Tag Archives: Research Diary

QR Codes

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QR codes in sketchbook

The main achievement today has been the addition of QR codes to the concertina sketchbook. I’m not usually a huge fan of QR codes, but I think they are probably the best way to help me achieve an effective link between the material on this online diary, and the material in the sketchbook. They appear in the book where the online/offline material coincides. For example, in the photo above, the left hand page carries the note I wrote to myself to help me remember what I needed to do to be prepared for the first research session. The QR code on the same page then links to the blog post I also wrote about preparing for the session.

The next two pages are the recreated notes I made during the first focus group interview. The QR code on this page links to the blog post about my initial thoughts after transcribing the interview.

The right hand page is the beginning of the section that covers the walking and drawing activity. Again, the code on this page links to the post about the event.

Pretty straightforward and not really that exciting, but using the codes does make seeing the overall progress that the research has taken that much easier, and much more coherent.

 

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Concertina Sketchbook Diary

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Concertina Sketchbook

I thought I would upload a couple of shots of the 4.5 metre long concertina sketchbook I have been working on. The concertina sketchbook compliments this online diary, in that it explores similar themes, but by different methods.

As mentioned a previous post the length of the sketchbook, at 4.5 metres,  represents the average distance the shore retreats every year at Covehithe. When fully extended and displayed, the sketchbook not only charts the progress of the research, but also attempts to tackle the problem of visually describing environmental processes that operate on a different temporal level than that of our senses.

Concertina Sketchbook 2

The challenge of visually representing environmental processes that our senses struggle to interpret is a theme that is running through my work at the moment. The sketchbook is a rather crude attempt to tackle this challenge, in that it aims to give an appreciation to the viewer of just how far 4.5 metres actually is. It doesn’t however speak of the underlying environmental processes at play or our relationship to them. So, perhaps this sketchbook doesn’t goes far enough?

My reason for asking this is that I have been considering some of my core beliefs about my creative undertakings. Over the last two years I’ve realised that I happen to believe that it would not be to the benefit of my practice to seek to solely translate these processes into an understandable format. After all, it could be said that this reduces art to an illustrative role, when surely creative practice can aim for more than to serve as just a tool of illustration?  This relates to some wider questions about arts-based research, which, in short, question the status of knowledge in art research and making, and even wider than this, ask what the purpose of arts-based research is and what its goals and conventions should be.

So, how does what I do relate to these types of questions? Well, it seems that I believe that the drawings I make, certainly within the context of the arts-based research that I carry out, should have the goals and interests of art at their core. However, I also believe it is possible, and worthwhile, to try to meet these aims while serving other purposes.

What I am aiming for is a form of creative practice that not only has at its heart the production of art that is able to stand on its own merit, but a practice that also furthers the development and understanding of arts-based research. The focus of this practice should then be directed towards not just helping us to understand, but to also question our relationships to, and our behaviours towards, environmental processes.

Sounds easy.

 

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Final preparations…

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So, as ever, things have been so busy over the last week or so that I have ended up neglecting the online side of this diary. Therefore, an update.

Amid the chaos of the last week I have been slowly assembling an art materials pack for each of my participants (the number of which has now grown to eight) to use on our coastline walk this coming Saturday.

Putting the packs together has been pretty difficult. I know what I like to use when I draw, but I have been discovering what I like and don’t like over several years. It is a different matter to pick out art materials for somebody else however.

Materials Pack

Even though, as Ioana Literat points out, drawing as a type of image elicitation operates unaffected by the kind of knowledge hierarchy that conditions much photoelicitation, drawing can still be an intimidating activity to undertake. This is true enough when working alone, but is exacerbated in front of a group of people. This feeling of intimidation can come from lots of sources, but in putting these packs together I have been thinking about the kind of intimidation that can come from the type of materials we use.

