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Abstract A/r/tography is a form of practice-based research steeped in the arts and education. Alongside other arts based, arts informed and aesthetically defined methodologies, a/r/tography is one of many emerging forms of inquiry that refer to the arts as a way of re-searching the world to enhance understanding. Yet, it goes even further by recognizing the educative potential of teaching and learning as acts of inquiry. Together, the arts and education complement, resist, and echo one another through rhizomatic relations of living inquiry. In this paper, we demonstrate rhizomatic relations in an ongoing project entitled ‘The City of Richgate’ where meanings are constructed within ongoing a/r/tographic inquiries described as collective artistic and educational praxis. Rhizomatic relations do not seek conclusions and therefore, neither will this account. Instead, we explore a/r/tographical situations as methodological spaces for furthering living inquiry.
A/r/tography 1
The Rhizomatic Relations of A/r/tography
Rita L. Irwin, Ruth Beer, Stephanie Springgay,
Kit Grauer, Gu Xiong, and Barbara Bickel
Correspondence regarding this paper should be sent to: Dr. Rita L. Irwin,
Associate Dean, Faculty of Education, The University of British Columbia, 2125
Main Mall, Vancouver, British Columbia, V6T 1Z4, Canada or email
Accepted for Studies in Art Education
June 2006
A/r/tography 2
A/r/tography is a form of practice-based research steeped in the arts and
education. Alongside other arts based, arts informed and aesthetically defined
methodologies, a/r/tography is one of many emerging forms of inquiry that refer
to the arts as a way of re-searching the world to enhance understanding. Yet, it
goes even further by recognizing the educative potential of teaching and learning
as acts of inquiry. Together, the arts and education complement, resist, and echo
one another through rhizomatic relations of living inquiry. In this paper, we
demonstrate rhizomatic relations in an ongoing project entitled ‘The City of
Richgate’ where meanings are constructed within ongoing a/r/tographic inquiries
described as collective artistic and educational praxis. Rhizomatic relations do not
seek conclusions and therefore, neither will this account. Instead, we explore
a/r/tographical situations as methodological spaces for furthering living inquiry.
In doing so, we invite the art education community to consider rhizomatic
relations performed through a/r/tography as a politically informed methodology of
A/r/tography 3
A/r/tography is an arts and education practice based research methodology
dedicated to acts of inquiry through the arts and writing (see Irwin & de Cosson,
2004; Irwin & Springgay, accepted; Springgay, Irwin & Wilson Kind, 2005;
Springgay, Irwin & Kind, in press) 1. The name itself exemplifies these features
by setting art and graphy, and the identities of artist, researcher, and teacher
(a/r/t), in contiguous relations2. None of these features is privileged over another
as they occur simultaneously in and through time and space. Moreover, the acts of
inquiry and the three identities resist modernist categorizations and instead exist
as post-structural conceptualizations of practice (for example Bickel, 2004; de
Cosson, 2002, 2003). By emphasizing practice a shift occurs from questioning
who an artist, researcher or educator might be, or what art, research or education
is, to when is a person an artist, researcher or educator and when is an experience
art, research or education (see Kingwell, 2005)? These are important distinctions
for they reside in the rhizomatic relations of inquiry3.
In this article, we wish to describe a/r/tographical inquiry as a
methodology of situations and to do this, we share the journey of a collaborative
project undertaken by a group of artist, educator, researchers working with a
1 We are indebted to other arts and education practitioners who are exploring and creating
new forms of inquiry (Cole & Knowles, 2001; Barone 2000, 2001, 2003; Blumfield,
1995; Denzin, 1998; Donmoyer & Yennie-Donmoyer, 1995; Dunlop, 1999; Eisner, 1997;
Eisner & Barone, 1997; Emme, 1999; Fels, 1999; Finley & Knowles, 1995; Gouzouasis
& LaMonde, 2005; Leggo, 2004; Richardson, 2000; Saarnivaara, 2003; Sanders-Bustle,
2003; Slattery 2001; Sullivan 2004; Watrin, 1999; Weber & Mitchell, 1996).
2 The slashes in a/r/tography (and other related words) purposefully illustrate a doubling
of identities and concepts rather than a separation/bifurcation of ideas.
3 We wish to thank the reviewers for their thoughtful and insightful comments. They
provoked us to write a stronger article and to consider other rhizomatic directions as we
imagine the future of the project.
A/r/tography 4
number of families in a nearby city. The project is entitled “The City of Richgate”
and examines issues related to immigration, place, and community within an
artistically oriented inquiry. Although the project itself would be of interest to the
field of art education, this article is dedicated to the elaboration of a/r/tography as
a methodology of situations. The project provides a way of elaborating upon
a/r/tography as a methodology that provokes the creation of situations through
inquiry, that responds to the evocative nature of situations found within data, and
that provides a reflective and reflexive stance to situational inquiries. These
situations are often found, created or ruptured within the rhizomatic nature of
a/r/tography. It is on this basis that the article is premised: rhizomatic relationality
is essential to a/r/tography as a methodology of situations.
Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari (1987) describe rhizomes
metaphorically through the image of crabgrass that “connects any point to any
other point” (p. 21) by growing in all directions. Through this image they stress
the importance of the ‘middle’ by disrupting the linearity of beginnings and
endings. After all, one fails to pursue a tangent if a particular line of thought is
subscribed. Rhizomes resist taxonomies and create interconnected networks with
multiple entry points. The metaphor of a map is another image they use to
describe rhizomes for maps only have middles, with no beginnings and endings:
they are always becoming. Deleuze and Guattari also suggest that once a map is
grasped, tracings across the map need to occur in order to resist dualistic thinking.
