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Corkscrew: Practice Research Beyond the PhD

Corkscrew: Practice Research Beyond the PhD

By Sophie Hope
This series introduces you to the world of practice-based research, both inside and outside academia.

Your host is Dr Sophie Hope, a practice-based researcher in the Film, Media and Cultural Studies Department at Birkbeck, University of London. The podcast is produced with assistance from Dr Jo Coleman.

Each episode brings you up close and personal to Sophie and a guest, sharing their experience of working in research - conducted through, with and as creative practice - in disciplines such as art, design, writing, music, media and theatre.
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Season One Round Up - Sophie Hope and guests
This final episode of the current season is a short montage compiled from the first four conversations between Sophie and guests, sharing their experiences and expertise in all things relating to how we (can) academicize arts and humanities practice as research.  Dip your ears into the philosophical and practical musings of these scholars, researchers, and educators who use their artistic and creative practice in and as research: Anne Douglas, Emile Devereaux, Lucy Wright, and Rachel Hann. Their original discussions with Sophie are still available in our back catalogue and you can listen in full at your leisure. A useful link:
October 8, 2021
Lizzie Lloyd – art writer; Katy Beinart – architect and artist.
Katy Beinart completed her PhD in 2019 at University College, London. It was called Détour and retour: practices and poetics of salt as narratives of relation and re-generation in Brixton. Lizzie Lloyd also completed her PhD in 2019, but at the University of Bristol. Hers was titled Art writing and subjectivity: critical association in art-historical practice Katy and Lizzy began a collaboration together immediately after handing in their PhD theses. They had much in common, both having been studying and researching whilst parenting, but each had her own academic specialism too. Lizzie’s research for her PhD had focused on ‘how we navigate art history with our own baggage’. She explored how our backgrounds influence our understandings of what we see around us; we interpret everything based on pre-existing associations. Katy’s doctoral research had been a continuation of a project inspired by a container ship residency with her sister during which they explored family histories and issues of migration and place. She had undertaken a collaboration in Brixton making art installations and performances around the rituals and material qualities of salt. Wanting to continue challenging the top-down imposition of cultural and spatial meanings, she wanted to embark on a new project with a writer to revisit socially engaged art practices through a series of ‘unmapping’ experiments. After three attempts to get funding and a COVID-induced pause, Katy and Lizzie have been very busy recently talking to artists, producing a film, planning and opening an exhibition and they have a publication due out early 2022. Links About Katy here and here.  About Lizzie here. Acts of Transfer, Phoenix Arts Centre  and here Site Writing  Critical Spatial Practice 
October 1, 2021
Libro Levi Bridgeman - writer, editor and lecturer
Equipped with a diploma in Drama, Libro Levi was originally planning to be a performer and was writing plays and novels before taking a break to do an MA, and then being encouraged to do a funded PhD at the University of East Anglia. Completing in 2009, they had aimed to write an 80,000-word novel with a 15,000-word critical piece, as a counterpoint. Acknowledging the struggle to articulate something that is inarticulate, they had tried to understand and analyse the logic of the imagined world they had created by focusing on techniques and the writing process. Libro developed a closer link between writing creatively and critically analysing the works produced because they were dealing with real-life subjects: interviewing people and writing about identity and gender. In Libro's experience, the artistic, 'writerly' creative form is underestimated, for instance, short stories are very hard to do yet the rigour required is not respected as much as academic writing. For written pieces to be accessible, Libro believes they should be easy on the eye or ear, and that enabling people to step into other worlds requires a great deal of effort and skill. Top tips: don't underestimate the great undertaking that is 'doing a PhD'. That opportunity to sink into and sit with your practice is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. It can be isolating and frustrating; you need to be resourceful and resilient and beware of the rabbit holes. A strong relationship with your supervisor is key. It's an amazing opportunity not for the fainthearted! This interview was originally recorded in August 2018. Links: How was the party?
