‘‘Not an Art-Room’ a collaborative research project’ by Joanna Fursman

Deciding to share your practice isn’t often an easy decision or step to make. Asking others to join you can be more nerve wracking when considering questions of ethics, the pulling of others out of their comfort zone to make something viable and challenging. ‘Do-gooding’1, the assumption that collaborative practice is a ‘given’ and that everyone should or want to participate is also a difficult position to unearth.

More difficult still is approaching a collaborative project in a secondary school where collaboration really ‘gets in the way’. Instead, in an environment where days, hours and minutes are to be planned and negotiated to the final moment; rigidity and certainty has to be undone.

So, with this in mind, I developed a research project with a small group of 14 year old students. Photography was to be the main protagonist, the camera an object to hide our selves and faces behind while investigating ideas. Using digital SLRs encouraged us to seek out how the school building made meaning, but we quickly noticed this became more about how we could create meaning out of the school building.

Over eight weeks we made a set of images and developed a photographic practice that questioned and disturbed ideas of the students’ and adults place and role in the school. Taking advantage of afterschool time, capturing empty corridors, classrooms, cupboards, offices and school equipment. Soon furniture was moved, shelves climbed upon, floors were desks, whiteboards became sculptures and objects ‘left-over’ from lessons used to collage new images.

The collaboration was unrecognisable, a fuzzy ball of an idea of something and probably different for each participant. An un-negotiated idea in a vigilated environment meant that relationships were re-negotiated, opinions formed, strands of ideas drawn out, discussed, changed, tangled, re-shaped, re-formed. Students stepped in and out of a role of maker; of work and decisions as students or artists, while my role as teacher receded.

In negotiating a different type of collaboration, the one between myself and my mentor has been one of slowly revealing similarities and different positions. My mentor is in the enviable position of having completed a PhD, while I stand at the beginning of mine. Our practices are very different, as are our research interests and directions. But a collaboration here occurs in our train journeys to the meetings, reading, conversations, push-pull of ideas, negotiating city/ies, tea drunk, consuming cake and scones, writing and making work.

On reflection, questions should be posed: where is the collaboration defined? Where does it live or sit? Do we decide if it is a specific practice, or a project? Is it what happens, or what is made? It isn’t always where a group of people do something together. Being prepared for things to go wrong, having the courage to wait and see what will be produced, not measuring or marking what has occurred, perhaps then the collaboration will happen without you noticing.

1 Bishop, C. Artificial Hells, Participatory Art and the Politics of Spectatorship. 2012. Verso. London.

Joanna Fursman is an artist teacher and a practice-based PhD researcher examining the production and recognition of the future school art-room.

High five!

Thank you to everyone who came to the High fives: spaces for doctorateness symposium including all our speakers for bringing such interesting, honest and diverse insights and energy to the day.

There’s been some great feedback about the 5 minute pecha-kucha style presentations establishing a rhythm and maintaining engagement throughout the afternoon. There were also positive comments on bringing researchers together and – as was raised as an important and not to be underestimated element in facilitating communities and conversions – lots of nice food and drink!

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BIAD will shortly be merging with the Faculty of Performance, Media and English (PME) to become the International Faculty of Arts, Design and Media comprising 9 schools (Architecture; Art; Fashion, Textiles and 3D Design; Jewellery; Visual Communication; Acting; English; Media; the Conservatoire).

High fives really highlighted the exciting potential and spaces opened up by researchers creating dialogues between these Faculties, as well as beyond, through talks by researchers at the School of Education, the School of Health, the Faculty of Technology, Engineering and the Environment (TEE) and PGRNet, BCU’s Postgraduate Researcher Network.

Whilst professional development and ‘doctorateness’ may be in part specific to the context of certain faculties or schools, it seems that such conversations across BCU open up spaces for a multifaceted and expanded sense of doctorateness through fostering a rich, diverse and supportive research community, enhancing personal and professional development and well-being amongst researchers.

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Successful end to a successful year

Yesterday we held the final event in our PDN calender. High fives: spaces for doctorateness was a great success; we had representatives from across the University, as well as some of our external partners. It gave us the space to reflect on the work we’ve all been doing over the year and to celebrate the achievements of those taking part. We were particularly pleased to welcome people from the Faculty of Performance, Media and English, who will soon be joining us in our new, joint faculty.

Following presentations from the PDN team, we had talks from participants in the two schemes: KED and RMI. Mark Walker and Joanna Fursman used the city as a metaphor to tell us about their mentoring partnership; Dee Skinner and Peipei Yu talked about the challenges of moving from a teacher-student relationship to a mentoring one; and Camille Chinneck and Yi Wu told how the coffee vouchers we provided allowed them to keep their mentoring meetings separate from their working space. Apparently, one of the advantages of their partnership was that Camille was able to give Yi tips on how to handle their joint supervisor.

