Archive for the ‘Research’ category

MarKings, illustration and performance festival at UAL


MarKings Festival Friday 8th & Saturday 9th July 2016

Markings explores the relationship between illustration and performance

Submit your film!

Markings is an exciting new cross-disciplinary, cross college festival that celebrates the dynamic areas of performance and illustration. A unique collaboration between University of the Arts London and the House of Illustration, it will take place on 8-9 July at CSM and draws together a full spectrum of creative media, performance and arts including the best of UAL film making practice.

We are currently seeking submissions for the MarKings Screening Event, films that specifically explore the areas of performance or illustration. If you have produced a film while you have been at UAL that explores either or both of these areas, please submit your film to MarKings Festival by Friday, 17 June, 4pm.

Please include the following information with your submission:

  • Full title of film and duration.
  • Full name, course and key credits (Director, Director of Photography, Stylist, etc.)
  • Contact email and/or website
  • A short description of your film (four lines)
  • A link to a streamed version of your film (Vimeo, YouTube etc.)
  • AND a WeTransfer link to a high quality Quicktime file at your films native resolution (FCPX export guide, Adobe Premiere export guide)

Successful applicants will be contacted by Monday 27 June.

Seven Voices In Amber_Hung-Chun Wang_3

‘The Other Story’ Online: Digital Exhibition Histories

'The Other Story' Online: Digital Exhibition Histories

Image: ‘The Other Story: Afro-Asian Artists in Post-War Britain’ – 1989 exhibition at the Hayward Gallery, London. Courtesy of Rasheed Araeen and Asia Art Archive.

Are you interested in how contemporary art is presented and then critically received? What do you know about the history of racism in the British art establishment? Would you like participate in the design of a web prototype before its public launch?

Dr Lucy Steeds is working with a cross-course team of UAL students to develop an interactive digital platform for documenting and re-activating a highly significant exhibition of contemporary art that took place in 1989: ‘The Other Story: Afro-Asian Artists in Post-War Britain’. This exhibition, which first took place at the Hayward Gallery in London, will be mapped visually and spatially online, and then shared with the public for interactive engagement – all in collaboration with a group of students.

We will gather on Wednesday afternoons during May, 4pm to 6pm at CSM, Kings Cross. We will be joined by visiting speakers – including Rasheed Araeen and Sonia Boyce – and progress updates will be posted by participants.

Any enquiries? Please contact Lucy Steeds

Research initiated by Afterall at UAL, supported by a Digital Project Grant from the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art and amplified through UAL Curriculum Development Funding.

Listening Across Disciplines – AHRC Network Grant announced

Principal Investigator,  Dr. Salomé Voegelin, Reader in Sound Arts at the London College of Communication, UAL, and Co-Investigator, Dr. Anna Barney, Professor in Biomedical Acoustic Engineering at Southampton University, have been awarded a 12 month Arts and Humanities Research Council  network grant for their project Listening Across Disciplines.

This network project, developed with a strong commitment to cross-disciplinary research, will bring together artists, musicians, scientists, technologists and social scientists as well as scholars and practitioners from the humanities, to work across disciplinary boundaries on the recently emerging focus on sound and listening.

Salome 710x354

The aim of this £33,688 grant is to initiate an exchange that draws together auditory research initiatives and methods from across the disciplines to advance their status and use. The principal and longer-term ambition of this network project is to establish a research hub in listening methodologies. The hub will provide the infrastructure and shared terrain to develop and document, educate and disseminate information, guidelines and policies about listening as a methodology of investigation and communication; it will offer a space where culture and science can collide to generate new knowledge and create innovative modes of knowledge production and communication that bring value within and between the disciplines, and ultimately to a general public.

Related links

AHRC-logo-CMYK LScape  Resonance FM 200x200


Charlotte Hodes film selected for the UK’s first film festival launched by the Crafts Council and Crafts magazine

Hodes Film

‘Questions of Travel’ a film by Charlotte Hodes, Professor in Fine Art at LCF and Deryn Rees-Jones, Professor of Poetry, University of Liverpool has been selected for the UK’s first film festival launched by the Crafts Council and Crafts magazine, is set to be among the highlights of this year’s London Craft Week.

Real to Reel: The Craft Film Festival takes place on the evenings of 4 and 5 May at Picturehouse Central in London’s West End, with a carefully curated programme of different films shown each night.

