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RA5a: Structure,environment and staffing policy

The department of Visual Arts at Keele was formed in 1994 and has recently emerged from a period of change and uncertainty, to one where it has a clearly-defined role within the University and a widely-recognised potential for future development.

Visual Arts is a member of the newly-formed School of Languages, Culture and Creative Arts (SOLCCA) which came into being in September 2000. One of the aims of this School is to provide an improved organisational framework for teaching and research across disciplines, within the context of a strongly interdisciplinary University. At the time of the formation of the School, the Visual Arts Principal course - which had run since the creation of the department in 1994 - had been discontinued, and its Professor (Frascina), transferred to the department of American Studies for strategic reasons. However, following a thorough overhaul of departmental aims and objectives, a new programme has been launched from 2001 that initially centres on Dr Riding and Ms Tombs to provide a range of practical and theoretical skills, with contributions from a number of other staff, including Professor Frascina. The business plan for the new Visual Arts course includes the provision of new staff from 2002/3 and, already, the potential for inter-disciplinary working between departments in the School has begun to be exploited in the form of grant applications, as well as through course design.

There is a firmly-established research culture with all academic members of staff undertaking research at a high level in their respective sub-disciplines. It is a department that is firmly committed to integrating theory with practice and this is reflected in the range of research outputs and, for this reason, we wish the submission to be referred to the Art and Design panel (64) for additional consideration. In terms of research, Visual Arts also draws on the expertise of staff within other departments of the School and University; Levy, whose expertise is in French surrealism, is currently based in the French section of Modern Languages (also within SOLCCA) whilst Fyfe is a member of the school of Social Relations.

When the department was created in 1994, it received two major endowments. The John Raven Trust made a grant to the University of £450,000 to fund a chair in Visual Arts, currently held by Professor Francis Frascina, and a second grant of £100,000 was awarded to set up a collection of masonware - the Raven Mason collection - initially deposited by the trust and to which additions have subsequently been made. The Raven Mason Collection, which is held at Keele, is curated by Harry Frost; it enables the team to maintain solid links with the numerous prestigious collections in the area which are valuable for research. Additionally, Royal Doulton contributed £50,000 towards the establishment of a Sculpture Fellowship, originally held by Ms Tombs before her full integration into the department of Visual Arts. In 1998, the University showed its support for research in the form of a dedicated grant of £10,000, in addition to its annual allocation, to allow the department to improve its basic printed and video research resources.

Library resources are biased towards the provision of a comprehensive range of journals to support research, as well as teaching. The research team has its own technical support for photographic and for 3D work. It has a multi-image studio, equipped with Apple computers, with an agreed rolling programme of hardware and software replacement. It also has two photographic darkrooms and a 3D workshop, fully equipped to support welding and ceramics, as well as other activities. Particularly in respect of research which relies heavily on computer workstations, it is envisaged that Visual Arts shall benefit from shared equipment and technical resources within the School.
The research team maintains strong educational links with galleries and museums in the area, particularly the Tate Liverpool, the Potteries Museum in Stoke-on-Trent and the Wedgwood Museum which feeds into research activities of staff and postgraduates.

Following the creation of the new School a series of exhibitions featuring work by staff and postgraduate students has begun. The first exhibition, Lustre, in March 2001, featured work by members of the Visual Arts and Music departments and was successful in drawing parallels between their respective modes of practice and further exhibitions are actively planned throughout the next academic year.

The team also sets out to attract Visiting Fellows, the most recent being Yukiko Tasaki from Tokyo, who has been conducting research at British universities and spent two months at Keele in 1999.

The department administers its own research budget within guidelines determined by the head of school, maintaining a balance between routine research expenditure and exceptional costs. Staff members are allocated a fixed sum for personal research materials and may bid for extra funds, from the department, School or University, which operates a range of mechanisms for supporting and encouraging high quality research. Additionally, and where appropriate, the release of funds granted for the restructuring of the School shall be used, in part, for the creation of an effective school research environment.

All staff may apply for sabbatical leave for one semester in eight, on the basis of a research plan approved by the Dean, and reports are submitted on the period of absence. In 1999-2000, Dr Wakeling was, exceptionally, accorded a double semester of research leave.