We heard about two KED partnerships. Bushra Zalloom had worked with IE Design evaluating the impact of their rebranding of the University of Birmingham’s Career Network. Bushra wasn’t able to be with us yesterday but recorded her contribution to their presentation given by Mike Farr from IE Design. Geraldine Marshall worked with the Herbert Art Gallery, promoting and curating an exhibition, and told us of the challenges and rewards of working with academics with no design or exhibition experience.

We also had presentations from across the University: Tim Wall from Performance, Media and English, Robert Ashford from Health, and Ian McDonald from Technology, Engineering and the Environment, all told us about their PhD programmes and how they approach doctorateness in ther faculties. Kirsten Forkert and Mohammed Mayouf showed us the serious, and not so serious, things they do at PGRNet. And Mandy French gave a very entertaining talk on how she evolved from a straight, educational researcher to a maverick, postmodern questioner.

The short, pecha-kucha style presentations gave an energised feel to the proceedings, together with some laughs as speakers tried to keep pace with their slides. We ended with a lively discussion around the nature of doctorateness, how it is acquired, and thoughts on where we go from here. Finally, we enjoyed some well-earned drinks and canapés, taking the opportunity to network, chat to friends, and catch up with partners and colleagues we hadn’t seen for a while.

Jacqueline Taylor took lots of photographs, some of which she will shortly publish here, and we used the event as an opportunity to throw out a challenge – to come up with a more exciting name for PDN. Mandy French suggested Community rather than Network, a suggestion we really like, but can you come up with anything better? The prize, generously donated by the PDN team, is a £5 coffee voucher.

High fives: spaces for doctorateness symposium

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It’s nearly time for our High fives: spaces for doctorateness symposium which will be held on Thursday 3rd July, 3-6:30pm, Parkside, room P132 !

We’ve got a fast-paced, informal and fun afternoon lined up that shares and disseminates Knowledge Exchange in Design research residencies and the BIAD Research Mentoring Initiative run this academic year. There will be short pecha-kucha style talks by project participants and researchers in other faculties opening up cross-disciplinary spaces to consider what doctorateness may mean today.

3:00pm  Registration and refreshments
3:15pm  Framing professional development talks
              Jayne Sharples, Dr Sian Vaughan, Dr Jacqueline Taylor, Dr Anne Boultwood
3:45pm  Project participant talks
              Bushra Zalloom and Mike Farr, Dr Mark Walker and Joanna Fursman, Camille
              Chinneck and Yi Wu, Geraldine Marshall, Delia Skinner and Peipei Yu
4:15pm  Across the University talks
              Prof Tim Hall, Prof Richard Ashford, Ian McDonald, Amanda French, Dr Kirsten
              Forkert and Mohammed Mayouf
4:45pm  Discussion
5:30pm  Drinks, canapés and networking.

There are still some tickets available so be sure to click here to register. All welcome!

Call for presentations!

We are looking for research mentoring and KED partnerships to give short pecha-kucha style presentations (10 slides in 5 minutes) for our final event of the academic year on Thursday 3rd July 2014.

The aim of the event is to hold a small symposium that shares and disseminates these projects. Alongside these presentations, there will also be other talks in this format to keep the event fast-paced, informal and fun.

We invite you to:

  • share your experiences
  • reflect on your partnership
  • discuss knowledge exchange

Within the 5 minutes we encourage you to do this in any creative ways that you feel are appropriate.

Deadline for applications: 09th June 2014

Download an application form to present here

Please email your completed application form to Dr Jacqueline Taylor at Jacqueline.Taylor@bcu.ac.uk by 9th June.

We will contact successful applicants on the week commencing 16th June 2014.

‘We could all benefit from a mentor’ by Toni Mayner

I joined the mentoring scheme because I wanted to decide whether studying a PhD was the right thing for me. What I didn’t expect, was the impact that meeting other PhD students and hearing about their research would have on my decision.

Having spent 18 months attending courses and researching the possibilities, the enthusiasm about their subjects, shared experiences, opportunities and challenges that the mentors and mentees have shared and expressed at our meetings have all led me to decide that a PhD is possible and something that will enhance me and my work.

I have never had a mentor before and have found the experience to be delightful. My mentor is generous with his knowledge and has already shared a considerable amount of  his in-head bibliography on sources of inspiration, references and others artistic practice with me whilst enabling me to explore and refine my ideas.

At the recent professional development event the word we discussed as a group was ‘sustainability’. There were many interpretations of what this might represent, however, for me at this time, the mentoring scheme, catch-up events and research cafes all contribute to my being able to sustain the commitment and work required in achieving study at this level and have transformed what was an individual experience into me becoming part of a research community.

Toni Mayner is a lecturer at the School of Jewellery and a practicing jewellery artist whose current research examines themes of loss and remembrance.

Celebrating professional development!

Right now, we’re holding our Celebrating Professional Development event. Yes, that’s right – we’re live blogging!

