Breaking boundaries

At the Cambridge School of Art at Anglia Ruskin, ongoing research by the staff in this REF Unit displays two important characteristics: firstly, specialised practices are closely intertwined and connected with their reflective historical and theoretical dimensions. This means that several researchers within the unit have outputs and portfolios that straddle the supposed practical and theoretical ‘divide’, resulting in a wide variety of work: exhibitions of artworks, screenings, textual publications, journal articles, etc., in some cases all by one practitioner. Secondly, the art school shows a healthy capacity for interdisciplinary and collaborative work cutting across genres and disciplines.

Dr David Ryan’s practice-based research reflects both these tendencies. Theoretical texts come out of a practice that embraces painting, video and music. Thinking around these practices and their contested histories underpins texts such as ‘We have Eyes as well as Ears: Experimental music and the Visual Arts’ written for the Ashgate Research Companion to Experimental Music (2009). This text examined the cross-pollination of certain ideas between painters, composers and more recent hybrid practices of video art, installation and sound art. In a different manner, Via di San Teodoro 8 (2010–11), a digital video produced with funding from Arts Council England, explored this relationship between sight and sound on a very different level. Here, location and biography crystallised to explore the house in Rome of composer Giacinto Scelsi (1905–88), in order to develop a visual and filmic essay. Dr Ryan was given access to the house, the archive, and Scelsi’s electronic instruments on which he composed: the Ondiolas. The piece has since been shown in Italian Cultural Institutes, London and Stockholm (2010), Berlin Konzerthaus (2011), Tchaikovsky Conservatoire, Moscow (2012); this formed the centrepiece of an evening exploring Scelsi’s music, in the light of biography and authorship at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, London (2015). Another exploration of digital media was presented in the article ‘Opera Outside of Itself’ (2012), which looked at experimental approaches to what might be called ‘opera’, albeit in a new and critical form, currently taking place within museums and galleries, as well as revisiting the experimental traditions of John Cage and Robert Ashley in the light of arias and recitatives. This was published in the International Journal of Performance Arts and Digital Media (Routledge 2012).

In terms of impact, which is ongoing, these works have led to further commissions and related outputs. In 2009 the newspaper La Repubblica, with a circulation of 504,900, featured and reviewed a related event. In 2014 three video films were commissioned by the Conservatorio Pollini, Padua (2014), for a collaboration with several prominent composers and sound artists. This forms part of the multimedia work ‘Chemical Free (?)’ which has been featured on Sky Arts Classica TV in three 20-minute features exploring the work and its genesis, broadcast March, April, May 2015. A reformulation of the work is being premiered in Venice, at the invitation of the Biennale di Venezia (2015), which has attendance figures of over 400,000.

Each of these cited works are typical of the wealth of practice-based research realized by staff from all disciplines in the department of Cambridge School of Art.