Dr Rhiannon Jones, Post-Doctoral Researcher, School of Arts:
I'd just like to start by acknowledging that this project is the result of hard work and dedication from a team of individuals within Higher Education and industry, University of Derby students and freelancers from across the art sector whom without their contribution and belief both in me and this project we wouldn't have opportunities currently manifesting themselves to us including opportunities such as speaking with you all this evening. So thank you very much and thank you to everybody who's supported the project to get it where it is today. Slide please.
As a precursor to S.H.E.D I thought it was important to share that my research has always focused on the artistry of conversation and how through artistic curatorial and socially engaged contexts we can create spaces to talk. So as part of an AHRC funded project awarded called 'new research trajectories' that enabled me a few years ago to set the foundations for another project called 'In Dialogue' which I founded with Heather Connolly to investigate on an international perspective how artists and researchers use dialogue in their practice and research.
So it was at an In Dialogue conference in 2016 hosted at Nottingham Contemporary I spoke with Professor Grant Kester from the University of San Diego who's world renowned as an art historian and an academic within social practice. So we discussed the immersion genre of contemporary art practice that promotes conversation as an art form in its own right and how that activates evolving discourses that are emancipated beyond fixed identities, institutional viewpoints and official rhetoric and therefore allows the potential to produce new knowledge and understanding that goes beyond the limits of normal social or political communication and engagement and that really planted the seed for thinking about the social turn, as Claire Bishop refers to, and the ideas of place making, design, performative and artistic blended approaches to practice and for me thinking about site-specific work whereby a work of art could be designed for a particular location and could have an interrelationship with both a location and the people. Slide please.
So my research really places artistic practice as the primary research methodology and this is supported by the researcher writing by Wesling, practices research by Nelson 2013 and also considers artistic practice about how it offers insight into the way that we address long-term issues and impacts of projects and the art is a social action model whereby art is the mechanism for social engagement and change through participation as proposed by Scholar and Bassett in 2018.
So for me it's about a process of investigation leading to new insights effectively shared and for me this is absolutely critical about how research bridges the gap and reaches out to society to fulfil a civic duty. Slide please. So we jump forward a few projects and a few years to 2019 and I'm stood looking at my in-laws old garden shed.
I was offered it as an additional storage space for my large art studio which somehow had already started to reach capacity. I started to think about the materiality of a shed, how it is a familiar space it's non-threatening, it's a space for curiosity for storage and for depositing things. So what could shed stand. For so for me it became an acronym for social higher education depot. Social because I was interested in the shed as a potential space for social interaction. Higher Education well i was now working as a post-doc researcher at the University of Derby thinking again about what HE means to me and depot because I was thinking about spaces whether they're large or small and the power that a depot could have as a place for knowledge exchange. So that's how social higher education depot or S.H.E.D came into existence.
So what if a shed was no longer rooted in a back garden? what if it sprung up where it's needed most as an accessible space, not a storage space for objects, but for the storage of conversations. Slide please . So welcome to shed a flat pack, pop-up mobile art space. It was created as a space entirely dedicated to artistic research through public engagement and in this slide you can see the first piloting of this idea which was supported by Arts Council England with an exhibition in Belfast. It also was a live module last year with interior design students from level two talking through this idea and through possible designs for shed and in March this year we actually became a community interest company and a first spin out for the University of Derby. Slide please.
So this brings me on to SHEDDING. So SHEDDING is the research activity that is derived from the project S.H.E.D and the emerging questions through which the practice's research is emerging, how can we move a physical structure of a shed and consider the theory of social practice or place making as defined by Dr Kara Courage Director of Tate Exchange. She defines it as the granular, the nuance, the local and understanding of how it is formed shaped and reshaped by people and to consider the theory of place as a structure that contains elements that are distributed in relation to the ideas of coexistence and that every element of place adjoins with another in a specific location and as Michelle de Satos defines place as an instantaneous configuration of multiple positions. Slide please.
So this made me look at S.H.E.D, at the configuration of S.H.E.D, I laid it out I started to look at the individual sections panels components I started to consider the play of language of S.H.E.D how can, through design, we think about creating a transformative space for people but also thinking about a space that can transform. How can we think about S.H.E.D and SHEDDING and the SHEDDING of preconceptions about people and place. Slide please.
So these started to create a series of research questions, the main one how do we design for dialogue? How can we use the premise of a garden shed and turn that into a mobile and reconfigurable space for the shedding of preconceptions and how does artistic research act as a vehicle to engineer and design a transformative space for conversation. There are other sub-questions now emerging on cultural, social and political discourse on the theory of place and on the impact that S.H.E.D is having with its partners.
