After hearing artist Dr Nicky Bird speak about her work Question for Seller at the Leeds Artist Book Fair in March, I thought it would be useful to meet her for a tutorial. Dr Bird was the first person to graduate from the Practice-led PhD program at University of Leeds in 1999. Apart from being able to present an informed opinion about my situation, she was also able to highlight conservation issues of art practice documentation.
For example, the fifteen years since her graduation have seen exponential developments in technology, rendering the VHS submission of her video installations increasingly irrelevant in documentation terms. Therefore, although the practice and research are still viable products, it is worth considering the longevity of the submission medium when submitting practical work, particularly in a digital format.
It was also useful to speak to another artist scholar about the kinds of materials and formats I could use as part of my submission. Bird’s own final submission included a site specific installation of sound and video work at Lotherton Hall. In addition to this she presented documentation of the works in progress, published articles, and a professional practice dossier. Her written submission was actually a close reading of a photograph by another artist, rather than an interpretation of her own photography.
The Practice-based PhD submission
The focus of my meeting with Dr Bird was on how I could consolidate my practice for PhD submission, particularly in relation to questions of originality, as a unique contribution to knowledge. Our conversation confirmed my previous understanding of originality as a new method or approach to working, as opposed to an entirely new concept. Bird also considered my use of a research log or blog in the Practice-led PhD as a pertinent way to explore emergent art practices.
Emergent art practices often incorporate digital technologies into documentation and dissemination of artwork, and are useful in exploring the ways in which artwork is produced as a process, rather than as a finished product. Although I felt as if my practice was quite disparate, Nicky was able to extract key themes from our discussion. We discussed ideas around image vs object, curation, collection, digital humanities, artist gifting, authorship, authenticity and DIY culture, in relation to both my individual and curatorial practice.
Art as research
It was suggested that I should consider each body of work as a case study, in conjunction with a dominant theme in my writing. As my practice tends to emerge from outside influences I thought this would work quite well. However, it should be noted that artworks should not be considered as illustrations of the text, or writing as explanation of the artwork, but rather each operating in conjunction with the other as interpretations of the research.
This also enabled me to view my work as a process of translation between text, image and object, which was underpinned by an autoethnographical art practice. In this way, I was able to consider all of my individual and curating work as part of my research practice. Nicky also suggested that I considered the terms I want to use to describe my practice, particularly in relation to co-curation.
Dr Bird was particularly interested in the use of collection in my practice and suggested I look at some of the exhibitions by Mark Dion, another artist working with collecting and collections.The latest Mark Dion project, ‘200 years; 200 objects’ was part of Ever/Present/Past, a series of commissions marking the 200th anniversary of the Royal Edinburgh Hospital. It was held at the Talbot Rice Gallery, Edinburgh from 16th November 2013 – 15th February 2014, and featured a large cabinet full of 200 objects; one for each year since the hospital was built. Each object was related to a story, real or fabricated, from the hospital’s past. Objects included letters, portraits, and other ephemera which aimed to shed light on the former patients and doctors.
As with his other projects, such as Tate Dig, Dion’s collecting practice shows an irreverence for the boundaries between the things that would be considered worthy of collection and those that would not. These examples are of interest because they subvert the usual criteria for collection. By focusing on stories of the everyday which become more poignant due to their heightened status within the museum collection.
All in all, it felt like a very productive meeting, which allowed me to consider the main themes of my research and practice in relation to the work that other artists were making, as well as suggesting ways that I might submit my research for assessment.