SYP as practice as research

Where and when is the site, audience and work/ as early question (SYP 1):

In fact, it was phrased like this in July 2021:

Challenge of writing around the idea of SYP as exhibition. 

This is a functional project plan: how does my practice fit within that and where does it really push at the boundaries. 

For this plan, Rachel observes that the concern over audience is really the most interesting area to focus on it: Who is the audience and in what form does the work engage whom, how and where? The instructions and how to push the form between you and the audience; when do you want to be open and revealing; when quite closed and secretive. 

If this work is relational, it is concerned with various relationship forms: actants, matters; public, private, reveal and conceal. The concern of the engagement plan is the how and why, and it can be bristly. 

At the provocative end, Rachel suggests that I could argue that the material is in fact the audience, seeing the new materialist and post-humanist aspects of the work. 

(tutor report, SYP 1, July 2021)

And the active research process (also from SYP 1) concerns:

R: To raise a question: for you and others who work with site is the big question: where is the work? What is the work? And a lot of people will only ever see the documentation. There are the audio pieces too but they are of the site, don’t necessarily need to be experienced in site. 

Where is the site, where is the work, where is the audience? Is the engagement with you, the site the work and the question of how it works in proximity to the site. (27:00) 

These don’t fall all into each other: site, work, I, audience. 

It isn’t about near space but contextual distance; these aren’t the same but the distance is being negotiated within the work. 

The concept of a toolbox is helpful: I can pick it up; so perhaps a mobile: what constellation does it all have, how does it move. Some of the distance is structural but some is moved by wind. 

Also: role of time being slow and fast and what that does for proximity. 

(tutor report, SYP 1, July 2021)

These were the active questions; the engagement strands addressed these and so did the investigation around archiving and participation. 

Arguably too, the creation of new work processes (and the review of the bridging projects, Making Hay and Fir Hide,) investigated these also.

The site and any engagement is productive.

Once I establish a container (like Stromverteilen, as site, as practice or as method), I can infinitely explore it in numerous connections, the work, the site will be activated in these (possibly more or less successful). The work and the site then also become mobile: processes like a/folder (see a current reflection on this strand here), but even a social media practice of posting circulate the site and the work to different audiences, they fragment, reconstitute, remake and echo (some of these can be controlled but much also becomes involuntary, uncontrolled, perhaps even invisible, latent).

I centred all three engagement strands on these. And they yielded insight. 

Utilising the a/folders in a series of group settings was particularly insightful: they circulated in different ways ahead and prompted in one case a four-week group process of distributed engagement with them; one was tested in crit group and committed group setting (with a lot of criticism to start with), and then there were two that formed a key activity in the see (through) making workshops. In these, like in the first, extended process, the engagement was also very visible, in the case of the workshops even recorded with altered camera angles. And these were great. Excellent in fact. In particular the #12 a Kaleidoscope was almost magical at the making stage but then also when testing. The camera set ups provided fabulous views; and hearing also of how people tested the device and what they observed added another layer yet.

The see (through) series had two somewhat different modalities; the making workshops were possibly (besides the social media advertising) the most uncertain parts of my engagement : of testing art-making instruction when I know that I was particularly interested in the process rather than the object, wanting to foreground the group aspect in this. I was nervous how this would function in zoom and with my art that at the start of the a/folders received a fair bit criticism for being too intellectual and too abstract. 

I have written a longer reflection on access/engagement, notably in relation to the 2 making workshops is this separate post here).

The participation (in) archiving conversation followed a simple format: 3 short introductory presentations from the three speakers, a little response from each to each and then an opening of the conversation to all present. The presentations were concise and insightful, they were open too as to present our current engagement with and thinking about these matters. The conversation that followed from them was generous, engaged, exploratory and genuinely interested in dialogue and intellectual engagement. I remember coming away thinking that I didn’t have to make myself dumb. It yielded a number of new questions and concerns around archiving and participation while at the same time opening an existing conversation between the three of us out to a larger group and made our concerns and our engagement visible also. 

This all poses a series of reflections on the larger project plan for SYP but of course also for the next steps once this module has ended. Please see the respective posts for these.

Access/engagement in see (through): practice conversations

I have started to deposit and reflect on the series of three events and all their attendant conversations and encounters, and I know these reflections won’t conclude by 4 April, the date of my final SYP submission.

I tend to audio note first, then listen, then draw out my thoughts in writing; sometimes the writing is in a sketchbook, sometimes typing is more useful (sometimes in evernote, more rarely, like now directly as blog post).

There is plenty in terms of insight around how these events were set up as practice encounters, how the activities (and a/folders) worked and how the digital space became agentic in the sessions.

What occupied me a lot in planning was who they were for (a bit similar to the a/folders too)? — were they for fellow artists? fellow students? my friends and colleagues who are interested in methodology, though not necessary in artistic practice? where they for people wanting to learn art? for other interested publics? — that really places the question over audience, engagement, and ultimately the relational aspects of my artistic practice back at the centre.

I assessed that in all likelihood the making events were for artists/art students/researchers, at a push those with a substantive interests in site-based work, mobility studies or perhaps also leaning towards the relational questions raised; but if they were concerned about creative activity, the hurdle of a practical workshop was going to be significant.

Nonetheless, I chose to set them up with minimal artistic requirement: curiosity, a couple of simple tools were stated as needed, doing so I hoped to make them accessible to non-artistic researchers; the process-focus to encourage output-focused art students to decentre towards a research perspective.

The activities were practice-led enquiries investigating movement and distance and relating these back to the research, with 15-20 minutes inputs to my own work; two extended making activities and if time allowed a small group activity to explore site/work in these activities and people’s own practice.

