University of Kent
The annual MPE and MeCCSA Practice annual symposium took place at the University of Kent on June 14th 2019.
The title of this year’s conference was ‘Shaping Knowledge; encounters between word and image’. The aim of the event was to explore the interaction of word and image across a range of media-based practices. As creative practice has increasingly found a home within academia, and as digital technologies have made possible new methodologies and forms of output, the hegemony of the written word within arts and humanities scholarship has been challenged from different directions. From curated exhibitions, through audiovisual essays and interactive websites, to sound and digital art, creative practice now challenges the traditionally logocentric focus of humanities across all media. Yet media-based practice cannot entirely escape the written and spoken word, especially within the context of the university. Words permeate it – for example, in the narratives of podcasts, the voice overs of films, and the wall texts of artworks. They also surround it – for example in the framing statements provided in programme notes, catalogues, and websites, in the written components of PhD dissertations, and in REF portfolio submissions.
The symposium explored ways in which practitioners in various fields engage with the interdependence of word and image, focusing in particular on the opportunities and challenges associated with emergent audiovisual forms including XR, podcasting, and hybrid videomaking. The keynote speakers were Professor Richard Koeck, Director of the Centre for Architecture and the Visual Arts, University of Liverpool and Oscar Raby, Creative Director of Melbourne-based VR studio VRTOV. Both (Richard, from the perspective of producing large-scale site-specific experiences; Oscar, from the perspective of creating interactive narratives) explored the particular challenges of sharing knowledge through the experiential formats of mixed reality and virtual reality, and of reconciling the sensory draw of immersion with the need to provide historical context and intellectual depth. Both provoked lively discussion, especially on the question of where and how research can fit within projects designed to be public-facing and accessible.
In-between, a wide range of papers was presented under the following panel headings: ‘The Spoken Word: autobiography’, ‘Word and Image’, ‘The Spoken Word: ethnography’, and ‘Metatexts and Paratexts’. Practices discussed included photography, essayistic film- and video-making, podcasting, animation, digital publishing, and sound art. Together they showed a sophisticated range of approaches to the written and spoken word, amply demonstrating that the perceived dichotomy between word and image can – within the current hybrid landscape of media production – give rise to a wide range of innovative and fruitful practice-based methodologies.
The event benefitted from being situated in the luxurious surroundings of the university’s new business school, and from being condensed into seven hours, so that many attendees were able to come down and return home on the same day. We received many positive messages from delegates during and after the event. Apologies, however, for not providing biscuits with the tea. A mistake we shall never repeat.