The week began with an interesting round table discussion about the recent exhibition ‘Milky Way You Will Hear Me Call’ by Emma Bolland, Judit Bodor and Tom Rodgers. As the project is still in its R&D phase, it was interesting to see how the artists had displayed their initial findings, and to hear some of the thoughts behind the work.

The project is a visual reworking of David Peace’s fictional narrative of the Yorkshire Ripper. As the exhibition focused on sites from the book where bodies had been found, the artists found themselves entrenched in their own sensitivity to the memories of the women involved. As their work progressed, it became clear that the work had a psychogeographical element to it, and exposed the nature of how site absorbs and reflects history. In this way, I felt that it became an homage to the act of mourning itself.

One of the thoughts that came out of this discussion and other conversations around this topic was ‘the act of mourning as a process, rather than a goal’. This helped me to reconcile the old adage of time being a healer, with the idea of public memorials, which is something that I’d always found contradictory. I was also impressed by what had become one of the signature images of the project, that of a makeshift crown of hay, picked at one of the sites. For me, the image reflected a multitude of visual references, including Victorian memorial lockets and scenes from the Stations of the Cross. Emma also told us how she planned to continue the project by including workshops and possible opportunities to take the exhibition to Chicago in the near future.

Another day, another lecture, and this time it was the turn of Head of Visual Culture at Edinburgh College of Art, and one member of the Confraternity of Neoflagellents, Neil Mulholland. It was especially enlightening for me, as although I was previously unaware of his work, the concepts he was discussing seemed to be tailor-made for the work I was trying to create.

Neomedievalism as a concept, expresses methods of production and interaction in the pre-modern era as a basis for contemporary geopolitical, economic and aesthetic development. It was useful for me to be able to put a name my thoughts and I decided to write up the information with additional links on my professional practice blog.

New drawings
It’s becoming apparent that these next few years are going to require a large element of project management and, while I’m enjoying going to lectures and discussing ideas, a major part of the PhD requires me to create my own artwork. It was this thought that enabled me to switch focus and begin to apply the information I’d collected to some new drawings. The images (drawn from Gray’s anatomy) have become the first stage in a dialogue between my practice, theories of ritual, belief and science, and the work of other artists working in similar fields.

Museum as memory
The week ended with a seminar, hosted the Henry Moore Institute, to welcome new researchers to Leeds. The keynote speech was made by Kaspar König, Director of the Museum Ludwig, as he prepared to curate his final museum installation, ‘One wish is always left unfulfilled‘. His keen interest in sculpture within public contexts, and his involvement with Skulptur Projekte Münster for the last four decades, also introduced new viewpoints to discourses around the museum.

Many instances of contemporary practice find the museum context problematic. Often hierarchical, bureaucratic and opaque, it can be seen as a dead space, which no longer allows art to function in the way in which it was originally intended. However, listening to Kasper describe new dialogues between contemporary and historical artworks depending on how he placed them in relation to each other, highlighted the role of the museum in the critical enquiry of artwork over time. This seemed to emphasise the theme of the week; that of the museum (and artwork) as cultural memory, and the need for museums, curators and artists to continuously endeavor to work with, and challenge this received knowledge.


People have been asking if things are going as I expected. To be honest, I didn’t really know what to expect. I knew that I’d be focusing on a specific research topic, which was a welcome opportunity as I now have the time and support to produce a significant body of work, and am working towards the qualifications to pursue an academic career afterwards.

However, it doesn’t stop there, as although there are no set modules, Post Graduate Researchers are expected to complete regular study reports, as well as participating and attending events, exhibitions, conferences and seminars to build up their academic cv. As a practicing artist, I am used to presenting, promoting and cataloguing my practice through blogging, which has been really useful for the transition into research and something I would recommend as a matter of course for all artists.

