‘Side Effects’ and ‘Why Make it Simple, When You Can Make It Complex?’

‘Side Effects’ and ‘Why Make it Simple, When You Can Make It Complex?’
a collaboration between Arts Catalyst, Robert Whitman, The Performance Studio and MA Art and Science at Central Saint Martins
 
Text by Nicolas Strappini, Virginie Serneels and Monika Dorniak (MA Art and Science)
Phase 1:
Collaboration with Robert Whitman, ‘Side Effects’ 07/10/2016

Phase 2:
Arts Catalyst 29/10/2016
A show at the Performance Studio, Peckham, Why Make it Simple When You Can Make It Complex?’ 09/11/2016

‘Why Make it Simple, When You Can Make it Complex?’ came into being as a result of a two month collaboration between Central Saint Martins and Arts Catalyst. Our temporary artist group consisted of students Monika Dorniak, Virginie Serneels and Nicolas Strappini from MA Art & Science, and external alumni Verena Hermann and Mary Simmons, MA Fine Art at UCA Farnham. The initial reason for the project was as a development of Arts Catalyst’s exhibition about the revolutionary ‘9 Evenings’ project presented in New York (1966), involving artists such as Robert Rauschenberg, Yvonne Rainer and John Cage. 

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Photographs by Christopher Fernandez of Side Effects performance at Central Saint Martins, 7 October 2016

In the first stage of our project we worked together with one of the original participants, Robert Whitman, helping to develop his performance presented on the 7th of October. The performance re-invented the rules of theatre and performance by including engineering elements, and integrating off-stage activities with live video footage. You can view the full performance here.

In the second stage of the project we were asked to develop new works that questioned the idea of performance in the 21st century. Marita Solberg, a visual artist and musician based in Tromsø and Manndalen, Northern-Norway, developed a workshop with us to help facilitate the generation of ideas. For our group show we worked with David Thorne, the founder of The Performance Studio in Peckham. In response to the performance we presented our artistic interpretations at Arts Catalyst (29th of October) and The Performance Studio (9th of November).

The title ‘Why Make It Simple When It Can Be Made Complex?’ was decided during our group conversations about life in the Anthropocene, considering the loss and gain of control through technological developments. With the diversity of our backgrounds the presentations developed individually and included elements of robotics, chemistry, neurology, theatre design, dance, engineering and fine art. While some of the works invited the audience to interact and participate in artistic debates, others were classically designed to be observed by the viewer.

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More Information on our individual projects:

Monika Dorniak ‘The Metacognitive Tool’
Performer: Alice Weber 

Virginie Serneels ‘9 Evenings & Side Effects reload’

Nicolas Strappini ‘Wimshurst, Powder’
 

Event review of ‘What if… Why not? Creative Risk-taking in Art, Design and Performance’

This article first appeared in Spark: UAL Creative Teaching and Learning Journal

Vol 1, No 2 (2016)  –  reproduced with permission

Event review of ‘What if… Why not? Creative Risk-taking in Art, Design and Performance’ at Central St Martins, 21st March 2016

Åinne Burke and Neus Torres Tamarit, students on MA Art and Science, Central St Martins

Abstract

‘What if… Why not…?: Creative Risk-taking in Art, Design and Performance’ was a symposium organised by Central Saint Martins (in partnership with the Teaching and Learning Exchange) as part of the on-going Teaching Platform series of events exploring contemporary issues in art and design education. It took place at Central Saint Martins on 21 March 2016.

This review takes the form of a conversation between Åinne Burke and Neus Torres Tamarit who, along with other students on the MA Art and Science at Central Saint Martins, devised workshops as part of the symposium. As well as these workshops, this daylong symposium brought together keynote presentations that asked whether creative students are allowed to take risks in university learning. Participants explored how risk-taking is perceived within learning and artistic practice, considering whether teaching can accommodate the possibility of positive failures.

Keywords

risk, workshop, student-led, failure, curriculum design, assessment

Introduction

What if… Why not?: Creative Risk-taking in Art, Design and Performance’ was a symposium held at Central Saint Martins College on the 21 March 2016. The event opened with hands-on creative practice workshops on the ‘Rules of Random’, run by students from the MA in Art and Science at CSM. The workshops invited participants to engage with the core questions posed by the symposium:

  • Is there a space for creative students to take risks in their learning at university?
  • How do we understand and experience risk taking within students’ learning and practice?
  • What teaching approaches support (or not) the possibility of ‘positive’ failure?

