Program Session Abstracts

Laura Auricchio
Assistant Professor, School of Art and Design History at Parsons

Fiction in the Archives (pace Natalie Zemon Davis)

“Fiction in the Archives (pace Natalie Zemon Davis)” aims to explicate the process of researching and writing an art history dissertation based on archival sources. Taking as a case study a single chapter from my dissertation on the 18th-century French portraitist Adélaïde Labille-Guiard, the paper argues that, because the past can never be fully reconstructed, historians must embrace the alternate task of crafting plausible narratives about the past while acknowledging the inevitable insufficiency of our sources. To drive home the point that the past is irretrievably lost, the paper focuses on my search for information about a painting that cannot be recovered, having been destroyed during the French Revolution. The form of the paper further underscores the narrative aspect of history writing by self-consciously adopting the structure of a murder mystery to tell its tale.

Paper available for download (pdf).



Su Baker
Professor and Director, Victorian College of the Arts, University of Melbourne, Australia

Framing the Historical and Contemporary Context of the PhD in the Art School Setting

The PhD in the creative arts is now the accepted terminal degree in Australia, as it is in a number of other countries such as Britain, Finland, New Zealand, and Japan, along with the professional Doctorate of Creative Arts (DCA). Yet although it is quickly emerging as a significant measure of quality and innovation in the field, the PhD and the professional doctorate in the creative arts is still subject to variations in terms of form and implementation as exemplified by the wide range of examination procedures currently used in Australian universities. Such disparity, in combination with pressing pedagogic and resource issues, has significance for both the integrity and growth of the discipline.



John Conomos

Senior Lecturer, Sydney College of the Arts, University of Sydney, Australia

Beyond Shop Talk: The Role of the PhD and Research in the Visual Arts

This paper addresses the uncanny dialectic between reform and resistance in doctoral education for artists and designers.



Meredith Davis
Professor and Director, Graduate Programs in Graphic Design, North Carolina State University, U.S.

Why Do We Need Doctoral Study in Design?

The demands on design practice in the 21st century are significantly different from those of the past, suggesting that traditional notions of what designers do, and more importantly what we need to know, may require re-examination. At the same time, there is great confusion in the field and in universities about what constitutes design research and doctoral programs have been slow to develop.

This presentation will address the conditions driving the need for design research: increasing complexity in the scale of contemporary problems; escalating demand for interdisciplinary collaboration; accelerating pace in technological evolution; growing participation by users in the development of content and form; and expanding accountability for predicting the consequences of design action. It will also assert that there is no consensus about definitions of research among practitioners and educators; limited access to research findings from professional practice; nascent use of students as interns in the research process; and great confusion about what design issues deserve the greatest attention by researchers.

It is in this climate that a handful of institutions in the U.S. have taken on the challenges of doctoral education in design, developing programs that depart from models in the studio arts and articulating missions that are in contrast to many programs in Europe.



Sara Diamond

President, Ontario College of Art and Design, Canada 

Convergent Syntheses / Convergent Boundaries: Art and Design Research and the Sciences

The art and design disciplines bring critical perspectives to solving wicked contemporary problems and in opening new avenues in fundamental research. What are the potentials and challenges of convergent knowledge? The perspective will include examples as well as point to some general directions in research, institutional structure, and education.



Bill Gaver

Interaction Research Studio, Goldsmiths, University of London, UK

How We Do Research Through Design

Design is an effective way to produce and share insights, but the logic of pursuing research through design is different from that behind traditional scientific approaches. In this talk, I describe the methods and processes we use in designing the unorthodox computational devices we make and how we draw insights from their development and use in long-term field trials.



Lisa Grocott
Dean, Academic Initiatives, Parsons The New School for Design

Figure Design Knowing

Conversations within the design academy increasingly require educators to talk about design expertise on a level that is more abstract than the sub-field of design that most practitioners identify with. This presentation explores the importance of practitioners contributing to research into the general domain of design praxis and proposes methodological approaches for design-oriented research. Presenting a strategy for interrogating a researcher's own tacit knowing the presentation proposes an approach to researching through and into design that draws on the expertise of the designer while introducing reflective interventions from other disciplines to support the discipline of noticing how one designs. 



Robert Kirkbride
Associate Professor, School of Constructed Environments at Parsons

Architecture and Memory

“Architecture and Memory” reflects on several epiphanies during my PhD through the lens of my open access, online multimedia ebook, Architecture and Memory: the Renaissance Studioli of Federico da Montefeltro (Columbia University Press: http://www.gutenberg-e.org/kirkbride/). Although the academy was inhospitable to a design-fueled exploration during my PhD process, a Gutenberg-e Prize from the American Historical Association enabled me to transform my research on two Renaissance memory chambers from traditional academic format into an interactive experience more in keeping with the composition and original uses of the subject material. During development of the ebook, editors conveyed their hope that I could bring more adventure to a reader’s experience, based on the subject and my design training. I rolled my experimentation into a special seminar conducted with Parsons product design undergraduates where we created a role-playing interface of storytelling and non-linear navigation. Many of these ideas entered the final book, and the press assigned three technicians to assist with the final construction—an intensive, total transformation of my dissertation into an online multimedia book built for diving and dithering. 