“By inspecting the breaks and ruptures that become invisible when the more
stable tracing is laid upon the always becoming map, we are in a position to
A/r/tography 5
construct new knowledge, rather than merely propagate the old” (Alverman,
2000, p. 117). In this way, maps and tracings work together to make connections
that may not have been noticed through the phenomenon itself and/or the
theoretical tangents. Rhizomes are interstitial spaces between thinking and
materiality (see Meskimmon, 2003) where identities and in-between identities are
open to transformations (see Grosz 2001) and people, locations and objects are
always in the process of creation (see Hasebe-Ludt & Hurren, 2003; Pinar, under
review; Wang 2004).
Rhizomatic relationality effects how we understand theory and practice, product
and process. Theory is no longer an abstract concept but rather an embodied living
inquiry, an interstitial relational space for creating, teaching, learning, and researching in
a constant state of becoming (see also Britzman, 2003). For a/r/tgraphers this means
theorizing through inquiry, a process that involves an evolution of questions. This active
stance to knowledge creation informs a/r/tographers’ practices making their inquiries
emergent, generative, reflexive and responsive (de Cosson et. al., in press; 2003; Sinner
2004). Moreover, products and processes are conceived as relational. Process is an act of
invention rather than interpretation where concepts emerge from social engagements and
encounters (Darts, 2004; Dias & Sinkinson, 2005; Springgay, 2003, 2004a, 2004b, 2005).
Theorizing and practicing are verbs that emphasize the need for being in the process of
producing (Irwin, in press, 2003, 2004b; Springgay & Irwin 2004). This move toward
destabilizing concepts, objects, and identities is also found in contemporary art discourse
where ‘site’ as a fixed geographical concept has moved to a relational concept re-
imagined as a ‘situation’ within political, economic, cultural and social processes. In
A/r/tography 6
contemporary educational discourse ‘sites of learning’ are re-imagined as ‘places in
process’ (see Lai & Ball, 2002) or ‘pedagogies of place’ set within political, economic,
cultural, ecological and social processes (Gruenewald, 2003). For a/r/tographers,
situations are related to pedagogies of place through a commitment to disrupting binaries
(e.g. private and public or neither) by complicating understandings as relational, singular
and rhizomatic. Situated practices emphasize “experience as a state of flux which
acknowledges place as a shifting and fragmented entity” (Doherty, 2004, p. 10).
Moreover, relational aesthetics works to erode marginalization as the role of artist is
shifted to become a facilitator, mediator and/or creative contributor within a community.
In the following accounts we share with you our rhizomatic journey through an
a/r/tographical project entitled The City of Richgate.4 We begin with a prelude (a way of
imagining situations) that offers insights into how we first conceptualized the project. We
then introduce an interlude on a/r/tographical praxis that reaches throughout the project
before introducing an interlude on a/r/tography as a methodology of situations. Though
the prelude shares the conceptualizations that occurred in order to receive funding, the
interludes and situations are not written in any chronological order. Situations may seem
to occur chronologically but they are rhizomatic. Learning/creating/inquiring in, from,
through, and with situations occurs in the in-between spaces: those spaces that make
connections that are often unanticipated. As a result, their timing cannot be planned
either. Situations are complex spatial and temporal processes that reach beyond linear and
binary ways of understanding the world. The tentative postlude reinforces the importance
4 We wish to thank the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada for
their generous support of our research program entitled “The City of Richgate: Research
and Creation into Community-Engaged Arts Practices” (2004-2007).
A/r/tography 7
of situations to a/r/tography by summarizing the politically informed nature of collective
artistic and educational praxis. While our work is written in a linear fashion here, out of
publishing necessity, we encourage the reader to engage with the work as a rhizome by
moving in and out, and around the work, making connections in a personal way.
A/r/tography: A Methodology of Situations
Prelude to a Situation: The City of Richgate
The ‘City of Rich Gate’ comes from the translated Chinese and Japanese names
for the City of Richmond5. For Chinese immigrants, the City of Rich Gate represents an
ideological dream of a better place than their own homeland. The idea of wealth is an
integral part of the early history of Chinese in Canada. During the “Gold Rush,” Chinese
immigrants arrived in North America to find a "Gold Mountain;" however, this was only a
dream. What awaited the Chinese railway workers in the Rocky Mountains was hard labour
and often death. By 2003, the Chinese immigrant population in Richmond rose to 46% of
the total population. Under globalization Richmond is the gate to the Pacific region.
Migrating individuals pass through its airport everyday: new immigrants from Hong Kong,
Taiwan and mainland China arrive searching for an opportunity to gain wealth and lead a
better life. In turn, they’ve built Richmond as a new “Chinatown” - a geographically and
culturally hybrid place. Yet Richmond is more than a new Chinatown. It has a rich history
of immigration from many other countries in the world, most notably, those in the Pacific
5 Richmond is a suburb of Vancouver, British Columbia and is the site of the Vancouver
International Airport Terminal.
A/r/tography 8
Rim, India, Europe, Scandinavia, and the USA. Each brings their cultural traditions with
them and each has contributed to the city in important ways.
The City of Richmond is a city still considered a frontier town in many ways,
replete with unresolved confrontations, on the edge of the continent, on the verge of a
new beginning, separated psychologically from the rest of Canada by the Rocky
Mountains, bordering on the American northwest, and poised on the Pacific Rim. The
City of Richmond is situated in the delta of the Fraser River and is comprised of two
main islands and 15 other islands built up and shaped by the river. The city’s history is
rooted in fishing, agriculture, shipping and aviation with the airport forming an important
gateway to the Pacific Rim. In the constantly shifting definition of this place, the
displacement of the native people, the history of settlement by Europeans, and the
immigration of people from non-European cultures play key roles. In the past two
decades, the source of immigration of people to British Columbia has shifted from
Europe to Asia. Immigrants from these countries and elsewhere offer the Canadian
economy and culture another rich layer to its diversity. In British Columbia society and
elsewhere, “the language of diaspora is increasingly invoked by displaced peoples who
feel [maintain/revive/invent] a connection with a prior home” (Clifford, 1997, p. 255).
