan Walker. 2004. Cultural probes and the value of uncertainty. interactions 11, 5 (September 2004), 53-56.)

A cultural
probe is an experimental research method that provides
“inspirational data” [9] for design. Through a cultural probe study
that we undertook we were able to gain new insights into
approaches toward a research project regarding collaboration
between artists and scientists. Cultural probes offer the possibility
for sustainable communication between designers and those being
designed for. It does so by allowing a mental shift in the designer
to be able to think from the target demographic’s perspective so
that designs can reflect that population’s desires and concerns.(Zoe McDougall and Sidney Fels. 2010. Cultural probes in the design of communication. InProceedings of the 28th ACM International Conference on Design of Communication (SIGDOC ’10). ACM, New York, NY, USA, 57-64.)