Elective unit sharing task

Mark Cousins at Sheffield Doc Fest (2018)

Anna posed two questions in our shared Google doc – I found this an interesting question:

How should we teach art and design history and context in this post digital era of content overload and digital creative outlets on social media?

I might be able to respond in part, after seeing Mark Cousins give a presentation at Sheffield DocFest. It was a kind of performance lecture. It was in the dark which gave primacy to the screen and created a black space around it, and his voice provided context- he had a radio mic on and had a laser pointer – it was called ’30 Images in the Dark’. Most images he projected were single frames, against the dark space – so their presentation was clear of distraction, they were to be regarded one by one, or at most, compared to one other image. And because they were regarded this way we had time to think about each. So masses of images can’t be read or responded to in the same way without time or context.

It’s interesting to note that Anna’s  instagram referencebank presents its image in the same way, – they have a (white) border, and mostly some discussion in text with each one, and responses from people to each (which ’30 Images in the Dark’ didn’t feature). Yet to regard them singly, they don’t fill the frame, they hover above the grid of other images – they are always there, more images.

There are side effects of seeing too many images – discussed in this article by Rebecca MacMillan, a teacher in Texas revealed her students to be “feeling overrun by photographs and addicted to posting images” and quotes experts on the effects including: “heightened anxiety to memory impairment”, “the idea that photographing may discourage remembering”, “fragmented focus” – but then she notes that in further research there’s an indication that:

“However, a second study found that if a student took the time to zoom in on an object, their memory was not impaired – an indication that increased attention and cognitive engagement can counteract this effect.”


 However, the deleterious effects of the pressures of using images in social media to construct a public persona in a  competition for attention, and addiction to media is a huge subject – which I can only acknowledge and refer to now.

But if as the second study suggests, taking time and ‘zooming in’ – that is, concentrating and observing,  improves memory, then active looking must go a way toward being the antidote.

‘Join the acclaimed filmmaker for an intimate lecture exploring the aesthetics and emotion of ‘looking’. Using 30 key cultural images, Mark will examine how our ‘looking selves’ develop and how our social and cultural surroundings shape what we see.’

‘….and acclaimed Edinburgh-based filmmaker, author and critic Mark Cousins will examine how our ‘looking selves’ develop over the course of a lifetime, the ways that looking has changed through the centuries and explore how our social and cultural surroundings shape what we see.’


Cousins opened the talk by saying that that day he’d seen a middle aged woman clutching a teddy bear in the street – and that he’d never seen that before.  It shows he interrogates his own internal database of images in his mind, (or references to them) on a regular basis, as he knows he’s never seen this scene before. And it shows that he can remember images and scenes.

Furthermore, he broke down the elements of looking (for a screen based medium) into areas listed below – and gave pertinent, new and sometimes unexpected examples to illustrate these, eg in ‘form’ he juxtaposed a Henry Moore sculpture and the mask of Darth Vader. We can all potentially make those connections, if we are active ‘lookers’ because of the wealth of images that surround us, but because of his age, I know that it’s highly likely that the original images of those two images he saw first, was in the analogue era.  Perhaps because my sense of looking (rather than seeing) was also formed in the analogue era, I have a strong sense that my personal database of images that I have seen, informs everything I see, sometimes consciously but mostly sub-consciously. I’ve probably had more time to really look at something than is now difficult to do, in the Western digital age, unless one has a rigorous conscious reason and related action not to engage with the flow of images that surrounds us through our screens.

Neurologically, I (subjectively) believe that we record everything we see, and that memory is only a faulty retriever from a lifetime’s perfect database of vision, and I should corroborate this in science I know, – but truly, how is it possible to believe otherwise? There are those few who have a neurological singularity – Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory (HSAM),  and remember everything, from very early on in life. I don’t know how they can live – the burden of total recall must be enormously tiring. Thank evolution for the ability to forget the vast majority of the visual flow of the world before us and to be able to discriminate and focus on selected events. If memory is in good working order.

I believe that this is the crux of Cousins’ thinking: that even in the deluge of imagery we can see things we’ve never seen before. And if we can see it in the real world, we can photograph it through a lens, or create it on a screen. So in considering teaching of images perhaps we have to add axes of volume and time to an active and conscious act of looking. And add also the sense of a kind of visual pollution, and device addiction, that are now parts of looking we didn’t have before the digital age, and yet the thirst for narrative and images is still driving us as it ever did, but faster, toward – what? A crash? Blindness? An inability to concentrate? A blurring between the real and the created world (particularly in immersive gaming or VR / AR / 360 imagery?)

Though as David Hockney noted (among many others) whoever controls the media controls us, but photographic images – which are inherently unreliable – are only one way of seeing the world.

“Photography, with its claim to truth, is a discipline, he thinks, and he’s glad digital technology is ending the rule of the one-eyed monster that never lied. “I suppose I never thought the world looked like photographs, really. A lot of people think it does but it’s just one little way of seeing it. All religions are about social control. The church, when it had social control, commissioned paintings, which were made using lenses” – as Hockney has argued in his book Secret Knowledge – “and when it stopped commissioning images, its power declined, slowly. Social control today is in the media – and based on photography. The continuum is the mirrors and lenses.”


Perhaps there might arise a group of visual refuseniks who will resist the volume of digital images and look at things one by one, in their own time, until they’ve had enough, until they’re part of their memories.

Anyway, back to Mark Cousins’ elements of looking. There were more but I’ve forgotten them. (Yes I’m resisting a ‘smiley’ because I live in the digital era I now think of emoji as necessary to convey a joke, as I never did before.)

