Student led Activity: Provocations: Researching Practice A Round-table Event at Tate Britain


On Friday 12th May, a small group of CDP students met at Tate Britain to discuss ‘Researching Practice’, thinking particularly about the complexities of doing practice-as-research, the ethical issues of studying the practices of your colleagues or collaborators, and the possibilities of researching historical practices through an analysis of an object.

We heard from Marianne Mulvey (Tate and Royal College of Art) first, who discussed her own position within Tate as a curator of Public Programmes, and how she integrated practice into her role. She then outlined her approach to the public programme as a ‘cultural object’ and the complexities of this perspective, before going on to share her current research questions and queries around how to proceed with this practice-based approach as she moves forward.

Our second presenter was Julia Ankenbrand (British Museum and University of Leeds) who navigates working within the British Museum, while also trying to research its practices. She outlined the research methodologies she is using, and suggested that more criticality is needed in how museum practices are researched from within. Julia also raised the issue of the challenges in researching your colleagues.

Finally, we heard from Rebecca Morrison (V&A and Queen Mary University London) on her research into the mantua maker in Britain. Rebecca explained how she uses her own sewing and dress-making practices to understand objects from the V&A’s collection. Through a process of deconstructing the objects, she is able to understand how they were made, and use this to draw conclusions about practices of the mantua maker, and her relationship to the dress-wearer.

Each of these fascinating presentations explored ‘Practice’ in a different way, demonstrating different methods and approaches for research. Using these as ‘provocations’ we were able to discuss issues of ethics in practice-focused research, understand more about the relationships between objects and practices, and debate the nuances between practice-as-research, practice-based research, and researching practice.

Alongside these more theoretical discussions, we also considered the practicalities of undertaking research into practice, particularly in a collaborative context. This included discussions of how to navigate different expectations of your research from supervisors and other interested parties, how to communicate practice-based outcomes of research to funders, supervisors, and examiners, and how to negotiate your position within both a university and a cultural partner institution.

The conversations have been the beginning of larger debates, which will continue to happen across examples of collaborative research, and they have already led to an interest in an existing ‘Museum Methodologies’ reading group and the potential for creating a platform for sharing non-traditional forms of research outputs between CDP students.

We hope that these conversations will continue and be added to through the next ‘Provocations’ roundtable event, which will take place at Tate Britain, on Thursday 27th July, from 11 until 5 and will include two roundtables: ‘Researching Objects’ and ‘Researching Place’.

This event was funded by the Collaborative Doctoral Partnerships Student led activity fund and was organised by Tate CDP student Acatia Finbow.

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