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Engagement Art: Regional Islamic and Global Pragmatist Aesthetics

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - ENART (Engagement Art: Regional Islamic and Global Pragmatist Aesthetics)

Reporting period: 2016-05-01 to 2018-04-30

ENART is an integrated scientific and training programme. It is implemented in the Department of History of Art at the University of Michigan, USA (Partner Organisation hosting the Outgoing Phase), SALT research and exhibition centre in Istanbul, Turkey (host of the intersectoral Secondment), and the Department of Global Studies at Roskilde University, Denmark (Beneficiary, host of the Incoming Phase). The interdisciplinary constellation of these organisations complements the researcher’s own art-historical training and endorses her research project in transregional Islamic Art History, around which ENART’s dissemination and public engagement activities are built.

The research project studies engagement art, a process-based art that developed in the late Ottoman Empire and early Turkish Republic. It shifted the primary artistic concern from the finished object to the process of its making and stressed engagement with everyday life through the creative act. With no physical art object to go by, ENART uses an indirect method, an anti-description of what is not there anymore. From circumstantial evidence it extracts an outline of engagement art, with the detail filled in around it. These data derive primarily from the Teachers Training College in Istanbul and the Art-Craft Department at the Gazi Education Institute in Ankara where engagement art was taught and practiced. ENART traces the connections of these institutions to a global network of reform pedagogy, pragmatist philosophy, and neuroscience that kindled ideas about the interdependence of intellectual and manual skills and the continuity of the practical and the aesthetic. The objective is to retrieve regional process aesthetics from the specific way the practitioners of engagement art related to these global ideas.

The formation of engagement art in a Muslim-majority society and the international trajectory of its development situate ENART in the fields of Islamic and global art history. A core concern of global art history is methodological: how can we apprehend and account for art histories that do not or only partially share established art-historical principles? This is in reaction to the exclusionary mechanisms of these principles, which breed reductive, potentially harmful views. Islamic art history is a notorious case in point. It is an object-centred discipline that developed precisely at the time when process became the medium of engagement art. With the introduction of the new concept of engagement art, which is not based on any established principle, and with the development of a method that makes it possible to recover this no-longer-existing, ephemeral art, ENART aims to make the ongoing discussions of global art history fruitful for Islamic art history. It also seeks to participate in the pressing task of broadening the knowledge of the diversity of cultural expressions of Islam that can help to counter its destabilizing reductive representations. The transregional orientation of the research intends to strengthen the ties between the histories of art made in and outside of Europe, as well as between Art History and its subdiscipline Islamic Art History. The overall objective of the project is to contribute to the development of an art historiography worthy of a diverse and inclusive society.
ENART is structured into four work packages: 1) Research and Dissemination, which is strictly academic, 2) Communication and Public Engagement, which moves beyond the academic arena, 3) Transferable Skills, which consists of training in skills that are useful beyond the researcher’s specific professional profile, and 4) Teaching, which expands the researcher’s teaching experience and knowledge in Islamic Art History and Global Studies.

The now completed Outgoing Phase of two years at the University of Michigan (May 2016 to April 2018) has yielded the following results:

Research and dissemination:
- 90% completion of the research on engagement art during six months of research in Turkey
- One peer-reviewed article
- The organization of one international conference on Process in Modern and Contemporary Islamic Art with a conference review to appear in the peer-reviewed International Journal of Islamic Architecture
- Two presentations at international conferences
- Four invited lectures
- One faculty lecture at the University of Michigan

Communication and public engagement:
- One public talk at SALT
- One public roundtable event in Ankara in collaboration with a process artist from the city and a senior public programmer from SALT
- One public event in collaboration with the University of Michigan Museum of Art
- Announcements of the ENART events on H-net and other email lists, and social media of the involved institutions
- Flyers and posters for the conference, and three of the lectures, one ‘web-poster’ for talk at SALT Istanbul, screened also on the announcement panels at the SALT venues

Transferable skills:
- Job-application training, writing of five applications that led to two interviews and one job offer from Koç University in Istanbul (declined)
- One course in diversity, equity, and inclusion
- One course in US academic skills
- Language classes (Arabic)

- Three courses in the field of visual cultures of Islam and global history of architecture

The Outgoing Phase also included a three-month secondment at SALT (January to March 2018). During this time, the researcher gained insights into the different departments at SALT (public programmes, research, archive, public communication, curating, management) and started the collaboration on the exhibition project that is largely based on ENART’s research project. This collaboration is ongoing, with the exhibition scheduled to open in late November 2018.
ENART moves beyond the state of the art of global and Islamic art history and contributes to these fields and society at large in three ways in particular: 1) With its study of engagement art, ENART introduces a new concept to Islamic art history and breaks ground for further research into the aesthetic value of process in Islamic art history, which will complement the discipline’s general focus on art objects and material culture. In doing so, it contributes to broadening the knowledge of the diversity of cultural expressions of Islam and undermining destabilizing stereotypes. 2) The indirect method ENART develops proposes one way to apprehend and account for ephemeral and thus possibly vanished art forms such as engagement art. This approach is also more broadly viable for art histories that do not or only partially share established art-historical principles. ENART thus engages with a viable solution in global art history’s aim to diversify the perspectives on creative practices around the world. 3) ENART’s transregional approach recovers the ties between the histories of art made in and outside Europe, as well as between Art History and its subdiscipline Islamic Art History. It counters the persistent treatment of Islamic art as a phenomenon entirely detached from anything that happened in Europe and the negative repercussions of this preconception. ENART’s training programme will lead the researcher to adequately disseminate this outcome to academic and non-academic audiences and attain a professional position from which ENART’s broader objectives can be furthered.
Art as the engagement with the environment and everyday life - art excursion, Ankara 1943