Visiting Artist: Graeme Sullivan

Submitted by Matthew.Leavitt on Tue, 10/26/2010 – 12:10pm

Last month, on September 14, 2010, our tired and fearless leader, Professor
Laurie Hicks returned from her visit to China the night before her invited
guest and colleague Graeme Sullivan visited the U-Maine Campus for a talk
on “Art Practice As Research”. She introduced Mr. Sullivan, the Director
of the School of Visual Arts at Penn State University, and no one, not even
Laurie Hicks fell off! His book, “Art Practice as Research” – (2nd Edition) is
one that our current Research Practices Class is using as a reference. We
were very fortunate to have heard the actual voice of Graeme, as it is a
dense work that even he says can be difficult; many agreed that it would
be much easier to get through, imagining his unique vocalization, Australian
accent and all.

Mr. Sullivan presented his argument (work), asking ‘Why is Art Practice as
Research needed?’ Through an impeccably created keynote, he presented
works and questions that explored and explained “the capacity of visual
arts to create knowledge that can help us understand in a profound way
the world we live in and how we learn to make sense of it.” He went on to
exemplify the theoretical complexity within the languages of research and he
pointed to the almost unlimited scope of artistic inquiry.

Using the geometric framework of the triangular unit and it’s combinations,
based on ‘self-similarity’, Mr. Sullivan showed the endless ways that one
might see this structure as a tool in the studio, in communities, or in
culture; One that can divide and build upon itself as it responds creatively
to issues, actions, and all else independent of scale. He also proposes
that the BRAID, “with its unfolding and unfurling form that disengages and
reconnects with core themes while continuously moving into new spaces”,
serves as an apt metaphor for research practice.

Sullivan visited with students the following day as an opportunity to discuss
ideas for (our) research. I wrote him to thank him, after a few days of
thinking about his responses. He returned these comments:

“Much of what is needed to build and brush against the academic fences is to
be found under the fingernails of those sitting around the room, even though
folks like me will still come by to join in and nag and nibble. Don’t get too
bushwhacked by that infernal text – think of it more as a conversation that’s
led by what you do and want to do – the art part will always win out, and
that’s really what’s a bit masked behind some of those dense paragraphs.”