Following an open call, 36 films have been selected from well over 300 submissions, covering the gamut of styles from animation to satire and from documentaries to surreal art pieces. As diverse as the films are, each looks at our relationship with materials and making in different ways.

Questions of Travel follows Elizabeth Bishop’s poem Questions of Travel (1956), deconstructing the binaries of ‘here’ and ‘there’ to develop the idea of travel as a metaphor for the creative process: reading, drawing, thinking and imagining. Bishop’s phrase ‘must we dream our dreams and have them too?’ is central to our exploration of anxieties about empirical thinking and the workings of the imagination. Hodes’ work, which uses physical handcraft and digital processes of ‘cut’ & ‘paste’ engages directly in a visualisation of Bishop’s own aesthetic. It enacts Bishop’s engagement with modernist techniques which sought to disrupt linear time into an act of what Bergson calls ‘continuous creation’. Rees-Jones’ underpinning research for the collaboration draws on Bishop’s early writing and her desire for what she calls ‘experience-time’; playing with screen, stage, frame, ‘binocular’ and ‘monocular’ visions we ally this notion with Bishop’s use of the term ‘stereoscopic’ to dramatise her particular poetics of looking.

‘Questions of Travel’ was commissioned by Dr. Jonathan Ellis, University of Sheffield for the Festival of the Arts and Humanities, Sheffield 2015 and was first screened at the Site Gallery, Sheffield 15 May 2015. It  is the second in a series of commissioned collaborations by artist Hodes and poet and critic Rees-Jones using the poemfilm both as artistic practice and vehicle for critical interpretation. Their  project uses work by women writers, set at historical intervals, to open debates about female creativity. It forms part of an ongoing research project, ‘Reimaging the Muse’.

UAL awarded two Philip Leverhulme Prizes

We are very pleased to announce that Dr Sara Davidmann and Hannah Rickards, researchers at University of the Arts London, have been awarded Philip Leverhulme Prizes in Visual and Performing Arts. It is a major achievement for UAL to be awarded two of these highly prestigious prizes, awarded to outstanding researchers whose work has already attracted international recognition and whose future career is exceptionally promising.

Sara Davidmann is a Senior Research Fellow at London College of Communication (LCC) and a member of Photography and the Archive Research Centre (PARC). Sara completed a practice-based PhD in Photography at LCC in 2007 (AHRC Doctoral award-funded). This was followed by a three-year AHRC Fellowship in the Creative and Performing Arts. In 2009, she was awarded a further AHRC Research Grant and a Wellcome Trust Small Grant in 2011. In 2013 Sara founded the UAL Gender and Sexuality Research Forum. 

Sara chose to study and then work at UAL because of its reputation as a world-leading arts institution and LCC specifically for its excellence in Photography. “UAL has a very stimulating environment in which to work and I have been impressed by the…lively debates which arise, cutting across disciplines, and the intersections between the work of other researchers and my own have resulted in some very exciting collaborations”.

Sara’s current research constitutes an investigation of her family archive and a family secret that came to light in the 1950s – that her uncle Ken was transgender. This was at a time when very little was known about being transgender. A second research thread configures around photographic portraits and oral histories, carried out in collaboration with transgender people. Concerns of equality and diversity underpin my work.

Sara Davidmann   Sara Davidmann

Image: Ken. To be destroyed. Sara Davidmann 2014           Image: Ken. To be destroyed. Sara Davidmann 2015

Sara uses alternative photography processes that combine early film and contemporary digital methods. These include wet plate collodion and silver gelatin printing with hand colouring, chemigrams, making digital negatives and producing fictional photographs. Sara uses methods that enable experimentation and chance. “Working in this way means that I am constantly being surprised and challenged”.

Looking forward, Sara says,

The Philip Leverhulme Prize will enable me to complete a new body of work using private and public archives.

Hannah is a Lecturer at CSM, she is an artist examining the auditory, visual and spatial relationships of a specific event. Hannah studied in the 4D Pathway on the BA Fine Art at CSM (graduating in 2002) so she has had a long-standing relationship with CSM.

Hannah made her last work, Grey light. Left and right back, high up, two small windows (2014) in relation to several residencies on Fogo Island, Newfoundland between 2011 and 2015. Specific location is important to Hannah’s work, for an atmospheric occurrence or particular landscape; she has traveled to Alaska and northern British Columbia for her work.

