Slow fuse. It’s an image that conjures
up several interpretations. The most obvious may be the
slow fuse time bomb where an attached cord is lit at one
end and witnesses watch the fire slowly make its way to
the bomb itself. Once at its destination, an explosion
occurs and our surroundings are forever changed. During
the watching, viewers feel some panic, fearing the inevitable,
yet hoping for a rescue. It’s a ploy used in the movies
to create suspense.
In the world of Saturday morning cartoons,
Wiley Coyote was forever being blown up, his fur sizzling,
it seemed there was nothing that he could do right, although,
given his intent, perhaps it is just as well his elaborate
plans eternally backfired…
Regardless of this stereotypical image,
slow fuse is an image that is pervasive in our society.
We watch, anxiously, while individuals, governments, the
weather, or some other entity, tests our resolve, before
we witness the unthinkable. Hurricane Katrina is a recent
example where we felt a slow build-up of nature’s fury,
never believing something horrific could happen—yet it
did, and thousands upon thousands of people had their lives
shattered in a matter of minutes when the dikes failed.
Similarly, we witnessed the on-coming collapse of the financial
house of cards that greed and profiteering on Wall Street
and around the world had created, with repercussions impacting
on workers and pensioners, on lenders and borrowers. The
financial downfall had long been predicted, yet still the
moneychangers sought to enrich their coffers.
In the world of the academy, lighting
a fuse to inspire, to innovate, to challenge, to engage
in new ways of inquiry, is an act of resistance, an act
of curiosity, an act of yearning—evoking a desire to
renew the academy, to initiate the big bang that will
bring forth a new galaxy of stars, planets, and scholarly
life as it has not yet been imagined….here a fuse is
lit and nurtured, others are called to attention, holding
our breath, we watch as new possibilities come into our
How does this image, slow fuse, relate
to arts-based research? We suggest a number of ways. One
may be perceived as genealogical, another conceptual, and
still another, artistic. From a genealogical perspective,
arts based research has been slowly developing over a long
period of time. Artists have been incorporating forms of
inquiry in and through their work for decades, indeed centuries,
although our understanding of what it means to inquire
through the arts is only more recently being explored and
theorized within the academy.
We are simultaneously constructions
and embodiments of our individual and communal contexts
and locations. The theoretical, political, cultural,economic,
environmental lenses through which we interpret our worlds
as perceived and lived, are dictated by the milieu and
ideologies and experiences within which we engage. What
we so often take for granted requires greater scrutiny.
What has breath and living to do with the academy?
We pay attention to breath only when
it is lacking, when we find it impossible to breathe,
when others (or ourselves) have fouled our own life’s
support. We recognize then the utility of breath, its
pragmatism, its impact on our lives. To bring our attention
to that which is taken for granted requires an intervention,
a disruption, perhaps even a miracle.
What calls us to breath is a newborn’s
first gasp of a life’s narrative; we are aware of our
breath when we have run a triathlon, have taken too deep
a plunge at the deep end of the pool, or have witnessed
its absence in the body of another. What calls our attention
to breath in the academy is the recognition that we have
lost awareness that we are barely breathing at all.
In the mid to late twentieth century,
qualitative forms of research became popular and several
educational theorists embraced the arts as a metaphoric
means to understanding how research could be understood
and used through the arts. As time progressed, other theorists
used the arts in innovative ways and eventually arts-based
research became an entity unto itself. However, an explosion
soon followed when silenced academics and artist-educators
came forward with many variations upon the theme and praxis
of arts-based research. Today we have performative inquiry,
a/r/tography, narrative inquiry, poetic inquiry, arts informed
research, musical inquiry, art as practice based research,
etc. No one could have imagined, even a decade ago, that
the arts would become so prominent in the landscape of
qualitative research traditions, so quickly.
In a corridor two academics are in conversation.
The year is 1994. One, an arts educator, complains about
a merit system that does not recognize her art, even though,
she explains, her art exhibits are adjudicated. Of value
only for her tenure pursuits are the peer-reviewed scholarly
articles that she writes. The graduate student, a drama
educator, commiserates. They have not yet imagined that
in time their work and writing, in companionship and collaboration
with others, will result in the conceptualization, articulation,
and practice of a/r/tography and performative inquiry as
Conceptually, a slow fuse in arts-based
research is a metaphor that details gradually exposed ideas,
concerns, and understandings. By weaving together theory,
practice, and research, arts-based research traditions
(and innovations) create cases or stories that simultaneously
or contiguously reveal several perspectives on a theme.
This complementary strategy gradually exposes deep and
expansive arguments or understandings, but more importantly,
it brings the ‘ah ha’ moment or moment of recognition to
each experience. This is when the reader, viewer, listener,
and mover, holistically experience something so deeply
that their views of the world change instantly. Arts-based
research has the capacity to evoke or provoke deep understandings
through an image, a collection of movements, a series of
sounds, or a few well chosen words.
