Academia is the New Rock and Roll

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Back in October I condensed months of thinking in to a blog post, the aim being to find a direction for my MA dissertation research. I knew that  I wanted to better understand how web 2.0 is changing the context of participatory arts practice; how projects are being developed and interacted with, and who is involved. I was also really interested in discovering more about the challenges from an artist/curator perspective and where the similarities and differences lie between on and offline practice.

I was thrilled that the post attracted some very helpful comments/emails from well respected academics Mike Press, David Gauntlett and Charlotte Frost. During my teenage years I was a prolific letter writer and trawled the back pages of the NME, sending off for demo tapes and ‘rare’ live recordings of my favourite bands.  If I happened to get a letter back with my tape, it was a moment of great jubilation! I would now proclaim that feedback from academics is the new rock and roll but I do however feel under pressure to write something amazing to repay the interest shown; a home-made badge or postcard just isn’t going to cut it!

In November I met up with David Gauntlett at the V and A to talk craft, lego and everyday creativity and to continue with the rock and roll theme instead of getting him to sign my T-Shirt I asked for his autograph on my copy of Making is Connecting! David was very generous with his time, tolerant of my interrogation of his creative reflective research methods and un-phased by the level of my hyperactivity rising in relation to the amount of fizzy pop I consumed (he has small children). We discussed my hypothesis and choice of case studies (mostly sourced through a Twitter shout out) and I left with a clearer vision of where my research could take me.

My Hypothesis is:

Social media-led projects curated by artists using everyday creativity are challenging traditional modes of participation.

My research questions are:

What are the similarities and differences between traditional and online community participation?

What skills and motivations do artists attribute as being necessary to the development of social media-led projects that use everyday creativity?

What factors influence the future viability of social media-led projects?

I have identified five projects to research (an overview of each is detailed in my next post):

David Gillett’s 52 by 52

Inny Murnane’s #plateaknit

Kirsty Hall’s 365 Jars

Lucy Phillips’ What Cannot be Seen

And my We Found Art

Over the last couple of months I have spent many hours on trains travelling the country to meet with each project’s curator. It has been an absolute delight and a very enjoyable experience. I have been overwhelmed by the kindness shown to me by relative strangers. I have been met at train stations, escorted to bus stops, been welcomed into homes and had a never ending supply of coffee!

My research interviews have also had an unexpected element to them. When I met David Gillett in a cafe in Bath we were treated to various interjections from an overly tactile elderly customer who serenaded us with songs from the shows throughout our interview!  In St Leonards, Lucy Phillips suggested an impromptu costal tour with her daughter as tour guide; I was only too happy to accept the offer and particularly enjoyed the ‘piece of cheese house’ and ‘yellow sweet shop.’

I have also been busy collecting data from ‘fans’, ‘followers’, ‘members’, ‘participants’ and the ‘audience’ of the projects selected via a series of online surveys. I hope to build a profile of the type of person who has taken an interest in each. In addition to demographics, I hope to discover more about levels of engagement and motivations, internet and social media habits, offline creative activities and attitudes towards arts and culture.

The next task is to code and interpret the qualitative data that I have collected and I will report back soon.


The Adventures of Dog Charity Shop Boy


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The adventures of ‘Dog Charity Shop Boy’ have been reported over on my Flickr page but I thought they deserved some Thinking Bridge space too!

Back in the autumn, my son Jude and I were thrilled to discover that The Caravan Gallery were putting together a book of other people’s pictures. In the blink of an eye we grabbed Jude’s camera and set off to scour the streets of Boston in Lincolnshire to look for the perfect shot!

Jude found a sign for a Dog Charity Shop and quickly snapped it, eager to visit the establishment itself in the hope that I would let him choose and take home a second hand dog! He was very disappointed to find that the shop in his words ‘was just a load of old lady clothes!’ (Through the eyes of a 39 year old, it’s a treasure trove not of dogs but up-cycled items waiting to be re-homed!)