September 24, 2021
Sunshine Wong - socially negotiated art and curatorial practice
This is the first time that curator, Sunshine Wong, has reflected on her PhD: Beside engagement: a queer and feminist reading of socially negotiated art through dialogue, love, and praxis. Completed in 2019 at the University of Wolverhampton, this is a theoretical exploration of curatorial practice and commissioning inspired in part by some bad experiences Sunshine had when working as a freelancer. She had hoped doing a PhD would provide her with clarity but also some camaraderie since she had recently moved to the UK. But in fact, she found the doctoral process isolating, more anti-social than social. She also felt ‘unmoored from her practice’ and suffered impostor syndrome. Focusing on reading about theories such as relational aesthetics disengaged her from curatorial practice, however as she worked through her ideas, she developed a perspective that resonated with her own experiences: embodied criticality. She realised that whatever you do as an artist in social spaces you will never fit in; it's all about negotiating for your place. The relief upon completion was like ‘taking skates off after a long time and realizing you've forgotten how to walk’. Knowing she needed to plot coordinates closer to home, she started a group for slow reading called 'too long; didn't read' (tl;dr) Sunshine still wants to do research but slower and more collaboratively, and as a parent now, she faces a different kind of time pressure. She’s enjoying working on BLOC Projects in Sheffield and so her PhD does have an afterlife in that it is infusing her practice and has helped her to think through agile responses to COVID-19. Her reading group has inspired a webinar series, Harsh Light, encouraging artists/practitioners to talk about the work behind their work. Another theme that she has been developing is taken from her third chapter on taking a critical look at care, and its urgency; how care is part and parcel of social practice, and how art projects can fill in some of the gaps.  Links: Sunshine Wong's website  Sunshine Wong's PhD Thesis  TL;DR Bloc Projects  Harsh Light 
September 17, 2021
Olumide Popoola - creative writing as research
Olumide did her PhD straight after an MA in Creative Writing at the University of East London. It was titled Fishing for Naija: Border crossing as framework for language and literary form and comprised a critical theoretical section and her original novel When We Speak Of Nothing.  She was one of the first creative writing PhD students at the university and spent much of the first two years, with the support of two great supervisors, reading, thinking, and exploring critical theories so that she could identify and validate the intellectual worth of her practice-based doctorate. After finishing at UEL in 2015, she taught creative writing for a short while at Goldsmiths, as maternity cover. She then started a family and found that working to her own timetable suited the new lifestyle, giving her much-needed flexibility. She has continued lecturing on hourly contracts which she enjoys but has found ways to teach outside of academia on various courses of her own making. Olumide believes that artistic and creative work performed outside the academy still involves critical thinking and research – universities do not have the monopoly! She has found that having the doctorate has provided her better access to resources such as funding opportunities and higher rates of pay at speaking engagements. Olumide is the initiator and leader of the Arts Council-funded mentoring scheme for emerging LGBTQ+ writers, The Future is Back. Links:
September 10, 2021
Rob Watson - community media and/as socially engaged practice
In this episode, Rob Watson discusses how his PhD in participation and advocacy in community media came about, having been inspired through his engineering expertise in digital technologies to set up radio production courses and to run De Montford University’s student-led station as local community radio. Not coming from a social sciences background, Rob had a steep learning curve, settling on a symbolic interactionism framing and employing immersive participant observation in the field. In 2018, just six weeks after completing his doctorate, he was made redundant from his lecturing job. He has since developed a business in community communications training based on the principles of civic democracy and empowerment. Rob runs projects using radio and podcasting to facilitate community development, drawing on Jungian philosophy to construct a social economy model based on the belief that people should be empowered to tell their own stories. Rob and Sophie talk about researcher positionality, the importance of authentic participation in socially engaged research, and what positive steps should be taken to ensure the effective communication of important messages for ensuring meaningful engagement, improving trust in our institutions, and building a better society. Links:
September 3, 2021
Nina Perry - sound, storytelling, voice and music