I didn’t expect the camera experiments to work so well and to create such an interesting video channel (and that people were so open to experiment with these). I also was surprised as to the insights the simple activities created about moving-with and contextual distance; notably the kaleidoscope activity was generative and insightful in a way that expanded on my own research investigations as part of the degree work.

There were two access issues:

  1. My joining instructions for the first session, moving-with ended up in many people’s spam folder; the eventbrite page had been disabled but pretended to know how to join (only that it didn’t); so a workshop with 18 places booked had six, then four people trying unsuccessfully to join and I started to pick up a series of confused, then irritated messages on three DM platforms and per email. Two joined later, four gave up. Holding this access barrier while running the workshop, where two of eight hadn’t received the joining and preparation info was demanding.
    I picked this issue up afterwards: a comprehensive email and a different set up for the following workshops.
  2. One of the participants (who attended all three sessions) in the first workshop seemed to struggle with not having found the preparatory email, the instructions, the way to work with the camera, and possibly in general the idea of practice-as-research, there were a lot of questions and what I picked up a lot of being bored in that grid position
    I have enough of a facilitation practice to know these difficult roles are generally group roles, someone slips into them, I facilitate to afford them leaving this role. It didn’t quite work though (and it now returned to me in the feedback; as well as a curious wanting to pick my brains for a facilitator for a session which was pretty much my topic, only to tell me that several weren’t after all interested).
    The feedback then was: boring, not novel, tiring. And it curiously got to me (as much as I know the above as structural set up).

From the testing in my crit group and the OCAEU group I know how the work I make activates an edge, is easily perceived as difficult, uncomfortable, not accessible: it often articulates as distance: too abstract, too removed, the site isn’t in reach, the instruction opaque. That for the first session the platform conspires and locks half my eager participants out is quite something, and quite true to the first experiments with the a/folder series.

There is something about trust and commitment in the work. And how it gets criticised accordingly. I will take this to further reflection and further development.

I am incredibly grateful to have explored a creative facilitation practice that isn’t art instruction or output focussed but instead offers my own methods for appropriation and exploration (and also: abandonment and critique). I find the first access issue (spam-foldered instruction and eventbrite circuit of nowhere) quite easily addressed, the follow-up for that was successful, and several attended the later meetings or watched the videos. The latter is trickier and speaks also to the very specific OCA student cohort and expectations within that (and my own impatience with it).

In the greater scheme of feedback, this is one negative in currently five feedback form responses and more than that unprompted follow-ups post-event by email or DM. Yet: if I want to make space and hold it for divergence, I should attend to how to better hold these critical, difficult roles in making workshops (which I can hold very well in academic settings), where my own position seems more exposed than in my usual facilitation practice.

Thanks so much for this evening, Gesa!  Great to hear you speak of your work, and also John and Susan.  I’m thinking about drawings I made of my heartbeat, which I stored in a box (archive?) with new eyes.  Lots of things to think about!  I only picked up your mail below on Tuesday morning, but hope you had fun on Monday evening?  I love drawing machines and blind touch drawings (some of these have become an important part of my practice) so such a shame to have missed it.

Thank you very much for organising the workshop. It has been eye-opening for me on many levels but mainly it made me  question why I do things the way I do them and how to pay more attention going forward.
I couldn’t attend the first sessions but I did the exercises mentioned in the first session after I viewed the video. I’ve tried to upload my images to the Padlet in case that would be helpful for you.
May I please ask you if you could forward me the link to the second session recording? I would be interested to listen to the conversation between Susan and John.
Thank you very much.
Wishing you success with the assessment!

Hi gesa. Was lovely to see you! I really enjoyed the workshop.looking forwards to Wednesday. X

Here is the PDF from the feedback form responses (updated 5 April 2022, 7 responses):

see (through): practice conversations | 3 events in March

Three online events in March invite you to explore jointly sites, methods and themes of For Cover, my practice-as-research based body of work.

As practice-as-research For Cover articulates across four covers, four blankets, at the forest edge (and just beyond it) in drawing and contact: haptic and tactile media such as frottage and cyanotype trace wind, rain, sound and care in site-specific installations. It circulates already as an expandable PDF to zine library/archive: A/Folder: an instructive glossary, and a series of objects, b-hold: circulatory objects to touchsee (through): practice conversations is the third aspect of exploring its publicness.

Two making workshops invite you to join me and explore some of the methods and tools of my enquiry: drawing machines, mobiles, and viewing devices to engage senses across the visual and the tactile.

1: Moving-with is interested in how our embodied movements, feet, bodies, hands, produce tactile objects and enquiries.

3: Contextual distance enquires into where is the site, work and audience between the visual and the haptic.

Inviting individual explorations ahead of the sessions, the zoom-based workshops seek to utilise the digital space our meeting to navigate across contact, distance and closeness between desk and camera.

2: participation (in) archiving invites two fellow artists, Susan Farrelly and John Umney, to join me to open our ongoing practice conversations across archiving and participation –who where when and what of our practice; their temporalities and spaces; their discipline and subversions.

For the making workshops, there is a little preparation ahead of them (and limited spaces). You don’t need to bring any making skills, merely an inquisitive mind, and a few simple tools (paper, drawing implements in monochrome or colour).

Sign up via Eventbrite for further details.

The events will take place via zoom with links provided ahead of the events.

All events in this programme:

1: moving-with (a making workshop): Monday 14/3 6.30-8.30pm UK 

2: participation (in) archiving (a conversation with Susan Farrelly and John Umney): Wednesday 16/3 6.30-8.30pm 

3: contextual distance (a making workshop): Monday 21/3 6.30-8.30pm UK