The daylong symposium also incorporated presentations by speakers, including artist Mark Dunhill (Dean of Academic Programmes at CSM), Professor Matthew Kieran (Professor of Philosophy and the Arts at the University of Leeds) and Dr Silke Lange (Associate Dean of Learning, Teaching and Enhancement at CSM).

As students who ran workshops for teaching staff at the symposium, we decided to position this review as a conversation, in order to give a flavour of our perspective on being involved in a staff event and how we experienced the tutors’ conversations with each other.

Neus and Åinne in conversation

Neus: How did students become involved in delivering workshops at a staff symposium?

Åinne: Through Heather Barnett, one of our lecturers on the MA in Art and Science at CSM. As part of Unit 1 of our course in November 2015, Heather directed a workshop with the title ‘Rules of Random’. Then, in early March, she invited volunteers to devise and facilitate our own 15 minute long versions of these workshops for the symposium. There were seven workshops in all. As well as Neus and myself, a number of other students volunteered to run individual workshops. These were Ellie Armstrong, Marie Macc, Franceska McCullough, Michelle Von Mandel and one workshop was co-directed by Hannah Scott and Nicholas Strappini.

The workshops had individual titles that responded to the concept of ‘Rules of Random’, which was used to name the overall first hour of the symposium, during which they took place. After much consultation as a group, we decided to engage visitors from the moment they arrived at CSM. Each symposium attendee received a colour-coded bag during registration. The paper bag contained various objects that had been selected by the student volunteers running the workshops. Visitors were asked to keep these bags sealed. Instructions on the outside of the bag directed visitors to the symposium room and the different colour of each bag indicated which workshop they should join once they arrived. The workshops were held in the same room as the symposium. Each workshop was directed at a table that accommodated up to seven participants. The participants of the symposium were divided between the seven workshops and stayed in that workshop for the duration of the allocated time for the Rules of Random exercise. The participants of each workshop demonstrated to the group what they did in the workshop and the outcome of their work. Each of us seven students also described our workshop in the context of our own practice and research. Heather Barnett concluded the overall exercise by showing photographs and talking about the results of the Rules of Random workshop she devised and directed with during our MA course work in our studio in Archway earlier in the year.

Neus: I created a workshop linked to my artistic practice about genetics entitled, ‘DNA Mutation and Recombination Dadaist Poem’. I introduced the following risks: uncertainty about the activity’s objective and a set of rules corresponding to each side of a dice that would be applied according to repeated dice rolls. At the end of the activity, I gave a handout with an explanation of the activity’s context.

The workshop participants had to compose a visual poem from words they would write in a random manner and then deconstruct according to a set of rules that emulate DNA recombination and mutation processes dictated by repeated dice rolls.

The workshop’s objective was to revive and modernise Hugo Ball’s performance in the Cabaret Voltaire in 1916, in which he appeared dressed in a machine-like avatar and read his poem, ‘Karawane’. I entered the resulting words that composed the visual poem into speech software that read the final words aloud, resulting in a contemporisation and inversion of ‘Karawane’; the original performance involved humans aping machines but we presented the final element of the performance using machines that ape humans.

The deconstructed words resulting from an aleatory process and the rules emulating DNA processes of recombination and mutation connected with the Dadaist poetry characteristics such as incantation of onomatopoeic constructed words, disparate words conjoined to create nonsense, and fragmentation of words into deracinated syllables or manipulated alphabetics.

Åinne: For my workshop ‘Evoking Memories Through Touch’, participants worked in pairs. One person was given the role of ‘scribe’ and the other ‘explorer’. The explorer was asked to close their eyes, reach into the paper bag (which had been given to them when they registered for the symposium) and take out one object. With their eyes still closed, they felt the object for a set time. The scribe then asked them a series of questions from a questionnaire (provided at the start of the workshop) and wrote them down. The questionnaire was split into two parts; the first asked the explorer to describe the object and second asked about the memories evoked by each object. The participants swapped roles so that they were able to develop a co-authored short story of shared memories, created by their combined descriptive responses. This is a workshop I devised and continue to develop in various projects that facilitates individual and group senses of self, and how we come to know who we are throughout our lives (Burke, 2016). In my MA practice I am continuing to develop that sense of self as part of a local community in a global family on a planet we share with all life. It is part of an on-going project called ‘TEAM, The Earth And Me’ that I am developing with a community in Myanmar.

