Enquiry

Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin…

I am an interdisciplinary artist whose experimental arts practice explores personal interests and preoccupations as I ask, 

“What does it mean to be human in a technologically pervasive, ecologically uncertain world”.

My current academic research project is two fold. That is to say that I am investigating two questions concurrently. 

What is the tension I experience when I interact with CGI Software as a stopmotion animator working in the animation industry and the visual arts?

How can I communicate my practice-based research to others in Academia and the wider research community?

So, Why these questions and not something else?

Well, these questions originate in my practice and resonate with other practitioner’s experience in the animation community. This can be in either commercial practice or as an interdisciplinary artist. The way in which my practice straddles art and industry while also allowing for an ‘insider’ view, arguably provides a valuable research perspective in what is essentially a practical discipline.

What do I mean by formal? All practitioners conduct research in the process of their everyday work, so what exactly is formal research? I have been researching in my creative work for over twenty years (although it has been said that I have been engaged in this topic of enquiry all of my life), and so what is academic research? This can depend on the community in which the research is conducted but in Academia it can best be defined by a credible methodology. Art Schools generally define practice research as either practice-based or practice-led research. The AHRC provides a sound definition.

But why is my research of value? The field of animation studies is a young one. It is a field that is heavily theorised by non-practitioners working in academia who are necessarily writers, reporters and observers of practice. This is problematic for the field of animation studies as it supports a very strong ‘outsider’ view of Animation. As research informs industry, education, innovation and of course economic decisions, it steers the discipline and informs new practitioners entering the field. My informed view is that although   an outsider can skilfully interview and observe practice, they will bring their privilege and bias to the table. If a writer observes an animator their terminology and understanding will be filtered through a model of language rather than that which is experiential or tacit. If an outsider observes the product of practice, the film, on screen their view will be flat and two dimensional whereas a stop motion animators perspective will be spatio-temporal. This matters. 

When I began my formal research there was very little practice research in the academy. I wanted to improve my own practice by better understanding the tensions within it and I wanted to help improve the life of other practitioners, giving voice to their experience aswell as my own. 

I initially spent a year reading philosophy and literature. I engaged in academic combat with others in the research community and listened to general discourse in the field. I located my research in the field of Animation Studies and other disciplines at the periphery of my research interests. I conducted practical research (literally in the field) to test my ontological and epistemological models. This process would go on to inform my methodology and the methods I would apply in the investigation of my research project. My early experiments defined the ontological and epistemological questions in my practice. That is to say, the process of experimentation helped me to better understand what the world was and how I think I come to know what I think I know.

So, how did I discover the topic of my practice-based research enquiry? My topic of enquiry began on the same way one might try to start an old rotary lawn mower, tugging on the string with all ones might only to end up with a disappointing non-starter. Twice. Then one day, while sitting in a supervision session I was asked, ‘What do you do in practice?’ Or rather, ‘What does your practice do?’. Opposite to me sat a theoretician and a visual artist, neither of which had first hand experience of making animation.

And so I began to recall my work. I described my creative process, my research track to date and the products of my practice. Although I was able to eloquently verbalise a description of my practice, I grew increasingly frustrated as I fumbled around trying to find the ‘right’ terms to describe my work. I began to borrow words and contort meanings to describe how I worked in practice. It became clear that I needed to describe my work in the language of Academia, or at least I needed to use the philosophical terminology of the Art School if I was to effectively communicate my practice research within this arena. I simple didn’t have the words, I couldn’t show them the ‘models’ in my head. They didn’t have access to the common experience which came so easily in the studio.

I could easily pinpoint the point of tension (the thing that really irked me) as I connected the dots, or rather pinpoints that exploded like tiny bubbles of dye along my own messy research track. I knew that I could learn new software easily but my interaction with CG tools was tense. My experience seemed common to others working in the stopmotion animation community, some in the industry and others in the visual arts. It also had roots in my formative biography in which my father trained as a precision engineer and worked in the motor industry while I experienced the home computing revolution, coding graphics at the age of 10 And additionally being the proud owner of a small wardrobe full of hand made puppets. 

While attempting to answer questions relating to the field of animation studies such as, What Is animation? What is practice-based research? and How does one claim authority to ones own knowledge? the main focus of my enquiry was evaluating the tension I experienced when I use CGI Software. A tension that I could only describe at that point, as a sense of disconnection. I asked what was, ‘disconnected’? and, could I reconnect the disconnect?

There was much discussion in the field about what Animation actually was, how it was defined or whether it needed defining at all. I read the theoretical discourse but the view of Animation practice proposed by theoreticians simply did not hold for me. Although I could understand many counter positions, I could not relate to the theoreticians perspective as it just wasn’t how I experienced animation in practice. I worked through many of the assumptions held about Animation in my ‘nature’ experiments.

Ontologically, Quantum Physics became central to my world model early in my Animation practice. It was a model that had multiple-dimensionality and uncertainty at its heart. To me, the world was an uncertain, shifting dynamic one that could only be filtered through my limited senses, filtered through my personal values and the collective mind. 

My emerging methodology was a difficult one to navigate as ontological, epistemological, physiological, psychological and neurological uncertainties were highly problematic in the certainty of Academic enquiry.

In these early years, I produced puppets, props and sets for stop motion Animation. This gave me valuable access to the experiences of other practitioners and allowed for many informal, animated discussions to take place. By placing myself as a practitioner within the investigation and openly disclosing personal and cultural values and beliefs I could access communities of practice in the industry, arts and Academia.

I began my research project by first identifying a set of assumptions which were drawn from the fields of Animation, Visual Art and Product Design.

I asked was the tension…

  • One of cultural values and Beliefs embedded in material culture? 
  • One of haptic/tactile feedback in periphery device design? 
  • One of behaviour and embedded processes and practice? 
  • One of access to the ‘stuff’ of computation?
  • One of software interface design?
  • One of cognitive load in the learning process? 

… or something else.

By slowly working through the set of assumptions, by pushing the investigation further in practice, by going deeper and deeper, by questioning personal and cultural world models and the evolution of a sound methodology; I was able to clearly define what the tension one in my practice and how this related to others in the field.

This story is not over… 

I am currently conducting experiments in the triangulation between human-nature interaction, human-computer interaction and human-material interaction from within my experimental 3D animation practice. I am interested in VR Narrative and XR Immersive mixed reality animation which explores the relationship between human physiological and psychological response in ‘natural’ environments. I using the term Modelled Interactive Animation (MIA) as a hook on which to hang my concepts and around which I can experiment and explore further.

So, as I turn my focus to the world to discover more about human-technological evolution, humans impact on the natural environment and the emergence of conflict between social groups that leads to mass migration and war; I am motivated to discover how to counter or improve these vital interactions while also engaging with the ethical implications of this very human interaction.