– ‘eyes’ ie directing the gaze over different parts of the screen

– movement

– colour

– distance

– focus

– discovery

– eyeline

– form

– time

Mark Cousins is about to publish a book The Story of Looking (4 Oct 2018) which will definitely be worth a read.

Mon 23 April seminar

Image: (2018) of Jon Nixon ‘The Place of Pedagogy’ quoting Zygmunt Bauman. [Screenshot]

From Lindsay:

For the April seminar, you can choose which piece you want to read and prepare for discussion; either Jon Nixon’s ‘The Place of Pedagogy’ or Ron Barnett’s ‘Dispositions & Qualities’.

“Interpretive Pedagogies for Higher Education focuses on providing a humanistic perspective on pedagogy by relating it to the interpretive practices of particular public educators: thinkers and writers whose work has had an immeasurable impact on how we understand and interpret the world and how our understandings and interpretations act on that world.”

“The philosophical option: Jon Nixon’s Interpretive Pedagogies

Read Chapter 2 of Jon Nixon’s 2012 book ‘Interpretive Pedagogies for Higher Education’. It’s about higher education as a public good, and what that means in the era of tuition fees (I’ll give you the short answer; for Nixon it means developing a capacity for shared understanding.

One of the quotes in this chapter is by the sociologist Zygmunt Bauman, from his 1987 book Legislators and Interpreters, which argues that the aim of education is to develop our capacity to…

‘…talk to people rather than fight them; to understand them rather than dismiss or annihilate them as mutants; to enhance one’s own tradition by drawing freely on experience from other pools, rather than shutting it off from the traffic of ideas.’ (p143)

If you’re interested in how the chapter sits in the context, and my own initial reactions to the book, I wrote three blog posts about it last year: #1, #2, #3. But Chapter 2 stands on its own well.

What I’m interested in hearing your views on, and what I’d like us to discuss in the session, is the following:

  1. Are all views worthy of our efforts to understand them?
  2. To what extent should traditions be protected (from other/new ideas)?
  3. Is a technical or ‘useful’ education a second-rate education?
  4. How can the technological and the cultural be merged? I.e. is it possible to teach for liberation and transformation, AND to prepare students for socially useful occupations?
  5. How do these ideas connect with the theory you have been encountering on your elective unit (if you are doing one)?

Please do focus on your own discipline & teaching context in considering the above questions; this will ensure diverse perspectives are included in the discussion.”

_______________________________________________________I chose to concentrate on  Jon Nixon’s ‘The Place of Pedagogy’ text – a fascinating and well worth reading analysis of the work of philosopher and sociologist Zygmut Bauman.

In a discussion group with Stella, Kuldeep and Lucy and I talked about the text – and then we looked at the old (existing) UAL marking matrix. Using  the new matrix of three criterion, we first assessed it then we had to mark ourselves using it, on our discussion – a surprisingly difficult exercise which drew up complex and interesting issues.  We were slightly hampered because we didn’t finish our analysis before we had to use the matrix but you could see enough of the function to engage with the issues.

Wakulenko, I. (2018) New three criterion matrix ( [Photograph]
It’s quite a different exercise assessing each other as peers verbally in real time, as opposed to asynchronously marking a student exercise as a tutor having time to consider a written response …

And as the HEA Feedback toolkit (2013) indicates, (see below), ‘verbal feedback provided in a group meeting’ is the least popular way that students want to receive feedback. Of course there’s a variety of ways that feedback can be given, but I found it interesting to note that in the face to face environment I didn’t want to give too critical a response to my peers. I know I learn better in an encouraging and open atmosphere and I want to be sensitive to each person. It is a given in formal education that we need some critique to improve, but as learning styles are not the same in any group, to name but one factor in the assessment debate – how can we encourage real thinking and development in our students,  and not  just meet standards manufactured to meet the needs of a University business model? How can one student be “better” than another? Surely each improves / or doesn’t against themselves – or even less oppositionally – in a continuum, instead of in competition to others?

Wakulenko, I. (2018) ‘NUS, 2008, Feedback Campaign Briefing, Table 4, p4’. Available at https://www.heacademy.ac.uk/system/files/resources/feedback_toolkit_whole1.pdf.

The dynamic of our four was interesting as we three students had our tutor with us who understandably took a step back to allow us free discussion – but would then contribute in a timely way; I found it was really useful. The personalities of our group made it for a rich and lively organic discussion,  typically as a pattern of one person contributing the other responding or contesting and I felt I had to interrupt that conversation to be able to contribute my opinion and relate our discussion to the text.  Assessing one’s self as part of the exercise is very much a worthwhile task encouraging honest reflection upon one’s own effort – which perhaps should be part of an education where students are encouraged to become their own educators, responsible for their own creative thinking and analysis as part of their own ongoing process.  I’d very much like to introduce student input into the assessment process and one of our colleagues described how she does that – I made contact to follow up on that.

Nazran, K. (2018)
Nazran, K. Assessment by our peers and self assessment of our task. (2018)





I got a lot from the two minute presentation task. I decided to prepare for it as I know the important parts of what I want to transmit may not get said – I tend to go off track.  So when the questions were posed before our task about what makes a good speaker, I was glad I had. I talked about walking and why it’s important for humans physically but also mentally – in particular for creative thinking and problem solving. In preparation I started it at over 5minutes and then pared it down to under two minutes; that paring down was the important part of the exercise for me – the focus on what was important, what was the real message I needed to say?  It seemed to work – my audience of two applauded and gave me positive feedback and unexpected suggestions – they found certain ideas that I thought were not that crucial, the most interesting for a (putative) future follow up.

Wakulenko, I. (2018).