Neus: Heather Barnett followed the 7 student-led workshops with a presentation describing how the MA Art and Science course encourages students to focus on process rather than finished artwork and to incorporate risk factors into our artistic practices. She presented the Matter-Method-Material experimental project in which after a brainstorm about subjects, methods and materials, students are assigned a random word from each of the three categories and focus on the process, rather than on the objective of producing a final artwork. Her discussion outlined how we, the students, are usually taken out of our creative comfort zone. As a student and artist with ten years of experience, I found this activity challenging. I was assigned three subject-method-material words that I would have never used. But after my first investigations, I managed to link them to my artistic practice and the process was very rewarding.

The symposium then continued with speakers and participants discussing the challenges of how to cultivate creative process that involves risk-taking, failure and uncertainty in an educational system that doesn’t allow enough time or flexibility around meeting curricular targets to do it.

Åinne: During the afternoon papers I particularly enjoyed Mark Dunhill’s talk, ‘Houdini’s Box’ (Philips, 2002). Dunhill demonstrated how risks were taken in the past due to circumstances at play at different moments in history. Mark told us about how in the 1960s, Central Saint Martins created an exploratory way to develop curricula where students explored their work without pre-defined parameters of a set curriculum. Students were free to take responsibility for their own learning by setting up their own projects in their own time frames, without direction. Despite being quite revolutionary this was accepted by the college management at the time. I liked that sense of trust and risk-taking as I am sure all the students gained a very strong sense of who they were and what they wanted to pursue in their work and life.

The group conversation shifted during the subsequent papers during the late afternoon. Both Professor Matthew Kieran and Dr Silke Lange talked about art and art process, which brought the conversation back to how academics plan, develop, direct and administer their courses. What started as a wide-ranging, stimulating conversation on creative risk-taking swiftly transitioned to people discussing the frustrations caused by institutional administration. During these conversations, the institution was increasingly characterised as an inadequate framework that does not support ‘risk taking’ as part of creative development. It is totally understandable that the conversation came back to the everyday trials and tribulations of creative work in a formal educational environment for everyone involved. Aspirations for creative risk-taking as a core philosophy for creative learning needs a concerted effort form everyone, including the students. Who is going to promote and support it and how can it be achieved throughout UAL?

As both a student at UAL and someone who has worked professionally as a director/producer of holistic edutainment projects, it was intriguing to listen to these exchanges. During my career facilitating edutainment events that aimed to develop creativity and imagination through art, technology and science, I have produced and directed what might be termed ‘high-risk’ projects. The process of organising these projects was fluid and allowed for different experiences and varied outputs. However, the structures surrounding educational administration struggle to allow fluidity into curricula, despite the success of the projects academically and creatively. The frustration which led to me scaling back my work was reflected in the late afternoon discussions. Working as staff in the system is incompatible with risk-taking unless it is supported by that system, through its structures. I worked as a maverick on the outside of the educational system bringing projects into it and leaving once they were completed etc. The symposium gave me an inside view of the frustrations that academic staff have in delivering courses under the constraints of heavy administration, sometimes at the loss of creative freedom. I sensed a huge desire to develop a creative risk-taking philosophy and practice, central to the students’ learning.

Neus: During these discussions, I found myself in an interesting position; although I am a qualified teacher I never think of risk, failure and uncertainty as an educator because I have never had a teaching position, but I introduce them into my artistic practice as part of the creative process. In my artistic career, I have developed a working method that consists of shifting back and forth between concept and material. This allows me to move forwards in the creative process in which I set a proper working environment to act according to a set of rules and allowing risk, uncertainty and (no fear of) failure, as said in the symposium. However, a creative process that embraces failure as an integral part of creation is fine in theory. In practice, there are usually external pressures that penalise failure if the process doesn’t arrive to a satisfactory point in a given timeframe. Examples of such external pressures are finishing an artwork either for an exhibition or to have a grade in a course. That said, artists, students or otherwise, should give themselves and be given room to experiment and fail, and be encouraged to learn from failure as well as success when researching techniques, exploring their artistic practice, and following the criteria stipulated by institutions.

