Study event review: Virtual studio day
Being a distance learner brings many positive aspects to learning – flexibility, personal time management, a way of learning that adapts to personal commitments, a slow or fast paced learning experience, these are some reasons cited by students. However, not being part of a cohort in a face to face environment who meet on a regular basis can bring feelings of isolation. Even if you are someone who prefers to work alone in the studio, there are occasions when sharing your work with others can offer useful new perspectives and understanding to your work – as well as bringing the knowledge that you are part of a learning community.
On 5 October 2019, thirteen students from Level 1 through to postgraduate level met for a new type of study day, gathering together virtually to share their studio work and to engage in producing work alongside each other using an online platform. The idea for the day arose from a conversation Fine Art student Stefan Schaffeld and myself, Programme Leader Caroline Wright when both were attending the recent New Music Collective/Fine Art Collaborative project event in London. I lead the Fine Art MA at OCA, a cohort-based course where group sessions and virtual studio days are a regular feature. Stefan, an OCA Fine Art student is part and founding member of OCA Europe, a group of OCA students who live in several European countries and meeting informally, mostly virtually.
The conversation led to a proposal for a virtual study day, designed to enable OCA students to work alongside each other wherever they were in the world and to share their ideas and work. The day was opened up to students from all levels on the visual arts courses thereby giving an opportunity to any student unable to attend a study day in person to benefit.
Starting with introductions (and the obligatory enquiry about the weather in everyone’s respective locations), the day focused on studio work and the approaches and processes of making. Participants were asked to arrive with a proposal for the day of what they would make, and to have everything they would need ready to hand. Everyone enthusiastically presented their plans. Connections and relationships between the students’ work became immediately obvious and a sense of energy to exchange ideas developed.
Keeping computer cameras and microphones on, everyone embarked on an intense period of making. Despite being many hundreds of miles apart, everyone was in the same virtual space and as each person worked away, the audible studio soundscape linked us all together. There was the sound of paint being mixed, a moment later a pencil scratches the surface of paper, pages are being turned and then the rustle of fabric and leaves. A hand could be seen moulding materials, as another stitched into fabric. The digital screen had become a portal into a meta studio. Collective endeavour can bring with it an extraordinary sense of being a part of something, where the whole is bigger than the sum of its parts. The common struggles and joys of making work were not experienced alone, the group had become a temporary community.
To enable more detailed discussion, I created a number of breakout rooms, online spaces where a small number of students could meet for a short while to talk. Deeper, more meaningful discussions over a longer period of time became possible, and I was able to support these conversations by dropping in and out of each room. Useful research material was suggested – publications, links to online material, artists to look at, and so on – everyone was generous with their knowledge and experience. Stefan reflected after the session “The feedback received on my work during breakout sessions, and at the end, made me aware of how presentation of work can be crucial in reception and responding, e.g. color and use of backdrops. I can envision how such events with a resonating cohort could sustain momentum, and how it could give a wider context and support more relevant and meaningful creation of work through interaction, response, and discussion”
The day continued with a virtual tour around my studio and I was able to present some of my current research verbally and through the objects, books, work and other material that fill my working space.
Time flies as quickly in life as it does online, and the day soon reached its conclusion. A final sharing of the work made during the day was structured to offer everyone a set of key words to take away. On seeing the work of each participant, everyone responded with three words, words that came immediately to mind, that summarized or were a gut reaction to each piece of work.
With thirteen participants, this gave each student 36 single word responses to their work, a repository of language ranging from the descriptive to the critical, the communicative to the contextual, words that could become the basis for a statement, a piece of text or prompts for further studio work.
The many student reflections on the day have spoken of the benefits of feeling part of a community of learners, of the relaxed atmosphere to the day and the ability to join wherever you were based. It was also felt to be a positive experience for those with special needs or disabilities as the pace and level of interaction during the day could be managed and removing the need to travel to a venue meant energy levels were less reduced. Discussion and critique of work during the process and stages of making were also noted to be benefits. Moreover, the time set aside and dedicated to making work in the studio was beneficial – knowing you will be with others working alongside you, albeit virtually, is an excellent way to remove any attempt at procrastination!
I have been told there is a strong desire amongst some of the participating students to follow up on this session as a method to continue working and share the process. Further virtual studio days are planned for Fine Art students and other OCA courses are currently promoting their own group work sessions, so keep an eye out for future dates.