Testing, testing… is this thing working?
Michael Day & Jo Ray
Artists speak about ‘making’ all the time, but what making looks like, feels like, where it takes place and how it occurs can differ greatly from one artist to the next. Whether we are making drawings or photographs, informed guesses or unexpected insights, the act of making is experienced and expressed differently by artists with different research agendas, media and approaches.
Testing, Testing aims to extend a discussion about research in art practice by showing the evolving stages of practice-based research. The project takes the form of an exhibition at SIA Gallery, a symposium event, and a two-part publication, all produced by practice-based Ph.D. researchers in the fine art subject area at Sheffield Hallam University.
The announcement of this year as Sheffield's ‘Year of Making’ prompted us to think about the role of making as a mode of enquiry, and what that might mean for different kinds of practitioner. As each of us is engaged in an ongoing, uncertain process of unpicking and recognising anew the tendencies in our art practice, we draw on collective experience of the act of making to shore us up and to remind us of the new kinds of knowing that can result from apparent failure. Often a work that initially seemed flawed will inform the research in ways that weren’t intended at the outset. Sometimes what is in the periphery, or is overlooked, can turn out to be where the action is really happening.
Entering into dialogue about our making processes helps us to identify where this action might be. The symposium and second volume following the exhibition will specifically look at dialogue, focusing on relationships between disciplinary approaches and the exchanges that emerge through their contact. For this volume, each artist has been invited to begin to uncover the research in their practice, and to explore the acts of making that have led to the works in the exhibition. Some artists have approached this academically, and others with a more poetic sensibility, but all have attempted to allow access to the sometimes messy, partial, or imperfect practices that characterise research in fine art.
The typeface used in this book was first used in the short-lived typographic journal The Imprint. On delivery to the journal’s printers, the typeface’s character set was still incomplete, and the accents on certain characters (such as é and à) were omitted from the print run of the first issue. The editors of that publication asked:
‘Will readers kindly insert them for themselves, if they find their omission harsh? For ourselves, we rather like the fine careless flavour, which their omission gives, after we have recovered from the first shock inevitable to us typographical precisians.’1
By inviting the reader to fill in the blanks, the editors of The Imprint took a creative risk, acknowledging that their finished product could only ever be partially complete without dialogue with the reader. Rather than seeing this as a shortcoming, their openness proposed a new way of framing the relationship between the work and its audience.
Testing, Testing asserts that both creative risk-taking and open dialogue are essential in order to create insight into the relationship between making and knowing. We hope that after recovering from the ‘first shock’, both the exhibition and this book also embody the ‘fine careless flavour’ that is a hallmark of successful artistic research.
1 F. Ernest Jackson, ‘Notes and Errata’, The Imprint, 1 (January 1913), vi.