Meet Dr Iris Garrelfs, Iris was awarded her PhD this year in Sound Art from LCC. In this article she shares her experience as a research student at UAL, how she built communities and learnt to discuss the theories behind her practice. She has recently been nominated for the British Composer Awards.
What was your awarded PhD title? Did it change much along the way?
Oh yes it did! The title I started out with was:
Cross breeding art: the impact of cross-platform arts practice on soundart at the beginning of the 21st century.
The title that I ended up using reads:
From inputs to outputs: an investigation of process in sound art practice.
In between I came up with quite a few variants on the theme, each highlighting slightly different aspects of my research. To be honest, I didn’t decide which one to go with until a couple of weeks before submitting. What swayed me in the end was keeping the title simple.
What are you up to now?
Since being awarded my PhD in June, I have begun a postdoc at UAL. I have been enormously lucky to be asked to continue my research into process as part of the cross-university JISC funded project Collaboration for Research Enhancement by Active Metadata (CREAM).
Basically, I am investigating the extent to which metadata are – or could be – used actively within practice-based research using Procedural Blending (the model of sound art practice I developed during my PhD research). Effectively, Procedural Blending borrows and extends concepts from Conceptual Blending, a theory of cognition developed by Gilles Fauconnier and Mark Turner (2002).
In September I will be giving a paper about this at the conference OFF THE LIP: Transdisciplinary Approaches to Cognitive Innovation convened by CogNovo and the Cognition Institute, University of Plymouth. I’m a trifle nervous….
Image credit: From a performance at the Barbican Centre (Hack The Barbican), by Peter Smith.
I am also continuing to edit Reflections on Process in Sound, a journal I instigated to explore sound-related activities from the practitioner’s point of view. I have been hugely surprised
by how many people have flocked to it. On average, the website has more than 100 genuine visitors a day! The next issue will be out in the autumn containing articles with topics ranging from
- working with sound in the United Arab Emirates,
- listening to urban Australia,
- creating a gallery installation in Switzerland.
I am also, of course, continuing my own practice. At the beginning of September I gave a performance talk called Room 61 at the National Gallery, as part of the Soundscapes Late. Essentially I created a composition in response to the images in the respective galleries and read from a number of CRiSAP related books.
Several of my previous works have just been nominated for the British Composer Awards (Sonic Arts category), I am keeping my fingers crossed…
Once things settle down a little, I hope I will be able to finish editing my book of interviews with leading and emerging sound art practitioners. There are some amazing ideas in there and I’m thinking about calling it Listening lives: art, music, sound.
How is your life different now to before starting your PhD?
I’ve had to mull that question over a bit, because it so feels like another lifetime altogether. On the one hand, I am still working as an artist. On the other, my practice has both deepened and broadened, and I feel a lot more confident about what I do. I have met so many fantastic people along the way, and I now feel part of a very thriving and inquisitive community.
I have always found it difficult to express myself in the written word (I found out I am dyslexic during my PhD), but now it feels a great deal easier. I have become more critical about the way I think and clearer about the assumptions underlying my thinking. Very interesting!
Image credit: From a keynote performance lecture at Field Studies, by Joseph Kohlmaier
The most important change is conducting research, which is not something that I was involved with before – other than researching for creative projects, that is. I love that aspect of my life; designing practice and projects to find out something. Such a fascinating process!
What were you doing before and what made you want to do a PhD?
Before starting the PhD, I was a busy artist and an Associate lecturer on the BA Sound Art and Design at LCC. Although focused on sound, my practice is in fact quite broad and I’ve always been puzzled by how it all hangs together. My PhD research came out of that question – and I guess it is mirrored by my original thesis title.
I felt that, in the constant bustle of making work I lacked the time and space to deepen ideas, and that became very frustrating, alongside the fact that I found it hard to communicate central concerns underlying my work. Hence the drive to look into process and into means that support artists in contributing to discourse.
How long did it take to finish your PhD, did you have any stumbling blocks along the way?
It took me 4.8 years from start to actually having the PhD awarded. I was very lucky to have had AHRC funding, which covered the first 3 years and really allowed me to immerse myself into the research! I then took a 4th unfunded writing-up year and the remaining months were taken up with waiting for my viva and implementing my minor amendments. This took a bit of time as I needed to apply for extra funding to have my thesis properly proofread (I am dyslexic).
I had a bit of a meltdown situation at the beginning of my second year. I found out that I am dyslexic, which expresses itself in a variety of ways but most importantly I have difficulty in ordering and structuring written materials. What seemed perfectly logical to me, does not to most other people.
So finding a way to construct my thesis was a challenge. I had only done the third year of my BA (I was admitted straight into the third year because of my experience as an artist) and as I left with a first I didn’t do an MA. A very steep learning curve indeed! Thankfully I have now found strategies to help me! Coming across Scrivener, a really easy to use modular writing software, was a particular relief!
Then my mum and my best friend both died in the space of 3 months and I had big problems with housing too. I felt rather overwhelmed by it all and wanted to go part-time to give me a bit of breathing space. But because of my AHRC funding I was not able to switch at that point. In retrospect, I am glad it worked out that way – I really had to knuckle down and that did its job in propelling my research forward! Also, it’s fab to be finished and able to embark on my next phase now!
What advice would you give to prospective students?
One piece of very good advice I was given quite early on, which I didn’t listen to, was, not to produce too much primary research data. So, keeping this simple is a good strategy. It’s not always possible, especially not for the curious minded. There is so much to learn and find out about!
Also, doing a PhD is an excellent passport into a great variety of communities and in my experience it is very important to become as involved as possible. These communities have sustained me during my PhD and still do now! And, if there is no ready-made community, create one! It’s a great way to learn, and, by supporting others they will be very ready to help you too.
I also found it extremely helpful to present research in progress. It clarifies ideas by having to answer awkward questions and talking to other researchers sometimes opens up new avenues to pursue.
Did you feel part of the UAL community?
I very much felt part of the LCC community. The Creative Research into Sound Arts Practice (CRiSAP) students organised regular meetings to discuss our research and exchange ever-so-vital gossip. I really appreciated both! We also became involved with each other’s projects and created joint ones, for example, Tansy Spinks and I did a residency at Wimbledon Space last year, as part of the ACTS RE-ACTS festival. This was such a great experience and contributed to ideas which I tried out during a residency at Tate Britain earlier this year.
Image credit: From A residency and installation called Listening Room at Tate Britain , by Peter Smith (IMG-9648)
I also co-organised the first symposium Sound::Gender::Feminism::Activism at LCC. Sadly I didn’t have the time to become involved with the second incarnation last autumn, but I did give a paper.