Sean Lowry

Lecturer, School of Drama, Fine Art and Music, University of Newcastle, Australia

The After-Party: The Concealment of Appropriation in Post-dialectical Cultural Production

Once a central and defining aspect of both anti-modernism and critical postmodernism, the strategy of appropriation has subsequently retreated significantly from the foreground of art parlance. Largely stripped of its critical potential, the function of appropriation has been reduced from that of constituting a vehicular medium for a range of iconoclastic acts to that of merely providing a habitual, convenient, and often tacit accessory to contemporary artistic production. With the dissolution of the modernism/postmodernism dialectic, reconstruction has overtaken ironic quotation, quotation has become a habit, and crafted and found elements are both attributed a relatively equivalent role within the construction of meaning. Despite being critically unfashionable, certain legacies of postmodern styled appropriation’s attitude to the sanctity of the original remains apparent in contemporary artistic production methodologies. The historical trajectory that disintegrated hierarchies of form appears irreversible. In an era of endlessly remixed versions, contemporary culture no longer carries an expectation of singular destinations for its creative products. Given that this previous era of clearer dialectical distinctions has been largely supplanted by one of fractured interdisciplinary recycling, and that appropriation no longer constitutes a critically explicit subject of art, this investigation addresses the manner with which appropriation is still broadly exploited by artists and the commercial world alike in order to unearth low frequency emotional ties. Formerly served as an assault on prototype forms, appropriation now paradoxically provides a means for extending a prototype’s qualities. With this in mind, an interdisciplinary production methodology that deliberately conceals otherwise recognizable appropriated elements using a data-matching methodology is demonstrated as possessing the potential to evoke a “ghostly feeling of familiarity” as opposed to any specific historical or ironic distance from prototype forms. From subliminally sampled pop songs reintroduced to the system from which they were sourced, to wall paintings consisting of erased corporate logos, this production methodology has been tested against both commercial and critical markets. Emphasizing the paradoxical implications of reemploying a formerly anti-aesthetic endgame strategy to the production of new works, an “agnostic” approach is then presented as a potential register of the complex dilemma of “carrying on” after the retreat of the modernism/postmodernism dialectic. Suspended in a belief/disbelief dichotomy, the figure of the artist can resort to carry on “as if” innovation is possible.



Scott Pobiner
Assistant Professor, School of Design Strategies at Parsons

Center of Asymmetry

Abstract coming soon.

Paper available for download (pdf).



Timo Rissanen
Assistant Professor, School of Fashion at Parsons

From a Design PhD into Design Education

Investigations into historical design and making practices can reveal opportunities for sustainability improvements within contemporary design and making practices. This presentation provides an example of how research into a particular approach of design practice through that practice has fed into design teaching, through the development of a course drawing from the author’s PhD project. The project has highlighted the necessity of unlearning many practices currently assumed as givens within the discipline, fashion design, posing a number of challenges for teaching a course within programs that perpetuate the same givens. Simultaneously, opening up findings from a research project to a cohort of students has highlighted the richly individual nature of design practice.



Victoria Vesna
Visiting Professor and Director of Research, School of Art, Media, and Technology at Parsons

To PhD or Not to PhD?

“To PhD or not to PhD?”, that is the question many artists are asking themselves these days, and it seems to be a controversial topic that has been pushed to a ongoing debate by James Elkins brought to the forefront in this country with article he wrote for Art in America in 2007, entitled "Ten Reasons to Mistrust the New PhD in Studio Art.” As an artist who enrolled in one of the first PhD programs in the UK, established and directed by artist Roy Ascott in 1994, I have not only gone through the process but also helped shape a new program by being one of the first five doctoral students. The program has grown to 65+ artists from around the world, morphed into the Planetary Collegium, and oddly is not even mentioned in Elkins’s widely cited book published soon after the article. Much of the debate is centered on how art practice may be affected, positively or negatively, by the more academic methodology study that a PhD implies. But, what is neglected is considering how the artist may impact that environment and what that may mean for the accepted methods of study. Even if strictly practice based, the mere fact that an artist in development is spending that length of time in an academic environment would have implications on how that person’s creative work is shaped. Through my personal interaction with academics and scientific researchers, I have come to believe that artists can have a major, (positive) influence artists on the academic environment. I show this via a personal story that briefly follows the lineage that I connected to via an exhibition where I met Roy Ascott and his student Brian Eno, later to become an advisor in the program.

Elkins writes in his introduction, "The question is not whether the new programs are coming, but how rigorously they will be conceptualized." I very much agree that it is about introducing rigor into the work in the art studies. At the crux of discussion about the PhD degree in the arts is the left/right brain divide that is more evident in the practice/theory and the art/science divide. Too frequently art history has unfortunately separated in academia from the art practice departments and this has created a gap in knowledge for young artists. Artists have always played a role in interpreting, albeit poetically, how technological and scientific advances affect society at large and our individual perceptions of self. As the world becomes more technologically complex, with the nonstop bombardment of endless information, it is possible that this role becomes ever more important.

To the question “To PhD or not to PhD?", I say, “It’s a no-brainer!” 

 


Mabel Wilson
Associate Professor of Architecture, Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation, Columbia University, U.S.

Position Paper 2: Research in the Field(s)

In order to inquire as to what research will offer to the fields of design or architecture it might prove useful to consider the following: What is knowledge, how is it created, how is knowledge organized into disciplines, and, lastly, when does the systemic study of building, architecture, my primary field, emerge as a discipline? As a scholar, designer, artist, and educator working within and across several fields this presentation takes these fundamental questions and examines the cross border relationships and antagonisms others between architecture and other fields. If we consider Donna Haraway’s salient observation that “positioning is the practice of grounding knowledge organized around the imagery of vision, as so much Western and scientific and philosophic discourse is organized. Positions implies responsibility for our enabling practices. It follows that politics and ethics ground struggles for the contests over what may count as rational knowledge. That is, admitted or not, politics and ethics ground struggles over knowledge projects in the exact, natural, social, and human sciences,” then what is at stake in the design fields as they seek to produce new knowledge?

Paper available for download (pdf).


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