Undeterred Jude emailed his photo and hoped for the best. On Christmas day, he opened a small flat parcel and was thrilled to discover that it was a copy of ‘The Caravan Gallery Presents Other People’s Pictures’ with his photo printed on page 56!

Armed with his book, Jude decided that an impromptu personal appearance was in order and revisited his sign and the Dog Charity Shop. Bemused customers looked on as he posed for photos with Kevin the shop manager!

I was very excited to have photographs included in the book too, but on this occasion was very happy to be overshadowed by the creative genius of Jude!


Christmas Craftivism


Homemade Christmas Lovliness

OK, so I’m a bit late with this one but it may go some way to explaining my absence from the blogosphere for the last few months!

Back in September I made a brash decision to make the majority of my Christmas gifts for friends and family with the help of my children. I often describe myself as a ‘time poor crafter’ and although there has always been an element of the homemade in my Christmas efforts, last year I decided to push the limits of seasonal crafting.

There were a few reasons for setting myself this ambitious challenge and once I started to unpick them I realised that I was engaging in a spot of craftivism! I do love Christmas but always feel uncomfortable about the materialism that surrounds it. This feeling has been magnified since having children and as they approach their teenage years I don’t want them to develop an excessive desire to possess more ‘stuff’ than they could possibly need or use.

The other contributing factors were waste and cost. I don’t like waste and it makes me really sad to see beautiful (and expensive) wrapping paper and packaging binned and as I have had to cut back on work to complete my MA funds are tight!

Mum and Dad

Mum and Belinda

When I was seven my parents embraced the Good Life. They had grown up in Birmingham and Wolverhampton and after overdosing on Tom and Barbara decided that we should swop hustle and bustle for a simple life. We moved to a small Lincolnshire village and the adventure began; soon we had rabbits, goats and a sprawling garden filled with home grown produce. One of my earliest memories of this new life was being part of a homemade Christmas card production line. I remember it involved lino printing with oil paint and it being very blue and very messy.

With this memory in my mind I called a meeting of the ‘Project Christmas’ steering committee (me, Abigail and Jude). We decided that we would create hampers by making use of our garden produce. I didn’t inherit the self sufficiency gene from my parents but we had a bountiful crop of apples, a very bushy bay leaf bush and Jude’s greenhouse chillies.

An internet search provided recipes for Christmas chutney, chilli jam, bay leaf infused olive oil and Delia’s Christmas cake; a winning combination. I have four male cousins in their twenties, (one a Drum and Bass DJ), so we decided to substitute edibles for graffiti art in their case.

Christmas Chutney

Chilli Jam

The making mission was epic and quite early on I was haunted by a throw away remark I had made years earlier about a mum at my children’s primary school. She had made mini Christmas cakes in spaghetti tins for the complete staff team and I had concluded that she had far too much time on her hands! The making mission ate up every moment of my spare time; it was relentless and required stamina and dedication. As my car had been towed away for scrap it also involved death defying trips back from Tescos on a bike loaded with bottles of cider vinegar! We also broke the electric whisk and I got what felt like second degree burns on my hands from the chillies.

Jude the Graffiti Artist

Abigail and Jude were willing helpers and by the time the cakes had tipped over into double figures they could follow the recipe without adult intervention. Jude spent a lot of time in the garden painting, splattering and spraying canvas, Abigail became our product brand poster girl posing as a Beaton-esque shooting star and I learnt how to ice a cake!

Inspired by Beaton - Abigail the Shooting Star

The 25 Christmas cakes, 18 jars of chutney, 15 jars of chilli jam, 12 bottles of bay leaf infused oil, 6 graffiti canvases and broach for my mum were all packaged using recycled fabric and trimmings and placed in jute shopping bags and distributed. I definitely underestimated the time involved in Project Christmas but it was a hugely satisfying experience. We have had some lovely thank you letters and there have been no reported cases of botulism which is a bonus.

Jude and Abi's Scrummy Christmas Cake

Button and Bead Broach

I am very grateful to Nigel Blackamore for taking the beautiful photographs of our Christmas Craftivsm over on Flickr.