CPM 6 | Defending Creative Practice

StoryLab Workshop
Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge, LAB107
Fri 27th Sept 2019


Dr. Catherine Dormor (RCA)
Dr Fabrizio Galeazzi (ARU)
Dr. Senir Dinar (ARU)
Dr. David Ryan (ARU)
Chair: Dr. Harriet Riches (ARU)

About the Speakers

Dr. Catherine Dormor
(Head of Research, Royal College of Art)

Catherine works to oversee, develop and expand the current MPhil/PhD programme at the Royal College of Art. She works with colleagues to manage the RCA’s externally funded research degree provision and future applications to RCUK and other funders. With a background in both Maths and Textiles, Catherine is a practising artist and researcher.  Her research is concerned with bringing together the materiality, imagery and language of cloth as a way for thinking, making and writing about materiality and making. Catherine’s practice incorporates stitch, photography, video installation and sculpture, always referencing cloth, its structures and behaviours. Theoretical perspectives are drawn from feminist art theory and philosophies, material culture and ideas surrounding the communication of tacit knowledge. These theoretical frameworks feed into her pedagogical practice, which is based upon the concept of knowledge exchange as dialogic and shared.

Catherine’s current publication project, under contract from Bloomsbury, is a book focusing upon ways and means of bringing practice-based and theoretical approaches to textile: A Philosophy of Textile: Practice & Theory. This will develop thinking through exploration of The Seam, Fraying Edges, Folded Cloth, The Caress, The Shimmer and The Viscous. She has also contributed a chapter to The Erotic Cloth: Seduction and Fetishism in Textiles (Bloomsbury, 2017) and Caressing Cloth, edited by Professor Lesley Millar and Professor Alice Kettle. Catherine has worked in private and public collections both in the UK and overseas, including the Roberta Ahmandson Collection.


Dr Fabrizio Galeazzi
(Research Fellow, StoryLab Research Institute, ARU)

Fabrizio joined the StoryLab Research Insitute in April 2019. He completed a PhD in Digital Heritage at University of California and held academic posts at the University of York and University of East Anglia, looking at the impact of 3D technologies and online participatory infrastructures on heritage research.

Fabrizio is an interdisciplinary expert in digital heritage with 15 years of experience in the application of digital methods and immersive media to cultural heritage documentation, interpretation and communication. His research looks at how digital technologies can affect our understanding of the past, and at how participatory methods and collaborative platforms can increase access and knowledge production in the humanities. He is particularly interested in evaluating the impact that the use of 3D data visualisation might have on reshaping heritage practice and theory.

At the StoryLab, Fabrizio is exploring to what extent the use and integration of creative practices and digital technologies can support people in their understanding of and engagement with tangible and intangible aspects of their heritage. His current projects integrate 3D interactive visualisation with multimodal narratives: (1) to foster community engagement in resilience and climate change adaptation, increasing people’s understanding and perception of the risk; (2) to explore how urban landscape and sense of place, together with cultural heritage values and community identity change in the aftermath of a conflict/revolution; (3) to clarify to what extent digital technologies can allow the development of accurate risk management plans for the preservation of heritage sites.


Dr. Senir Dinar
(Course Leader, Computer Gaming Technology, ARU)

Senir’s background is in software and systems engineering. Following his graduation, Senir worked as an embedded telecoms programmer before joining ARU in 2003 to start his EPSRC funded PhD programme researching tactile map production using EV curable ink-jet system. More recently, Senir has applied his programming and Computer Science experience to video game development as well as leading the Computer Gaming Technology course at ARU.


Dr. David Ryan
(Reader in Fine Art, ARU)

David Ryan is a visual artist and musician. He studied at Liverpool and Coventry Polytechnics, and also on a travelling German Scholarship to Hamburg, Lubeck and Berlin, as well as taking some lessons with clarinettist Don Rendell. Ryan has also performed and broadcast for Danish Radio, UNAM Mexico, BBC Radio 3, Resonance FM, Glasgow CCA, Radio Slovenjia, Sky Italia Classica TV, and numerous Festivals, including Nuova Consonanza, Rome (2009) Sonic Illuminations, British Film Institute, London (2009) and Namusica (2013/14), Naples, Italy. Recent exhibitions include ‘Crossing Abstraction’, Berlin and Erfurt, 2009/2012; ‘Afterimage’, Emerson Gallery, Berlin, 2013, ‘At the Point of Gesture’, Turps Gallery; Wimbledon Space, (2014/2015) ‘Drawing towards Sound’ (2015), Stephen Lawrence Gallery, University of Greenwich, ‘Ex Roma’, APT Gallery, London (2017), and ‘In Nomine Luce’ at the Museale Complesso Santa Maria Della Scala, Siena (2017). He has also participated in the Venice Biennale (2015), with a collaboration with Italian composer Nicola Sani. Screenings of his video works have taken place at Konzerthaus, Berlin; Moscow Tchaikovsky Conservatoire; Issue Project Space, New York; Darmastadt Ferienkurse for Neue Musik; AngelikA, Bologna and Qo2 in Brussels, Belgium. He has taken part in various ensembles performing works by John Cage, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Christian Wolff, Michael Pisaro, Catherine Lamb, Michael Parsons, Cornelius Cardew, and many others, including premieres of pieces by Christian Wolff, Earle Brown, Ennio Morricone, Christophe Guiraud, and Phill Niblock, amongst many others.  In 2016 he was an Abbey Fellow at the British School at Rome where he was featured in the June Mostra 2016.  Performances of a recent intermedia work, ‘Recitativo – Fragments after Lucretius and Negri’ have taken place in the UK and abroad. He is currently Reader in Fine Art at Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge.


