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PhD Abstracts

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

Portraits of Impropriety: Adélaïde Labille-Guiard and the Careers of Professional Women Artists in Late Eighteenth-Century Paris

What did it mean to be a professional woman artist in Paris at the end of the eighteenth century? Looking at the art and career of the Academician and portrait painter Adélaïde Labille-Guiard (1749-1803), I argue that to be a woman artist was to be a figure of conflict—both an improper woman and an improper artist. Yet the paradoxical category also opened up unique possibilities. This dissonance structures Labille-Guiard’s story.

As the dissertation follows Labille-Guiard’s professional biography, it expands to consider broader moral, artistic, and political issues at every step. Chapter one, “Beyond the Academy: The Street, the Guild and the Cabinet of Curiosity,” presents new readings of largely forgotten but deeply important exhibiting venues that Labille-Guiard used as stepping-stones to the Parisian Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture. I argue that women who forged artistic careers at these marginal, commercial sites courted accusations of ethical and sexual impropriety but gained invaluable publicity.

Chapter two presents Labille-Guiard as a figure of impropriety within the Academy. It examines the eroticized receptions of the women active in the Academy in 1783, culminating with the sexual scandal that greeted Labille-Guiard’s debut at a Salon already struggling to maintain its decorum.

Chapter three focuses on the strategic self-presentations that helped Labille-Guiard both fight against and capitalize upon the erotic innuendo—and even enabled her to become painter to the king’s aunts.

Chapter four looks at the professional and political moves that spared Labille-Guiard’s life during the French Revolution, but ended her career. I ask how conflicting notions of identity, virtue, and representation molded her experiences, and how she complicated these ideas. The chapter re-inserts gender into the discourse on Revolutionary iconoclasm by considering the rhetoric surrounding the destruction of her works.

Finally, an epilogue explores the personal and professional legacies that Labille-Guiard forged at the end of her life. Labille-Guiard died at age 53 with her most accomplished works long behind her and the battle for her reputation undecided.

Institutional Context and Curricular Orientation
Columbia University, Department of Art History and Archaeology, PhD received in 2000. The PhD program requires seven years total: three years of coursework and exams and four years of independent research and writing. (Note that the MA and MPhil are earned after the first and third years respectively.)


Lisa Grocott
Dean, Academic Initiatives, Parsons

Design Research and Reflective Practice: The Facility of Design-oriented Research to Translate Practitioner Insights into New Understandings of Design

This PhD explores the potential of design-oriented research for investigating design practice. The research project is interested in drawing attention to the value of a designer’s perspective and showing how this perspective can play a more significant role in shaping how academic discourse frames and understands design. This goal is explored through the critical undertaking of a design-oriented research case study. In reflecting upon the methods adopted the project can evaluate, from a practitioner’s perspective, the limitations and the opportunities of designing as a research methodology. The visualisation case study includes academic and professionally framed design projects that examine directly and indirectly the potential and appropriateness of design-oriented research for disclosing productive insights into design praxis.

In advocating the relevance of practitioner-researchers contributing to the academic discourse surrounding design practice, the audience for this research is the studio-based educator. The disciplinary values of the research model would be relevant for educators with a design background who are interested in undertaking research that is motivated to both influence teaching strategies and contribute to our collective understanding of design practice.

This research operates at the nexus between Brad Haseman’s notion of performative research, Alain Findeli’s framework for project-grounded re search and Donald Schön’s idea of the reflective practitioner, in turn casting the act of designing and reflecting as central to the project-orientation of the research. Exploring the methodological practice of a designer-research er, this project is driven to adopt and adapt studio-based methods and reflection-based research interventions that will promote the synergetic relationship between speculation and reflection. In noticing and accounting for the designer’s reflective conversation with the research situation, the project proposes strategies for how what I am calling the back talk of a reflective design practice might be productively amplified to establish resonance and facilitate the external consultation of practitioner-led research.

Institutional Context and Curricular Orientation
RMIT University, School of Architecture and Design, PhD by Project. 2010. The PhD was individual practice-led research, with only one research methods course and review in front of a jury every semester. Examination included submission of dissertation, exhibition, and oral defense. Master's degree a prerequisite and three years full time or six years part time.