Professor Babbage wrote recently in her paper about the S.H.E.D that it was launched with the aim of supporting co-creative practice art-making that invites participation and explores real issues that people want to discuss and the inbuilt dynamism of its transformable and transforming physical structure seeks to model an equally dynamic dialogic process from the miniature scale retained whatever its configuration lends an intimacy to that exchange, the playful acronym stamp S.H.E.D as a social space a place of experiment and discovery its status as a depot suggests both the transient flow through it and storage within it of materials kept safe until needed.
S.H.E.D announces big ambitions while foreground in its own humble means it is in the end just a shed, makeshift no more than adequate for its purpose only semi-solid, it is unavoidably open and vulnerable to the outside world. As theorist Mark Auge sets out in relation to the idea of non-places and super modernity we think about how we live in a world where traditionally ethnologists think of experience in terms of a cultural contact between two things: the thing it is studying and the place it's residing.
Perhaps S.H.E.D represents a very specific position as an object - it's a shed but the experience that's made possible through it activates it as a site of cultural contact. In relation to design and the writings of Pallasmaa in The Eyes of the Skin of architecture, the senses describe the experience of architectural design as multi-sensory qualities of space matter and scale are measured equally through the senses. In this respect, we can think of S.H.E.D perhaps in a human form of being in the world. Psychologist James Gibson regards the human senses as aggressively seeking mechanisms. The S.H.E.D too is made of a series of mechanisms. Slide please.
So S.H.E.D is designed to consolidate researchers practice and it's intended to foster research and showcase best practices to inform discussions about important issues relating to people, public and spaces in our changing and involving societies. I know this slide is busy but it's a very important one because I would argue that there's now another position being made for S.H.E.D and one that has come about due to the pandemic the big thing now for me is about a turn on the definition of social practice and place making or as I'm calling it now place-shaping. How do we reshape practice? How do we reshape and support cultural and civic regeneration and not make more unnecessary? How do we become more resourceful in thinking about what we already have? What do we just need to reshape and repurpose based on need and support educational opportunities? Slide please.
So here are some examples of practical design applications in the piloting of the S.H.E.D project so even though I mentioned there are eleven configurations that have been designed and piloted in different projects, these are three just to illustrate to you the variety in which they've been used. So this first one. It was used as a part of a devising process, it was used indoors and outdoors and this is the S.H.E.D being used as a set on a stage. Next slide please.
So this is it actually at Derby Theatre in the car park as part of departure lounge festival. It was being used in another form of configuration ready for some film screenings. Slide please.
And here it is most recently actually out at the Bank Holiday weekend in August where it went to the National Justice museum and we had the public come along and experience the S.H.E.D in this configuration and were able to sit with Greta in the S.H.E.D and contemplate on what people thought issues of justice and what they would protest for would be possible for them. So really now S.H.E.D started to begin to transform the way we look and engage with both the S.H.E.D and conversation and how through this body of artistic practice we're starting to see how experiences really deeply central and embedded in the research enquiry, whether that be through photographs, video, film works, music, dance, debates, all of these meanings are a part of a process of engagement and the S.H.E.D never dwelling in any one place for too long.
Arts council released some papers this week which recognised that now is the time to really support the whole cultural ecology so a project like S.H.E.D that is spanning across these different segments of the arts is really starting to think about how we can drive forward some of that ambition and through the use of S.H.E.D as an anchor point as a way to bring people together for a shared goal. Slide please.
So in terms of producing a body of work it comes in many forms as you can see listed on the screen and i think the emphasis here is really that this is a new project it's still really much in its infancy stage but it is starting to branch out now from pilot work to thinking about delivery of some really large projects that we're starting to already work on that we're committed to for the anything between six months to three years and we've also now got an international project whereby S.H.E.D is now the UK partner in a project with DES which is about looking at um the post-pandemic situation using S.H.E.D as a way to capture what life has been like for people and how we can start to think about well-being and ways in which community can come together and support one another so we're really excited that we're also now starting to engage in international projects with 10 other countries for that.
So it's an ambition to both grow the newly formed spin-out company as a CIC and also my research ambition for this to be sufficient to become an impact case study for REF 2028 and key here really is that the pandemic has increased demand for S.H.E.D both I think from firstly and a design perspective because it's outdoor, it's an adaptable space but also because of the ethos of S.H.E.D that it's about creating a space and offering a space for urgent and critical contemporary conversations to be had. Slide please.
