Today (with a small group of foundation students from Colchester Institute) I visited Laura Jackson-Willis’ exhibition at The Minories art gallery.
‘Citing Reverie is an exhibition of two PhD students, exploring the location of imagination and contemplation within English domestic space. Both projects explore the experiential qualities imbued in such space utilizing a range of practice-based applications. Graphic Designer, Laura Jackson-Willis (Head of BA Graphic Design), examines notions of space and place in relation to East Anglia coast beach huts, while photographer and filmmaker, Sam Vale, investigates private rooms dedicated to personal collections’ (Colchester Institute).
Practice-based Phd’s are becoming more common and this exhibition was a unique insight into more unorthodox research methodologies.
Jackson-Willis explains the focus of the Phd:
‘The Beach Hut on the East Anglia coast: A representation of space and place in the contemporary English seaside. My research examines the meanings attributed to the English beach hut during the period 1995 to 2010. I explore the purposeful, discreet and careful negotiation of the coastal landscape by different groups of people; the competitive zoning of space becomes a daily ritual between day-trippers and locals, those who own huts and those who don’t, children and adults. This critical investigation of spacial negation particularly explores the hutters experience in relation to the East Anglia coast. In addition, this research considers the economic status of the locations that form part of this study, the implications attributed to local cultural identity and the relationship of legal ownership between individual persons and local authorities.
Places of personal significance remain a constant stabilising factor in the daily routine of people’s lives – a space to relax – a space to think – the ‘place’ of the beach hut affords imaginative daydreaming. Thus, in contrast to the place of home or work, the time and space of the beach hut provides for a different kind of experience.
Akin to sensory ethnography this practice-based research examines theoretical concepts of experiential space, nostalgia as memory and imagination, meanings of home and notions of community – hence space becomes ‘place’. Generating primary observations from three geographical case study locations, I have employed a range of methods that include photography, semi-structured interviews, and personal reflectivity of experience. Citing graphic design practice as a key method to select, order and disseminate sensory data gathered, I explore whether it may be possible to make representations of the narratives revealed, for example, experiential space and place. The site and placement of works also play a vital role in the communication process.
My intention is that the work I make will evidence that visual research through graphic design practice is a valid mode of inquiry, as complementary to and informing traditional scholarly activity’ (2011).
As a graphic design practitioner and a writer I found the exhibition notable in two ways, that it led me to question the academic rigor of practice-led Phd study (Jackson-Willis has come to a preliminary conclusion that graphic design alone cannot represent space and place, therefore a written thesis is required to support these practical findings).
The second aspect was the notion of what an exhibition of this kind can deliver in terms of communicating its intention to the audience. Exhibiting graphic design has always been paradoxical (in relation to photography or fine art), however as a research method (and without captioning) the objects and graphic design outcomes made by Jackson-Willis had a life of their own and were aesthetically robust to withstand the loaded signifiers of The Minories art gallery setting.
I hope in the future to undertake doctoral study, this exhibition and its outcomes has further engaged my resolve to undertake it, and to consider if a practice-based approach is appropriate. More to come on this in later posts.