Thursday, 1 December 2016

Adventures in the Classroom - Responding to the UH Strategic Plan 2015-20: Global Perspectives in the Curriculum

Dr Ivan Phillips and Kim Walden - School of Creative Arts, University of Hertfordshire

There has been much debate this year about what kind of relationship Great Britain wants to have with Europe, and indeed with the rest of the world: from the lofty aspirations of the Higher Education Academy’s framework aim to ‘internationalise higher education’ to the stark realities of the Brexit referendum result in June.

At a more local level when the University of Hertfordshire published its own strategic plan with a focus on global perspectives in the curriculum, teaching staff in the School of Creative Arts Critical and Cultural Studies (C&CS) Network set out to explore what it means in the classroom.

Each Network member was invited to choose one picture which articulated how they addressed the objective in their day-to-day teaching practice. The results were thought-provoking and so was the discussion that ensued.

Read more about it in a thought piece written for LINK journal here:,-issue-2/global-perspectives-in-the-curriculum

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Why nakedness is an apt way to protest the Trump presidency

Barbara Brownie, University of Hertfordshire

Donald Trump’s road to the White House has been punctuated by as series of naked protests, ranging from topless women at Trump’s polling station to Spencer Tunick’s nude installation of 130 naked protesters outside the Republican National Convention in Cleveland. These protesters continue a long history of naked demonstration – and nakedness has long been employed as a gesture of defiance, highlighting the plight of the oppressed.

In a time when media is saturated with nudity, the naked body might seem to have lost its power. But amid fears that Trump’s administration will set back women’s rights by decades, naked protest may have regained relevance.

When 100 semi-naked protesters marched to Trump Tower on November 19, some presented their bodies as metaphors for the human planet, sensitive to climate change. Others used their bodies to express a fear that women, under Trump, would become a marginalised group. These protesters’ nudity is a defiant response to revelations during Trump’s campaign about his attitudes towards imperfect bodies, confronting Trump’s “man of the people” act by showing him what real America looks like. If Trump is to represent “ordinary Americans”, he must learn to accept them in all shapes and sizes.

But these were more than just naked bodies. Protesters had decorated their bodies with fake wounds and scars, representing the damage that Trump’s administration may cause. This is a warning that if the administration wields too much power, the powerless will suffer.

Trump’s election has left many Americans feeling overwhelmingly powerless. It would make sense, then, for them to resort to a method of protest that has long been associated with oppressed and minority groups. Undressing is a tool that is at almost any protester’s disposal: a last line of defence that is almost universally accessible. It is an act of defiance that is still available even to those who are disempowered by low status, by lack of funds, or simply by ordinariness. So Mexican farmers protesting government appropriation of their land in 1992 turned to naked protest as a last resort, explaining their action by saying “we are stripping because … we don’t have money to buy an ad in the news … we have no other arms, all we have are our bodies”. This movement, which became known as the 400 Pueblos, continues sporadically to this day.

Members of the social group 400 Pueblos (400 towns) protest in 2005. Iván Stephens/EPA

Human conflict is predicated upon the relational power of opposing parties. Power often stems from control of tangible resources, but is also exercised symbolically, through bodily gestures. Foucault’s writing on subjugation equates power to control of the body. In times of conflict, dominance is asserted through actions that demonstrate control over the “docile” bodies of others. Conversely, to evidence control over one’s own body in the face of an enemy is to maintain control over one’s dignity and identity.

Perhaps the most recognisable example of protest undressing is captured in Ladislav Bielik’s photograph of a man peacefully protesting the Soviet occupation on Czechoslovakian streets in 1968. The image shows him ripping open his shirt to reveal his bare chest, presenting it defiantly to an oncoming tank. His shirt rending is equivalent to the gesture of a raised fist, expressing a pent-up anger so overwhelming that it can no longer be contained internally, and is forced out of the body in the form of a visible gesture. When a bare chest is pressed against a canon, as in Bielik’s photograph, the stark inequality seems unfair. The conflict is revealed as unjust, with the opponents clearly presented as victim and oppressor.

Such gestures appear to transform the sight of a fragile, exposed body into a show of raw force, with the power to overcome the might of opposing forces.


Naked power

By undressing in public, protesters assert what little power they still have. Undressing is not just a means of removing clothes, but a meaningful gesture that expresses a shift in attitude from compliance to defiance. At the same time, it is a direct challenge to those, like Trump, who are prone to objectifying the female body.

Nakedness has been employed for similar purposes by Femen, in protests against objectification, specifically the feeling that women have been “stripped of ownership” of their own bodies. Femen exploit the power of nudity to counteract “ornamental meanings of female nakedness”, though not because they feel that nudity has innate power; they achieve power via, not through, naked flesh. These protesters present the body not as a passive, erotic object, but as an unpredictable, intimidating Other.

The otherness of the female form is dependent on its unfamiliarity. Historically, the female body has been strange and mysterious, and as a result have been the subject of numerous myths and misconceptions, some of which persist in the US today.