Safran (1991) describes the main features of diasporic collective experiences: “a history
of dispersal, myths or memories of the homeland, alienation in the host country, desire
for eventual return, on going support of the homeland, and a collective identity
importantly defined by this relationship” (cited in Clifford, 1997, p. 247). Broadly
interpreted, elements of this description apply to many residents of British Columbia,
who have in common a history of dispersal and displacement: their connection with a
A/r/tography 9
prior home is strong enough “to resist erasure through the normalizing processes of
forgetting, assimilating and distancing” (p. 255). For these individuals, experiences of
“loss, marginality and exile reinforced by systematic exploitation and blocked
advancement” coexist “with the skills of survival... strength in adaptive distinction,
discrepant cosmopolitanism, and stubborn visions of renewal” (p. 256). Diasporic
consciousness is thus constituted both negatively “by experiences of discrimination and
exclusion” and positively “through identification with world-historical, cultural, or
political forces” (p. 256). Considered from an upbeat or assured perspective, diaspora
culture can be seen to celebrate the good fortune of being [Canadian] differently, of
feeling global, of being able to shuttle between worlds/cultures/locations (Sontag &
Dugger, 1998). Diaspora consciousness affects an increasing number of people in British
Columbia and elsewhere, bringing with it new definitions of nationhood and nationality.
In fact, as Clifford (1997) claims, being unfixed in geography and in static cultures is the
experience of most people. Site, home, location, can be more than one place, and more
likely somewhere in between.
Detouring from notions of consensus and generalization, we examine the
contingencies of individual and community experience from particular situated and
located points of view (Haraway, 1991) by moving away from finite visions of a fixed
map or portrait to a way of seeing through pedagogical visual experiences that are
interactive and dynamic while nurturing an understanding of relationships between
people, objects or places (Ellsworth, 2005). These ways of seeing are best described as
journeys rather than static ideas isolated from their world (Clifford, 1997; Kwon, 2002).
A/r/tography 10
We began our a/r/tographical study by posing two introductory questions: What
artistic products might be created through a community-engaged process examining the
Chinese-Canadian experience in the City of Richmond, a geographically and culturally
hybrid place? What is brought forward from a prior place in immigrant or diasporic
culture and how is that culture and memory transformed and maintained through identity,
place and community (see Beer 1999)? As will become evident in the interludes and
situations below, these questions evolved into new yet related questions. This is an
important distinction between a/r/tographic work and many other forms of research.
Whereas traditional forms of research formulate specific questions to be answered,
a/r/tographic inquiry emphasizes the process of inquiry and therefore questions evolve as
the shifting relationality found within the project informs the direction of the inquiry. In
addition to this, a/r/tography encourages all those involved to become a/r/tographers (the
extent to which suits their practices) and begins with the intention to create art and write
for dissemination. Art making and writing are closely linked to the process of inquiry and
continuous questioning. Thus questioning through inquiry is set in motion and the
rhizomatic conditions for a methodology of situations emerges.
An Interlude about A/r/tographic Praxis
Although each of us knew of one another before this project began, we had never
worked together. Through a sequence of events, inspired by the newly instituted Research
Creation grants through the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada,
we came together to imagine a project that brought forward our mutual interests and
strengths. In choosing a focus we explored ideas in cultural studies, visual culture,
A/r/tography 11
a/r/tography, adolescent culture, educational change, community-engaged practices, and
other ideas before arriving at the project briefly outlined in the prelude. All of us were
artists and educators interested in collaborative inquiry and we felt we had a focus for our
deliberations. Yet, it wasn’t as simple as that. Upon receipt of the funding, challenges
began to emerge. Some of these challenges were resolved while others have persisted.
Throughout this interlude we describe the process of the project and interject with the
challenges we faced. These challenges are inevitable in an a/r/tographic inquiry for
a/r/tographers recognize the need to pay attention to tangents, to interruptions, and to
unsettling conversations. Furthermore, it was through rhizomatic challenges that we were
forced to face our underlying assumptions and beliefs before redirecting the inquiry in
ways we hadn’t anticipated. We were beginning to learn that the rhizomatic nature of
a/r/tography offers a methodology of situations.
The title of our project came when Gu Xiong, a Chinese Canadian, shared with us
that the translation for Richmond into Chinese was ‘The City of Richgate.’ Given the
demographics of Richmond, we felt Chinese families should be emphasized in our
project but we appreciated how other cultural groups should also be represented. Our first
challenge was to locate immigrant families who would consider joining our project. We
contacted the Richmond Art Gallery and worked with them to offer a community
symposium entitled “The Lay of the Land: Looking at a Changing Land through
Geography, Immigration and the Creative Impulse6”. This event was advertised in local
English and Chinese newspapers. The symposium addressed issues of demographics,
geography, history, immigration and art as they are related to landscape and changing
6 October 29, 2004.
A/r/tography 12
cities. Two members of our research team gave presentations on their artworks at the
symposium. At the end of this event we introduced the project to those in attendance and
invited them to contact the gallery if they were interested in working with us. Gallery
staff, acting as our interlocutor, provided the participants with the ethical review forms
required by our University. This event and its related publicity brought forward four
families who were interested in working on the project. Though we knew we wanted to
work with intergenerational immigrant families, we also knew that as a/r/tographers we
needed to position ourselves within the project. We needed to examine our relationships
with the City of Richmond, our stories of immigration, and our relationships with our
families. We challenged ourselves to question the apparent lack of a representative
sampling of ethnicities among the participants and our relationship with the participants.
The four families that came forward represented three Chinese families and one Estonian
family and though they did not represent the range of ethnicities in the city, we agreed
that their self-nomination defined our research community.
While these challenges were being met, we also questioned our positioning in the
project. As a/r/tographers, we knew we needed to pursue our own artistic and
pedagogical inquiry within the project. Each of us began to imagine how our
relationships with the City of Richmond could offer rhizomatic connections for our
project. We soon realized that two members of the research team had very strong
connections with the City of Richmond even though neither currently lived in the city. It
was decided that we would include these two families in our research community. We
hoped this would strengthen our connections with the other families. Although this
decision proved successful in developing rapport it also caused some confusion as to the
A/r/tography 13
focus of the project and it caused us to think about power relations. How could we ensure
all families felt equally included in the decisions? Was this even possible? As
a/r/tographers, we came to the project with a facility in education and art. Only one of the
other family members had a background in art and education. What power could the
families have in the project? These questions would cause us to be more reflective and
reflexive as the project progressed since the complexity of the project demanded this
level of awareness.
