Expanding Thought

By Professor Welby Ings

Like many of us who supervise research in Creative Arts practice, I spend a lot of my time navigating what I do not know. Perhaps this is part of the attraction of mentoring research at this level. Although I have been supervising Creative Arts PhDs for almost 20 years, I have become aware in the last decade of a rich interface between our disciplines and indigenous inquiry.

... the growth in indigenous Artistic research may be due in part, to our disciplines’ ongoing re-questioning of existing research paradigms ... the resulting flexibility and critical rethinking provides a space for indigenous researchers to navigate knowledge frameworks and processing that fall outside of mainstream academic paradigms.

In New Zealand increasingly, we are encountering indigenous researchers who gravitate towards Creative Arts doctorates because they are able to work beyond the confines of Western epistemological frameworks. I think perhaps there might be three reasons for this.

Firstly, the growth in indigenous Artistic research may be due in part, to our disciplines’ ongoing re-questioning of existing research paradigms (Bolt, 2017; Klein, 2010; Leavy, 2015; Rolling, 2013). It appears that the resulting flexibility and critical rethinking provides a space for indigenous researchers to navigate knowledge frameworks and processing that fall outside of mainstream academic paradigms.  I am reminded of the necessity for this flexibility by Hannah Arendt who noted:

…the reality of the public realm relies on the simultaneous presence of innumerable perspectives and aspects in which the common world presents itself and for which no common measurement or denominator can ever be devised. For though the common world is the common meeting ground of all, those who are present have different locations in it, and the location of one can no more coincide with the location of another than the location of two objects. Being seen and being heard by others derive their significance from the fact that everybody sees and hears from a different position. This is the meaning of public life… Only where things can be seen by many, in a variety of aspects, without changing their identity, so that those who are gathered around them know they see sameness in utter diversity, can worldly reality truly and reliably appear (Arendt, 1958 p. 57).

A second issue that appears to be influential in indigenous researchers prioritising doctoral degree study in our disciplines, is that Creative Arts scholarship remains one of the few arenas that takes seriously the processing of knowledge beyond the confines of the written word. Indigenous scholarship in most Australiasian and Pacific cultures has its roots deeply immersed in oral, performative, or image-based systems of knowledge processing and dissemination. In doctoral level research in the Arts, there is an inherent understanding that not all complex thinking need pass through the translative facility of the written word. The pivotal role of non-written knowledge is evident in a number of recent indigenous doctoral theses. These include Igelese Ete’s employment of Samoan premissionary vocalisation in the composition of contemporary choral work (Ete, in progress), the poetics of movement and space in Maori understandings of the void (Nepia, 2012), and the creative application of indigenous oral language features to the design of new forms of Tongan documentary (Tolutau, 2015). Although theses such as these navigate spaces between English, Maori, Samoan and Tongan languages, they are arguably supported by the provision in New Zealand universities that the written component of a PhD thesis can be submitted in either Maori or English.

... what has surfaced in New Zealand over recent years are a number of new indigenous methodological frameworks that include spiritual dimensions.

A third reason that may account for the increase of indigenous research in our disciplines relates to an accommodation within Artistic inquiry of knowledge that operates outside of the physical and cognitive. Because indigenous artists have historically embraced spiritual dimensions of knowing, researchers are increasingly finding accommodating environments inside the Creative Arts because the esoteric need not be either justified or theologised. In much indigenous research, complex metaphysical knowledge is integral to conceptions of land, cosmology, design, genealogy and process. As a consequence, what has surfaced in New Zealand over recent years are a number of new indigenous methodological frameworks that include spiritual dimensions. Significant among these are Moana Nepia’s (2012) Aratika – which explores a culturally sensitive pathway through an artistic inquiry, and Robert Pouwhare’s Purakau - that draws on the explicit, esoteric and ancestral, to process knowledge. In addition, other PhDs have challenged and extended existing methodologies developed by indigenous scholars in other disciplines. Indicative of these is Talita Tolutau's (2015) renegotiation of Helu-Thaman's (1997) Kakala framework). 

That Creative Arts inquiry might be facilitating such scholarship and the cultural facilities that resource it, is a valuable thing. It demonstrates arguably the same productive flexibility that has enabled a range of Arts practices to position themselves within the academy and richly enhance (and challenge) conceptions of knowledge production and understanding.

It is an important contribution and one that warrants ongoing consideration and support.


Welby Ings is a Professor in Design and Head of the PhD programme in the School of Art & Design at Auckland University of Technology. He is an elected Fellow of the British Royal Society of Arts, and a consultant to many international organisations on issues of creativity and learning. He is also award-winning designer, filmmaker and author. In 2001 he was awarded the Prime Minister’s inaugural, Supreme Award for Tertiary Teaching Excellence and in 2013 the AUT University medal for his contributions to research and education. In 2017 his best-selling book Disobedient Teaching was released to wide international acclaim.


References

Arendt, H. (1958). The Human Condition, 2nd ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Bolt, B. (2016). Artistic Research as a Performative Paradigm. Parse Journal.  Retrieved from http://parsejournal.com/article/artistic-research-a-performative-paradigm/

Ete, I. (2018). Nafanua – ‘Ua Sau le Va’a Na Tiu’: A creative exploration of traditional and contemporary Samoan musical structures, instrumentation and performance to express genealogy through identity. PhD thesis in progress. Auckland University of Technology 

Klein, J. (2010). What is artistic research? Originalmente publicado en Gegenworte.  Retrieved from http://julianklein.info/texte/2010-artistic_research-JKlein.pdf

Leavy, P. (2015). Method meets art: arts-based research practice  (2nd ed.). New York, NY: The Guilford Press.

Nepia, M. (2012). Te Kore: The poetics of performance. (PhD thesis), Auckland University of Technology. Retrieved from http://hdl.handle.net/10292/5480

Rolling, J. H. (2013).  Arts-based research primer.  New York, NY: Peter Lang.

Toluta'u, T. (2015). Talonoa e fonua: Renegotiating film narration inside a Tongan epistemological framework. (PhD theses), Auckland University of Technology. Retrieved from  http://hdl.handle.net/10292/8671
Pouwhare, R. (2018). Pūrākau - mai i te mātākōrero ki te pūnaha hauropi matihiko. PhD thesis in progress. Auckland University of Technology. 

Thaman, K. H. (1997). Kakala: A Pacific concept of teaching and learning. Paper presented at the Australian College of Education Conference, Cairns. See also: Fua, Seu'ula J. (2014). Kakala Research Framework: A Garland In Celebration of a Decade of Rethinking Education. In: Of Waves, Winds & Wonderful Things: A Decade of Rethinking Pacific Education. USP Press, Suva, Fiji.

Witehira, J. (2013). Tārai Kōrero Toi: Articulating a Maori design language. (PhD thesis), Massey University. Retrieved from http://hdl.handle.net/10179/5213