Women in Los Angeles demonstrate against the election of Donald Trump. Mike Nelson/EPA

Women of past centuries have been able to exploit the perception of their bodies as peculiar or even monstrous. The Irish legend of Cú Chulainn, for example, describes how, when he turns against his uncle King Conchobor during a bout of youthful revolt, the king sends out a company of women to “expose … their boldness to him”. The young warrior is so intimidated by what he sees that he retreats. Similarly, in Jean de La Fontaine’s The Devil of Pope Fig Island (1674), a woman is able to ward of the devil by flashing her “gash”. Believing the woman’s “gash” to be a wound inflicted by terrible violence, the demon imagines that the woman’s husband must be even more monstrous than he, and retreats in fear.

When their male suppressors are ignorant of the female body and what it can do, women like these can exploit rumour and misinformation to de-eroticise their bodies.

That is not to say that a body must be de-eroticised in order to become powerful. Indeed, there is tremendous power in the erotic presentation of the body, as any burlesque performer will attest. The upcoming World Burlesque Games will demonstrate how empowering it can be to invite objectification in the right setting. Audiences and performers of neo-burlesque locate striptease in a post-feminist world, in which bodies of all shapes, sizes and genders deserve to be the subject of an erotic gaze.

Anti-Trump protesters reveal that this post-feminist ideal is still a distant dream for mainstream America. The mere fact that their nudity attracts press attention is evidence that the US still lags behind more liberated parts of the world in their approach to female nakedness. If the Trump administration does set back feminism, as so many fear it will, naked protest will continue to be an appropriate and effective tool for America women over the course of his presidency. So long as the administration objectifies the female body, protesters will be able to use their own bodies to confront the status quo.
The Conversation

Barbara Brownie, Senior Lecturer in Visual Communication, University of Hertfordshire
This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Sunday, 6 November 2016

One Day Artist’s Project: Body/Object/Space

On Wednesday, the Art & Design gallery was filled with oddly shaped, brightly-coloured beasts. These are the first year Fine Art students, transformed into clothed objects with guidance from visiting artist Nigel Grimmer. Students collaborated with Grimmer for his project, Body/Object/Space, using piles of clothes to become temporary, abstract sculptures. While these "body sculptures" are temporary, Grimmer stresses that they are only the first part of the making process. Participants pose for photographs, which provide a lasting record of their activities, and that form what Grimmer considers to be the final outcome.

The participants are shown an assortment of clothes, wigs and masks, that they are encouraged to consider in unconventional ways. Grimmer suggests that they consider how each garment might clothe the body without adherence to its usual mode of wearing. Trousers can become belts; skirts can become capes; jackets can become hats; and sleeves can become additional appendages that protrude from the body, complicating its silhouette. Participants are also encouraged to create new items of clothing by buttoning several garments together. These suggestions are evocative of the work of Japanese fashion design Rei Kawakubo, whose Wrapped collection (1983) contained ‘flaps and appendages that could be tied…in a variety of ways" so that wearers could “design clothes that have never existed”.

 Grimmer encourages participants to distort their silhouettes by knotting garments, or by cutting shapes from cardboard that could be slid inside fabric. "The further you remove [your shape] from looking like a person, the better", he tells us. The results that he hopes to encourage range from simplified shapes that smooth the body into featureless silhouettes, to complex arrangements that mask the body's true shape with additional contours.

The participants are initially conventional in their approach to the pile of garments, trying them on as they would if shopping. After a while, their confidence builds and they start to consider alternative ways to construct the relationship between the body and the garment. At Grimmer's suggestion, they start to cover their faces and their confidence grows. Like a disguise, their masks provide a hiding space, and with anonymity comes a newfound willingness to experiment. The masked participants start to take greater risks, and they dare to present their bodies in more sculptural poses.

Grimmer encourages students to work together; to bind multiple bodies into one. In doing so, he invites reference to a history of costume that transforms human bodies into other creatures by clothing them in a shared costume. I have written elsewhere about shared garments and the ways in which they force entangled wearers to move as one, single body, with shared choreography. Pantomime horses, Chinese dragons, and more recently, performance art such as Lucy Orta's Nexus Architecture (1998-2010), all require individual wearers to become part of a single ‘roving beast’ that navigates through public spaces. Individual identity is lost, and as the observer struggles to makes sense of a mass of body parts that exists beneath the clothes, the hybrid shape can only be perceived as something other-than-human.

Friday, 7 October 2016

Professor Rebecca Houze, TVAD Visiting Researcher 2016-17

Professor Rebecca Houze is a specialist in the history of design and the decorative arts, with an emphasis on textiles and dress. She received her B.A. from the University of Washington (1993) and her M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Chicago (1994, 2000). Her research centres on relationships between art, industry, collection, and display in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Professor Houze is author of Textiles, Fashion, and Design Reform in Austria-Hungary Before the First World War: Principles of Dress (Ashgate, 2015), and New Mythologies in Design and Culture: Reading Signs and Symbols in the Visual Landscape (Bloomsbury, 2016). She has published her work over the years in Journal of Design History, Design Issues, Fashion Theory, Textile, and Centropa, and is co-editor of The Design History Reader (Berg, 2010).