There is a difference in using something like a sheet of St. Cuthberts Mill Somerset paper and a sheet of newsprint for example. Each has its uses, and there is a time for both, but for me, certain materials make me feel certain ways and this influences what I do with them. As wonderful as it is to work with them, I believe that high quality materials can invite hesitation or doubt. Say somebody knows that the single sheet of Arches Velin paper they are working on costs around eight or nine pounds per sheet. What I keep coming back to is this –  how does this knowledge not influence how they draw? Are we not always encouraged to think, wrongly in my opinion, that if it is expensive then it is to be valued, and valued things are treated with a special kind of reverenceMaybe experience leads to becoming comfortable with this situation. If I ever can afford eight pounds for a sheet of paper I’ll let you know. But my point is, I need to find materials that allow my participants to explore freely, but do not inhibit or intimidate them. After all, this project isn’t about judging what is a good or a bad drawing, so to possibly create a situation where it is being questioned whether what is being drawn is good enough for the materials I have provided will work against everything I am trying to achieve.

Having said that, among my participants there are those who I would consider to be experienced artists, alongside those who do not have much experience of drawing. This is exactly how I wanted it, but it makes it a little difficult to meet the needs of everybody. Those that are familiar with the usual apparatus of drawing, may have certain expectations of their materials, so to provide them with equipment which they might consider to be ‘amateurish’ may also unduly influence what they produce.

So, when putting these packs together I felt that I needed to strike the right balance between familiar, non-threatening materials and materials that aren’t unpleasant or frustrating to use.

I won’t know if I have done just that until we are under way, but I have done my best to reach a decent compromise.

So, each pack contains:

  • An A3 sketchpad –  I guess this could be described as ‘student quality’, the kind of pad that you would find in any art or stationery shop. It isn’t amazing quality but it looks decent enough to cope with a bit of heavy scribbling and rubbing out.
  • A disposable camera – It’s been a while since I have bought and used one of these (V Festival 1997 I think…) and it was a bit difficult finding somewhere that sold them cheap enough that buying eight and getting the photos developed wouldn’t cost more than a digital compact camera! I finally located them at Jessops and got eight, on a deal of buy two get one free, including processing for around £17.00 which I was pretty happy with. The camera is included as an optional extra for participants to use on the walk. It will be interesting to see how much this is relied upon to record observations.
  • A tin of sketching pencils – Nice, familiar pencils, but in a rage of different hardnesses.
  • A selection of colouring pencils – Just to add a further option to working in grey scale.
  • A black pen
  • A stick of willow charcoal
  • Two sticks of compressed charcoal – One black, one brown
  • A soft/medium charcoal pencil
  • A paper blending stump – Ideal for blending or blurring the charcoal.
  • A pencil sharpener
  • A rubber
  • A Zip-Lock bag – to be used to collect any interesting items (so long as they are allowed to be removed from the beach).

I am sure there are many things I could have included but haven’t, but considering the issues I highlighted above I think I have provided a wide enough selection of items to use without the choice being overwhelming. The quality of the items is also something I am pretty pleased with. I think I have worked hard to source items that I can afford, of a quality which doesn’t exude either cheapness or expense. That might raise a few eyebrows but for this project, for the reasons given above, I am happy with ‘average’!

All that remains now is to hand the packs out on Saturday after the morning’s group interview, hope for reasonable weather, and head out into the elements to do some watching, walking and drawing. I have to say, after all this planning, I am looking forward to getting back on the beach, looking, learning, experiencing.

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Embodied Processes

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Some back story. Three years a go when I was preparing my research proposal to send to the University of Brighton, my research interests were in slightly different area. At the time, I was concerned with how we might possibly, through art,  make environmental processes that operate on a different time scale to human time more personally meaningful, or at least more easily comprehended.

A promising route to a more meaningful experience of slow-moving or large-scale processes seemed to be through art works that physically embody the natural processes they seek to describe. Take for example the handmade book work Once Around the Sun by Kristjan Gudmundsson. According to Frieze:

In the first volume each page is covered in dots, in total as many dots as there are seconds in a year: 31,556,926 dots in all. The pages of the second volume are densely covered with horizontal lines. Joined together, the lines would measure the distance the earth travels in one second, that is 29,771 metres, or about 18 miles. 

