Expanded Boundaries

Countering the internal preoccupations of academic education, the fourth and final debate at the Restless Futures conference asked how the methods and concepts of design and the arts might be carried into other fields of enquiry as catalysts for novel collaborations, introduced by CSM’s Dean of Academic Programmes Mark Dunhill.


- Anna Hart & Tilly Fowler, principals at CSM project studio AIR
- David Buckland, artistic director at Cape Farewell
- Gigi Barker, MA Design graduate of CSM
- Jonathan Reekie, Director, Somerset House
- Liza Fior, muf Architecture
- Richard Sennett, Centennial Professor of Sociology, London School of Economics
- Stella Duffy, novelist and dramatist
- Rob Kesseler, Chair in Arts, Design & Science at CSM

Listen to a recording of the session:

Session Report

‘Cross-disciplinary working has been alive and well in art school since the Bauhaus,’ noted Mark Dunhill in his introduction. ‘But there’s much more debate today about its role and value.’ Citing Rainer Maria Rilke, and speculating on when a boundary becomes a barrier, Mark suggested all artists must be consumed by the details of their work while simultaneously standing outside it. 

Has more ever been expected of the artist than in our age of change? Is art’s contribution really valued? Recognising that teaching doesn’t necessarily lead to learning, Mark recalled the CSM graduate who said: ‘I don’t feel as though I was taught anything, but I feel as if I’ve learned a lot.’ 

Describing AIR’s ‘Unannounced Acts of Publicness’, a series of unadvertised happenings located outside CSM in Granary Square, Anna Hart and Tilly Fowler suggested the project probed the idea of public, and tested notions of trust between site ‘performers’, users, and developers. 

What is ‘publicness’, and what is the value of the unannounced? AIR’s project invited participants and onlookers to suggest what the public realm might look like. In its seeming randomness it also questioned the idea of the apparently benevolent public space, asking – what might go wrong? 

Climate as culture

When David Buckland launched Cape Farewell 15 years ago, the collaboration between artists and climate scientists gave new meaning to the facts of climate change, and invented a new way of talking about it. ‘Climate is culture,’ said David. ‘We are all responsible – not just scientists.’ 

Praising Swansea Bay’s upcoming tidal lagoon, with its ecologically themed public artworks, as ‘the first power station that is also a social resource’, David also called for an alternative agenda at December’s crucial climate talks in Paris. ‘Why can’t we reach our own commoners agreement on climate change targets,’ he said, ‘at our own parallel summit of the creatives?’ 

In works produced for CSM’s ‘Restless Futures at London Design Festival 2014’ exhibition, MA Design student Gigi Barker applied the skin-like properties of silicone to prototype garments and furniture in order to set up a migrating tension experienced though contact with our own skin. ‘My work,’ she said, ‘invites the viewer to become an active agent in the affair.’ 

Necessary contradictions

Acknowledging that many established arts organisations set up 50 years ago struggle to cope with today’s pace of change, Jonathan Reekie introduced ‘Made at Somerset House’, the new community of 250-plus artists and makers defined by quality and curiosity rather than ability to pay or fixed ideas about desirable outcomes. 

‘We need to allow our arts institutions to be flexible and fleet of foot,’ Jonathan said. ‘We want to be able to respond to changes from day to day, not decade to decade.’ 

Referencing AIR’s exploration of the Granary Square space outside CSM, Liza Fior talked of the necessary contradiction in asking permission to make spontaneous works in public. She further touched on the interdependent relationship between CSM’s building and its surroundings, setting the issues in the wider context of D1 planning regulations for public premises. 

Making a distinction between solidarity and cooperation, Richard Sennett said his interest lay in cooperation between people who don’t understand or like each other. The key, he said, is in the ‘dialogical skills’ that allow us to recognise another position without being subjugated by it. 

Meaningful change

For Stella Duffy, the successful rollout in the UK and elsewhere of the Fun Palaces concept last year is an example of how we create meaningful change by asking what communities want. ‘We don’t need to place the artist in the council estate,’ she said. ‘We need to find the artist in the council estate.’ 

When he first presented his gorgeous natural history images making fine art of microscopy, Rob Kesseler was met by universal publisher scepticism. Today his books are snapped up in multiple languages. ‘If we’re going to continue to operate across cultural or sectoral borders,’ he said, ‘we need to invite the powerbrokers to have more imagination.’ 

In the discussion that followed, delegates debated ‘cooperation at the edge’, likening it to a cell membrane, at once porous or receptive and impervious or resilient.