The aim of today’s session is to celebrate BIAD researchers as creative individuals, and their development through knowledge exchange and working collaboratively. As well as PhD researchers from both Knowledge Exchange in Design (KED) and Research Mentoring schemes, there are also faculty staff and we are delighted to welcome external KED partners from a range of organisations including IE Design, Ikon Gallery and Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery (BMAG).

So far, Prof Richard Coles has welcomed us with a story of Archimedes in the bath as a way of thinking about the journey that leads us to that unexpected Eureka! moment. Jacqueline Taylor then introduced the BIAD Professional Development Network and our Research Mentoring scheme.


This was followed by a talk by one our mentoring partnerships Gregory Dunn and Zoe Millman. This provided insights into their mentoring relationship and how it has grown to be supportive and productive for both mentee and mentor.

Jayne Sharples introduced the KED scheme, going back to how it started and current residencies as at IE DesignIkon Gallery and a collaborative project at the Herbert Museum and Art Gallery and Coventry University.

Following this, Sian Vaughan has introduced our activity. Our participants have been split into four groups in which each group has been given an Easter egg. After being unwrapped, each egg has revealed the group’s themes iced onto their egg: collaboration, sustainability, impact or discipline. Participants are encouraged to break off bits and to share their thoughts as they do and are currently discussing these themes …



There have been some really interesting and thought-provoking conversations around these themes which have only strengthened the importance of the schemes we are running and the need for them to be sustained. We are looking forward to unpicking these further and incorporating them into our future events this year.

Of course, we couldn’t properly celebrate professional development without food and drink! After final remarks from Anne Boultwood, participants are now continuing their conversations over wine and canapés. There is a real buzz and we hope it has been an enjoyable evening for all and thank everyone for coming!

We would love to hear from you! Continue discussions by adding any comments to this or any other posts. If you would like to write a blog post for us, email our website editor Jacqueline Taylor at Jacqueline.taylor@bcu.ac.uk. 

Learning to mentor by Mattia Paganelli

In the process of becoming an academic researcher, one learns in unexpected ways; teaching has been one, mentoring at first seemed no different. Yet, I was quickly proved wrong. The dialogue with a prospective PhD researcher is an entirely different experience, miles away from the inevitable limitations of the lecturing format at BA level I already knew. It is a curiosity platform, where questions are exchanged and one offers his experience in tackling them. It requires creativity in reorganizing one’s experience beyond the structure of a specific subject of study, in order to understand to someone else’ work.

Thus mentoring has become an opportunity to explore the tutoring role in a broader and more rewarding way. This offers great help in the specific case of art school, where developing studio tutoring skills requires more than simply passing information, and one must learn to be flexible in order to respond to different sensibilities and different practices.

In the conversations we have, I find I am sharing the excitement for having a study project that is entirely my own. The experiences collected in making art in a globalized technological world and the knowledge gained studying merge in this dialogue, becoming valuable references when discussing why and how undertaking postgraduate research; not to mention the more delicate task of advising how to embark in the PhD adventure with the right mixture of foolishness and determination.

Mattia Paganelli is a PhD student at the Centre for Fine Art Research, BIAD whose research examines the relation between aesthetics and epistemology in contemporary art practice.

Research Mentoring Initiative launch

The BIAD Research Mentoring Initiative has now officially launched! Through a successful induction event held at the School of Art, Margaret Street, both mentors and mentees were able to meet each other and engage in discussion over tea, coffee and cake.

We are please to announce that there are 18 researchers taking part in the initiative, forming 9 partnerships overall. Those involved include PhD researchers at various stages of their study, recently completed students (Early Career Researchers) and those actively thinking about embarking on PhD study at BIAD.

There are researchers from a multitude of rich and diverse backgrounds from School of Jewellery, School of Art and Parkside campuses, incorporating home, EU and overseas students and practitioners across a range of disciplines from Philosophy to Typography, Fine Art and Idea Management.

We wish all of our mentoring partnerships the best of luck and look forward to hearing about how they are developing!

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Regularly check our website to stay updated on the Research Mentoring Initiative, read posts by mentors and mentees about their experiences and more. You can follow us by clicking on the link at the right-hand side of the page to receive email updates when new posts are published.

Extended deadline!

We have extended our deadline for applications for the Research Mentoring Initiative until the 20th December to give researchers extra time to apply.

The Research Mentoring Initiative provides invaluable support for researchers at different stages of their MPhil/PhD outside of their supervisory team through being partnered with experienced Art & Design researchers with mutual concerns.

Both mentees and mentors can develop their research profile and employability through knowledge exchange that will result in new thinking and ways of working, research-related outputs such as conference and symposia contributions, publications and projects and gaining experience aligned with their future career aspirations. Mentors will also gain experience of working in an academic environment in a paid capacity.

Visit our web page for more information and to apply or contact Jacqueline Taylor at Jacqueline.Taylor@bcu.ac.uk for more information.