Thinking outside the (black) box 

Call it zeitgeist.

As Maurice Charland was finalizing the CISSC’s first call for thematic working groups bringing faculty and graduate students together across disciplines, Tim Clark, Hexagram researcher and studio arts professor, sent out an email invitation asking colleagues if they would like to participate in a working group for the critical study of technology/art/science.

The two emails tumbled over each other in inboxes around the university, suggesting that more than one researcher was chafing at the boundaries of a single discipline.

“I’d been thinking about it for a while, the timing was just accidental,” Clark said.

Clark was originally hired in the Faculty of Fine Arts to be part of an interdisciplinary program that combined the performing arts and visual arts. That program no longer exists.

Clark traces his own cross-disciplinary interests to a background in analytical philosophy, and, in particular, his interest in Michel Foucault. “Philosophy never left me, really. I was always interested in why things take place, the philosophical underpinnings.”

The Leonard and Bina Ellen Gallery is planning a show of Clark’s work in 2008, but he now considers himself a writer more than a practicing artist.

“In the late ’60s, if you looked at the CVs of practicing artists, few, if any, had BFAs; they didn’t exist. Thirty years ago, artists were defined by their practice, their respective media and/or art movement affiliations.” As art schools became degree-granting institutions, artists had to present their work differently.

He said that when former Fine Arts dean Christopher Jackson, along with faculty members such as Barbara Layne and Lynn Hughes, initiated the basis for what became Hexagram (a research/creation institute that crosses disciplines, technologies and even institutions), they were reflecting changes and developments within the practice of art and the role of schools in preparing emergent artists.

“Our faculty helped spearhead the changes at SSHRC that led to a program specifically geared for research/creation.” That funding program has been active for five years now.

“Budgets operate on a departmental basis. To be interdisciplinary is a tough thing to do. Institutions have departmental and disciplinary constraints.” Especially as funding has continued to “instrumentalize knowledge and think about deliverables, it has become very hard to carry out pure research any more across the disciplines.”

Clark wants to bring some of these concerns to the working group he has provisionally named Purlieus, loosely translated as the surroundings of a place. He has had a positive response from researchers at Concordia and other institutions.


Concordia University