We believed that one benefit of the project was the chance to be represented as a
member of the Richmond community and as a Canadian. We hoped the families would
be interested in having their stories and their project artifacts kept in the city archives.
Although most city archives maintain a library of the most important events and people in
the community they are open to collecting other materials from the community. We
believed that sharing the stories (interview transcripts and other materials collected and
created during the project) of immigrant families was a valuable contribution to the
archives. This turned out to be important to each of the families.
We now had six families7 (representing several generations) to work with us on
our a/r/tographic inquiry. Over the next six months, we interviewed each family several
times and collected images they believed represented their journeys. These interviews
could be characterized as conversational interviews as the focus was intentionally broad
7 We wish to thank our families for their participation in this project. Their contributions
have been incredibly important. The Chinese families include: 1) Mei Lin, Tam Wang
and Crane Wang; 2) Bob Duan, Linda Gu and Ying Duan; 3) Yuzhang Wang, Hong
Yang and Steven Wang; 4) Gu Xiong, Ge Ni and Gu Ye. The Estonian family is: 5)
Gabriele and Brian Ailey. The German family is: 6) Kit Grauer and Carl Grauer.
A/r/tography 14
and allowed for an emergence of ideas. Though we first envisioned one or two interviews
(about 2 hours in length), the result depended upon the family. Some wanted to share
more with us than could be covered in two sittings (and thus three or four were needed)
while others pre-selected what they wanted to share and two visits were enough. While
visiting the families, we took our own photographs of their homes and family members
and kept our own fieldnotes reflecting upon our observations and engagements, yet we
also collected many photographs and memorabilia the families wished to share. We also
held large group gatherings for all of the families every two to three months. At these
gatherings, the families were able to meet one another and through dialogue began to
form community linkages. Meanwhile, as the university-based researchers, we discussed
what we were learning, started to create collaborative artworks, and read theoretical work
related to the project. If the families wanted to pursue these lines of inquiry with us they
were encouraged to do so, and in fact, two of the families became very involved in our
collaborative art project. Initially we had hoped the families would become a/r/tographers
in ways that suited their interests. This turned out to be a challenge. One could claim that
some family members worked a/r/tographically alongside the university-based
a/r/tographers as they collaborated on the creation of art, told their stories and examined
some difficult issues but the commitment to a/r/tography remained with those times in
which they were engaged with the university-based researchers.
In keeping with the intention of the Research Creation grant program we wanted
to create works of art coming from our a/r/tographic inquiry. With Gu Xiong’s
connections to China, and with some of our families having extended family in China, we
decided to create an exhibition that would first travel to China before being shown in
A/r/tography 15
Canada. Furthermore, one Chinese university where (Gu Xiong had worked before
immigrating to Canada) was hosting a ‘Canada month’ and invited us to show our work.
Knowing we would be exhibiting the work at one university, we pursued personal
connections at another university that lead to another opportunity to exhibit our work.
More importantly, however, was the fact that both sites were close to extended family
members (two families in Chongqing and two families in Beijing). This allowed us an
opportunity to engage with the extended families as a way of learning about their
families, their understandings of immigration, and their reactions to the visual stories of
their family members.
Conceptualizing The City of Richgate exhibition inspired many rhizomatic
possibilities as the university-based researchers reviewed the data and imagined
possibilities for creating art. One metaphor stood out: the metaphor of gates representing
each family with a collection of gates representing a flow of immigration, a marking of
place, identity and transformation, and a city of (rich) gates. As the university researchers
we may have chosen the symbol of gates but the families supported it. In a gathering of
all of the families, the exhibition plan was presented and discussed. Families were willing
to work with us even if they were not confident as artists themselves. As the process
unfolded large image-based gates (outside scale: 12’ wide x 12’ high with each individual
banner being 3’ wide) were created for each family. Each gate portrays one family’s
experiences of immigration or profound change. Each tells a visual narrative of a family’s
struggles to understand an adopted homeland, and, in a broader sense, the implications of
dual/multiple cultures and past/present dimensions on identity, place and community.
Creating the gates as a collaborative effort was often challenging. Being careful not to
A/r/tography 16
expect more of the families than they wished to provide, we attempted to balance time
commitments with decision-making. Working together, families and artists made
decisions on the images to be portrayed on each gate based on the story to be told and the
aesthetic features to be emphasized. When families could not be involved the decision
rested with the artists though the families were consulted.
As the university-based researchers, we came together on a regular basis
throughout the inquiry to engage in collaborative discussions. This often meant reading
and analyzing interview transcripts, as well as literary or theoretical texts. Whenever
possible, it included an engagement with current art exhibitions or contemporary artists
and their works. It also meant a collaborative interdependent engagement around the
development of ideas for in this project, art had a social purpose and education was about
social understanding. A/r/tography is based in relational aesthetics, relational learning,
and relational inquiring. Relationships are not free of tension. Together we planned,
changed plans, learned and relearned. It was often in these dialogical collaborative spaces
that surprisingly rich connections and ruptures happened.