There are different kinds of challenges that research work can present. Some of those challenges are very welcome and are the stuff that work is made from – the challenge itself of making things in the world. I make work because I want to think about something, or through something, and that is a process of challenge in many respects, but obviously for me a very positive one.

Other challenges such as trying to find time and resources to make work have been more problematic in the past – the great joy and privilege of this Phillip Leverhulme Prize is that it now affords me both of those for a period of time.

Stills from Grey light. Left and right back, high up, two small windows (2014), Hannah Rickards

Image: Still of Grey light Left and right back, high up, two small windows (2014)

Hannah is excited to be working at The Curtis R. Priem Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center (EMPAC) during the early part of 2016 because its incredible facilities and staff and the conditions will allow her to test and work with some more speculative ideas. She will be spending an initial Production Residency there in January 2016, she will be working on a single-screen moving image work with a cable-suspended camera system. The system can be manoeuvred through three dimensions to all points within the volume of the studio. 

Hannah explains “within the confines of a very specific performance space [the work] will look at the shifting and dynamic relationship between figure and landscape, through two distinct yet intersecting choreographed paths: the movement of the camera and the movement of performers”.

Depending on the piece and the context Hannah often works with a team of people: participants, performers, production crew. Hannah makes work through a discursive process,“there is maybe an initial clarity of intention in what the ‘container’ of the work will be, or a set of parameters, but that structure is always in dialogue with what arises throughout the process of making the work. And, that is informed often by the groups of people I work with”. These discussions about the work happen with a number of people: friends, colleagues, her assistant/producer.

“It’s an important process for me, as I’m sure it is for many other artists and researchers”.

leverhulme logo-vector

Our wonderful PhD community: Meet Armenoui Kasparian Saraidari

Armenoui Kasparian Saraidari is a PhD student at Central Saint Martins, University of the Arts London, she is a third year student and has recently carried out research in the Library of Congress in Washington, DC. Here she tells us about her PhD experience so far…

What is your PhD title? Has it changed much since you started/has your area of research developed into other areas, or do you find it easy to stay focused?

The materiality of photography and the memory of the Armenian Genocide.  This has been the title of my PhD since my first year. Entering my third year now, I can say my research has developed in different directions over time, especially in terms of practice. It is only through expanding your interest in new territories that you discover what is most relevant for you, and then in a way you return to your initial question with rich and rigorous answers…or more questions. This way my project moved forwards.

Why did you choose UAL?

In 2012, when I first thought of undertaking a PhD, I was still studying for my Master’s Degree in Photography at CSM. Therefore, UAL was my first choice not only for its academic reputation but also judging from my positive experience as a postgraduate taught student. I looked for potential supervisors at all UAL Colleges and I met with Pam Skelton from CSM. CSM offered me a supervisory team of Dr. Jo Morra and Pam Skelton, they supported my ideas and helped me to form the research questions to validate my research. I was lucky enough to find the best suitable supervision and a familiar working environment all in one place.

What stage are you at in your PhD and what are you working on at the moment?

I am about to begin the third year of my full-time PhD studies. I have just returned from the States where I was a Research Fellow at the Library of Congress in Washington, DC.

Main Reading Room at Loc Researching at Prints and Photographs Reading room1 LoC

This fellowship was part of the AHRC International Placement, it allowed me to continue my research for six months in the world’s biggest library that holds one of the most comprehensive photographic archives in relation to the Armenian Genocide.

There, as a Fellow I was given access to unique collections that document the plight of the Armenian population in the late Ottoman period and later in the years of exile. Due to the large amount of material observed, I came up with a database for organising the material collected and making it available for my practice. One of my goals is to make this database available to the public.

Currently, I am working in the studio with material from the unprocessed archives of the American Red Cross that I discovered at the Library of Congress. By reproducing, grouping, recomposing, manipulating, and layering the images I wish to rephrase meaning and introduce new narratives in the history of the Armenian Genocide and diaspora.

You are funded by an AHRC Scholarship, how has this helped whilst studying your PhD?

An AHRC Scholarship apart from the financial support also offers a number of exclusive opportunities to their Scholars for funding, research programmes, training, workshops, events and many more. I have benefited from quite a few, with the biggest opportunity being the Fellowship at the Library of Congress.

How has your PhD benefitted from this Fellowship at the Library of Congress?