10 minute ‘microteaching’: Objects and Artefacts

Group images of Sepik River Female Guardian scultpure (ed. I Wakulenko, 2018)


“Your task is to prepare and deliver a ten-minute learning activity for your tutor group based around an object. You can approach this activity imagining your tutor group are your students, or as they are (a group of teachers from different disciplines and with different levels of experience); it’s up to you.”

While I was thinking about the objects in my household – or outside it – a sculpture at home came to mind, and the image persisted, so I pursued this focus. I picked the sculpture up from where it has sat for twenty years or so – which is a position on the floor in the hall as you come up the stairs you see it. I moved it to my kitchen table so that I could see it more or less at eye level, for a week or so, to let my eyes go over it and see what thoughts came to mind as I passed it every day. I’ve lost the paper which accompanied it as a wedding gift to me from close friends, but I remember something about it, which I will keep to myself in the learning activity. I gather that I should be the gatekeeper of the knowledge of the object in order for the group to look at the object without knowing its origin.

I thought I should choose something that provoked discussion around subjects that interest me – one of them is indigenous culture, and by association, post-colonialism. The very notion of anthropology  (the study of humans and human behaviour and societies in the past and present, Wikipediaand ethnography, (the scientific description of peoples and cultures with their customs, habits, and mutual differences, Google dictionary) in the Western perspective on the Other is difficult enough, having evolved within the milieu of expansionist colonialism. Subsequently looking at the relationship between artworks of different cultures is a further complexity.

The eye of Western art is anthropological in its gaze upon the other (Clifford). Primordialism is associated with the most thoroughgoing rationalism and logocentrism when visited upon the third word subject. Yet, the story of modernization in postcolonial art is a story of the yoking of opposites in which the Enlightenment perspective is always underlaid by subterranean acts of atavism and brutality. In response to dominant narratives of modernity, postcolonial art draws on the codes of double and triple register so deeply and historically entrenched in the survivalist practices of the dominated (Gilroy). Culture, for these artists, is a crucible of encounter, a crucible of hybridity in which all of cultural form is marked by twinness of subject and the other.

Art and the Postcolonial Imagination: Rethinking the Institutionalization of Third World Aesthetics and Theory CAMERON MCCARTH Y AND GREG DIMITRIADIS ARIEL: A Review of International English Literature, 31:1 & 2, Jan. – Apr. 2 2000

Initially I thought that having it and presenting it as the object of my – and subsequently, our attention – in this exercise that it may then put me in a certain light – which I wanted to avoid. So that became interesting and I want to examine some of those things – the concern with perception by my peers of me – I didn’t want to be perceived as a certain kind of white person who collects certain kinds of objects. We enter into the world of:

  • post-colonialism
  • the relationship between economies of different cultures and countries
  • collecting art
  • objects made specifically for sale ? or an object originally for the makers’ own cultural purposes sold out of that context and put into the economy of a gallery in a Western country
  • symbology from another culture whose meaning or intent I have no idea of – (and do I have to know?)
  • selling art in a gallery with provenance supports an artist – though if the artist didn’t get paid I wouldn’t know

How can we look at artworks made by peoples of different cultures?

The anthropologist James Clifford (1998: 224) developed a model that allows objects from traditional societies to be positioned in four ‘zones,’ based on the utilitarian or aesthetic purpose attributed to them, and on the degree of proximity to their original context of production. The ‘zone’ of ‘authentic artworks’ includes items valued by artists, curators and collectors; the ‘zone’ of ‘authentic artefacts’ comprises examples collected by researchers, held in historical and ethnographic museums; the ‘zone’ of the ‘inauthentic artworks’ includes falsifications; and finally the ‘zone’ of ‘inauthentic artefacts’ comprehends tourist souvenirs and mass-produced objects for everyday use. Clifford argues that an object can shift from one ‘zone’ to another, changing its value and status, which increase as it moves from ‘cultural artefact’ to ‘artistic object’ and from ‘inauthentic’ to ‘authentic.’

Ilana Seltzer Goldstein (2013) Visible art, invisible artists? the incorporation of aboriginal objects and knowledge in Australian museums DOSSIER: CULTURAL HERITAGE AND MUSEUMS PART 3: OTHERNESS http://www.scielo.br/scielo.php?script=sci_arttext&pid=S1809-43412013000100019

Although I do love the sculpture, I would not necessarily choose to buy an artefact like this – it makes me feel uneasy, yet I want artists to be financially supported in their work.  Looking at the artwork and knowing it came from a gallery tells me it might be in the “zone” of “authentic artefact” but it may well be an “inauthentic artefact” I wouldn’t be able to tell. Sculpture from the Sepik River area (an area of rich cultural activity) started to be carried away by Westerners since the 1960s and local people began making more.

But as I looked at it every day I noticed more, the material (carved hard wood –Papua New Guineans are famous for their knowledge and exploitation of trees, and carving traditions are highly developed across the Pacific region. The spirit of the tree that had to be cut down to make the carving will often transfer to the artwork that is produced: http://www.cultureofthecountryside.ac.uk/resources/carving-papua-new-guinea)

with natural colours, the texture, the uneven bottom of it so it doesn’t stand on its own easily, the design, and shells, all the physical properties of it, and the representation of a woman. But when I photographed her (I feel compelled to call her human, in an animistic way), I saw her anew. She’s tall and slender, she has markings on her face arms and legs, stands on a mound and her two hands each touch a centre of energy on her body – one hand at the heart and another on the pubis – and it wasn’t until I tried to imitate the stance (mimesis) that I realised that she has her left hand to her heart and not her right, as was instinctual for me, with the right handed. It actually jolted me a little to realise that I’d had this sculpture for so long and  hadn’t ever noticed this, consciously. The act of observation, framing, focusing and photographing sections of her really did change my perception.

