I witnessed the power of ‘things’ for storytelling at the ‘Thinking through Things’ workshop at Middlesex University on 29th June 2017, which aimed to engage the participants with methodological frameworks where objects/artefacts are at the centre of the research process.
Although my research interests centre on digital culture, I believe that performative methods (such as creative methods) can help understand emotions, motives, narratives involved in on-screen activities, the relationship between on- and off- screen activities, and embodiment of digital objects (such as data, algorithms).
Participants were asked to bring an object and/or a photograph that matters to them. At Rachel Hurdley‘s session, we displayed them together (see the photograph below) and talked about what they were and why we brought them. Talking about these objects helped unravel social meanings that are embedded within the objects, and the memory associated with them. Actions of collecting, ordering, cleaning, repairing / mending / manipulating objects all denote certain social meanings. For example, Rachel Hurdley talked about how significant the ‘collecting and displaying’ gesture is in her new research project about vulnerable prisoners.
We built a food tower with the usual items found in someone’s food cupboard. Profiling immediately started; we were speculating who this person might be: a woman or a man? a vegan? an environmentalist? someone who likes Japanese food?
In the collage workshop, we created ‘research self-portraits’, using materials
to reflect on our research trajectories and to ask how research objects and
approaches are auto/biographical. A wide range of materials were provided: photographs; magazines; badges; letters; lego; drawings; cloth; glitter. This session encouraged not only the use of a creative research method (self-portraits) for story telling, but also for reflecting on the meaning and value of the material in our individual research trajectories. I had to think about how to visualise and materialise my current research interests on ‘big data’ and ‘open data’. I found ‘I ♥︎ Big Data’ in some network’s magazine advertisement. I still needed words to express ‘data’ and a lot of on-screen activities.
In Michael McMillan‘s session, we talked about the photographs we brought with us. It was so emotional – full of memory and deep meanings about our relationship with others (family, friends, animals). The settings / backgrounds in the photographs said a lot about ideologies, values, the wider political environments, just like Michael McMillan’s installation ‘The Front Room‘.
I left the event full of ideas. I can’t wait to implement these creative methods in my research, and explore more creative ways of communicating my research within and beyond academia. I’m also keen on introducing these methods to my colleagues and students to help with creative writing or data collection. What a productive day. Thank you to the organisers!