The avant-garde movements changed their framework in order to adapt to the needs of the time allowing flexibility around their rules, accepting different artistic practices and interpretations of the same movement. I believe that by questioning the educational system, interrogating one’s own teaching processes, and giving students a degree of creative freedom that is not tied to a marking system, we could be moving forwards. Certainly, as indicated by the presentations and the discussions at the symposium, we are facing a controversial subject that clashes with what is established; certain traditions are very difficult to change.

Åinne: By considering creative risk-taking in an educational and creative environment, it seems that what emerged by the end of the symposium was another question about whether you can introduce and maintain a ‘fluid’ process of risk-taking in an adaptable art learning environment whilst, at the same time, pleasing less fluid, non risk-taking administration at local and regional levels of government in the UK.

References

Barnett, H. (2016) Available at: www.heatherbarnett.co.uk (Accessed: 30 May 2016).

Burke, A. (2016) Available at: www.thepossibleself.com (Accessed: 18 July 2016).

Frieling, R. (ed.) (2008) The art of participation, 1950 to now. San Francisco: Thames & Hudson.

Kahneman, D. (2011) Thinking, fast and slow. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Kieran, M. (2016) Available at: www.matthewkieran.com (Accessed: 30 May 2016).

Kieran, M. (2005) Revealing Art. London: Routledge.

Lange, S. (2016) Available at: www.silkelange.com (Accessed: 30 May 2016).

Philips, A. (2002) Houdini’s Box: The Art of Escape. London: Vintage.

Torres Tamarit, N. (2016) Available at: www.neustorrestamaritart.blogspot.com (Accessed: 18 July 2016).

UAL Teaching Platform. (2016) What if…Why not…?: Creative Risk taking in Art, Design and Performance. Available at: http://events.arts.ac.uk/event/2016/3/21/What-if-Why-not-Creative-Risk-taking-in-Art-Design-and-Performance/ (Accessed: 30 May 2016).

Biographies

Åinne Burke and Neus Torres Tamarit are students on MA Arts and Science at CSM.

Neus Torres Tamarit graduated in Fine Arts in 2007. She is transitioning her artistic practice to creating art about genetics. She is an artist collaborator at the Art Exchange at the Tate Modern and has exhibited internationally at places such as the Louvre Museum, Srishti Institute of Art Design and Technology (India) and the Susak Biennale (Croatia).

Åinne Burke has thirty-five years experience as an artist, writer, producer and director of workshops and projects in Ireland and internationally. Her work centres on the development and facilitation of our creativity and imagination about who we are and the world around us through art, science and technology. She has worked with a wide range of organisations including RTÉ (Ireland), Danmark Radios (Denmark), Norwegian Broadcasting Organization, Netherlands Outside Broadcasting, Svergis Television (Sweden), Canadian Broadcast Co-operation, BBC (UK), Philips Media (Netherlands, New York & UK) and The Office of the President of Ireland.

Copyright (c) 2016 Neus Torres Tamarit, Åinne Burke

Sarah Craske wins this year’s NOVA Award with Biological Hermeneutics

Sarah Craske, recent graduate from MA Art and Science, takes top prize at the prestigious MullenLowe Nova Awards. We asked her about the award winning project and what she’s going to do next…

The NOVA Award received by Sarah Craske & collaborator Dr Simon Park, from Jose Miguel Sokoloff - President of MullenLowe Group Creative Council

The NOVA Award received by Sarah Craske & collaborator Dr Simon Park, from Jose Miguel Sokoloff – President of MullenLowe Group Creative Council

 

What is Biological Hermeneutics?

The work Biological Hermeneutics explores what a transdiscipline can look like, through the speculative presentation of a collaborative approach to knowledge and data, practice and space, language and method, equipment and materials.

The translation of an historical text – a 1735 copy of Ovid’s Metamorphoses – was presented through artistic and scientific enquiry. Our Bacterial Printing methodologies were demonstrated by the inclusion of the microbiology still growing in bioassay dishes, cultured directly from the book’s pages and installed on shelves similar to those found in walk in incubators. Our developing archive of book bacteria was also installed alongside The Metamorphoses Chapter; digital and silk screen prints that accurately located the bacterial colonies back onto the original pages themselves. These results, interpreted by myself, reinforce the contextual view, which is so important to me as an artist – human interaction with Ovid’s tales having been brought back to life.

The work, which has taken over two years to develop, was created in collaboration with microbiologist Dr Simon Park and historian of science Professor Charlotte Sleigh. 

