As I’m sure any subscribers will have noticed, an update to this PhD blog is well overdue. So if I haven’t been blogging, what have I been up to since my last post – ‘Spring Cleaning with DEVONthink’ – back in April?
Well, two things have kept me busy. Firstly the ‘Hidden Collections’ project, which entered an intensive proposal development phase in April-May. Our project proposal, the ‘Basic Design Summer School 2013’ has now been formally submitted to Tate and is awaiting further feedback from the Tate Research team. An update on the project, an outline of our Image Group proposal and my reflections on learning achieved so far provided the topic for my presentation to the recent ICCHS Postgraduate Research Conference (29 May):
Abstract: How can digital media be used to stimulate public engagement with archival material held by galleries, museums and other cultural institutions? This is the question posed by Hidden Collections, an AHRC funded collaborative research project running from October last year to July 2013. As a member of the Image Group, one of five interdisciplinary research teams involved in Hidden Collections, I worked with our project partner Tate to develop a social media strategy for a new temporary exhibition called ‘Basic Design’, which is on display at Tate Britain until 25 September. Developed by Tate Research the exhibition explores an influential period in British art school education during the late 1950s – early 60s. It draws on collections and archive material held by Tate and the National Art Education Archive. This presentation introduces our brief for the Basic Design project and outlines our project plan and activity to date. I conclude the presentation by reflecting on my own learning from the project, drawing out areas of investigation relevant to my PhD research into the Newcastle-Gateshead ‘public art collection’.
More recently, and to some extent influenced by my involvement in the ‘Basic Design’ Hidden Collections project, I’ve been working on a pilot project developed in association with Gateshead Council’s ‘Angel15’ programme. This is a series of events set up by the council’s public art team to celebrate the 15th ‘birthday’ of The Angel of the North (Antony Gormley, 1998) delivered as part of the region-wide Festival of the North East (June 2013).
While including a special on-site ‘birthday’ event at The Angel (which took place on 16 July), the programme also highlights lesser-known public works within Gateshead. Compared to the bigger and better funded 10th birthday celebrations this is a fairly low-key series of activities, including walks, curator and artist talks, live music and hands-on art workshops designed for a family and general interest audience. As such ‘Angel15’ goes beyond what Gateshead Council normally provides in terms of public art engagement and interpretation activity.
In terms of my PhD research the programme provides a useful opportunity for me to observe public art interpretation and audience engagement in action in Gateshead and offers a platform for me to experiment with social media – in this case Twitter – as a potential interpretative tool for a public art ‘collection’. To this end I have set up a new Twitter account @PublicArtNG (new Followers welcome!) which I am using to post daily tweets about public artworks in Newcastle Gateshead, linking these in with the interpretive themes and activities promoted by the council’s public art team. This project, linked through the hashtag ‘#Angel15’, is on-going through June-July. I’ll be posting a further update on this here early next month.
This past couple of weeks I’ve been busy reworking my research questions and rationale for my study, and redrafting my thesis plan in preparation for the forthcoming Annual Progress Review. (How can it be that time of year again already?)
Consequently I’m now in spring-cleaning mode, with the urge to really get organised with my research files. And to be honest to actually find out what’s really inside them. I seem to have all sorts of useful, but now forgotten research material, half written texts, references, downloaded pdfs, etc, squirreled away on my desktop.
Since this time last year Mendeley has become an essential organisational tool for my growing research library but I’ve found the system I’ve set for for note taking on my reading – first using Mendeley’s annoyingly cramped notes panel then transferring longer summaries and commentaries to Word – is now overly cumbersome. Although I do like the idea that my notes are linked so clearly with my sources.
I’ve had copy of DEVONthink (DT to me) in my desktop for some months now, recommended to me by another student in the faculty research training sessions, but haven’t really dared to use it. I’ve tentatively dropped in a few pdfs and bookmarks but that’s been all. I’ve found its layout rather daunting up until now, afraid that if I put something in there I’ll never find it again. And the manual is just too detailed for a beginner like me. I didn’t know where to start!
But, thanks to a really helpful series of blog posts by history researcher Rachel Leow, that I read in bed the other night (sad Phd-er that I’ve become) I’ve decided to have another go with DT – taking the opportunity to clear out my current desktop folders, and really see what’s in there. Both to review what have I been doing over the last year and hopefully to set up a more workable and productive structure that I can work with from this point on.
Following Rachel’s advice to keep materials in small focused groups I’ve started by setting up a series of nested folders (Groups in DT). They currently look like this:
I’ll probably tinker with this system, as it gets more populated, but for now it seems to be making sense. I’ll post on this again at some point to reflect on how this is working.
Meanwhile I’d be interested to hear from fellow PhD-ers and researchers about your working practices with DT or other organisational systems for managing research materials, brilliant random thoughts, draft writing, fieldnotes, etc.
And thanks again to Rachel Leow for giving me confidence to get going with DT.