When we first conceptualized this project, we envisioned a community of families
very engaged in our collective efforts. Yet as the project evolved, it became apparent that
most of the families wanted some involvement while others preferred less. Typically one
member of the family had more energy for the project than others. Where we once
envisioned a community-engaged project we realized the project evolved into a ‘working
with a community’ project. While we were determined to establish rapport with the
families we also needed to recognize our own illusions. We questioned our complicity,
that is, how our assumptions, actions, beliefs, and practices could have created this
A/r/tography 17
different orientation (see also David & Rogoff, 2004; Doherty, 2004). We also began to
realize the significance of situations to the rhizomatic relationality of a/r/tography. In a
‘working with a community’ project, when is a person an artist, researcher and/or
educator? In other words, how can a/r/tographers work with others who are not
a/r/tographers as they pursue their inquiries? These questions brought us to the work of
Kwon (2002, p. 154) who talks about the impossibility of community, that is, the
impossibility of total coherence within a social grouping or institution. Many community-
based art projects are “understood as a descriptive practice in which the community
functions as a referential social entity…. In contrast, collective artistic praxis… is a
projective enterprise” (italics in original; p. 154). A collective artistic praxis resonates
with our work for it begins in special circumstances created by a group of artist-educators
aware of the social conditions and allowing for the “coming together and coming apart as
a necessarily incomplete modeling or working-out of a collective social process. Here, a
coherent representation of the group’s identity is always out of grasp” (p. 154). We could
only be a community if we questioned our legitimacy as a community. For Kwon this
necessitates a “redefining [of] community-based art as collective artistic praxis” (p. 155).
Working with the families, we were working with an invented community through a
collective artistic and educational praxis known as a/r/tography. Our coming together and
coming apart marked situational turning points in our methodology and lead us to seeing
a/r/tography as a methodology of situations.
An Interlude about A/r/tography as a Methodology of Situations
A/r/tography 18
A/r/tography is a living inquiry of unfolding artforms8 and text that intentionally
unsettles perception and complicates understandings through its rhizomatic relationality.
In so doing, space and time are understood in different ways. In the visual arts,
rhizomatic relations can be seen in shifting relations between artists, art productions and
their locations, and audience involvement. For several decades many artists have been
interested in site-specific work and more recently have become concerned with
adaptations to this idea through site-determined, site-oriented, site-referenced, site-
responsive, and site related works (Kwon, 2002). Each of these conceptualizations is
concerned with a relationship between the artwork and its site, that is, how the creation,
presentation, and reception of an artwork is situated in the physical conditions of a
particular location. Yet, as Miwon Kwon (2002) argues, the term “site” needs to be
re/imagined beyond a particular location if we are to understand the complexity of the
unstable relationship between location and identity. In this sense, “sites” are not
geographically bound, but informed by context, where “context [is] an impetus,
hindrance, inspiration and research subject for the process of making art” (Doherty, 2004,
p. 8). This relational understanding is constituted through social, economic, cultural and
political processes in what Nicholas Bourriaud (2001, 2002, 2004) calls relational
aesthetics. Like Kwon and Bourriaud, Clare Doherty (2004) contends that “site-specific”
art or “situations” encourage processes and outcomes marked by social engagements that
effectively change conventional relationships between artists, artworks, and audiences.
As Bourriaud states: “The forms that [the artist] presents to the public [does] not
constitute an artwork until they are actually used and occupied by people” (2004, p. 46).
8 Though any artform may be performed or produced in a/r/tography, for the purpose of
this paper, visual forms are emphasized.
A/r/tography 19
Rather than simply interpreting art, audience members become analyzers or interlocutors.
In many instances audiences are actually called to a specific time and place where they
become active participants in the artwork and thus argues Bourriaud (2004) alternative
modes of sociality are created.
The City of Richgate installation was exhibited at two universities in China:
Southwest Normal University (SNU in Chonqging)9 and Beijing Normal University
(BNU)10. Though all of the gates were exhibited at each site, they were not designed for
either site nor were they exhibited in similar ways. We were aware of the circular format
for the first gallery but unaware of what was possible in the latter site. As each exhibition
was installed, decisions were made based upon aesthetics, institutional concerns, and
professional relationships. Fortunately, extended family members of two families
represented by our gates visited the exhibition.
At Southwest Normal University (see Figure 1 and Figure 2) hundreds of people
attended the exhibit and asked questions related to Canadian lifestyles, economics, and
cultural representation. Those in the arts were interested in the use of photography, our
interest in the everyday lives of family members, and the format of the gates. People
passed through, around, between, and by the gates. People lingered with each pondering
their meanings. The reverse side of each gate, softened by the whitened veils of the
transparent images, evoked other reactions to the strong photographic images on the other
9 Southwest Normal University has been renamed since our exhibition. It is now
Chonqging Normal University.
10 Both exhibitions took place in June 2005.
A/r/tography 20
[Place Figures 1 and 2 about here (see appendix for the images)]
What was taken for granted at Southwest Normal University was tested at Beijing
Normal University. With our first location being inadequate at BNU we set out to find
another location. We found another site in the senior administrative building which
allowed us to suspend the gates from a fourth floor walkway into a large open concourse
(see Figure 3). The result was an exhibition structure that gave the illusion of an even
larger gate like structure. This was further exemplified in the architecture of the building
itself being reminiscent of an imposing gate. Individuals witnessing the exhibit passed
under the gates while looking up through the gates, around the gates and past the gates.
Those in attendance asked about our families, Canada as a country, and our standard of
living in Canada, immigration, and perhaps most importantly, they wanted to practice
their English language.
[Place Figure 3 about here (see appendix for the image)]
The circumstances around the BNU exhibition were politically fraught with
administrative concern while the SNU exhibition, in a university gallery, was free of such
concerns. At BNU every level of university governance was called upon to secure
permission for the exhibition and in the end, we were allowed to exhibit the show for
three days over a weekend when few people could see the show11. At SNU the exhibit
was up for a week, with hundreds of visitors, and could have stayed much longer had our
11 Gu Xiong and a Chinese administrator on site explained this situation to us.
A/r/tography 21
schedule permitted. Alternative modes of sociality were created at each site and each site
created its own complex situation. As a/r/tographers we came to understand these
complexities as situations for inquiry. One art exhibition taken to two places in one
country brought about completely different engagements and reactions. Other questions
in our inquiry emerged: Was the result an art/education exhibition, a political statement
about immigrating to Canada, and/or an invitation to consider the lives of extended
families in two countries? How did the exhibition influence the thinking of those in
To some our work at BNU was seen as politically charged. For others, it was an
opportunity to meet English-speaking individuals with whom one could practice their
English. At SNU, many people were engaged with the images in thoughtful and often
pedagogical ways while others questioned the installation as art. And almost certainly,
these dichotomous descriptions are overly simplified for there were some similar
reactions at each site. As a/r/tographers, we realized the exhibitions created
methodological situations for inquiry.