Heike Jenss
Director, MA in Fashion Studies, School of Art and Design History and Theory at Parsons

Sixties Dress Only: Fashion and Consumption in the Retro-Scene of the Mods

Based on a three-year ethnographic study of the retro/mod sixties scene in Germany, this doctoral thesis examined the dress and body practices, motivations, and meaning constructions that are involved in the contemporary appropriation of the fashion and popular culture of the 1960s and the creation of retro-appearances among youth and adolescents in the early 21st century. The members of the contemporary mod-scene model themselves on the British youth of the 1960s and dress and live almost exclusively in this style of the past, appropriating music, furniture, clothes, etc. from this decade as a means of distinction and self-positioning.

Through in-depth interviews with members of this scene, participant observation at sixties-events in Germany, Italy and Spain, in-depth analysis of the everyday use of past fashions and consumption practices (including flea market shopping, eBay hunting and do-it-yourself practices), the thesis explores two main aspects of interest: The particular use and contemporary appeal of fashion, history, and its related imagery/imaginary and the negotiation and materialization of individual identity and uniformity through the practice of dress and style. This dynamic is usually seen as the driving force of fashion, but how it is actively negotiated in everyday practices is only rarely investigated in detail and with respect to the perspective of the actors. The thesis combines theories and approaches from youth cultural studies, anthropology, material culture and fashion studies and offers original insights into the meaning dimensions linked with the self-positioning through dress and style, and analyses the particular appreciation of material history in relation to contemporary mass fashion, scene-specific dress codes and the social promotion of individuality.

Institutional Context and Curricular Orientation
Cultural Anthropology of Textiles, Institute of Art and Material Culture, Dortmund University, Germany, 2007. The doctoral dissertation was pursued in the context of the interdisciplinary research project “Uniform in Bewegung/ Uniformity in Motion: The Process of Uniformity in Body in Dress”, at the universities of Dortmund, Institute of Arts and Material Culture, and Frankfurt, Institute of Arts/ New Media and funded by Volkswagen-Foundation. This collaborative project brought together scholars in arts, media studies, material culture, ethnology and sociology to investigate practices of uniformity and individuality in institutions and everyday contexts, with a particular focus on the perspective of the cultural actors.


Robert Kirkbride
Associate Professor, School of Constructed Environments at Parsons

The Renaissance Studioli of Federico da Montefeltro and the Architecture of Memory

This investigation of the studioli, small contemplation chambers in the ducal palaces of Urbino and Gubbio, considers their position in the western tradition of the memory arts. Drawing upon select images in the studioli, as well as text sources readily available to Duke Federico da Montefeltro (1422-82) and the members of his court, this inquiry examines how the discipline of architecture equipped the late quattrocento mind with a bridge between the mathematical arts, which lend themselves to mechanical practices, and the art of rhetoric, a discipline central to the cultivation of memory and eloquence. As ramifications of material and metal craft, the studioli offered the Urbino court models for education and prudent governance.

Institutional Context and Curricular Orientation
McGill University, History and Theory of Architecture. After one year (now two) of seminar coursework, the process of the individual dissertation included four (graded) status report meetings with my advisor and committee, the first of which was an oral examination of materials related to my topic. The final meeting was the defense of the dissertation, which included a public presentation followed by an oral interrogation and response with an examination committee.


Tatiana Lyubetskaya
Second-year MFA student at Parsons The New School for Design

Prior experience in a doctoral program at the Geology and Geophysics Department of Yale University and my current involvement in the MFA program at Parsons, New School, give me an opportunity to compare the structure of graduate education in the natural sciences and fine arts. The PhD program in geosciences at Yale is always specific to each student's intended area of specialization. Each student works in close contact with one or two professors from the faculty who continuously provide him or her with feedback and criticism. The students are strongly encouraged to submit articles for publication in the peer-reviewed journals and participate in the conferences in their area of specialization. Publishing work and attending conferences are essential for a professional training of a scientist as journal articles and conference reports are major means for communicating research results and ideas within the scientific community. The financial support for PhD students comes from the university fellowships, outside fellowships and grants and/or research assistantship funds and covers all of the students’ tuition along with their living expenses. This ensures financial security of the students and their relative insulation from the world outside of their profession, which are necessary for the intense concentration required for conducting a high-level specialized scientific research.