This post announces the start of a new collaborative research project that I will be working on during the Spring/Summer with Tate Britain. This project is part of the ‘Hidden Collections – From Archive to Asset’ programme, funded through the AHRC’s Digital Transformations theme.
Launched in October last year, the Hidden Collections programme has developed through a series of six interdisciplinary workshops investigating issues within archival digitisation and exploring the potential of digital platforms as routes for public engagement with these ‘hidden collections’.
Looking at digital opportunity in the specific context of archaeological artefacts, theatre performance and visual images, the workshops I’ve attended have been a great opportunity to meet with and hear from arts and humanities scholars from a wide range of disciplines and specialisms. Together we’ve considered the philosophy of the archive, and looked at and discussed a whole range of digital approaches and tools, from 3D scanning, to interactive touchscreens, online databases, crowdsourcing projects and social media.
These discussions were brought together earlier this month in an intensive two-day residential in Nottingham. Here the various project teams began work on planning the live projects that we will be delivering with our external partners. For the Image group, a small interdisciplinary team including myself and four other PhD researchers from Leicester, Birmingham and Cambridge universities, our project partner is Tate Research. Over the next few months we will be working with Helen Griffiths, from the Research Team, to develop and trial a new social media strategy for the Tate Britain exhibition ‘Basic Design’. Developed through Tate Research’s ‘Art School Educated’ project, the exhibition opens at Tate Britain at the end of March and runs through until September.
Interestingly, in relation to my own research on public art in NewcastleGateshead, the ‘Basic Design’ exhibition has a specific link to Newcastle University, through the influence of Victor Pasmore and Richard Hamilton’s teaching in the Fine Art department here. On a more personal level, the subject of the Art School Educated project, examining the evolution of British art school education, also resonates with my own background as an art student during the 1970s-80s.
The Image group will be visiting Tate Britain in April to visit the exhibition and to finalise our project plan with the Tate team. I will be posting updates on this blog as the project develops.
A series of black and white images of ‘The Angel of the North’ in the winter snow captured by photographer Owen Humphreys, and widely published in the UK press and media over the last few days, seem to have inspired a surge of ‘Angel of the North’ related Tweets.
I thought it would interesting and timely to Storify some of these here, to evidence some of the different ways in which people are using Twitter to disseminate their personal engagement with ‘The Angel of the North’ (Antony Gormley, 1998).
For now this is just meant to provide a kind of online storage space for a sample of this material and an initial indication of possible themes for fuller and more formal exploration later. It’s also a bit of a personal experiment for me in using Twitter, Storify and social media more generally as a resource for data collection and analysis within my PhD research.
Many of these recent Tweets are linked to images. These seem to fall into three basic categories: (1.) A large proportion consisted of links to and retweets of the Owen Humphrey’s photos published in The Guardian, The Independent, the BBC website and elsewhere. (2.) Original photos recording visitors’ own recent snowy experiences of ‘up-close’ visits to the sculpture. (3.) What could be called ‘drive-past’ or landmark shots – a glimpse or view of ‘The Angel of the North’, clearly captured from a moving car. Several of these images are accompanied by messages or hashtags linking these ‘sightings’ to notions of ‘arrival’.
Text-based tweets reflect a range of other personal responses and allusions. These might be grouped as: (1.) Those that reference ‘The Angel of the North’ as a physical location or progress marker. (2.) Those that offer emotional responses, opinions, ‘facts’ or imaginative speculations about the sculpture. (3.) Tweets that link ‘The Angel of the North’ with wider public art discussions. (4.) Tweets that appear to use the title ‘Angel of the North’ as a phrase to describe someone or something else other than Antony Gormley’s sculpture.
I’ve just been reading a new discussion paper commissioned by Arnolfini and Turning Point South West on audience experience of the arts. Researched and written by arts consultants Annabel Jackson Associates, this sets out a potential new model for understanding the “dimensions and determinants” of the quality of experience of the arts. In devising this model Jackson has drawn from her own earlier work on visual arts exhibition evaluation, but also more broadly from concepts of ‘experience quality’ within the museums, tourism and business sectors. The intention is to develop a model that can be applied across all art forms, not just the visual arts, and interestingly for my own research also for “incidental encounters with public art and street art”.
How might this model work within a public art context? Which of these characteristics or determinants might have most bearing on the experience of a public art ‘encounter’? And are there other ‘public art’-specific determinants that should be added to this? My first thoughts are that environment and context, external events and personal awareness would be heightened elements within an arts experience which is so enmeshed within everyday public life, rather than being necessarily framed as an ‘arts experience’.
Visual Arts South West have an open call out (closes end of September) for arts organisations to partner them in developing and testing this experience evaluation model, so it will be interesting to see how this work progresses, and if anyone from the public art sector takes this up.
