OCA SW January meeting review

Thirteen keen OCA students met to hear moving image tutor Matt White talk about research, and to present unfinished work which was causing us some problems.

It was great to meet up with everyone as we had not met up since the Osmosis exhibition finished in November. Cake, lots of it, was neatly arranged on the counter – but not for long!

Part 1:

Matt’s paradigm was based on the premise that research is a systematic activity even if it is conducted randomly. To Matt, research is represented by a circle titled “Magical Research Cycle” in which he put 3 items:




Matt maintains that the more times you enter that cycle, the richer your research is and the more you will get out of it.

Matt also spoke about the kinds of research methods:

a) The use of primary (closest to the subject matter) and Secondary sources.

b) The Internet

c) Practical: taking photos, recording sounds, surveys, interviews.

d) Theory.

We then discussed what stops us from doing the research.

Top of the list came FEAR: of failure; of not knowing where to start; of making a mistake; looking stupid; of the enormity of the task. At this point Matt gave the example of Uta Barth whose photography broke the rules about taking only images that are in focus and became famous for it.

Matt showed us a quotation from Alfred Hitchcock linked to the concept of genius. At this point I spoke about Elizabeth Gilbert’s talk on TED in which she references her research into the Greek and Roman concepts and how different they are. She asks the question “Why do so many artists commit suicide but we don’t hear of any chemical engineers who do the same. She looks at the idea that we are not born a genius but we can catch one going past – the important point is to be there when it comes.

We spoke about the Process and the Product and Matt mentioned conceptual artist John Hilliard who made his process the product of his research. The best example of which was:

Matt stated that research is about registering and asking a question about asking questions.

He also spoke about ‘Oblique strategies Cards‘ a website in which you are dealt a random instruction and that is how you get moving with your research / work.

Matt stated that it was important not to copy work ( not to be derivative) but to try to be original. A general discussion ensued about the impossibility of being original.

Matt finished his presentation by showing us extracts from his film “From the wing of a fly” derived from an oriental saying about getting fat from the wing of a fly. throughout the showing of the film, Matt demonstrated how he kept reviewing his questions which guided his research. Having started his research about when capitalism started, Matt explored the history of tulip bulbs and the film was about his quest to find the original tulip bulb in Turkey.

The 2 books I would like to read on tulips which informed Matt’s exploration are: Mike Dash’s Tulipomania, and Anna Pavord’s The Tulip.

Another book I would like to dip into is about experimental drawings. – not related to the film but to the conversations which came up afterwards in the work of drawing students in our group.

What I found really inspiring was how the narration in the film changed from first person description to third person text on the screen over the film. That is one thing I would like to explore with my film in my exhibition.

Fellow student Anne Bryson has a much more succinct résumé than mine of what Matt’s presentation was about.

Part 2:

Students’ work review:

All bar 2 of the students had brought work to discuss.

My problems concerned the ‘blobs’ over the prison images: were they obstructing my message? Yes was the resounding answer. Suggestions came thick and fast: put the material directly onto a scanner and scan it; put the material directly over the photograph so that the bits constituting the organic and mineral matter can be seen and felt. The major problem with both is that the material I collect does not amount to much in weight and mass so I will not be able to keep my images the size they are. Despite that, I will explore these options and see where I go.

If I keep the blob prints as they are, on tracing paper, I shall look to presenting them as a separate section in the ‘time’ cell of my exhibition since they reflect the idea of a place in time.

The second question was about the markings on the cyanotypes on the quilt. As individual items, the squares are very interesting. When they are put together, however, the irregular colourations to me look odd. Many of those attending thought they were fine but I am going to try to get a more uniform inconsistency in the whole quilt arrangement.

Other students’ highlights for me were images of Eliza’s hilarious phallic sculptures and the realisation that she had not seen them as such. Anne’s not precise enough for her images of a train journey – this is where Uta Barth’s out of focus work comes to mind. We tried to tell Anne that, as an experiment, they were excellent but she, the accounting perfectionist, was not convinced. Krystyna’s quandary about how to take her monumental portraits forward. In my mind, I don’t see what they had to be paintings of the body with face – why can’t they be just of the hands?

Time ran out on virtually everybody’s presentations because we were all so involved in what was being presented.

There were rumblings at the end about not meeting in informal student groups in February but I hope we will.

2 thoughts on “OCA SW January meeting review

  1. Matt White’s work sounds fascinating. His naming of it as ‘Magical Research Cycle’ sounds much more exciting than “Action Research cycle” as I know of it. I’ve had a set of those Oblique Strategies cards for a while now (printed them myself) but, interestingly, I haven’t yet used them. I know they’re there though!


    1. It’s good to have ideas refreshed sometimes. It’s like clothes, you remember that you have them when you see something that reminds you of them. I am about to start my London Fair Review. There was a lot more on the top floor than there was last year. I saw a ‘painting’ in which the real wood was used to be part of the painting – can’t explain it very well – you’ll have to wait & see it in my review!


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