Blogging as reflective practice

You are reading a blog that started off about art practice-based research charting
the journey of doing a phd. It explores alternative ways of using hand held devices
to create print-based interactive artworks using graphical tagging such as QR-codes.
Art, design, technology and craft were the main themes in writing. But life gets in the
way, and over this journey the story takes unexpected happy twists along the paths
of having a baby, going on a UK Digital Economy Sandpit, meeting fanstastic people,
and subsequent group success in funding for a large multidisciplinary research
project called TOTeM.

Entries in art & design research (6)

New Year, New Activities

Now that I’ve finished my PhD and the TOTeM project has also come to an end, I find that I am still as busy as I even was! Jon Rogers who I worked with on TOTeM is on research leave this semester, so I am taking over from him, just until May, as the Acting Course Director for the MSc Product Design. For the past 3 years I have been telling Jon that I’m not a product designer, but now I finally get it! I don't have to be a product designer to be of use to a product design department in an art school -  the skills I have in interaction design, usability, creative visualisation and the way I approacj about my art are of valuable to a wide range of disciplines across digital media: Why did it take so long for the penny to drop?

I should have realised it last year when I was mentoring last year’s cohort of MSc Product Design students about their interactive plinths.  I’ve really been enjoying working with the students so far. They’re a great group of people with some interesting ambitions. I had missed student interaction when fully on research, and at the moment this post is good because it is not that demanding, so I can balance research, art making and my responsibilities to my students.

Posted on Sunday, January 20, 2013 at 02:56PM by Registered CommenterSimone O'Callaghan in , , | CommentsPost a Comment

Oh what a viva!

Today I had my PhD viva and I have passed with minor corrections (fix up typos, add a word into my one of my research questions and add a couple of paragraphs in:  Its very rare to pass with no corrections) Apparently I can call myself Dr now! so I am Dr S.P.O'C!

All the internal examiners/ staff said that the external examiner made it really hard because in the time when I was supposed to be answering questions, so I could defend my research, he kept telling me what he thought could be improved upon, rather than asking me questions.

There was one point during the viva when I just sat there thinking “Why the hell didn’t I do a science PhD? Art is so subjective, and personal – it would have been so much easier to point to some cold hard figures that had an irrefutable proof of something…. I was also foundmyself wishing that I had done my PhD in Australia where they don't have vivas! That said, everyone, even the tricky external examiner that I defended my work very well. *sigh of relief*

All the examiners also told me about how much they really liked my artworks, how they thought they were witty and magical, and although it was supposed to be under exam conditions, there was quite a bit of laughter, particularly when they recalled some of the works. It was really nice hearing that because all through this process I’ve not really had any feedback from my supervisors on my artworks as works of art  in their own right, rather than ancilliaries to my research!

Posted on Friday, October 26, 2012 at 08:44PM by Registered CommenterSimone O'Callaghan in , , , | CommentsPost a Comment

Getting there!

I've been in the throes of writing up my phd thesis, hence no blog posts for a while. Also I've had a nasty virus for 3 months that had me in hospital twice, going through 5 courses of antibiotics & inspiring my other half  to often sneak into the sick room and poke me when I was asleep to make sure I hadn't died. Despite the illness, I still managed to keep the ball rolling and in total only lost a month in my schedule. So since I had planned to hand in 3 months early, I'm still doing well. I'm hoping to hand in the whole thesis over the summer and we've even submitted the official forms to registry with a viva date late in September - no turning back now!

Tales of Things wins B2Award

We got nominated for and won the "internet of things" section of the B2Awards. Great to know that Tales of Things (our web based platform for collecting tales and memories for TOTeM) is starting to gain momentum! We're very proud of the fab tech that the talented team at UCL have spent many long hours building. They really have done a fanstastic job in such a short time,  but we also can't forget that the project would not have come about without the collaboration and dedication of the people at all 5 insitutions which make up the TOTeM team.

