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Research Degree Students

Find out more about the students currently conducting research at Norwich University of the Arts.

Maxine Bristow

Material Austerity: Negotiating boundaries between aesthetic autonomy and referentiality

This practice led research is concerned with textile references negotiated within a fine art context. It draws on a body of practice established over a ten-year period, which frames language systems intrinsic to textiles within the formal autonomy of modernist abstraction.

With its history rooted in material culture and corresponding lack of detachment, textile practices have been marginalised from discourses of fine art, notably modernist abstraction, which have been predicated on notions of disinterestedness and the autonomy of the artwork. However, with the advent of a post-medium sensibility, peripheral textile practices have arguably gained currency; as the autonomy of the artwork has been undermined a critical space has been opened up which acknowledges textile conventions.

This research negotiates this critical space. Through the use of a reductive language, which silences textile narratives and privileges formal conventions over substantive referential content, the project will investigate tenuous applications of semiotic systems through which codes of practice operate and through which the textile materials and processes employed in a work’s production function to disrupt its aesthetic autonomy.

By subjecting textile and modernist discourses to practical and theoretical investigation, the intention will be to question the reductive logic of modernism and to explore ways in which the potency of textile comes from its ability to function simultaneously as both reductive and referential. Acknowledging the legacies of modernism, the research will investigate a proposal that it is the distancing or separation of the language of textile from everyday life that enables it to exercise an aesthetic and critical function.

Paul Cope

Can You Tidy Up Now Please? Researching the impact of an art practice in the classroom

This is an empirical research project that investigates the dual professional practice of the artist-teacher, carried out by an art teacher in a 9 to 13 middle school art classroom. The research sets out to examine what happens when an art teacher also practises as an artist, and what the impact of such a dual practice might be on teaching and learning in the classroom.

With the introduction of new national curriculum strategies emphasising localised, personalised and more creative curricula, there is a change of emphasis in education legislation. Ofsted recently recommended that art teachers should be encouraged to further their own art work as a means to develop knowledge of contemporary art in the classroom. This research project presents a fine-grained view of what happens when these recommendations are carried out.

The research uses a multi-methodology approach based on four naturalistic case studies in the classroom. Writing as research, autoethnography and reflection-in-action provide the framework for the examination of both teaching and artistic practice. Art practice as research methodology is used to examine visual work produced by both teacher and pupils, and to consider dialogues between the two.

Early analysis of the case studies indicates that the art practice can be said to impact on planning in the classroom and can be seen as a useful means of generating ideas and projects. The case studies demonstrate inter-reactions between teaching practices as they impact on the way art practice is deployed in the classroom.

Katherine Hewlett

The impact of dyslexia on the process of creativity in the visual arts

Numerous post 16 arts courses have been developed with a flexibility to enable individualised learning and to recognise dyslexic learner approaches to study. My research aims to explore how these learning approaches impact on creative processes and bring value to learning and teaching in mainstream post 16 education.

The research investigates dyslexic creative artists’ approaches to thinking and learning in the process of their practice and ways in which artists work to their strengths to navigate mainstream education. Central to the research is an investigation of the intelligences that dyslexic practitioners develop as part of their creative process.

Dyslexics are thought to be particularly expert at developing learning strategies that complement their learning styles. They deal with the overview, the broader picture, the whole before focusing on the parts (B. Steffert, 1999 Visual Spatial Ability and Dyslexia). They absorb information from many reference points at the same time, and often in a random order, sometimes leading to highly innovative thinking. This research will explore how typical these qualities are of creative artists who are dyslexic, exploring the elements of Art and Design education that might unlock individual potential.

Dyslexia is not solely a literacy issue, it is also a neurological condition affecting information processing and the understanding of meaning. It can affect people from all backgrounds and levels of IQ. Dyslexia may overlap related conditions such as dyspraxia, attention deficit disorder, dysphasia and dyscalculia. It is a variable condition and not all people with dyslexia display the same range of characteristics.

My approach to this research has been influenced by my own experiences and thought processes, which through reflection and action establish a basis for a broader understanding of the issues and topics being considered. The investigation is embedded within a model of action research and seeks to investigate how visual practitioners who are dyslexic use life experiences to navigate mainstream education.

An element of the research includes creative and reflective work based on my own visual practice. This part of the research examines the production of visual work (primarily drawing and printmaking) and analyses my creative approaches in relationship to environment change, context, scale, materials and patterns of production.

