Academics, in practice: an exhibition

PARC W224, London College of Communication, 11-4pm, until 5 March. Open to the public by appointment only. Online event listing.

What do academics actually practice?

When a colleague says they’re studying for a PgCert or an MA in Academic Practice, do you wonder what that involves?  When a unit on the PgCert is a ‘Self-initiated Project,’ which for some evolves and grows into a full MA dissertation, what does that research ultimately look like? And how is it linked to teaching and learning practice within a creative institution?

“The MA Academic Practice in Art, Design and Communication makes space for art school educators to design disciplinary practice-based and educational research projects, within a community of practice underpinned by critical friendship.” 

Catherine Smith, Course Leader/Programme Director.

How does enquiring into, and questioning our work, lead to new practices? And what uses might these academic practices have for institutional learning?

This current exhibition of work from the 2019 cohort of participants’ dissertation studies spans themes as diverse as roleplay, failure, walking, values, learning spaces, weaving, sustainability and fighting. 

Thoroughly grounded in both disciplinary and pedagogic theory, they showcase practice-based research. Responses are embodied in woven objects, games, dramatic workshops, reading lists and self-help manuals alongside written dissertations.

The 10 exhibited projects provide an opportunity for UAL to get to know itself a little better, so (in no particular order) we highlight below just a few of them.

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Ayse’s woven wooden batons

The craft of weaving: teaching and practice

Ayse Simsek, Support Technician Weave, Central St Martins

Ayse interviewed professional weaving practitioners to examine the relationship between craftsmanship, identity and skills learned via the weaving workshop.  Her responses to her research interviews are encoded in weaving itself, resulting in both finished fabrics and thread wound around assorted wooden batons: an extension of the standard weaving design and planning process where thread is wound onto cardboard.  Ayse mentions the perpetual tension between innovation and craftsmanship inherent in weaving practice, but adds that the process of practicing her dissertation has allowed her to clarify the symbiosis between her craft and her teaching and learning practices.

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installation view: One photo and six pieces of text displayed on the wall about Kira's research
Installation view: Kira’s research

How can participatory approaches impact, re-imagine and decolonise the curriculum?

Kira Salter, Stage 3 Leader, BA (Hons) Graphic Communication Design, Central St Martins

Kira’s research interest centres on how universities and pedagogical approaches could, and should, adapt to better reflect the diverse community of students and practitioners. Her project democratised the reading list on the on the BA (Hons) Graphic Communication Design at Central St Martins.

Kira piloted an online, user-generated reading list for students and tutors to participate in and collaborate on.  This intervention provides an alternative to the conventional, finished and complete reading list that promotes white, Western-centric perspectives. A ‘living’ document resulted, in a shift to from controlled- to co-authorship, with students becoming active participants, in both physical and digital spaces, who could literally see themselves reflected in the curriculum. 

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Exhibition preview, Tues 18 Feb

Designers and Dragons

Jake Hopwood, Lecturer, BA (Hons) Graphic Design, Camberwell College of Arts

Jake describes his research as a practice based ‘adventure,’ investigating the use of dialogue to connect and practice collaboration in graphic design. This research project designed and developed a game which responds to three questions: around engaging with dialogic theory, the challenges of collaboration in higher education, and finding spaces for individual reflection.

The resulting role-play game incorporates a theoretical model of dialogue and, when it is played, embodies Jake’s research findings. It is an artefact that might be shared or published to further the discussion surrounding the function and practice of collaboration in a creative context.

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Sample spread from Nicholas’ self-help book

Failure is not an option, it’s already happened. How can we practice with failure as part of pattern cutting?

Nicholas Williams, Lecturer, 3D Development and Realisation BA Hons Fashion Design and Technology: Menswear, LCF

Nicholas noted an absence of support for students around dealing with inevitable mistakes and failures in garment making and pattern cutting, where the curriculum focuses primarily on teaching processes and methods.

After interviewing students about their experiences of failure and possible support mechanisms, a self-help book emerged as a response to this data collection process. Its aim is to support students to develop the confidence to make mistakes and accept errors as part of a healthy learning process and professional practice.

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Toy autopsy in action: two sets of hands shown unscrewing toy parts on a tabletop
A toy autopsy in progress

Toy autopsy: a workshop designed to improve eco-literacy and affect pro-environmental behaviour

Jason Allcorn, Specialist technician 3D workshop and Lecturer, 3D and Spatial Design, CCW Foundation

In this action-research project Jason initiated a workshop with students to investigate the who, what, when, where and why of toy design, going beyond the physical objects to question the social and environmental consequences of design and consumption choices.

Through a series of exercises, from the perspective taking ‘Talking with Toys’, as well as eventually taking the objects apart, the workshops created a fun space for participants to engage with and debate socio-environmental topics.  The follow-up interviews indicate positive participant engagement and responses, with some encouraging signs for further enquiry.

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The other five projects included in the show are:

Reigniting practice, values in design

Shee Fun Chan, Course Leader, BA (Hons) Fashion Design and Technology, Womenswear, London College of Fashion

Walking as an experimental method within everyday graphic design practice

Alex Hough, Lecturer, BA (Hons) Graphic Design, Camberwell College of Arts

Other-wise: practice as the art of anticipating our future selves

John O’Reilly, Phd, Unit Leader, MA Innovation Management, Central St Martins

Acting combat: making more safe space for violence

Tim Klotz, Lecturer, Fight Director, Drama Centre London, Central St Martins

What do students feel about their Learning spaces? And how do they support their learning?

Paul Myers, Director of Change Management, LCC

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Want to know more?

Read more about the PgCert and MA Academic Practice in Art Design and Communication at UAL. We’ll be running information sessions for the courses starting in January 2021 very soon.  Keep an eye on the Professional Development webpages or sign up to the Exchange bulletin for all the latest news.

If you’d like any more information about the exhibition or these projects do get in touch, teachingexchange@arts.ac.uk.

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