In contrast to that, the graduate program in the fine arts at Parsons offers multi-media and inter-disciplinary approach. Instead of making students focus on a single narrow area of specialization, the MFA program strives to broaden the students’ perspective, to expose them to ideas and knowledge in the fields other than art and to introduce them to diverse and novel ways of producing artwork. In short, it encourages curiosity and intellectual mobility and a way of thinking that is wide-ranging and eclectic rather than narrow and focused. Although such approach is very beneficial to developing a rich and diverse art practice, it is not particularly conducive to a focused and penetrative investigation of a single theme with a particular medium. The MFA program therefore provides a foundation for the more independent and potentially more focused work the students might engage in after their graduation.

My own artwork frequently oscillates between the two poles defined by the methodological models used in the natural sciences and in fine arts. The prior experience in the PhD program helps me to balance the diverse and multifaceted structure of the MFA with a more focused independent investigation of selected projects and the resulting tension is one of the major driving forces for my art practice.

Institutional Context and Curricular Orientation
The PhD program in geosciences at Yale requires about five to six years to complete. The first two years are given to preparing a foundation in areas of specialization and on building scientific research skills through the extensive course work combined with independent study. The curriculum is always specific to each student’s intended area of specialization. The remaining years in the program are largely dedicated to completing a major body of independent research in a chosen area.


Katherine Moriwaki
Assistant Professor, School of Art, Media, and Technology at Parsons

The Social Fashioning of Emerging Communication Infrastructure

The pairing of computation and “fashion” (or more specifically aesthetic approaches to clothing and dress) is a relatively new development, which has been gaining traction in recent years. So far much of the discussion surrounding this emerging area of practice has been ill defined and nebulous, spurring the invention of catch all terminology, which is both imprecise and misleading in its usage. My research focuses on the contribution of interaction design, both the field and specific practitioners, to the development of interactive textiles and clothing design. In my dissertation I critically refine the language and terminology used to describe “fashion and technology” projects, through making explicit the disciplinary heritage they currently come out of. By tracing these trajectories and grouping projects and practitioners into categorical representations through contrast and comparison, I seek to advance the beginnings of a framework that will allow practitioners to articulate and understand the aims of their work with greater clarity and precision.

Institutional Context and Curricular Orientation
University of Dublin, Trinity College, Department of Electronic and Electrical Engineering. Individual research, based on project work, culminating in the submission of a written dissertation followed by a half-day defense with external examiners.


Lara de Sousa Penin
Assistant Professor, School of Design Strategies at Parsons

Strategic Design for Sustainable Social Innovation in Emerging Contexts: Framework and Operative Strategies

The research intends to contribute and amplify the dialogue between the design discipline and the development challenges of contemporary society, characterized by social and environmental unbalance as a result of an unsustainable development model, particularly evident in the developing world.

The research hypothesis is that the design discipline, in particular the strategic design approach, can offer a singular contribution to the transformations requested by contemporary development challenges, using the concept of sustainable social innovation as a conceptual guide.

The research objectives are threefold:
*   The delimitation of a conceptual framework relating design and social sustainable development, identifying the key variables that affect design discipline and culture
*   The identification of operative strategies through which designers can approach social sustainable development
*   The proposition of original design methods and tools to guide designers’ practice

Three main conceptual nodes emerge within the research, formulated as follows:

(1) How can sustainable social innovation in emerging contexts be qualified? From systematic observation and analysis of real cases, social innovation practices in emerging countries are qualified, revealing motivations, features and results in terms of social sustainability. They reveal the existence of localised solutions that can be related to the key-concept of product-service systems. Through the verification of existing direct design practices in specific communities in emerging contexts, it was observed that the use of participatory methods and tools for identity building and scenario building turned out to be decisive at the strategic level of these actions.

(2) Can sustainable social innovation be stimulated? What would be the mechanisms to do so? This second node, also disclosed through the analysis of existing practices, connects to the incubation system. From practice, it is observed that the incubation system has been used as a mechanism to foster and stimulate innovation; it is a directed development mechanism, normally connected to territory development and frequently associated with universities. In this sense, the incubator model can be useful also to stimulate sustainable social innovation.

(3) Can design offer a disciplinary ground upon which sustainable social innovation can be stimulated? What would be the specific design expertise needed, methods and tools? The third node, suggests the use of the incubation system through the design disciplinary ground as a mechanism to generate sustainable social innovation. The strategic design approach, can be particular suitable (and unique) since it introduces into the incubation process the instrumental visualisation that favours and structures creative thinking and decision making.