My Fellowship at the J.W. Kluge Center of the Library of Congress was a milestone in my PhD. First, it offered a positive timeline for developing my project and organising my reading, writing and practice. Secondly, the research itself that I conducted in the archives wouldn’t have been achieved without this fellowship. Finally, it was a great opportunity to associate with international scholars from other disciplines and build bonds with other institutions worldwide.

esearching Paper Print collection at LoC

Researching Paper Print collection at LoC

Stacks at LoC

Bringing that experience back to the art school of CSM, I believe will benefit not only myself but also the research community at UAL.

What would you like to do after your PhD, has your life changed because of your PhD?

Studying for a Practice-based PhD taught me how to keep a good balance between researching and creating artwork. Ideally, I would like to keep working under that formula; producing scholarly work and art practice as a Researcher either inside or outside of Academia.

Have you got any tips for prospective UAL PhD students?

Find suitable supervisors.  

Find a solid research question.

Then add hard work and all your talents and you’ve got all you need.

How often do you meet with your supervisors and do they offer you different views on your PhD?

Depending on the needs of my PhD at each stage, we meet regularly always as a team and discuss all aspects of my project. In between meetings, we exchange emails, drafts or material related to my practice to keep the team updated with my progress, difficulties and achievements. Coming from different disciplines each of my supervisors offer unique input to my project whilst following a common plan.  

Further reading:

Exhibition Studies talks: Victor Wang, Sakina Dhif and Rachel Pafe

Installation of the First Stars Exhibition, 1979. Courtesy of Huang Rui.

Installation of the First Stars Exhibition, 1979. Photo: Li Xiaobin, image courtesy of Huang Rui.

Victor Wang on the First Stars Exhibitions and Sakina Dhif/Rachel Pafe on ‘Past Disquiet’

Wednesday 18 November 2015

Time: 2pm to 4pm

Venue: CSM, Room KX A002

Victor Wang will share his research on a pivotal moment in Chinese exhibition histories: the 1979 and 1980 Stars Exhibitions (星星画会). Accompanied by documentation, the presentation will consider the importance of the public sphere and civil resistance with the beginnings of a contemporaneity in post-Cultural Revolution China.

Victor Wang (王宗孚) is a curator and exhibition-maker based between London and Shanghai. Most recently he was appointed the K11 curator of the travelling and collaborative exhibition between Palais de Tokyo and K11 Art Foundation, ‘Inside China – L’Intérieur du Géant’ at the chi k11 art museum, Shanghai. Victor is also a Curator in Residence at Contemporary Art Heritage Flanders (CAHF): a knowledge platform initiated by and built around the collections of four contemporary art museums in Flanders, Belgium: S.M.A.K. (Ghent), Mu.ZEE (Ostend), MUHKA & Middelheimmuseum (Antwerp).

Sakina Dhif and Rachel Pafe will present part of an ongoing project that examines the historically repetitive desires behind archival exhibition making. They will present the second version of a performative reading that will first be given at the PARSE Biennial in Gothenburg. Using an exhibition earlier this year at MACBA, ‘Past Disquiet’ (curated by Rasha Salti and Kristine Khouri), as an entry point, they will discuss messianic time, archival impulses, haunting, withdrawal and the place of fiction in exhibition studies.

Rachel Pafe and Sakina Dhif are researcher/writers/artists based between London, Washington DC, Brussels and the floating world. Graduates of the MRes Art: Exhibition Studies programme at Central Saint Martins, University of the Arts London, they began to collaborate in 2014. Jointly they experiment in order to question the concepts of fiction, ghosts and repetition in fiction and academic writing. Sakina’s latest research looked at the Arab Image Foundation, in Beirut, Lebanon, to explore the relations existing between an art institution’s space, its collection and possible procedures. Rachel’s practice centers on iterative ideology, desire and associated politics, juxtaposing the mundane, absurd and ideal through the lens of messianism. She examines this within the exhibition format: through academic writing, fiction and a hybrid involving spoken word.

Places are limited, so please contact Dr Lucy Steeds if you are interested in attending.


Further information about the CSM Research Group, ‘Exhibitions: Histories, Practices’.

Our wonderful PhD community: Meet Gary McLeod

Gary McLeod is a part-time UAL PhD student who is currently on a research exchange in Japan, his work will be exhibited in “Atlas” a large group exhibition at Tokyo University of the Arts in October 2015.

