My reflective position statement

The Creative Practice module was, I feel, a great way to start the MA and set the tone for what we are expected to achieve during the year. It has not only been about creating something artistically beautiful, but about taking charge of every aspect of the artistic process, about conducting proper in-depth research, and holistically thinking about the inputs, processes and outputs that we could achieve through elements of generative design.

The module has undoubtedly, for me, been an artistic journey and a lot of work, which I have thoroughly enjoyed. Journey is also very much the right word for it as my planned destination at the start of the project was not where I ended up. But this is actually, I believe, one of the key learning points to have taken from this project. Parts of the module were about learning from failure, and also about how putting in different inputs could lead to new and unexpected outputs.

The project began with everyone being encouraged to undertake lots of experimentation in a consideration of the idea of fictional futures. The initial module guide quoted the History 2.0 document, a piece of work by trend forecasters WGSN looking at current collaborations between science and art/design and considering what may come next. This convergence of the two pursuits influenced much of my thinking as the project progressed.

Firstly, though, I wanted to look in more detail at what the History 2.0 document covered. It was concerned with three elements which drive the stories held within it: i) rewilding; ii) regional futures; and iii) living forever.

In more detail, ‘rewilding’ considers the concept of resurrecting extinct creatures and reintroducing them to their natural habitats, ‘regional futures’ looks at designers who have used a fictional approach to developing new products and a regionalisation of this design movement, and ‘living forever’ celebrates and explores the ‘new’ idea of old age, with the possibility of de-extinction and potential moves towards immortality.

I particularly also liked the line in the opening introduction, which read ‘Modern scientists and those designers with an eye on the future are working on projects where reality collides with what seems like magic – from bringing back extinct creatures such as mammoths and dodos, to building floating hotels in the desert’. This helped me to better understand the correlation between the worlds of science and of art and design and to begin to inform my thinking around how to approach the Creative Practice module.

I had for some time had an interest in the concept of cloning and, for the ‘fictional future’ that I was about to theorise, I wanted to take this idea and give it artistic relevance and beauty. I therefore embarked on my project and entitled it ‘Cloneography’ – aimed at combining the serious scientific topic of cloning and the principles of art and design, to see whether I too could create a project where ‘reality collides with what seems like magic’.

I began my project by doing a range of research, on various elements of History 2.0 including the floating Lotus hotel in the Mongolian desert and Akira Yamaguchi’s drawings which combined the ancient and the modern. It was more the principles within these stories that I drew inspiration from – the idea that things could be imagined and then made to happen with a combination of today’s science and a determination borne of commitment to an artistic cause. My research also included studying a number of the books suggested through the module guide recommendation list including ‘Art and Artistic Research [Zurich Yearbook of the Arts]’ edited by Corina Caduff and several other titles related to the importance of artistic research. Again, the principles discussed here were helpful to framing my thinking for the formation of my artistic journey. My research then continued on to other relevant examples of creative practice thinking, such as the team from the Royal College of Art who discovered a new material called polyfloss in 2012, and Freyja Sewell who stumbled upon a new material through experimentation, called starch-based wool (SBW), also in 2012. The inspiration that I got through these pieces of research was to see that artists can hit on a new material or piece of art through many different avenues – whether through careful thinking and engineering knowledge (as with polyfloss) or almost by accident (as Sewell discovered SBW while seeing if putting a mixture of materials inside a sandwich toaster would make its properties change!). Again, this was important while set against the backdrop of what we were learning at university, attending workshops on topics such as design by failure and generative design thinking.

My research also, of course, included some further investigation of cloning, and the ethics surrounding the topic, including research on Dolly the Sheep (the first cloned creature) and David Rorvik, who claimed in the 1970s to have witnessed a human cloning.

By this time, my research had also led me to begin experimenting with some different materials to see what I could do that would reflect both my interest in cloning and provide an artistic response to a fictional future. Through tutorial advice and guidance, and my own  thought development through research and generative design thinking, I began looking at whether I could create a new material which could be used to create what I came to think of as my ‘clone of the future’; a material that could be used to tell some of the stories around the complexities and ethical quandaries of cloning and documented photographically by me to exhibit as part of a final showcase of my work.

