This week I was lucky enough to travel to Sunderland again. I’m starting to really fall for this little city with its friendly people.
The occasion was the research conference. I was due to present a paper about the beginning of my research journey. I’d usually do this kind of thing off the top of my head but as I’m so new to this research game and didn’t want to make a complete fool of myself I did some prep!
It went beautifully and once again I met helpful people and cemented some relationships with both research students and academics. Every time I’m here I learn a tonne of new things. I often wonder how much of a disadvantage I’m at being off campus. I am fortunate to have my own friends and colleagues at Salford who are unfailingly generous with their time and knowledge so I’m calling that an even playing field……ish.
Here’s the paper
The Domestic Ritual is my own construct. It’s the way I understand how my making practice interacts with my own obligations at home.
I realised at least a decade ago that there was a relationship between the pieces I was making and the rhythm of plain old domestic chores.
Wash, hang, fold put away, wash, hang, fold, put away
Cast, fettle, polish, fire, cast, fettle, polish, fire
Shop, cook, eat, shop, cook, eat
Throw, turn, dry, fire, throw, turn, dry, fire
As I’m so early in my research I have little to report so I’m taking today as an opportunity to introduce and speculate.
I learned a new thing last week. That’s what comes of working with 150 teens and twenty somethings. It’s called the listicle. It’s a cross between a list and an article. You know the kind of thing, 61 top eyebrow stencilling techniques or eight and a half best Moroccan mountain walks.
I thought this would be an appropriate way of presenting my ideas today. So here it is… Angela’s Top four things that might be important in my PhD research….I might need to work on the title?
I do love a good list. Some days my to-do list is the only barometer of achievement I have. The days when everything I do is a maintenance task. That leads me to the first item on my listicle.
- The Maintenance task.
This is the name I’ve given to anything that has to be done again. Things like cooking, washing up, wiping the kitchen counter, school runs
I suppose the equivalent in my ceramics practice sort of reflects the household maintenance tasks. Coating the kiln shelves so things don’t stick and mopping the floor. Also I’m putting applications for residencies and things like doing the accounts and ordering materials in this category. The maintenance task is important because it’s the marker for the domestic ritual. It’s the thing I’m going to measure and monitor when I’m using myself as the primary case study in my research. Which neatly segues into item number two.
- Collecting data.
One of the new bits of language I had to figure out when I started was this thing called the ‘shape of the research’. Being a visual type I took this rather literally and this is the shape of my research.
I have a number of these drawings addressing different issues but all the same shape. This is the one where I was mapping the ways of collecting information.
As a fundamental of the research process this is one of the first things I had to figure out.
- What data did I need to collect?
- How would I go about that?
- Then what do I do with it when I’ve collected it?
This kind of thinking takes a surprising amount of time. After five months I think I have a plan. My information is coming for all over the place.
Firstly, a contextual review. Now I’m a lecturer. I read dissertations and supervise art projects all the time. The contextual review should be like that, right? Well, no not really. My undergraduate students are dealing with things that we already know. Cultural certainties and established truths. At PhD level I’m dealing with gaps in knowledge and decidedly patchy theory.
- Is there even such a thing as the domestic ritual?
- Has it been explored before and does it match with my definition?
- What might it look like?
- How have people used/responded to this idea?
Secondly, I am the primary case study. This makes complete sense to the research. It’s my idea, my work and my hypothesis therefore I need to use myself establish some facts which I can then use to test against other people’s experiences.
How do I establish these ‘facts’?
Next, The ‘other people’. These are the ones that test my findings about myself.
- Who are those other people?
- How many of them are there?
- Are they Angela clones or do I deliberately seek out variety?
Then there’s the messy question of gender. As housework is traditionally a women’s role am I at risk of mounting a crusade or imposing my belief systems upon the research? This is starting to get complicated!
- Methods and methodologies
Who knew they were different things?
Really early on in my research I learned the word ‘Bricolage’. The dictionary definition of bricolage is, ‘the construction or creation of a work from a diverse range of things’. Now as an artist this appealed to me. I think it’s given me permission to use a variety of methods for collecting data and even make up my own.
The logical place to start with collecting information about my own daily routine would seem to be a diary in the form of ….yes, you’ve guessed it….. a list.
8.05 drink coffee
8.15-8.35 answer emails in pyjamas
8.35 put on washing machine
You see the way this is going?
Ok, this is a way of recording but it’s not very interesting or inventive or creative? One of my key collaborators in my art practice is a photographer. I started thinking about how a photographer would record their dailiness. What about a photo essay? That’s visual and creative and (potentially) beautiful. But I’m not a photographer, I make things out of clay. What if I make a clay model photo essay kinda thingy? Is that even a thing? Making fine art pieces that double as the collection of data? Now I liked this idea….a lot! But it still opened up a number of questions.
- Is this really a suitable process for collecting data?
- If it is how do I analyse what I’ve collected?
- Is there a precedent for this?
- Then how do I use the same format to collect data from my ‘other people’?
- Making things
Phew, number four, making things.
This is a practice based PhD. The crux of everything is my making practice, remember, it’s right at the middle of my ‘shape’. The things I make will be a big part of my contribution to knowledge and so far I have absolutely no idea they might be. I’m currently making things, I can’t stop, it’s my default setting. I playing with ideas which integrate the domestic with ceramics. I have made a whole body of work by throwing bowls and then running over them with my car. I call this ‘school run’ or ‘road kill’ depending what kind of day I’m having.
This week I’ve thrown bowls and then left them in the local stream to be washed away and turned back into riverbed where the clay came from. I liked this idea because it resonated really well with the idea of the maintenance task. But this just lead to more questions.
- How do I record this?
- What are the precedents for thinking about this performative practice in ceramics?
- Will the fish be ok?
So currently that’s my listicle. It seems to me that at the moment it’s a list containing sub lists which consist of endless questions. I counted up the number of questions I have asked myself just during the course of my presentation today. There are 18. This is probably the number of new questions I find to ask myself every day.
I’ve decided to give the first year of my research a subtitle…………. Towards an occasional answer.