Multidisciplinary Practices - We Are OCA
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Multidisciplinary Practices

Established practitioners and students alike may have, at some point, received the same line of enquiry into their field; more so with photographers and that is to define and label themselves within a finite medium. You can never be just a photographer; the inquisitive person wishes to probe further until you say something like ‘I’m a landscape photographer’, or other such title. But what happens when you explore and pursue creative endeavours completely out of your field, do you then answer by saying something like:
‘I’m a conceptual sculptural, portrait photographer that works with oils in a textual based form!!!’
Why are we so concerned with forms of classification and labels? Is it so we can then use these markers as a basis for comparative studies and judgmental critiquing?
I have labelled myself as a ‘Multi faceted artist that primarily uses photography’; a mouthful I know. Typically I stand strong behind my self-classification, then I believe people must just read that as a pretentious way of saying a ‘Jack of all trades…’ and guess what, I agree. I have explored many forms of expression and creative techniques to satisfy my thirst for making; I cannot say if it will end, only that I love my fluctuating practice.
Being multidisciplinary is not just about the final resolution; if we can agree on one label and that is we are all ‘Visual Artists’, including writers, as many great texts have the power to paint pictures in our minds. Our one common multidisciplinary element is that of our inspirations. We all consume the creative world around us, subconsciously storing these artistic nuances in our minds, then calling upon them to aid in our creations. For example, a high frequency of photographers are influenced by paintings, look no further than Tom Hunter’s ‘Woman reading Possession Order’.
However it is that conscious leap to physically engage in another medium and begin to create, that is what I’m investigating. I ask one of OCA’s current level 1 photography students, Jenny Ford – already an established Textile Artist – some questions to see how she explores different mediums…
1. Firstly how would you label yourself?
I describe myself as an ‘Artist’ (who happens to use textile media) but the label ‘Textile Artist’ is the term that is generally easier to use. I wouldn’t label myself as a ‘Photographer’ even though photography is important to my work.  (I have a lot more to learn and research within photography before I would consider calling myself a photographer.)
2. Do you find your textile work influencing your photography or vice-versa?
My photography is beginning to influence my textile practice in a quiet way.  By studying The Art of Photography I have been able to allow myself time to carry out research in photography as well as working through all the practical exercises.
There is a way of ‘seeing’ in photography that I am trying to follow in new concepts in my sculptural textiles.  I am seeing anew form / vibrant colour combinations / subtle changes in light by looking through a camera lens.    My recent sculptural work has been very labour intensive (with a lot of hand stitching).  I am now putting materials together in a simpler intuitive way, and experimenting with form again.
3. Are there any benefits of being multidisciplinary?
Most definitely ‘yes’, as one field of study/practice can feed in unexpected ideas to another. For instance, since starting TAoP, I’ve taken a great interest in the genre of still-life photography.  This has led me to reconsider how I present my own work and indeed how I construct an image of my work to convey ‘presence’ (I would like the photograph to become as important as the textile work itself).
4. Would you recommend to other practitioners to explore beyond their field?
Yes, as long as you don’t lose sight of your ‘roots’.  As a mentioned above, a new way of working can follow from researching in a different discipline.  I think all artists should push themselves in a new discipline from time to time, to keep ideas flowing and work fresh.

Jenny Ford©2013. Taken from Assignment 02 Elements Of Design.
Jenny Ford©2013. Taken from Assignment 02 Elements Of Design.

Jenny Ford©2013. Part of textile practice.
Jenny Ford©2013. Part of textile practice.

More of Jenny’s work can be viewed at:


Posted by author: Russell Squires
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7 thoughts on “Multidisciplinary Practices

  • Russell, what a great post!
    And Jenny – very beautiful photographs.
    I’ve been struggling with how to ‘label’ myself for the past 18 months since I quit my job (in science and product development) to focus full time on art. I’ve always been torn between art and science, and generally felt forced to follow one route or the other. But now I’m coming to the conclusion that its perfectly fine to be both artist and scientist, and I’ve decided to call myself a Renaissance Woman. I’ve even had business cards made, which give me a huge laugh every time I hand them over and see people’s faces! But people who know me think its the exactly right ‘handle’ – so I’m feeling very centred now.
    Russell – you are so right that having a multi-disciplinary approach is a good thing. In my previous work as a product developer we always mixed up the disciplines of design, engineering and science, (and all the many sub-disciplines within those fields), because innovation always happens at the boundaries. As an artist, if you want to make something new and surprising it makes sense to work at the edges, and cross into another discipline. And collaboration with people from completely different fields pays huge dividends in innovation too. To see this in action look at the STPI website (Singapore Tyler Print Institute) where they invite artists (usually with no print making experience) to have a residency at the studio – and its amazing what they produce with the help of a team of master print makers.
    Jenny – I agree with what you say about not straying too far from your roots. For me this means having a clear purpose so that any new media or techniques are serving that purpose. For some people their roots may be with a certain media or discipline, but for me its all about the reason why I create art. I recently went on a short course at St Martins about contemporary art practice, and we made installations, projections, videos and sculptures – none of which I have ever done before. But what that experience showed me was that because I am clear on my purpose I can translate that into any medium – and indeed the experience of forcing myself out of any comfortable media helped me to clarify my purpose. I’d recommend anyone to jump into another discipline for a while to see what they learn about themselves.
    Thanks again for a great post.
    Here’s to the Jack of all Trades (who by the way used to be revered for their ability to turn their hand to anything)

  • Thanks for the feedback and kind comments Carol, there was so much more I wanted to write on this subject like the ‘handle’ used to describe us tutors! is it teacher, lecturer, tutor, demonstrator etc…? In the end I have chose to use ‘Educator’. The STPI site is interesting, some good work.

  • I like the term Renaissance woman/ man. I find that if I stick to my original (learned) medium- paint, I can get stuck in bad habits. If I try something that I have never done before I am not hampered and go at it with an enthusiastic naivety that can reap exciting results. Years ago, I made a 16mm film. I wrote, directed, shot, edited and produced it- none of which I had ever done before. I worked in collaboration with an actress, creative technicians and a musician. The film toured round several festivals. I didn’t pursue film, though, because it got me interested in painting in another way. This cross boundary thing is beginning to happen in schools, at least in Scotland, with the Curriculum for Excellence where pupils investigate a topic across various disciplines. It remains to be seen how successful it will be.

  • Excellent work Jenny and I can see in your image what you were saying about experiments with form and conveying the ‘presence’ of textiles in a photograph. I’ve certainly seen how students with an Art background seem able to infuse their photography with a different way of looking and now I can see how a Textile Artist does the same.
    There’s still that part of me that thinks I’m not an ‘artist’ and so can’t do that in my photography. I’m wondering now if it’s possible to teach a different way of looking and, if so, where can I find it?

    • Thanks, Catherine. I think ‘looking’ is intuitive and each person will find their own way of ‘seeing’ – just by doing so and experimenting with how they view/record/photograph things.

    • Catherine
      in answer to your last question I think there’s a lot to be said for trying to reproduce the work of another artist. It was an exercise I had to carry out for Assignment 5 of Landscape and it really forces you to think about their way of seeing – and doing to some extent. Obviously there’s the the small detail of trying to integrate what you’ve learned with your own work without being totally derivative, but I’ve tried it with Sugimoto, Gibson (in a previous course) and Hatakeyama, and it certainly adds to the range of tools available in the “seeing” toolbox.

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