I did a vast range of experimentation, all of which I closely documented photographically. Alongside this position statement and the 50-plus post blog also entitled Cloneography, I am displaying more than 1,200 6×4 photographs which show the artistic journey I took through experimentation up to the finale of my project. I think documentary of work like this is so important as it illustrates the amount of work that goes in ‘behind the scenes’. I worked for countless hours both on experimentation and on researching and then writing the blog and by documenting the work closely this has been made clear. Returning to the experimentation, I did begin with so many ideas that I had to boil them down to one clearer concept and idea, which I did through experimenting. I experimented with a range of different materials, including wood, hair, plastic, kitchen items and straw. Through the results of this experimenting, and the fact that straw is such a versatile material (as documented through my blog post ‘Straw – and its many uses’), I decided that straw would be the material around which I would build my final product. I then began a large amount of experimentation with straw as a base product and came up with several different materials through testing of straw combining with other products.

Following a tutorial at the end of March, my thinking was further focused around the type of material I would look to create, and I continued to experiment, starting off by making a bioplastic-type material involving the use of flour, cornflour/starch, glycerine, vinegar, water and food colouring. I would later also reintroduce the finely sliced straw into the mix to give it a new texture. However, before I did that I did a number of experiments which didn’t quite give me the textures I desired. I spent around two weeks experimenting and at times it felt like I would never get to where I wanted. However, I refused to get frustrated and lose faith and instead kept all the materials that didn’t work out how I wanted them to (in my ‘pots of failure’!) and continued documenting the work.

I was getting closer to where I wanted by this point, but at this point I also wanted to introduce some experimentation with essences and scents. This was because the final part of my project would involve models ‘wearing’ my new product and I needed to ensure it would both smell good and not cause any allergies to the wearer (some of my early experiments were quite pungent and would not have worked as a final product). This was an important element of my experimentation.

By mid-April I had got to the kind of consistency and texture that I wanted from my material and was able, really, to finalise my product and begin to make some items such as masks and accessories for my models to wear. I was also, at this point, finalising my blog.

Next came the photoshoot for my final pieces. I enlisted the assistance of several models to wear my items and took more than 200 shots using several different cameras. I then reduced these down to the best ones for my ‘finals’. From these ones, I carried out some digital manipulation to give them a ‘pop art’ look or, as I call it from this and other work I have done, ‘paintography’. The final results can be seen within the blog, found at http://21stcenturyclone.wordpress.com, where I have described those results as my ‘future clone’. I am really happy with the results and think that, as a result of research, development, generative design and inspiration, I have created an artistic project of real value.

Next, I want to have an opportunity to exhibit my work in a showcase, and in the near future will be putting together proposals for various art galleries within London or elsewhere in Europe. I hope to be able to exhibit the work somewhere soon, as I am truly proud of it, probably because I have had a holistic responsibility for it – I didn’t only take the photographs, I also came up with the concept and even made the material the models are wearing. Overall, the Creative Practice module has been a great and enjoyable learning experience and one that will set me up well for my future artistic career.

My ‘future clone’ – the final pieces of work

The previous post showcased the totality of my final photoshoot, done in April, and in this post I will explain what I have done with those shots to create my final body of work.

I have decided to produce two series. In the first I have transformed them into something quite abstract and with the second series I have manipulated them through a process I like to call paintography, which gives them a ‘pop art’ look. I have inverted the colour within the first series to give them all quite a dark look and feel, so much so that its reality has become somewhat questionable while with the second series of my final pieces I have accentuated colour within them to give them a rich vividity. What I wanted to do here was make the viewer ask questions about what they were seeing, build their own connection with the pieces and imagine how they themselves may look and behave in the future.

I have used Photoshop to transform them and have significantly reduced the number of pictures which make up the final show, from the 100+ photos that I had from the original photoshoot. In addition, when we think about the future we often think about technology and I wanted to inject that into the look of my final pieces. I wanted to almost turn my lens into a microscope, looking at the minutiae of how we will function in the future with the first series and in the second I wanted to catch the viewer’s attention and create a striking contrast of colour. I am happy with the digital manipulation and texture of my final shots and think they have provided a view of a ‘fictional future’ which can prompt questions and discussion among viewers.

It took a long time to bring the project round to the point where I was able to do these shots, and a lot of experimentation on material properties and types, before getting to my final product, and from there produced this body of work. The Creative Practice module in itself was a very interesting experience which enabled me to do a lot of thinking around how art and design can work alongside scientific thinking and research and I have been able to pull together a complex and rounded project. I think that contemplating fictional futures and how they may become reality, as the History 2.0 document (touched on earlier in this blog) looks at, is a valuable and vital task for students of art and design as we look to continue innovating, thinking outside the box and creating new and unexpected things. It is the way that we will, as a society, move forward and continue our development.