Upon our return to Canada, we attempted to map out our a/r/tographic journey. As
mentioned at the beginning of this article, maps are a good metaphor for rhizomes for
they only have middles with no beginnings or endings. In mapping our process we could
see how relational inquiry was important to the project whether it was represented in the
chronological history of the project, the networking of individuals within and outside the
project, the story telling of times past, present or envisioned for the future, and the
sharing of images as a way of understanding experience. As we traced some of these
pathways, we came upon visible and invisible ruptures and connections. The
A/r/tography 22
interruptions formed important situational turning points. For instance, one situational
turning point occurred in the conversational interviews. Each immigrant family came to
Canada for different reasons: education for their children or themselves; economics; a
better quality of life; the clean air and beautiful country; political reasons; the western
culture. Common themes did not emerge12 with the exception that the political affects the
personal and both the personal and political are important. This was a situational turning
point because many of the reasons surprised us. We needed to shift our understandings of
individual immigrants. We had to face our stereotypical views. It was also a turning point
because we began to recognize the transnational identities some of the Chinese
immigrants held. Several lived in Richmond and Beijing, and although several others
lived in both countries they belonged to neither for they were transnationals. They
belonged to a new identity that surpassed borders: “a sense of belonging that is not bound
to any specific location but to a ‘system of movement’ ” (Kwon, 2004, p. 38).
Furthermore, we had to recognize that families were reticent to share some experiences or
difficult issues. Because project members were not anonymous, some difficult issues
could not be broached. Yet, in spite of this, much was shared. This was especially evident
when we shared our experiences in China upon our return to Canada. The families were
curious as to the reactions of their extended families and the general public, as well as the
institutions and didn’t question our interpretation of the events.
While our Chinese families were proud to have their gates on display in their
country of birth they were also proud to be represented as both Canadians and Chinese.
They interpreted the gates to metaphorically represent openings and closings, transitions
12 The constant comparative method was used for analysis.
A/r/tography 23
and transformations. Members of their extended families were less interested in the gates
as objects and more interested in their visual stories. The gates became invitations to
witness their relative’s new lives, their standard of living, their prosperity and their
accomplishments. The gates represented storied lives lived elsewhere. Yet not all family
members were interested in the image or idea of gates. Those adults who immigrated to
Canada appreciated the metaphor of the gate but their children (adolescents and early
twenties) envisioned different metaphors such as virtual spaces (the web or the internet).
We hope to pursue the children’s perspectives in future inquiries for recognizing the
intergenerational differences have caused another situational turning point, another
Working through a collective artistic and educational praxis, we have come to
appreciate the interruptions and surprises that have lead to situational turning points.
A/r/tography as a methodology of situations is steeped in divergent rhizomatic
relationalities that questions assumptions and invites new understandings of
collaboration. The City of Richgate project continues. We have moved into the next
phase. We’ve added families of different ethnicities and are finalizing their gates. We
have also collected stories and images of significant sites in Richmond for each family
and we are planning several collective artistic and educational praxis events that could
occur a year from now. The situations derived from the rhizomatic relationalities
discussed in this article have caused us to challenge our assumptions and directions, and
each time emergent understandings have taken us to another level of awareness.
A Tentative Postlude within an Ongoing Inquiry
A/r/tography 24
For educators Terrance Carson and Dennis Sumara (1997) the meaning of images
and texts is contingent upon the relationships between and among artist, art work, text,
and audience as well as the social, cultural, economic, and political contexts, and the
ways these relations are altered by what Derrida (1978) calls the “as yet unnamable
which begins to proclaim itself” (p. 293). Thus, relationality is more than the contexts in
which situations occur but rather the potentialities that constantly evolve and provoke
meaning [insert author name here].
By pausing for a tentative postlude within our ongoing a/r/tographic project, we
are recognizing the rhizomatic nature of our inquiry. With rhizomatic form, this article
becomes another situation in the journey. It is an event or an encounter with multiplicities
that dislodges fixed ways of perceiving the world and offers us emergent ideas and
perceptions that re/creates multiplicities (see Roy, 2003). Though a preferred rhizomatic
composition would have offered simultaneous admittance to the prelude, interlude and
each situation, what remains possible now is a re/visiting in rhizomatic fashion. A
re/consideration of this article may then echo the kinds of dialogic and rhizomatic
connections or ruptures found among those involved in the project as well as the ideas
that have emerged. Instead of preconceived coherence the emphasis becomes a
methodology of situations.
What does this teach us about a/r/tography? While much has been written in
a/r/tography about the need for autobiographical inquiry (Irwin, 2003; 2004a; Irwin & de
Cosson, 2004) more needs to be written about the challenges and insights gained through
collective artistic and educational praxis. The City of Richgate project has underscored
the political nature of a/r/tography as a methodology of situations created through
A/r/tography 25
rhizomatic relations. These situations are challenges to the power relations between and
among a/r/tographers, all those involved in the project and the contexts in which the
projects are shared. These situations acknowledge the difficulties in sharing that which
has not been revealed before. And, these situations enable the political to occur. For
without a/r/tographical inquiry, some of these situations may never have occurred.
A/r/tography is, after all, a methodology that inspires situational inquiry through
rhizomatic relations.
