Figures of Thought

Wednesday 5th May 2021

With DRAWN, artist and researcher Lilian Kroth has brought two sessions to Tactics & Praxis encouraging us to experience and reflect upon drawing as an embodied process and a thinking process. In the first session, DRAWN 1, in March 2021, Lilian led us for a practical workshop in which we set aside drawing as a visual practice and instead created lines that responded to our breath, to music and sound, to various parts of our body, to affect and rhythm (some examples are in the slideshow below). 

DRAWN 2 takes place this Friday 7th May, and Lilian will share some of her thinking and practice arising from her PhD research on the French philosopher Michel Serres. She told us: "Michel Serres’s writings swarms with lines. He speaks in drawerly terms to describe different kinds of limits, borders and boundaries and the performative act of their making. This is why theoretical approaches to drawing resonate with Serres’s approach to theory-making, but they can also be a key to illuminate both his broad transdisciplinary approach and his concept of ‘figures of thought’. We will look at Serres's notions about drawing, but also approach his writings as a generative way of drawing different kinds of lines, whilst producing multiple understandings of space, time and history. Approaching Serres’s writings through an expanded understanding of drawing helps understanding his idea of form and translation, the idea of scientifically informed philosophies of the limit, tactical aspects of spirals, and line-making in its performativity of exclusion and inclusion."

Everyone is warmly invited to share thoughts, opinions and experiences, and we will reserve a time window for a discussion afterwards. While this session follows on from last term's workshop, it is not a prerequisite to have attended the first session: everyone is welcome.

Atlas on Mountain - Lilian Kroth (2020)

Rain From Below - Lilian Kroth (2020)

Clouds over Europe and the UK - Lilian Kroth (2020)

Participants share their lines at the end of DRAWN: 1, Tactics and Praxis workshop with Lilian Kroth, 5th March 2021

Right Eye (when closed) / Left Eye (when closed) - Matthew Attard, participant at DRAWN: 1, Tactics and Praxis seminar, 5th March 2021

Left Hand (Audio) - Matthew Attard, participant at DRAWN: 1, Tactics and Praxis seminar, 5th March 2021

The Sound of Craft

Monday 26th October 2020

On Friday 13th November, Anija Dokter will speak to us about her experiences working in the Estonia piano factory, a place rich with history. A century ago there were hundreds of small European workshops producing upright and grand pianos for musicians in their local communities. The rise of mass-manufactured pianos has radically changed the piano industry, closing almost all traditional workshops. Most historical European makers' names are now owned by the Chinese government and other conglomerates. Today there are seven independent European workshops still producing pianos mostly according to traditional European piano building methods. At the Estonia Klaverivabrik, our team of 40 craftspeople produce around 10 grand pianos per month using traditional hand tools and crafting techniques. We are the only producer in the Baltic-Nordic region and our parts and supplies are sourced from Europe.

Over the session, Anija will share some of the basics of piano construction and show participants around the Factory and some of the workshop rooms, finishing with a demonstration of the grand pianos currently being finished in the Voicing and Tuning department. She will share thoughts about craftsmanship and manufacturing in the context of academic work, and her experience leaving academia to start building a new career in artisanal trades that are increasingly threatened by globalisation and automation.

About Anija:
"As a student completing a B.Mus, M.Phil and PhD in Music, I was often frustrated that the material realities of making music were simply not taught or even considered in the music curriculum. Music studies focused on the 'Great Work' by elite composers, rather than the working class crafters and artisans who made nearly all music-making physically possible. I largely self-studied organology (i.e. musical instrument studies) and piano repair, while trying to find apprenticeships in the highly male-dominated field of keyboard instrument building. My PhD thesis focused on the cultural importance of tools and craftsmanship for forming key gendered concepts core to economic systems. After finishing a year as a postdoc, I left Cambridge to search for opportunities outside academia, wanting a healthier and more sustainable life. I now spend most of my time making and crafting, across many media."

In Pieces, Together, Apart

Friday 11th September, 2020

10-minute doodles made during our zoom session on 9th July 2020

On 9th July, which would have been the first day of our COVID-19-postponed conference, a group of us gathered in a virtual space online. We wanted to bring people together to mark the dates of the conference and we hoped to connect creatively with others. We also felt that the event should offer a moment of respite and solidarity as a very difficult academic year drew to a close - a time which has been challenging and overwhelming for so many people all over the world.