Brunel are investigating the social aspects of the internet of things in terms of memory and materiality; Salford are heading up the business side of things in adopting new digital technologies; at ECA they're investigating a better understanding of the socio-spatial dynamics that inform the representation of artefact, people and space; and at Dundee we're focusing on design and making aspects of the project as well as establishing new platforms for provenance (not to mention the project's use of QR-codes started with research documented here in this blog).

So the project actually has richer content  and farther reaching research than just cool tech, which we think is very exciting, but so are all aspects of the project : )

Another One – European Academy of Design

Got another conference paper proposal accepted. This time its for The Endless End: 9th International European Academy of Design Conference in Portugal next year. Its about my work with creative practitioners for the TOTeM project, and, odd as it may seem, I’m looking forward to writing this one. I’ve come to realise that for me the best way to distil my research and to actually work through the nitty gritty of it, after the making processes, is to be reflective and write. Conference papers are a really good way of doing this. I realise that I am starting to do a few now, so I’ve made another section to my blog where you can read the abstracts of my papers and when/ where they are presented.

Posted on Thursday, December 2, 2010 at 09:41PM by Registered CommenterSimone O'Callaghan in , , , | CommentsPost a Comment

Methods in art & design research 

With the TOTeM project, I 've become aligned with the Product Design studio here at DJCAD, something I never expected because I am not actually a product designer, though, ever since learning about Marc Newson about 15 years ago I've found product design inspiring (particularly since he was trained in fine art as a sculptor, not a product designer). I feel that at last I am starting to become more embedded in a research culture here, because a community is starting to form based around research projects and people are being invited to give talks and participate in wider activities.

A couple of weeks ago the Bsc in Product Design had an ideas day where we were invited to go along and give feedback to the students and to meet up with others on the panel. It was great to see what the students are up to, and it reminded me that when they are motivated and enthusiastic I do enjoy contact with the students. One of the other panel members I had a good chat to was Bill Gaver from Goldsmiths. In particular discussing research methods and how those from social sciences sometimes are just not as useful as things that an artist or designer may come up with to explore an idea.

I’m so acutely aware that as a researcher one is answerable to others – be it the funders, the academic community, and in the case of a phd, making a case for one’s “contribution to new knowledge” and within this one must have evidence to back up ones case. Lately, niggling away in the back of my mind has been the worry that I am not employing enough “academic rigour” in my research methods because everything seems anecdotal and reflective, and then making art… who is qualified to make a judgement on what is rigorous and what is not? Speaking to Bill Gaver was really quite inspiring because he has been working with less conventional methods for some time now and he is recognised in his field.

Yesterday, Anab Jain, founder of Superflux, also came to talk at the Product Design studio, and I confess I gave her a bit of a grilling about her methods too. I didn’t mean to. I was just really interested in talking to someone who is doing design research but who is not employing the standard social science methods to gain insights into social/ technological phenomena. I had a lot of questions like: How does one show that what they are doing is of value to funders? In social science research, sample sizes are quite large but in art and design they seem quite small, how can one draw conclusions from these? In using film-making as a “research method’, are you using film to communicate research findings or to elicit (and capture) responses?  The conversations that arose from these were really interesting and really much of it comes down to how well one can write in communicating the research to others. This is difficult for many artists and designers because they want to be making, rather than writing – the way I feel at the moment, but I am lucky in that once I get started on writing, and if no one interrupts me, then I can get into a zone where I actually enjoy the whole process.

The conversations I have had with Bill Gaver and Anab Jain over the past couple of weeks have really given me much more confidence to believe that what I am doing does have rigour and value, it is just a very different approach. For the TOTeM project my conversations with Bill Gaver made me realise the value of my being an artist, which gives me insight to ask questions of creative practitioners that may not occur to those not embedded in the making process. For my PhD I am now collecting a bank of precedents that I can call upon in defending my methodological approach.