Making Research


MA Art and Material Histories
City and Guilds of London Art School
6th January - 10th February, 2020

Laura White will lead a series of research workshops - ‘making’ research through hands-on and shared experience. Each week materials will be explored from different perspectives with each student bringing their own experience to these material engagements. These sessions aim to explore materials face/body/hands on, and to open up new ways of thinking and talking about materiality – materiality as the subject rather than a vehicle for the non-material and theoretical.

Session 1

Monday 6thJanuary 

Material Matters.

The day will start with an Introduction to this series of research workshops with a talk on materiality from the perspective of Laura’s personal research as a practicing artist and educator. Everyone will be asked to do a short presentation around their interests, to share their ideas and experiences of their own material engagements. (Please bring materials to share.)


1.    Touching, not seeing / seeing, not touching

Work in pairs. One blind folded the other not. One touching and one observing in silence for 5 mins.  Pay attention to the details when describing the object and to think about the following:-

  1. Try to AVOID thinking about – what the object IS, the meaning, politics, language of the object/material, the function etc. Focus on the immediate material/thing in front of you – how you might describe it?
  2. Explore the weight, gravity, surface and material qualities, balance, colour, texture, density, and stability.
  3. Explore – smell, taste and temperature.
  4. Does it release anything - vapour, residue, air, liquid, produce a sound?
  5. Explore – surfaces, where different surfaces meet and touch.
  6. Think about what materials are included - what is apparent and what is hidden, connecting points, how it might have come into the world, processes involved to form/make it
  7. How do you think it is made? What evidence is there to how it is made?
  8. How does your body relate to it?
  9. How strong/weak is it?
  10. Is it stable - moving, growing, shrinking, aging, wearing down? How might this be caused?
  11. Do you trust it? Is it behaving as expected or doing something unfamiliar?
  12. Is it dead or alive?

The person blindfolded after handling for 5 minutes in silence (remaining blind-folded) describe the object –

Then person observing but not handling describe without touching the object without naming it. (10 Mins) Blindfolded person remains blind-folded.

Then as a group each pair talk about their material experience.

  1. Action - spider diagram

Everyone take a NEW object, take time to explore this object (Handling). Take a large piece of paper and name the object and circle in centre of the page. Build a spider diagram (connectors) of the experience of handling, looking at the object – any thoughts and associations… using words…

  1. Folded paper - Consequences

Each take A4 size paper.

  1. Draw a head and shoulders at the top of the page - if your object is an animal what would it be and draw its head and neck. Then fold the paper over so just showing the bottom of the neck. Then pass to your neighbour.
  2. Draw shoulders to waist – if your object was food what would it look like or if it you could eat it what would it taste like. Fold the paper over so just shows bottom of waist. Then pass to your neighbour.
  3. Draw waist to top of legs – if your object was the weather what would it be, or what weather would it like to be! Fold to top of legs. Then pass to your neighbour.
  4. Draw the legs – if your object was a plant what would it be? Draw to the bottom of the legs. Then pass to your neighbour.
  5. Draw feet at bottom of the paper – if your object was a landscape what would it be.

Unfold your paper to reveal you objects collective identity.

  1. Plastercine characters

Using plastercine make a character – if your object was a character what would it be (living or inanimate object)? Try not to sculpt the appearance of the original object….

  1. Short story

Write a short story about your object – one paragraph of fiction. E.g its upbringing, occupation and experiences.

Session 2

Wednesday 15th January

Auto-Pedagogy - a day at a butchers

A visit to a butchers in Stoke Newington North London to learn about poultry and sausages. This will be a hands-on session lead by an experienced butcher, where we will learn about the meat we are handling and how to prepare different types for the table and food industry. We will be looking at what it means to make/learn with others, skills used, environments and tools required plus the broad industry around this particular food material.

DIWO (doing it with others) students and staff working together.

This activity will focus on particular butchery skills, thinking about how the hands work in relation to the material (meat) and how through direct touch we learn about the object/material in front of us, its material properties and behaviour, such as its weight, strength and texture. It is also interesting to think about the context and environment in which the activity is taking place (the butchers shop,) the social exchange between skilled professionals and participants, and the food industry in which this activity is servicing.

Project Brief

Thinking and engaging with the process of butchery and exploring what might be learnt through a hands-on experience.

