Researcher Blog by PhD Candidate Smizz: World As Medium: A Space For Space
About the author
Sarah Smith, aka Smizz, is a doctoral student in the Art & Design Research Centre (ADRC) and holds degrees in both Fine Art and Radiotherapy from Sheffield Hallam University. Smizz is pursuing interdisciplinary research into how creative art practices can help inform patients going through radiotherapy treatment.
In 2016 Smizz was awarded a Vice-Chancellor’s PhD Scholarship to pursue interdisciplinary research in creative art practice and healthcare. In this post Smizz offers us a reflection on working in the Art & Design PhD Studio Space embedded into S1 Artspace, Park Hill, Sheffield.
The importance of research is that it reflects the World. Whatever World that is.
Making art, doing research, writing about things is all really hard. It can be hard because it’s really important that whatever we do as researchers, whatever we make, it has to speak to and from, and about the World. — Whether that’s revealing hidden voices to be heard in the World, or investigating being in the World through virtual reality, looking how we’re being monitored and watched in the World, or how we play games to deal with the World; the World is endless. It’s messy and complex, and irrational and big, but it needs the freedom to think, feel, speak and to be seen – or not seen.
There’s something about space that gives you some freedom to do some of that. Space gives you space to think, and grow, and play, and ultimately help to see the World. That’s why our amazingly beautiful and brutalist PhD art studio up at S1 Artspace, Park Hill is pretty perfect for research and making, and procrastinating.
It’s not just it’s high ceilings and massive windows with views of the sunset over the city on clear sky evenings that make it special. (Though that has its charm). But how the space functions within various communities (Park Hill, the University, S1 Artspace, etc.), and how it’s the glue that holds us all together within the Art & Design PhD community.
Bruce Mau generated an Incomplete Manifesto For Growth and I think about it often in relation to our PHD studio.
Allow events to change you. You have to be willing to grow. Growth is different from something that happens to you. You produce it. You live it. The prerequisites for growth: the openness to experience events and the willingness to be changed by them.
Every day is an adventure in here. A time for growth.
Walk through the space and there’s desks with works in progress, from miniature models, to 10 pages of photos printed off the internet of people crying from Marina Abramovic performance at the MoMA, to diagrams of radiation-thresholds drawn onto the window. Even the smallest piece of work shows a bigger picture because it’s part of the World.
Sometimes you can walk in, on a Bank Holiday no less, and the whole space has been moved around and there’s two massive projections with two people coding interactive elements on 4 big computers for a future gallery show.
Process, here in the space, is more important than outcomes.
We don’t hide our mistakes (or at least, not all of them). Instead, we try and go deeper and learn from them, or find them even more interesting than our original ideas.
We order Chinese, and use Deliveroo on days where deadlines loom, dead-ends make us re-think things, or inspiration is at a high and we don’t want to leave for tea.
Sometimes we just get together to celebrate, as a community, because doing PhD research can at times be a lonely pursuit. But this lot always calls me back when I feel a bit lost.
We buy endless pints of milk and M&S chocolate & ginger biscuits as fuel for the fire within us. We shelter from the rain, and come back when we feel vulnerable from the World.
We gather for seminars. Photocopies of papers litter the tables and sketchbooks with pens are at the ready. Our discussions are often full of resistance, freedom, and criticality: where we talk about how we as artists and thinkers can tactically claim a World.
I’m forever saying and asking stupid questions here. But it sharpens my pencil somehow. I feel like it’s a space where it’s critical but non-judgemental; and there’s a freedom to that. This is often a rare combination, but it’s necessary for good research and making. Here at our PhD studio space, we share our time and hopes to help support each other.
Sometimes that’s practising our conference presentations, for events such as METHOD or an international screen-writing conference in New Zealand, taking field trips to Stoke-On-Trent to see someones solo-show, sometimes it’s looking at work at the studio, sometimes it’s having a re-think about ethical issues, and sometimes it’s just having fun which then leads into a kick-ass collaborative presentation (with matching t-shirts).
Whatever our hurdles and the stresses of the PhD; whether ill-health, injury, a momentary lack of self-belief, a moment of getting lost, being over-whelmed with too many commitments, we seem to be there for each other, even by accident. To help with the World. And this space seems to help foster this.
And when it gets difficult, we still seem to get to laugh together, make and send GIFs to each other through Facebook messenger, celebrate others successes, run after the ice-cream van on the hotter early spring days during breaks. And this somehow ends up becoming the starting point of a research method or looking at processes.
The point one shouldn’t miss, is that in order to try and unravel the experience of the World in any and all of its aspects—and seeing the World in the light of particular aspects, we need a (relatively neutral) space to bring it into, reflect on it, and do all of this in. Not just the hardcore data or analysing of research.
A few years ago when I fell chronically ill, I had an intense reflective period of my life and what it meant to be alive – to be in the World. I looked for patterns and turning points to wonder and see if any of it is significant.
But the thing that I kept coming back to was about leaving a (my) mark on the World. This plagued me. It still does. But this past year or so I have learnt that my community is part of the answer to this.
Many forget that it’s a rare privilege to find something you care about so deeply and be able to make it part of your life. Getting to undertake a PhD is an even rarer privilege. Getting to do something you love, and also then having a space to make, think, and play, and wander and wonder and hope, and to be part of something like a community is even more incredible and invaluable.
Our PhD studio space gives me a home to my constant context: the low hum that powers each day – which is the people who give my research process, art practice and life texture and joy and depth. The space gives me a place, and the gift of just being a part of a World.
Image credits: Smizz, 2017 & 2018
Please note: Views expressed are those of the Author(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of SHU, C3RI or the C3RI Impact Blog.