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... Se procede, partiendo de un posicionamiento socio-crítico (Ricoy, 2006;Unzueta, 2011), así como de una corriente feminista (Carneiro, 2005); tomando como referencia el fin emancipador que la investigación postmodernista y postestructuralista defiende con fines educativos (Hauge y Haavind, 2011). En el ámbito de la Investigación Artística y/o Investigación Basada en Artes (Eisner, 2014;Alonso-Sanz, 2013) se recurre a una metodología de trabajo denominada ARTografía (Marín y Roldán, 2017;Irwin, 2006Irwin, y 2013 ya que se combinan los roles de artista, docentes e investigador o investigadora (Irwin, LeBlanc, Yeon-Ryu y Belliveau, 2018). De esta manera, se aborda -y se indaga -la cuestión y concepto de roles de género en productos visuales y audiovisuales, advirtiendo siempre la cuestión educativa y la repercusión de dichos mensajes en quienes los reciben. ...
... "Las artes nos ofrecen una especie de licencia para profundizar en la experiencia cualitativa de una manera especialmente concentrada y participar en la exploración constructiva de lo que pueda engendrar el proceso imaginativo" (Eisner, 2014, p. 21). Concretamente en la ARTografía (Alonso-Sanz, 2020; Marín y Roldán, 2017;Irwin, 2006). Así, se hibridan en quienes desarrollan la investigación (R de Researcher) los roles profesionales de la artista de danza (A de Artist) y del maestro de Educación Infantil y Primaria (T de Teacher). ...
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La existencia de diferenciación social debido a una construcción histórica y sesgada de roles de género y de estereotipos sexuales es una realidad que merma cualquier intento de progreso y de cambio feminista. De hecho, los productos culturales de épocas anteriores son ejemplos significativos de recursos para construir, difundir y perdurar dicha separación entre hombres y mujeres. En un contexto actual, se cuenta con otros recursos como la cultura visual de animación de la productora Disney. Por ello, partiendo de un paradigma socio-crítico y de un posicionamiento feminista y de la teoría queer se pretende visibilizar los discursos visuales que ambos elementos culturales perduran y que son caracterizados como machistas. Todo ello, por medio de la metodología artística ARTografía. Por un lado, se observan evidencias, respecto a la danza clásica que nos permiten afirmar cómo a través de su evolución, se impone una hegemonía patriarcal y masculina en las diferentes relaciones de poder que se establecen en los argumentos de las obras. Por otro lado, respecto a las producciones Disney, se advierte que en la mayoría de estas hay una perduración de los roles de género que conlleva una diferenciación entre hombre y mujeres; volviendo inferiores a las segundas versus los primeros. Se finaliza concluyendo la perduración de roles de género y estereotipos sexuales en las producciones de danza clásica que son una referencia para las secuencias de baile que aparecen en filmes de animación como los de la productora Disney y que perduran una sociedad machista y diferenciada.
... These are important distinctions for they reside in the rhizomatic relations of inquiry. (as cited in Irwin et al., 2006) In this context "A/r/tography is a practice of living enquiry that combines life-writing with life-creating...Through attention to memory, identity, autobiography, reflection, meditation, storytelling and cultural production, artists/researchers/teachers/learners expose their living practices in both evocative and provocative ways" (Irwin 2013, as cited in LeBlanc, Davidson, Ryu & Irwin, 2015. The ultimate goal of action research is social change (Abraham and Purkayastha, 2012), and art and drama are often utilised as forms of social protest, pedagogy, and/or social engagement (Smartt Gullion and Schäfer, 2017, p. 516). ...
... Educativa Basada en las Artes (Bertling, 2020) a través de la perspectiva del A/R/tography (Irwin y de Cosson, 2004;Irwin, et al., 2006;Irwin, et al., 2018;Springgay, et al., 2008). La performance, emergente en educación artística, precisa ser experimentada y estudiada con diferentes audiencias y en diferentes contextos educativos. ...
... These are important distinctions for they reside in the rhizomatic relations of inquiry. (as cited in Irwin et al., 2006) In this context "A/r/tography is a practice of living enquiry that combines life-writing with life-creating...Through attention to memory, identity, autobiography, reflection, meditation, storytelling and cultural production, artists/researchers/teachers/learners expose their living practices in both evocative and provocative ways" (Irwin 2013, as cited in LeBlanc, Davidson, Ryu & Irwin, 2015. The ultimate goal of action research is social change (Abraham and Purkayastha, 2012), and art and drama are often utilised as forms of social protest, pedagogy, and/or social engagement (Smartt Gullion and Schäfer, 2017, p. 516). ...
This study has been based on the researcher’s requestioning the results of the a/r/tographic autobiography study with students on Arnold Schönberg and his works, which was carried out between 2017-2021. In the research the aim was to observe the effects of thinking through atonal music and its reflections on visual arts education as well as the cognitive skills and sensual awareness of the participants. The requestioning of the autobiographic outputs of the researcher with her students within an a/r/tographic perspective was considered important in terms of creating new meanings and actions in visual arts education. The study was carried out with the researcher and 16 undergraduate and 1 graduate student from Kırıkkale University Faculty of Fine Arts in the academic year 2021-2022 Spring semester over a work from Schönberg. There were 6 applications in total, each application lasted 4 hours. The data of the study consist of video and voice recordings, photographs, art works, poems, student opinions, observation notes, student diaries, performance activities, personal communications, Schönberg's String Quartet No. 4 Op. 37 composition and the 39 paintings that the researcher made for this composition. The data was interpreted through a/r/tographic inquiry. At the end of the study it was observed that the application of musical thinking with atonality acts to visual arts applications brought forth skills such as making deep interpretations, developing theories, solving problems, thinking critically, self inquiry, and the use of senses in a intuitive perspective within personal experiences.
... In particular, I will turn to arts-based research as a specific example of how such interference plays out in relation to a boundary-defying practice. In recent years, Deleuze's idea has been introduced and developed in relation to arts-based research (jagodzinski, 2016;jagodzinski & Wallin 2013;Irwin et al., 2006;Lewis, 2020). Indeed, within these Deleuzian-inspired forms of arts-based research, Deleuze is utilized to provide philosophical grounds for experimentation with the relationship between scientific and artistic practices under the heading of "research". ...