My budget

The below is my budget for the project:

Budget
Cloth = £10
Shopping = £50
A3 printing = £32.21
6×4 printing = £15.70
6×4 = £44.35
6×4 = £20
A4 card = £8.70
A4 laminating = £4.95
A3 laminating = £8.99
A4 laminating = £24.50
Accessories = £35
A3 printing = £40
A4 printing = £60
Paint/sponges = £20
A2 glass = £31.99
Photo albums = £70
Book = £76
Transparencies = £6
Paper printing = £5
A3 printing = £15
Suitcase = £55
Grand total:
£633.39
This is my running budget throughout this project. I did go over the budget I was hoping to keep to for this module but I think part of this is because of the artistic process. We just sometimes have to follow where our creativity is taking us, regardless of the financial cost.

Recording my process journey

As mentioned in several blog posts, a feature of my work has been documenting every step of the way. I have compiled a series of videos which illustrate this journey, showing the various processes I have followed.

Each video can be accessed below:

 

It was a complex and involved project but one that I thoroughly enjoyed and felt the final pieces of work were something to be proud of. What I have taken from this module though is that there is always more to learn – I have an open mind and always think there’s more places a project can go.

I’m so glad to be doing this Masters at UEL, and thank you to my tutor Lynsey and my fellow students on the course. There was much to learn from doing this course and I think everyone learnt some valuable lessons by carrying out the tasks related to this module.

Enjoy the videos!

The experimentation I did with straw

Elsewhere in this blog, I have explained the rationale behind using straw as the basis for my final product. As mentioned in that blog, I reached that decision having carried out a lot of ‘stress testing’ of the material.

The pictures within this post illustrate the breadth of experimentation I carried out, including:

  • painting the straw
  • washing it with various chemicals to see if it would change
  • mixing it with different materials, such as cornflour and eggs (which gave me the inspiration to carry on experimenting)
  • using it to decorate other materials, such as wood
  • combining it with sawdust gathered from drilling through wood.

The pictures can be seen below. I felt this was a very important phase of my project as it helped me to make some of my final decisions and was an important element in terms of both learning from failure and discovering the properties of a particular raw material.

Photo shooting – April

My final photoshoots were done using the combination of materials I had created through my experimentation. The pictures below were all done using a model, and trying to recreate my conceptual idea of a ‘future clone’.

I had taken some inspiration from Natsai Audrey Chieza and the work that she had done on fictional futures. I have experimented with many different angles, accessories and approaches, as can be seen from the pictures below.

Having this selection of photos, I am now able to go ahead and create my final series to exhibit.

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Continuing thoughts on research in the arts

I have already touched on several occasions on the importance of good quality research when undertaking artistic and creative projects and considered some of the debates around its importance, and what comes first – good research or good art – in several of the other blogs on this site. Another very useful accompaniment to this debate and to any thinking being done around the topic of artistic research is the Routledge Companion to Research in the Arts (edited by Michael Biggs and Henrik Karlsson).

Again, as with several of the other books I have read on the subject, this gives a cross-section of opinion thanks to the fact that the book is made up of several essays by different contributors. The first part sets the foundations of the principles around artistic research, the second part brings through some of the ‘voices’ on the subject, while part three considers the various different contexts, such as looking at the concept through visual and performing arts as well as the more traditional creative arts and fine art.

I was particularly drawn to the essay on evaluating quality in artistic research because, after all, quality is the key. One can research countless numbers of artists or pieces of art but if one does not gain increased understanding or knowledge, or a wider appreciation of the topic at hand, then one may as well not have even done that piece of research. On review, this particular essay does focus on the technical aspects of academic research and some of the differences in approaching doctorate-level artistic research projects in different countries, rather than looking at the importance of good quality research for other creative design projects. However, as a prompt for further thinking and to give a greater understanding to the differing approaches across the world to artistic research thinking, it is a useful essay.

Some slightly easier to communicate conclusions on the importance of artistic research were reached by Morwenna Griffiths, of Edinburgh University, in her essay ‘Research and the Self’ (Biggs, M., Karlsson, H., 2011, p. 185): “… arts-based, practice-based research has a crucial role to play in the world…it…stands against the tendency in our post-modern society to valorize the impersonal, the byte of information, the technical fix… and the elimination of risk, luck and chance. Arts-based, practice-based research upholds the personal, the creative, the imaginative and the passionate, the human. In short, it provides an essential reminder of the humanity at the core of society and its wellbeing.”

