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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.

 

 

Gallery from our Art and Science fundraising workshops

MA Art and Science fundraising workshops, March 2016

 

In March 2016, MA Art and Science staff and students ran a range of creative workshops exploring observations and experimentations in art and science at Central Saint Martins.

With many sessions selling out, participants gained some knowledge and hands-on experience with a range of techniques, including slime mould problem solving, microbial image making, nebula bottling, water mapping, microscopy inspired glass sculpting and chemigram making. The creative art and science workshops were designed for adults and young people.

All proceeds went towards the MA Art and Science Degree Show, Unfolding Realities which opens to the public 25-29 May 2016.

 

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To see details of each individual workshop see them listed here.

 

Bottle your own nebulae by Carla Mancillas Serna

Art and Science Creative Workshops – now booking

MA Art and Science staff and students are offering a range of creative workshops exploring observations and experimentations in art and science on Saturday 5 and 12 March, at Central Saint Martins.

Come along and get hands on with slime mould problem solving, microbial image making, nebula bottling, water mapping, microscopy inspired glass sculpting and chemigram making. Creative art and science workshops are designed for adults and young people. Young people must be 12+ and accompanied by an adult.

All proceeds go towards the MA Art and Science Degree Show (open to the public 25-29 May 2016).

Cost: £14 adult | £12 UAL staff/student | £9 child/senior/unemployed
(discounts available when you book two or more workshops, applied at checkout)

See details and booking links below…

Looking Glass by Jenny Walsh

Looking Glass by Jenny Walsh

MA ART AND SCIENCE WORKSHOP #1

Through the Looking Glass & Microbial Me

5 March 2016, 11:00 – 13:00

Through the Looking Glass (with Jenny Walsh)
Glass played a crucial role in enabling man to see beyond the visual eye. In this workshop discover how skilled craftsmen learned to grind glass and change its composition to revolutionise the way we investigate the microscopic world. Inspired by microscopic images each participant will be invited to create their own microscope slide using glass confetti and stringers.

and

Microbial Me (with Mellissa Fisher)
Learn about the invisible world on your skin, think about your own microbes and design your own microbial portrait using a painting technique and collage. Each person will have their own microbial face to take home along with knowledge about bacteria!

BOOK THIS WORKSHOP

Attentive Topologies and Water Mapping by Beckie Leach & Silvia Krupinska

Attentive Topologies and Water Mapping by Beckie Leach & Silvia Krupinska

MA ART AND SCIENCE WORKSHOP #2

Attentive Topologies & Water Mapping

5 March 2016, 14:00 – 16:00

Attentive Topologies and Water Mapping (with Beckie Leach & Silvia Krupinska)
Focusing on the canal area next to Granary Square in Kings Cross (in front of Central Saint Martins), this workshop will guide you through a series of attentiveness exercises exploring sound and water. You will find out about phenomenological approaches to artistic practice and water/sound quality, and create expressive maps capturing the movement of water and sound.

BOOK THIS WORKSHOP

Slime mould problem solving a maze by Heather Barnett

Slime mould problem solving a maze by Heather Barnett

MA ART AND SCIENCE WORKSHOP #3

Slime Mould Boot Camp

12 March 2016, 11:00 – 13:00

Slime Mould Boot Camp (with Heather Barnett)
The slime mould, Physarum polycephalum, is a small brainless protozoa with surprising intelligence. Used as a model organism in many areas of scientific research it also makes for a great creative collaborator. In this workshop you will discover the fascinating role this single celled organism has to play in the cultures of science and art, and design a practical experiment to test its capabilities and problem-solving skills. Each participant will take home a new microbial pet to observe and experiment with.

BOOK THIS WORKSHOP

Chemigram Magic by Don Li and Mira Varg

Chemigram Magic by Don Li and Mira Varg

MA ART AND SCIENCE WORKSHOP #4

The Chemigram Spell & Bottle Your Own Nebula

12 March 2016, 14:00 – 16:00

The Chemigram Spell (with Don Li & Mira Varg)
Offering some fresh air in the midst of a digital age, the workshop explores the potential of analogue photographic processes through a hands-on session, working with tools and materials that are unconventionally related to photographic processes – including paint brushes, syringes, honey and varnish. Come and experience the magic of an alternative image making process.

and

Bottle Your Own Nebula (with Carla Mancillas Serna)
Nebulas are massive clouds of interstellar dust in space, mainly composed of helium and hydrogen and other chemical elements. They are also known as “stellar nurseries”. These clouds of different shapes, sizes and colours coalesce in space, collapse and give birth to stars and planetary systems, like our own solar system. Learn about how nebulae form and create your own bottled cloud inspired by the colours and textures of cosmic dust.

BOOK THIS WORKSHOP

Jared Vaughan Davis 2015

MA Art and Science graduate activity

Since completing their studies in June our recent graduates have been busy. Here is just a flavour of some of the things they’ve been up to…

 

Jared Vaughan Davis has been published in 3 international magazines:

INTERALIA MAGAZINE: On the Greek Gematria series and Metamodern experiments

SCIART IN AMERICA: Thoughts on the limitations of art and science – pg 8

ABOON MAGAZINE: Interview with Jared Vaughan Davis

 

Daniel Simon Ayat is guest critic on the AAVS Lyngør Workshop taking place in August on Lyngør Island in the North Sea. The workshop will explore the fundamental properties of Nordic architecture and formulate site-specific speculations in the context of a small island community. Daniel will contextualise the 1812 Battle of Lyngør with reference to naval technology, navigation, and astronomical instrumentation.

 

Vivienne Wen Du has been Artist in Residence at The Lab Project – an experimental month long residency exploring interactions between art and science, along with another graduate from 2013, Rose Pickles.

 

Sivan Lavie curated an exhibition, Human Nature, in London featuring many fellow artists from MA Art and Science.

 

Alice Cazenave, Jing Hu and Crow Dillon-Parkin exhibited in Fluorescent Open House Festival in Soho in July.

 

Several students have moved into new studios to be able to continue their practice post-graduation, including Libby Heaney, Morfydd Ransom Hall and Crow Dillon-Parkin

 

No doubt much to follow in future…