For (and against) Biggs and Büchler

Spencer Roberts

conference: DARE 2015: the dark precursor
date: November 10, 2015
venue: Orpheus Institute, Auditorium
format: in words
practice: philosophy
keywords: aesthetics, artistic research, image of thought, Negotiations

abstract video about the author(s)


The debate concerning the legitimacy of artistic research that has taken place over the last two decades is notable for the way in which it has drawn attention to rival “representational” and “performative” images of thought. Early critics of practice-led research such as Durling, Friedman, Elkins, and Biggs employed broadly representational arguments in a quasi-legal context of judgement to suggest that processes of artistic research were in some sense unrecognisable when an attempt was made to see them through the conceptual lens of “research.” In contrast, advocates of artistic research, such as Haseman, Bolt, Sullivan, Borgdorff, and Slager have proposed that research arising out of artistic practice possesses distinctive qualities—conjoining interests in the experimental, the experiential, and the non-representational with a set of predominantly transformative aims.

For Deleuze (2001), any act of thinking is guided by a pre-conceptual aesthetic/stylistic “image” that in some sense precedes it. Deleuze suggests that a particularly “dogmatic” image of thought pervasively permeates the history of philosophy, and likewise serves to structure received notions of “common” and “good” sense. As such, it conditions the conceptual distribution into which things may fall, as well as the processes of practical reasoning that are typically employed in the judgement or disciplining of phenomena (resemblance, opposition, analogy, and identity). Significantly, Deleuze positions taxonomic construction, scientific method, and legal adjudicative procedures as products of this image (Lefebvre 2008)—all of which have figured prominently in the broadly positivistic criticism/contestation of artistic research.

Perhaps because of the refractive, asymmetrical relationship between representational and performative images of thought, an interesting and long running feature of the legitimacy debate has been the failing of participants on both sides of the discussion to engage critically with their opposition. In an attempt to address the lack of sustained critical confrontation between oppositional voices, this paper seeks to engage closely with a prominent sceptical position. To this end, the work of Michael Biggs and Daniela Büchler is interrogated from a conceptual, aesthetic, and relational perspective, revealing its Wittgensteinian and Kantian roots and subjecting them to critical scrutiny from the perspective of Deleuzian thought. The critique of Biggs and Büchler’s project is presented here in the spirit of Massumi’s (2002) conception of the example as an “odd beast”—as that which enables an incisive and direct confrontation with a singular position, while functioning emblematically to address a much wider terrain. Thus Biggs and Büchler are positioned as avatars of a more generalised sceptical position, and their project is positioned as a prominent expression of the dogmatic image of thought. It is argued here that Biggs and Büchler’s resistance to the affective and the performative is pervasive, colouring their approach to philosophy, art, and aesthetics and placing them at odds with the largely material-experiential and transdisciplinary interests of many artistic researchers. With Deleuze’s (1995) stylistic and operatic conception of philosophy in mind, a series of performative, aesthetico-conceptual strategies are developed to problematise Biggs and Büchler’s project—confronting a linguistic-pragmatism of the right with a Deleuzian process-pragmatism of the left.


Deleuze, Gilles. 1995. Negotiations, 1972–1990. Translated by Martin Joughin. New York: Columbia University Press.

—. 2001. Difference and Repetition. Translated by Paul Patton. London: Continuum.

Lefebvre, Alexandre. 2008. The Image of Law: Deleuze, Bergson, Spinoza. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Massumi, Brian. 2002. Parables for the Virtual: Movement, Affect, Sensation. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.


about the author(s)

Spencer Roberts

Spencer Roberts is a senior lecturer in the Department of Art, Design, and Architecture at the University of Huddersfield in the UK. He teaches a series of discipline specific theory modules alongside a general departmental lecture programme that collectively operates under the rubric of theory-as-practice. His artwork focuses upon corporeal textual production and physical computing as a material form of expression. His recently submitted doctoral thesis explores a number of broadly Deleuzian, process-philosophical perspectives on artistic forms of research, exploring their at once integrative and differential dimensions while attempting to complicate a number of textually oriented sceptical positions through the employment of aesthetico-conceptual interventions.

info & contact


University of Huddersfield, UK


s.roberts [AT]