Towards a definition of studio documentation: working tool and transparent record: Nancy de Freitas

Towards a definition of studio documentation: working tool and transparent record:

Nancy de Freitas

Auckland University of Technology, NZ (2002)

The construction and communication of this information can be facilitated through the use of a combination of typical studio practices that will be called active documentation.

The term refers to a planned and strategic method of producing tangible visual, textual or sound/video documentation of work in progress in such a way that normal studio practice is temporarily suspended and it results in specific strategies being implemented.

Central to this method is the associated reflective practice, which can be described in this context as planned and deliberate activities that engage the artist or designer in a critical manner with the relationship between conceptual, theoretical and practical concerns. This definition of reflective practice in art and design is grounded in the work of Boud, Keogh and Walker who reworked Dewey’s five aspects of reflective thought into three. They are:

1) Returning to experience – that is to say, recalling or detailing salient events.

2) Attending to (or connecting with) feelings – this has two aspects: using helpful feelings and removing or containing obstructive ones.

3) Evaluating experience – this involves re-examining experience in the light of one’s intent and existing knowledge etc. It also involves integrating this new knowledge into one’s conceptual framework.

(Boud, Keogh and Walker, 1985: 26-31)

There is a difference between documentation used as an active research method and the straightforward recording of studio experiments and completed work. When documentation is applied to practice in direct association with critical and reflective engagement, it becomes an exploratory tool that has the potential to influence work in progress and be used constructively for this purpose.

Clearly, this awareness needs to be harnessed into a systematic and strategic process if it is to become a valid research method.

1) keeping a text journal;

2) photographic, video or sound recording of work in progress or displayed in trial situations; 

3) collecting and categorising of relevant material.

Reflective practice as a working tool

Active documentation is a way of validating existing modes of practice or identifying new directions. It can refocus or confirm the theoretical platform and research directions. In a practice-based research project it should not be seen as the research itself, but the method through which ideas can be developed.

An important advantage of reflective practice as a part of active documentation is that in combination they can result in the early identification and recording of particulars that need to be carefully documented in a non- textual manner. For example, some areas of artistic knowledge associated with materials or with aesthetic judgement can be difficult to articulate and may be neglected in the exegesis writing because of the difficulty of conveying the information. These cases are best dealt with through non-textual documentation, such as photographic images, sound, narrative media, or diagrams and are likely to be recognized through active documentation.

strong and appropriate connections between theory and practice have been constructed through systematic reflective practice as part of active documentation.

Active documentation, used as a research method, can uncover difficulties associated with the merging of theoretical, personal and practical intentions at an early, developmental stage of the project.

Active documentation offers an opportunity to go beyond regular journal notes and fragmented annotation, offering occasions for reflection when the raw material for an exegesis can be richly mined.

Active documentation brings the writing of the thesis forward and anchors it to the actual work. Analysis, explanation and reflection (theorising) become a part of the progress of the project through a formal detachment from immediate practical concerns.

Studio documentation is a common practice among artists and designers. Active documentation, as defined in this paper, is a process of knowledge construction that may be regarded as a distinct research method appropriate to practice-based research projects in art and design. It can be used to:

a) identify the evolution of a work process;

b) capture accidental progress or problematic blocks;

c) articulate those phases of work that become invisible with progress and

d) provide the detached record that is necessary in the abstraction of research issues.

Active documentation could be developed as one of the distinctive research methods that characterise creative practice in postgraduate education, a method that reveals one of the fundamental differences between the research orientations of studio-based artists/designers and other academic researchers.

Active documentation, encouraged as a formal rather than informal practice, can promote improved awareness and recording of studio processes, procedures in use, reflective practices and decisions taken throughout the duration of a project. As a research method, it is an appropriate hybrid tool for critique, strategic planning, decision-making and exegesis writing. As a method for locating and negotiating theoretical and practical concerns, it could play a role in theory construction relating to art and design research.


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