Gary McLeod Rephotograpy4

Image credit: “Then, Then Again, Now” by Gary McLeod × Others, collaborative rephotographs of locations in Japan documented during the Challenger expedition (1872-1876). Original Challenger photographs © The Trustees of the Natural History Museum, London.

You’re in Japan at the moment, what are you up to there? How did this opportunity happen? Is this part of your PhD or contributing to it?

I’m in Japan as a research exchange student at Tokyo University of the Arts (known colloquially as “Geidai”). I have strong connections to Japan, and when it became apparent that I needed to return to Japan to carry out a collaborative rephotography project for my study, I was looking for ways to go back. Professor Toshio Watanabe at Chelsea College of Arts put me in touch with professors at Geidai as part of means to re-establish an exchange agreement, which I am hugely thankful for.

When I arrived in the spring of this year for a two-semester visit, the professors felt it was a good idea for me to join the MFA program in Inter Media Arts because I would have more direct engagement with other students.

Not only have I been able to take the university’s Japanese classes for international students, but I have also taken part in official student exhibitions. At the same time, I have been conducting a collaborative rephotography project for my research and writing up my thesis. I am indebted to Professor Watanabe for his help, and for UAL and LCC to allow the exchange to take place.

Gary McLeod Rephotograpy1 Gary McLeod Rephotograpy3

Image credit: “Then, Then Again, Now” by Gary McLeod × Others, collaborative rephotographs of locations in Japan documented during the Challenger expedition (1872-1876). Original Challenger photographs © The Trustees of the Natural History Museum, London.

Do you work alongside your PhD?

I was teaching at universities in India and Turkey during the bulk of my PhD study. Currently, I am focusing on the research student exchange at Tokyo University of the Arts and taking a break from teaching.

How do you juggle life/PhD study?

It’s tough. I am part-time and I took a year out for financial reasons. To be honest (though I didn’t think it at the time), teaching during PhD study was a way to take the pressure off. Students provided a good forum for testing thoughts, ideas and notions. It put learning into perspective.

Without such a learning environment, it’s harder to find a place where you can put the PhD on the shelf and leave it there for a while; you’re more immersed in it. In that sense, I have a lot of respect for anyone studying full-time.

When did you begin your PhD and has your title/area study changed?

When I began my PhD  in 2009, for a long time, the general title of my PhD was “SNS Challenger: rephotographing a Victorian voyage collectively”, as this was indicative of the methodological core of my research. As I come closer to submitting my thesis, the title has changed to its current (and more academic) title –

“‘All at sea’: A practice-led inquiry into the use of rephotography as a visual methodology as examined through the process of accumulatively and collaboratively rephotographing the voyage of HMS Challenger (1872-1876).”

Although there is still time for it to change again. At the beginning my research was associated with the Information Environments research unit at UAL, but was repositioned with the Photography and Archive Research Center (PARC). While my research employs photography (more specifically “rephotography”), it is concerned with an interdisciplinary engagement with photomedia. If my area of study has changed, it is because I have become more critically aware of it throughout the PhD process.

What stage are you up to in your PhD?

I am preparing for a mock Viva in two weeks time. The aim of that is to get me thinking about possible concerns and questions that I might face in the Viva in April next year.

Why did you chose UAL?

UAL was a natural progression from my MA Fine Art Digital at Camberwell College of Arts. I wasn’t particularly concerned with choosing the place, but more with trusting those that I was going to work with. LCC presented me with a supervisory team that I wholeheartedly trust.

Who are your supervisors and how do they work with you?

My Director of Studies is Professor Patrick Sutherland, and my supervisors are (now) both external: Professor Teal Triggs at the Royal College of Art and Professor Anthony Kent at Nottingham Trent University. I have been fortunate to have the same team of supervisors throughout the PhD process even though Professor Triggs and Professor Kent moved on from UAL.

Do you meet separately/together, do they all have different viewpoints and is this useful?

Meetings are predominately through group video Skype because I am often outside of the UK, but we arrange face-to-face meetings in advance for when I am in the country. They all have different viewpoints, which always brings something new to discussions; but they are generally in agreement on the direction and progress of the research. What is useful (and most reassuring) is that they also learn from each other when we meet. Within interdisciplinary research, I think the insight of supervisors from different fields is crucial, especially ones with experience and knowledge in interdisciplinary study.

Do you identify as a UAL student or as an LCC student?

