Counting the Ways We Do Research

Harrell Fletcher and Miranda July, video still from an interview,  San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

Harrell Fletcher and Miranda July, video still from an interview, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

In 2002 artists Harrell Fletcher and Miranda July launched a web-based project entitled Learning to Love You More (LTLYM), the premise of which rested completely on audience participation. Viewers were invited to choose a creative assignment authored by the artists, complete it by following simple but specific instructions, and send in the required documentation, or report, which usually consisted of a photograph, a written description, a video, or sometimes a recording. All submissions faithfully adhering to the assignment’s parameters were posted on the website, creating a portfolio of completed projects. The first assignment asked the viewer to “Make a child’s outfit in an adult size,” followed by bunnydetails specifying the kind of outfit (a fuzzy pink pajama onesie with a hood) and the method of documentation: “take a picture of you in your jumper.”[1] Seventeen completed examples can be viewed online showing submissions that range from silly to stoic.[2] This whimsical inauguration belied the seriousness of a project that would span seven years, post over 8,000 projects, be hosted at venues from the Whitney to local galleries, and at its conclusion become acquired by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

Fletcher and July’s project exemplifies a shift in contemporary art from late 20th century Postmodernism toward more conceptual and dematerialized practices, a period that began in the mid-1990s in Europe after the dissolution of the Soviet Union and which is distinguished by its reliance on the audience to create the work.[3]

This “new” art—referred to at first as participatory, relational, or dialogical—was often playful, typically performative and group oriented, and frequently occurred outside the space of the traditional gallery. As exemplified by the variety of assignments of LTLYM, this “new” art was not new at all, but could be categorized within art’s histories as Conceptual, performance, feminist, installation, instruction, or body art. grapefruitWhile the individual assignments of LTLYM are indebted to the historical precedents of these genres, the overarching work surpasses unilateral categorization and must be considered as a totality whose sum is more complex than its parts. The project has the additional layer of displaying the work through the Internet, utilizing the interactive format of Web 2.0 for perpetual exhibition and dispersion, a quality that distinguishes it from contemporary and historical precedents that typically happen in real-time.

Amid so many categories, how does LTLYM function as art and where can it be critically located amid bourgeoning theories of Do-it-Yourself (DIY) practice?

This research question drove me to ask a lot of questions, do a lot of research, and eventually, helped shape my master’s essay.

It required me to do historical and contemporary research in catalogs like: GEORGE

Databases like Communication & Mass Media Complete and Humanities Full Text.

Along the way I hit a few dead ends, in this case theories that didn’t adequately explain the complexity of this art project. Another frustrating component of the project was that no one else seemed to think this art work was particularly complex. But my gut said otherwise, so I kept asking questions. I often re-read style manuals (A Manual for Writers by Kate Turabian) to help me phrase these questions.

You might find Chapter 1 useful when you’re starting a project:

What Research Is and How Researchers Think about It

Next time we meet, we’ll look more in-depth at your research projects!

 

[1] The specific instructions inform the participant to: “Recreate this jumper in a size that fits you and wear it as much as possible. Try to use a very similar fabric, it should at least be pink. You will want to try very hard to make a precise enlargement, while not getting discouraged by mistakes, or daunted by lack of sewing skills.” Harrell Fletcher & Miranda July, Learning to Love You More (Munich: Prestel 2007), 150.

[2]  http://www.learningtoloveyoumore.com/, accessed October 25, 2015.

[3] Claire Bishop, Artificial Hells: Participatory Art and the Politics of Spectatorship (London: Verso, 2012), 1.

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