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Unexpressed: developing a manifesto for an experimental creative press at the University
Unexpressed: developing a manifesto for an experimental creative press at the University of Salford is a research project produced as part of an MA study of artist teachers. The study focuses on experimenting with models of the classroom as studio demonstrated within the work of Josef and Anni Albers, both at the Bauhaus and Black Mountain College, Hans Hofmann, Corita Kent, Victor Pasmore and Richard Hamilton.
Within this study this research project was developed to generate and gather qualitative data [meanings, concepts definitions, characteristics, metaphors, descriptions and stories] from creative presses and creative arts students which would be explored and analysed through action research [transformative change through the simultaneous process of taking action and doing research, which are linked together by critical reflection]. Specifically, the data gathered would provide an insight into the common and uncommon themes reflected in the work of contemporary presses both private and community based.
The goal of the research project was to collect data that would help me to craft a manifesto for an experimental creative press at the University of Salford, providing a structure to work within when creating artist books and publications on my own or in collaboration with students, visiting practitioners and colleagues. Turning my classroom as studio experiment into a more permanent feature of my practice that would last well beyond an MA and could potentially provide future opportunities to conduct research.
Through rigorous primary and secondary research including exhibitions, talks, workshops, online forums and social media, I identified ten national and international independent presses I could approach for an interview. I developed a tiered system for ascertaining the relevance of their work to the research project. The first tier was an educational element to their practice, six of the presses identified had educational programmes or aspects in their own manifestos or mission statements, two of those were embedded in art and design departments in universities. The second tier was the type of artist books and publications they produced, the subjects they explored, the processes and mediums used, and whether they were creative practitioners themselves. The collaborative nature of their practice was an essential factor to gain the right insights when crafting my own response to the data.
Due to time, geographical and financial constraints traditional face to face interviews were not viable within the context of the project (much as I was hoping I would be able to meet them in person). Taking inspiration from the research of Stacey and Vincent (2011) at the University of Melbourne and their work on alternative ways to collect interview responses with multimedia stimulus, I created an interview riso zine which could be sent to each respondent either in the post or via email. This included more details about the project, a QR code to video and image content and their interview questions.
I offered respondents a choice of how they would like to receive their interview pack, if they preferred to write by hand, add imagery alongside their answers or respond to questions visually using video, photography, illustration etc., they could do so. I also provided a return system for completed interviews in the post to make it as easy and fun as possible for the respondents and also offer every opportunity to generate reliable and exciting data.
I received positive responses from nine of the approached respondents, but due to time restrictions, only five of the respondents returned their completed interview packs within the required time scale. The quality of these responses was however very high, and one of the five was a press embedded in the University of Sunderland [Foundation Press] with direct pedagogical and creative practice relevance to the research project, offering a unique opportunity for insight.
When all of the responses were collated, I set about investigating the data for consistent themes which involved reading each interview and creating a table for each one. I then assembled these tables and found the most referenced topics across all of the responses. There were some common themes I was pleased to see emerging from the collated data and some surprising themes I had not considered, providing me with evidence for my ideas and offering new ideas to consider when writing the manifesto.
The most consistent themes were collaboration, co-production, diversity, experimentation, ideas and skills sharing, honesty and playfulness. Other themes I had not considered which were prevalent in the data were bravery in a safe space, intersectionality, flexibility, humour, generosity, sustainability and being wary of partiality or taste-making. Additionally, there were some interesting insights into the challenges other practitioners had faced in crafting their manifestos. Explicitly making the manifesto flexible enough to allow for change and making it open enough to accommodate a range of activities, ideas and projects.
Respondents posed some interesting questions in their responses, for example, Good Press asked ‘if you see something you really like happening differently, but it doesn’t line up with what you do, should you change?’, this question had a lasting impression on how I interpreted the data, and I saw this theme emerge throughout a lot of the responses.
Using this data, I wrote the manifesto and began to experiment with ways I could visually explore and communicate the process of gathering these ideas and experiences together. In doing so, I made an exciting discovery about the nature of the work I was doing. In looking for a way to formalise the ‘classroom as studio’ concept into a creative press where I could share ideas and collaborate with my students and other practitioners, I had in fact written a manifesto for my practice, essentially defining my practice and providing myself with a set of rules to work by. Whether intentional or not, the manifesto worked on two levels. As a guideline for a creative press, a reflection of how I work and the discoveries, I have made. I was also struck by the similarities my manifesto had to that of another artist teacher whom I have researched as part of this project, Corita Kent. Though there is very little research on Kent’s pedagogy her book Learning By Heart (Kent and Steward, 2015), her artwork and her manifesto known as the Immaculate Heart College Art Department Rules have played a significant role in how I have explored my practice and sought to define it.
This publication reflects the questions asked of respondents and their stories. The final manifesto is in poster format and can be found as an A2 fold out at the front of the publication.
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