Teaching Archive from MA Interdisiplinary Practice, School of Digital Arts, MMU
During my role at the School of Digital Arts (2021-23), I lead on the Interdisciplinary Practice units where I wove my practice of using art and design-based approaches to research methods into my teaching. As with my previous teaching on the MA in Information Experience Design at the Royal College of Art, I shared explorations of combining art practices with theories and methods from the social sciences.
Here is a record that shows how MA students from photography, film, animation, sound design and games art applied this to conduct research and how this informed their final projects. After the final projects there is an outline of some of the class activities that formed part of students learning in these areas.
Quincy/ Connor O’Mara, MA Filmmaking
Set in late 1970s Britain, a peculiar young man named Quincey struggles to come to terms with his identity. He can never let his parents know what he truly is, a clown. It is an exploration of the inner child and the pre-coming out experience told through the lens of clowning.
Image: Final Show, September 2022
In the set design above the keyboard signals Connor’s study of clowning is partly influenced by the genre of silent movies, and he invites the audience to play their own soundtrack for his film. This is one example of his exploration of multimodal theory and how different materials connect the audience to the topic of our work. He continued to explore multimodality through the visual aesthetics of his final film but also in the promotional posters he made. He asked himself if his story was simply a set of food what would it be? How would it smell?
Images: Promotional and fund raising posters by Connor O’Mara
One of the sessions I taught during Interdisciplinary Practice was on drawing as a research method. During an earlier assignment Connor and another member of his cohort explored people’s memories of visiting the seaside through asking research participants to draw them, and he continued to build on his use of this method in his final project. Whilst reading texts on clowning he set about recalling the childhood version of himself and in doing so drew a child-like storyboard of his script (below left).
Taught sessions also introduced the notion of autotelic practices and their relationship to materials. Drawing on Rautio’s article ‘Children who carry stones in their pockets’, students were asked to think about what makes them pick up some stones on a beach rather than others, and whether the stones might have as much agency in that process as they do. Recalling this work while exploring the childhood version of himself, Connor was drawn to his childhood toys and the agency they held. The images above show how he also explored these as a form of storyboard for his final film.
Finally, during a session on Posthumanism I introduced students to Shaun Tan’s post-human themed, illustrated book Eric and we spent a session redesigning the book into a 360 immersive experience using paper prototyping. Students were also asked to cut up and deface a children’s book to retell the story based on their own experience or a topic of their choosing. Connor’s used similar methods as part of his final project where he delved into childhood stories and then wrote his own, I believe bringing further depth to his final film.
Image: Story by Connor O’Mara
Our Last Hope/ Rachel Sadler, MA Photography
Our Last Hope is a science-fiction project focusing on the evolution of the climate crisis in a futuristic take of leaving planet Earth in hopes of keeping humanity alive. The project follows the narrative of an anonymous scientist working in conjunction with NASA and is portrayed through set design incorporating photography, AI, graphic design and sound design.
Images: Speculative propaganda posters by Rachel Sadler
Rachel drew on the teachings about cultural probes as a research method where participants are given design prompts. She began by using Instagram to ask people to send a photo of the one thing they would take with them if they were to leave Earth. She compared the outputs to ‘Quiet Things’ by David Woolfall which shows the items found on a tray beside his mother’s bedside before she passed. Rachel writes “Woolfall describes the work as about the small moments that can become fundamental in our lives later.”
Image: Quiet Things by David Woolfall
Images: Rachel Sadler
Rachel also linked the work back to our class on material witnesses where I introduced the work of Grace Pappas who showed how a tub of face cream bore the marks of both her grandmother and mother’s fingers, and thus the cream could be framed as a witness to their lives. These were ideas started during IP2 where she documented the marks of a historic building in the North Yorkshire Moors as evidence of a material witness.
As with Connor’s work about the material elements of a narrative and their connection to a defined audience Rachel also exolored this through set design.
Image: set design plans, Rachel Sadler
Where the Pink Guavas Grow/ Zafira Ahmed, MA Photography
Zafira writes: “Photographs of a home I never got to love in, towns only known about through word of mouth and other pieced depicting the perfect balance of serenity and chaos in my month-long journey back to Bangladesh after a decade. ‘Where the Pink Guavas Grew’ is a visual story of the struggles about my identity as a second-generation immigrant, fantasising about this place I heard my parents talk about with such pride and contrasted by the reality experienced through my own eyes”.
Zafira’s final project followed on from work that she produced in Interdisciplinary Practice that explored two key themes of identity and belonging.
In Interdisciplinary Practice research methods students explored the idea of knowing the world through making, with one of the core texts being Ingold’s book ‘Making: Anthropology, Archaeology, Art and Architecture.’
