NiTRO + Creative Matters

Perspectives on creative arts in higher education

In her sites: The studio expanded

When the world went into isolation with the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic, educators and researchers everywhere had to rethink the classroom model. Artist Anna Tow and curator Deborah Turnbull Tillman used the opportunity to disrupt traditional models (coded male) with the mode of learning via social systems (coded female) through the School of Art & Design at UNSW.

By Anna Tow and Deborah Turnbull Tillman

When the world went into isolation with the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic, educators and researchers everywhere had to rethink the classroom model. Artist Anna Tow and curator Deborah Turnbull Tillman used the opportunity to disrupt traditional models (coded male) with the mode of learning via social systems (coded female) through the School of Art & Design at UNSW. Methods employing networking, extended classrooms and reflective practice were used to enhance the student experience via immersive learning through site specific teaching models.  

Anna Tow: Massive Change

Although there were elements of a typical design brief (time constraints, weekly meetings, and feedback cycles), students experimented with new ways to approach creating animations that diverged from the mainstream (coded male) animation industry.

The headquarters for Massive Action Sydney and the Roundhouse at UNSW were the two sites for situated learning. Here, myself and colleague Melody Li, and two student volunteers had six weeks to create large screen animations for a one-off ‘Design for All the Senses’ (DFAS) performance[1]. We were invited to nestle our animation production inside the UNSW Innovation Hub led by Dr Carly Vickers and skilfully managed by a majority female professional team.[2]

The standard studio classroom model, of students led by an instructor, shifted to a short-term production studio site in Paddington. Although there were elements of a typical design brief (time constraints, weekly meetings, and feedback cycles), students experimented with new ways to approach creating animations that diverged from the mainstream (coded male) animation industry.[3] Within the bounds of the DFAS animation brief, the students explored procedural animation techniques that opened-up alternative ways to perceive creative possibilities “…involv[ing] a process that values the new and unknown, not ‘what was’ or ‘what is’ but what can be.[1]  This informed but ‘unknown outcome’ approach is typical of the ‘reflection-in-action’ method of producing research-based art. Working to a tight deadline, a dynamic production ensued. Supported by UNSW’s Innovation Hub and Bruce Mau’s direction, the success of the animation will be a lasting, positive memory for students intending to continue practicing within the areas of animation and photography.  It highlights the creative possibilities when shifting the knowledge paradigm towards a female-led studio model.

Deborah Turnbull Tillman: SHErobots

Here models of teaching traditionally male dominated pursuits of engineering and robotics are reimagined from industrial robots performing monotonous tasks, to artworks questioning who should be involved in the production of this emerging technology. In this situated learning space, robots are brought out of the factory or workshop and onto the gallery floor to query notions of caring, nurturing, and assisted technologies for students and the general public.

In this situated learning space, robots are brought out of the factory or workshop and onto the gallery floor to query notions of caring, nurturing, and assisted technologies for students and the general public.

This collaboration of architect, artist and curator tend to the research, analysis and presentation of knowledge around social aspects of robotics. These knowledge outputs tend to happen in the creative academic fields via teaching into Masters, Honours and Capstone programs, and via publication, lecture, demonstration, exhibition, or performance. They are tracked in university systems via criteria-based assessments and Traditional[4] and Non-Traditional Research Outputs[5], with the idea of production as the key mechanism through which this knowledge transfer is attained. These silos of knowledge have not typically been maintained by women, but they are beginning to be. This is what the case studies in SHErobots aims to highlight.[6]

There are many processes for getting, analysing and exchanging knowledge, with experiential and practice-led research leading the Education field since John Dewey in the 1930s.[7] In relation to curatorial research for digital and interactive artworks, I worked with lead female artists Mari Velonaki[8] and Petra Gemeinboeck[9] (as PhD supervisors) to establish criteria for the practice-led process of moving through the production phase of creative research and capturing it so that it can be taught to art students at both undergraduate and post-graduate levels of learning. A few of these classes end in the opportunity to exhibit in an extended classroom setting of the Annual Exhibitions, hosted at UNSW Galleries; an opportunity mimicked by SHErobots.