  • How physically engaging with a process can offer insight into the final object, and inform intellectual understanding of the subject matter – bread making.
  • Handling materials and tools, such as to experience the sensory material of meat - smell, texture and movement, and its material instability.
  • To explore our bodies physical and cognitive capacity to learn a skill (butcher skills) and negotiate different materials and techniques. E.g. Body stature, hand mobility and our physical and neurological properties affecting the way we listen, look and discuss when we learn a practical activity.
  • How the environment - material, people, furniture, tools and architecture etc. can influences how we do/make things.
  • Explore Knowledge-making as a dynamic process arising directly from the indissoluble relations which exist between the mind, body and environment.
  • How might this process yield new insights into how knowledge is generated, such as the social aspect of DIWO (doing it with others) to challenge our experience?
  • Learning a skill (butchery) is embedded in broad social inquiry around the body, gender, identity, politics and economics, such as thinking about the meat industry - who becomes a butcher and who consumes – how this is changing.

Over the following week write about working with meat – an aspect of the class – creative writing to unpack your negotiation with meat … Write in any way you like (this is not an academic piece of writing!)

Roberta De Caro

Is that a nipple?!

Meaty, fleshy, fatty, juicy
On the bone, off the bone
the skirt, the skin, the cartilage


Peel off, slice off, twist and thread through
mix, mince, mangle
the flavour, the taste, the juices

fat, lean
tender, dry
this is how I like it

Roast, poach, BBQ, stir fry
skin on, skin off
the tip of the knife, the middle of the knife, the end of the knife

Oh God!

scrape, slice, score, cut
let gravity do the work
just the tip of the knife, steady, all the way

legs to the left,
wish bone out
no left-handers here today...

The fillet, the rump, the sirloin, the leg
pork belly, pork ribs
the wings, the breast, the crown


pull it, cross it, turn it over and tie it three times
nice and tidy, ready for the oven
Sunday roast, two large portions, a family of four

kept indoors, 
kept outdoors
chickens like to sit on their bums...

The rusk, the herbs, the seasoning, some water 
wet, floating intestines
chipolata, the Cumberland, the banger


the sausage competition, the sausage of the week, the judges, the votes
wine, chilli, apples, all sorts

Do Not Use Basil!

the customers' recipes, the winner
some are really good...

The rib cage, the bones, the carcass and the oysters
colour coded knives and chopping boards
Let the knife do the work, stand up straight, shoulders relaxed


the stamp, the skin, the body part, once a living being
four months, two months
killed, hung, ready

wash your hands, 
thoroughly wash your hands. 
Is my freezer big enough?

Session 3

Monday 20th January

Library of Materials and pewter casting with Martin Conreen

Martin is one of the founding members of the institute of Making at UCL. Martin will share with us his materials library and wealth of knowledge of materials, such as the use of materials that are revolutionising the building industry and those once used for child’s play are now used for high tech protective clothing.

This discursive session will be followed with an interactive workshop making moulds from cuttlefish and then casting in pewter.

Session 4

Monday 27th January

Materials on Show

Visit to Tate Modern  

Moving on from Martin Conreen’s expansive range of extraordinary materials, we will be focusing on materials specifically used by artists. Focusing on Tate Modern’s ‘Material and Objects’ permanent display we will look at different materials and processes used by artists and how these choices are fundamental to the ideas/concepts and reading of individual works. 

After a group conversation as we view the collection I will ask you to pick 2 works you are particularly interested in (their materials and process) and document with your phone camera to facilitate a conversation about the materials of your selected artworks. 

Chose 2 artworks for a discussion on materiality

Things to think about:

  • What are the artworks made of – visible and hidden materials. Look at the details.
  • Can you identify all the materials and processes involved in the artworks?
  • Are the materials familiar, unknown, fashionable or outdated?
  • Who made them and how were they made – artist, assistance, technology - hands, feet, virtual?
  • How are the artworks held together – things attached to other things, how are they fixed or unfixed?
  • Do the artworks reveal the way they are made – process, time it took, or are the processes disguised?
  • Why do the artworks not fall-down? How are they standing, hanging, suspended?
  • How do you think they were installed?
  • How do the materials influence your reading and understanding of the artworks?
  • The archival qualities of the materials – will they last – have they changed over time? How stable are they?
  • What are the social, economic, political, environmental readings and implications of the materials used?
  • How would the artworks change their meaning if the materials were different (made of something else!) What alternative materials could you imagine the artworks being made of?
  • How has technology – the digital, living in an age of social media affected your understanding of the artworks you have chosen?