She joins TVAD as Visiting Researcher for the academic year 2016/17 and she will make two trips to UH during the year, in October and February. The programme of events through which students and staff can engage with Prof Houze is published here and is open to all.
·       TUESDAY 11th OCTOBER  2016

10.30 am - Gallery Café. Welcome to the School of Creative Arts, and School tour and campus tour, Dr Grace Lees-Maffei.

1.30 pm – 2.45 pm, CDC Studio. “Women’s Needlework Education in the Late 19th Century”, Session with Contemporary Design Crafts and/or MA students. Hosted by Antje Ilner.
·       WEDNESDAY 12th OCTOBER  2016

12.45 for 1 pm, 1A159 Lindop. Lunch provided. TVAD Talks series. Prof Rebecca Houze discusses her monograph Textiles, Fashion and Design Reform in Austria-Hungary before the First World War

This study offers a new reading of fin-de-siècle culture in the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy by looking at the unusual and widespread preoccupation with embroidery, fabrics, clothing, and fashion - both literally and metaphorically. Houze resurrects lesser known critics, practitioners, and curators from obscurity, while also discussing the textile interests of notable figures, Gottfried Semper and Alois Riegl. Spanning the 50-year life of the Dual Monarchy, this study uncovers new territory in the history of art history, insists on the crucial place of women within modernism, and broadens the cultural history of Habsburg Central Europe by revealing the complex relationships among art history, women, and Austria-Hungary. Houze surveys a wide range of materials, from craft and folk art to industrial design, and includes overlooked sources-from fashion magazines to World's Fair maps, from exhibition catalogues to museum lectures, from feminist journals to ethnographic collections. Restoring women to their place at the intersection of intellectual and artistic debates of the time, this book weaves together discourses of the academic, scientific, and commercial design communities with middle-class life as expressed through popular culture. 


·       THURSDAY 13th OCTOBER 2016 to SUNDAY 16th OCTOBER

Independent research in Vienna. Prof Houze will speak about her recent research at a conference.

·       MONDAY 17th OCTOBER 2016

10 am to 4 pm, AB146. DHeritage Core Workshop, Year 2: ‘Proposal Development and Presentation’. Workshop Convenor: Dr Grace Lees-Maffei. This workshop examines the development and dissemination of doctoral research in heritage.
·       TUESDAY 18th OCTOBER 2016

11 am to 12.45 pm, AB132 Todd Building. ‘Discovering New Mythologies in Design and Culture’, MA Art and Design, Module: Research and Enquiry workshop led by Prof Houze in which students write their own volume of "new mythologies".

3 pm to 5 pm, Gallery Cafe. TVAD Reading Group. Session with TVAD and School research staff and PG students focused on supportive peer review of work in progress. If you wish to participate, please send your text to Dr Grace Lees-Maffei

·       WEDNESDAY 19th OCTOBER 2016


·       THURSDAY 20th OCTOBER 2016

5.00 – 6.30 p.m., A154 Lindop. Design Talks series, convened by Julian Lindley. Prof Rebecca Houze discusses her work writing New Mythologies: Reading Signs and Symbols in the Visual Landscape (Bloomsbury 2016).

Taking as its point of departure Roland Barthes' classic series of essays, Mythologies, Rebecca Houze considers a range of contemporary phenomena, from the history of sustainability to the meaning of sports and children's building toys. Among the ubiquitous global trademarks she examines are BP, McDonald's, and Nike. What do these icons say to us today? What political and ideological messages are hidden beneath their surfaces? Just as Barthes' meditations on culture concentrated on his native France, New Mythologies is rooted in the author's experience of living and teaching in the United States. Houze's reflections encompass both contemporary American popular culture and the history of American industry, with reference to such foundational figures as Thomas Jefferson and Walt Disney. 

For questions about TVAD, TVAD Talks and the TVAD VIsiting Researcher programme, please contact the TVAD Research Group Leader, Dr Grace Lees-Maffei,

Sunday, 25 September 2016

TVAD Talks 2016-17 announced

An impressive, international line-up of speakers has been announced for the TVAD Talks series for the academic year 2016-17. All are welcome to join us for the TVAD Talks, held regularly on the second Wednesday of each month during term, in 1A159 (Lindop Building, College Lane campus). We start at 12.45 with a buffet lunch for a 1 pm research presentation and discussion after. For more information, contact Dr Grace Lees-Maffei

Weds 12th October 2016 – Prof Rebecca Houze, Northern Illinois University, ‘Writing Textiles, Fashion, and Design Reform in Austria-Hungary Before the First World War'

This study offers a new reading of fin-de-siècle culture in the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy by looking at the unusual and widespread preoccupation with embroidery, fabrics, clothing, and fashion - both literally and metaphorically. Houze resurrects lesser known critics, practitioners, and curators from obscurity, while also discussing the textile interests of notable figures, Gottfried Semper and Alois Riegl. Spanning the 50-year life of the Dual Monarchy, this study uncovers new territory in the history of art history, insists on the crucial place of women within modernism, and broadens the cultural history of Habsburg Central Europe by revealing the complex relationships among art history, women, and Austria-Hungary. Houze surveys a wide range of materials, from craft and folk art to industrial design, and includes overlooked sources-from fashion magazines to World's Fair maps, from exhibition catalogues to museum lectures, from feminist journals to ethnographic collections. Restoring women to their place at the intersection of intellectual and artistic debates of the time, this book weaves together discourses of the academic, scientific, and commercial design communities with middle-class life as expressed through popular culture. 

