Susceptibility & Submission: practice as research PhD with a digital arts focus

by Caitlin


I have been so busy recently, that I haven’t had time to reflect on the fact that I have been awarded a full scholarship to work on a practice led research PhD over the next three years. This is truly quite amazing for me, as it means I can work full time on both producing new work, and situating my work in depth, within current and historical critical theory. This. is. so. exciting. As a working artist, like most artists and creative practicioners I have felt endlessly frustrated at not being able to dive fully into my practice, due to having to make money through a second or other job. Often these jobs are  challenging in themselves, so that there is no energy or time left to nourish a thriving practice. This opportunity ensures that I don’t have to have that second job, and can choose commission and partnerships strategically, integrating other funded work into the research practice. It goes without saying, that I will later be qualified to teach other creative practicioners, which is also a fulfilling and exciting prospect.

After getting over the initial shock of being short-listed for interview I spent two intense weeks preparing, and it seems that the hard work paid off. Although I was so nervous in the interview room, that I could hardly sit down. So enough emotional detail on the lead up to this new reality. What will I be doing?

Well the answer is, I’m not quite sure, but I do have a proposed framework, although I expect my interests and influences to shift and change shape, as I start to make my enquiries in more depth. On a practical front, the PhD is funded by the 3D3 Centre for Doctoral Training, which is a partnership between Falmouth University, Plymouth University and the University of the West of England, Bristol (UWE Bristol). Its aim is to train a new generation of interdisciplinary practitioner-researchers. Artists who research, and linking up arts with academic practices, while staying true to the physical, technical and non verbal process and techniques of making art.  I will be based at UWE, with Professor Jon Dovey as my supervisor.

These three universities, all located in South West England, are committed to fostering innovation through practice-led research in the creative and performing arts, especially the interrelated fields of digital design, digital media and digital arts (including music and performance).

Funded by the Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC), 3D3 trains researchers to meet the creative and design opportunities of the future, exploring the possibilities and challenges presented by rapidly evolving technologies, including the interface between digital processes and traditional methods. It offers a unique opportunity for creative scholar-practitioners working at the forefront of a rapidly expanding research landscape.

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Sanctuary, Festival no.6, Sound experience, 2014


Through my practice led research I will be building on my sound art and social research / narrative practice. Projects like Sanctuary, and the work I generated while Artist in residence at Santa Fe Arts Institute give an example of this, as does a new commission I’ve recently received from Somerset House for 2016. I am also really interested in exploring my working interest in relational aesthetics, participatory art, and art as a platform for social expression, voting systems, direct response to ideas, politics, spaces, public design, and art practices that enable co authorship and co creation. So, separating the artist from the role of creator / celebrity personality, and all the excessive fame and glory (see YBA generation) that goes with it, to artist as facilitator / social commentator.

I’m  interested in working with new and existing digital technology to explore how live audience narratives can be recorded in situ, and feed back into a sound installation, as well as the idea of integrating digital interfaces into public urban places. I guess simply put, how can sound and mutli sensory design help immerse people in a wide range of stories within public space.

‘In an era of changing planetary circumstances, personal attention to immediate surroundings seems like a manageable first step toward some huge cultural shift.’

Malcom McCullough, Prof architecture and Interactive Design

Another key theme is looking at how to privilege the act of listening and embodying over the act of looking in the context of contemporary art, and popular digital culture. My feeling is that we spend so much time interacting with the very limited physical sphere of the computer and internet, that the time has come to integrate digital technology into a physical landscape, and a physical and embodied landscape that relates directly and specifically to public space. There is a nice quote here to further illustrate this idea.

“The age of digital interaction using only a mouse and screen is now over.”

Schafer & Gendolla, 2010

My specific research question sets out to answer the following question through the generation of new interactive, site-specific soundscapes and a written thesis and series of essays.

“How can sensor based technology provide responsive and embodied experiences of site specific narratives, histories and identities?”

To unpack this a bit, I am specifically going to be exploring

  • How can motion technology be used to enhance sound and touch based experience of public, urban space?
  • How can sonic based motion technology enhance public experience of stories of place?
  • How is narrative experience altered if sight is limited, and an emphasis of experience is located within the body (touch) and the auditory (sound).
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Sanctuary, Sound experience, Wilderness Festival, 2014

The rest, well the rest is yet to come. And I have to finish all my other projects over the summer before I can really completely connect with the reality of this. But basically, I am quite over the moon!