The research proposes an original strategic design toolkit to structure (a) participatory processes for strategic planning and partnership building and (b) scenario building process. Furthermore, the research offers the proposal of an original incubator model intrinsically based on the strategic design approach based on strategic design process and tools that favors and structures the process of co-creation within a multi-disciplinary environment.

Institutional Context and Curricular Orientation
PhD in Industrial Design and Multimedia Communication, Politecnico di Milano, INDACO Department.


Scott Gregory Pobiner
Assistant Professor, School of Design Strategies at Parsons

Design Education: A System for Enhancing Interaction using Multiple Displays

Display sharing has become one of the dominant ways in which collaborative computing hardware and software has been introduced to the context of small group interaction in higher education classrooms. In this dissertation, I examine the collaborative use of computers in learning environments in order to ascertain their current state of use, perceptions of the concepts, barriers to further integration, and models for integrating shared displays into the pedagogical approaches of faculty in higher education.

Although some research and development has engaged technical solutions for the conflict between computer use and social interaction there is still ample room for discovery and innovation within the physical classroom space, particularly the relationship between pedagogical models and display systems in on site classroom experiences. An examination of published articles and theses on the topic of the design of education spaces and the integration of technology shows very little research related to how the design of display and information sharing systems impact interaction in the physical classroom and even fewer seek to accommodate contemporary and historical findings in education research to the development of these systems.

Installations of collaborative multimedia in classrooms at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design show an enhancement of the learning process via shared access to media resources and enhanced spatial conditions within which these resources are engaged. Through observation and controlled experiments I am investigating how the use of shared, collaborative interfaces for interaction with multiple displays in a co-local environment enhances the learning process. The multiple spatial configurations and formats of learning mandate that with more effective interfaces and spaces for sharing digital media with fellow participants, the classroom can be used much more effectively and thus, learning and interaction with multimedia can be improved. This dissertation explores the adoption of co-present social computing in learning environments by means of case studies conducted in studio and classroom environments as well as case studies conducted in Room 109 at the graduate school of design. By investigating how multiple displays are currently used, as well as experimenting with their use in the design of Room 109, this research seeks to not only further the study of classroom design, but also play a role in discussing the ways in which current models for the design of display systems can be improved to promote their applicability and adoption in classrooms and other learning environments.


Mathan Ratinam
Assistant Professor, School of Design Strategies at Parsons

(Rear) Visioning Architecture: A Re-engagement of Architecture and Visual Effects via Digital Representation

This research is about the ways in which architects communicate architecture. Over the last decade there has been a great deal interest in the relationship between digital processes and architectural form. Though this has been widely discussed and critiqued there has been significantly less attention paid to the way we digitally represent architecture, generative or otherwise. The explosion of digitally rendered images and animations, which have given us new opportunities of illustrating and disseminating our ideas, have also created some concerning trends. This research is interested in exploring and addressing: the narrowing of aesthetic outcomes through current digital representational methods leading to greater homogeneity and limiting their communicative potential, the complex and often inappropriate techniques employed to develop imagery and animations, the privileging of the geometric order over the poetic content and, perhaps unintentionally yet importantly, the re-characterising of representation as primarily an explicative practice from the reflective practice it once was.

Inquiring about the role of digital representation in architecture this research seeks to examine current techniques and their consequential results in order to propose more appropriate methodologies leading to more enriched outcomes. By looking to the practice of visual effects in cinema through notable examples pertinent to architecture, we may begin reviewing current techniques and our ambitions of architectural representation. Returning to the birth of perspective during the renaissance, largely credited to Brunelleschi, we find ourselves at a period where not only architectural representation began to flourish but also, as I argue, at the birth of visual effects. Looking back we’re able to consider the divergent path that architecture had taken to visual effects by re-examining the various techniques of perspective (simply separable as natural and linear perspective) which privileged the differing interests.

I will unfold two case studies during the presentation that seek to address the original concerns via two primary agendas. The first case study is to propose a more relevant and technically efficient method of generating images and animations, a method aligned to historic representational practices. The second, is an enquiry into the role and contribution of animation in architecture. Both of these arise out of current concerns and, as practice-based research projects, exhibit their findings respectively through animations.

Institutional Context and Curricular Orientation
RMIT University, School of Architecture and Design in Melbourne, Australia: PhD by Project, due to be examined in Spring 2011. The dissertation includes 50,000 words and two major animation projects. The writing includes chapters that have been published throughout the PhD candidature.


