Research Aim + Objectives, v.3 + new questions

As ideas emerge for my research aim, it's been helpful to keep the scaffolding simple about methods I can use to test and model ideas:

Themes/Message > Materials > Form + Structure > Models + Tests

Aim + objectives, v.3

Aim + objectives, v.3

This mind map looks fairly rational and intellectual, but there's a lot of meaning embedded in the thinking.

After a trip to the US to visit family for the first time since losing my father this Spring, I returned to the UK imbued with wanting to work with this loss. I returned with a suitcase full of the materials of Dad's work (he owned a telecommunications installation company). They now inhabit my school studio - wire, cable, zip ties, tiny metal and plastic connectors and fixtures of his trade.

As soon as I could work as a teen up through my undergraduate summers, I worked for my father, shoulder to shoulder pulling cable, punching down wires in the telephone room, making intricate cable connectors with special equipment. Dad taught me hand skills and how to work with a wide range of high-tech, piece-y materials.

Research methods, v.1

Research methods, v.1

Now I find myself wanting to use these materials, or at least the suggestion of them. How can I use them in a manner that feels warm, connected, human, vulnerable and organic? Eva Hesse's work comes to mind—she used industrial materials (rubber, fiberglass, resin, wire) that were imbued with organic vulnerability when I saw them in person in 2013 at the Hamburger Kunsthalle. In contrast is Tara Donovan's work—brilliant but rather otherworldly and intellectual —that dazzled but didn't move me when I saw her installation at the Smithsonian's Renwick Gallery in 2016.

Eva Hesse (not dated),  Contingent 1969 , National Gallery of Australia. Available at: (accessed 30 November 2017).

Eva Hesse (not dated), Contingent 1969, National Gallery of Australia. Available at: (accessed 30 November 2017).

Tara Donovan (2014),  untitled , Pace Gallery. Available at: (accessed 30 November 2017).

Tara Donovan (2014), untitled, Pace Gallery. Available at: (accessed 30 November 2017).

How might an installation, its materials, its form, and flow create belonging? community? connection? disconnection? crossed wires? mixed signals? confusion? being found? feeling lost? These are the small tests and models I'm leaning toward for next term, and am beginning to sketch ideas for now.


Eva Hesse. One More Than One (2013) Hamburger Kunsthalle, Hamburg, Germany. 29 November 2013—2 March 2014. 

Wonder (2016) Renwick Gallery, Washington, DC. 13 November 2015—10 July 2016.

Research Aim + Objectives, v.2 + ideas for research methods

My research aim and objectives are narrowing, thankfully. The scope of what I could learn is enormous, so focus is imperative. I've gone from a bit of a kitchen sink approach to what I want to investigate (image! sound! memory! objects! video!) to a handful of keywords:

Installation art, home, dislocation, belonging, community

In turn, these ideas translate into my Aim and Objectives, v.2.

Aim and objectives, v.2

Aim and objectives, v.2

My initial ideas for methodology include:

  1. Continue my secondary research (papers, articles, critical reviews) on the historical and current contexts of installation art - when did it emerge and why? what differentiates it from other mediums? how might it be particularly appropriate for expressing my themes of interest?
  2. Primary research to document my experience as a newcomer to BAD, a cohort of 25ish MAFA colleagues, and the broader MFA (and maybe BFA) community. I have three "logs" that I've been completing daily since November 1st to capture various aspects of my experience.
  3. Primary research in the form of an invitation to this community to respond to statements such as: "What does home mean to you?" "What object, thing or image represents 'home' to you?" I would need to work out guidelines for the response format (visual, text, sound, video?) and how to process the data, which in turn could be used in an installation (maybe).
  4. Take up a collection of small objects donated by colleagues at BAD (students, faculty, staff?) that they feel represents who they are in our community - then use the objects in an installation.
  5. Create a participatory installation that people could contribute to over its duration. Again, I would need to determine how to process and document my "findings" and conclusions. And then what do I do with the things that viewers contribute?

Things are starting to feel clearer. I'm excited about some of these ideas. It feels interesting and important that the process I use directly impacts and contributes to what I hope to create through my practice: community, a sense of belonging, a place to call "home." If I can figure this out on a small, experimental scale through my research, the applications beyond an academic environment in today's world are powerful.

Tutorial No 1: Reflection-in-Action

My first tutorial with Andrea Medjesi-Jones was yesterday. I jumped on the opportunity to meet with her as soon as possible to get a read on where I am in these early weeks of research. Five weeks into this program, let's say I'm feeling consciously incompetent (better than unconsciously incompetent). It's an uncomfortable place to be, although I realize that if I ride out the void of not knowing where my practice is heading and related anxiety, things will change. We're way too early in the process—scaffolding, as Michele Whiting reminds us—to be putting lids on things.

Getting inspired in my shared studio space at school: mind maps of my current thinking surrounded by work of major installation artists relevant to my research interests.

