Archive for November 2011

The Future of Arts Research, 18th November 2011

Royal Holloway, University of London, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences in conjunction with The British Library and the Centre for Creative Collaboration

Despite recent funding announcements which have painted a bleak picture for arts research – this conference managed to be both intellectually stimulating, and positively enthusiastic about the future; leaving a lingering sense of hope through perseverance.


The opening keynote from David Cross ‘Remember imagining, imagine remembering’ was inspirational and uplifting; a narrative of a select number of projects undertaken by ‘Cornford and Cross‘, Matthew Cornford and David Cross. The positive benefit on society was palpable and real. The economic and political implications of interpreting the world through artistic research included examples of how having integrity about your beliefs can mean that you don’t always get your research funded. In the case of one particular project proposal they were turned down but then still able to have impact by talking about their research in other arenas.

The second keynote from Martin McQuillan, originally titled ‘I blame it on the Smiths’ was re-titled at the last minute to: ‘For the love of the university: a useful argument’. Martin reminded us of the Dearing Report (1996) which stated that the people who benefit should pay; he talked about how the students are not the consumers – the state is the consumer – the universities deliver a certain number of students to the state and provide training which would otherwise cost society – the students contribute to the economy.

Derrida (1999) was quoted regarding his views of the ‘unconditional university’, and the role of the university in democracy. Universities need to better understand their nature and unique role in society; one thing we should excel at is critical self reflection. In terms of the future of arts research, Martin outlined the inherent problems with the new fees arrangement; he described a ‘pessimism of the intellect’ but an ‘optimism of the will’. I made a note to bookmark the London Review of Books website; and uncovered some useful papers by the contributor Stefan Collini.

A Big Society? Arts and Social Intervention (Auditorium)

In the morning session, Anne Smith, outlined the approach of her completed PhD: ‘The Value of Practice-based Research Investigating Participatory Drama Projects with Refugees, Asylum Seekers and Migrants’. She spoke sensitively about the cultural setting for her work and also provided some examples in which the drama sessions, involving role play, had empowered participants in unexpected situations such as enabling one woman to contact the police when her small child went missing. Anne also referenced Maslow’s ‘Hierarchy of Needs’.

One of the highlights of the day was a talk by Rosanna Irvine who presented ‘Choreography as a Practice of Living Together’ focusing on two collaborative projects in particular:

what remains and is to come (2011) – a collaborative dialogue between Katrina Brown and Rosanna was presented as a short film; the project takes a ‘cross-disciplinary approach’ to choreography; ‘working with the materiality of charcoal, paper, body and digital technologies’ (Reference:

Sense[less] Acts (2011) – Rosanna and Jenny Hill voiced a video of their work (so we could clearly hear the statements). In the evening at the Centre for Collaborative Creation this same work was re-performed in a new context, including us as the participants. As a participant it was a privilege to be given a fuller sense of the meaning of the research; although the result was more questions than answers. The space in which the evening performances took place was very atmospheric; unfortunately the image below doesn’t really do the space justice:

The Centre for Creative Collaboration, London.

The Value of Breaking Boundaries (Brontë)

Kelvin Thomson, a professional musician and PhD in Composition candidate at Royal Holloway University of London, presented a composition inspired by Sylvia Plath’s ‘The Arrival Of The Bee Box’ (1962). The Estate do not grant permission to any musicians to set Plath’s poetry to music; Thomson’s paper ‘The Box is Only Temporary’: Recycling and Looking at New Musical Ways of Articulating Poetic Meaning’ described how he recycled and completely reinvented one of his original compositions through working collaboratively with Danae Eleni (soprano) and Enrico Bertelli (percussion).

