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: http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/2017/10/the-thing-about-maps.html (Accessed: 30 October 2017).