Nina’s first degree was in performing arts in the 1990s. She then did a Masters in composing and became a sound artist working on radio features and documentaries. She started teaching at university in 2007 and began discussing a PhD in 2014, inspired by experimental projects for the BBC through which she was developing a way of working through musical storytelling. She completed her PhD by publication in 2018 at Bournemouth. It was entitled "Music, Narrative, Voice and Presence". What she had published was not written texts, but five composed audio features aired on BBC radio between 2009 and 2013. She explored the difference between practice research in academia and artistic inquiry, drawing on Robin Nelson's ‘Practice as Research’ methodology. Looking at authorial presence and embodied practice, Nina brought the role of music to the fore. The PhD process provided a grounding for her continuing exploration of freedom in creativity and different ways of knowing. She continues also to explore how to make the transition from practitioner to practice researcher when still relying on that practice for a living and negotiating the challenges involved in submitting to the REF when institutional support is limited. Links:
August 27, 2021
Cara Davis – performance art and/for social engagement
Cara completed her PhD in 2017 at the University of Bristol which houses one of the largest British theatre collections in the world. Her thesis was called Activating Archives and involved interrogating the integration of archival theory with performance art. It was an AHRC-funded project aimed at modelling strategies for engaging with archive material on three levels: artists dealing with their own material; artists dealing with others’ work; and how institutions recontextualise such materials through exhibitions. Cara’s own performance history and her curatorial archiving experience informed her research and practice. Whilst living at home during her studies, she was inspired to undertake her own practice research by broadcasting online about why and how we keep or store objects in domestic environments: engaging audience members in a wider social discourse on the subject. Post-PhD she has applied her deep reading and critical analysis skills to everyday business uses as well as continuing to contribute to academia and participating in art collectives on social projects. Please note, this episode was recorded in 2018. Links: Cara Davies Tracing The Pathway
August 23, 2021
Fiona Candlin – fieldwork as practice and cataloguing distinctness
Fiona is Professor of Museology in the History of Art department at Birkbeck, University of London. She did her PhD at Keele University between 1993 and 1998; it was called “Artwork and the boundaries of academia”. Fiona’s was one of the first art practice as research (or theory/practice) doctorates in the UK and she admits to finding the whole process a very difficult experience because of this. Her grounding was a degree in fine art from Leeds where social and feminist history informed her studies, a Masters in critical theory at Sussex, and years of working in Tate Liverpool organising educational art programmes. Fiona regards all aspects of research as practice, from reading to fieldwork, and from analysis to writing-up. Her latest small museums investigation is a case in point, and she describes driving around the country in a camper van, dropping in for conversations with museum owners/curators, the re-iterative nature of classification modelling, and developing a database through working with computer scientists. Links: Plus, Fiona's video of the final days of the Bakelite Museum in Somerset in 2018 can be viewed here:
August 13, 2021
Harold Offeh - performing and recording reenactments of historical and contemporary culture
Harold completed his PhD by practice exploring the activation of Black Album covers through durational performance at Leeds Beckett in 2020. He started it in 2016 on a part-time basis and appreciated the opportunity to carve out ring-fenced research time whilst teaching on the BA in fine art. Harold likens the process of finding the original contribution to knowledge to climbing Everest. His thesis was grounded on case studies of other artists; he identified a synergy between critical reflection on one's own and others' works which feeds into one's practice. For him, the reflection would be suspended when focussing on his active moments of practice, and return when writing up his findings. So much comes out of a PhD, so many lines of inquiry; Harold could have written five or six more PhDs. Equipped now with transferable skills, he has more confidence, is a better teacher, and has discovered that he loves writing about other artists. On the point of leaving Leeds Beckett, Harold is slowly coming to terms with the PhD being over but considers it the beginning of what happens next.  Links:
July 30, 2021
Part 2. What career? Presentations from Practice Research Beyond the PhD workshop
Four more speakers from our training event: Dr Agata Lulkowska Agata is Senior Lecturer in Film Production at Staffordshire University where she specialises in practice-based PhD supervision in filmmaking. With a background in film practice, photography and installations, her PhD “The Arhuacos, film, and the politics of representing the ‘Other’ in Colombia” was undertaken at Birkbeck. It was unfunded and took her eight years part-time. She had to keep working but also attended and organised conferences and festivals and published. Agata’s tips: do something you enjoy, be patient for the right opportunities, and network! She is also co-founder and director of international interdisciplinary Conference and Art/Film Festival, Communities and Communication Dr Nina Perry Nina is an artist and researcher whose interests lie in sound, storytelling, voice and music. She has taught at several universities, most recently as senior lecturer in audio production at Bournemouth University, where she remains as visiting fellow, which means she submits her work to the REF. She