KALINA SURMA MACD FALMOUTH
Design Research Journal
Hello New Course, New Brief!
As a first impression - I am amazed at the course size! Having gone from my BA which started at 150 strong, and finished at around 80, a class of 18 students is really refreshing, especially considering everyone comes from different backgrounds. I didn't manage to get much collaboration in during my BA (partly due to shyness, partly due to Covid), so this is one of the personal goals I am setting myself for this course moving forwards.
I am also very excited to get going with the first brief we recieved, Process, because for a long time I have been struggling to identify a specialism for my practice. I definitely feel like a jack of all trades rather than a master of one, so having 4+ weeks dedicated to closely examining how I realistically work and where my focus lies seems like it would be very beneficial.
Preparing the presentation about my work and process was surprisingly reassuring and made me realise quite how much progress I had made since the beginning of my BA. I definitely dipped my toe into many visual styles in an attempt to find one that would 'stick', but it made me appreciate that versatility is sometimes a great strength.
Despite a variation in experience and background, the course seems to be largely dominated by those with a graphic design background. For me, this is a great thing, because that is the main area of visual skills that I wish to develop by the end of the degree. It did simultaneously make me nervous because I felt as though I had a lot of 'catching up' to do in order to get up to speed with the needs of the course, being rooted in design. Overall, the presentations were just very fun and interesting to watch.
Workshop with Jyni Ong
For our workshop with Jyni, the subject I chose to base my response around was my relationship with motherhood and the general ethics of choosing to have children in the modern Western world. On one hand, preaching about not having kids in the name of the environment steps into ecofascist territory, and yet on the other, the future of the planet is so uncertain at this time that making an informed decision on what kind of life we want to put our children through (or in this case, whether we want to put them through it at all) seems like a no-brainer. This, combined with an increased awareness around mental health and the effects of one’s childhood, the reality of mothers often having to sacrifice their careers in the name of parenthood, and the financial cost of parenthood, combines into one big unanswerable question – should you have children?
I strongly believe that that is a question not enough people dedicate introspective thought to, instead treating starting a family like a fact of life, even if it may not be right for them. There is also the other end of the spectrum, though; philosophising on this ‘what if’ question enough to create an unhealthy anxiety around parenthood. I wanted to capture this in my response, producing a poster depicting a baby which encourages the viewer to pick it apart, revealing questions underneath. However, once all the questions are ‘revealed’, there is not baby left. It aims to represent the vicious cycle of wanting to know all the answers, to something inherently subjective.
During the process of this workshop, I discovered that I really enjoy working with media that is audience-interactive. Although this also has its set-backs, such as working with the cues and mechanisms that make an interactive piece of art clear and receptive, I found this challenge quite satisfying. It feels like pushing my analogue practice to a next level, naturally advancing the skills from my Illustration BA.
Another element of the workshop which inspired me was Jyni’s practice itself, and her journey to where she is now. As someone who is equally as interested in writing as in design, Jyni’s freelance creative, writing, editing and consultancy portfolio showed me a less traditional avenue out of the MA and into the industry. The If You Could job-finding platform wasn’t something I had heard of before, so knowing that there are dedicated platforms for creatives (rather than reaching out to studios for job directly) was mind-changing. Working in a diverse environment is something that is important to me as a practitioner, therefore this workshop made me reconsider my aspirations of working full time in a studio, perhaps a combination of freelance and studio work is more appropriate as my long-term goal.
Workshop with Anthea Moyes
Play could not be more far-removed from my practice. Often times, my practice feels rather academic and on the intense end of the spectrum, so being able to work with Anthea for an afternoon was something really refreshing. Engaging in a performance-driven workshop, that was kind of silly, felt like breaking a rule in itself; that work always had to be strenuous. Working in smaller teams of 3 students was a pleasant was of exploring this, as larger projects of 5+ people have an element of micromanagement and task-delegation that I personally do not enjoy, as the workload rarely feels balanced. That being said, the small-scale nature of this workshop also made the vulnerability of a silly performance more comfortable, as it is so early into the course. My group created a game which involves two participants: one person speaks simple questions, whilst the other puts on headphones with loud music and tries to decipher what their peer is saying. It produced some very funny results, and felt overall well-received by the class.
I would compare this experience to a year 7 team-building exercise, in the best way possible. Nothing felt serious, intellectual, or high-stakes, and yet it was a very beneficial exercise both for breaking the ice within the studio, but also reinforcing the necessity of returning to more primal aspects of being human every now and then, such as humour and community. The older I get the more interested I become with childlike themes (ironically), with a new appreciation for bold shape and colour, as well as more hands-on user experience-based design such as toys and applied arts – basically, anything that is fun and that can be touched, whilst also existing in a space.
Moving forward with the project, I have decided to use a 'learning through making approach', which is something I only briefly touched on during my BA. I intend on taking forward the work from Jyni's workshop, as interactive posters are something I've discovered I really enjoy, and something that also gives me the opportunity to begin examining every stage of my process intricately. The interactive process also allows me to translate my illustration background into a more communication design territory, engaging the viewer in a contemporary debate. At this stage, I am allowing the Mama! project to take control of my direction, without trying to force its direction too much to allow to an organic evaluation.
