Old Projects and New

Although Sensory Stories is now finished, many of its guiding principles–such as bringing together the university and the community, and finding innovative ways to present research–are being taken forward by exciting new projects. The York Festival of Ideas has a packed programme of events running between 14-30 June, and as part of this the postgraduate project Off the Page will be hosting a Dickens recording booth on 23 June in the Ron Cooke hub. To find out more, check out their blog.

Joining Our Story

We’re keen for the project to continue by offering a new generation of postgraduates the chance to become involved in Sensory Opportunities. If you are interested in learning about how to communicate with audiences using the senses–taste, touch, smell, sound, sight–object-interaction and performance techniques, please join us in the Treehouse on Week 9 Thursday 11am, 8 December.

Alongside the opportunity to indulge in a personal sensory story with delicious cakes and freshly-brewed coffee, the team will give a short presentation about what the different Sensory Opportunities involved, and be there to chat with students about how they can develop their own activities with our existing community and heritage partners. We’re hoping to help form a new committee to take sensory public engagement forward. All are welcome, and just for once we promise there won’t be any gruel!

‘Public Engagement in the Arts and Humanities’ conference

An astounding range of public engagement projects were showcased last month at the landmark event, ‘Public Engagement in the Arts and Humanities: an AHRC conference’. Claire finds out more.

Held at Avonmouth House, London, the first day of the event brought together those that have spent the past year working on different AHRC-funded Collaborative Research Training (CRT) Schemes. There were representatives from projects in the specialist category (broader two-year projects, organised by academics) and other student-led ventures like Sensory Stories.  One of the most exciting parts was meeting the co-ordinators of different student projects, and having the opportunity to share our successes and challenges. The schemes were remarkable in their diversity. Write Around the Toon supported students in short creative writing residencies at sixteen cultural institutions within the Newcastle-Gateshead area, whereas PEACE combined a training workshop with the chance to trial engagement activities at the Green Man Festival.  New Media and Academia offered vital training in how to create podcasts, videos and a YouTube channel, culminating in participants filming two minute videos about their research. PEGS (Public Engagement in Gender and Sexuality Studies) ran an event ‘demystifying’ public engagement. Each project was unique, yet at the same time I was struck by the similarities between our approaches. Many of us had collaborated with creative practitioners, sought out heritage and community partners, and drawn upon Web 2.0 resources to reach wider audiences. In a discussion session we compared our experiences, pinpointing the crucial role of mentoring, the need to share best practice, and the difficulties of building in sustainability.

The second day was a larger event, which explored the strategic and practical challenges of public engagement for academics, researchers and professionals working in the arts and humanities. Professor Sarah Churchwell gave a rousing keynote, in which she stressed the need for academics to become ‘advocates’ or ‘ambassadors’ for research, starting conversations that bridge the gap between the ‘ivory tower’ and the ‘real world’. Professor Churchwell used the analogy of research being a foreign language that needs to be translated back into English: this makes the work accessible without compromising its rigour. Dr Sarah Spooner and Michael Loveday used their experience of working on the HistOracle project to lead into a discussion of the challenges and opportunities of community engagement, while Sophie Duncan spoke about how the Beacons had worked to create a culture the recognises and supports public engagement. The findings of the AHRC’s 2011 public engagement survey offered a broader picture of outreach activities across the humanities: the most popular engagement method remained the public lecture, but over 50 per cent of respondents recorded working with schools and museums. The conference also included an announcement of the AHRC’s call on Skills Development and Research for Community Heritage.

It was wonderful to be able to present the Sensory Stories project to new audiences on both days. Their questions and feedback confirmed my sense of the immense value of all our hard work over the past year, while the cutting-edge projects that I learnt about suggest a bright future for public engagement.

Andrew Caspari “Communicating The Past On Radio: The Impact Of A History of the World in One Hundred Objects”

IPUP Media Speaker Series in collaboration with the University of York Public Lecture Series, Wednesday 29 June, 6.00pm to 7.15pm, in the Bowland Auditorium, Berrick Saul Building, University of York

‘A History of the World in One Hundred Objects’ was a source of huge inspiration for the Sensory Stories project and tomorrow evening Andrew Caspari (BBC, Head of Speech Radio & Interactive) will be speaking about the series. This exciting event will be followed by a drinks reception in the foyer of the Humanities Research Centre, celebrating the success of Sensory Stories and the IPUP Internship Programme  All are welcome.