Weds 9th November 2016 – Rebecca Bell, Royal College of Art, ‘Folk Fever and the Bureaucratic Machine: Craft and Design in early 1960s' Czechoslovakia'. Dr Steven Adams to Chair 

At an international conference held on the occasion of Franz Kafka’s 80th birthday at Liblice Castle near Prague in 1963, philosopher Karel Kosík questioned the ‘Kafkaesque world’, raw with controversy in the Communist context. Kosík, a best-selling author whose texts around ‘dialectics of the concrete’ challenged Neo-Stalinism, described Kafka’s ‘world of a monstrous and unintelligible labyrinth, a world of human powerlessness in the network of bureaucratic machines, mechanisms, reified creations’. He posed writer Jaroslav Hašek’s competent but brilliant fictional character, the good soldier Švejk, as epitomising ‘a way of reacting to this world of absurd omnipotence of the machine and of reified relations’ (1975: 87-88, cited by Hames, 2014: 157).

The use of humour and absurdity as a Czech literary device is also seen in applied art and design in Czechoslovakia, such as the popular inter and post-war glass figurines of Jaroslav Brychta. The latter are the focus of my first PhD thesis chapter – in this seminar, I wish to present research for my second chapter, which focuses on the ways in which similar Czech cultural tropes, particularly those relating to folk and craft, are explored amongst the ‘network of bureaucratic machines’ in the State design system during the 1960s. They are used to activate new relationships to traditional forms and question ‘this world of absurd omnipotence’. In particular, disillusion, humour and material juxtapositions will be explored within State design projects, but also that seminal 1960s’ Czech form, New Wave Cinema.

A case study of particular interest is Karel Vachek’s film also from 1963, an important year for understanding the burgeoning effects of de-Stalinisation in Czechoslovak culture. Vachek’s Moravská Hellas (Moravian Hellas), is a part-reportage, part-fiction parody of State approaches to folk festivals, crafts and music in the early 1960s. From a material history perspective, it provides insight into feelings around the State appropriation of folk and craft techniques. As character Dr Pavelčík, Director of the Museum in Uherský Blod, states towards to the end of the film, ‘Ethnography is at its end, everything has perished...It seems to me like a slowly dying cow’. Local storyteller Uncle Lebanek adds that it is ‘some kind of fever’. Meanwhile, designers working for ÚLUV, the Centre of Folk Art Production, are trying to integrate craft and folk methods and themes to negotiate ways of establishing design practices that are both theoretically interesting and commercially viable. Through Interior design projects, fashion and design magazines, I look at how these aims were realised in the shifting intellectual climate of early 1960s’ Czechoslovakia.

Film stills from Karel Vachek's Moravská Hellas, 1963

Weds 14th December 2016 – Dr Thom Cuschieri, University of Hertfordshire ‘The Gorey Groan – A Study in Gothic Voices’

In Jorge Luis Borges’ short story Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote (1939), a twentieth-century French writer endeavours to reproduce Cervantes’ seventeenth-century masterpiece Don Quixote – not by memorising the original, but by so fully inhabiting Cervantes’ life and persona that he is able to recreate the work anew, from scratch. Borges’ wry reflection on the nature of authorship and the appropriation of style and voice is the inspiration for The Gorey Groan, which seeks to explore similar concerns at the heart of illustration.

Through a stratagem similar to that used by Borges’ eponymous, fictional Menard, this project seeks to gain insight into the work of two twentieth-century artists intimately connected with the gothic tradition: the American writer, illustrator, and designer Edward Gorey (1925 – 2000) and the English writer and illustrator Mervyn Peake (1911 – 1968). The project involves a meticulous study of Gorey’s visual language, style and approach, and will include the production of a series of illustrations “by Gorey” (in the Borgesian sense) of Mervyn Peake’s gothic novel Titus Groan, as a means of engaging meaningfully with both artists’ oeuvres.

Gorey did not illustrate Titus Groan in his lifetime, and the focus here is not the replication of an existing body of work, but rather the means by which artists create their voice, through conscious borrowing and subconscious influences. There is, of course, a third voice in this project – my own – and, unlike Menard, I aim to scrutinise my role in the shaping of Gorey’s authentic “voice” as I seek to experience Peake’s text through a particular artistic vision.