Jo Rolfe

(Im)Permanence: Re-Inventions from vernacular textile-related crafts to contemporary studio textile and site-specific practices

My research investigates relationships between, and reasons for, current changes in vernacular craft practices, use of materials and processes in specific locations in East Anglia. I aim to document and analyse these changes, with reference to the local topography and environment, and to investigate them through the development of my visual practice. Three strands of the research will investigate:

  • the impact of the elements (weathering) on textile-related materials and techniques with reference to contemporary visual practice
  • the impact of technological, social and environmental changes on vernacular textile-related crafts in East Anglia
  • practical and theoretical differences and continuities between vernacular and studio craft practices

The research questions recent investigations conducted by rural community agencies that address the demise and potential extinction of crafts skills in the UK. These reports provide information on the size, distribution and skills needs of the crafts sector, and on current social, economic and environmental changes in rural England. Regional development agency papers evidence consideration of the development of new rural businesses and heritage building skills.

Through documenting existing vernacular craft practice in environmentally unstable contexts, and through the creation of new site-specific textile works and a critical commentary, the research will contribute to a repositioning of the relationship between vernacular craft and contemporary visual practice.

Nicola Simpson

frogpondplop: the appearance and disappearance of the concrete in the work of Dom Sylvester Houédard

Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, a tiny cell at Prinknash Abbey rebounded continuously with the sound of an Olivetti Lettera 22, as the Benedictine monk and concrete poet Dom Sylvester Houédard,(1924-1992) wrote the letters, constructed Typestracts and initiated much of the critical thinking around the British Concrete Poetry Movement.

Prolific, prominent and pivotal in a web of correspondence and collaboration between the Beats, the Gloster Ode Construction Company, DIAS and Fluxus, Houédard has subsequently been largely neglected by both the poetic and artistic worlds. With little critical work on Houédard beyond the few small press articles written by his contemporaries and none that take Houédard’s own wider ecumenical and metaphysical interests as a starting point, my research aims to begin this process of artistic and theological reassessment.

Beginning with his beat-style lyrical verse, my research investigates the theological and theoretical impetus behind a spatial journey that took Houédard’s poems literally off the page into many different forms, including dance. The aim is to follow the trajectory of experimentation in the concrete poems, as Houédard explores word and image relationships; “the wordgame, ikongame and the poet as maker”.

The focus of my enquiry will be to show how initially in Zen and then more satisfactorily in the Madhyamika-Prasangika School of Tibetan Buddhism, Houédard found a paradigm for questioning the interplay between logos and icon, subject and object, the “the non and the non-non”.

The philosophy of Emptiness is central to both Houédard’s creation of the art-object and his analogous use of space, which forms a structural correlation with notions of the enlightened mind. I also hope to demonstrate how this conceptual idea had a wider influence over the avant-garde constellation in which he featured.

I am currently curating an exhibition of Houédard’s work, scheduled for the autumn here at the gallery at NUA, which will begin to assemble some these ideas and approaches to his work.

More information about this exhibition ‘frogpondplop: the yoga of concrete’ can be found at http://frogpondplop.blogspot.com.

Joanna Sperryn Jones

Breaking as Making: In what ways can making sculpture contribute to understanding perceptions and experiences of breaking?

Through the process of making and breaking sculpture I explore experiences and perceptions surrounding fragility and breaking, and their affect on identity and subjectivity. ‘Breaking’ is the main theme running through my work but it arises in many different contexts and I deal with it on different levels.

My research, for example, simultaneously explores and draws parallels between personal experiences in life, such as breaking bones with those of making / breaking sculpture, Derrida’s concept of the break, breaking from traditions in making sculpture, and the break created between making and writing.

While visiting Japan with a broken collarbone I became interested in crutched trees. The crutches, both supporting the trees and causing warping, made me think of the trees as fragile. Pursuing this further, and attracted by its qualities of breaking, I have been using bone china to cast twigs from trees to create sculptures, installations and participatory work.

The precariousness of handling unfired bone china challenged me to risk casting ever-thinner twigs and through this initiated themes of risk and the value and loss of the whole. The similarity between experiences of manoeuvring between unfired china in my studio and walking through crowds while protecting a broken collarbone has made me aware of the restrictions of a fragile body.