“ I would like to concentrate a lot of this project of the idea of ‘making’ and its relation to home. In Interdisciplinary Practice 1 & 2, I created pieces using different mediums such as sewing, painting, and embellishing. In Bangladesh, making processes such as these are vital to the growth and survival of families. Alongside these creative processes, I would also like to look into agricultural making practices such as the manufacturing of tea, stone mining, garment factories, fishing, rice farming and even the making processes involving food and cooking within homes.”
In her portfolio Zafira relates the making back to a visual aesthetic she liked from a film:
“Referring back to the documentary film ‘Kiss the Water’ (2014) we watched during Interdisciplinary Practice 2, I was mesmerised by the close-up shots of Megan Boyd’s hands creating fly fishing hooks. I liked the slow process of it and how it only focused on her hands, not her face or any other body part. It emphasised the importance of her making process and how it defined her life, a lot like my mum making the dumplings in the kitchen and how it impacts both her and me but also linking back to the making process methods I documented in Bangladesh such as the stone crushers.”
Image: Still from Kiss the Water
Image: Still from film, Zafira Ahmed
Zafira also linked making back to traditions of embroidery in Bangladesh and imagery from a TV show she used to watch as a child. To explore the “knowing through making” aspect further she set about embroidering elements of her photographs and was surprised to discover that she would be sewing for up to 8 hours a day completing only small segments at a time. I believe, uncovering details such as these is a research finding that can shed new light on a final MA photography project.
The Queer Experience/ Kieran Wallace
The Queer Experience is an interdisciplinary project using a range of mediums from 3D art, photography, textiles and soft sculpture. The project aims to show what it is like to grow up as a Queer person. The pieces created show the struggles that the community still face to this day. One of the struggles focused on is the exploration of self and an individual’s Queer identity.
During research methods sessions, Kieran was drawn to Performance Ethnography as a research methods, and later went on to use Olivia Cowley’s performance ‘Gender Fluid’, an exploration of gender stereotypes, as the basis for understanding through embodying Cowley’s movements as a means of meaning-making.
The intention of Performance Ethnography is not to perfect the mimicking but to understand a person/topic from embodying their way of being.
During his final project work his interest in the queer body developed through the notion of fragmentation which developed from his exploration of Matthew Stone’s Art (below).
Image: Back into the Body, Matthew Stone, 2017
The idea of fragments is something that appears in Kieran’s early experiments with 3D rendering and photogrammetry.
Image: Kieran Wallace
Indeed, Performance Ethnography could also be framed as a way of creating meaning from mimicking another’s art practice.
“ The piece will be kept digital and will be animated to rotate so viewers can see all the glitchy and fragmented parts of the body”.
Destroy the Earth/ Chester Bell, MA Filmmaking
This is a short film about Atlas, a man who collects rocks. A man who only collects rocks. That is until he sees a woman trying to knock a cliff down with a hammer. Now he needs to stop her.
Adaptive Experience/ Meg White, MA Filmmaking
While navigating her way through an arduous journey with lupus, Kate Appleby continually engages and wholeheartedly immerses herself in outdoor activities. For years, Kate has been spreading awareness of hidden illnesses and has become a powerfully inspiring woman among those in the outdoor community. This documentry will examine the psychological and physical benefits yielded through thoughtful and respectful engagement with one’s environment, and provide a catalyst for conversations around these subjects.
Rewilding/ Hollie-May Gibson, MA Photography
Rewilding is a project aiming to encourage people to shop sustainably, become more exo-conscious and be more considerate when purchasing new clothin. Addressing themes such as fast fahion, climate change and the Anthropocene throughout Rewilding showcases how conceptual locations play a vital role in storytelling.
Sabionosa’s Sanatorium/ Jedd MacRae, MA Sound Design
An audion narrative which shares an experience had at an abandoned hospital in Spain. Told from the perspective of this work’s creator and his partner, the listener is immersed into a bone-chilling sonic atmosphere, with the aid of special sound recording and design methods. Tune into a trecherous visit to Sabinosa’s Sanitorium.
Experiemental Research Methods Teaching
Performance ethnographies (Conquergood 1985, Fabian 1990, Denzin 2003), and performance auto-ethnographies (Douglas, 2014), are arts informed research practices that include the creative, embodied, subjective and emotional aspects of life. This can be taken literally, in the way that Sol Lennox uses the method to reenact his research data to understand the embodied aspects of it. Another approach is to use the method to try to get at the embodied essence of the topic being researched.
To explore this further students were asked to try these two approaches using the music video Sia Chandellier as the source material.