Weds 11th January 2017 – Dr Barbara Brownie, University of Hertfordshire, ‘Spacewear: Weightlessness and the Final Frontier of Fashion' 

In the new era of commercial space travel, we must rethink our approach to designing clothes. Space, and the artificial environments that aim to replicate it, provide challenges for spacesuit engineers, and that may also increasingly concern fashion designers. These concerns are currently reflected most often at the intersection of reality and fiction, as science fiction speculates about the requirements of future space travel. In recent years, Earth-bound fashion designs have also begun to take a speculative approach to fashion design, which imagines the clothing requirements of future space tourists.

Although there are numerous texts that broadly consider space, this talk will specifically address environments with reduced gravity, in which the body experiences weightlessness. I will address the various features of clothes that must be reconsidered for the reduced environments of spacewalks, space stations and zero-gravity flights within Earth's atmosphere. Learning from the design of spacesuits as well as recent speculative fashion design, I identify how clothes are experienced in reduced gravity, and how designers must accommodate these conditions.

Future fashion designers will be required to reassess many of the dressmaking and design processes that are fundamental to fashion on Earth's surface. The weightless garment contains a body, but is not supported by it. Garments contain the body differently in different gravitational conditions, leading to “a newly found balance between the muscles and the tension of fabrics” (Dominino 2003, p. 278). Drape, which is a staple of garment design, is defined as a product of gravity. This book will ask whether drape can be said to exist without gravity, and how designers' approaches to drape need to change in order to suit weightless environments.

Designers must consider not only changes to the behavior of fabric, but also changes in body structure. As the body adapts to reduced gravity, it adopts a neutral posture, and weight is redistributed as the upper body swells and the spine lengthens. In the long-duration space travel that is proposed for missions to Mars, these distortions will be more extreme. Garment silhouettes must necessarily compensate for the redistribution of weight around the body. My book, Spacewear: Weightlessness and the final frontier of fashion will address these concerns by examining the ways in which they have been handled by engineers, fashion designers, costume designers, photographers, authors and filmmakers. 

Weds 8th February 2017 - Femke de Vries, HKU University of the Arts Utrecht, ( ‘DICTIONARY DRESSINGS: Clothing definitions decoded and translated towards alternative fashion perspectives’. Respondent: Professor Rebecca Houze, Northern Illinois University

Dictionary definitions are generally experienced as factual and rational and in the case of clothing show no connection to the mythical character of fashion. They describe the characteristics of the items, the modes of use and/or the relation to the body but fashion or style is not mentioned. For example: “Handschoen: bekleding van de hand” (Literally translated to English as Glove: covering of the hand). It becomes clear that a hand can be covered by putting it in a pocket, by bandaging it or by sitting on it, turning a pair of trousers into a glove for they cover the hand and therefore suffice to the definition.

In this on-going project the nature of the dictionary definition as a ‘zero condition’ of a piece of clothing is used not to find a general truth of a piece of clothing, but to re-read clothes and explore an alternative fashion vocabulary. This vocabulary will take the shape of an image archive, theoretical and design-led approaches by experts and students brought together in a publication, website, workshops and catalogues of these workshops.

Weds 15th March 2017 – Dr Nicolas P. Maffei, Norwich University of the Arts, ‘The Responsive Brand: Uniformity and Flexibility in Logo Design’ 

From the uniformity of modernism to the embrace of difference, this talk explores the historical shift from static to dynamic logos, from universal international brand identities to more flexible and responsive corporate personalities. This transformation occurred over a period extending from the nineteenth century to the present, and includes the roots of branding, the ideals of modernism, the emergence of the critical consumer, the development of the responsive corporation, and the co-creation of brands in online landscapes. From Peter Behrens’ designs for the German Allgemeine Elektrizitäts-Gesellschaft (AEG), in 1907, considered the first corporate identity, to Paul Rand’s flexible and humanizing identity developed for International Business Machines Corporation (IBM) after WWII, this talk reviews the rise of the unchanging logo and, in turn, the multivalent brand-mark. In addition, the design responses of corporations to the vocal and ethically informed consumer are surveyed via the anti-branding movement, which has targeted Starbucks and McDonalds among other corporations. Nike is examined through local reinterpretations of the global brand. Gap’s failed logo of 2010 shows the power of the online consumer and the need for companies to listen and respond. Finally, brand reactions to the responsive consumer – characterized by chameleon-like logo transformation and an emphasis on user interaction and co-production of meaning, are investigated through the designs for telecommunications company Ollo (Bibliothèque, 2012), the identity for the Tate museums (Wolff Olins, 1999), and Experimental Jetset’s Responsive ‘W’ for The Whitney Museum (2011). 

