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-based phd (3)
And now for something completely different. I’ve had my head in tech for a few days while I sort out QR code issues in my work and battle with messy directory structures set up by wordpress on my server. I’ve also been trying to work out matching audio up with source cyanotype imagery and how to display the works with QR codes that will be successful not only as prototypes in an exhibition that is opening in a month’s time, but also to follow through with for my exhibition in Australia at Victoria University’s Foyer Gallery as part of Australia’s Month on Print in September.
It all got me thinking about what other people are doing with cyanotypes, so did an image search and came across the blog Tumbling Hills by artist Angie Rogers. Lots of synergies with my work but freer because she doesn’t seem so strapped in by academia. There are times when the whole phd process and having to think like a researcher are so restricting, focusing on one area for such a long time can get rather tiring and there are times when I just want to go off and explore other art ideas, just get into the studio and make without having to post rationalise or intellectualise what I am doing and how it answers my research questions. Anyway, Angie’s blog has reminded me that there is life after a phd, and these sort of explorations are what I could have to look forward to.
The past week has been a real mess – my 18 month old son was sent home from nursery with chicken pox, and so I’ve had to work from home, cramming things in when he has his naps. His Dad and I have been taking it in turns to miss work, and my phd gets shoved late into the evenings as I do everything else in an attempt to clear the decks. This morning I had a respite and got out to the 4th of a series of 5 workshops in the Venture Programme that I have been going to, being run at the university. (Though as I write this I am back at home for the afternoon shift of spotty toddler care, snatching moments while he sleeps.)
The programme is a series of workshops in creating spin outs, research projects, small businesses out of research and the whole series really really interesting. I think this is partly because the workshop facilitator is so good. Anyway, I feel inspired by the Venture workshops –I am more confident in the way I work and my value to the larger world (I suspect my lapses of confidence may have to do with being at a university where research can be very science-centric). As part of the workshops we were given a book called ReWork by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson, the guys who set up BaseCamp (excellent online project management software for teams who are spread out – we use it for TOTeM). The book has been great in confirming some of my own thoughts and beliefs as well as articulating concepts/ approaches to things that I didn't realise I was doing. I particularly like the chapter on workaholism.
Today in the Venture workshops we ”wrote a book” on research as part of an exercise using the ketso tool. Really its works in exactly the same way as a whole pile of post-its and flip charts, but its prettier, more environmentally sustainable and in its development in Africa it enabled women who weren’t allowed to speak to write down their views and be “heard”. The whole process of using ketso took me back to the EPSRC sandpit where TOTeM was born, and reminded me that this type of brainstorming and ideas development in groups of people is a good approach for public workshops exploring concepts in my phd, based on public responses to my artworks. Going through the process again has given me ideas on how to engage with others in drawing out useful gems for my research. I am a sucker for pretty things and would like to be able to use ketso in my work, but it costs £500 odd which is a bit much for a phd student (and an artist at that!), so I shall stick to the old post-its for the timebeing…
On that note, my little boy has just woken up, climbed off Mummy & Daddy’s bed where he was sleeping for a treat (being sick, weepy & afraid of the wind, howling down the chimney) and has accidentally locked himself in our bedroom while trying to get out, so is now crying for help. Off with the artist-researcher hat and back on with the mother hat.
I’ve been having internal debates about the way in which I approach my work, and whether I am coming at it all from the wrong way: See, my main premise really from my phd transfer is, I am challenging the thinking of the 1960’s where the concept was more important that the final art object (hence dematerialisation). As a maker, I think that the art object is just as important as the concept. I like the idea of a finely crafted, aesthetically pleasing piece of art - I know it goes against the grain of what is considered Cool in contemporary practices, but perhaps I am a little more honest than Cool, and not afraid to push my techniques in making something aesthetically pleasing rather than trying to hide a lack of skill behind Cool - So, if something is going to go through a process of dematerialisation, would one expect a material object to be there in the first place to then be dematerialised wouldn’t they?
Then, I am taking this a little further, because in the 1990’s with digital really taking off in a big way, things really were dematerialised.. or were they? Actually, they immaterial to begin with… They were never material in the first place, to then become de-materalised. In my argument for my phd, I am saying that I am re-materialising and giving physical form to digital works, and using graphical tags (like qr-codes) as a bridge between the immaterial digital and a physical art object…. Does my thinking become totally unravelled if the digital was never material in the first place? I’m actually not re-materialising anything at all! I am only materialising it, not that that is such a problem in my art practice, or that it changes my stance critically, but it does make the notion of re-materialising the digital, slightly problematic…
And here is where it gets worse: if one were materialising, or even re-materialising, one would be starting with the digital and then creating the physical. Ie, in my practice, I’d have a whole lot of digital assets/ objects/ files which I want to give physical form to, through the making of an artwork. But in my current work, I have to almost tie myself to a computer to make digital anything (hence not so many blog posts of late), and I find a real joy being in the studio doing lots of making of physical artworks first. Then, I think of how I am going to augment them digitally, so in practice, I prefer to work the other way round, starting off with something physical and (oh no!) dematerialising it into something digital, going the opposite way to my central argument of re-materialising things…One saving thought that is probably keeping me vaguely sane in this philosophical jumble is that with my current body of work that I am working on, it did actually start with a few digital files: some audio recordings of my baby. Now, however, the amount of work creating physical artworks in the studio far outweighs the digital work. Can I start with a tiny bit of digital, and materialise it into a whole lot of material?? Since it is my art and my phd, I guess I am writing (or would it be discovering?) those "rules" as I go along, but somehow when I started I had the assumption that it would be evenly a 50:50 split. Still I do wonder if I have perhaps undermined my own premise (and I keep clinging to the thought that even a null result is worthwhile in research). I’m really not sure, but what I am surprised about is how this type of thinking and questioning would never come about, had I not been going through the process of actually making the works.
Doing an art-practice based phd, in the back of my mind there had previously been a doubt, a niggle, a need to justify why I am making artworks in the research process. Now it is clear and solid, this research and this thinking would never come about if this were an art criticism/ history phd on the same topic. I would have still been assuming that the digital would come first and that I would have equal amounts of digital and physical artworks. I would never have realised that in making the works, I need to think about digitality and materiality in tandem, and how there is a push and pull in the making of the two to come together in each complete piece of work.