Three-D Issue 21: PGN Conference: Participation

Agnes Ziolkowski-Trzak & James Harvey-Davitt
Anglia Ruskin University

Thanks to the MeCCSA PGN, Anglia Ruskin University was able to host a postgraduate conference under the theme of ‘Participation’ on April 13th. The department of Communication, Film and Media, in association with Anglia Ruskin’s research institute ARCMedia, were happy to welcome participants from around the UK. Anglia Ruskin’s own Dr Joss Hands as well as Dr Richard Rushton from the Lancaster Institute for Contemporary Arts presented their key-note speeches, whilst students from institutions in London, Norwich and Cambridge provided an insight into their research.

The day began with Dr Joss Hands’ key-note on participation and the common. Joss focussed on possibilities of the total commonalisation of everything, which he identified in digital communications. These produce autonomous zones, Joss stated, creating possibilities for complete participation through affordances of deliberation and affect within the multitude that drives horizontalism.

The first student presentation of the day continued this topic. Agnes Trzak from Anglia Ruskin University talked about the possibilities of postmodern public spheres emerging through reappropriations of online communication methods to offline conceptions of action and participation. Her work, also tried to explore ways for the common to emerge. Following this, Philippa Law from Queen Mary University, presented her work on audience participation in Welsh media content. She talked about the willingness of Welsh speakers to participate in shaping the media landscape but pointed out that there is a gap between the represented and the actual use of Welsh, which poses an obstacle for audience participation. The third student speaker, Adrian Joseph, from London South Bank University, introduced innovative conceptions of participatory learning in the classroom. He showed how different technologies can be used to create a collaborative culture among pupils.

In the spirit of ‘participation’, this event tried to diverge slightly from the traditional Q&A format of academic conferences, so as to create a less mediated discussion between the speakers and other participants. These discussion sessions allowed for a more intimate, informal, and thus greatly productive dialogue to emerge between all attendees.

Following the first discussion session, we heard another set of three student speakers. Firstly Alex Annetts, from Anglia Ruskin University, introduced his research into masculine discourses surrounding Music Technology. He pointed out a gender gap in the Music Tech community, which is based on scientific knowledge and gear fetishism. Alex’s talk was followed by Michelle Lewis-King’s presentation of her ‘Pulse Project’. As an artist studying at Anglia Ruskin’s CoDE, Michelle linked her background in Chinese medicine with a critique of the Cartesian approach to Western medicine, through which she then created digital sound sculptures of individuals’ pulses. Continuing the insights into the art world, Sebastian Laskowski from Goldsmiths, talked about interdisciplinary participation in art practice. Specifically, he introduced his own work in which he combines the traditional with the modern by creating work based on acoustic chamber pieces as well as electronic music.

These presentations founded the basis for the attendees to engage with one another and exchange constructive feedback. Although the topics were varied, all attendees felt welcome and able to participate in this interdisciplinary forum. Frequent coffee and lunch breaks also promoted an increased sense of participation and exchange between all attendees.

The afternoon’s discussion circled around notions of participation and spectatorship. Designed in response to multiple recent publications about participatory art and media, these talks attempted to grapple with the place of the spectator and their relationship with a medium. A keynote presentation was delivered by Dr Richard Rushton, who considered ideas about widening participation as articulated through some Hollywood films. This provoked a great deal of discussion (far beyond the time available) on the interaction between minority and majority cultures, the implications of mainstream film commenting of marginal issues, and the broader ethical implications of speaking of, for, and about, ‘the other’.

Following this exploration of film as a viewed medium, the proceeding round of postgraduate presentations contemplated the work of spectator herself. James Harvey-Davitt (Anglia Ruskin) continued the discussion of cinema, working with Jacques Rancière’s writings on spectatorship and radical equality, in order to challenge the postmodern “death of the author”. He argued instead for the cinema as a communitarian site: containing a more horizontal, less hostile relationship between spectator and filmmaker.

Stephanie Parsons (Anglia Ruskin) steered us towards the idea of media itself, as an agent of representation. Stephanie took a sociological perspective, in order to consider the place of the spectator in mediatised versions of suffering, while at the same time taking a critical position in regards to the social science’s ability to understand the affects. Finally, Katrine Pram Nielsen (Goldsmiths) looked at commercial music streaming service, Spotify, and the logics involved in consumer interface. Katrine challenged both the critical view of multimedia technologies as constraining on the agency of the spectator, and the popular view of social networking aiding public participation.

A closing plenary discussion was preceded by a summary and response by Dr Sophie Hope, drawing upon the salient issues of the day in order to direct a final discussion. In these closing remarks, ideas were broached that continued the ongoing debates regarding authenticity of participation – including the ethics of methods by which individuals are integrated or represented, and the possibility of decidability in radically deliberative processes. This final issue seemed to summarise the day as a whole: thanks to the participants, what was initially intended as a subversive approach to the formalities of academic events, took its own shape altogether. The day ultimately developed into a richly engaging discursive space, where it seemed everyone went away with more questions than they came with, but were even more engaged, intrigued, and satisfied for it.

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