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.


It had a been a long wait to start my PhD since receiving notification about my AHRC funding in June, but the day was finally here. Armed with a new pencil case, I walked to university, excited to begin the next phase of my artistic career. Thankfully the weather was sunny, so it was a pleasant scene that greeted me, with lots of bustling stalls selling plants and posters for the students to decorate their newly acquired rental properties.

Welcome meeting
I’d received an email inviting me to attend a welcome meeting and was eager to meet my research colleagues. I arrived at the room along with another five post graduate students. We were all asked to describe our research projects and it was then that I realised that I was the only practioner in my year on campus. I have to admit, it felt a little strange.

To be honest, as an artist I’m used to not fitting in, but I had hoped that now I would be around people who understood what I did. However, throughout the meeting it was explained that one of the main outcomes of the project was to contribute to original research in my field, so perhaps being different wasn’t such a bad thing after all.

What is practice-led research?
Actually, the term practice-led research is a bit of a misnomer, as much of my work isn’t realised through practical processes, but materialises more as a response to theoretical concepts, like an illustration of ideas from outside the work, which are then created using the medium that seems most appropriate. This process works well for me in producing work but I also think it will be of benefit in the context of my PhD when it comes to writing a dissertation and presenting papers.

Symposia and studios
The next day, the school organised an Post Graduate symposium with presentations as diverse as Deleuzian concepts of noise music through to Contemporary interpretation in Heritage sites. It was a great opportunity to see the second year students present their work so far (and to see what I had to look forward to next year) and was complemented by the lecture later in the week by post doc researchers within the school.

The last stage in preparing to start work was when I was allocated my studio. I was given a room at the back of a large house on campus. Initially, I felt a bit nervous at the emptiness of the space. Thankfully, I’d not been idle in the time I’d spent waiting to start the course and had been collecting and collating images and quotes as part of my research on http://whatisanartistbook.tumblr.com. I set about creating a mind map of images and text on the walls in preparation for the week ahead.