This means that these two books, when considered together, are a handmade, visual representation of the distance the Earth travels in one year.   What is achieved in these two volumes, is the translation of distances and timescales, so large as to be practically meaningless, through an object that is not only human-scale in size, but also efficiently and poetically expresses large periods of time in a way we can begin to appreciate.

However, over time my research interests evolved and it is only recently when exploring ways to reflect a process such as coastal erosion through drawing that I have been thinking again about art works embodying environmental processes.

Which brings us to the physical counterpart to the online component of this research diary. Arriving home from work today I was greeted by the roll of Fabriano 200gsm paper that I had ordered, from which a concertina sketchbook will be made. Taking its cue from Gudmundsson, the sketchbook will be 4.5 metres long, a distance equal to the amount of land lost to the sea per year in some areas of Covehithe. The concertina design is crucial, as it will make it possible to exhibit the book in one long piece, presenting the journey the research has taken in an object that  makes visible and understandable the amount of land loss that is occurring in some areas.

To provide weight to my point that we sometimes have a hard time imagining time and space, I hadn’t really considered how long 4.5 metres actually is, only giving thought that the 10 metre roll of paper I had ordered provided me plenty of room for errors when making the book (traditionally I have always been a measure once, cut twice kind of person). Well, I can report, it isn’t easy to wrestle with a 1.5 metre x 10 metre roll of paper (especially working in a spare room as I am studio-less), and further more, folding a 4.5 metre long sheet of paper into individual pages is also a time-consuming task. It is now made however, and is sitting under several hardback books to try to flatten the pages. Future posts will explain in more detail the purpose of the physical book, as well as discussing other ways my work will come to explore certain aspects of erosion, such as degradation and protection.

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Research Information Event – Update

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Info Packs

 

I finally have the chance to sit down a write a little about the information event that I held on Saturday 12th April. The day arrived and I made my way up the A12 to Wrentham village hall having received a handful of emails during the weeks leading up to the 12th expressing an interest in the research and in attending the event. Despite the positive feedback I was still unsure if interest would convert into actual attendance.

Happily the vast majority of those who had emailed came along, and I was able to explain the project aims, and find out about those who had come along to learn more.

After a few cups of tea and coffee, and an enjoyable discussion about the local coastline (which was interestingly close to the kind of conversation I hope to capture later in the project), the event ended with encouraging comments, with most people saying that they would be in touch to sign up for the research. One of the main points that came out of the meeting was a change of dates for the four planned research events.

It is difficult to plan a timetable when you are not aware of who you will be working with, and what their time capabilities may be. The general consensus at the meeting was that it would be preferable to condense the four sessions into two longer session running on consecutive Saturdays in May, and it is far easier for me to be flexible than expecting several people to change their plans. In fact, I think it may be beneficial to have the drawing session followed swiftly by the interview session as thoughts will still be fresh in mind. Besides, I will always have the option of asking participants for more of their thoughts after a little more time has passed.

Since Saturday, I have had four confirmed participants (thank you kind people!) leaving me with another three or four to find. A slight concern to me was the fact that three of the four participants are from an arts-based background, so to balance things up I would like some of the remaining participants to come from a non arts-based background.  With this in mind I have been in touch today with several local museums and charities asking if they would advertise the research to their members in the hope of reaching out to those who have an interest in the coast, but don’t currently make art work around that theme. Thank you to the Southwold Sailor’s Reading Room for a very quick and helpful reply, along with a kind offer to display a copy of the book of participant drawings that will be one of the outcomes of the project.

So right now I feel I have made about fifty percent progress towards finding all the participants I would like to be working with, and the search will continue over the next week or so. Alongside this search I think I will take advantage of the Easter break to spend some time considering the art practice side of the research, in particular how art works can physically embody environmental processes.

