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
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
and a sound artist from University of the Arts in London
(http://www.crisap.org/people/angus-carlyle/) to create forms of
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.
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