Dr. Harriet Riches (ARU)

Harriet joined ARU as Head of Cambridge School of Art in 2019. After completing her PhD at University College London, she has held academic posts in universities and art schools including University of Warwick, Middlesex University and Kingston School of Art, and most recently as Dean of Academic Programmes at Cambridge School of Visual & Performing Arts. Her research and supervision interests focus on the history and historiography of women’s art and photographic practice, and she writes regularly on photography for international journals including Source and Afterimage: Journal of Media Arts and Cultural Criticism.

What can practice research uncover that other research can’t address? How specifically is practice research valuable? This knowledge-transfer workshop explored the particular value of practice research, both within universities and in the broader cultural context, by focusing on questions around methodologies. What are the academic, artistic and cultural benefits of the diverse research methods applied by creative practice researchers? The workshop was aimed for academics, industry professionals, postgraduate researchers as well as anyone seeking to better understand practice research, including those who want to commission research in the arts but don’t know what to expect. The invited speakers talked about their experiences in supervising or managing creative practice research in their respective roles as: Head of Research (RCA), Reader of Fine Art and former Director of Fine Art Research Unit (CSA); Course Leader, Computer Gaming Technology (ARU).

Audio Archive


The Art of Creative Practice Research Demystified by Hind Al Ghalayini

Defending Creative Practice Research (27th September 2019) was the 6th workshop in the Creative Practice Methods series of cross disciplinary expert conversations, held by StoryLab Research Institute.

This workshop couldn’t have come at a better time in the development of my own practice based research. As a final year PhD researcher and practitioner at Anglia Ruskin University (ARU), I know how important it is that research students can explain their own Creative Practice approach for research based investigations, and how this contrasts to traditional quantitative and qualitative methodologies.

Chaired by Dr Harriet Riches, Head of the Cambridge School of Art, ARU, the aim of the workshop was to explain why creative practice research is valuable, and how it differs from evidence based research. The panel of speakers guided the attendees through multidisciplinary perspectives relating to the creative practice methods, including the benefits and value of using this research approach. The following questions were considered: What can practice research uncover that other research cannot address? How specifically is practice research valuable? What are the academic, artistic and cultural benefits of the diverse research methods applied by creative practice researchers?

First to speak was Dr Catherine Dormor, Head of Research, Royal College of Art. Dr Dormor is a practicing artist, whose research focuses primarily on Textiles. Her presentation ‘The Studio Laboratory’ started with a comprehensive introduction of the history of practice based research and provided a framework of terminology based on the research of Kristina Nederer which focuses on the role of design to engender mindful interaction and behaviour change.

Dr Dormor explained that creative practice based research can’t be done through reading or observing, such that “it can only be achieved through the practice itself.” It is a very powerful way of thinking, where the creative practice can juxtaposition and create the tension between the reader and the research, thus providing the necessary space to gain insights that cannot be achieved with traditional methods alone.

Using the research of Susan Kerrigan, Dr Dormor demonstrated that by setting ‘creativity’ as a system into which the reflective practitioner can place themselves, creates a space for holding the knowledge of spectator and artist simultaneously, and in tension.

Of particular interest was Dr Dormor’s explanation of the circular approach for critical inquiries – where an inquiry leads the practice, which in turn leads to further questions or alternative paths of enquiry. However she stated “that personal agency can carry its own criticality, but also needs to be able to articulate rigour.”

Dormer went on to note the research of Hughes, Kidd and McNamara, who offer the term ‘Practice Methods’ as a way to approaching such questions or ‘hunches’. It is suggested that some of these ‘hunches’ can’t be possible to be followed, except through creative practice. This means that the research medium and content facilitate a really powerful way of thinking, where the creative artefacts presented as research are conceptually and theoretically anchored within the creative inquiry.

Dr Dormor also introduced the attendees to Schön’s (1983) Educating the Reflective Practitioner which explains that reflection upon actions and outputs is a PROCESS by which new insights and understanding can be derived. Reflection is considered one of the most important elements of creative practice research.