Weds 10th May 2017 – Peter Thomas, Middlesex University and Dr Grace Lees-Maffei, University of Hertfordshire, ‘The Poster Session as Fusing Theory and Practice in (Art and) Design Education: Exhibiting an Occluded Genre’ 

This talk presents our research on the pedagogical benefits of poster sessions for teaching contextual studies in design education. The academic poster has been used most extensively in the sciences, but we argue that its particular pertinence in design education is undervalued to date. Design students have visual and design skills which can be applied to the production of a poster, but also their verbal experience of speech acts such as ‘crits’ (studio evaluations) and speaking to design outputs in a client pitch can be applied in the talk which takes place in poster sessions. Because the production of posters and the poster sessions where they are displayed and discussed draw on skills which students use in the studio, they have the capacity to bridge theory and practice when used in contextual studies for design students, in content, form and process.

Much of the secondary pedagogical literature on posters is fundamentally about ‘how-to’ design a poster; it is instructional. Our focus here is, rather, on the pedagogical affordances of the poster and poster session. While the how-to material focuses on the production of an outcome, our approach focuses on the poster as process, bridging theory and practice and affording a site for talk. The instructional approach we deem as being principally of benefit to the learners / makers of posters, and the learning benefits we expect to be of interest to teachers, as well as learners to some extent.

Posters are, in some senses, what Swales calls an 'occluded genre', in that they are often used to support the development of a more high stakes text, and in these cases are to an extent comparatively hidden.’ Our students have found the process of research and making a poster, talking about it and talking to other students about their posters in dedicated poster sessions to be very useful in developing ideas, and learning to express their ideas, about contextual studies topics as part of the preparation for an essay.

We base our talk on primary pedagogical research we have conducted with undergraduate design students in two North London universities and with postgraduate students of design cultures in a Dutch university, and a review of the relevant secondary literature across a number of academic disciplines. 

Friday, 23 September 2016

ResDev16 - The University of Hertfordshire's Second Biennial Researcher Development Conference

Dr Grace Lees-Maffei, Chair, Researcher Development Working Group.  

This week, researchers from across the University of Hertfordshire met in our wonderful Weston Auditorium for the second biennial researcher development conference. The first, in September 2014, sought to promote understanding and awareness of the value and practice of researcher development and the development opportunities for researchers available within the University and externally, through organizations including, most notably, Vitae. But we also took a good look at the actual research being conducted within the University's ten Schools through a dynamic PechaKucha session which promoted, particularly, the work of our early career researchers. 

Theme Champion for Global Economy, Dr Chamu Kuppuswamy, takes a selfie with Prof John Senior, Pro-VC Research and Enterprise, and Dr Sylvie Magerstadt, Heritage, Cultures and Communities Theme Champion.

ResDev16 adapted this winning formula. Following an introduction by Prof John Senior, our Pro-Vice Chancellor (Research and Enterprise), the six research 'champions' spoke about their respective themesProfessor David Barling who leads the University's research on Food drew attention to the parlous ratio of 2 billion obese and 1 billion malnourished people in the world. Work in the CRIPPAC research group analyses the importance of environment and culture in our food choices and opportunities, Prof Barling noted. Dr Chamu Kuppuswamy continued the Global Economy emphasis in introducing work in her area, calling for research to cross boundaries as well as geo-political borders. Speaking of research in Health & Wellbeing, Dr Frances Bunn outlined the sheer breadth of areas of enquiry that it engages. She highlighted the importance of work on the lifecourse, pointing to Prof Claire Goodman's work on dementia. Dr Sylvie Magerstadt champions research in Heritage, Cultures & Communities. She followed up Frances Bunn's point about the importance of communicating our research to academic and non-academic audiences by outlining her plan for a 'Culture Talks' channel on YouTube to promote research on the Heritage, Cultures and Communities theme. Next, Dr Farshid Amirabdollahian introduced the Information & Security research theme as extending from the secure handling of data to cutting-edge research in toxicology, with safety being paramount in each case. Innovation occurs on the friges of discplines, he enthused. Finally, Dr Philip Lucas explained that the University already has researchers working on space in disciplines ranging from from astronomy to fine art. He referred to the prominence of UH researchers in the recently publicised identification of Proxima b, an earth-like planet which may have the potential to host life. Dr Lucas plans to extend research on Space by instituting a buddy system for researchers.

Dr Helen Barefoot, Deputy Director for the Learning & Teaching Innovation Centre talked about the importance of Research-Informed Teaching and Research-Rich Teaching for connecting two core pillars of the University's activity as reflected in our strategic plan: teaching and research. Dr Barefoot explained that teaching and research are not inherently connected, as we sometimes assume; rather the connections between them need to be fostered, and explicitly drawn out. The Learning and Teaching Innovation Centre hosts an online toolkit for doing just that.

Dr Helen Barefoot discusses Research-Informed Teaching and Research-Rich Teaching. Photo: Grace Lees-Maffei.

The next session showcased the work of 18 researchers in just over an hour! How? Using the 3 -Minute Thesis (3MT®) format, we were given snapshots of 8 doctoral projects from finalists in a competition run by the Doctoral College. Speakers included Hayley Goode, who bravely began the session, and Alex Hocking, Jean Petric and David Turner. They talked about topics as diverse as the recognition and experiences of informal carers (Akua Owusu Nyantakyiwaa) and the impact of environment on galaxy evolution (Nancy Hine). The final 3MT addressed the difficulties faced by homeless men, whose lives are precarious and very short, typically extending no further than the forties, as Coral Westaway poignantly explained. Kathryn Kellett won the prize of £1000 in travel vouchers or cash equivalent. All other participants received runner-up prizes of £50 book vouchers.