Getting inspired in my shared studio space at school: mind maps of my current thinking surrounded by work of major installation artists relevant to my research interests.

That said, the mind maps that I've been doing are helping me see some emerging patterns. Within my area of focus (installation art), the themes that I'm interested in investigating remain pretty consistent (dislocation, home, belonging, impermanence, loss). The artists' work to which I'm drawn share similarities in materials (mixed media, easily-obtained materials, ephemeral, temporary, a certain sense of delicacy). And their processes appear to share things like accumulation, amassing, assemblage, casting. 

KOBrien InstArt mindmap detail.jpg

Talking with Andrea affirmed that I'm on the right track and to keep going. To stay open, be curious and not be so quick to discard an idea. When I brushed off the enlarged mind map that I had installed on the studio wall (for lack of anything else at this point), she caught it and said she could see the patterns and colors ending up in my work. I don't take that literally, but do see her point.

A significant insight occurred while talking with her - a moment of reflection-in-action (Gray, 2004). I was describing how starting this degree feels like relocating to a new country, which I've done twice in the past six years. All of the themes I'm working with are relevant: feelings of dislocation to a new, unfamiliar studio; a sense of the ground shifting beneath me; loss of what I've comfortably known; a yearning to feel "at home"; wanting to belong; looking for a "way in" but not knowing how to start; and a sense that this is all moving quickly - the impermanence of any given state. This finite period of "relocating" my art practice is a special time when senses are heightened and the eye notices everything because it's new and unfamiliar.

In that moment, I realized that I can use this experience in my research. It's not clear to me yet what that specifically means, but I am aware that I want to pay attention, capture, and use how I navigate these early weeks and months. My installation art practice will recreate these conditions with every new site (in the studio, for an exhibition, during a residency), as discussed in my last blog post on impermanence. It suddenly seems paramount that I understand and somehow codify this stage of the game.

If I can create a map for the journey now, maybe I don't need to completely reinvent the wheel each time I approach a new installation. Or at least I'll get less lost (Godin, 2017). After all, I've gained knowledge, skill, and created a repeatable process on how to do an overseas move—not only the checklists and tasks, but also how to say goodbye, let go, look around, find my tribe, and land well.

An inkling of what this process might entail includes:

:: Notice what's happening and my response

:: Record the experience through this blog, sketches, mind maps, word lists, video and voice recordings (post them here, use them in my work?)

:: over time, notice the patterns—what is emerging? what is repeatable? what might be helpful next time around?


Gray, C. and Malins, J. (2004). Visualizing research: a guide to the research process in art and design. Aldershot: Ashgate.

Godin, S. (2017) 'The thing about maps', Seth's Blog, 30 October. Available at: (Accessed: 30 October 2017).

Research Aim + Objectives, v.1

In thinking about my research project, some initial clarity is starting to emerge. This is a first stab, an attempt to get my arms around a number of ideas swirling in my head.

Aims and objectives, v.1

Aims and objectives, v.1

After my brief brush during the Elastic Spaces Symposium with how other artists are portraying themes of belonging, dislocation, and community in their work, my thinking has opened up considerably around what mediums I might deploy in my work. I hadn't considered sound or video before, but now I am. This is exciting! Also a bit overwhelming - what do I know about sound and video? And how can I incorporate digital media with my affinity for analog materials like paper, thread, and ephemera?

While I realize that these ideas will morph and re-solidify as I move deeper into the research, it feels good to start putting some stakes in the ground. Only (already!) 3+ weeks into our program, I see that there's no time to dawdle.

Autobiographical Art

Another student asked a question I've been pondering: where to start if one's work is largely based on personal, private experiences? This question has become increasingly insistent for me and was an impetus for me pursuing this degree. The answer is something I've been intuitively doing all along: look at other artists who use personal content in their work.

It feels like I'm getting a bit ahead of myself since I haven't stepped back to respond to basic questions regarding paradigm, worldview, or any other of the weighty academic terms we're learning. Which I will. But for now, I'll capture and start to reflect on the content I've been collecting so there's a record of it here. 

Starting with a series of mind maps feels so much easier than taking a bunch of notes about different artists or themes. Here's a very early version of one of Autobiographical Art.

Mindmap for Autobiographical Art (v1).

Mindmap for Autobiographical Art (v1).

There are clearly tons to drill down into for many of these components. I can already see that I'm taking an inductive approach, allowing the content to evolve as I do the research and notice patterns (Gray, 2004). The highlighted yellow bubbles are trends that I see at this early stage. I envision more mindmaps (Installation Art, Techniques, Materials, a specific artist's influences, etc.). These little maps could well become a key part of my process.

For now, instead of getting hung up on theories and terminology, I'll allow these explorations to unfold, watching for what they want to reveal.


Gray, C. and Malins, J. (2004) Visualizing research: a guide to the research process in art and design. Aldershot: Ashgate, 2004.