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Interdisciplinary research has become more mainstream in the academia as of late. Gilles Deleuze’s theories, especially his critical insight into the relationship between science and art may open new avenues for this kind of research. Deleuze’s ideas are significant, not only because he provides a framework for thinking about nomadic science, but he also clarifies possible criteria for assessing the nature of interdisciplinary experiments. Art “organizes” this chaos in a frame to form a composed chaos that becomes sensory/affective/intensive, but science “organizes” the same chaos into a system of coordinates and forms of measure that produce the appearance of “Nature.” Art and science, in this model, can intersect and intertwine, but Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari never suggest there can be a perfect synthesis between the two. Instead, we can associate the two kinds of creative activities in terms of neighboring planes: planes of composition for art and planes of reference for science. The goal of this paper is to argue that Deleuze and Guattari characterize the interaction between these two planes as one of interference rather than synthesis and shed new light on arts-based research in terms of the three interferences.
... This is a process that involves an evolution of questions. It is an active stance to knowledge creation that informs practices, and which makes inquiries emergent, generative, reflexive and responsive (Irwin et al., 2006). ...
At this point, it appears that we have reached the final chapter of this volume. As we have worked our way through the various chapters and have investigated numerous qualitative methodologies, it has always been uppermost in the minds of the authors to offer as complete and concise an explanation as possible. However, the world of qualitative research is anything but complete and, at the same time, is definitely not concise. Confusions, commonalities and customizations appear to be the order of the day. And, here we find ourselves at the final chapter.
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Este estudo objetivou conceber significados de “a/r/tógrafo viajante” com base na literatura e nas experiências vivenciadas em expedições fotográficas preliminares de minha tese doutoral. Seguiu uma perspectiva qualitativa, de cunho exploratório e descritivo, tendo traços do método (auto)biográfico. Apresenta contribuições teóricas ainda incipientes no campo da a/r/tografia como metodologia, ao expandir sua abrangência de aplicação em distintos campos do conhecimento e elucidar sobre as possibilidades vivas de interpretações transdisciplinares.
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Este estudo objetivou conceber significados de “a/r/tógrafo viajante” com base na literatura e nas experiências vivenciadas em expedições fotográficas preliminares de minha tese doutoral. Seguiu uma perspectiva qualitativa, de cunho exploratório e descritivo, tendo traços do método (auto)biográfico. Apresenta contribuições teóricas ainda incipientes no campo da a/r/tografia como metodologia, ao expandir sua abrangência de aplicação em distintos campos do conhecimento e elucidar sobre as possibilidades vivas de interpretações transdisciplinares. | This study aimed to conceive meanings of “a/r/tographer traveler” based on literature and experiences in my doctoral thesis’s preliminary photographic expeditions. It followed a qualitative perspective, with an exploratory and descriptive character, with features of the (auto)biographical method. It presents theoretical contributions that are still incipient in the field of a/r/tography as a methodology, expanding its application in different fields of knowledge and elucidating the living possibilities of transdisciplinary interpretations.
In its purest form, art may be simultaneously immediate and eternal: immediate in its ability to grasp one’s attention, to provoke or inspire; eternal in its ability to create deep and permanent impressions. Responses to art may be visceral, emotional or psychological by turns or even together. As such, a work of art may possess almost unlimited potential to educate (Leavy, 2017). Although a pursuit of matters artistic may be a worthy pursuit for its own sake, the arts also represent invaluable opportunities across all research disciplines. As such, arts-based research exists at intersections between art and science. According to McNiff (2008), both arts-based research and science involve the use of systematic experimentation with the goal of gaining knowledge about life.
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Dance as a viable representation mode for research is discussed in the light of Clifford Geertz's assertion that ideas can be reflectively addressed through the arts. Dance is described as an autonomous field of aesthetic perception with its own meaning working through the categories of motion, time, space, and shape. Western culture is described as logo centric and nondance, fixed on the myth of words as transparent conveyors of thought. Adopting a hermeneutical stance, the transparency of words is critiqued and, ironically, dance is analogized to text, although not words. How dance can be treated as text is elaborated by using the Ricoeurean idea of action as meaningful text.
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This is a postmodern article that is nontraditional in its form, content, and mode of representation. Upon recognizing that we share interests and common experiences as artists, we decided to collect life history information from each other about our artistic experiences. Thus we have become, simultaneously, "the researched" and "the re searcher." In these conversations, we explore the ways in which we were each guided by our past, very strong aesthetic and artistic experiences. We also include the voices of other researchers and artists in our conversations as we explore the influences of art in the formation of our worldviews. Peer Reviewed
Cloth as intercorporeality: Touch, fantasy, and performance and the construction of body knowledge
  • S Springgay
Springgay, S. (2003). Cloth as intercorporeality: Touch, fantasy, and performance and the construction of body knowledge. International Journal of Education and the Arts, 4(5). Retrieved January 1, 2006 at:
The new immigrant tide: A shuttle between worlds; here and there
  • D Sontag
  • C Dugger
Sontag, D. & Dugger, C. (1998, July 19). The new immigrant tide: A shuttle between worlds; here and there. New York Times, 1, 12-15.
Women making art: Aesthetic inquiry as a political performance
  • S Springgay
  • R L Irwin
Springgay, S. & Irwin, R. L. (2004). Women making art: Aesthetic inquiry as a political performance. In Knowles, J. G., Neilsen, L., Cole, A., & Luciani, T. (Eds).
Inside the visible: Youth understandings of body knowledge through touch
  • S Springgay
Springgay, S. (2004b). Inside the visible: Youth understandings of body knowledge through touch. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, The University of British Columbia.
Artist-researcher-teachers collaborating in the liminal (s)p(l)aces of writing and creating artful dissertations
  • S Springgay
  • R L Irwin
  • A De Cosson
Springgay, S., Irwin, R. L. & de Cosson, A. (in press). Artist-researcher-teachers collaborating in the liminal (s)p(l)aces of writing and creating artful dissertations.