Akua Owusu Nyantakyiwaa introduces her doctoral research on informal carers. Photo: Wendy Wills.

Prize giving for the ResDev16 3MT Competition. Photo: Frances Bunn.

While the judges deliberated, conference delegates were treated to a whistle stop tour of research being undertake across all ten Schools, again using the three-minute format. From the School of Life & Medical Sciences, Dr Rosalind Fallaize introduced her work ‘E-Nutri: The Future of Digital Personalised Nutrition Advice?’. Law's Dr Thomas Dunk outlined ‘The Role of the Individual in the Process of International Law Creation’. Dr Annabel Jay (Health & Social Work) examined 'How Women Experience an Artificial Onset of Labour’, with her study of 'Being Induced' concluding that the experience is one of liminality, betwixt and between two separate states. From the School of Education, Barry Costas outlined the usefulness of his literature review for uncovering a wide range of different perspectives on ‘The Voice of the Learner’ and its importance in education. For Engineering & Technology, Dr Saeid Safavi spoke about his project ‘Objective Control of Talker Verification’. New recruit to the University, Dr Ceri Houlbrook (Humanities) itemised some of the surprising things that people have put up chimneys and into the fabric of their homes, as has been discovered in her research with Prof Owen Davies in ‘The Concealed Revealed'. From Computer Science, Dr Ben Torben-Nielsen showed vividly how ‘Beautiful Brains Keep Us Healthy’ by examining some medical imaging which makes clear the different patterns witnessed. Next, Dr Wendy Williams (Physics, Astronomy & Maths) explained ‘The Evolution of Radio-Loud Active Galactic Nuclei using Low-Radio Frequencies’ and Dr Nika Balemenou (Hertfordshire Business School) changed the subject completely with her talk about her 'pseudo-longitudinal study from 2003 to 2016' into 'the development of Kavos, Corfu, into a tourism destination and the impacts on the local community’ as one of ‘Utopia or Dystopia?' Finally, Dr Silvio Carta from the School of Creative Arts gave us a snapshot of his research into big data, and 'How Computing is Changing Public Realm Data and Physical Space’.

Dr Silvio Carta (School of Creative Arts) talks about big data and public space. Photo: Grace Lees-Maffei.

Many more researchers from across the University exhibited their ideas at a Poster Session in the Atrium where delegates networked over lunch.

Hock Chye Gan presenting his research poster. Photo: Suzanne Fergus.

Suzanne Culshaw exhibited her poster with a useful mechanism for gathering feedback.

The conference then moved to our Law Court Building for two rounds of four parellel sessions, with each delegate choosing two topics from the following: 'Research-Informed Teaching and Research-Rich Teaching' with Dr Helen Barefoot; 'Setting Up a Mentoring Scheme' with Jill Lees; Bridget Russell and Frances Harris' introducing 'Ways to Raise Your Research Profile'  and Kevin Flinn on 'Career Progression'.

Dr Kevin Flinn puts the roof on the house of career progression. Photo: Beverley Brathwaite.

Throughout the day, colleagues were tweeting positively about what they saw and heard. Take a look at the #ResDev16 twitterfeed for a flavour of the proceedings. Now delegates can reflect on what we have learned and begin to put that into practice, while the Researcher Development Working Group can reflect and use the feedback we will receive to start planning #ResDev18 See you there!

Selfie by Francesca Batzella of colleagues from the Law School in the audience at #ResDev16

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Elizabeth Murton: New artist in residence explores textiles, tissues and tensegrity

UHArts has a new artist in residence, Elizabeth Murton. Murton is interested in the relationship between materials and mechanisms in the body. She asks how the structures of materials inside and outside the body can relate, inspired in part by the architecture of the UH Gallery space, as well as anatomical models in the university’s physiotherapy labs. She will  present her first major solo exhibition and symposium, Between Materials and Mechanisms, at UH Galleries in Hatfield from 17 September.

During her residency, Murton will be investigating the similarities between textiles and the fibres that hold the human body together. She has been inspired by the discovery that the body is not made of separate parts, neatly divided as they are in an anatomical model, but rather, an interconnected collection of tissues and fibres. Her project takes cues from architect Buckminster Fuller, whose work explored tensegrity: structures such as geodesic domes that spread tension through their parts rather than resisting gravity through simple, vertical compression. The human body is an example of biotensegrity, that holds itself together by balancing the tension of its many component parts. No single part of the body rests entirely on another part. Instead, all parts float within a sea of inter-supported fibres.

