July 27, 2021
I think I collaborate because I need help doing things. My private joke is that I have lots of projects in various stages of stagnation—so I need to work with others to get things done. When I received the initial information about Ground Works from my College of Fine Arts office, it struck me as a new kind of publishing enterprise that might suit the “slippery” (to use Sydney’s descriptor), hard-to-define, hard-to-fund (sigh…) kind of research I was doing. The word “heartful” comes to mind immediately when I think about the process of working with Veronica as she helped me incorporate feedback from Sydney and Lise. What reviewers! And what an education. I realized that my goal was not just to publish, but to learn something more about conducting research, and thereby improve at teaching research methods for artists. When I teach graduate students, I find myself working to help them normalize the chaos of the researcher’s mind that is often hidden by the pristine organization and polished style of the prose. Veronica allowed for me to work through the “shitty first drafts,” incorporating the generous feedback to help my presentation of the research rise to a standard of which we could all be proud.
Ground Works provided an environment in which taken-for-granted notions of “research” and “standards” could be ongoing subjects of discussion. Working with Veronica, Sydney, and Lise showed me the dark, unfinished hallways that needed better illumination, the dead ends that forced me to pivot and define yet again what I really wanted to say—and what I needn’t, gently challenging me to excise any iffy-smelling claims for which the data was too inconclusive. I’m reminded of choreographer Sean Curran once telling me in a rehearsal as he cut and reorganized sections of choreography, “It’s not what you do with the pencil that counts, it’s what you do with the eraser!”
A word about encouragement. Encouragement is a necessary thing. Artists are vulnerable and for some of us, impostor syndrome often prowls nearby. What are we doing in Research Universities? Can I produce Knowledge? Will I know it when I’ve done it? I love wrestling with these questions because of my own (at times) ambivalence to their answers. “It’s the question that drives us,” Trinity says to Neo in The Matrix. Artists name concepts, make provisional statements, suggest possibilities, test the elasticity of boundaries and the permeability of disciplinary borders. We court the unknown and wind up producing art and theory. And maybe our investigations provide models for those who come after us. Regardless, it’s good to have a cadre of collegial and committed artist-editors in your corner who see the potential of your project, and are willing to share their time to help you hit that most common of academic targets: publication. A2RU saw a need, and Ground Works provides the space for those hybrid artist-researchers who are focused on targets no one else sees.
Eric Michael Handman is the lead author on “Choreografish,” crossing disciplines of dance, game design, and autism research