Thursday, 28 January 2016

Creative Research Methods in practice

Oh my God, I had so much fun, it's hard to acknowledge that I was actually conducting research whilst playing this hard!

Meet Joanna Bond, Ceredigion ceramicist and general Amazing Artist Extraordinaire, the firestarter behind the fabulous Singing the Line into Existence project- a collaborative and artistic response to its  more worldly cousin, Traws Link Cymru- a formidable group of highly motivated and organised individuals, who are actively campaigning for the reinstatement of the Carmarthen to Aberystwyth railway line.

Joanna Bond, Ceramicist.

Got that? Good.

Let's go!

Actually, rewind, I need to explain a few things:

No 1- Butz and Berg urge the budding feminist geographer not only to acknowledge their own privilege and 'ghosts of masculinist culture', but to spend some of this privilege whilst conducting field work, to occupy peripheral and liminal space (Berg and Butz, 2002).

No 2 - Ever the would be mad scientist, I tried No 1 out in the field and found myself without compass, nor guide, and consequently stranded in a very confusing and boggy mire.

No 3 - As we discovered at Westminster and Birmingham on the two day workshop, Creative Research Methods (see previous post), creative research methods are collaborative by nature and the elements of fun and risk may well be involved. Why risk? Because you don't know the outcome, it could be a masterpiece, a disaster, or somewhere in between- everything is less predictable than conventional methods (for example semi-structured interviews, questionnaires). We also touched upon the notion that researcher and participant meet halfway, that creative research methods are bridge-like. This was the part that was really piquing my interest, as it links nicely back to where Butz and Berg left me floundering. 

No 4 - Broadly, my research focuses upon building socio-ecological resilience, which involves  reskilling and making things; and in a wider context, I need to be aware, at the very least, of community projects which seek to big time build resilience, such as the campaign to reopen the Carmarthen to Aberystwyth line. 

No 5 - All the above are interconnected in my mind but that's not much good because, yeah, that's just in my mind, as I said (and you don't want to go there). I need to make tangible links as man cannot survive on intuitive hunch alone (well, I can and I do but, 'Hello! Earth Calling').   

And so, what did we do? Well, Joanna very kindly invited me over to her studio where not only did I conduct a semi-structured interview but we both made clay tiles and then afterwards, I got to help her out for an hour or so, by way of reciprocation. Clay? Yes please! 

 Look at me, I'm like a pig in muck :) 

What did Joanna talk about? Geography? Making things? Environment and sustainability? Resilience? Yes. Connections between different elements? Oh yes, massive yes. 

Cutting the tile. 

What did I talk about? The research process, my research, some personal stuff (privilege spending- check), ways in which the research could be a win-win situation.  Ways in which I could help her out by way of thank you and, how very much I was enjoying the process. 

How did it differ to a sit down interview? It was a much longer session. We had more chit chat and spontaneous talk, as objects in the studio prompted discussion. I learnt a new skill, which tallies with the ethos of resilience building. 

Joanna with finished tiles.

To start with, Joanna was inspired to emboss clay tiles using plants and leaves- she was exploring the connection between humans, creativity and nature. She wanted to bring an environmental awareness into her work. In the summer of 2015, she walked a good 20 miles or so of the old Carmarthen to Aberystwyth railway line, as part of Singing the Line into Existence. Along the way, she, with other artists (do see their website), sang, danced and did arty things, whilst also collecting grasses from the verge. We used these grasses to emboss our tiles. 

Grasses from Pont Llanio near Llandewi Brefi, and tile cutter.

Did I ask all the questions I usually do? Yes. And some. I hope that Joanna enjoyed herself as much as I did and I hope that I was useful helping out around the studio afterwards. I would describe the session as 'Field Work Plus'. For me, I was much more relaxed than usual because I'm a serious cookie and nothing brings out my playful side like creativity and so I think that Joanna got to interact with a lighter version of myself, for which she's probably (unknowingly) grateful. 

My embossed tile. I rolled the grasses into the clay and then peeled them off. 

Another advantage for the participant is that hopefully I didn't take as much of Joanna's valuable time as I might otherwise have, as by and large, she was able to carry on as per normal. Unless I am very much mistaken, I did sense that we were in partnership and I loved that feeling. 

Informed Consent Form in a pottery studio. Yes.

Have you brought any creative elements into your research process and would you be willing to comment?



Butz, D. and Berg, L.D. (2002) ‘Paradoxical Space: Geography, Men, and Duppy Feminism’. In Feminist Geography in Practice: Research and Methods, edited by Pamela Moss, pp87-102, Oxford: Blackwell Publishers Ltd.

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