Monday, 21 April 2008

Collaboration with Caroline

Caroline and I have been in conversation. We started mulling over her observation that as a researcher interviewing health professionals and mums, language could be a barrier rather than exchange. Somehow we got on to dress codes and gifting!
Then I thought about the films of Valerie Mrejen. She is a French Artist and Writer who makes video films of every day conversations, encounters and narratives which memorably illuminate the fraughtness of 'communication' that we are so skilled at glossing over.
Steven Rogers interviews Valerie Mrejen:
Filmmaker, photographer, plastician and author, Valerie Mrejen is an authentic jack-of-all-trades. Whether directing short films, penning novels or shooting documentaries, she consistently paints from the same palette, mixing memories, childhood and anecdotes with language, incommunicability and non-relationships.
The artist says this about her work: “I wouldn’t know whether I subscribe my work to a particular tradition, but I am interested in doing work about banality. I think it’s an ambiguous term which has taken on a negative connotation. It can be interpreted as something to do with squalor or something boring, but I find that, in what people call the everyday or banality, there are hundreds of details which make everything and nothing. It’s precisely these minute details which reveal everything that can be behind them.”
Caroline's had a look at some of the films and finds them really interesting. I am pleased to find some one who is a fellow fan of the work.
We've been analysing the films. Valerie Mrejen uses actors to portray episodes based on autobiographical experiences. The delivery is quite deadpan - banal, althought the content is often quite harrowing. We ponder two things. First that the deadpan delivery of excrutiating or uncomfortable material can have a bigger impact on the viewer than an intense delivery. Second that using actors gives the artist flexibility in exactly how she wants them to perform.
We looked at the way the films are shot - very simple, static camera, often just head and shoulders. We talked about the importance of sound quality and lighting on simple set ups.
We've discovered that the French Institute in Edinburgh has a dvd of 'Pork and Milk' a fairly recent documentary by the artist which hopefully we will get to see together.
Caroline is considering the possibility of using video as a way of disseminating some of her findings. We are considering doing a joint presentation to CRFR on our conversations and explorations so far.

Thursday, 17 April 2008

Advancing the use of visual methods in research on children's cultural worlds

Attended this QUALITI seminar at Cardiff University last week. - papers will be posted soon.
Very good presentations from a range of researchers discussing the processes, outcomes and issues arising from using photography and video to research children's cultures.
Most of the projects engaged the children and young people in using the technologies themselves to gather data/make work which illustrated and/or reflected on aspects of their lives and/or identities.
Coming from a particapatory arts background I found myself considering the projects in terms of the participants experience - what the children and young people got out of being involved, how much control they had over the processes, at what level?
How much ownership they had of the outcome?
Issues of 'informed consent' to show the visual outcomes arise in research as they arise in arts projects. One of the presentations successfully discussed photos without actually showing them.
The seminar was great for helping me to unravel and clarify possibilities with the residency here.
First of all i think it's useful to be really clear about how visual methods interact with the different stages in the research process. I understand these as:
formulation of research questions
design of process
data gathering
data analysing and processing
formulation of findings and answers to research questions
knowledge dissemination and transfer
In considering this 'visual methods' have to be unpacked too. I think we could have a useful discussion exploring differences between visual methods as tools and visual methods as processes.
The second observation (related to the last point) is the use of off- the-shelf technologies of photography and video as visual methods. In contemporary art practice, a common strategy is to use ( and evolve) technologies and materials which are most appropriate to the endeavour, rather than start with the technology.
Applying the same strategy to visual methods in research practice could take us into interesting territory!
The residency creates a space for us to explore some of these possibilites together.

Friday, 11 April 2008

Children and Young People's Spaces

Had a tantalising conversation with Emma yesterday about young people's spaces. I might be getting a bit obsessed about children and young people's spaces! or the lack of....or the strict adult regulation of...
There was a fascinating feature on last Friday's "Landward" (BBC1) about a nursery project in Fife called The Secret Garden - a nursery where the children spend all their time outside - come rain, hail, snow, sunshine. Inspired by Norwegian practice.
I'm looking forward to gleaning more from Emma, and hopefully sharing ideas.
I am interested in the aesthetics of children's spaces among other things. (More about aesthetics in another blog.)
I think adults often see children and young people's communal spaces as untidy, messy, unsavoury and chaotic. Then they use this uncontested view to modify the space to the extent that it no longer functions for children or young people.

Thursday, 10 April 2008

Negative Space

4th Drawing session went well. Space in between was the theme. Looking at the 'negative' spaces which shape a chair. Then drawing the shapes which make up the spaces. With a bit of practice (!) this is a really useful drawing tool. In fact some might say you can't do a decent drawing without considering the spaces between.
Reminded me of Glasgow School of Art Environmental Art Course, with the strapline - the context is half the work.
Led us to a brief conversation about socially engaged art practice and socially engaged research practice.
I think Sarah was right yesterday when she said there might be mileage in some of us looking at the similarities and differences between the two practices.
Any takers?
We also talked about Bruce Nauman, Rachel Whitread and the contested practice of life drawing the female nude.
The drawing sessions are beginning to take on a context as well as being about learning a skill. I didn't expect this! We are beginning to explore a shared space between social science research and fine art. Quite organically.