Timo Rissanen
Assistant Professor, School of Fashion at Parsons

Fashion Creation without Fabric Waste Creation

Many historical and contemporary garments exist, that result in no fabric waste during manufacture, herein referred to as zero-waste garments. Currently, however, most cut-and-sew clothing only contains approximately 85 percent of the fabric required to create it; approximately 15 percent of the fabric used becomes waste during cutting. A number of methods of recycling and reusing the fabric waste exist, but evidence suggests that avoiding waste creation is generally preferable to these.

This project investigates fashion creation without fabric waste creation through a practice-led method. The project asks: What are the opportunities for a zero fabric waste approach within contemporary menswear fashion design practice using cut-and-sew methods? To what extent is such an approach feasible and desirable within contemporary fashion industry? Literature on historical and contemporary examples of zero-waste garments is used to speculate on design strategies that allow the design and make of such garments in a contemporary fashion design context. Literature is also used to construct a preliminary understanding of the types of roles that fashion designers and patterncutters may have within the fashion industry, and the various ways in which these roles may interact. The focus of this thesis centres on fashion designers who can patterncut, and the diversity of approaches to fashion design adopted by such designers.

The design practice in the project is framed by alternative frames of practice drawn from literature to ensure that the research is not impeded by and limited to the researcher’s own approach to fashion design. Initial design experiments lead to more focused design practice, resulting in a collection of 12 menswear pieces. Throughout the project practice is documented verbally and visually in a reflective journal. The journal entries are transcribed for analysis, and emerging themes from the analysis are used to examine the research questions. 12 months after the first collection three more garments are designed to test some of the initial findings. The project findings form two broad categories. The first discusses opportunities and constraints for fashion design that adopts fabric waste as a design criterion. The second discusses opportunities and constraints that may emerge during manufacturing zero-waste garments. In conclusion, some modifications to fashion industry conventions and fashion design education are recommended. Several opportunities for further research are also identified.

Institutional Context and Curricular Orientation
UTS, School of Design Architecture and Building in Sydney, Australia. Dedicated project-based first year with following years focused on analysis and dissertation.


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

To PhD or Not to PhD?

I commenced my PhD studies within months of receiving tenure at UC Santa Barbara and my doctorate within months of assuming chair of UCLA Design | Media Arts. My motivation to pursue the degree was not to advance academically, but to challenge myself and engage in deeper dialogue with both humanist and scientist colleagues. The journey was tough and rewards unexpected. Below is an excerpt from my introduction that I will frame with my current practice in my talk.

Throughout the process of researching and developing projects for my thesis, I have repeatedly asked how artists can play an important role in the academic context without sacrificing the freedom and power of poetic license. Significantly, the most challenging part of this research has been to develop a methodology that allowed me to create art works informed by rigorous scholarship but not illustrative. Initially, my inclination was to try to emulate what I understood were methodologies of scientific practice or of humanistic study, but this proved unsatisfactory and frustrating as neither methodology translated well to the arts. As I struggled with these two opposing methods, it became clear that there was a need to develop a hybrid method located somewhere between these two worlds. The dilemma was that there was no road to follow, no directions, no guide into this new and foreign territory. Thus, my thesis had several incarnations with the first submission being the Networked Triadic Spaces, an investigation into the emergence of network art, communities and information architectures using a conceptual construction of an online agent software I called the Information Personae. Following Buckminster Fuller's assertion that triangles are nature's most stable 'building blocks' for models, architectures and biological systems, I argued that the same could hold true for designing distributed human networks.

Networked Triadic Spaces morphed into Networked Public Spaces: An Investigation into Virtual Embodiment, an exploration of these issues in relation to three artworks created between 1995 to 2000: Virtual Concrete, (1995); Bodies INCorporated (1996-2000); and Datamining Bodies (initiated in 2000). These works reside at the intersection of network data visualizations and biological systems, and the popular trend toward developing more "intelligent" networks through use of autonomous agents. All three works have several key things in common – they reside at the intersection of data visualizations and biological systems, are conceptually connected to online embodiment with physical interaction, and each required extensive research to inform and inspire the creative practice.

Institutional Context and Curricular Orientation
Centre for Advanced Inquiry in the Interactive Arts (CAiiA), at the University of Wales, UK, PhD awarded degree in 2000. It was one of the earlier programs that attempted a theory/practice mix, as well as exploring a low-residency, distance-learning model. In 2003 the program was moved to the University of Plymouth and renamed the Planetary Collegium.


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