misses academia for the opportunities to explore but is really enjoying freelancing. Nina did her PhD by publication, reflecting on a body of audio productions and projects she had already created. Titled "Music, Narrative, Voice and Presence: Revealing a composed feature methodology", her mission was to find the original contribution to knowledge through her practice. She feels the PhD improved her writing, helped unleash her creativity and she developed her ability to critically reflect on her own creative practice. Nina now runs workshops for professionals and community groups, and enjoys guest speaking when invited. Dr Emile Devereaux (See also Episode 4 in this series) Emile is Senior Lecturer in Digital Media at University of Sussex. With two US degrees already - anthropology and art practice - these combined into an MFA and later a PhD in Europe. Emile's research expertise lies across visual culture and media arts, combining film, video, 2D/3D animation, performance and interactive/digital media. Outputs combine these media forms in socially engaged practices through site-specific installations, media art interventions and tactical media. Other works draw upon the histories and spaces of media technologies. Emile is fascinated by the impact of technological developments, economies, and systems of distribution on bodies and environments. Doing practice opens doors and widens horizons and the PhD provided Emile with more flexibility on an international scale, especially as a trans non-binary scholar. Through collaborative working and media interventions you don't have to rely on just the book/printed word to connect with audiences. Dr Golnoosh Nourpanah Golnoosh is a writer, poet and educator from Tehran. Her creative work focuses on queer desire and sexualities. She did her PhD at Birkbeck in creative writing exploring the work of (and as) queer writers in post-revolutionary Iran. She found the critical component - 30,000 words - complicated yet enlightening: challenging for the rules she needed to abide by and the academic language which she found dry. She didn't enjoy that aspect but was delighted when the external examiner commended her on how well the PhD was constructed. Golnoosh is glad that it's over but doing the PhD has been liberating. She has come to accept that we have to survive in a hierarchical capitalist society, so the PhD helps. She has been published widely since and is now engaged in teaching at universities and a range of other contracts and performances in the UK.
July 23, 2021
Part 1: What career? Presentations from practice-based/artistic research PhDs
This week's episode is the first of two featuring audio recorded from the CHASE-funded Corkscrew Workshop held in June for practice-based PhD students. The host, Dr Sophie Hope, kicks off by welcoming the participants and provides a short outline of her own doctoral journey. There follow four more short presentations Reflecting on her career, Sophie admits how privilege has informed her decisions without realizing quite how much at the time. Dr Josephine Coleman Jo outlines her doctoral research on community radio and explains that the reason for doing the PhD was primarily because she wanted to teach at a University level. She describes how the process has inspired her teaching practice, bringing reflexivity to her work. Dr Rachel Hann (See also episode 2 in this series) Rachel discusses the issue of how universities can frame (or struggle to frame) what we are doing through practice research, because the tendency is to be concerned with how much money (and how many students) we are bringing in. And she raises the challenge we face when asked to account for the impacts of our research; since outputs relating to practice are harder to pin down. Rachel is now accustomed to showing/arguing process. She always puts a Research Question at the start of a project to drive her intellectual investigation. Her practice gives the signposts for how she approaches answering that question. She is currently exploring how we stage trans and non-binary feeling and what that means in a critical context at the moment. Writer Dr Olumide Popoola Olumide shares her experience of doing a PhD in Creative Writing at University of East London. She had already been teaching, but finds she has done less at Universities since completing. Doing the doctorate, she found that she spent much more time defending her process rather than on the creative writing itself. Having said that, she learned and developed so much, having since published her creative work as a novel, When We Speak Of Nothing. She has found that having a doctorate definitely opens doors when applying for funding. She is the initiator and leader of the Arts Council-funded mentoring scheme for emerging LGBTQ+ writers, The Future is Back. Contemporary folk artist Dr Lucy Wright (See also episode 3 in this series) Lucy talks about her approach to artistic practice and folk art generally as reclaiming, making do, and thinking for ourselves. She sees the importance of encouraging people to do things on their own terms. Her PhD helped expand her thinking and granted her a creative freedom that ended as soon as she completed. Needing to find full-time work, she went on to work in a series of short-term academic posts, supporting other people’s research in a range of different disciplines. She is now engaged in social art projects, which involve showcasing other people’s work as well as doing her own art and commissions. The important thing, Lucy says, is to find ways to make our practice sustainable.