So in terms of then the civic engagement and knowledge exchange for S.H.E.D Amanda Baxendale very kindly, when I asked her so you know what does S.H.E.D do? from her perspective she was able to help me to to understand the impact that S.H.E.D potentially has going forward to think about how it's part of the knowledge exchange and think about how the reported activity through the higher education business and community interaction survey will be in two parts, firstly within the survey in terms of audience and participant numbers engaging with S.H.E.D and secondly because it's a community interest company now thinking about the way that partners use it or the way that it might then have other kinds of commissions and royalty projects involved. So S.H.E.D closely aligns with the University of Derby's civic agenda and strategic approach to creating positive impact and working towards improving social mobility and providing a vehicle through S.H.E.D for opportunities to access inspirational and educational content outside of formal organisational structures. In this way S.H.E.D creates a community from cultural experiences that is inclusive and open to all and it's developing a culture of curiosity through art and education. Slide please. So since it's launch it has here are some of the numbers we have a core or team of eight people that work on the project. We have 11 project partners at the moment.
We have 12 stakeholders. We've engaged with over 4000 people we've worked with over 1351 children who have seen shed in their school playground. We've directly worked with 260 young people and we've worked with 524 individual households as well and 187 artists think we've now started to enter into a period of transition as a CIC moving from pilot projects and proposed research questions into a careful curated range of research projects and a wide range of partners. Can we have the slide please if possible.
So you can see the partners listed here and it's been really important to me to be able to establish those relationships with local experts and a wide diversity of partners in order to give S.H.E.D agency and for people to have agency themselves to create a space for them for discussions about things that are really important to them. So S.H.E.D gives a licence to others to explore a new set of conditions S.H.E.D is always temporary and always in the role of a visitor in someone else's immediate environment but we provide a set of conditions where we could say what do you want this to be, how do you want it to work for you. Slide please.
So the themes are all around justice, sustainability and equality and you can see from the map here that there are a lot of projects and a lot of different places that we're starting to tour to or that we've already been touring to. Just to give you a sense of the diversity of these practices they're centred around cultural renewal of being a vehicle for research and for other researchers and around our civic responsibility both as a CIC and as a research project representing the University of Derby.
So the project we're doing in Mansfield is working with artists who have physical disabilities they're going to be creating a show in the S.H.E.D. We're going to Buxton and working with the Heritage Trust working with them as the commission project to work on their high street renewal programme over the next two years. We're going to Leeds and we're going to have the S.H.E.D at a job centre. We're working with the housing association there and architects and the community living in a high-rise tower block to talk about changes to their living situation. We're working with Derby County community football trust. We're creating a series of podcasts at the moment with young people capturing issues and their voice. We're going to install the S.H.E.D in different guerrilla locations and we're going to project and broadcast animations and their voice into different places where perhaps their voice wouldn't be heard.
So socially engaged practices. Slide please. Are for me a way of empowering and empowering the disempowered and including the excluded and I believe that together through collective projects like S.H.E.D we can start to achieve radical and remarkable transformations but they're not quick and they're not easy solutions and not quick and not easy projects the conflicts and contradictions between art and problem solving, the bridging of the gaps between privileged institutions and socially excluded groups, the need to develop new appropriate cultural and critical contexts for these practices but just some of the issues that still need to be unpicked through this project and it's on that note that I'm delighted to hand over to Professor Alex Nunn who will share some of his insights into how these issues are being explored through his research and his use of S.H.E.Ds. Thank you.
Professor Alex Nunn:
Hi welcome and thank you very much everyone and great to be with you all if a little bit distanced. I won't say very much I'm conscious of time just to say a few words. So my interest in using S.H.E.D has been about integrating social science research with artistic dissemination and also arts based research methods in terms of collecting data but I think what all of you will have noticed from that the presentation you just heard one of the things that I've really got out of uh working with S.H.E.D this inanimate thing is the enthusiasm that Rhiannon and her partners put into the project.
I mean I'm sure many of you are exhausted looking at the map of all the places that Rhiannon has taken S.H.E.D in the recent past and will be in the future and I've learned absolutely tonnes of her about dialogue and using space to create research opportunities both for data collection dissemination. I've used S.H.E.D on two distinct occasions and one's primarily for dissemination and one's primarily for data collection although both involved the other as well.
