joanne lee


2002 Arts and Humanities Research Board Small Grant in the Visual and Performing Arts

Made Up: Resourcefulness as a Creative Strategy was concerned with visual and aesthetic strategies of imagination. Whilst I am professionally located within the field of fine art, this investigation explored a diverse range of imaginative practices characterised by their ‘resourcefulness’. I explored instances of re-use, re-cycling and re-invention by individuals and communities. I sought to discern what is possible if one’s creativity is defined by the choice or necessity to use only what is to hand. I was interested to determine whether such resourcefulness may result in a poetry of effect that can be usefully pursued as a fine art methodology. I investigated how one might imagine the world differently via the modest means of things already to hand and asked if the use of images that produce wonder and enchantment may form an effective ethical and political strategy.

I believed that there were aesthetic, ethical and pedagogic imperatives to this project, which made its exploration important. Artists and academics have been rediscovering and rethinking apparently discounted models for our aesthetic encounter with the world. A series of studies had been published which seek to restore the importance of magic, enchantment, curiosity and wonder as serious methods for understanding the world. (Bennett 2001, Benedict 2000, Moore 2000, Charney 1998, Daston & Parks 1998) Against this background there remained an intellectual suspicion towards the image, clearly identified by Stafford (1996). Within many contemporary studies in visual culture, enchanting images seem synonymous with seduction and masquerade. I considered it was important to develop Stafford’s contention that sensory messages are not incompatible with reflection and to investigate further the possibilities identified by Buck-Morss that somatic experience could be an effective tool for self-reflective critical cognition. As Elkins (2001) reminds us, ‘ecstatic’ responses to images are by definition displacing and thus a potent force for change.

Despite the predilection for curiosity, hybridity, and the marvelous amongst sections of the academic world, the possibilities for diversity seem to have diminished within everyday life outside the academy. A world predicated upon seemingly homogeneous economic and social structures, has little room for the dangerous power of imagination and wonder. We are currently faced with a range of pressing social, economic and ecological issues that demand ethical and political strategies informed by the ideas above. The imperative for sustainable living may be apparent to many, but without images and imagination of ways for doing, making and living differently, it seems unlikely that substantial change might occur.

It was important to me that this research project informed the development of pedagogy. The increasing volume and diversity of students means that we will be working with a growing number of individuals who will follow multiple career paths. The need for students to explore methods and applications of imagination in the broadest sense thus seemed especially crucial. However the prevalent curricula for contemporary art seem to inhibit students fully exploring their creativity. At one extreme, an emphasis upon a certain kind of critical practice has often resulted in students seeming disempowered, concerned that their imagination might throw up something which does not fit the apparently prescribed model. At the other, the imprecise application of postmodernism suggests a woolly liberalism where students are apt to flounder.  In addition, a desire to be ‘professional’ alongside the huge production costs of certain high profile artists have led students to believe that creativity demands excessive financial expenditure. This project indicated the possibility of a more resourceful alternative.

I have always pursued a range of activities that I believe are critical to my conception of being in the world: these include allotment gardening, cooking and other ‘creative’ activities. They are, in Michel de Certeau’s sense ‘practices of everyday life’ and equally important as being an artist and teacher. I have also explicitly attempted to acknowledge the possibilities for swapping, sharing, scavenging, recycling and reinventing within my own life. I had previously kept these activities quite separate from my academic career, fearing that they would be seen as diversions from ‘real’ work. This had finally become unsustainable and the AHRC project was a conscious attempt to ‘find a way to be inside all my activities’ as Susan Hiller once described it.