With the upcoming Festival of Applied Imagination taking place from 9 to 10 December, we spoke to Course Leader Richard Reynolds about what we can expect, the meaning behind the festival and the significance of ‘unpacking the butterfly’.
What was the inspiration behind the festival?
RR: We wanted to move away from assessment by conventional exhibition. Not all the students on our course are makers so having an exhibition, which is predicated around the idea of making, puts focus on the wrong thing.
So we dug up the whole idea of what assessment is and ‘assessment by festival’ popped into my head. I tried it out on some people and they liked it, it went all the way up to the level of the deans. So now we are moving into this concept that, apart from being quite a catchy phrase, best demonstrates what we are trying to do on the course.
During the festival the students will have an opportunity to repeat, in a different way, their assessment presentations to the public, to their friends, stakeholders etc. Alongside this, we are going to have a large number of events created by students, course teams and guests to express and bring to life the pedagogy and the strategy of the course.
How do you explain the term Applied Imagination?
RR: Well, that is very simple, it is a course in action research. It is asking research questions but not pursuing them through secondary research in the library but through primary research, outside the College in the real world. It’s also about not stopping at your first iteration but reiterating, it is through testing and reiteration that you arrive at better questions than what you started with. It is essentially how the world works.
If you look at the phone you have there, you wouldn’t have been able to use that four years ago. The way that loop of reiterative testing and research leads you to ask better questions is a really good example of what we do here. Our course has a grand disruptive name, but really it is a very simple process that goes on all the time around us in the creative sector and even non-creative sector.
The festival has a brilliant range of events from live fibreglass body castings to debates and discussions with peace negotiators and Hollywood directors. Does this demonstrate the broad application of applied imagination that you encourage in students?
RR: Yes, exactly. What they have in common is a sense of transformative personal change through testing. If you think of what Seana does with the body casting, her work allows people to make castes of their bodies and look at them, it is about reclaiming our bodies through action and through formal testing.
The festival is a culmination of the sort of dialogue that we try to facilitate through the course. The most exciting and useful results come when we apply this way of creative thinking to issues that aren’t typically seen as having a creative solution.
The tagline for the festival is “through the application of their imaginations, human beings have always tried to effect change”, is this something that is carried over from the MA Applied Imagination course?
RR: Yes, this what we are trying to tell them to do. There are so many barriers in people’s minds, barriers from their education that make them think we don’t really mean it, we aren’t asking them to come up with their own answer but actually we are testing them. It really is an invitation to come up with a question and find out what answer you get when you test it with real stakeholders.
A lot of students complain that they feel lost and I try and explain to them that that is fine. Feeling lost means that you are exploring off the map, you’ve left your comfort zone and you feel lost because you are going to new places in your head and through your research and that means you are learning.
You’ll be leading an event, can you tell us a bit more about what we can expect from it?
RR: I will be running a session called Unpacking the Butterfly, which will address the meaning of transformative personal change in an educational and professional sense.
I was reading a book called A Field Guide To Getting Lost by Rebecca Solnit this summer. It is a beautiful book and she has some wonderful stories. One in particular stood out to me; she talks about the misunderstanding about how caterpillars turn into butterflies. Once a caterpillar starts the transformation, they become a liquid, they totally digest their body down into essentially a soup and then eventually a completely new creature grows.
I think that that represents a very profound insight into transformative personal change, particularly in the creative fields, it as much about what has to die with you and be left behind – I suppose the gentle word is ‘unpacking’.
In what ways are your students currently working to effect change?
RR: They are all doing brilliant things. Some good examples would be: Jad Chamas who is currently working on a project about the impact of war on people and how you represent the experience of being in conflict situations through sound, it is very topical in relation to what has been happening recently. Andrew Persoff, our course rep, is looking into what is essentially an Uber service for people who have mobility issues. This is a brilliant example of developing and asking newer, better questions. Another good example Kaley Madden’s project which looks at Digital security and changing the way we interact with social media in particular.
The festival takes place over two days, which events in particular would you recommend?
RR: All of them! Come at lunch. Come in the early evening, see everything and stay around.