I identify more as a UAL student. I think that is because I have conducted much of my research away from the UK. Internationally, I think UAL has more recognition than LCC alone.

Gary McLeod Rephotograpy2 Gary McLeod Rephotograpy

Image credit: “Then, Then Again, Now” by Gary McLeod × Others, collaborative rephotographs of locations in Japan documented during the Challenger expedition (1872-1876). Original Challenger photographs © The Trustees of the Natural History Museum, London.

Related links:

Our wonderful PhD community: Meet Dr Magz Hall

Meet Dr Magz Hall, recent UAL PhD graduate, who tells us about her time as a PhD student and what she’s been up to since…


What was your final PhD title?

Radio After Radio: Redefining Radio Art in the light of new media technology

There were a few Creative Research into Sound Arts Practice (CRiSAP) students graduating this year, weren’t there? Did you all start in the same year?

Five in fact, we all started in different years. When I started there were just 2 CRiSAP research students, so it’s been very interesting watching the research centre grow and develop.

How’s the journey been for you? What tips would you pass on to current and prospective students?

It’s been long and fruitful, I really enjoyed doing my PhD. I was working while I did it and enjoyed having it as a constant creative outlet. Sometimes it was tough though, juggling work and family time.

My tip would be:

stayed focused, make plans and stick to them, be super organised and if you can take your time, let things develop.

Why did you chose UAL? Has it been lonely or have you found it easy to build a network of peers and colleagues?

I choose UAL because CRiSAP was just starting and it was part of such a vibrant sound department attracting many fellow sound practitioners, it made perfect sense and fitted. The sound art and radio art research network has really grown in the last few years and it’s been great to be a part of it.

Whilst studying at UAL, where did you do most of your work?

I worked mostly from my own studio space in London and then Canterbury which suited me, I was very self-sufficient as I already had the sound equipment I needed to produce new work.

Have you got a favourite library or archive?

I love the British Library and the unexpected things you find there, it was amazing to find futurists David Burliuck (1926) Manifesto, Radio StyleUniversal Camp of Radio Modernists there and get hold of an original copy of Spiritual Radio by Du Vernet. mMy research was based on material from across the globe and the internet has really revolutionised the research process in that respect it is quite an amazing hub of radio art archives, some of which needed documenting before they disappeared.  

My favourite gallery is Barcelona Museum of Contemporary Art (MACBA), I always learn so much from every exhibition I’ve seen there, it was great to see footage there of the Polish Experimental Studio which I had been reading about.

Since starting your PhD has your field of study changed? If so, has this changed your PhD question?

My field of study, radio art, didn’t change but my question did as it developed and I gained more clarity in what I wanted to do, as I moved away from solely contemporary technological focused work to embrace a more post digital approach, fusing new and old media.

What are you up to now?  

I’ve been doing a residency at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park (YSP) making a new work Tree Radio this summer. It was a very productive project and it proved to be quite a challenge installing such an electronic sound work outside.  

Magz Hall YSP Untitled-1   

This was a fantastic opportunity which came out of a UAL call for graduates to make Arts for the Environment set up by UAL Chair, Professor Lucy Orta. It’s been so useful in terms of getting a full understanding of what is required for outside durational work of this type and getting to grips with solar technology. YSP were extremely supportive of my tree radio project and it currently on exhibition there.

  Untitled-4 Untitled-2

Further reading:

Books and the Human debate, Dr Sheena Calvert #ahrc10

Meet Dr Sheena Calvert, Contextual Studies Coordinator at Camberwell College of Arts and Associate Lecturer at Central Saint Martins. She is one of the organisers of the Book and Human Debate as part of The Way We Live Now The AHRC 10th Anniversary Debates 2015-2016 taking place at CSM in mid-December 2015. Here she talks about her expectations of the Debate and why the team have invited the selected speakers…

You hand printed the invites, for the Debate, in your studio, why was this personalised printing process so important?

Because the act of letterpress printing connects the subject matter of the debate (the book), to one of its key historical technologies: the invention of printing in the West.

Joannes Gutenberg’s 1453 invention transformed the speed and (later), the aesthetics of the book and facilitated a vast expansion of book production, breaking its link with monastic culture (and thereby the church), promoting literacy, and providing the foundations of the modern publishing industry. The dissemination of secular knowledge which the invention of printing acted as a catalyst for, quite literally transformed the world, and transformed ‘us’.

