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Forced Connections and Rules of Random

How restrictions can make us more creative in art and teaching

Words by Stephen Bennett, with workshop observations from Lisa Pettibone and quotes from participants. Photos by Çağlar Tahiroğlu.

 

Rules of Random, demonstrating a lesson on 'Antarctic scuba diving to techno heads using a sleep mask'

Rules of Random, demonstrating a lesson on ‘Antarctic scuba diving to techno heads using a sleep mask’

 

It is October 2016. The leaves are falling, yet it is a time of fresh promise for first-year students on Central Saint Martins’ masters programme in Art and Science. The new students are naturally a bit anxious, keen to impress their course leaders and their fellow students. What will their first artwork be? How to ensure it really shines? Perhaps stick with tried and tested methods, the kind of thing which gained entry to the programme in the first place. That worked well after all. But what is the point of joining a MA just to do the same old thing?

Forced Connection artwork by MA Art and Science students, in Practices of Enquiry exhibition, Cookhouse Gallery, Chelsea College of Art, UAL

Forced Connection artwork by MA Art and Science students, in Practices of Enquiry exhibition, Cookhouse Gallery, Chelsea College of Art, UAL

 

Second week, and the course leaders, Nathan Cohen and Heather Barnett, lull the students into a entertaining exercise. Sitting in groups, the students are asked to brainstorm lists of subject matter for art – death, immigration, philosophy, alienation. ‘Black holes!’ someone shouts. This is getting quite fun. Next, different methods for producing art. Painting, sculpting, drawing. But what about data experiments or tasting – how can that be practical? Finally, a list of materials to use in the production of art. Students are warmed up now. Rubber, plastic, cement… bacteria! Sports equipment!!

 

Use the hammer to smash

the patriarchy walnut!

 

You may see what is about to happen – but the students didn’t. Heather delivers the coup de grace. Randomly assigning numbers, each student ends up with a unique combination of ‘matter-method-material’. This is the first project brief of the MA: to develop artwork based upon the ‘forced connections’ of a chance group of three words.

The initial result is… uproar amongst the students. But then, with a bit of coaching and support, the studio starts germinating some unusual pieces. Cola cans cling to the window. Folded paper sprouts from a wall. Knitted cushions appear and then start multiplying. A month later, and students are explaining works about immigration, developed through interviews, using bacteria as a material. A collaboration results in painted rocks, telling us about philosophy. Ink dripping down folded paper is a metaphor for alienation. Plastic, painted, reveals insights about communication networks. Just as the first crit is wrapping up, Heather delivers another bombshell. There is an opportunity to show these experimental pieces in a London gallery in a week’s time…

Forced Connection artwork by MA Art and Science student Stephen Bennett connecting 'Immigration | Interviews | Bacteria'

Forced Connection artwork by MA Art and Science student Stephen Bennett connecting ‘Immigration | Interviews | Bacteria’

 

The display is part of University of the Arts London’s recent Practices of Enquiry, an exhibition of experimental enquiry-based learning across UAL, featuring teaching methods from all colleges. Photos of the in-situ art are studded through this blog. The art is intended to inspire and provoke teaching staff across UAL. This is most evident in the Rules of Random workshop run by Heather. This event, for UAL teaching staff, uses the same techniques as the ‘forced connections’ project.

 

“How do you send an

orange into space?”

 

This time unsuspecting participants brainstorm a list of ‘unusual groups of students’, ‘difficult subject matter’, and select random objects. The MA students are interspersed in the groups, now playing the role of coach. They help groups design lesson plans to teach mathematical pattern recognition to traditional wine makers using a compass. Participants consider how to use dried orange slices to teach astrophysics to 16 year olds. Ever used a walnut to teach sex education to linguists? What about using a blindfold to teach technoheads about Antarctic scuba diving? You can see some of the results in this blog.

Rules of random, 'Devise a lesson on sex education to linguists using walnuts'

Rules of random, ‘Devise a lesson on sex education to linguists using walnuts’

 

The two sister exercises – Forced Connections in the studio, Rules of Random in the gallery – had a number of features in common. Perhaps most obviously they are conduits for unlocking creativity. Everyone can get stuck in a rut, whether producing art, teaching or working in an office. Restricting options can force lateral thinking and resourcefulness. Sometimes we are faced with two many choices or methods, and the possibilities can be paralysing. Sometimes – especially when doing something we are supposed to be good at – we live in fear of failure. But, when forced to use a sieve to teach tradesmen about crime, the failure becomes almost inevitable, and this permits a great willingness to take risk.

 

“What is the

essence of a feather?”

 

A number of the CSM students are now incorporating the initially ridiculed combinations of matter-method-material into their main practice. Bacteria and immigration becomes a starting point for examining the semiotics around human relations. Folding and alienation has resulted paper-based in sculptures which morph between two and three dimensions. Similarly, feedback from the Rules of Random workshop participants was that it has opened up new teaching approaches. Food can be an excellent way of teaching 16 year olds about abstract concepts. Participatory lessons, especially ones involving blindfolds or smashing nuts, become instantly memorable. Objects can help focus learning into specific issues in a much broader topic.

Rules of Random, handling given objects to generate ideas

Rules of Random, handling given objects to generate ideas

These techniques can be adapted into practically any environment, with any task in mind. Please try them out, see if it can unlock a problem or open up a new line of enquiry. And remember: you must use whichever random combination you get!

