Saturday, 17 March 2018

Embracing the Unknown

This week I have been lucky enough to attend two events outside of my usual subject area. The first was the Theatre and Performance Design Pedagogy conference curated by UAL. I attended the first day at the Barbican and, while the subject matter was a little dense for me at times, I learned a lot about the future of theatre design teaching for students or, rather, the unidentified future.

Several of the speakers touched on the uncertainty of direction in theatre design, particularly in the digital world with the likes of iPhones, Google Tilt Brush and virtual reality. The keynote speaker, Prof. Rolf Hughes of Newcastle University, posed the question: how do we prepare our students for futures we currently lack the imagination to foresee? While I am sure this has always been an issue for teachers, the transformation of culture and technology has made this a lot harder in recent years.

I attended the session on Digital Design with three speakers from across Europe. The debate around virtual reality that ensued was of particular interest to me. We have an Immersive Storytelling Studio at the NT, dedicated to examining how new technologies can affect how we tell stories. So when Peter Missotten from the Faculty of Arts, Maastricht claimed that VR will be dead in 2 years I was pretty surprised. Joris Weijdom of University of the Arts Utrecht picked up the gauntlet and advocated for the importance of 'mixed reality' - mapping real life to a virtual reality experience eg. experiencing a virtual reality experience but touching and engaging with real life objects mapped to the visuals in the headset. I am sure there is a much better way of expressing this than I have just done but it made complete sense to marry the real and virtual environments to maximise the creative experience.

Sometimes I can feel like we get carried away with new technology and chase projects that may not necessarily provide us with the best experiences. This quote was flashed up at one point and it really resonated with me at the end of the day:

'We are stuck with technology when what we really want is stuff that works.' (Douglas Adams)

The conference left me with more questions than it answered but there was the age old thread of the need for collaboration between sectors for example directors, designers and actors and with academics and archivists. It seems that every conference I go to ends with this suggestion!

Flat Time House in Peckham

The next event I attended was about the Southwark Educational Research Project (SERP), which is being reactivated by Peckham Platform. Based in the Flat Time House, the former house of the artists who started the SERP project, the event was a chance to hear from the artists Barbara Steveni and Barby Asante, curator and academic Ben Cranfield and the two archivists working on Barbara's archive, Victoria Lane and Judy Vaknin. It was fascinating to hear about SERP, which ran 1989-1995, and about the introduction of the national curriculum, spearheaded by Margaret Thatcher.

An area I knew nothing of, it was great to hear about how the SERP archive is being used by Barby to encourage students to question their education and curriculum, pushing their horizons and creating an education 'in the round'. This holistic approach was the aim of SERP and speaks directly to the current debates around STEM and STEAM education. It will be interesting to see if any of the outputs of this project will or can inform the government's current thinking around the arts in education.

Flyer for all of the activity around the SERP archive in the next month
A few of the other gobbets of information that will be making me think over the next few days are:
  • most artists do not create work with their archives in mind. Some do and this is self-conscious archiving, an interesting concept in itself
  • the current problematic embrace of the archive as capital, which is driven by funding bodies. If organisations are wanting to grab their archives, who are they doing it for and why and what will the legacy of that be?
  • to go and have a look for the Felicity Allan article 'Situating Gallery Education' at Tate
  • it is difficult to organise an archive of things that were never meant to be archived....rings a bell with performing arts archives!
This was a really interesting way to spend a Saturday afternoon and opened my eyes to the amount of work that is going on out there in archives and communities, which we can so readily tap into and learn from. I hope this project goes from strength to strength and I look forward to seeing their Tate Exchange event on the 17th-22nd April.

The events this week have helped me to get some perspective on my work and put performing arts archiving in context. There is still so much to learn and people and projects to learn from that I feel quite invigorated and empowered this Saturday evening!

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