How is creative practice assessed?
The thing I am particularly interested in however, is the way in which the research degree is documented and assessed. When applying for the course, I had been asked to supply additional information to support my application, including my educational transcripts. Anyone who hasn’t experienced an education in fine art might be mistaken for thinking that it is one that allows more creative freedom without imposing the restriction of academic outcomes, but of course, grades are never awarded arbitrarily. Even having been through the process, it was interesting for me to see the outcomes that my work had been assessed against, and I wondered whether it would have affected the work that I produced if I’d had access to that information.

The personal development record
This brings me back to the research assessment process, which is documented using an online personal development record or PDR. This consists of a database which provides space for the numerous things needed to assess your PhD, such as supervision notes, meetings, reflections, and training. However, there is an additional tool, called a TDNA, which is used for outlining the stages of development for doctoral candidates.

Each outcome is listed under one of four headings; knowledge, effectiveness, organisation and impact, and lists everything from personal integrity to web presence, in order to understand the strengths of each post graduate researcher. Having access to, and knowledge of, these outcomes helped me to feel more comfortable with understanding the expectations of my supervisors and the course in general, and I wondered how I could apply those things to my own teaching practice to develop autonomous learners at all levels.

Pedagogy as practice
As someone with a keen interest in structural systems (especially from a data visualisation perspective), this also brought me back to thinking about my research collages and other artists using similar techniques to discuss social hierarchies, namely Hans Haake and Stephen Willats. Both these artists have created work addressing socio-economic policies, usually in relation to the international art market, and are especially interesting in the way they incorporate interaction into their work. In the context of the PDR it also made me think about pedagogy as practice, a term which related to some earlier work I’d produced as part of a group called the University of Incidental Knowledge.

International networks
Another area that I’m expected to develop is my international profile as a researcher. As part of this, the arts and humanities faculties have teamed up with universities in Sheffield and York to create the White Rose Skills Development Network. This allows researchers from different countries to connect specifically in the context of sharing knowledge of different academic cultures within an arts framework. There are also opportunities for peer language learning through partnerships between individuals with shared interests.

Through searching online I also discovered www.academia.edu, an online repository of papers, books and academic interests, all of which are linked to researcher profiles. These developments have undoubtedly come about because of the social media revolution, and will, I hope, encourage more of a creative commons mindset within the academic community.


I arrived back at uni after a weekend trip to London, where, among other things, I’d paid a visit to the Wellcome Collection. I’ve long been aware of the Wellcome Trust’s commissioning programme and their affiliation with the artworld, however, I was still pleasantly surprised to see the extent to which the art was integrated into the museum.

Henry Wellcome was a 19th century medical practictoner and philanthropist, who had collected widely throughout his life and amassed a museum-worth of artefacts. The exhibits addressed various elements of historical medicine, usually focusing on the ritualistic nature of ‘other’ cultures. However, despite the affinity with Victorian Curiosity Cabinets, it did highlight strong links between the nature of ritual, belief and medicine.

First supervision meeting
Having scheduled a supervision meeting for mid-week I was keen to share my latest interests with my supervisors. We discussed some of the content of my research and how it related to the Wellcome Collection as primary research for study. Will Rea, my co-supervisor, specialises in art and anthropology, so was interested how far I might want to pursue that thread, particularly in relation to the connection between science, religion and magic. This was consolidated after mentioning my previous reading on Primitivism, and he recommended some follow up reading of Wittgenstein on Fraser and texts on the anthropology of religion.

As I’d prepared some work in the vitrine in the corridor, we went outside to look at it and decide how it could evolve. I’d already considered opportunities to build on the ideas within the mind map to create wallpaper works. However, through discussing the possibilities of the work, I identified yet another strand to my project. I had considered the form (practice) and content (theory), but realised that I also needed to address the contextualisation of my work within the work of other practitioners and academics, so I resolved to research artists addressing similar issues and began planning which objects to include in my display.