Source: Jackson, A (2012) Quality of experience in the arts: a discussion paper. Annabel Jackson Associates Ltd. [Accessed 10.09.12]
Last week I spent some time ‘visiting’ ‘Spiral Nebula’. This is a 1962 work by British sculptor Geoffrey Clarke.
You can just about glimpse this work from Haymarket, if you know where to look, otherwise you really need to seek it out. It’s currently located in a small and very well worn ‘square’ outside Newcastle University’s Herschel Building / at the end of Herschel Walk. Over the years the sculpture has become very dilapidated, almost in places like its material is falling apart. Pigeons have begun to use it as a nesting box (there are twigs sticking out of the gaps between the metal) and the surface is streaked with bird droppings. As I sit on a bench opposite the work, a pigeon flies into the centre of the sculpture and starts to scuffle and tap around inside the hollow of the ‘spiral’. It has the appearance and feel of a ‘forgotten’ work.
Visiting the University website however I learn that rather than being decomissioned (or ‘retired’) ‘Spiral Nebula’, is about to be reclaimed and restored as part of the University’s public realm improvement works. It will be interesting to see what difference this makes to the audience reception / viewing of this work. How far will this planned restoration serve to renew public visibility and audience interest in the work as well as materially preserve it? (What might such ‘restoration’ add to the public art ‘rotate or retire’ debate?) Is this part of a new self-concious (?) ‘collection’ approach being taken by the University in relation to its own public artworks (note also the re-siting of Joe Hillier’s Generation sculpture, originally commissioned for One NorthEast’s Newburn Riverside offices, to form the centrepiece of the new Student Forum space)? I wonder too if this is also part of, or perhaps a reaction to, a reported new interest in the previously overlooked but now increasingly ‘collectable’ British sculptors of the 1950′s?
Notes and links:
For more on the ’Rotate or Retire’ debate visit Suzanne Heath’s Public Art Network 22 August blog post.
Geoffrey Clarke‘s work is included in the Arts Council England, Tate and V&A collections. In the same year as ‘Spiral Nebula’ was installed (1962) Clarke also completed three prestigious stained glass windows for the consecration of Coventry Cathedral, commissioned when he was still a student at the Royal College of Art. He also designed the ceremonial entrance hall for Newcastle Civic Centre which was officially opened in 1968.
Needham, Alex (2012), ‘Exhibitions spike interest in postwar British sculpture’, The Guardian, 11 January 2012.
Notes from a walk, Newcastle upon Tyne, 21 August 2012
Walking over to The Globe Gallery, Blandford Square last week to attend the Magnificent Distance critical discussion day, I took a route through the west part of the city that is out of my normal home-city centre / home-university groove. This is the part of town just beyond the main shopping area and Gallowgate towards St James’ football stadium. It’s an area that I used to be very familiar with when I lived in Summerhill (just off Westgate Road and around the corner from Globe). It’s a part of the city that has changed enormously in the now 20 years that I have lived in Newcastle – including the construction of the ‘boulevard’ (a dual carriageway that I remember as being much opposed by local residents when I lived in Summerhill), closure of the Newcastle Brown brewery, extension of the football stadium and the growth of the new City Gate developments. The area of the old brewery now has a high profile as the site for the new Science Central development, flagged as the largest city-centre development opportunity for over a decade.
On my way I passed this memorial to Bobby Robson (former Manager of Newcastle and England football teams, and consequently a major local hero for the City), installed in 2011 (I subsequently find out), but which I hadn’t seen, or perhaps registered, before. It still looks very new and cared for.
The location/work is officially known as the Sir Bobby Robson Memorial Garden, commissioned by Newcastle City Council and NE1 (Newcastle’s business improvement district company), and designed and sculpted by artist Graeme Mitcheson. It’s also been in the news, both press and media, as having been subject in March 2012 to some obscene graffiti, allegedly by rival Norwich football fans. But this was quickly cleaned off by Newcastle City Council’s rapid response team. A video interview with the cleaning team is posted on the Sky Tyne and Wear website.
With football and also the Olympics on my mind I later passed this ‘mystery’ artwork (?)/wall piece (the repeated and interlinking circles certainly making me think ‘footballs’ and ‘Olympic symbols’). I haven’t found this feature listed anywhere so far as a piece of ‘public art’. It’s pretty bland as a design but does certainly make this quite long stretch of dull wall more visually interesting as I walk along it.
Davies, K. (2012), ‘Sir Bobby Robson memorial garden hit by yobs’, Evening Chronicle (Newcastle edn.), 20 March. [Online] Available at http://www.chroniclelive.co.uk/north-east-news/evening-chronicle-news/2012/03/20/sir-bobby-robson-memorial-garden-hit-by-yobs-72703-30578573/ [Accessed 29 August 2012]
(2012). ‘Obscene Graffiti Cleaned Off Sir Bobby Robson Memorial in Newcastle’, Sky Tyne and Wear. [Online] Available at http://tyneandwear.sky.com/news/video/15413 [Accessed 29 August 2012).