Caroline Claisse (Sheffield Hallam University)/ Abigail Hackett (University of Sheffield)
Thus the knowledge we have of our surroundings is forged in the very course of our moving through them, in the passage from place to place and the changing horizons along the way” (Ingold, 2007. P.88)
‘Lines. A Brief History’ by Tim Ingold, from which the above quote is taken, was the starting point for collaborative thinking between an ethnographer (Abi Hackett) and a visual artist (Caroline Claisse). We were both interested in the temporal and spatial nature of how children experience a museum exhibition, and how visual approaches could be used to address the methodological challenge that movement presents (Hackett and Yamada-Rice, 2015). We begin by introducing the research which formed the starting point for this collaboration and the artistic responses which it inspired, with a particular focus on the processes both researcher and artists engaged in during this time. Secondly, we discuss our collaborative discussions which took place after Caroline had produced the art work, with the emphasis on teasing out the similarities and differences of our approaches, and ‘reach’ (Rowsell and Pahl, 2007) of ethnography and arts practice with regards to this particular problem, and ways in which each enriched the other.
Zigging and zooming all over the place: movement in the field Abi Hackett
My doctoral research looked at the experiences of two and three year old children visiting museums with their parents. This study involved a great deal of movement, through the museum as a fast and slow pace, as the children explored, learnt the routes and developed their own ways of being in the museum. I spent a year doing ethnography with eight families; this involved repeated visits to museums with the families, during which as a participant observer I collected video on a handheld video camera, and wrote fieldnotes following each visit. I have become increasingly interested in the role of movement in these experiences, and have written previously about the role of movement in multimodal communication (Hackett, 2014) and developing shared traditions and memories in place (Hackett, 2015).
Within my ethnographic data set, movement is referred to in my written fieldnotes, as well as frequently by parents during interviews and informal discussions (Hackett, 2012). Movement exists in the video footage; the video itself was frequently collected whilst moving through the museum, and the children and parents featured on the video are themselves often moving through the place. In terms of analysis, I carried out a thematic analysis specifically around movement, with categories such as ‘walking to discover’, ‘walking together’ and ‘movement as greeting’. I explored multimodal transcription as an approach to interrogating the non-verbal ways in which children were making meaning in the museum. The tables I created for multimodal transcription (which I describe in more detail in Hackett and Yamada-Rice, 2015) foregrounded the interplay between the children through gaze, gesture and body alignment. However, it was difficult within the multimodal table to capture the movement through place (paths of walking, for example, rather than a gesture made while stationary).
Following multimodal analysis, I transcribed some of the video through a walking maps technique. These walking maps consist of a pencil line, drawn by me onto a blank piece of paper in such a way as to represent the shapes and paths the children took as they moved around the museum (figure). The process of making the walking maps involved watching back the FLIP video footage and drawing my interpretation of this movement. Drawing the walking maps therefore involved transferring lines that the children had made with their walking feet into a different medium; a line made by me using a pencil.
The walking maps approach to transcription was inspired particularly be my reading of ‘Lines. A brief History’ (Ingold, 2007) in which Ingold argues for an academic focus on lines as a field of inquiry, which can serve to illuminate human experience.
As walking, talking and gesticulating creatures, human beings generate lines wherever we go. It is not just that line-making is ubiquitous as the use of the voice, hands and feet – respectively in speaking, gesturing and moving around – but rather that it subsumes all these aspects of everyday human activity and, in doing so, brings them together into a single field of inquiry.
(Ingold, 2007, p.1)
Example of a walking map
In addition, Ingold argues for the significance of the types of lines, and surface on which the lines are inscribed, and the power relations involved in the “imposition of one kind of line on another” (Ingold, 2007, p.2). While Ingold makes this last point in relation to Western and non-Western societies, I was interested in the implications for the privileging of lines in the power relationships between adults and children. This was the reason I resisted drawing the children’s walking paths over the top of museum ground plans, as abstracted, adult representations of the same space.
I was also interested in the drawn maps of museums that Kress (2010, p.39-43) describes visitors being asked to make following their visit to the Museum of London. In Kress’ example, visitors completed a walk through the gallery, then used drawing with a pencil to represent their experience. Whilst the children in my resarch were not old enough to comply with this kind of brief, I was interested in the moment by moment nature of the way in which they drew a path through the museum, their footsteps and movement highlighting what was most interesting or significant to them in the gallery, in the moment. This use of lines to highlight the significant or important has a similarity to what Kress’ museum participants did through their drawings.