This too is possible. To inquire and
write with breath, with touch, with heart, with curiosity,
with and through the arts within the academy. Jacques Daignault
invites us to create accoustmatic texts, texts that listen,
texts that invite the reader, participant, to engage, to
write between, over, under, through, across the lines.
Welcome words, welcome characters, welcome body, emotion,
feelings, welcome intertextuality, welcome grace, however
you understand grace to be, welcome the unknown. Listen
with embodied awareness. He and others who have sought
through their work to create a new awareness within the
academy of multiple ways of knowing and engaging have given
us permission to challenge the status quo, to recognize
what is possible, to engage in new narratives. Working
with/through the arts in inquiry calls us to be present
with ourselves, and in relationship with others within
the places that we live, play, create, work. To recognize
the openings, the impossibilities, the absences, the as-yet
unknown, “enlarging spaces of the possible” (Sumara & Davis,
1997) is the desire and ambition of arts-based research.
Artistically, arts-based research, when
conceived as process and product, has the potential to
keep people engaged with living inquiry—an
inquiry that pursues questioning and questing, in a life
giving, life making pursuit of meaning-making. Many forms
of research represent new understandings and ideas, including
many forms of arts-based research. However, arts-based
research has brought to the fore the concept that the doing
of research is just as important as the research itself.
Each of us can be engaged in our own questioning and questing,
individually and in communities of inquiry. Through the
arts, we creatively, appreciatively, and critically engage
with our lives in meaningful ways. Pursuing the process
of inquiry is a long slow commitment to understanding and
it is when we stop or pause to represent what our inquiries
have been about, that our understandings suddenly explode.
The process of artsmaking is itself a slow fuse. We linger
with it, savour it, experience it, and then suddenly, something
clicks, and form is revealed or created. Artist/performance
educators know this well since they also see teaching and
learning in similar ways.
The emergence of arts-based research
has infused scholarly work with a multi-dimensionality
of engagements that call into question who we are as scholars
and researchers and how we engage in research. Arts-based
research is, we suggest, the artist/performers-scholars’
response to the postmodern critical theory that calls attention
to the complexities and complicities of inquiry, interpretation,
and representation. How might we respond? To bring a creative
reflective voice into the academy and into our conversations,
is to offer another way of being in inquiry and reflection.
This too is possible. Engagement with the arts in inquiry
calls us to question who we are as researchers, as educators,
as citizens, and how we have come to understand our own
positioning and responsibilities in constructed realities
that situate us within our own communal and academic endeavors.
Arts-based research calls us to question,
to interrupt, to disrupt, to create, to inquire, to reflect,
and to engage in meaningful ways, so that we might begin
to offer new ways of engagement and understanding to
our students, our educators, our communities. Appelbaum
(1995) speaks of a stop: a moment of risk, a moment of
opportunity. A stop alerts us to what is absent, what
may yet be possible, if we are mindfully aware and listening…
closing and beginning lives a gap, a caesura, a discontinuity.
betweenness is a hinge that belongs to neither one nor
is neither poised nor unpoised, yet moves both ways ...
is the stop.
A stop is a call to the ethical consideration
that holds us responsible for our choices of action as
researchers, artists, performers, educators. Reimagining
research through the arts is such a stop.
Slow fuse. Whatever it means to you, the
reader, is also important. This issue is a pause in the
unfolding journey of arts based research. An invitation
and permission to explore and thoughtfully reflect on what
is possible through arts based research. Each author in
this collection engages in the arts to provoke us to learn
in ways that could not occur in any other fashion. Each
author contributes to the practices of arts-based research
through their questions, their concerns, their insights,
and unique experience. They explore questions of ethics,
interpretation, engagement, reflection, and expression.
It is our hope that you linger with these essays, spend
time with our authors’ ideas and reflections, and allow
time for an explosion or whisper of recognition of an emergent
possibility. In this issue, we, as arts-based researchers
seek, at this moment, to turn around and reflect on the
“path we lay down in walking ” together.
Appelbaum, D. (1995). The stop. Albany: State University of New York Press.
Daignault, J. (2005). Mixed Autobiography
or the Acousmatic Modality. Educational Insights, vol.
Meyer, K. (2008). Teaching Practices of
Living Inquiry. Paper presented at CSSE conference, May
31-June 2, 2008. University of British Columbia. Vancouver,
D.J. & Davis, B. (1997). Enlarging The Space Of The
Possible: Complexity, Complicity, And Action Research
Practices. In T. Carson and D.J. Sumara (Eds.), Action
Research as a Living Practice (pp.
299-312). New York, Peter Lang.
Varela, F. (1987). Laying down a path
in walking. In W.I. Thompson (ed.), GAIA: a way of knowing — political
implications of the new biology (pp. 48-64). Hudson, NY: Lindisfarne.