This initial stage in the investigation focuses on materials and structure. Elizabeth has begun to draw parallels between biological fibres and those that she might use in her work. The potential for internal fibres to be duplicated outside of the body in arts practice has been evidenced in projects such as Neri Oxman’s series of 3D printed masks, adapted from digital scans of bone and tissue, for Icelandic musician Björk. Such examples form part of wider discussions about the intersection of science and art, particularly how the relationship between scientific and creative disciplines are enabled through new technologies such as rapid prototyping. Elizabeth’s project will contribute to ever-expanding interdisciplinary practice by examining contemporary medical knowledge through craft.

More information and a blog accompanying UHArts residencies can be found here.

Tuesday, 12 July 2016

Things ain't what they used to be: changing roles for museum artefacts in 3D design education

Polly Palmer   Senior Lecturer, Creative Product Design, School of Creative Arts

It is fascinating how a new direction can present itself not by tireless academic immersion but in the manner of a rake inadvertently stepped on. My Level 4 Creative Product Design group returned in March from a study visit to Berlin in a state of missionary fervour about a museum experience. They described a curatorial guided tour of the Museum der Dinge (Museum of Things) and waxed lyrical about both the expertise of the guides and the telling narrative of the displays. They told me I had to go and see for myself, and so I will. How could I not?

My current research explores learning outside the lecture room and ways to engage our millennial students in visual culture and analysis. I have explored extensively the characteristics of Generation Z through diverse sources including cultural organisations, government surveys, sociological research and marketing. Defining preferences include hands-on activity over passive absorption of information and a questioning attitude to prevailing cultural tropes.

However despite their fearsome readiness for critical evaluation and their cynicism in the face of traditional education strategies, the students enthuse readily when engaged through innovative presentation. My research journey to explore learning outside the lecture room has recently focused upon museum collections of artefacts and how they might directly inform the design processes and contextual understanding of students of 3D Design.

The impetus for this is the result of several strands of interest and experience, including years of working in secondary school teaching Art and Design and Design and Technology, and then running design education workshops at the Design Museum and nationwide in schools.

At the University of Hertfordshire I lecture in Critical and Cultural Studies (C&CS) on the Creative Product Design programme, collecting artefacts to use in lectures and seminars. My interest in this area of research has come out of integrating site and museum visits into C&CS modules as part of the student experience.

Far away in another part of the galaxy….
….I was busy finding different ways of teaching contextual understanding and product analysis to Level 5 Creative Product Design. The result was a successful workshop during a C&CS session in February 2016; this involved the year group above the aforementioned Level 4 group on the same course, and a month before the Berlin trip. It was a handling session using a collection of agricultural and woodworking tools from the Salaman Collection, a comprehensive archive in the keeping of the Museum of St Albans (MOSTA). The workshop was facilitated for MOSTA by curators Cat Newley and Sarah Keeling and organised at UH by myself and Julian Lindley, Senior Lecturer in Creative Product Design and Level 5 tutor. 

Cat and Sarah brought a collection of agricultural tools for the students to handle and evaluate as part of a studio project to design a strimmer. The workshop aimed to provide historical and experiential context and detailed functional, social, material and ergonomic analysis for linked C&CS and studio projects.

The workshop was well received by the students. An evaluation by the participants produced some thoughtful observations which we have incorporated into the plan for the next stage of the project. The students showed active interest and enthusiasm in the session, and commented in a subsequent evaluation on, amongst other things, the beauty and emotional appeal of crafted objects and the value of handling the artefacts, assessing weight, balance and ergonomic success.

We aim to build on this experience by planning a more integrated approach in a collaborative pilot project in Semester B 2016-17. This will aim to provide experience of historic artefacts for Creative Product Design students to analyse and evaluate in relation to a combined studio project and C&CS assignment. Students will be encouraged to integrate their experience and understanding of heritage artefacts into their design processes and analysis when designing new products. The studio teaching staff is also keen to develop shared projects to elicit maximum engagement and understanding from the students

MOSTA curators are enthusiastic about a relationship with us and the collaboration could in subsequent years, once the new museum is opened in its central location, draw on elements such as local community involvement, with students curating and displaying work that has come out of the research project, and mutual support for heritage and design exhibitions and student and tutor research.

I wish to go beyond contextual and design historical benefits to unpick elements of the design process and integrate heritage product evaluation. This approach could benefit students’ willingness to take risks and experiment, their knowledge of materials and manufacture, ergonomics, emotional design, user experience and sustainability; all deeply embedded elements of current design processes.

The exploration of good practice in an international context in Berlin and the development of a fruitful and creative collaboration with a local museum, plus an analysis of past, present and future use of the Design Museum’s extensive artefact collection will provide a comprehensive analysis of the role of museum artefacts in the teaching of 3D Design at undergraduate level.

The Level 4 group, who had a taste of the power of displayed products to communicate multi-layered meaning through a carefully nuanced narrative, will this year, as Level 5 students, experience the questioning of artefacts and the application of their in-depth analysis to design process and practice. They have inspired a new direction in my work and they will be fully cognisant participants in the research in progress. I intend to explore their responses to these experiences in the hope that they feel empowered in their practice and engaged with broad and diverse aspects of culture.