Art Beyond the Frame

 

All are welcome to join us for the exciting programme of events that Matt, Jasmine and their intrepid team of student volunteers have organised for this Saturday in Exhibition Square outside York Art Gallery. The family-friendly activities are based around the gallery’s fantastic collection of artworks and include everything from live storytelling, to cloth printing, to a dance performance. The programme will run twice during the day, at 11am-1pm and again at 2pm-4pm.

See here for details of how to get to the gallery if you are visiting from outside York.

Connecting dance and research

Research interpreted through the medium of dance is just one of ways that students will see ideas brought to life at Saturday’s training day. In a guest blog freelance dance artist, Holly Clarkson, reflects on the process of adaptation and the rich possibilities for collaboration between academia and dance.

Involvement in Sensory Stories has had me discovering my art form all over again. On the training day Kate Prosser and I will be using dance to explore participant Fraser Mann’s research topic, “Vulnerable masculine identities in post-war American Fiction”. It’s an exciting prospect, but has not been without its difficulties. There have been many moments when Kate and I have stopped to ask each other “what are we doing again?” and “what does that show?”. Yet despite the challenges of the academic subject matter, the choreographic process isn’t fundamentally different from my past experiences. In fact, developing a contemporary dance piece has many similarities with studying in the humanities. Choreographers do their research, both academic and physical; they try things out, explore different avenues, collect material and put it all together. Using academic research in contemporary dance isn’t a new idea. Although few works could cover an entire PhD, the following touch upon a wide range of research:

  • DV8 Physical Theatre, Enter Achilles (1995) delves into the complex subject of male homosexuality.
  • Merce Cunningham, a hugely influential figure in dance over the past century, famously used chance, dice and mathematical equations to choreograph his works.
  • Tilted Productions, Glacier (2007/08) takes an insightful look at the far reaching effects of global warming.
  • Jasmin Vardimon, Park (2009) comments on contemporary society.
  • Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker has focused heavily on complex rhythmic patterning in the music of Steve Reich.

 

Merce Cunningham, Suite by Chance (Space Chart Entrance and Exit), MoMA

This is just a small selection of works I am aware of; the subjects researched by choreographers are infinite. Creative collaboration between dance and the humanities enriches both disciplines, bringing new perspectives and different audiences to an idea.

York-based Holly is continually looking for opportunities to use and further her dance experiences. If you are interested in her work or would like to discuss collaboration, please contact hollyjclarkson@hotmail.co.uk.

The search for an image

For a project that relies upon sensory appeal it was essential to find a powerful image. The task was left open for committee members to interpret, producing results that ranged from the fantastic to the bizarre. Claire surveys some of the images that didn’t make the cut.

 

Jan Cossiers (1600-1671), 'Five Senses'

 

When I started to think about an image that would capture what Sensory Stories was about I based my search around the theme of the five senses. Originally I thought that an allegorical painting from an earlier historical period might work, foregrounding the academic context of the project. However, the pictures I sourced seemed too oblique, overly fussy and inaccessible to a general audience. They didn’t have any impact and without an accompanying explanation I felt that they could alienate viewers instead of attracting their interest.

 

The eye of an Egyptian mummy from the AHOW project

 

Considering the importance of objects to tell stories about research, my next thought was to look for historical items connected with sensory perception. The ‘A History of the World’ (AHOW) website had some brilliant pictures, including this striking eye from an Egyptian mummy, but nothing that I felt gave a personal sense of what our project was trying to do.

Finally I reached the point that most frustrated researchers come to: increasing random Googling. I can only express my recommendation that people searching for images related to the senses turn on Google SafeSearch, and my relief that none of the nightmarish interpretations of the five senses I encountered therein were chosen to front our project.

Funding success for Sensory Stories

We recently discovered that Sensory Stories has been successful in its application to the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC)! There has been great excitement among the team of doctoral students based at the University of York’s Humanities Research Centre. The grant will allow us to provide public engagement training to help researchers communicate their work to the public. Most importantly the project will also create opportunities to take these ideas out into the community, visiting local schools, museums and city festivals.

Keep following for news, events and reflections as Sensory Stories takes shape.



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