Uncertainty

Two research topics run in tandem, and I see value in playing with both.

It is fraught with uncertainty and runs against the grain.

Immerse yourself in unknown, and trust something will emerge.

Let me stay with the murky, and avoid the lure of clarity.

A story about the Blind Spot presentation

The Blind Spot presentation I prepared for Research Methods 1 demonstrates a version of my practice. I didn’t have an object or a thing to discuss, but I was interested in blinds spots within one’s practice, life and research. It made sense to show the hypnotic motion piece called Blind Spot by Roland Schimmel, while talking about how we explore, learn and experience the unknown. The project drew upon memories, conversations, associations, experiences, but ultimately the story materialised through journaling. Reading the journal entry aloud as though it were a script was not something I had previously done. However, adopting different methods and strategies is part of my everyday practice.

The Blind Spot presentation didn’t start when the task was set, as related ideas were being discussed and experienced well before. The work didn’t finish once it was delivered as the ideas it captured continue to grow and form a base for further exploration. This approach makes for a messy process and question why I continue to muddy the waters when clarity is what I pursue.

Thinking about this predicament through James Turrell’s work Backside of the Moon helps me to understand as the artwork wouldn’t exist if the lights were switched on — the work requires you to settle into the darkness and only as time passes things begin to appear. If you look at anything closely over the course of time the story is bound to change — this is the message I take from experiencing the James Turrell piece Backside of the Moon.

Having no clear approach to generating solutions does leave you feeling vulnerable and means accepting uncertainty seems a vital component of the design process. Society is not comfortable with uncertainty and frankly, neither am I. We crave clarity, feel safe with clear labels, and seek explicit knowledge, despite the fact much doesn’t conform.

I’m not claiming anything about the Blind Spot presentation was of great importance; I am merely looking at what is already there. I will continue to reflect on what has already past — constantly changing the way in which I view it — trying to adjust my proximately and the lens I view it through. I hope this process will deepen my understanding of my practice and help me better understand how we can work with uncertainty.

Uncertainty in practice

My mind is easily distracted when uncertainty is at play.

I place the words ‘Creative — Research — Methods’ on a page and question what they mean. They are perplexing. They are commonly used and misused. They hold surface meaning, deep meaning and can be contextually nuanced. My mind wonders before I can catch it, and begins to contemplate how a satirical text message can easily be misinterpreted because it isn’t accompanied by visual cues, eg. body language and tone of voice.

My lack of confidence in knowing what precisely constitutes a ‘Creative Research Method’ leads me to see what others have to say. Maybe it is safest to say what has been said before. I could easily list the methods in Carole Gray’s book Visualizing Research: A Guide to the Research Process in Art and Design — but this wouldn’t be an accurate representation of my mixed method approach. Repackaging Gray’s list would in some respects answer the brief, but for me, it is more interesting to use practice to explore alternatives ways of knowing. So, I decide to show and tell A story about the Blind Spot presentation not knowing where it will lead.

Developing a narrative

The verbal and visual narrative act like a duet — at times one mode leads the communication and other times it is the union of the visual and verbal that produces clarity. Dependant on the day each mode reaches and resonates differently with viewers. There is never a perfect way — it is simply about creating space for different connections. When I develop a visual and verbal narrative there is a constant dialogue between the two — sometimes the presentation inspires the narrative and other times it acts in reverse.

Planning an uncomfortable journey

My experience as a designer, learner, educator and researcher shows me that a linear process can be an indication you are treading a path travelled before. Travelling the same path can be reassuring. So how can we walk the path with fresh eyes, always curious, alertly watching for a different image to emerge? How can we build confidence and trust to embrace what is unfamiliar and see what we’ve previously overlooked?

My aim on this research journey is to ensure it is playfully uncomfortable, avoid predefined paths and do everything to ensure the journey isn’t boringly linear. It is to see the relationship between process and outcome as cyclical.

This means with each new task I set I aim to consciously incorporate methods, tools and techniques which are unfamiliar and aim to embrace them with like an improviser does on stage.

Awareness

If we look long enough the story is always bound to change — that’s just one message I take from experiencing the James Turrell piece Backside of the Moon — this experience was discussed in the original Blind Spot presentation.

Working with the unknown

To consciously keep the research journey uncomfortable I seek out new ways to explore ideas. For example, The Balance as Bias post looks to disrupt the way I approach diagrammatic sketching by adding time to the equation — it also reminds me vividly of how challenging the learning process can be when everything feels unfamiliar. Additionally, I am experimenting with different writing styles to see how my ideas are best articulated.

It requires trust, patience, perseverance and time to travel paths not traversed before.

Diagrammatic Sketching

The WonderLab research space has helped me see some of the tacit methods I employ. Using diagrammatic sketching is a method I use to help me interpret what others are saying. It also creates space to visualise the unimagined and generate understanding. Visualising the invisible provides clarity and structure and prepares a path for me to move forward. For example, I’ll often visualise the shape of a page and then generate the words to match the shape. Or on a micro level drawing the shape of a word might help me to remember how it is spelt.

Action and contemplation

Attending to a task can be done through a combination of conscious and unconscious activities. Consciously, would be the deliberate act of drawing, reading or writing as a way of directly attending to the brief, and unconsciously would be the contemplation that occurs whilst carrying out everyday activities such as walking, listening to music etc. As I become more confident with my practice I am able to use unconscious methods more deliberately. This approach may seem haphazard but there is an informal structure that lies beneath e.g., it begins with divergent thinking and experimentation and as the deadline nears convergent thinking takes the lead.

Mental preparation and organisational strategies

Like any designer we bring ‘certain organising principles to a problem from the outset’, and for me, this involves mental preparation. (Cross p.21, 2011). In the case of preparing for DRaW I create a multipage blank template — perhaps this is akin to an artist preparing a canvas. Populating the template with content is how I build my understanding and form the narrative. Initially, there is no clear order to the content and ideas. I aim to work sequentially, but this rarely transpires. Typically there is no clear beginning, middle or end, just ideas that will later be reordered, removed or manipulated. The story is formed through the practice. Similar to sketching constructing the presentation is a means ‘of imaging, imagining or discovering something that cannot be constructed in the mind alone’. (Cross, 2011).