Dr David Ryan, Reader in Fine Arts, ARU is a visual artist and musician. His talk ‘Thesis Involving Creative Work ‘What’s up with Language?’’ covered the difficulties creative practitioners can experience when trying to work with language and the studio.

As examples he used PhDs from two separate disciplines, Fine Arts, and Music. Dr Ryan discussed two specific examples – in Music, the PhD research of Ágústsdóttir and Guony (2012) (composers), and in Fine Arts, the PhD research of Ken Wilder (2009) (a researcher and educator). Both theses showed the linkages between context, theory, and practice. By comparing the different approaches taken, it was easy to see that research in the field of Music (using results in a portfolio with commentary), gives the student a clear structural format. In comparison, Fine Art students need to formulate their own navigation, where a pre-defined structure is missing.

Dr Ryan stated that creative research on its own is a very powerful tool to address research questions through the practice itself, making every journey unique. It doesn’t depend fully on words as other research does. One can only understand the questions of creative research through practice. The practice directly addresses the research question. Practice based research can offer a new kind of understanding that other research cannot.

Dr Ryan finished with a three key points. Firstly, that the practice based PhD is ‘dialogic’. This means that the writing elements and central practice are held within their own methodological relationship. Secondly, that creative practice based research is supportive of inter-disciplinary or trans-disciplinary lenses. And finally, he said that “the openness of the PhD with creative work is necessary for the high quality of contributions in this field.”

The final speaker of the workshop was Dr Fabrizio Galeazzi who is a Research Fellow at StoryLab ARU. His experience is in interdisciplinary digital humanities. His talk covered ‘Creative Practice and Normativity in the Arts and Humanities’, which explored the intersection between creative practice and cultural digital technologies. He stated that the role of creativity is an important element in the thinking process of many academics, especially when inquiries involve multicultural / multidisciplinary teams, where the creative practices provided a point of intersection for group reflection and the gaining of new insights and knowledge.

Dr Galeazzi noted that the creative practice researcher should consider the level of familiarity and acceptance of creative practice research methods (by academic reviewers and/or lay observers), and to what extent are these methods perceived as a ‘norm’ when choosing this pathway of investigation to meet a particular inquiry’s objective. Nevertheless, he believes that creative practice can play a huge role in educating communities. This is because of the deeper participation in projects by the community can be gained using practice based materials to reflect upon and explore insights and knowledge about culture and heritage. Supporting this view, he expresses his interest in Wenger’s Theory of Communities of Practice,(CoP). CoP theory focuses on the idea that when doing research, communities of practice groups (which are based on common interests), reinforces the importance of the social context and considers learning as a form of participation. Dr Galeazzi shared a three examples.

Firstly, he talked about his own project as an example of how a creative practice can help with communities in exploring natural disasters. Using a creative practice based research approach he tells the story of the town of Senerchia (which was hit by the earthquake that devastated the Irpinia region of Italy in 1980), by showing pictures, poetry and telling stories using the medium of virtual reality (VR). Through this exploration he demonstrates the importance of the role of cross disciplinary research, and how communities of creatives can use their practice in a more effective way to enrich the research outcomes.

For another example, Dr Galeazzi showed using Marco Mason’s project how creative practice research and the development of communities of practice resulted in insights and knowledge of how Design Thinking can take place within the domain of museums engaged in digital heritage projects.

Finally, Dr Galeazzi showed the attendees to the UK Antarctic Research Project, which is a collaboration between StoryLab and the Antarctic Heritage Trust. In this example he explained that creative practice helps people to connect with remote and inaccessible areas of the world, as well as reflect on the intersection between identity, culture and heritage and environment.

At the end of the workshop I can honestly say that for me, the mysteries of Creative Practice Research are no longer hidden within the practitioners’ studio. My five key take home messages from the workshop are:

  • Traditional methods of scientific inquiry are not the only way to approach formal research. The terminology and robust approaches to Creative Practice Research exist and can be used with equal rigour and confidence.
  • Creative Practice Research is a powerful methodology that can be used in tandem and iteratively with traditional ways of research. However, Creative Practice Research on its own is a very powerful tool to address research questions through the practice itself. This makes every journey of inquiry unique.
  • It is impossible to address all research questions just through reading, or observing, or experimenting. Creative Practice Research does not depend fully on the written word as other research does. In some cases one can only understand and explore the questions raised within the research project through the practice. In this case the practice directly addresses the research question.
  • Creative Practice Research can achieve a new kind of understanding that other research cannot. The flexibility of the approach allows the researcher to take intuitive pathways of enquiry, which may be blocked by traditional paths. It provides a frame that reflects the insights and knowledge acquired, back to the viewer. It provides an alternative way of ‘knowing’.
  • Creative Practice Research works well with multidisciplinary, interdisciplinary and cross-disciplinary projects to provide multiple lenses of reflection to enrich the research process and outcomes. This makes it a valuable method for community based project and cross disciplinary teams of study.