We used the zoom interface, with its patchwork of windows, to create collaborative images (inspired by sessions held by Art Refuge in June) - see below for some examples. We took ten minutes to create an individual doodle, which has produced the collective collage above. While we'd planned to switch our cameras off for this exercise, to free ourselves of inhibitions, in the end most chose to keep them on, and we worked quietly, peacefully, occasionally looking-up to see others busying with something. Each 'doodle' used completely different techniques but each one in its way spoke of the themes of connection and creative practice under lockdown we were reflecting on throughout the session. Finally, we each in turn showed an object that represented connection for us during the pandemic and lockdown - each object a thread reaching out to others at a distance. Hearing about everyone's chosen items was intriguing and moving. We came away from the session feeling more connected, in spite of our separation.

What to Wear Now: Digital Garments and Textile Fragments

Wednesday 29th April 2020
Perhaps appropriately for a session that because of the current pandemic must take place through an online platform, our next meeting on Friday 1st May will evoke intersections between tangible textiles - things we wear and hold - and virtual fashion. Wendy Moody will join us using Zoom, sharing images of her work through the screen-sharing function. With a background in textiles and fashion and research collaborations with engineering and neuroscience, Wendy's work has focused on the experience of wearing clothes. Her recent research is engaged with questions of sustainability, which have never been more vital, using multi-disciplinary research and creative practice to find ways of engaging with clothes without the need for purchases or waste. In the week that marks the anniversary of the catastrophic Rana Plaza factory collapse, which killed thousands of textile workers on 24th April 2013, it feels apt to be thinking about radical approaches to sustainable fashion. This is also an opportunity to continue our regular reflections on the way academic research, creative practice and ethical commitment can come together. However you feel about WFH outfits and #dressupfriday, please join our Zoom seminar at 1.30pm-3pm this Friday. Contact the organisers for the meeting link.

Tacit 1, Wendy Moody

Tacit 4, Wendy Moody

Tacit 5, Wendy Moody

Tacit 7, Wendy Moody

Feathers, Sleeping, Drowning

Monday 17th February 2020
The relations between spaces, groups, creativity and thought are a thread running through many of our discussions in this group. Continuing these explorations, our next session we move to Kettle's Yard, the University of Cambridge's modern and contemporary art gallery. It is an apt setting to explore the art and writing of creative researchers Carol Mavor (see sample work from 'Magpie Daddy' in the slideshow below) and Esther Teichmann. Carol will discuss 'Magpie Daddy', with reference to writings by Emily Dickinson, including 'Hope is a Thing with Feathers'. Esther's artist talk will weave her short stories with still and moving images, presenting extracts from her forthcoming monograph, On Sleeping and Drowning. Details of readings are here. Please get in touch if you would like to access materials for any of our sessions.

With thanks to Emma Wilson (Centre for Film and Screen, Cambridge) and Amy Tobin (Kettle's Yard) for making this session possible.

Carol Mavor, Untitled, I, from 'Magpie Daddy', 2019

Carol Mavor, Untitled, II, from 'Magpie Daddy', 2019

Carol Mavor, Untitled, III, from 'Magpie Daddy', 2019.

Carol Mavor, Untitled, IV, from 'Magpie Daddy', 2019.

Carol Mavor, Untitled, V, from 'Magpie Daddy', 2019.

Dirty Practice

Thursday 13th February 2020
We are looking forward to our session with Christian Mieves tomorrow: 'Dirty Practice:  “When I Am Falling, I Am Doing All Right”. The Studio and the Role of Doubt in Contemporary Painting Practice.' Details of the readings are here.

Newbridge 2019  (detail), oil on canvas, 29 x 22 cm.

Tactics & Praxis: A Manifesto

Tuesday 28th January 2020
Joyous news: our collaboratively written manifesto, reflecting on ideas and questions that drive us, as well as the seminar series from 2018-2019, has been published by MAI: Feminism and Visual Culture in a special issue on Feminist Pedagogies, edited by Clara Bradbury-Rance. Please share widely, and come back to us with your reactions, questions and comments.

Strikes, Tactics and Institutional Space

20th November 2019
When we realised that our next session fell during the agreed dates of strike action, we thought carefully about whether or not to go ahead with our event. UCU members voted overwhelmingly in favour of a strike in ongoing HE disputes over casualisation, pay inequality, workload and pensions. It is usual to cancel departmental seminars in support of such action.