As  Helen Chatterjee notes:

Object-based learning in higher education draws on many of the learning strategies already known to inform students, including active learning and experiential learning

HELEN J. CHATTERJEE (2011) Object-based learning in higher education: The pedagogical power of museums

The energy centres in the body the sculpture touches calls to mind the Hindu Buddhist & Jain tantric systems of chakras:

Second Chakra: The Svadhisthana chakra is our creativity and sexual center. It is located above the pubic bone, below the navel, and is responsible for our creative expression.



The Fourth Chakra: The Connection Between Matter and Spirit. Located at the heart center, the fourth chakra, anahata is at the middle of the seven and unites the lower chakras of matter and the upper chakras of spirit. The fourth is also spiritual but serves as a bridge between our body, mind, emotions, and spirit. The heart chakra is our source of love and connection.


I was reading an article in Art Quarterly that recalled Baudrillard’s Le systeme des objects (1968) which seemed like a useful way to help look at this object together, and made me wonder if Clifford had based his zones on the values of Baudrillard.

“Jean Baudrillard identified four kinds of value that an object can accrue. Two simple and two strange. The first is functional value – a measure of an object’s usefulness…. Next comes exchange value – the economic worth of an object….. The last two, though, are more occult. Baudrillard wrote about the symbolic value of an object. If you received a tie or a pair of shoes for Christmas, then you also received a symbol of your relationship with the giver… Fourthly, Baudrillard also proposed that objects can possess a sign value – which is derived from a thing’s relationship with other comparable things.    

Matthew Sweet (2018) 

However there’s many meanings and events that no one observing will know about its function unless they are familiar with this type of sculpture.

I know, yet no-one else in our group (probably) will know that her function is of a guardian – something I remember from the piece of paper; an example of magical thinking, that in or attached to the sculpture there is an active force.  No-one else (definitely) will know that I was carrying her wrapped up in newspaper and string over my shoulder on the way passing though Madrid very early one New Year’s Day when we were robbed at gunpoint by a very unpredictable nervous man. Of course I think that the function of our guardian worked for us both, and as she was closer to me I didn’t have the gun pointed at me and I didn’t loose my passport – the protective spirit was active and protected me.

Indeed, the contemporary Western culture is based on the strong belief in the universal power of physical causality—a belief which is supported by the whole system of education. Yet, an average individual living in this culture, under certain conditions, does not act differently from the individuals who still live in a magic-tolerant culture.

Coming back to the problem raised in the Introduction, we can conclude that, according to the results of this study, individuals do ‘give up’ their magical beliefs and practices as long as their ofŽficial culture becomes dominated by the belief in scientifiŽc rationality. Being quite evident in the individuals’ verbal responses, this ‘surrender’ affects the individuals’ behaviour only to a certain extent. At a certain level (i.e. in the conditions in which the individual is strongly personally and emotionally involved), the individual can deviate from the beliefs of technological civilization. When acting at this level, a person can retreat into practices (like magic) that are viewed as ‘left behind’ in history by the person’s offiŽcial culture and education.

Eugene Subbotsky and Graciela Quinteros (2002) Do cultural factors affect causal beliefs? Rational and magical thinking in Britain and Mexico British Journal of Psychology (2002), 93, 519–543 © 2002 The British Psychological Society http://www.lancaster.ac.uk/staff/subbotsk/Culture.pdf

Papua New Guinea was visited by Russian anthropologist Miklou Miclay in the 19th century – who was one of the first anthropologist to refute the profoundly racist idea that different peoples were of different species.  My father retraced his footsteps and visited the place Miklou Miclay lived, and produced a book about that journey. PNG was exploited by German, British and Australian interests in the 20th century, invaded by Japan, retained by the Allies and regained its independence in 1970s. West Papua was invaded by Indonesia in 1962 and now is under direct rule and is called Iryan Jaya where it is considered by many western news agencies that Indonesia is implementing ethnic cleansing of the Indigenous peoples.

Indigenous and foreign representations of the place and its peoples are now not so much separate visions as they are “double visions,” in the sense of both stereoscopy and blurred edges. Foreign knowledges of the Pacific have both used and aspired to eclipse indigenous knowledges, as is obvious from the earliest forms of ethnology in the region.  Indigenous visions have, since the late eighteenth century, been challenged and partially transformed through encounters with the imagined cartographies of travelers, missionaries, traders, planters, and other agents of colonialism, capitalism, and development. As Tongan scholar Epeli Hau‘ofa has suggested (1994), outsiders’ representations of the Pacific matter not just because of their geopolitical and discursive hegemony but because Islanders have, in part, come to see themselves through the Outlanders’ lenses. Imagining Oceania: Indigenous and Foreign Representations of a Sea of Islands

Margaret Jolly. The Contemporary Pacific, Volume 19, Number 2, 508–545 © 2007 by University of Hawai‘i Press.

Through all this meandering I thought of the exercise. I would have my sculpture in the middle of a space where we all sit in a circle around her. I pass my phone to the next person who then photographs her and says something about her which I record. We end up with a round image of her and verbal responses that I can stitch together.

I hope we can exercise team working, observation, communication, discussion on the creation and sales of indigenous artefacts and how we can interpret or relate to them.


In the exercise itself I had a technical fail of the sound recorder, which you just have to deal with and stay on track, but we still had the iPhone camera images which everyone used to photograph the sculpture, and I was able to construct as a collective image of the sculpture (see above).

I think in retrospect that I’d put too many demands on the task for 10minutes as I wanted the group acting as my ‘students’ to take time to look, but within the constraints the analysis of the kind of sculpture from the group was I think fruitful. How do we interpret other cultures’ art objects? We look at the materials, the markings, the stance, size and other observable phenomena, yet we can’t know more without other kinds of knowledge, cultural knowledge.