July 16, 2021
Lucy Lyons - converging medicine and drawing
In this episode, Sophie talks to Lucy Lyons whose passion for drawing and the process she calls ‘slow looking’ converges with a fascination for anatomy and pathology. Her PhD, entitled Delineating Disease, was completed at Sheffield Hallam in 2009 involved investigating medicine through the methodology of artistic practice. She has continued to pursue this path and is now a registered medical illustrator and teaches at City & Guilds of London Art School. Likening the exploratory dimensions of academic artistic practice to sending canaries down a mine, she is frustrated that we still have to justify this approach. She believes that research can be subversive and that the value of not knowing something should be reasserted. Please note: This episode was recorded in 2018. Links: Journal of artistic research (open access):
July 9, 2021
Becky Shaw – arts practice meets the academy
Becky Shaw’s PhD, completed in 1998, was rooted in nursing research exploring sculpture as a ‘significant occupation’ for patients in palliative care. Through this collaborative work with occupational therapists, nurses and patients, Becky considered aspects such as the value of time spent with others on creative activity and the permanence of personal identity as carried through objects when the creator is no longer present. After further research on death and dying, Becky returned to working as an artist in social contexts and under Blair's government was busy with commissions. She later refocussed on teaching, having built a relationship with Sheffield Hallam, which Becky describes as seeing itself as an applied university where art design as a research method and interdisciplinarity are taken for granted. As well as continuing her art practice, Becky currently leads the PhD cohort in the Art and Design Research Centre – bringing together her interests in how arts practice meets the academy.
July 2, 2021
Emile Devereaux - digital contact zones
Following an anthropology degree, Emile began doing site specific performance; this led to an MFA in digital media and then a PhD in media philosophy. While his PhD was not practice-based, Emile continued doing interventions, participatory projects and performances as a way to research through practice. Emile retuned to academia after the life changing experience of working in New York during 9/11. He found an academic home in the interdisciplinary research context of the media studies department at Sussex University. Emile's profile page Barbie Liberation Organisation Digital Contact Zones
June 25, 2021
Lucy Wright - folk, ethnomusicology and socially engaged artistic research
In this episode Sophie talks to Lucy Wright who, in 2014, completed her PhD titled 'Making traditions, practising folk : contemporary folk performance in the Northwest of England : a practice-led enquiry'. They discuss the importance of creative uncertainty and how often people are talking at cross purposes when discussing practice research. Lucy reflects on her turn from ethnographer to artist. She talk about her precarious career in short term academic jobs, which rarely recognised her practice-led approach, and her recent decision to leave academia and become a freelance socially engaged artist and researcher.  Lucy Wright's website Professor Amanda Ravetz's profile page Social Art Library, Axis
June 18, 2021
Rachel Hann - theatre and 3D visualisation
In this episode Sophie talks to Dr Rachel Hann who completed her PhD in 2010 from the University of Leeds in theatre and performance. The title of her PhD was 'Computer-based 3D visualization for theatre research: towards an understanding of unrealized utopian theatre architecture from the 1920s and 1930s'. Rachel talks about the importance of supportive, critical supervisors who motivated her to push her research forward. She refers to the influence of the principles of The London Charter for the Computer-based Visualisation of Cultural Heritage used by archeologists on her own methodologies and reflects on the importance of iterative approaches to research, and the need for a clear sense of intention. Practice as Research in Performance (PARIP) Utopian Theatres The London Charter PRAG-UK
June 11, 2021
Anne Douglas - artists and public life
In this episode Sophie talks to Professor Anne Douglas, who completed her practice-based PhD in 1992 from Newcastle University. Anne reflects on the practical and philosophical backdrop to how her sculptural work as public art developed into a PhD in the late 1980s. Anne introduces some of the precedents to practice-based PhDs in music and visual arts from the 1970s and 1980s and her 22 year career at Gray's School of Art in Aberdeen. Anne shares how she developed a focused research programme on the relationship between artists and public life at Grays from where she has supervised many artists to develop their PhDs, including Suzanne Lacy and Newton Harrison. Sophie and Anne conclude by discussing the capacity of universities to support practice-research and the need for long-term partnerships beyond the academy.  Links:  Creating Living Knowledge Report by Keri Facer & Bryony Enright  Research through practice: positioning the practitioner as researcher Anne Douglas Karen Scopa & Carole Gray On the Edge Research: Developing the role of the artist in society
June 1, 2021