Not only do we support UCU's action and demands, we also feel that our seminar's aims are aligned with those demands in our resistance to neoliberal academia, its productivity model and its culture of overwork, precariousness and atomisation, as well as its entrenchment of inequalities.

In discussion with our speaker, Natasha Tanna, we decided to go ahead with the session, in collaboration with Trinity Hall MCR, reformulated as a teach-out, which considers some of the complexities of strike action in a Cambridge context, as well as broader questions. Natasha has come up with an inspiring set of questions and some thought-provoking reading - please see her statement below. Do get in touch through our contact page if you are not a member of the University of Cambridge and would like to be added to our Moodle group as a friend: all of our readings are available there.

Tactics and Praxis Teach-Out - Natasha Tanna

Institutional Space: Living Creatively in Collegiate Cambridge 
(/what a live-in supervisor’s “office" looks like seconds before students arrive)

In this teach-out I will share some personal reflections on the privileges and pressures of living, teaching, writing, and painting in my office as a College Teaching Officer. 
In the context of the strike about issues including pay, pay gaps, working conditions and precarity (in which Colleges are not technically part of the dispute), I hope we can think together about some of the following questions:

Which aspects of ourselves do we reveal in academic spaces and which aspects do we hide? Why? How?

What is the effect of working in environments where boundaries between shared and private space and public and private self are blurred or non-existent?

How might we make time and space for guilt-free creative pleasure in institutional spaces and beyond? 

When are Colleges and College-employed academics considered to form part of the University, and when are they not? 


21st October 2019
We began the year with a multi-sensory, thought-provoking session from Laura McMahon, who spoke about the intertwining of music, literature and cinema in her creative, personal and intellectual life. We listened to music by Broadcast and Laura's band, Red Red Eyes and watched scenes from Claire Denis' 35 Shots of Rum (2008) and Mia Hansen-Løve's Goodbye, First Love (2011), where pre-existing music is used to add dimensions of emotion and significance the the scene, its space, bodies and narrative.

As well as encouraging us to reflect on the flow of music that runs through our lives and might nourish our academic practice in unexpected ways, Laura's session also picked up on a theme that has run through many of our sessions, that of exposure. In Laura's case this exposure takes place through performing on stage as a musician (and wondering if students or colleagues will be in the audience), but many of us could identify the fear - and excitement - involved in the idea of our 'secret' creative lives being uncovered and revealed.

Tactics To Come

16th August 2019
We're busy planning and preparing for a second year of our seminar series, which will culminate in a conference in July 2020. We can't wait to share details of the programme, which is currently taking shape.

In the meantime, feast your eyes on a glimpse of Clare Danek's stitch journal, which she uses as a reflective tool in her doctoral research at the University of Leeds. We're delighted that she has agreed to participate in one of our sessions in the forthcoming academic year.

Find the dates of our sessions for your diary on our programme page.

Ways of Feeling: Shreepali Patel and StoryLab

23rd January 2019

For a while now, we've been meaning to post brief reports on each of our sessions. We're kicking off with a few thoughts about Shreepali Patel and her inspiring session on her work with StoryLab (23rd November, 2018).

Shreepali told us (among many things) about the making of her film and multi-screen gallery work The Crossing. Evolving from a commission by Emma Thompson in 2013, the work grew out of a multi-screen exhibition and stands as an example of an artwork than can exist in different formats and spaces. Watching it for the session as an online short film demonstrated the power and immediacy that small-screen work can have. It offers an original and profoundly affecting way of presenting sex trafficking testimony.

The work makes unprecedented use of drone filming (illuminated in a further short film) to offer a non-human view of city space, a gaze that roves through and over the space in unfamiliar ways. This is constructed with images and evocations of the vulnerable human body. This is a poignant way of telling the story of a profoundly dehumanising experience.

Watching these works and hearing Shreepali speak about her work also offered a striking example of how creative practice can function as research on multiple levels. The Crossing experiments with filming technology and exhibition platforms to examine how new affective images might be created. This also forms an investigation into how testimony can be transmitted in ways that bridge the personal and collective dimensions.

The personal dimension of research has been a recurrent theme of the seminar so far. By situating The Crossing in relation to her protective feelings towards her daughter, wider concerns about human trafficking in India, and the increase in domestic and local trafficking in the UK and Cambridge, Shreepali also reminded us of the intersecting lines that connect us, as researchers, with the political and social dimensions of our research. This is something The Crossing illuminates, with its images of central London co-existing with a hidden economy of brutal sexual exploitation.

