This year, the Centre ran three REF development workshops which covered some of our overarching research themes and research environment, looking for syntheses, interdisciplinary links, and opportunities for collaboration, and developing sections of REF portfolio submissions. The workshops were attended by postgraduate students and staff across a variety of disciplines such as Music, Art, Performing Arts, Applied Linguistics, Creative Writing and Geography.

Epistemologies of Practice [Dr Tim Long]

The first workshop involved an explanation of the Research Excellence Framework and definitions surrounding practice research. The next REF will be in 2021 and it is a process of review of academic research by panels of esteemed peers. The criteria includes the quality of the output, impact beyond academia and environment. Alongside documentation of the research output, practice research submissions should be accompanied by a 300-word statement. During the workshop, three members of staff from the School of Media, Art and Design shared their current practice research projects followed by a discussion. Bryan Hawkins presented his project involving sabotaged Victorian portraits, James Frost demonstrated his research in historical puppetry, and Charles Williams discussed the auto-ethnographic methodologies of his creative practice.

Some of the questions and statements that arose from this workshop include: how does the research constitute knowledge? Is the knowledge prone to adjust or develop through the viewing by an audience? Is the knowledge always derived by chance? How can you write about or explain embodied knowledge? And, knowledge can be encountered, negotiated and encouraged through practice. Advice from the workshop included: practice researchers should not do their research or change their research for the REF; the 300-word statement can help to articulate the research that has already been undertaken.

Written/Unwritten: Writing and/as Practice Research [Dr Lauren Redhead]

The second workshop focused on writing and text-based practices, including the performative role of writing and how the practice of writing can inform practice research. In groups, the participants discussed their personal practices and their links to writing, text and language. The groups then drew links between these practices to identify themes for possible interdisciplinary collaboration. An outcome of this exercise is ‘A Canterbury Tales’ project, which is a potential collaboration between creative writing and performance using crowd sourcing and participation to form a play.

Prof Carolyn Oulton, Goran Stefanovski and Dr Kene Igweonu shared examples of their practices and described the relationship between their creative practice and writing. Carolyn shared her poetry and discussed the potential difficulties of complementary writing when the practice is also writing. Kene explained the differences between writing up (after a project) and writing out (during a project). Writing out is about reflection and it doesn’t just have to be writing, it can include recordings or video documentation of reflection or the articulation of ideas. Kene has written two articles on the topic of writing and practice research which can be found here. Goran Stefanovski expressed that sometimes writing about the research aspects of a project requires reverse engineering. For example, the research questions for a project may not be evident until the project is complete. This led to a discussion on the 300-word statement for REF submissions and how this type of writing can be helpful to elaborate, articulate and often validate the research to others, especially to those outside of the practice.

Within this workshop, the participants suggested ideas for how the centre could help with writing in practice research. The suggestions included: an arts council bid development forum for collaborative feedback and for developing ideas; student peer review of writing, e.g. working towards 500 words; workshops on ways of writing without using words; research speed-dating; short interviews about practice for the blog.

(New) Materialism(s) [Dr Andy Birtwistle]

The final workshop explored the relationship between practice and materials within practice research and facilitated interdisciplinary and collaborative research. Questions asked in this workshop include: how can the relationship between practice research and the material be understood? To what extent can materials such as those in film, music, photography and sound art influence project outcomes? In what ways might practice research intercept with and contribute to material cultures? And, how do materialisms transcend and challenge disciplines in creative practice research? In group discussions, the workshop participants identified aspects of materiality in their own practice and how this might connect with the research of others to facilitate collaboration with a shared focus on materiality. One of the groups had a shared interest in age and archiving and they discussed potential collaborative and interdisciplinary projects involving duration and materials (e.g. materials that decay over time).

During the workshop Dr Andy Birtwistle, Dr Lauren Redhead and Prof Matt Wright demonstrated and discussed materiality in their creative practices. Andy presented a paper on thinking about and understanding materiality and new materialism. For his PhD in film studies, he positioned materiality as a counter to semiology and he explained that materiality enables a different way of describing and thinking about sound. Sounds can be conceptualised as objects. The inherent qualities of sound include: complexity, amplitude, tonal quality, timbre, duration and development, for example. New materialism stems from science and brings a matter-oriented perspective to many topics and can generate new critical insights, breaking away from linguistic models and challenging anthropocentrism. In Andy’s research he thinks about the sound of technology, which is usually understood as noise. In his recent performances, technology has an audio, physical and visual presence.

Lauren discussed New Music and materialism. She explained that during the majority of the 20th century materialism in New Music was overlooked or considered a formalist approach. Very recently, a music and materialism network has been set up and evolving themes include: feminist practice and making and musical ontology. Lauren has a particular interest in notation, which is often thought of as a medium. She describes her creation and performance of notation as a material feminist approach. Lauren focuses on how notation is made, the practices that they employ or borrow and the embodied experience of the process (e.g. the meaning of mark making). She also has an interest in material practices involving text, speech and language, and aleatory materialism.

Matt demonstrated his creative practice research using recordings as material. During performance he works with vinyl records and manipulates recordings in an iterative process, listening and editing in real time. The equipment that he uses includes a turntable, mixer, laptop and speakers. Matt explained that he is interested in how sounds morph over time and where the sound is heard. Matt creates an architecture of sound using multiple speakers. For example, in his latest project he created a sound environment using 30 speakers. He also discussed the belief of knowledge as material. In Matt’s work, he thinks about the knowledge of the historical use and misuse of the turntable as an instrument, and how much he is aware of the knowledge or avoids it.

The Centre will be looking to develop projects in all three areas in the coming academic year.