Taking this experience to my studio work I am creating ‘fragility’, china twig walls forming spaces that are so tight to walk through that they are often knocked down. The sound created by the china breaking is both unsettling and melodic and has formed an integral part of my work. In ‘breaking’ experiencing myself and observing others walking over a floor deep in china twigs allowed me to explore contrasts between the pleasure of breaking and the uncomfortable violence of destruction.

Jodie Wick

The Infrastructure of the Animation Industry in the East of England

This research is based on the need for accurate data to inform the development of effective policy for the subsector of animation in the East of England, inclusive of local clusters. The work is in effect a case study intended to produce two main outcomes, which it is hoped will serve as much needed evidence to derive recommendations on how to better support the animation industry in the East of England. The two main outcomes will be:

  • A new data collection methodology based on the definition, conception and measurement of a subsector industry at regional and sub regional levels.
  • A case study example based on animation in the East of England.

The Eastern region, and Norwich in particular, has been pinpointed as a notable cluster for audiovisual and animation related activities (DTZ et al 2002; BOP 2003; Cox 2004 Skillset 2004, 2005).

My research asserts that there is a smaller cluster of traditional animation providers operating in this area than previously assumed, leading to a lack of regional awareness and as a result demand and support for the industry. There is also a lack of awareness and information surrounding the understanding of this cluster. My research aims to address these deficiencies before recommendations of potential policy improvements in this area might be put in place.

In the past, UK policy relating to the animation industry has been based on output (McMellon 2001; PACT 2002; Optima 2004). My research draws together and begins to build upon current ways of developing a more accurate method of measurement. The main objectives of the research are to increase the supply of information, and to more accurately understand the subsector of animation.

It has been argued that while a firm understanding of the shape of the industry on a regional level is important, it must be recognised that animation is a component part of interlocking industries where it forms an element of a process. This research seeks to better understand the shape of this industry and to investigate the associated occupational roles that reside within specialist animation industries but which may also be embedded within other related industries.

My research contends that to accurately measure and develop policy for the animation industry, the industry should no longer be artificially separated and considered as an independent business, but should be viewed through a new model of convergence within the creative media industries.

Find out more about Jodie Wick’s work at www.jodiewick.co.uk.

John Boursnell

The Sound Object and the Listener in Contemporary Creative Sound Practices located within Small Domestic Spaces

Through contemporary creative sound practice this research will investigate approaches to the use of sound objects created specifically for small domestic spaces. The contemporary production and use of domestic sound objects has yet to be comprehensively explored in relation to experimental music, furniture music, furniture design, and the dematerialisation of the sound object. The research aims to investigate practical and theoretical approaches to making, listening to, and interacting with, contemporary sound objects produced for (or situated within) small domestic spaces. The research also aims to explore the dematerialisation of sound and the sound object, and its effect on the functional and social uses of small domestic space as a result of digital processes and the use of the Internet.

Sam Epps

Artist Pages and Self-Documentation: presentation and distribution of first generation conceptual art catalogues (1966-73)

Building on work by Dr S Richard, C Moseley and J Melvin, this research will examine how first generation conceptual artists documented ideas and artworks through catalogues produced between 1966 and 1973 in London, New York, Düsseldorf, Bern, Amsterdam, Kassel and Brussels. I will investigate the use of artists‚ self-documentation and artist pages within catalogues from this period focusing on concepts, formats, production, distribution and geography. I will also consider the contemporary treatment of these catalogues as documentation/artworks re-presented by institutions for new audiences. The research aims to investigate the presentation, dissemination and distribution of catalogues, artists‚ pages and self-documentation in the work of first generation conceptual artists from North America, South America and Europe.

Sonia Friel

Communicating spaces of self and text in the works of Jan Švankmajer and the Quay brothers

The varied nature of the output of Jan Švankmajer and the Quay brothers, both in terms of media, and the numerous subdivisions of artistic and theoretical schools with which they have been aligned, is often perceived as a barrier to the understanding of their work. Whilst critics have suggested that the hybrid cinema of such artists can signify an underlying identify flux, or cultures in transition, this flux is all too often depicted as a void which the artists must transcend in order to produce coherent and compelling pieces. This research groups the artists not as ‘surrealists’ or animators (as has often been the case) but on the basis of a mutual preoccupation with ambiguous spaces of textual and psychological identification, representation and adaption. An interdisciplinary methodology acknowledges overlapping influences and production networks, combining historical research with critical and literary theory.