So the first time was I worked for a period of time with a number of drama, theatre, well with one theatre company and some colleagues from Derby theatre with some young people experiencing some challenges in their lives and who created a piece of performance theatre about the theme of home. So the the piece became about how they conceptualised home both in a micro sense but also in the place of Derby and then we used as in that picture exactly there the S.H.E.Ds to disseminate that to an audience in Derby city centre one July Saturday afternoon but also and that was incredibly powerful young people did a great job.
The S.H.E.D was really fantastic in terms of being able to showcase the themes that they had identified in terms of them and their their lives and so on but it also allowed us to collect an audience around the S.H.E.D and we had iPads on little pods and we used those as a mechanism to collect data back off the audience but we also surveyed people that were sat in the audience and all stood in the audience watching and listening to that performance and that allowed us to do two things.
In and of itself it's only a small scale project but what it did do was kind of a proof of concept thing about artistic dissemination of research evidence or artistic collection of research evidence to begin with, artistic dissemination of that data to a public audience, a non-academic audience, who then who we then collected data on impact of that performance on their understanding of some of the issues that the young people were talking about.
So it was a really good, it was only a small scale project, but it was a really good kind of proof of concept way of using S.H.E.D for those purposes and indebted to Rhiannon for helping me to work my way through that process and then the second way we we used it was exactly as shown on the slide again was as part of a consultative tour, engaging primary school children throughout the city, I think we went to three schools across three different weeks, again artistic methods to engage the young people and again it's like things connected to the first but were about what they wanted to see from Derby in the future, places they felt safe, places they didn't feel safe and so on.
And we fed that into a and the needs analysis for a major arts participation project across the city for the next three years and if you if you look me up on UDORA you'll be able to read that report and if you want to know anything about Derby it's got lots of data and also views of various communities from across Derby about the city.
Now I'm doing this as a bit of a sales pitch actually because I think that S.H.E.D is a really good opportunity from for research from across a range of disciplines to work with Rhiannon, to work with artists, both to collect and to disseminate data and to engage non-standard academic audiences, so not non-standard people, but a different audience as to what we usually to who we usually speak to in a in a conference room.
So it's great for the civic University agenda which big thing for the University and and the strategic framework of course but it's also great for sectoral metrics around production of non-academic production of papers with non-academic partners for example so the first paper from this researchers has been published with non-academic partners as authors and the young people as authors. It's great for REF outcomes. I can totally see a kind of a single impact case study but also other people might use S.H.E.D in separate subject based impact case studies in the future. It's fantastic for inter-disciplinarity and research funders increasingly love that kind of inter-disciplinarity. It's not always easy to get inter-disciplinary research published but really good to put in funding proposals that you're going to use different forms of dissemination for just writing a book or disseminating through academic conferences.
So I'm just conscious of the time, so I'm going to wrap up there but well done Rhiannon really great to hear even some of the stuff I didn't know about and I'd love to talk to people more about the possibilities.
Professor Paul Lynch, Chair of the University of Derby Professoriate:
Excellent. Thank you both very much. An absolutely inspiring set of work and great that S.H.E.D is the first spin-out company for the University. So really good from a commercial point of view. Well done all. We're running short on time but one question, the number of questions come through from various other talks we haven't been able to get them all, what we'll do is we'll post them on to speakers and they can get back to you after the event so we will hopefully get back to everybody but one question for you from our colleague Robert Burstow - Great Rhiannon do you have any thoughts on why so much contemporary art has become dialogic and participatory?
Dr Rhiannon Jones:
Thank you and thanks Alex for being so generous with your your encouragement and enthusiasm with S.H.E.D. Robert in answer to your question I don't think that participatory practice is anything new, it's been something that's been going on for a very long time in art history terms. I think in terms of the way it's been thought of now in relation to place making and the consultation processes are being reconsidered and that's why I think that we are now finding ourselves in a situation where, for example, we've been commissioned to work with the National Justice Museum on a big project for four weeks of the school summer holiday next year to work with the public about themes around what you protest for and what ideas of justice are.
We're working with Leeds because they recognise that you know through the S.H.E.D they can have conversations with people that are going to the job centre or that are going to through housing association and talk to them about how to work with the public more about redesigning parts of the city and it's the same with the Buxton project working with the Heritage Trust it's always about thinking about how that participatory and dialogic practice is now being viewed and recognised as an important part of facilitating conversations and I think through the guise of artistic practice it appeases some of those concerns that people might have to talk to and you know to other disciplines. It's kind of like a hidden a hidden subtle way of being able to put down some of those boundaries and to just talk to people in a safe space through something like a garden S.H.E.D.