The Rules of Random workshop was developed as part of Practices of Enquiry, a two-year enhancement project at UAL exploring how we create the conditions for enquiry to flourish within our ‘creative, curious, critical curricula’.

The workshop was devised and delivered by MA Art and Science lecturer, Heather Barnett, working with students: Olivia Bargman, Stephen Bennett, Joshua Bourke, Lisa Pettibone, Çağlar Tahiroğlu, and Bekk Wells.

 

 

PRESS RELEASE: UNFOLDING REALITIES MA Art & Science Degree Show

New innovative work by pioneering Central Saint Martins graduates, that challenges the concept of fine art through interdisciplinary practice.

DATES | Wed 25th – Sun 29th May 2016

LOCATION | Central Saint Martins, University of the Arts London, 1 Granary Square, London N1C 4AA, United Kingdom

OPENING TIMES | Wed to Fri 12.00 – 20.00 | Sat to Sun 12.00 – 18.00

UNFOLDING REALITIES presents the work of 20 MA Art and Science graduates at Central Saint Martins. Since its inception in 2011 this pioneering course, the first of its kind, has provided a unique global platform for students across a wide range of fields, on which they extend and contribute to the expanding interdisciplinary branch of knowledge – Art and Science. Responding to this fast emerging territory for collaborative practice which redefines creativity across disciplines, UNFOLDING REALITIES practitioners from fine art, design, photography, neuroscience, art history, mathematics, choreography and architecture have been inspired by their individual connections and observations of the world and the challenge of interrogating this beyond disciplinary boundaries.

Bold, innovative work and research includes a large interactive multimedia sculpture where glass neurons provoke an out of body experience (JENNIFER WALSH); the exploration of paper fold- ing as a visual representation of the Theory of Everything (MARTA PANILLA); the launch of a transdiscipline through the uncovering of 300 year old bacteria collected by an antiquarian book (SARAH CRASKE); the exploration of the effect on our bodies when perceiving Earth from a distance (ALEKSANDRA BORYS); the re-presentation of the human body as a microbial land- scape (MELLISSA FISHER); the exploration of ‘Emergence Theory’ through Constructivist inspired large-scale screen-prints (CHARLOTTE WHISTON); and reflections on the advances in surgical techniques and increasing availability (MARY HELEN MAC).

This exhibition showcases works that have developed from experimentation with integrative techniques, long-term collaborations with scientists, use of familiar materials as unusual artistic media, and influences from historical and current scientific inquiry.

EDITORS NOTES

CONTACT INFO
For more information and further images please contact: maartscience2016@gmail.com Hashtag #UNFOLDING_REALITIES
Webpage http://www.artsciencecsm.com/
Facebook Event https://www.facebook.com/events/1664988003764588/
Facebook Page https://www.facebook.com/artsciencecsm/
Twitter @artsciencecsm

EXHIBITING
Aleksandra Borys | Lorraine Clarke | Lucy Crowder | Julius Colwyn | Sarah Craske | Mellissa Fisher | Stephanie Herbert | Mandy Hreus | Keun Wook Ji | Peiwen Li | Silvia Krupinska | Mary Helen Mack | Marta Pinilla Martinez | Carla Mancillas Serna | Grace Stokes | Jana Va- lencic | Mira Varg | Jennifer Walsh | Charlotte Whiston | Stephanie Wong

MA ART AND SCIENCE
This pioneering 2 year postgraduate course responds to a fast-emerging territory for in- terdisciplinary and collaborative art practice. The MA Art and Science gives students an oppor- tunity to interrogate the creative relationships between art and science and how they can be communicated. They explore different approaches to making and presenting their work with the aim of proposing and realising innovative outcomes in practice and research. www.arts.ac.uk/ csm/courses/postgraduate/ma-art-and-science/

UNFOLDING REALTIES SYMPOSIUM
The degree show will be accompanied by a series of events including tours, demonstrations and a one day Symposium on Saturday 28th May 11:00 – 16:00. Students and external practitioners within the field of Art and Science will share ideas and motivations in a day of talks, activities and discussion. Visit www.artsciencecsm.com for the latest information.

CENTRAL SAINT MARTINS

Degree Show One 2016 (24th – 29th May) will showcase the School of Fine Art courses: BA (Hons) Fine Art; Postgraduate Art Programme at CSM (MA Fine Art, MA Art andScience, MA Photography, MRes Art: Exhibition Studies, MRes Art: Moving Image, MRes Art: Theory and Philosophy). Central Saint Mar- tins is internationally renowned for the creative energy of its students,staff and graduates with an out- standing reputation for educating foundation, undergraduate, postgraduate and research students across art, design and performance. Fundamental to study at the College are experimentation, innovation, risk- taking, questioning and discovery, within a highly supportive learning environment. Alumni include, Matthew Collings, James Dyson, Gilbert and George, Anthony Gormley, Raqib Shaw, and Yinka Shoni- bare. Central Saint Martins is part of University of the Arts London, an international centre for innovative teaching and research in arts, design, fashion, communication and the performing arts. The University is made up of six Colleges: Camberwell College of Arts,Central Saint Martins College of Arts and Design, Chelsea College of Art and Design, London College of Communication, London College of Fashion and Wimbledon College of Arts