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 https://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.