It is important to remember to keep humanity at the centre of one’s research, to ensure that the research is qualitative and based on a need to understand and interpret, rather than a robot-like requirement to research a certain number of artists or artworks as part of one’s own artistic development.

Overall, this compendium is an important read but at times a difficult and very technical one. For doctoral students, it may prove more useful than for others, as the level of detail it goes into is at times extremely deep and specialised. But as a companion to one’s own artistic research it is a very worthwhile book to have or to reference.

 

Biggs, M., Karlsson, H. (editors), (2011), Routledge Companion to Research in the Arts, Routledge, Oxford

Screen shot 2014-04-29 at 22.05.05

Artistic research and the creative arts – building up connections

My blog on ‘Art and Artistic Research’ touched on the important connections between the two. You can read more about that and various commentators’ views on the debate here. The debates included within that collection of essays have been built on through the publication ‘Practice-led Research, Research-led Practice in the Creative Arts’ edited by Hazel Smith and Roger T. Dean.

Again, as with the aforementioned tome, this is a collection of essays, broken down into three parts – i) methodologies of practice-led research and research-led practice; ii) case histories and iii) creative practice and research in education and politics. There is actually a particularly interesting diagram included in the introduction (Smith, Dean, 2009, p.21), which is titled the ‘iterative cyclic web of practice-led research and research-led practice’. This can be seen below and gives an excellent overview of the considerations one must take into account when conducting research and thinking about creative work:

cyclic web

This is an interesting diagram which shows the inter-connection between the two pursuits well: are you generating ideas and extrapolating experiments and investigations from them, or are you looking to apply theories and techniques to your creative work, rather than getting to that creation by yourself? This web is really interesting and should sit at the centre of some of the early thinking that we do in creative projects.

I also found the conclusions by digital media artists Andrew R. Brown and Andrew Sorensen interesting, especially as more and more the work we are undertaking through university study is around digital media pursuits. They state (Smith, Dean, 2009, p. 164): “…what drives our work? In the end it is our creative desire for artistic expressivity that results in an interplay between actions and ideas. And it is our desire for a productive dialogue with others around this expressivity that leads us to the extensive documentation, reflection and dialogue that positions our practice within a research framework. The feedback loop between reflection and action, between speculation and experimentation, is fundamental to research in many disciplines… a deliberate and public interplay between imagining and expressing is generally productive as a method for practice and research in the digital media arts.”

I think what this is essentially saying is that, in our modern world where technology is at most people’s fingertips, artistic development can be boosted and added to by making it more collaborative. In the same way that group ‘crit’ sessions at university are organised to help students build on their ideas, new digital media can open up this kind of criticism and positive contributions to a much wider audience.

The topic of the connection between the creative arts and research is clearly one where there has already been a lot of academic thinking and this book is one excellent collection of essays on the subject. A highly recommended book.

 

Smith, H. and Dean, R.T. (editors), (2009), Practice-led Research, Research-led Practice in the Creative Arts, Edinburgh University Press

practice-led research - book cover

Using photography as a research method – Visual Anthropology

The book ‘Visual Anthropology – Photography as a Research Method’ immediately appealed to me, working as I am as a professional photographer while undertaking an MA in art and artistic design. Described by Choice magazine as highly recommended, it stated “after reading this book it is unlikely that  anyone would ever take a picture – or look at one – in the same way again.” This set the bar high, so I wanted to have a look at it and consider its principles, particularly as some of the research that I have done elsewhere in this blog is on or about photography or artwork.

What this book is about is observation, which is a vital tool for any artistic academic. Being able to observe and then interpret and use that observation is a large part of what being an artist is all about. As the authors state (Collier J and M., 1986, p. 5): “Photography is only a means to an end: holistic and accurate observation, for only human response can open the camera’s eye to meaningful use in research.”

Another element I found useful in my work was the way the authors describe how photography can help to find patterns in art, and how finding those patterns can then help influence one’s own work and guide one’s thinking (Collier J and M., 1986, p. 195): “Most photographic analysis is a search for patterns and the definition of their significance. What are patterns in anthropology? They appear to be the relationship among parts and the manner in which they are related to the whole structure… but in visual work these are not always clear… It is more productive to look first for patterns in the whole scope of the data and then seek detailed or statistical confirmation. The purpose of a good research design and of different procedures applied within it is to facilitate the discovery and definition of patterns.”

