The overarching aim of this course is to teach students how to recognize, distinguish, and utilize different (trans)disciplinary theoretical paradigms and research methods, so as to make well-informed decisions about their own graduate research praxis. To this end, the course examines the operations of contemporary art and culture from three divergent perspectives based, respectively, in the linguistic, affective, and practical “turns” within the social and cultural sciences. The course consists of three modules that both complement and complicate each other. The first focuses on semiotics and iconography as methods for visual analysis. The second introduces students to affect theory, and takes the examination of art and culture beyond the representationalist approaches that have traditionally shaped the field of cultural analysis. The final module centres on ethnographic methods, reflecting a “practical turn” that provides students with hands-on approaches to academic research. The three-fold set-up of this course does not merely map certain shifts in critical trends; rather, it serves the purpose of building a critical, creative, and comprehensive framework for analysing how art and culture function on signifying as well as a-signifying levels.
Louis van den Hengel’s research into the aesthetics of performance-based art serves as a connecting thread running through the course as a whole. Van den Hengel’s participant observation of Marina Abramovic’s long-durational performance The Artist Is Present (2010) is used as a recurring example to demonstrate and interrogate the strengths and weaknesses of the above research paradigms. At the same time, his study exemplifies how different theoretical and methodological approaches can be brought together within a coherent research project. Moreover, by presenting the students with the nitty gritty of doing academic research, the course seeks to foster a self-reflexive, critical, and creative attitude towards the process of crafting a research design for their MA thesis during the next semester. In terms of teaching methods, traditional research-based lectures are combined with seminar-style meetings and practical workshops for which the students are asked to put the theories and methods under discussion into practice by developing and presenting their own analyses. As a whole, the course seeks to demonstrate the usefulness of methodological crossovers between the humanities and the social sciences for the study of contemporary art and culture. As such, it directly ties in with the transdisciplinary perspective of the Arts, Media and Culture research programme in which Van den Hengel’s research is embedded.