Traversing the distance between known and unknown: fastening one’s seatbelt in postgraduate creative-practice research supervision
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Practice-based research in art and design is only partially amenable to discursive explication. In an educational framework that relies on notions of master/student relationships, in which the former is supposed to pass knowledge on to the latter, this fact often creates anxieties for both. From Jacques Rancière’s point of view, the master’s ignorance is important for the student’s emancipation. In his book on The Ignorant Schoolmaster, Joseph Jacotot, he claims that learners become emancipated through their own activities of observing, retaining, repeating, verifying, doing, reflecting, taking apart and combining differently. In support of this method of the riddle, the supervisor can teach best by not knowing the subject matter but, instead, providing positive constraints to help keep the researcher on her own path, acknowledging that no two orbits are alike. For any researcher to be able to discover anything new, she has to learn the different languages of theories, things and media. The foundation of such knowledge is, however, not the supervisor/master. Her role, in contrast, is to claim the equality of each intelligent being, to discourage false modesty in students, and to encourage them to make discoveries through experiment and experience: to be attentive and use their own intelligence. For this to happen, master and student need a thing in common that establishes an egalitarian intellectual link between them. In practice-based research in design and art, the thing in common emerges largely through non-discursive media and modes of thought. Here, what can be seen, what can be thought about it, and what it can mean is also matter of translation, which Walter Benjamin, in The Task of the Translator, described as a mutually complimentary relationship between the languages of original and translation. No language in itself can give form to truth – and the task of a translation is to reveal what remains repressed in the original. In the many forms of translation involved in creative-practice research, candidate and supervisor work ‘between the lines’, in the interstices between the unknown and known, translating and re-translating. This paper explores, drawing on concepts by Benjamin, Rancière, Dewey, Wittgenstein and Kleist, which aspects help or prevent a situation in which students can respond to someone speaking to them, rather than examining them, under the sign of equality.