In the ongoing work of Tactics & Praxis, we want to continue to explore how research can value and illuminate individual, embodied and emotional experience while connecting it to a broader socio-political sphere. 

On Doodling and Humming

10th January 2019
Catherine Grant has confirmed that in our first seminar of Lent Term, on 25th January (see the Programme) she will speak and show on a theme of doodling and humming. She has selected as a reading Claire Pajaczkowska's chapter "On Humming: Reflections on Marion Milner's Contribution to Psychoanalysis" in Lesley Caldwell's collection Art, Creativity, Living (London: Karnac books, 2007).

Catherine also encourages us to have a look at the book Pajaczkowska's essay speaks to and about, Marion Milner (Joanna Field)'s On Not Being Able to Paint (1950).

If you'd like to watch any of Catherine's videos before the seminar, you can find them here.
We're excitedly looking forward to an inspiring session on creativity - see you there!

Decriminalising Ornament

Friday 16th November, 2018
Anglia Ruskin University are hosting a 2-day conference (17th-18th November) and an exhibition (1-26th November) on Decriminalising Ornament.

This two-day research conference explores the nature of pattern and ornament within the context of illustration, printing and publishing and explores ideas and asks questions around its current state of appreciation, meaning and usage. Within the context of practice based research, international researchers, academics and practitioners will present their work and discuss their ideas.

Alongside the conference there will be a Research Exhibition, featuring a collaborative installation by the graphic designer Hansje van Halem and printer/publisherJan de Jong, as well as the research practice related to pattern and ornament of 13  contributing artists.

Nina Warmerdam, the IMPRINT project, 2013

Chaotic lives

Thursday 25th October, 2018
At lunch today, someone asked me about the 'optional extra' posted in our seminar programme after Katherine Angel's session tomorrow: a trip to the cinema to see The Chaotic Life of Nada Kadić. Would Katherine be speaking about it?

Well, no (though we hope she'll have time to join us!) Rather, this is intended to encourage us to take time out in the midst of a busy term to do something different, as a group. We are inspired by Maggie Berg and Barbara K. Seeber in The Slow Professor, when they argue that the academic workplace should and can be collectively shaped into a 'holding environment' (2016: 82). We are hopeful that activities can help to build a basis for new forms of collegiality and fellowship and plan to organise at least one further group outing during the academic year.

The film is a story of a life that feels chaotic, focusing on a single mother whose 3 year-old daughter is diagnosed on the Autism spectrum. With its vision of a woman trying to juggle multiple demands on her love, energy and resources and struggling to make it all hang together, it recalls Lauren Berlant's discussion of unraveling lives in what she calls, 'the crisis ordinary', when one, 'no longer knows what to do or how to live and yet, while unknowing, must adjust' (Cruel Optimism, 2011: 200). In this way the film speaks to our broader concerns about pressures we all face in the era of achievement and the 'burnout society', and the way personal lives are caught in broader, sometimes invisible, intersecting forces.


Friday 19th October, 2018
Katherine Angel will join us next Friday (26th October) for our second session of the year. She will speak about the pitfalls of truth-telling about sex; why it's both necessary and impossible. And what this means for writing, for writing in the first-person, memoir, but also politics.
As well as sections from her book, Unmastered: A Book On Desire, Most Difficult to Tell (not as long as it looks and well-worth reading in its entirety!) we have put the Introduction from The Slow Professor up on Moodle. We also encourage participants to look at Louise Bourgeois' stitched fabric heads (see below). Katherine says: "They speak to me so much not just of self-silencing, but also of how closed discourse is - woven and stitched into itself, so that it's hard to see the exit point."

p.s. please contact us if you have any trouble accessing the Moodle site - we can add you as a friend if you do not have University of Cambridge access.

The adventure begins!

Monday 15th October, 2018
Thanks to everyone who joined us for our first seminar with the inspiring weaver/medievalist Kathryn Rudy on Friday. It was an exhilarating session that nourished the mind and the senses, and encouraged collaboration. The convenors are working on a report to summarise the multi-faceted event for anyone who couldn't make it. In the meantime, please follow us on Twitter (@TacticsPraxis) to continue the discussion online and keep updated with news about our next sessions this term.