TLDR – Today we were asked to question our art and think about why we do things and why we like things.
This is our first foray into postgraduate study at NUA, and the lecture given by Paul offered an overview of the Research Into Practice Unit – our first module. As a part time student, this is the only module I’m doing at the minute, whereas the full time students are doing something called Award Specific Unit 1, but I won’t be doing that until next September.
The main idea behind RIPU is that we should be thinking about the theory behind what we do more, and constantly ask ‘why’. Do you like blue things? Why? You like documentaries? Why? Eventually we will have to come up with a research question which we’ll then have to answer, and then support with an essay, a body of work, and an annotated research file. We should also be keeping a reflective journal – something which tracks what we are doing/making/reading/watching, and how these things affect our thinking – and this blog will form at least part of that journal.
All in all, I’m not entirely excited by this module, and I’m disappointed that it’s my first and only module for the next 3-4 months. After a summer of excitement and looking forward to making films again, this feels like an anticlimax. I’ve spoken to one or two others who feel the same. I think it’s worse as a part time student, because at least the full time students are doing more practical things with their time as well.
I don’t really want to be researching things for the next four months, I want to be doing things. We’ve been told that we should be doing things as well, but that’s slightly more difficult for a film student. Making a film (at least a useful one) requires a lot of time, energy, and collaboration. And truth be told, I don’t really understand the purpose of this module. I don’t think it’s been explained particularly well, though I’ve been reassured that everyone always feels this way, and that in a few weeks it’ll click.
From what I gather, this module will be interesting for the Fine Art students, and possibly even those doing Curation too. Who knows?
After a short break, we all headed over to St George’s for our seminar, which was essentially a pop-up show for all our manifestos.
We were given the task of creating a manifesto over the summer, and like many other things from NUA so far, it was painfully vague. The brief was to write something around 100 words in length and to present it creatively through images and/or objects. I wasn’t entirely sure what to create, and after discussions with a few people, I ended up making something 48 hours before the seminar. In hindsight, this was not clever.
I thought about my filmmaking philosophies and what it was I wanted to achieve over the next two years. I started writing out bullet points and after a while it became quite fun. It was good to focus my ideas and intentions and to actually write them down so I could see them. I narrowed it down to a few key points, and gave each sentence a heading:
- Community and collaboration are key,
- Choose realism over sensationalism,
- Choose people over characters,
- Choose story over style,
- Good equipment does not make a good film,
- Have a clear idea in mind, but be open to change.
With the exception of the inadvertent Trainspotting reference, I was quite happy that I’d found a theme. It tied in with my intention to try and focus on documentary filmmaking over the next two years, but highlights the flexibility I’m after in a career. So far, this task had been useful.
The real problem was how to present it. Pictures? Photos? A poster? A film? I knew one person on my course and I asked for her advice. She told me she would be adding images almost like a storyboard or a mood board, which I loved. It made me feel more confident about experimenting, though less confident about the fact that I didn’t really have many ideas. I tried putting together a sixty second movie to present my ideas, sort of like Bob Dylan’s Subterranean Homesick Blues video, but I wasn’t sure how to tailor it to my own individual style without just copying it. I played with the idea of sharp cuts between myself holding up posters of my bullet points, and short shots or how I might bring them to life. Perhaps if I left myself more than 48 hours that might have worked.
In the end I asked myself how my manifesto would work for me. What would I do with it? I came to the conclusion that I wanted to adhere to these points as closely as possible while at NUA. They would be my Commandments. Since my stone carving skills aren’t what they used to be, I created a simple text based poster on Adobe Illustrator, printed it on a parchment style paper, and then added it to a wooden frame I had at home. It wasn’t quite complete, so I decided that I wanted a visual attachment to help maintain my focus and inspire me. In terms of documentaries, there are two people that I consider to be the best – David Attenborough and Louis Theroux. They both differ in style and content massively, but each one is an inspiration. I simply found two similar portraits of them, printed them, and then added them to matching frames. I decided to hang the pieces on my wall at home as a constant reminder of the goals I have set myself.
Our seminar was supposed to be two hours long, but it ended up being shorter. I worry that this may be a continuing theme over the year as nothing seems to be organised particularly well at the minute. During the session, we all presented our pieces around the room, and then walked around as if it were a gallery. We took post-it notes with us and were told to add some sort of constructive criticism or praise to each piece, and then at the end of the session we would be picking one note each which we considered to be most useful.
I was amazed at the different styles of manifesto around the room. So many different paintings, photos, and hand-made physical objects. I think my own manifesto must have looked quite tame in comparison, and I started having regrets about my presentation.
It was difficult for me to be constructive in my feedback as we walked around. I think perhaps I have been out of an educational environment for so long that my mind doesn’t work in the same way anymore. I liked some pieces (but why?) and I disliked others (but why?). Some confused me. Some impressed me. Some, I thought, were not very imaginative or well presented.
After another break (maybe our 3rd or 4th of the afternoon – why so many?) we returned to our own pieces and sat in our seminar groups (about 20 people in each). We had 3-4 minutes to talk about our manifesto, or more specifically, the notes that had been left for ours. I was surprisingly pleased with the notes people had left. It was somewhat humbling if I’m honest.
- “Very powerful statements”
- “Clear points reflected well in the presentation”
- “Great points and advice to all of us”
- “Lovely presentation”
- “Like the clarity of direction”
- “Presentation is immediately accessible”
- “The Hall of Fame vibe gives a sense of authority and permanence”
These were just a handful of the comments left for me, and while they weren’t all constructive or critical, it was wonderful to get such positive feedback. Considering myself as an aspiring documentary filmmaker, all I really wanted was to present my information as clearly and concisely as possible, and it seems most people agreed that I had achieved that. If nothing else, it gave me more confidence in my work.
I came away from the first two sessions feeling relieved that the year was finally underway, confused about what I would be doing for the first few months, and concerned that the first week was already over after only a few short hours on campus. I’m hoping that once I start studying on my own, once I have a clearer understanding of what’s expected of me this semester, and once I get back to a more practical approach to filmmaking, I will feel a lot better.
I think the whole point of today, and this module in general, is to get me thinking about my art in new ways, and I think it’s already beginning to work.