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 practice as research (4)

Without Sin: Taboo and Freedom within Digital Media, Leonardo Electronic Almanac

I’ve had my paper Seductive Technologies and Inadvertent Voyeurs accepted in the Without Sin: Special Edition of Leonardo Electronic Alamanac. The final paper was submitted over Christmas and they like it. I’ve a few corrections to do, but was chuffed with the reviewer’s comment: “A good, tight, well-researched article, which lays out its methodology clearly and succinctly” They also want more images, which I like because it gives me the opportunity to have my artworks nicely printed in a glossy publication!

Its actually really good having complete strangers review your work to see it from an alternative perspective, especially after I have had my supervisors going through my work I kind of know how they think, so new eyes on my work is really refreshing!

To give you an idea of the what the paper is about, you can look at my abstract for it in the abstracts section of this website under Seductive Technologies

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!

More than I bargained for…

As my exhibition of Coded Moments continues in the Small Society Lab, I’ve been using the gallery space to do user testing on the artworks. This type of testing is not that common in art because art is so subjective, but when there are interactive elements to a work, if nothing else one should test that users don’t get frustrated trying to interact with it… unless, of course this is the aim of the work. 

I’ve been using methods that researchers at Beta Space at the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney have used where participants are filmed interacting with the work, and then afterwards interviewed while watching the video to talk through with the researcher what they were doing and thinking at the time. There are pros and cons for this method, in that people can get on and enjoy the work (as much as they can whilst being filmed), but then they may not remember what they thought at the time. On the flip side the “talking through method” where a user verbalises everything they do can be distracting and take away from what they are getting out of the work. This would be particularly so with my work, hence opting for the former method.

I’ve also found that the fact that some people forget what they were thinking is actually really telling data in itself. The works in Coded Moments are very personal and aimed at connecting with others, and one work in particular touches on elements of, for some people, what would be considered a taboo subject matter. Initially my aims were to find out things about my works from a fairly practical point of view, in terms of interactivity and also in terms of aesthetics. What I did not expect is how much insight my own artworks are giving me into other people. I worried that there were works that some people might find a little disturbing, what I didn’t realise is that actually hardly anyone does and many people even find them happy. But when one of these works does hit a raw nerve in a participant, the effect is far stronger than I could have conceived. Noone has been traumatised by the works – all participants have assured me they are fine, but I had no idea when I had set up the codes, images, titles and audio that the combination could be quite so powerful for certain people.

I feel a little in an ethical bind: the hard thing is that the images are deliberately ambiguous and the audio evocative. Its what the participants are filling in in their own minds that is causing the responses, not anything I have created per se. I can’t predict  when I ask someone to come and test the work, how they are going to join the dots  - indeed that is why I am testing this work. I went down the path of doing user testing expecting the fairly functional responses one gets when testing design work. The literature I’ve read on it in relation to art seemed to imply that this would be the case. But for my works, which I guess are about an area of life that can be so highly emotionally charged, I am getting far more than I bargained for.

That’s the thing with art research -  the art itself has to have content, even if the research is about art practices rather than the content. In my case the responses to that content, which are really informative are a “by-product” of my research into how graphical tags mediate engagement with art and art-making along the physical -digital continuum. It's great in that my works are eliciting some amazing insights into a particularly interesting subject matter, just a pity that at the moment some of these are way outwith the scope of my phd and I’ll have to put them on ice until I’ve finished. That is the only way I feel can do justice to both my phd and the by-products that are coming out the artworks I am making for it.