Philip Sayer’s paper on ‘Philosophy, Social Science and the Arts: The problem with disciplines’ provided a philosophical discussion on the nature of interdisciplinarity. Sayer recommended that research supervisors should be aware that there is a link with employment and researcher behaviour i.e. some research students take on the ‘norms’ of the department they eventually want to work in. A few of the many useful points of reference included: Karl Popper (1963): ‘We are not students of some subject matter, but students of problems.’; the frontispiece to Francis Bacon’s 1620 Instauratio Magna which depicts a ship travelling through and beyond the Pillars of Hercules – ‘many will pass through and knowledge will be increased’; Kockelmans (1986): ‘students of the different departments have very little in common as far as their education is concerned’; and Law (2004) After method: mess in social science research Routledge: New York. The distinction between different disciplines is a good thing, and possibly necessary, so long as it doesn’t inhibit interdisciplinary.

Katja Vaghi presented a paper on ‘The comic element in Dance’ with reference to the works of the Czech dance choreographer Jiří Kylián, including the example below titled ‘Birthday’:

Mozart: Birthday – Nederlands Dans Theater celebrates Jiří Kylián (YouTube)

Technology, Word and Image (Brontë)

Eliisa Vainikka from University of Tampere, Finland, is at the beginning of her PhD research into visual blogs as presented in her paper ‘Consuming Pictures in Social Media’. Eliisa referenced Lehdonvirta (2010) ‘Online spaces have material culture’ (PDF). After her presentation we chatted about social networking in Finland and it was interesting to hear why the IRC-Galleria environment appeared to be so successful – simple and straightforward – not as complex as Facebook.

Mathelinda Nabugodi based her paper ‘A Defence of Translation in the Age of Its Technological Reproducibility’ upon two key texts: Shelley’s ‘A Defence of Poetry’ (‘poetry lifts the veil of beauty from the world; it makes the familiar not familiar be’) and Benjamin’s ‘The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction’ (‘translation is a form’). She talked about how, in some cases, technology could enable, for example matching film technology and Dada movement ideals.

There was discussion about why arts research should have to be justified on an economic basis as it can be misunderstood if money is used as the only criteria; although money has its place in the public sphere. A summary of the day was presented by the invited plenary panel.

eNova developments for visual research profile pages

Since presenting about eNova at the Repository Fringe 2011, Edinburgh, the project team has been hard at work on making the enhanced MePrints tool a reality. As presented, the MePrints research profile tool has been re-envisaged as a three-tabbed set-up with a profile page, an outputs page, and a gallery page. This has been possible through the ongoing and iterative feedback received by the visual and creative arts researchers who have taken part in eNova and realised through the technical skills of Peter West from EPrints Services.

The eNova project coincided with the updating of the University for the Creative Arts (UCA) staff research profile pages which was due to occur over the Summer. This was not envisaged at the beginning of the project but as we wanted to make sure that the research profiles pages would be integrated into the repository (to encourage take-up and embedding of the repository) an early version of the enhanced MePrints tool was made available to the Research Office. Despite discussions about the issues around enabling researchers to edit their own research profiles, unfortunately currently they are only permitted to upload an image to their profile. However as they upload outputs to the repository this will ensure that both the Outputs and Gallery pages are kept up-to-date. One significant improvement over the previous MePrints tools is that outputs are now listed by date creation and not by the last item deposited, as feedback suggested this was not useful especially with retrospective deposits that could see an old paper top of the ‘latest additions’ list.

Professor Millar Gallery page
The enhanced eNova Gallery page in use in the University for the Creative Arts repository.

The version in the UCA repository was transferred to ARTSUK, the test site accessible to both UCA and University of the Arts London, to enable the third iteration of user testing to occur. The same group of researchers have been involved all the way through the eNova project as described in the user needs methodology (PDF). A glimpse of some of the results of the recent user testing in the form of a wordle:

eNova wordle
A wordle of all the Microsoft desirability words recorded by the visual and creative arts researchers during their third iteration of user testing – viewing and creating their own profiles with the enhanced MePrints tool in ARTSUK.

Further information will be forthcoming about eNova as EPrints Services have been making further improvements based on feedback received from the October and November user testing.


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