Although not directly related to photography, I found these principles really important as guidelines for the experimentation work that I did in relation to my Cloneography project. By looking for patterns in product formation, I could use the same or altered procedures to move forward in my artistic journey.

Within the authors’ conclusions in the book, I found a particularly interesting story, related to an archaeologist named Dr Junius Bird. He discovered some pointed stones within the Panama Canal, and was attempting to find other evidence of early settlement when he died. Despite not completing his work, his initial findings had sparked interest and, as the book states (Collier J and M., 1986, p. 205): “…his creative achievement stands; all it took was one fluted point, and scientific imagination could conceive the possibility of a whole world. Discovery is an act of creation. It is this opportunity for combination of creative and scientific approaches that is the particular promise of visual anthropology. From this… can come understanding and knowledge based on a more complete application of human intelligence and observation to the problems and promises of our time.”

There is, of course, much more to this book – it walks the readers through all elements of using photography as a research method (principles of visual research; impact of technology; practical analytical procedures; the difference between moving and still images) – but these are the most salient points in relation to my own sphere of work. I would recommend this book to anyone else who is a lover or student of the arts and particularly photography. By being more observant, one can only increase one’s ability to connect with art and by extension the world around us.

Collier, J. and Collier, M., (1986), Visual Anthropology: Photography as a Research Method, University of New Mexico Press

visual anthropology - book cover

Considering ‘Art and Artistic Research’ (Zurich Yearbook of the Arts)

A fabulously interesting read which has helped me to frame my thinking for this project was the collection of essays on ‘Art and Artistic Research’ which essentially looks at the importance or otherwise of research to creating great art.

The essays within the book mostly originated from papers presented at the research symposium “The Difference of Art and Artistic Research” held at Zurich University in April 2009, and present a number of different views on the subject of research and if it is needed for creating artwork.

There are widely varying views within the book. For instance Nina Malterud from Bergen University believes that research is necessary (Caduff et al, 2012, p. 24): “…can you make art without research? My answer is “no” – at least not art that is interesting, relevant, excellent. Maybe the amount and nature of the research involved in the artistic process is just the decisive factor for the quality of the final result, the artwork.”

Michael Schwab, from the Royal College of Art in London, meanwhile believes that research is essentially a supplementary function which is not necessary to the artistic process and that artistic research in itself is an idea that needs to be further developed (Caduff et al, 2012, p. 65): “…the definition of ‘artistic research’ needs to be delayed, because its becoming is part of the transformation of practice. As a consequence, artistic-research practice is as yet unidentified; what it is must be a continually delayed art and non-art at the same time.”

Yet another view is put forward by Johann Oberg from Gothenburg University, who highlights, as with my aims through Cloneography, that the pursuits of art and scientific research practice can often now be found mixing together (Caduff et al, 2012, p. 45): “It is… my hope that the unmapped space in between research-based art and arts-based research will remain a territory of promising, free, and unpredictable inquiry, owned by the people working in that field, and supported by insightful politicians, deans and chancellors.”

The book is set out into chapters, with the first looking at overall views, the second looking at the disciplinary boundaries of artistic research, the third discusses the questions from the artist’s perspective and the final chapter looks at and discusses concrete artistic research projects. I particularly here liked the term “new morphologies” (Caduff et al, 2012, p. 180) coined by Kirsten Langkilde and Stefan Winter from Berlin University to describe the convergence of the natural sciences and visual arts: “There is a profound change in the visual universe, in which a concept previously conveyed with direct clarity is now conveyed through signs and complex masses of data. This process is changing the elements and stages of artistic productivity…”. These points in particular made me see the relevance and importance of learning about emerging practices around generative design.

Overall, this yearbook produced by the Zurich University of the Arts is full of interesting, and short and snappy, essays which are really vital reading for MA students in the artistic media industries. I have been able to take many of the principles and arguments included within it to help influence and guide me on my own artistic journey for ‘Cloneography’.

Being able to access books like this through the 24-hour library at the University of East London has also been great, as it has meant I have been able to fit it around other commitments. This has enabled better research and the ability to condense that research into artistic practice through my Creative Practice project.

Caduff et al, (2012), Art and Artistic Research: Music, Visual Art, Design, Literature, Dance (Zurich Yearbook of the Arts), University of Chicago Press

art and artistic research - book cover