Aren’t you meant to be doing a Geography degree?

I’ve been trying to explain to my flatmates what on earth participatory art is, the conversation usually ends up with them asking me firstly, what it is, and secondly, why I am studying it. But, I think that now we have pretty much got participatory art down to the easiest way to say it: ‘participatory art is art that is created by lots of people’.

Right, so that’s the easy bit, but then, you have to take into account that participatory art can also be art created by one person for lots of people to experience.

So, in the most basic terms that I can make it, participatory art is:

A)      Art made BY lots of people


B)      Art made FOR lots of people to get involved in

Once we had got this settled, the next thing to tackle was “hang on- aren’t you doing a Geography degree”. To be honest I seem to get this a lot, my flatmates are mathematicians, physicists and computer scientists and to them if I’m not studying oxbow lakes then I’m not doing proper Geography. But, that’s the great thing about Geography, there is a geography about pretty much anything you can think of. This year I’ve studied music, riots, marketing, and James Bond, none of them exactly your typical ‘oxbow lake’ Geography, so I’ve grown pretty used to the “aren’t you doing a Geography degree?” question.

One of my lecturers gave me the perfect answer to this, Geography is just Greek for Earth description, so my dissertation is looking at how something as small as a piece of art can describe or even change things on a global scale, by asking questions like:

Who made it? Why did they make it? Was it to say something? Where is it being shown?

But these sort of questions are pretty basic, and if I wrote a dissertation solely based on questions like these, I’d probably get a very bad grade. So, flip it on its head:

Who didn’t make it? Why were those people not involved? Does it only mean something when it’s being made? Who can’t get to where it is being shown?

This is what makes participatory art so interesting; these anti-questions are the sort of thing that are really important in participatory art. There are more people involved and so the way it can be examined is all the more complex.

This is where Furtherfield comes in – the organisation I’m interning at this summer- they have lots of projects going on that are meant to get local people involved. But, they also operate in the digital domain, which means people from all over the world can get involved in their projects.

OK, so I’ve shown you how I –a Geographer- can be interested in and want to base a massive chunk of her degree on art- and I’ve tried (and I hope succeeded) to explain what it is that I’m spending my summer studying.  But, I haven’t really shown you the kind of art I will be studying. So here are two projects that Furtherfield did last year just to give you a little taste of the kind of thing that I will be getting up to. My next post should tell you the project I’ll be working on this summer, hopefully no oxbow lake colouring, but you never know.

The Finsbury Park Radiation Walk  by Dave Miller

The Embroidered Digital Commons by Ele Carpenter and Emile Giles


2 thoughts on “Aren’t you meant to be doing a Geography degree?

  1. As a uni lecturer myself I’d be over the moon if a student came to me with a proposal. Some really sophisticated ideas and your passions comes through. Sounds fascinating! Best of luck. Iain

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