Is determining provenance, and collecting of art objects of other cultures itself an act that arises from colonisation? It’s conversely certainly a post-colonial act in terms of repatriation of artworks plundered by colonising powers, currently critically being debated today between Britain and those countries it invaded as a coloniser.



Tutorial group 19 February

The view inside the classroom: visualising our conversation (2018) Picture taken by Jon.

Making a material representation of our conversation gave it a performative element, I found,  so perhaps made us all be more focussed in what we were about to say, rather than really listening to what people said. I also found my attention split between what we were saying and how we used the string to build a form. I wanted to make modifications to it – when we went off topic – to wrap it up an arm or around another object (water bottle) and to extend it in dimensionality rather than a mostly linear fashion which a line suggests as its most basic form.

I was also thinking about silence and how important listening is in conversation. Pauline Oliveros, composer, sound artist, musician and educator developed a whole ethos that grew out of her practice “Deep Listening”.

There wasn’t really a way in that quick exercise to incorporate listening – though we could have, in retrospect – we would have made a more skeletal structure.  The activity was focussed on speaking enough sentences to make the structure.

It might have been a quick exercise in interactive learning and freeing up conversation but it did spark thought.

“People’s experiences are all different, and you don’t know what the person experienced. They know, but you don’t, so I think it’s important to listen carefully to what a person has to say. And not to force them into any direction at all but simply to model what you’ve experienced, model it and also be what I call a Listening Presence. If you’re really listening, then some of the barriers can dissolve or change.” Pauline Oliveros,

www.artpractical.com, added Nov 26, 2016

Readings for Seminars 20/22/24

From Lindsay:

1) Ian Munday was a transformative influence on my own attitude and approach to teaching (or at least, his writing was). I’ve written about his work a few times on my blog: http://doctored.myblog.arts.ac.uk/?s=munday and I thought this 2012 conference paper on problems and mysteries was particularly excellent. Ian has taught film and cultural studies in the past. He is now a full-time lecturer in education.

2) Hans-Georg Gadamer was a philosopher who lived throughout the whole of the last century and did all his major work in his later years. His work focuses on understanding and conversation. This is a chapter from a book by Monica Vilhauer on what she calls Gadamer’s ‘Ethics of Play’. Her book frames Gadamer’s philosophy of understanding the other (‘hermeneutics’) as a kind of play. This chapter talks explicitly about how we engage with, understand and play with various art works/forms, but it also leads us to consider Gadamer’s hermeneutics more broadly, and relate it to other educational relationships (between learners, teachers, colleagues, texts, etc).

“Hans-Georg Gadamer was a German philosopher of the continental tradition, best known for his 1960 magnum opus Truth and Method (Wahrheit und Methode)”




My understanding of hermeneutics is that it is that it deals with interpretation – not necessarily of the other but of texts, the knowledge of the interpretation of texts.

Hermeneutics as the methodology of interpretation is concerned with problems that arise when dealing with meaningful human actions and the products of such actions, most importantly texts. Stanford Dictionary of Philosophy (2016) (Accessed at: https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/hermeneutics/)

Vilhauer’s Understanding Art: The Play of Work and Spectator itself offers an interpretation of Gadamer’s text (an hermeneutic act?) which is hard to assess without going to that source itself.  She offers:

He aims to show us how it is only in the back and forth play of communicating meaning between presenter and spectator that interpretive understanding occurs and the artwork achieves its completion.

However, the artwork is not the same as the presenter.  The presenter is mostly always physically absent in the encounter by a spectator with an artwork (unless it is a performance piece )? – the encounter, more accurately, should be I think described as an encounter with either a thought process by the artist manifested and the bodily and cognitive presence of the spectator, or of an artefact of the artist and a spectator during which the spectator has an experience, an “interpretive understanding” which completes the artwork. What if there is incomprehension  – would the artwork be incomplete? And how can you have play between an non-human object (the artwork) and a human spectator? Surely the spectator is the player, and s/he plays with an object .

Can an object “play” with the spectator? I understand, though that this is what art tries to achieve…

Perhaps Benjamin can help here:

“the rigid, isolated object (work, novel, book) in of no use whatsoever. It must be inserted into the context of living social relations.”

Walter Benjamin “The Artist as Producer,” Understanding Brecht, p. 87, in Kazis, R. Benjamin’s age of mechanical reproduction (1997) Jumpcut

The promotion of Vilhauer’s book Gadamer’s Ethics of Play: Hermeneutics and the Other on her website links the ‘play’ with a ‘dialogue partner’

Through the lens of dialogue-play, the book focuses on openness toward one’s dialogue partner, respect for his differing point of view, and a willingness to learn from him in conversation as crucial ethical conditions of genuine understanding.

 Lexington Books (2010) (Accessed here: https://www.monicavilhauer.com/research.html)

Perhaps I’ll find the relationship of spectator and artwork further on.

I read on and find that Vilhauer points out that Gadamer actually uses a performance (in this case performance art) to develop the argument that in a show with an audience, play  “begins a back and forth of communication of meaning”.

Vilhauer notes that play cannot be a “solitary event” it requires two. I anticipate that this argument is building up to transform the artefact into a sentient thing where play can happen between two…


Somewhat ironically I run into a problem quite early in reading Ian Mundy’s paper The classroom: a problem or a mystery? under a section – Having problems.

In all unexceptional cases of “having as possession” there seems to be a certain quid relating to a certain qui whereby the latter is treated as “a centre of inherence or apprehension” (p. 173). The qui must therefore be, in some way, transcendent to the quid (ibid.).

