Over 5-8 March 2020, I took part in the Winter Symposium under the theme of Artistic Research: Performing Heterotopia, as part of the Nordic Summer University, hosted by University of Wrocłow in Poland. Although NSU sounds like a university, it is actually not an academic institution, but a non-profit, democratic and nomadic organisation that is run by volunteers and hosts conferences and symposiums across a variety of themes and disciplines twice a year. I am thankful to the Graduate School for the Research Support Award that made possible my trip over to this Symposium.

Based on my ongoing practice-based fine art PhD at Manchester School of Art, I presented my paper titled ‘Opening Up Spaces: Heterotopia as a Postcolonial Strategy’ with a brief screening of an artist film from my research at the Symposium.

As fellow participants are from across art forms, how to present my complicated research in a limited timeframe of twenty minutes plus 10 minute of screening – and in a way clear and accessible to everyone posed as something to contemplate on. As an artist and a researcher, I have always been aware of the importance of communication when it comes to presenting an artwork, a project or a PhD to a mixed audience. It is pivotal to manage and be mindful of the micro macro, that is to give an overview of the outline and relevant details to the listeners; in the meantime, it helps to explain the reason for embarking on the artistic inquiry, adding a layer of personal touch to the overall experience of presentation so as to better engage with the audience. It was with these concerns that I handcrafted my presentation and thankfully received very positive feedbacks and comments – some expressed that my presentation was easy to understand despite the complexity involved.

Due to the diverse nature of fine art and arts indeed, conferences and symposiums with an exclusive focus on artistic research are rare. As an artist, I have developed over the years a long-lasting interest in employing and exploring moving image and textual narrative as my artistic medium. Over the Symposium, it was a fruitful learning experience to get to know the art practices of 15 fellow artists/artist groups from visual art, performance art and dance through the form of presentation and performance.

Another aspect I became aware of at the Symposium was the difference between artistic practice and artistic research. As we all know, research, including artistic research, is supposed to generate knowledge while artistic practice does not have the obligation to do so – and does not have to self-explain the parameters and outcomes. It became clear to me that it is having methodology – or not – that distinguishes the two realms of art making, although of course there is no such a thing as a black-and-white boundary in between.

To sum up, I am very glad to have taken part in the Winter Symposium at the final stage of my PhD. The feedback from and interaction with other artists were invaluable. I came back happily to the world of writing up with a pair of fresh eyes and some new space in my head for reflection and reflexivity.

Clare Chun-Yu Liu ~ third year practice-based fine art PhD candidate

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