Workshop with Dwayne Roberts
Dwayne’s lecture made me more aware of the impact that designers have on the environment without evening knowing it, through an introduction to the concept of ‘cruft’ (badly designed, unnecessarily complicated, or unwanted code or software). An innovative and cutting-edge approach to UI is often celebrated in design, using features such as video and motion graphics. However, this also puts more strain on the resources necessary to keep such websites running and for the user to load them up. This in turn impacts our carbon footprint, makes digital information less accessible for people with limited access to mobile data or signal (particularly affecting developing countries), and complicates the use of the site.
The resources that Dwayne discussed, such as basic HTML coding and image dithering, make me really rethink how I want to approach my own design research journal and later portfolio interface. As a creative, it feels almost sacrilegious to create a very basic and visually limited website which doesn’t effectively show off every carefully honed inch of skill that you have. The direction in which design is currently going means that the aesthetic experience of a business’s website is just as much of a badge of their credibility as the work itself. However, with the impact this has on the planet, is it ultimately so important?
Above: The 'Superman' pose as a means of preparing for the performance of the workshop, supposed to physiologically increase your confidence (source: my A Level tutor, encouraging us to do it before sitting our exams - take that as you will).
Introduction to Critical Studies:
The Human Condition
"The human condition is all of the characteristics and key events of human life, including birth, learning, emotion, aspiration, morality, conflict, and death."
Academic writing makes up a big part of what I enjoy about arts education, with my dissertation being the absolute highlight and joy of my BA, and something I was encouraged to pursue further by my tutors. Because of this, I was really looking forward to the critical writing element of MACD. The focus on the human condition within the first few weeks of the course was something that I am looking forward to, with psychology and philosophy being some of my key areas of interest outside of the arts.
As of now, topics that I could see myself pursuing in this direction include interepersonal relationships, perceptions of childhood, and social symbols.
My main takeaway from this week's critical studies introduction was to start reading on subjects of interest now, even if I don't know the direction of my future essay yet. The practice of reading while you write was something that was heavily stressed, and that I intend to get into the habit of doing as I always find the research phase to be the most time and energy taxing.
“Man is no longer an artist, he has become a work of art." - Friedrich Nietzsche
At this point, I am deep into my 'learning through making' interactive poster project, however being halfway into the module I fear it's taking up too much time from considering my actual artefact. I have managed to extract some details of my process I wasn't consciously aware of, such as pessimism. This is going to act as the foundation stone of the development of my artefact, with my 'how might I' question being 'how might I embrace pessimism in my practice?'. I want to read into the psychological benefits of pessimism and why it is a strategy that some individuals naturally gravitate to, as well as reflecting on what pessimism actually contributes to every stage of my process.
Critical Studies: Craft as Process
Haptic: relating to the sense of touch, in particular relating to the perception and manipulation of objects using the senses of touch and proprioception.
The lecture highlighted that the perception of craft has changed throughout human history, the industrialisation, and automation. Whilst craft once had an innate element of risk, and depended entirely on the workmanship of the maker, a lot of craft-based sectors (such as home goods) are now made with strict control and standardisation. The example used was creating a ceramic piece using a mold rather than on the potter's wheel.
This raises an interesting question of how craft can be reapplied into the creative process, such as within design, which in the modern day is often considered seperate from our understanding of craft. The desire to craft has been recorded in human existence since as early as cave paintings, with recent developments to the extremes of AI, posing a realistic danger to the culture of craft.
"Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful" - William Morris
Morris particularly was an artist and intellectual that felt the increased industrialisation, and therefore the worker's daily routine, was a mistake in the development of Victorian Britain. He believed that the repetitiveness and disconnection from the tasks that workers were (and still are to this day) forced to endure was socially regressive. An alternative to this would be a return to more traditional craft, where the worker is prsent at every step of the making process from start to finish, providing a sense of ownership and purpose at a wide scale, reducing exploitation.
Catch up with Jyni
Jyni and I discussed the ways in which my 'positive pessimism' can be shown, identifying movement as a core feature as my pessimism makes me more active. Everything from a coin donation funnel (a downward spiral that collects ideas at the bottom) to using hydoractive ink stimulated by tears was discussed. These ideas are all exciting and largely outside the scope of anything I was able to explore during my Illustration BA. The transition from pessimism to nihilism was also a valid observation, referring to an extreme of pessimism that ultimately frees you from personally set constrictions, making you 'beyond caring' (in other words, not caring at all).
This week was the first week I felt truly settled into the course and allowed myself to get stuck into my work. Exploring the application of pessimism, I drew comparisons between the theory of 'defensive pessimism' and objects such as armour, and medieval torture devices. The intersection between protecting yourself and harming yourself in the process is one that I intend to explore further, however I am also aware that this is the final timetabled week of the module. As the first piece of work on the course, I am satisfied with the amount I have explored, being able to immerse myself in a far more thorough research process. That being said, my next steps are now beginning to shift my focus onto the visual elements of the project.