Biological Hermeneutics installed in Degree Show One. From left to right, The Metamorphoses Chapter, Biological Hermeneutic Printing, The Biological Hermeneutic Archive, The Metamorphoses Chapter.

Biological Hermeneutics installed in Degree Show One. From left to right, The Metamorphoses Chapter, Biological Hermeneutic Printing, The Biological Hermeneutic Archive, The Metamorphoses Chapter.

 

How do you feel about winning the top prize of the Nova Awards?

Surprised. It’s really wonderful to win. It is reassuring that what we have been so intently pursuing over the past two years is recognised to have some cultural value. The work has felt risky, uncomfortable and difficult at times, so it is rewarding that it is being recognised for the risk and innovation we have been trying so hard to apply and achieve. Also personally as an artist, I am seeking recognition that the work contributes and furthers debate within creative practice, which I believe this award endorses.

A detail from The Metamorphoses Chapter

A detail from The Metamorphoses Chapter

 

What will the prize enable you to do?

I will be reinvesting the money into continued transdisciplinary practice. We haven’t decided yet what this will exactly mean – I didn’t expect Biological Hermeneutics to win, so no plans had been made! However, the award now enables further risk taking to take place, which I hope will lead to further innovation. It provides the space to enable experimentation, which is invaluable and a rare opportunity. Usually with money comes required outcomes and targets, this award genuinely allows for creative freedom. We have talked about developing a printing process using bacterial inks developed from the bacteria found on the book … we could do more scientific testing to see where that leads. 

A detail from the Biological Hermeneutic Library.

A detail from the Biological Hermeneutic Library.

 

Why was it important to work in a transdisciplinary way?

I personally believe the collaboration of disciplines is extremely important. My MA Art & Science research focused on the importance and role of creativity in solving what are philosophically named ‘wicked problems’. Issues of knowledge, data, sustainability, global warming, etc… I believe can only really be solved if the disciplines are able to work together, whilst retaining their expertise and specialism. This is reinforced by the funding councils also recognising this potential in collaboration, who are now encouraging interdisciplinary practice. Therefore, trying to create a truly collaborative and inclusive practice role model is extremely important to me. Biological Hermeneutics was a speculative proposal of what a transdiscipline could look like.

I think more genuine art and science collaboration is occurring, however there are still challenges to overcome to enable Art & Science practice to become easier. These disciplines have been developing and establishing themselves for hundreds of years, and some of the results of that are the institutional mechanisms that now have difficulty in adapting to new ways of working, which breakdown these established boundaries. To put this into context, the MA Art & Science is the only Masters programme of its kind currently in the UK. 

A detail of the biological hermeneutic printing methodology.

A detail of the biological hermeneutic printing methodology.

All photography by Vic Phillips


 

Congratulations to all other winners of the Nova and to those shortlisted from a pool of 1300 graduating Central Saint Martins art and design students – especially to MA Art and Science graduate Julius Colwyn, shortlisted for his work In the Midst of Things.

In the Midst of Things, Julius Colwyn

In the Midst of Things, Julius Colwyn


 

Read more about the Nova Awards in the press

Creative Review

The Creators Project

MullenLowe: About the Nova Awards

 

Mundus Subterraneous – Friday 18th March

Final year MA Art and Science student, Sarah Craske, will be screening a new work on 18th March 2016, commissioned by the University of Kent… 

ARTIST Sarah Craske
WHERE Templeman Library Lecture Theatre, Canterbury Campus, University of Kent, CT2 7NZ
WHEN Friday 12:30-13:30 Panel discussion followed by film screening

The premiere of a new, permanent film installation by artist Sarah Craske for the Templeman Library, Mundus Subterranous explores the concept of books as centres of microbial data, and data transfer, and reflects on tensions in the relationship between digital and physical knowledge.

Over the last decade, libraries and archives have been through a huge process of change. As technology develops at an increasing speed, so does our relationship with knowledge. Knowledge itself is continually being redefined and accessed more immediately whilst acquisition and storage of knowledge is moving from the real to the virtual world. Mundus Subterraneous explores the idea that the physical archive is not just objects holding data within the text printed on their pages; the objects can also contain knowledge and data embedded within their physical form.

The film will be introduced by Sarah Craske, who will talk about the development of the work. She will be joined by a panel including including Assistant Director Information Services (Library Collections) Trudy Turner.

www.kent.ac.uk