If it relates to Latin “quid” = what and French “qui” = who, I can make a meaning.. not necessarily the right one.. but I took the risk of exposing my ignorance and asked our fb group and see what returns…

I had one return from the group that agreed that interpretation – that the “who” takes precedence over the “what”:

Yes I think thats right. So is it saying that the person in possession of the object/thing takes priority over the importance of the thing itself… so if you have my grandmothers ring, the fact that you’ve got it, takes priority over the fact that the object has significance to me.

The distinction between problem and mystery: comes from  philosopher Gabriel Marcel (“his philosophy was later described as “Christian Existentialism” (most famously in Jean-Paul Sartre’s “Existentialism is a Humanism”) a term he initially endorsed but later repudiated.”)

A problem is something which I meet, which I find completely before me, but which I can therefore lay siege to and reduce. But a mystery is something in which I am myself involved, and it can therefore only be thought of as a sphere where the distinction between what is in me and what is before me loses its meaning and initial validity. (Marcel 1949, p. 117)

The idea that owning things puts one in opposition to the other; owning and having, keep people apart from each other:

For Marcel, ―having is damaging because of the dynamic of suppression and loss. It generates an economy in which the ―other is always posed as threatening. (Mundy)

Then from owning and having Mundy and Marcel travel to a position of mystery where the individual’s boundaries are not reductive but are expansive and freer in a creative way of being. And in the classroom breaking out of the paradigm of having into an alternate and unspecific way of being may allow a sense of individual and inclusive learning.

“That said if classrooms are allowed to be spaces of mystery, then a vitalism that has been exorcised from the profession may make a return.”


22 January tutorial group

Group presentations of who we are and who our students are: – it was fascinating to hear about the different paths that have led us to being arts educators.

We were assigned reading partners – never having had a reading partner, I’m looking forward to that interaction. I have shared discussions in a more general way through a google doc with other colleagues which I really enjoyed and found that process productive.

One of our cohort described part of her working life as being comprised of “bits and bobs”.  Yet when she told us what they were – sometimes project based – or short engagements – revealed not only a rich experience that builds a creative practitioner’s life, but I think that it is by these varied length projects that we work in, with a variety of collaborators develops and encourages flexible responses to creative problems.

It also reminded me that Professor Orr mentioned in her lecture, the “imposter syndrome”  that some arts practitioners may have,  possibly due to the often circuitous routes we take as practitioners.

Buzzword activity with a specialist librarian. Her presentation of a history of librarianship as a political activity and her vocational passion for her work is inspiring. Our discussion on what inclusivity is and how it interacts / overlaps with diversity was a useful exchange. Between us we had some references to put into the grid immediately.

Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw‘s intersectionality theory (1991) was discussed. It poses a useful idea with which to analyse the states or categories that describe people as interwoven and complex, a more nuanced and connected look than, often blunt, simplified and alienating categorisations.

Here’s a TED talk Professor Crenshaw delivered at TED Women 2016: The Urgency of Intersectionality.

I would go on to learn that African-American women, like other women of color, like other socially marginalized people all over the world, were facing all kinds of dilemmas and challenges as a consequence of intersectionality, intersections of race and gender, of heterosexism, transphobia, xenophobia, ableism, all of these social dynamics come together and create challenges that are sometimes quite unique. But in the same way that intersectionality raised our awareness to the way that black women live their lives, it also exposes the tragic circumstances under which African-American women die.

Intersectionality has since 1991 gained ground and is  reflected in the UK  in this Social Sciences paper by Emeritus Reader in Population Health Aspinall, P. and Song, M. (2013). Is race a ‘salient’ or ‘dominant identity’ in the early 21st century. The evidence of UK survey data on respondents’ sense of who they areSocial Science Research [Online] 42:547-561Available athttp://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.ssresearch.2012.10.007.

“However, many of these different identity attributes are consistently selected, suggesting the possibility – confirmed in in-depth interviews – that they may work through each other via intersectionality. In Britain race appears to have been undermined by the rise of ‘Muslim’ identity, the increasing importance of ‘mixed race’, and the fragmentation of identity now increasingly interwoven with other attributes like religion.”

To me  this “sense of who they are” in the paper’s title, along with who is defining whom, and if people have the opportunity to be self-definingare relevant matters in the discussion of the collection and interpretation of demographic data, and the discussion on who our students are, how UAL defines them, the methodology behind the collection of data and how that data is used..

Featured image screenshot. TED (2016)  https://www.ted.com/talks/kimberle_crenshaw_the_urgency_of_intersectionality (Accessed 30 January 2018).

Readings for tutor group discussions 22 January

From Lindsay Jordan:

The first reading is the most recent.  It is a chapter from a new book written by the president of a large private research university in the US. It’s the longest reading at 30 (small, large print) pages, but it’s also the more readable. There’s a lot to think about here, so I would spend the most time on this:

1. Aoun, J. 2017. A Learning Model for the Future. In Higher education in the age of artificial intelligence. MIT Press. pp45-75. (pdf attached)

Aoun presents an engaging look into the future of work, and its relationship to technology and education.

He identifies two things often overlooked by “analysts and futurists”:

terra incognita….Thus, even as machines take over routine labor, freeing us from repetitive or mundane tasks, human beings have a great deal left to occupy them.”

“Now, once more, technology is raising the educational bar.”

“In other words, a robot-proof education nurtures our unique capacities as human beings… And the most elevated of all human capacities is the one that may be the most elusive and difficult to define and therefore is trickiest to teach. This is humanity’s unique talent for creativity. “

I found it illuminating to read his summary of cognitive psychology theories that analyse creativity (“the process of having original ideas that have value,” Sir Kenneth Robinson (2106) in the most popular  TED talk of all time). Divergent  thinking requires creativity and is a very human act that (currently) can’t be duplicated by robots, yet

“Our education has mined our minds like we’ve strip-mined the earth, for a particular commodity,” says Robinson, insisting that there are greater treasures to be uncovered than mere academic performance.”