The research development office (RDO) supports research, largely through providing invaluable assistance with applications for research grants and contracts. Additionally, the RDO is responsible for developing research-related guidance and policies, maintaining the University’s research-related data and managing the monitoring and evaluation processes including the periodic Research Assessment Exercise.

Research student supervisors are usually nominated by the Department at the time of interview, subject to approval by the University Research Degree Sub-Committee. Approval is given on the basis of their research record, their fitness for the topic, and their supervision workload. They must observe a written code of practice and ensure that students understand their responsibilities. Research training is organised by the faculty of humanities, with additional discipline-specific components arranged by the department, and sometimes in collaboration with other institutions. Student progress is monitored through bi-annual reports to the University and by a formal departmental annual appraisal system.

Recent postgraduates have either focused on historical and theoretical analysis or have undertaken the new theory/practice Ph.Ds which combine a body of exhibition standard work with a dissertation component. As examples of the latter, Miho Suganami’s current Ph.D. work on cultural identity uses models from the disciplines of Sociology and site-specific sculpture to draw together and question ideas of race and social identity. This work has opened up the opportunity for being involved in Japan 2001; her contribution to an exhibition Come Closer at the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery, Hanley in June 2001 has attracted funding from a number of sources, including West Midlands Arts and the Japan Foundation. In contrast, Alessandro Imperato has produced theoretical and practical work centered on the contemporary issues of surveillance and censorship as well as organising a conference at Keele which addressed these issues. An example of the former category is the work of Pam Meecham who is currently writing-up her Ph.D. on 1930s American Social Realism, with a particular emphasis on the paintings of Ben Shahn.

Review of the Research Activities of the Group within the Review Period.
In 1998-2000 Gordon Fyfe was co-organiser and grant-holder for the ESRC’s seminar series Museum and Society and organised six interdisplinary seminars at the Universities of Keele and Leicester as well as the Tate Liverpool. Of the many research papers Fyfe has presented particularly noteworthy was The Social Organisation of Authorship, given to the European Sociological Assocation. Fyfe also presented his paper Auditing the Royal Academy of Arts: Official Discourse and the Amnesia of Institutions to the Association of Art Historians. He is also designing fieldwork research on the way in which issues of access to museums are affecting the museum profession in collaboration with the Universities of Lancaster and Leicester.

Dr Silvano Levy has published regularly on Surrealism and is responsible for studies on the Belgian group, René Magritte, E.L.T. Mesens and Paul Nougé. His research on The Surrealist Group in England has resulted in the book Conroy Maddox: Surreal Enigmas and his wider interest in the movement led him to edit a book entitled Surrealism: Surrealist Visuality. He has curated national touring exhibitions of the work of Conroy Maddox and Desmond Morris and is currently preparing a major book on Conroy Maddox for Liverpool University Press, The Surrealism of Conroy Maddox, as well as the catalogue raisonné of the entire 20th century works of Desmond Morris to be published in Belgium by Petraco-Pandora and also Washington University Press. These books will be followed by another on Magritte. Levy has also been active in participating in a number of broadcasts on national radio and also in curating exhibitions. These include a presentation on Radio 4’s ‘Front Row’ relating to an exhibition of ‘Surrealism in Birmingham’, including works by the Melville brothers, Desmond Morris and Conroy Maddox; the first time that this group has been recognized as a coherent branch of surrealism outside the capital. He also made a major contribution to the catalogue and curated and wrote a booklet for a subsequent exhibition of Maddox in London. He also presented a paper on Hysteria and Surrealism at an international conference in Oxford which is to be published.

From 1997 through to 1999 Dr Christopher Riding was Fulbright Scholar in Residence at the University of New Mexico-Gallup where he taught and researched as well as working with the Navajo Nation museum in Windowrock, Arizona. During that period he had the four exhibitions listed in RA2. Dr Riding joined the Visual Arts department in 1999. In addition to his artistic practice he is engaged in historical and theoretical research. In 1995 his article Drowning by MicroGallery was published in Resisting the Virtual Life (ed. J. Brook and I. Boal) published by City Lights, San Francisco. In the same year, his article The Dreamirage was published in Flickers of the Dreamachine by Codex books, London. During his time at Keele he has completed a further article on digital culture and technologies as well as undertaking work on Wallace Berman and Californian Beat Culture of the late 1950s and 1960s. In November 2000, Dr Riding chaired the ‘American Abstraction’ conference at Tate Liverpool.

