What is artistic research? This is a question which many art fields, including dance and choreography, have dealt with over the last decade. As Efva Lilja writes, however, ‘Many of us artists as researchers are thoroughly tired of this question’ (Lilja, 2015,13). Nevertheless, the question still needs to be raised for many reasons: Artists and researchers who enter into the field need to know how this has been discussed so far, policymakers may ask the question because they don’t know and those already familiar with the field reconsider it or are confronted with it in discussion with others. Therefore, there is a strong need for accessible information where one can obtain an overview of the political and structural situation of the field of artistic research. Efva Lilja’s book provides such an overview. However, the strength of the book is that it not only addresses the question of what artistic research is, but also dares answer the question of why it is important. As such, it is not simply a description of a field, but rather a book of ideas, a manifesto for the importance of art and artistic research in society.

Research, Art, Empowerment–The Artist as Researcher is written ‘from the point of view of an artist’ (Lilja, 2015, 9)–an artist who has had a key role in the establishment of artistic research in Sweden, and who has been part of many Swedish, Nordic and international fora where artistic research has been developed and discussed. This book is a generous sharing of the insights and reflections that Lilja has acquired on her way. The book addresses ‘all of us who choose to dedicate ourselves to art and research’ (Lilja, 2015, 9); Lilja writes for ‘artists within academia and for those outside who wish to address it with curiosity’–perhaps with an emphasis on those artists who are curious about artistic research and want to apply for a PhD education, a research grant or a research position in artistic research. At least, that is the impression one has when she addresses the ‘you’ of the reader in certain sections. The purpose of this address is not only to inform, but also to encourage artists and artist researchers to take responsibility for the field, to engage with, navigate in and if necessary transform the political and practical structures which regulate artistic research at the moment.

The book is structured around a series of questions and areas: ‘What is Artistic Research?’, ‘What Does the Artist as Research Do?’, ‘Artistic Research Education’, ‘What is Good in Art?’, ‘What Does Research Do for Art?’. Within Efva Lilja’s answers to these questions there is an emphasis on the way artistic research is structured in Sweden and the opportunities which these structures open; however, the book also provides an overview of the way artistic research has developed in several other European countries (Austria, Belgium, Croatia, England, Finland, France, Germany, Norway, Romania, Switzerland). The emphasis on Sweden is of course a result of Lilja’s experience, but also represents an attempt to show how this model ‘implies a faith in art and the importance of art for progress in society and culture’ (Lilja, 2015, 11)–a faith in support of which Lilja’s book can be seen as a passionate speech.

What is specific to Efva Lilja’s book is this combination of structural description of a field and proposition of ideas, or even creation of ideals. The shifts between these two elements influence the tone and the style of the text. Lilja also sees this combination of structural knowledge and strategies and strong ideas as necessary if we want to develop the field not only according to current policies and seemingly unavoidable demands, but also in terms of the needs of artists and the ultimate purpose of developing art and the role of art in society:

If we, from our artistic experience and competence, learn more about the systems, regulations and statutes that organize our society, we can more easily make use of them and strengthen the conditions for good work and research processes. With insights about things we perceive as shortcomings, follows a responsibility to criticize and suggest improvements. (Lilja 2015, 53)

Throughout the different chapters, Lilja underlines the elements which she finds structurally important for the further development of artistic research. She stresses the importance of artistic competence in situations of evaluation or decision making:

These fields of research need strong artists to contribute to knowledge formation, new didactic work forms and a development of qualitative criteria. These artists are not complacent, they demand improvements of research organization, infrastructure, leadership models and positions. (Lilja 2015, 23)




She argues for the need for the field to trust its own artistic methodologies and artistic theories developed within artistic practices:

I contend that many artists present theoretical reasoning in their work and in research that contributes to the evolution of theories within the arts. (…) These contributions can function as support for methodological development, but also for production and communication. (Lilja 2015, 59)

Further, she insists on the importance of keeping the multiplicity of the field of artistic research and of defining quality from within:

In my opinion, artistic research must strive to work within a wide definition, inclusive rather than exclusive, where artistic quality is given more weight than traditional academic quality (…) It is up to us to be able to express what we mean by quality. (Lilja 2015, 93)

Another thread which traverses the book is the insistence on the critical and transformative power of art and research in society and the importance of stressing this politically. Art should be thought of not only as something that needs support to develop, but also something that supports the development of society: It ‘widens the ability to perceive each other and the world around us’ (Lilja 2015, 10), or as Lilja writes–with a shift of register–‘Innovative art keeps its focus on the contemporary and shines its strongest light toward the future’ (Lilja 2015, 11). However, she also identifies a number of constraints threatening to inhibit such a future, including the increased pressure put on artists by the market and the lack of time and funding for in-depth exploration. But how does one keep one’s trust in art in an increasingly tight situation? Efva Lilja’s answer is action:

Trust in what art does and what art represents is obtained through education, work and research. We prove this through public presentation and discussion, sometimes through provocation, occasionally through pure pleasure–but nothing is a given; neither is the role of art in the societal, multi-cultural world we inhabit; nor is education or research; (…) We must stand up for our work, take power and share in the strategic development work. We can do this in many different ways. We can do it through art, through political activism (…) A critical perspective is sustained through action (…) Research is one way. (Lilja 2015, 111)

Research, Art, Empowerment–The Artist as Researcher is a contribution to the political debate about artistic research and the improvement of the conditions of art and artistic research. At one point, Lilja makes the following distinction between art as politics and political art: ‘Art as politics is the art that by insisting on the right to organize, produce, present and interact in various social and societal situations, can be understood as a political action. Political art on the other hand, is art that takes a political stance.’ (Lilja 2015,102). In this book, Efva Lilja does take a political stance when it comes to the political structures of the field of artistic research. She does so in order to encourage others to organise, produce, present and interact in ways which can continue to develop the fields of art and artistic research, and if necessary, change the conditions within which artists work. In a world where many of the structures and conditions that surround the work are linked to complex economical mechanisms of art markets and international educational policies, this reminder that it is possible to make a difference is refreshing and crucial.

Camilla Damkjaer



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