The walking maps were a heuristic for the dissatisfaction I felt with describing movement in my research, and the limitations of the table based multimodal transcription described above (Hackett, and Yamada-Rice, 2015). However, in their simplicity and singular focus on the line and its blank background, they offer only a very partial solution to the need to think about the complexity of human and non-human world’s entanglement through lines of movement, which have both spatial and temporal dimensions (Massey, 2005), in “a world-in-formation” (Ingold). The interaction between not only the children themselves, but the children and place was still something that presented a challenge to the existing tools and methods I had to draw on for data collection and analysis.
Collaboration with Abi Hackett Caroline Claisse
The first thing was to brainstorm with Abi around both her research and issues around the visualisation of the research. She first explained the main challenges she found when visualising her research, the difficulty of transcribing the multiple dimension of an experience in a museum setting.
Abi created a series of walking maps to visualise her data generated from the video she recorded of young children in the museum space. This was done in order to understand how the children would communicate and create meaning by moving through the gallery space. Abi mentioned some of the difficulties of using the map as a way of understanding the space. Her maps are very salient and useful to her study to visualise the children’s movement through space: the maps create a linear ‘snapshot’ of the whole experience and act as evidences to support her study. However, they do not always translate the multiple dimensions of the children’s experience; especially, she emphasised the difficulty of giving an account of the place itself.
Abi sent me three of the children’s videos and maps for me to work from. I was interested in investigating the materiality of the space and questioning the linear aspect of an experience in the museum. The first thing I did was to go to the museum and to use the children’s maps to walk through the space. In total, I came back three times to the museum to take pictures and draw from the space always following the children’s maps created by Abi. When I became more familiar with the space, I started brainstorming and I created a list of relevant materials I found from both walking in the gallery and watching the children’s video.
Brainstorm from the gallery walks
From the photo taken in the space I first created a linear collage for the three videos and also a series of linear drawings of what the children would have encountered during their walk. With those two exercises, I really became more familiar with both the children’s experience and the space itself. It helped me to externalise what I thought was very relevant to their experience in the museum space.
Linear photo collage of Brian’s walk
Linear drawing of Brian’s walk
I was interested in questioning the linear aspect of an experience and through my visualisation of Abi’s research I wanted to investigate the material aspect of the place for each of the children’s walk. With the following experiment, I attempted to give another dimension to both data collected (e.g. video) and the original maps created by Abi. First, I was inspired by the work of Joseph Cornell and especially, his various pocket-sized containers where the artist condensed time and space together through tactile and visual means. The small vessels he creates, feature details of illustration combined with symbolic object and delicate signature, the evocative containers are meant to enact discovery.
Joseph Cornell’s artwork, Untitled (1930s)
Inspired by watching the video, I wanted to create a series of small vessels, some kind of ‘time capsule’ for each of the children’s walk which would bring back an essence of both the place and the children walk. First, I created various lists of materials and keyword collected from both the space and the video. Then, I created a series of drawing, some kind of initial scenario of what each box would contain. The drawings were accompanied of list of potential material which help me to stay focus on the relevant materials I would need to collect to translate some aspects of the children’s experience. I first went to the museum shop to buy materials which would directly connect to the space (e.g. postcards with the bear, stones etc.). Then, I collected more abstract materials from various shops (e.g. textured paper). Both drawings and the composition of each boxes changed throughout this process.
Initial drawing for the three vessels
Three vessels were created in the end: one for each of the children’s walk. The use of artistic and design tactics (e.g. visual metaphor, use of evocative materials, brainstorming, collage and assemblage) were used to highlight the role materials play in our experience of a place. With this experiment, I was hoping to take on a more poetic approach to reflect on the intangibility of human experiences.
Three walk vessels (2015)
Brian’s walk. Connection to Brian’s experience (e.g. light) and the space (e.g. polar bear)
I argue that there is a strong potential for more artistic and design process to be used in research to not only visualise data but to open up new ways of interpreting the data generated from the research. Touch and other modes should be part of the research process of collecting and analysing the data:
Our sense of touch, in other words, is exploratory and inquisitive as it helps us to create meaning, whether in cerebral, emotional, concrete or creative form.
[Joseph Cornell Wanderlust (Royal Academy of Art 2015 p.56)].
This process enhanced my understanding of the data collected by the researcher and enabled me to develop my own interpretation. I believe that the tactile and visual materials created can also be used as a set of poetic tools to talk about the research to the public but also to be used with other researchers to generate ideas and understanding of potential and issues related to the research.
Millie’s walk. One walk vessels opened (2015)