“The second reading is from nearly 100 years ago. It is an address given by the philosopher Alfred North Whitehead at the opening of the Harvard Business School in 1928. It is interesting to see how Whitehead deals with the tensions between business and education; how he maintains his critical stance while still managing to flatter those present. The commonalities with the current HE context are also fascinating:”

2. Whitehead, A.N. 1929. Universities and their Function. In The Aims of Education and other essays. The Free Press. pp 91-101. (pdf attached)

“The Universities are schools of education and schools of research”.

The justification of a University is that it preserves the connection between knowledge and the zest of life, by uniting the young and the old in the imaginative consideration of learning.”

What strikes me the most when I read is the tone of his language – somewhat grand and little overblown –  “zest for life” “patriotism” “human endeavour” “amid the imperfections of all things human” and might be typical of language used at an formal occasion by academics in the late 20s  USA – though as Lindsay points out there is a balance between his critical analysis and perhaps, flattering those who paid for the founding of the Harvard Business School or worked toward it encouraging a positive emotional connection to their act of philanthropism.

Also noticeable is how absent women are from his writing – “intellectual pioneers of our civilization the priests, the lawyers, the statesmen, the doctors, the men of science, and the men of letters”, “few great men”.  1937 saw women admitted to a Personnel Certificate and were first admitted to the Harvard Business School MBA in 1963.


“The final reading is a philosophy conference paper on one of Immanuel Kant’s final works, the Conflict of the Faculties (1798). It describes Kant’s presentation of the Prussian model of the university as one of peaceful, creative conflict, and argues that we should practice this in today’s universities:”

3. Palmquist, S. 2004. Kant’s Ideal of the University as a Model for World Peace. In: International Conference on Two Hundred Years after Kant. 20-22 November, Tehran, Iran: Allame Tabataba’i University. [Online]. [Accessed 4 June 2015]. Available from: http://staffweb.hkbu.edu.hk/ppp/srp/arts/KIUMWP.htm

The things that stayed with me:

..the wisdom of preserving creative opposition

Near the end of his life, having established the context of a philosophical system that shows over and over how lasting peace is achieved only through the acceptance of creative conflict in a context of mutual respect

The purpose of this essay is to explore that relation by examining how Kant portrayed the ideal university not only as a model, but as a key player in establishing the very world peace that he elsewhere hoped—some would say naively—the whole world could enjoy.

 Introducing the concept of international law as enforced by a free “federation of states”, he lays out a framework of principles for cooperation between nations of vastly different cultures. His plan was a major inspiration behind the United Nations as it now stands, though the current body only partially implements the policies Kant recommends.

Thus, even with all its imperfections and awkwardness, the existing Part 2 of The Conflict of the Faculties provides ample evidence to enable us to conclude that for Kant the university was to be the primary context wherein, through the education of the public in an approach to law that is grounded in reason, the drama of the evolution of the human race from a random collection of warring nations to a single, peacefully coexisting partnership of nations with radically conflicting ideas, would evolve.

Kant sees conflict not as an evil to be abolished but as a preliminary step on the road to concord. 

Wednesday 17 January lectures

Professor Susan Orr

Dr Duni Sabri

I enjoyed being in the room with so many colleagues – it gave a sense of sense of scale of that you so rarely get of the people who work around you, and in different colleges. (However so many of our rooms are uninspiring and airless – but that’s another discussion).

The question proposed by Susan Orr about what we knew about UAL was quite revealing. It’s one of those basic things that I’ve never thought to ask myself, and clearly many others haven’t either – but it is a logical place to start to examine who we are and what we do. The Google doc that Professor Orr started and was populated by the attendees created communal knowledge so quickly. The Google technology works well for large numbers of contibutors too, (once you get past the difficulty of logging onto the UAL wifi ) and I use it successfully with our students in various ways.

Another question Susan proposed was what are our particular approaches to learning in arts design and media?

For our MA Documentary Film practice I think that our approach is:

  • craft based
  • academic, including ethics of practice, collaborative practice and history
  • with a relationship to industry

Another idea Susan Orr mentioned from her recent book that resonated with me was in regard to


As makers we operate in the unknown and in particular in documentary film practice there can be a vision for the production, but the path to the artefact is anything but known.

Thinking about working with differently abled contributors who cannot give their consent (recording sound for Pratap Rughani’s film Justine) and the research work he has done and in particular his essay “The Art of Not Knowing” he quotes filmmaker and founder of Project Artworks (which pairs abled and differently abled artists together), Kate Adams:

“This is not work of certainty,” Adams says. “It is a work of doubt and the necessary honesty of self-questioning that allows self doubt to have its proper place in the process of developing a way of working.”

Ambiguity, not knowing and doubt are essential to the creative process and it should be considered in our pedagogy.

“Ambiguity is central to creative learning because it enables the individual students to gain confidence and autonomy as artists and designers. If students and tutors are unable to manage ambiguity in the learning environment the students may never pass over this ‘threshold concept’ (Osmond et al 2009) and become creative practitioners.”