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Thank yous and nervous beginnings…

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With just over a week to go before the research information event at Wrentham village hall I have been busy attempting to publicise the event so we are not sat there, drinking coffee alone, between 10:30 and 12:00.

Village hall notice board

Thanks to help from the Parish Council and several kindly people of Wrentham and the surrounding area, posters advertising the event have gone up on village notice boards and other locations around the community. I’ve also received a great deal of help publicising the event from Suffolk Coast and Heaths AONB,  SCAR, Touching the Tide, Councillor Martin Parsons and Tidal Margins – thank you all. Apologies if I have omitted thanks to anybody, there have been so many helpful people that I have lost track of who represents each organisation!

So far, I have received a few emails expressing interest in the event, so I am hopeful that word is spreading and we will be meeting some people on the 12th. The event is crucial to the success of the research as it is the one chance we will have to convince potential participants that taking part in the research will be fun and worthwhile for them.

So, in keeping with the practical administration theme dominating the research recently, I have had to prepare a participant information pack to hand out on the 12th.

The pack needs to contain:

  1. An information sheet that lets potential participants know about the purpose of the research, what they will be asked to do and informs them about issues such as confidentiality etc.
  2. A sheet to record their contact details (modified slightly in case any under 18s wish to take part under parent/guardian supervision.
  3. A project timetable that lists when events are happening and where.
  4. Consent forms – One for taking part in the research and one that covers the photography and future use of any drawings that participants make and any research materials that they generate.

So, after much procrastination I finally completed these forms today and have sent them over to my research supervisor to sign off on before they get printed.

Adding research into my practice has been testing at times (I hope to return to this theme at  a later date) and this is reflected in the fact that I can’t say I have found this process easy so far. However, whilst it is a little out of my comfort zone, it is providing me with valuable lessons about promotion and  local networking. That said, I’ll be glad when I can concentrate less on administration and devote more time to drawing.

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An introduction…

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Over the next few months this website will be used to document and reflect upon the progress of the main research project that I am undertaking as part of my MRes in Arts and Cultural Research at the University of Brighton. This blog forms the online component of a larger Visual Research diary that  will chart the course of the research in a reflexive space that pulls together art practice and research.

My research aims to work with participants from a region of Suffolk in the United Kingdom affected by coastal erosion. As part of the research participants will take part in a combination of drawing activities and participatory field research that will help them explore and articulate their connections to, and experiences of, a disappearing coastline.

Covehithe OS Map

To help address the aims of the research, the ‘data generation’ section of the project will follow four stages:

Initial Focus Group Interview  –  The first research activity will be to carry out an initial focus group interview with the participants. The main purpose of the  interview will be to establish a baseline appreciation of how participants relate to the coastline and to discuss some of the concerns participants may have regarding the use of drawing in this research as a way of exploring their experiences.

Participatory Field Research – With participant relationship to the coastline forming an important feature of the research, it is important for us to actually engage physically with the landscape that we are investigating.  With this in mind a group walk will be carried out, during which visual and word based observations will be recorded alongside participant discussions of the coastline.

Drawing Activity – The core of the research takes the form of a communal drawing activity that will allow the participants to explore their experiences and reflections of the coastline. The purpose of the drawing activity is to attempt to visually depict coastal experiences through mark marking and erasure, techniques that can be said to represent the coastal erosion processes at work in the region. The process of creating the drawings will be recorded photographically, and a stop-motion animation of the process will be placed on this website as part of the research findings.

Final Focus Group Interview – The final focus group interview will be where participant reactions to the drawing activities will be discussed alongside encouraging participants to play a role in the interpretation of their own drawings.

IMG_3293

This is a very brief overview of the project, and over the next weeks and months everything will be expanded and reflected upon. Right now, practical matters are dominating the research progress and it is practical matters that will be the subject of the next few posts.

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