Ms Sarah Tombs has been involved in making public sculpture, working in a variety of ways with people and institutions to produce over ten major commissions, including participating in ‘artist-in-residence’ schemes in industry, the public sector and education. Recently she has shifted this emphasis to develop work for exhibitions and has made site-specific works and begun collaborative works with music as part of her exhibiting strategy. In addition to this she has participated in debates on Public Art on BBC radio 4 on T.V. (Granada Film Productions: Celebration). From 1993 - 1999 she developed a corpus of work from research made with the guidance of Sir Robert Winstone at the IVF unit at Hammersmith Hospital for her commission ‘The Circle of Life’. This culminated in a solo exhibition at the Keele Gallery in 1999. She is a founder member and director of Artel Studio Trust based in West Sussex, whose aims are to promote forward looking and innovative visual art by exhibiting, organising art events, talks and art activities in and around Chichester. She has been actively promoting site-specific artworks within Keele University, siting her own sculpture on campus and is currently developing a collaborative commission with landscape design for the campus; the funds raised by the friends of Keele for the Brian Stokes memorial. Ms Tombs has been developing collaborative work between science and art and has worked with the chemistry department to initiate two site specific commissions, a courtyard sculpture and a large stained glass installation for their faculty, they were carried out by Suganami, a current postgraduate student. She has also organised staff exhibitions in the University and department, the most recent one consisting of an exhibition, seminars, a workshop, a musical installation and a concert.

Dr Christopher Wakeling’s research in progress includes a major collective project on Sir Charles Barry’s rebuilding of Trentham Hall, which involves the cataloguing of an important primary source.His research continues to focus on different aspects of the history of post-reformation archtecture. He gave a paper in December 1997 on Gottfried Semper both in Dresden and Birmingham; a paper to Victorian Society in London,March 1998, called 'A brief History of 19th century non-conformist buildings'. In May 1998 he gave a paper to Staffordshire branch of the National Association of Decorative and Fine Art on 'Josiah Wedgewood and the house of Georgian Staffordshire'. Further papers were presented at Sarum College Salisbury, 'The Place of the Word: Luther to Today', in April 1999, and the ' The Puritan Tradition' of Architecture in the 20th century' to an International Conference in Aberystwyth.

Research Strategy
The priorities of the current research plan are to foster international recognition in the following areas: Architectural History (Wakeling); Site-Specific Sculpture (Tombs); Surrealism (Levy); Museology (Fyfe); The integration of Art Theory and Practice (Riding). A significant strand of the research ethos of the team is an emphasis on the social context of art, whether this be the studies of religious architecture by Dr Wakeling and of the role of museums in the research of Mr Fyfe, Dr Levy’s work on surrealism as a movement, or the exploration of site-specific sculpture by Ms Tombs along with the seminal studies of culture and modernity of Professor Frascina, himself included in another Unit of Assessment but nevertheless extremely active in contributing to the research environment of the department. Therefore, the overall focus is that of a group whose interests, though wide-ranging, emphasise the relationship between modern history and artistic practice.
The composition of the School of Languages, Culture and Creative Arts is enabling research synergies to develop across the School to the benefit of practice, as well as history and theory. Music’s position within the new School has already facilitated collaborative projects with members of the Visual Arts Department focused on installation work for sound and sculpture as well as other forms of multimedia work. A research group (Tombs and Vaughan and Garro from the Music Technology group within Music), has begun to develop a research project which seeks to combine sonic mapping and the morphology of sculpted objects. Although the project is at an embryonic stage it will include sculpture (both as gallery installation and site-specific), in conjunction with the diffusion of sonic materials. In addition to a current AHRB large grant application, we will seek commissioned work to support this research over the next five years but shall, in any case, be producing a series of small-scale pilot projects funded from within the department.


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Last updated 17 October 2003

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