I have just been to an intriguing conference held at the University of Sheffield on Advanced Visual Research Methods. I am not going to review the whole two day conference, but just pick on a small part of it. On the second day we spent a lot of time on one session, we had the choice of which session it was and I chose one called Making Emotions: materiality in visual research.
We began by drawing designs and patterns on paper in charcoal. We had been discussing emotions and I thought I would try and capture my social awkwardness and insecurity when I am at conferences and talking about my academic work. This is what I drew-
We talked briefly about the designs as a group (it was a nice small group, only about seven of us) and voted on the 21 designs to pick two to make into sculptures. Mine was one of those picked. We split into groups to make the gravel sculptures and I was told that we shouldn’t work on our own designs. I was handing over my design to people I didn’t know and people who didn’t know what it was all about. What would they do to it?
During the next part I worked on someone else’s sculpture design. I wondered what the story behind it was as I made it, my hands were shaking at times to make sure I was pouring the coal dust accurately. The gravel sculptures were made from limestone chippings and coal dust. I kept glancing over to the other, “my”, sculpture to see what they were doing, but I was really aware that I couldn’t say anything. Between the artist and the other delegates they had taken out the lines and only left circles. However, there was a discussion going on about the lines. To my relief they had put some lines in.
We discussed the production process of the gravel sculptures together, and the acts of co-producing work. It occurred to me that just listening to someone describe emotion is not enough. The extent of their feelings is incredibly difficult to capture and so easily misinterpreted or overlooked. Using materials and creative process such as gravel sculptures provides an additional conduit for communication. Then, it was taken a step further – we were asked to write sonnets to our sculptures.
Here is mine, to the sculpture above (apologies to poets as it is not quite right):
Your concept makes so much sense to me now
Circles and lines so clear and curved
I understand the why, where, when and how
The stark contrasts of black and white reserved
I worried you were in the others hands
Would they understand what you were about
Could they do you justice made out of sands
Or would they miss parts of you out
But the end result made me see as new
How my research and participants will
Allow me to get a different view
And make me aware that others will fill
My research with some unique perspectives
There is no need to follow directives
It is cheesy – I am aware of this – but in the process of this I realised that I had to think quite hard about the right words to describe things and maybe think around them a little to make them fit in. I realise I might also be quite late to this party, but it has shown me that methods can be varied. Being able to actually take part in the methods and not just be spoken at for an hour at a time was also invaluable. I look forward to the next one!