Sarah Horton

Disrupting class and consumption: everyday decoration in fine art practice

This practice-led research uses decoration as a critical tool to disrupt semantic conventions in domestic and institutional contexts. Drawing on theoretical perspectives of the everyday and class, the research proposes a cross-pollination of work place and home scenarios. Decorative motifs and typical materials or objects used to signify prestige and/or operational efficiency will be juxtaposed, interfered with and brought into collision. Decoration is understood as incorporating ornamentation, pattern and décor; it denotes a language rich in semiotic reference and is thus well-suited to the manipulation and interplay of meanings. Although the use of décor and furnishing in fine art practice is increasingly visible, corporate spaces such as offices remain under-explored; such contexts will enable key contributions to new knowledge with reference to class and consumption.

Liam Wells

Non-Linear Accumulation of Change in Long Durational Audio-Visual Arts

This practice-based research aims to investigate hybrid processes of identifying non-linear modes of time/ event(s), drawing upon models from different disciplines to explore contemporary understandings of hybrid long durational audio-visual works within site-specific contexts. The research focuses on non-linear relationships between space (both physical and virtual) and temporal events within audio-visual works of a (perceived) long or open duration. A series of audio-visual installations, performances and webcasts/ transmissions will be created to investigate non-linear relationships between sound and image, rather than the linear relationships implied by long duration. These works explore the time/ duration in onscreen/ off-screen, virtual and sonic spatial contexts. The research questions aesthetic and philosophical strategies employed in contemporary audio-visual practices including: repetition/ difference, simplicity into complexity, accumulation of event, interruption, instability and indeterminacy.

Textile hangings

Maxine Bristow


Paul Cope


Jo Rolfe

Box installation

Nicola Simpson

Photography of white tree twigs

Joanna Sperryn Jones

Animation East logo

Jodie Wick

Student at sound desk

John Boursnell

Vitrine containing research

Sonia Friel


Sarah Horton

Still from moving image work

Liam Wells

Examples of Completed Research Degrees

  • Dr Catherine Dormor – PhD by textile practice and thesis, awarded 2012
    Material Matrices: haptic, scopic and textiles
  • Dr Mary MacMaster – PhD by photographic practice and thesis, awarded 2012
    Growing Old for Real; Women, image and identity
  • Dr Mark Wilsher – PhD by fine art practice and thesis, awarded 2010
    Negotiation Theory and the Critique of Dialogue in Dialogical and Relational Art
  • Dr Sophie Richard – PhD by thesis, awarded 2007
    International Network of Conceptual Artists: Dealer Galleries, Temporary Exhibitions and Museum Collections (1967-1977)
  • Dr Rob Hillier – PhD by graphic design practice and thesis, awarded 2007
    A Typeface for the Adult Dyslexic Reader
  • Dr Michael Baldry – PhD by thesis, awarded 2005
    The Aesthetics of Austerity and Old Labour, British Visual Art and Socialism 1945 to 1951
  • Dr Hannah Johnston – PhD by thesis, awarded 2004
    New Generation Witches – The Teenage Witch as Cultural Icon and Lived Identity
  • Dr Mathew Fuller – PhD by media practice and thesis, awarded 2004
    Media Ecologies, Materialist Energies in Art and Technoculture
  • Dr George Szirtes – PhD by Publication, awarded 2003
    Creative writing
  • Catherine Mosely – MPhil by curated exhibition, catalogue and thesis, awarded 2002
    Conception. Conceptual Documents 1968 to 1972
  • Suzie Hanna – MPhil by animation practice and thesis, awarded 2001
    Independent Mixed-Media Animation: A case study
  • Dr Barbara Howey – PhD by fine art practice, exhibition and thesis, awarded 2000
    Self/Painting Practice/Social Practice
Tom Simmons, Michaela Nettell and Hugo Spiers research

NUA Research Online

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Research Degree Supervisors

Find out more about the staff currently supervising research at Norwich University of the Arts.


Academic Staff Profiles

All academic staff at NUA are practising artists, designers, media makers and academics. Read their profiles to find out more about their research and practice.

Work with us

We welcome enquiries about applied and collaborative research activities and opportunities. If you are interested in working with us, or if you would like further information about our research environment, please contact:

email research@nua.ac.uk