11 Jun 2007

Postgraduate students on the edge - at OU Festival of Research

Open University postgraduate student Linda Wilks has arrived at a novel answer to the issue of presenting her research about music festivals to a general audience - LindiFest, an hour-long mini-festival that features three live bands.

Linda is one of eight Open University students who have been working with performance artists Noble and Silver for the past three months. Their mission: to challenge, to subvert and to intrigue an academic audience. Their work forms part of the University's Festival of Research, which is being staged today (Monday, June 11) and tomorrow (Tuesday, June 12).

“This might not be cutting, but it’s on the edge as far as academia goes,” says Stuart Silver, who with partner Kim Noble has been nurturing the creative talents of the eight students.

Challenging perceptions of motherhood is the goal of Jo Sanderson Mann, a second year postgraduate student. Her interactive exploration of motherhood provides both visual and sensual elements to convey a sense of what motherhood feels like.

John Briar, a final year PhD student, intends to spend the two days of the festival wandering around the Milton Keynes campus showing a video he has made exploring technological change, and challenging viewers to respond to what they are seeing. “Working with the artists has opened up my eyes to other ways of communicating,” he says.

The arrangement with the artists is a joint venture between the OU’s Research School and Milton Keynes Gallery.

Dave Middleton, Research School Academic Coordinator, said: “We were very keen to work with Milton Keynes Gallery. This project arose because we wanted to challenge the idea that academic work has to be presented in academic forums. We wanted to create a space where a small group of students could benefit from working with professional artists to present their research using multi-media and performance.”

Emily Taylor is one of three students who will be making use of multi-media projections. She aims to create a puzzle for her audience by challenging beliefs about adoption from China. Gill Clough has produced a GeoCache, a handheld navigation tool. Saskia Van Manen takes the multi-media aspect of the work a stage further and has devised her own interactive game about volcanoes.

All the individual projects are based on the students' PhD research projects. Tom Farrell will be using his ‘performance’ as a means to ‘take over the university’. His research interest is the pervasive nature of advertising, and as part of the Festival of Research he will be running what he describes as a “subversive advertising campaign” to encourage people to think about the way advertising works and ask questions on the ethics of certain forms of advertising.

The Festival of Research is a celebration of the Open University’s research and in addition to the performances by postgraduate students includes two days of seminars, workshops, demonstration, displays, debates and forums.

Dave Middleton added: “Researchers work very hard on their research but very often other people, even in their own institution, know very little about it. We felt that it was time to celebrate the amazing work that researchers do. The innovative way in which the postgraduate students have approached their performances show that research can be presented in a way which engages with a more general audience.”

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