We will then go to my studio at Cubitt in Angel to discuss your selected works  and I will show you a range of different materials and processes that I use in my practice.

Session 5

Monday 3rd February 

Unknowing CLAY 

A day working with CLAY at Rochester Square Ceramic studio in Camden.

Starting from a position of ‘not knowing’ we will explore without boundaries the potential of this material. We will use different processes and clays - throwing, hand building, extruding and casting, using buff, porcelain and terracotta clay. Challenging the materials behaviour and our own behaviour! We will not plan, and will resist thinking of an outcome, to explore processes openly and to allow for failure. Allow the materials to generate the work.

  • Using clay from unknowing position
  • Spend time feeling the clay – touch, smell, sight.
  • Explore its breaking points – to crack, to split, to collapse. Push to limits
  • What is the tipping point when clay collapses... E.g. How tall, narrow, long can it be manipulated  before collapsing.
  • What can different processes achieve in their unique way. E.g. strength of a slab, coil, extruded form – material qualities.
  • To make without a final goal. Respond to material – rather than imposing ideas on it. OPEN and unplanned.


  1. Roll out a slab of clay, then only working from underneath/behind create a form.
  2. Take a lump of clay and using small bits to build up - cover part of your body with clay and then remove/pull body out/away from clay - see what occurs.
  3. Take a plaster mould to push clay into – Roll out coils to feed into mould. Remove from mould then apply another tool to change it (do not use hands) just other objects (take wood from outsides, mug, etc...)
  4. Using the extruded - handle the extruded tubes of clay to see what you can do with it in a quick moment.
  5. Using these individual clay PARTs - Slab, body cast, mould impression and extruder - join together to make one single object – cut into, reform etc – EXPLORE intuitively… Don’t plan the final outcome.


  1. Throwing with Nina Wright using different types of clay – porcelain, buff and terracotta to explore the different clay qualities. Nina will go through these three clays to explain what they consist of  - What is Clay?
  2. Thinking of the wheel as a moving platform – we will use the wheel in different ways – eg not to centre, to place a number of balls of clay on the wheel at once….
  3. All pieces will be destroyed at end - so not to be precious.
  4. End of day we will have a discussion about the experiences – how different clay behaves and how different methods affect your experience of the material.

Session 6

Monday 10thFebruary

Body and Stuff

Workshop to explore materials and objects in relationship to the human body. What it is to understand our bodies through materials and to pay attention to the co-dependent relationships between ourselves and material. The selfie photo will be the means in which we will document this process. A hands-on/body-on workshop…


Introduction to Project – talk about artists using objects to change their body experience. E.g. Franz West, Rebecca Horn, Erwin Wurm and Laura Wilson.

  • Start by asking everyone to pick up an item (an item you have bought in that you are familiar with handling) but not using your hands - how to handle without hands - using other parts of the body.
  • Move the object from the floor to a table only using your body. E.g. balancing on back of your hand - what do you discover? (understand the materials they are made of, how your bodies work…)
  • Then move the same object from the floor to a table using additional objects. E.g. picking up with a pencil, string etc.
  • Pick up object not using hands and pass to another person, see how may times can pass before dropping.

THEN.... using a range of material and objects...

  • Create device/object/sculpture… that inhibits/alters the way you walk and move. Make quick things and don’t worry about what they look like. Do object selfie to document.
  • Create a device that changes the way you use your arms. Do object selfie to document.
  • Create a object that attaches your body to something else - the architecture, furniture or someone else in the room. Do object selfie to document.


Taking one thing that you have made - develop and transform into something  permanent - paying attention to how it is made and how it appears, how soft or hard it is... Working with plaster and mod roc in the casting workshop stabilize your object and think about it as sculpture that may be presented in relation to the body or as an autonomous object.

This session will culminate in a discussion to pull together the ideas and experiences from this and previous session, and to open up ways to further each students’ individual research project.

Participating students and staff

Ellie Arden
Francesca Souza
Roberta de Caro
Sarah Cleary

Tom Groves, Head of Art Histories