Our discussion on the YASMIN list, providing insights and advice to young professionals seeking to pursue art science careers has an interesting new submission by Rupert Cox
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YASMIN discussion; RUPERT COX
I am an anthropologist at the University of Manchester (Granada Centre for Visual Anthropology) who uses Art-Science methods to investigate and represent the effects of noise exposure on human health and habitus and have conducted fieldwork around US military bases on Okinawa since 2007. I am writing to you in advance of a visit to Dallas this August.
Details of my research are at http://www.manchester.ac.uk/research/rupert.cox/research but I am essentially an anthropologist of sound who has worked in a series of collaborations with a Japanese acoustic scientist (http://www.ejust.edu.eg/main/news/prof-kozo-hiramatsu-was-assigned-as-the-advisor)
and a sound artist from University of the Arts in London (http://www.crisap.org/people/angus-carlyle/) to create forms of public engagement.
An example of this is the following project –
1- What is your background as a scientist? In the arts, design or humanities ?
My background is as a social scientist first, being trained and employed as an anthropologist (at the University of Edinburgh), and as a media arts practitioner second (co-founding a film company nativevoicefilms.com). My specialist field is visual anthropology, which has a history of applying techniques of visualization to understand cultural difference and human perception. A critical regard for the scientism embedded in these techniques and a concern for the ethics and politics of representing others are what characterizes my anthropological approach which was developed through work as an archivist for the Royal Anthropology Institute and then as a lecturer in anthropology at the University of Manchester.
2- When and how did you become involved in a hybrid art/science practice?
My research has always been based in Japan and since 2007 has focused on the political ecology of toxicants produced by the US bases in Okinawa, Japan concentrating on the negative effects of military aircraft noise on health and habitus. This work began through a chance meeting with a Japanese acoustic scientist Professor Hiramatsu from Kyoto University who had led a long term epidemiological study into the problem of sound pollution around airbases in Okinawa. Our collaboration was based on an interest in addressing the public understanding of the acoustic science formula and measuring mechanisms being applied in Okinawa and accounting for the experiences of individuals which lay outside the parameters of acoustic science. The forms for representing this work were developed through another chance meeting with a sound artist, Professor Angus Carlyle from the University of the Arts, London, leading to a combined art-science-social science practice. This practice-led research approach lay behind successful bids to the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science, British Academy, Wellcome Trust and Toyota Foundation and a variety of international exhibitions of our work.
3- What have been the major obstacles to overcome?
The major obstacles have been the absence of institutional recognition for this kind of collaboration which crosses disciplinary boundaries and falls outside the essential Higher Education measuring mechanisms for evaluating research in terms of its metrical contribution to a disciplinary norm. Also, the grants which provide proper funding for artistic production rarely offer overhead costs and replacement salaries so they are not highly valued by the institution. Given the absence of ‘buy-out’ time these projects must happen in the time left over from other academic duties, during vacation periods.
4- What have been the greatest opportunities/breakthroughs?
The greatest break though was offered through the introduction of a new criteria for evaluating research in UK HE, called ‘impact’. This criteria was designed to show the public relevance of academic research by developing a narrative that linked original research ideas with policy discussions and initiatives. Uncertainty about what kinds of projects this might involve and what constituted evidence of impact provided an opportunity for our hybrid practice to achieve some institutional purchase and ‘research power’.
The rubric of ‘impact allowed us to show the academic merit of an art exhibition project supported by the Wellcome Trust that was based on acoustic science and brought to bear an anthropological perspective on the lived experience of locals living near – and even within – two Japanese airports. In combining anthropological research with art practice, the exhibition was seen to support progress in noise negotiations and improved understanding about the negative health impacts caused by constant exposure to unwanted sound. In the terms of ‘impact’ the measurable benefits of the exhibition included:
• A raised awareness among key stakeholders including an airport mayor, anti-airport protestors and local farmers.
• An enhanced public appreciation of the effects of aircraft noise. This was assisted by positive coverage in several newspapers, including the Mainichi Shimbun (3.45 million daily readers).
• The exhibition serving as a mechanism for addressing, and ultimately breaching, a long-standing impasse in noise negotiations.
More information is at:
5- What would you do differently, knowing then what you know now ?
I would establish criteria such as ‘impact’ through which to frame the hybrid practice as a project that the institution recognizes and can offer support for. I would also take full advantage of the credit accruing from jointly authored works which may be normative in science but less so in social science or humanities. Planning a series of targeted outcomes that takes advantage of the specialisms of the individuals in the collaboration but which all members of the team share the benefits of is an effective way of showing how an ‘art project’ can be productive.
6- Any advices to someone who may want to walk in your footstep?
Take pleasure in the work and the process of making the work for its own sake as much as for the potential academic value recognized by HE institutions because the institutional process of evaluating its merit is unreliable. The art-science-social science project described above was described as ‘unclassifiable’ in internal reviews but as the official feedback from the national research panel evaluating its impact said: “The case study on Aircraft Noise was judged to be outstanding” and was awarded the highest rating
7. Add other questions and your responses you think are relevant.