The article aims to bring together debates surrounding the use of ethnographic methods in contemporary art, and attempts to theorize and define artistic research or “research in the arts”. It stems from concern about differences and overlaps between the application of ethnographic methods in contemporary art and in folkloristics, ethnology and cultural anthropology, referred to here as empirical cultural research. Contemporary artists and researchers might rely on the same qualitative methods (e.g. interviewing and participant observations) in order to collect and generate data for their works, and they might even address the same or similar topics. Nevertheless, their approaches, working processes, results, and concerns differ in fascinating ways that tend to escape definition. A picture is worth a thousand words, but researchers seem to be shackled by language, especially when trying to capture the ambiguity that often characterizes the making and undoing of belonging and non-belonging. However, both researchers and artists employ ethnographic methods as their own working instruments, and their work is heavily dependent on the goodwill of others. Moreover, both art and ethnography have the ability to draw our attention to the obvious and the unseen, to show the familiar from a new and unexpected angle. The empirical starting points for the article are the author’s ethnographic fieldwork on ethnic interactions in Lasnamäe, a part of Tallinn commonly associated with Soviet-era apartment complexes and Russian-speaking immigrants, and Kärberi 37, a series of 49 portraits by the Estonian artist Eve Kask of her neighbors in the same district. Both the author and the artist are Estonian-speaking natives of Tallinn. The article discusses how their work required them to go beyond, and even transgress, the tacit norms of interethnic coexistence that call for the silencing of ethnicity. Shared by the capital’s residents, these unspoken rules contribute on a daily basis to the separateness of ethnic Estonians and Russian-speakers. While an ethnographer concerned with research ethics and anonymity might not dream of exhibiting photographs of her interlocutors, in the context of an artistic project portraits become a mirror reflecting viewers’ implicit assumptions, Estonian society, and ethnographic practices. Providing an overview of diverse approaches to artistic research, the article supports the view that artistic research is not a new discipline, but intrinsic to art.
free text keywords: Anthropology, Cultural Studies, artistic research, contemporary art, empirical cultural research, ethnicity, ethnography, fieldwork, lasnamäe, lcsh:Ethnology. Social and cultural anthropology, lcsh:GN301-674