The Wednesday art lecture
One thing in particular I’m enjoying about being back in the university environment is the countless opportunities for learning and discussion. The faculty has a thriving post graduate environment with regular talks, lectures and forums. This weeks lecture was by Judit Bodor, who had also curated the exhibition in the project space downstairs with visual artist, Emma Bolland and photographer Tom Rodgers. She began by outlining a history of curating and the changing role of the curator, from the pre-60s model of a keeper of art, through to curating as an artistic practice in its own right.

I was particularly drawn to the phrase ‘critically self aware curation’, or ways of representing reality that considered the nature of cultural capital and inclusion. Engagement and interpretation strategies were also intrinsically connected to the dissemination and distribution of the work, and Ric Allsopp and Paul O’Neill were two of the researchers mentioned who were working to address these systems of representation and reception in art.

Curating as a creative practice
Bodor’s projects tend to exploit the idea of the site, not just in relation to the exhibition space, but also the political and social history of the region. The first of these mentioned, addressed the concept of networked practice and took place in her native Hungary. Her experience within this genre came from working with an artist-led mail art archive at a time when Eastern Europe was still in the grip of Communism. This obviously had an impact on the nature and size of the work that could be sent and received, and it was interesting to consider the archive as an installation in that context.

A journey through her archive of curatorial projects led us to her most recent one ‘…milky way you will hear me call…‘, a project based on David Peace’s fictional reimagining of the hunt for ‘The Yorkshire Ripper’, Peter Sutcliffe. The project uses fragments of David’s text as starting points to ‘blur the boundaries of visual practice, curatorial intervention, research, documentation, fictional, and theoretical writing.’ After a brief introduction, we went downstairs to enjoy the show. (The white chocolate buttons at the opening were a nice touch too).


I love researching, really love it. I love finding out about things and making connections between that new information and the things that I already know. I enjoy stepping back and looking at the big picture. That in itself should be a good thing.

The difficulty comes when I have make sense of all this stuff, compartmentalize it, or even discard it. With this in mind, I decided to switch my focus from collecting information to creating work in my studio, in order that I wouldn’t overwhelm myself. Starting to make art without a fully formed plan was quite scary at first, but before long I was engrossed in folding paper and card to create sculptural mock ups.

As I’m focusing on artist books as ritual objects, I decided to look into the Primitivism movement to see how groups such as CoBrA and Die Brücke had challenged discourses around ideas of ritual within ‘the primitive’ by creating work using those influences. A key text the artists were inspired by was The Golden Bough by James Frazer. Although disputed as a sociological study, the book could still be used to give additional insight into artistic processes of the time.

The Brotherton library
After a productive day in the studio, and because I’m still getting used to the campus, I decided to attend the library induction. The Brotherton library is an amazing feat of architecture, crammed from top to bottom with a fountain of information on any subject you’d care to know about. It reminds me a bit of something from a Terry Prachett book, especially the lower levels, and the layout defies rationality. Even so, the walls seem to exude knowledge, almost as if you could become smarter by osmosis. Despite being aware of not getting too caught up in reading, I couldn’t help having a quick browse of the shelves. It was timely to find a book called Artists with PhDs by James Elkins, and I resolved to look further into the pedagogy of my new situation.

Preparing for supervision
As part of the academic process I also have to have regular supervision meetings, which serve to keep me on track and offer additional information and resources, as well as allowing me to report on my progress each month. As this is a new experience, I was a bit unsure about what was expected of me. Luckily my supervisor was on hand and suggested I fill up the table top vitrine outside his office with some of my work. Having just settled into my studio, I had yet to finish any new work. Admittedly I could have displayed objects from before starting the course, but I decided to take it as a challenge.

Unsure as to what I was going to create, I headed back to my studio. I’d made a promise to myself that I wouldn’t leave anything on the walls for too long so that the space wouldn’t stagnate, so as soon as I got back I began by dismantling the mind map I’d created the previous week. Again, inspiration found me working, and it wasn’t long before I was constructing an elaborate collage of images and ideas related to my research. After finishing, I installed it in the vitrine, ready for supervision the following week.