The extension of this knowledge is supported through the rigours of academic environments, but engaged with through invitation, inclusivity and consultation. This creates a safe environment for extending, experimenting and engaging with creative ideas in the public domain in a way that is fluid, changing and expansive.

The projects discussed harness this post-pandemic paradigm for teaching and learning that extends beyond the classroom, assessment, and feedback cycle for immersive experiences involving practitioners, students, and engaged experiential learning. 

Endnotes

[1] Design for All the Senses (DFAS) was a collaboration between UNSW ADA Innovation Hub, International Design Philosopher Bruce Mau and the Massive Change Network under the project banner of Massive Action Sydney.

[2] The Innovation Hub is known for “…carefully curated interdisciplinary teams of [UNSW] ADA staff and students [that] work inclusively and collaboratively to find creative solutions to the diverse and complex issues of our time.”

[3] In the hands of Pixar Animation, DreamWorks SKG, Blue Sky, and a myriad of other studios, it [computer animation] has evolved from a marginal, experimental approach to film production to become the core aspect of much contemporary moving image construction.  Wells, P 2011.

[4] Examples of TROs include publication, lectures, or patents for products – typically coded male

[5] Examples of NTROs include exhibitions, performances or artworks – typically coded female

[6] These case studies of Tool, Toy and Companion are discussed in detail in the catalogue by Rhinehardt, et al. 2022.

[7] Dewey, J. 1934

[8] https://mvstudio.org/ – accessed 9 November 2022.

[9] https://www.impossiblegeographies.net/ – accessed 9 November 2022.


References

[1] Dewey, J. (1934). Art as Experience. New York: Capricorn Books.

[2] Reinhardt, D., Lian Loke and Deborah Turnbull Tillman. SHErobots: Tool, Toy, Companion. Tin Sheds Gallery catalogue. Faculty of Design, Architecture and Planning, University of Sydney, Darlington, NSW 2008. ISBN 978-0-6455400-5-5.

[3] ‘SHErobots: Tool, Toy, Companion.’(2022) Department of External Engagement, Faculty of Design, Architecture and Planning. https://www.sydney.edu.au/architecture/about/tin-sheds-gallery/she-robots-tool-toy-companion.html – accessed 28/10/22.

[4] Taylor, A. (2003) Design Studio Model for the International Student. Architecture and Children Around the World. http://architectureandchildren.com/index.php/resources/design-studio-model-for-the-international-classroom – accessed 28/10/22.

[5] Vickers, C. (2021) The Innovation Hub, UNSW. https://www.unsw.edu.au/arts-design-architecture/engage-with-us/innovation-hub – accessed 28/10/ 22.

[6] Wang, Tsungjuang. (2010) A New Paradigm for Design Studio Education. International Journal of Art & Design Education, Publisher John Wiley & Sons, Ltd, Volume 29, Issue 2, 14 June 2010, Pages 173 – 183. ISSN 1476-8062.

[7] Wells, Paul (2011) The Wiley-Blackwell History of American Film. First published: 1 December 2011 Print ISBN: 9781405179843| Online ISBN: 9780470671153| DOI: 10.1002/9780470671153


Anna Tow is an animator, artist and full-time education focused academic at UNSW Art, Design & Architecture. Anna’s interests are animation, environmental storytelling, investigating digital mixed-media and animation techniques. Anna’s animations have screened at international film festivals. She currently leads the 3D Visualisation course at UNSW Art and Design. 

Deborah Turnbull Tillman is a curator specialising in design, technology, and new media. Her interests lay in how technology augments traditional art practice and how the audience is becoming a necessary material for technology-based art. She is also interested in collaborative over hierarchical models of curating, teaching and learning. An editor and author as well as a curator, Deborah began teaching at UNSW Art & Design in 2016 and is now Director of Education for the school.

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