Researcher Blog by Rose Butler: Askance?Oblique: A Conference on Visibility

About the author

Rose Butler is a senior lecturer in Fine Art in the Art & Design Research Centre (ADRC) where she is also pursuing a practice-based PhD. Rose works with video, photography, sound, animation and installation. Rose’s Director of Studies is Professor Lise Autogena and supervisors are Professor David Waddington (SHU) and Professor David Cotterrell (University of Brighton).

Inspired by discussions at a postgraduate research seminar hosted by Dr Becky Shaw, a small group of ADRC artist researchers convened Askance?Oblique: A Conference on Visibility which took place on 31 March 2017.  In this post, Rose Butler offers her reflections on the conference.


Askance?Oblique was organised by artist researchers Daniel Bacchus, Rose Butler, Anton Hecht, Sarah Smizz and Miles Umney and hosted by Dr Becky Shaw.

Image: Frances Williams

Image: Frances Williams

Visibility within practice-based research can expose and question visual hierarchies, authority, authorship, the politics of technology, balances of power and representation or prompt dissent. Our understanding of visibility provided a broad contemporary framework that prompted a range of proposals that enabled a discussion between the multiple disciplines within art, visual practice and participatory practice.

Image: Simmonds/Holmes, 2017

Image: Simmonds/Holmes, 2017

The presentations throughout the day were lively, personal and sincere, although the areas of interest were broad, the discussions carried breadth and depth and traversed, with unexpected ease, interdisciplinary research areas. Our speakers included Hannah Ebben, Jackie Haynes, Gary Simmonds and Dale Holmes, Chella Quint, Frances Williams, Andrew Osborne, Rose Butler, Cyril Eshareturi and Daniel Bacchus.

‘How did language come to be more trustworthy than matter?’ [1]

In the morning we discussed our notions of visibility, proposing that it is perhaps, mutually conceived. There are occasions in artworks and in the presentation of artefacts when, by making things more visible, important elements, detail and nuance disappear. A text message A-Z conversation of images, through the language of painting took place. We were seduced with the material qualities of paint, mark making, colour, form, fluidity, opacity, shapes, strokes and lushness. We ended the morning session on the invisibility of menstruation, why are periods blue?


‘To be seen, seeable, embodied, to block something from anotherʼs view, to take as well as give away the very means of seeing, these are the new terms of battle. With it comes a new horizon filled with possibilities as well as risks.’ [2]


In the afternoon, prompted by a discussion on Gregory Sholette, dark matter occupied the room. What started as the invisibility of 99% of artists who are not rewarded by the art market, then presented a discussion of funding structure, terminology and legislation. If the words ‘art subsidy’ changes to ‘art investment’ what does that mean, what does it expose, reveal or get rid of?

Image: Close Down LD50

Image: Close Down LD50

The campaign group Close Down LD50, discussed why this wasn’t a debate on freedom of speech but a campaign against a neo-Nazi organizing centre. Language, it’s use, freedoms and expression wove through the discussions throughout the day. Orwell’s Newspeak stripped language to its bones, whilst Twitter and Facebook emoji’s responded to the recent attack on Parliament. Images of the new Anti Migrant wall at Calais evoked the complexities and failures of the refugee crisis. The ‘Silences Framework’ presented a methodological approach to hear detail, voices, and dynamics that sit within silences. We ended on trying to represent presence through virtual reality, can it ever be represented and if so where do the boundaries between subject and object lie?


In the evening we finished the event with a brilliantly funny, ironic .. or not, sometimes bizarre, film screening with beautifully crafted work from:

  • Heather Ross and Rob Mullender
  • Paul Harrison
  • Owen Davey
  • Hollington and Kyprianou
  • Jonn Herschend
  • Rose Butler
  • Sally O’Reilly
  • Maud Craigie
  • Becky Shaw and Rose Butler
  • Rob Gawthrop and Jo Millet


“This was an excellent, professional and stimulating conference that has already had resonance for me beyond the event itself in terms of intellectual impact and newly formed networks. The day was constructed around a broad but nevertheless very well conceived central theme, allowing for a range of topics and medium of presentation. As a prospective PhD student it provided a platform for me to encounter a diverse group of academics and was a hugely positive first engagement with SHU.” – Joe Hancock


[1] Barad, K (2003) Posthumanist Performativity: Toward an Understanding of

How Matter Comes to Matter

[2] Sholette, G. (2003) Dark Matter: Activist Art and the Counter Public Sphere.


Askance?Oblique was organised by artist researchers Daniel Bacchus, Rose Butler, Anton Hecht, Sarah Smizz and Miles Umney and hosted by Dr Becky Shaw. The event was supported by C3RI and SHU Doctoral School. Further information on Askance?Oblique is available on the conference website including videos of conference speakers.


Please note: Views expressed are those of the Author(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of SHU, C3RI or the C3RI Impact Blog.