Orr S., Shreeve, A. (2016) Knowing, not knowing and the unknown. Ambiguity and the locus of knowledge and power in student – tutor relations. The Society for Research into Higher Education (SRHE) SRHE International Annual Research Conference 2016: 7-9 December 2016. Celtic Manor, Newport in South Wales, United Kingdom https://www.srhe.ac.uk/conference2016/abstracts/0323.pdf





Parts of the second lecture on statistics Interpretation of statistics in an HE environment was signposted by Dr Sabri as usually bringing up emotive responses and it did – but also considered non-emotive responses from the audience. Delivering a quiz which launched straight into using categorisation of people (in this case UAL students) into groups by ethnicity without first explaining their development or use – which may have helped toward smoothing the “hackles around these issues” – perhaps. Or otherwise, allowing space to consider those issues.  Or talking about design bias and correction for it or language bias in questionnaires or demonstrate why there is no bias in these categorisations, if that is the case…

It provoked a lot of questioning and often in those situations there is no time in the schedule of the day to explore that questioning. The speaker has a talk to work through to its logical conclusion and a large audience who want to examine one part of the delivery can prevent getting to the place where the speaker wants to take the listeners. The categorisation of people (in this case UAL students) into groups by ethnicity, gender and sexuality, for instance, is instantly contentious. There are multiple issues around categorisation of people. Who is doing it and from what viewpoint? How are they using the data generated? All people have a right to be recognized and acknowledged by self-identification. Some don’t want to be identified by other people because they may be subsumed into a grouping that has no meaning to them and erases their identity in a deliberate political act of aggression. Others feel that organisations such as the University should recognize who their students and staff are and where they are from,  know their students and try to close the attainment gap.

“Thus, independently of the identity threat that results from the inclusion of an individual in a socially disadvantaged or otherwise unattractive group (value threat), theorists have proposed that people can feel threatened when they are viewed by others as interchangeable category members, in situations where they think they should be treated as unique individuals, or as members of another category (categorization threat; Barreto & Ellemers, 2003; Branscombe, Ellemers, Spears, & Doosje, 1999; Ellemers, Spears, & Doosje, 2002). Because research so far has not systematically addressed the consequences of social categorization in this more general sense, we aim to assess how people react when others consider them in terms of a broader variety of categorizations, including seemingly ‘innocent’ group memberships that can elicit positive as well as negative expectations about individual group members.”

NAOMI ELLEMERS* AND MANUELA BARRETO Leiden University, The Netherlands. Categorization in everyday life: The effects of positive and negative categorizations on emotions and self-views

European Journal of Social Psychology Eur. J. Soc. Psychol. 36, 931–942 (2006) Published online 23 August 2006 in Wiley InterScience (www.interscience.wiley.com). DOI: 10.1002/ejsp.333

A nuanced and considered conversation around “seemingly ‘innocent’ group memberships” is needed.



Reading journal: beginning

Reading has been a lifelong source of wonder and pleasure, an escape route from the present, a dive into worlds, a transmission of knowledge, and a constant stimulation for my imagination and thinking. It is both precious and transformative and I cannot overstate how important it is to me.

The image above is a photograph I took of one of my Grandmother’s journals, which she wrote in her nineties. She wrote in Russian, and as I can’t read it, a kind friend is currently, slowly, translating for me. Every word that comes back to me is a connection to my Grandmother whose voice I can hear when I read.

Here she writes about reading and some of what it meant to her in her early life, late in the 19th century living deep in the countryside surrounded by forest, in the Russian heartland , before electricity, her mother read to her and the other children:

In the long autumn and winter evenings, when all of us children were sitting round the big table where a large lamp was burning, we listened to Mama’s reading.  She used to read us many excerpts, which we could understand, from the books that were most read. Later on, when we were already teenagers and reading for ourselves, we had to read what Mama had once read to us.  Father never read to us aloud, except for one fairy tale by Aksakov, “Alyenka’s little flower’, but only when we were ill. It was one of our favourite entertainments.  I still have that story even now.  My sister Sonya sent it to me in memory of days gone by.  We knew it almost by heart, but always enjoyed listening to it when Father read it to us as invalids.

The process of reading for pleasure has also been described as a form of play that ‘allows us to experience other worlds and roles in our imagination’. Education standards research team (2012). Research evidence on reading for pleasure. The Dept. for Education.

I’ve just looked this story up and found out that it was published by Sergey Aksakov in 1858 (Аленький цветочекAlenkiy tsvetochek), a version of Beauty and the Beast, which Grandma had told to me as child. Even more poignant for me, the Beauty in the Russian story was named Anastasia, which was my Grandmother’s name.

Illustration by Nikolay Alekseevich Bogatov (1854-1935) of the Russian fairy tale “The Scarlet Flower” (“Аленький цветочек”). Иллюстрация выполнена для альманаха “Волшебный фонарь”. In the public domain.

Leo Tolstoy as well as being one of the world’s greatest novelists and a great reader, whose writing my Grandmother much admired, worked throughout his life on questions of literacy and education and opened a series of free and radical schools for impoverished children, developed pedagogic theories and published works concerned with education. He interrupted his educational work by writing one of the world’s greatest novels War and Peace, and other novels. He was considered a man of dangerous ideas – including anarchism, vegetarianism and pacifism and although an aristocrat his practical support of the people was real. Here’s a link to some extraordinary footage (from Kenneth Clark’s Civilization) of Tolstoy’s death in 1910 a railway master’s cottage, showing people flocking to mourn him, and the funeral being repressed by the Tzarist soldiers.

Just as Tolstoy’s literary creations marked a step forward in the cultural development of mankind, so his educational doctrine made a unique contribution to teaching.

That the ideals of humanistic education and the principles of choice by the people, democracy and freedom in education did not, for Tolstoy, remain just a declaration or some kind of abstraction, is borne out by the methodological solutions put forward by him to the problems of education and by his practical activity as a teacher, an organizer of schools, the publisher of an educational journal and the author of textbooks for schools for the people.

Yegorov, S. F. (1994) Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910). PROSPECTS: the quarterly review of comparative education (Paris, UNESCO: International Bureau of Education), vol. XXIV, no. 3/4, June 1994. p. 647–60.