To produce the invitations, using the same methods of printing with metal letters, which Gutenberg invented, brings this history into the present. It also requires patience, craft skills, and judgment, which foregrounds and presages a discussion of the haptic qualities of the physical book (one of the key debating points which we hope to raise).

What speakers did you invite and why?

Johanna Drucker was invited because she bridges theory and practice, and because she is an eminent scholar in her field. As a philosopher, writer, letterpress printer/ artist and critic, she has written extensively on both this (and related subjects).

For instance, she has recently written about how the new ‘protocols’ of the book, which are facilitated by the move from physical to digital books, are shaping our understanding of that medium. She asks:

How will we “call” a book into being”

And this raises questions about how we understand what a book ‘is’, and furthermore, what it means to us. In short, it goes beyond a question of simply whether Kindles will replace physical books, to a more meaningful query about the ontological status of books, what they call into ‘being’.

The reason I am particularly excited that Johanna has agreed to participate in the debate is, she is both a thinker and a maker on this subject, and she embraces the aesthetic, humanist, and intellectual questions we hope to raise.

Tom Uglow, from Google, has been invited because he is working on similar questions from the perspective of how shifting forms of knowledge dissemination via new technologies and the act of immersive reading, shape what he calls ‘bookness’.

Both speakers touch on, not only the technological aspects of the book, but how and why books are significant human ‘agents’, and what they mean to humanity. We are in the process of inviting other speakers, and these will be confirmed in due course.

What questions do you hope will be asked at the debate?

I hope that people will ask questions which are less ‘binary’, such as whether the physical book will be replaced by its digital counterpart. Not only have these questions been aired extensively, but they tend to pose things in terms of either/or.

I would be more interested in seeing how a debate around what books means to us in terms of the (perhaps) less obvious aspects of human culture (in its broadest sense), and intellectual life (past/present), can be developed.

It’s true that the format of a ‘debate does tend to suggest that strong positions will be established and argued, and we welcome that ‘dynamic’. However, I believe that there are nuances and subtleties to the question of the relationship between ‘books and the human’ which could be developed. One of the question I might have (to be slightly provocative), is whether books have led to an implicit and disturbing ‘materialization’ of what counts as ‘truth’, especially within the academic context.

To write is to materialize an idea, but to print and disseminate it involves a whole other set of power relations, including who has access to the means of production.

J. Leibling said

“Freedom of the press belongs to this who own one”.

This then leads to questions about the potentially subversive democratizing forces of the ‘digital’. Personally, I find these ideas more challenging than whether we will all be reading kindles…

it’s the broader intellectual/philosophical and cultural implications of the changes in how we make/consume books that intrigue me.

What direction would you like the debate to go in?

In terms of form, I would like it to be a ‘proper’ debate, which is to say, for people to take up strong positions and argue them, while recognising the caveat about binary thinking (as above). It’s important that it doesn’t just become a polite discussion about the subject, or a series of presentations which don’t link up. We need it to generate real thinking on this subject.  

I would also like it not to be entirely euro-centric, which is a danger. We are not the only part of the world which has engaged with books, and there are tremendously important implications of ‘the book’ within the non-western world.

For example, the recent discovery that the world’s oldest Koran may predate Mohammed’s teachings, raises very complex questions about Islamic theology. We cannot avoid the significance of the material book in such debates, and these concerns are not just Western ones. The debate was conceived as a trans-disciplinary, cross-cultural platform for asking such questions and rethinking the role of the book in human life.

The CSM students are curating the exhibition windows for display during the debate, what can we expect and who is involved?

Members of the Graphic Communication Design (GCD) programme team are involved in the curation of the show, along with some current MA Communication Design students whose own work aligns with the concerns of the debate.

The form of the show is still under discussion, but it will most likely include examples from the CSM Lethaby archives, contemporary book design which challenges the form of the book, and examples of technological innovation in books.

We are excited to see how it develops.

A few of Sheena’s favourite books:


Image: The Gutenberg Bible, Johannes Gutenberg, Mainz, 1454-55

Joyce Sheena Calvert

Image: James Joyce, Finnegan’s Wake, with annotations by the editors of the Houyhnhnm Press edition (2010). Editors: Danis Rose/John O’Hanlon

Tora Sheena Calvert

Image: The Torah (Jewish Written Law): The five books of the Hebrew Bible

Further reading: