MA Proposal

This 3,000 word proposal was submitted for Module one of the MA programme. Read it if you are having trouble sleeping!

I have emboldened parts for my own focus.

Liz Dees

MA Design

Hull School of Art and Design

Leeds Metropolitan University

Critical Contexts and Methodologies

11th December 2011


 MA Proposal


Since my initial MA proposal application in July I have moved on slightly with my intended application of my desired ideas and outcomes, I now have an increased interest in interactive, kinetic, and participatory art. Therefore, I wish to combine and explore further these influences with my initial intended street theatre outcomes.

I intend to explore the incorporation of automata and mechanical movement into street theatre performance, as well as static interactive sculpture. I intend to explore different kinds of mechanical movement and how they may relate to the body (performer/participant). In effect the ergonomics of combining mechanical movement with an operator/performer.

I am exploring how different kinds of movement can be achieved using both manual and power driven motion, while considering the constraints of street theatre, sculpture installation and interactive operation. I am interested in the impact upon the audience, and the likely relationship to the participant within the performance venue space. I would like to work closely with performers and participants to test out ideas and gain valuable feedback upon my research.

I intend to expand my skills base to include engineering related techniques. With regards to subject matter, I am considering a collaboration with The Deep inHull, to be able to combine imagery of fish and marine life with my political messages and observations upon everyday life. I intend to explore basic mechanical principles such as, cranks, gears, levers and pulleys etc, taking influence from Heath Robinsons illustrations and the steam punk genre.

Contextual analysis

Aiming to place my intended work within a contemporary and historical framework, I have so far looked at the work of many contemporary practitioners, such as sculptors: Arthur Ganson (see fig, 1), Ben Cowden (see fig, 2), and Scott Snibbe (see figs, 3&4), the US based Five Ton Crane Arts company (see fig, 5), sculptress Gina Kamentsky (see fig, 6), sculptor Paul Cesewski (see fig, 7), UK arts company Gray World Arts (see fig, 8) and sculptor Gregory Barsamian (no image available). I have also looked at the mechanical drawings of Leonardo da Vinci, early histories of moving picture machines such as the Mutoscope and the Zoetrope (see fig, 9).

I have also begun to look at the work of historical artists Joseph Cornell (see fig, 10), Robert Rauschenberg (see fig, 11), Marcel Duchamp, Jean Tinguely (see fig, 12), and Kienholz. I also intend to interview a number of contemporary practitioners such as, sculptors Andy Hazel (see fig, 13), Andy Plant (see fig,14), Jim Bond (see fig, 15), Johnny White, as well as sculptress Gina Kamentsky, the mechanical scenic tutor from Rose Bruford college Steven Guy, and local sculptor Pete Rogers.

There are various aspects to my motivation, inspiration and intentions that include; overcoming my own skills deficit, exploring the idea that my work will be a theatrical experience rather than merely a visual arts one, and widening the audience scope.

I am able to draw a parallel with other artists in my desire to conquer apparent obstructions in my way, and fulfilling my desire to achieve technical competence within this field. Barry Treu (1992) wrote on his desire to pursue kinetic and interactive art:

‘’I became dissatisfied with the static nature of my works; they hung on walls or sat, inanimate, on the floor. I became restless; performance, installation, and kinetic art appeared more interesting than what I had been producing.’’

My intention is to create interactive sculptural experiences that have a greater all encompassing element to them. It is my intention to ask of the participant, physical effort as well as complete participation. Deborah Bruch (1990) explains that the nature of theatre, is a two way experience between audience and performer: ‘‘The theatre is a collaborative effort of giving and doing. That means that a person cannot do theatre alone.’’

Many other artists work that I have researched so far are kinetic but non participatory, or participatory but not all encompassing, such as the work of Scott Snibbe, and Ben Cowden. With the exception of the work of Paul Cesewski and his peddle powered ferris wheel, which is rather all encompasing (please see enclosed image and at my blog at for more information). Although I do not intend to work on such a large scale.

I am taking influence from the alternative theatre movement of the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. As well as building upon my own professional knowledge of the contemporary Street Theatre genre, in order to take art to usually art non appreciators and to reach out to children and families, rejecting the established bourgeois theatre. As Wilson(2006) reflects:

‘‘The alternative theatre movement of the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, encompassed a whole range of approaches. What this diverse group of artists had in common was a universal rejection of bourgeois theatre and it’s structures and a desire to democratize the theatre, to rediscover the vitality of theatre and to place it at the disposal of all society, but in particular those who did not make up the usual theatre audiences.’

I intend to achieve this by making my pieces available to be shown / performed in a street theatre context as well as in a gallery environment.

I wish to look into the fact that many artists in this field are male and that I will be a member of a minority in creating such work being female. In approaching both male and female contemporary artists for interview, I will ask their opinions upon this phenomena as well as search for any written text upon the subject. I will ensure that I will adopt a valid interview methodology and data analysis form using open ended questions and interview techniques that avoid leading answers.

Critical analysis

In an effort to understand greater my personal pursuit in overcoming skills barriers and to achieve understanding in an area previously denied to me, I wish to look at gender in the workplace, and feminist views on the career paths of women. Women doing previously male roles within society and the workplace and women working in male dominated professions, particularly in engineering, physical jobs, mechanical, building professions, roles that require manual dexterity normally associated with men, may be an interesting research pathway to further inform my work.

I would also like ask what is to the definition of a theatrical experience, look at alternative theatre and define the role of street theatre and public art, in order to place my work effectively within these fields.

With relation to my intended use of mechanics I would like to raise a discussion about function, and our views/fascinations with mechanical movement. As well as looking at deconstructivist theory upon exposed mechanisms, and honesty of materials.

I wish to look at contemporary sociological issues, regarding rising obesity, and to address the aspect of my work aiming to be an antidote to instant gratification culture of post modernist consumer culture.

I am also interested in low tech as a form of vintage revival, it has a simplicity and purity of design, revival as a backlash against the complexity of modern life.

I have already been looking at sociological theories regarding gender in the workplace as well as feminist theories regarding the women’s role in the workplace. This is to expand upon theories around my own educational development in the area of technology and mechanics and my personal pursuit to conquer skills barriers before me.

Comments upon these theories by Murdock and Oakley provide theories by which women and men have found themselves engaged in differing roles within the workplace. Murdock (cited in Haralambos, M. and Holborn, M. 4th ed. 1995: p586 -589) proposes one theory based on the biology of the sexes:

‘’Anthropologist George Peter Murdock sees biological differences between men and women as the basis of the sexual division of labour in society. However, he does not suggest that men and women are directed by genetically based predispositions or characteristics to adopt their particular roles. Instead, he simply suggests that biological differences, such as the greater physical strength of men and the fact that women bear children, lead to gender roles out of sheer practicality. Given the biological differences between men and women, a sexual division of labour is the most effective way of organizing society.’’

An alternative argument posed by Ann Oakley, of whom I am in greater favour, suggests that women are perfectly capable of all types of work and blames the gender divisions within the work place upon the oppression of women.

Oakley (cited in Haralambos, M. and Holborn, M. 4th ed. 1995: p586 -589) rejects some of Murdocks’ views after studying a number of societies where biology appears to have little or no influence on women’s roles:

‘’She regards as a myth the supposed ‘biological based incapacity of women to carry out heavy and demanding work’. She also claims that many sociological explanations of gender roles are simply a validating myth for the ‘domestic oppression of women’’.

‘‘Oakley believes that gender roles are culturally rather than biologically produced. In other word humans learn the behaviour that is expected of males and females within their society.’’

To further re-enforce my views upon the potential of womens’ abilities and level of achievement being effected by socialisation, the following quote from Haralambos and Holborn (1995) seeks to explain liberal feminists reasoning for inequalities within the sexes, especially with relation to work.

‘Many women with the potential to be successful and skilled members of the workforce, do not get the opportunity to develop their talents. The explanation of this situation, according to liberal feminists, lays not so much in the structures and institutions of society, but in its culture and the attitudes of individuals.’’

 ‘‘Socialization into gender roles has the consequence of producing rigid, inflexible expectations of men and women. Discrimination prevents women from having equal opportunities. The creation of equal opportunities, particularly in education and work, is the main aim of liberal feminists.’’

Lastly, in order to seek to explain my particular position, I have chosen this comment on the theories of Millett, on social conditioning and reasons behind women’s inequality in the work place. Although this quote is from the mid 1990’s and I am sure attitudes have changed now, it accurately reflects the time when I attended school, college, and when I was beginning my career path:

‘‘Economic inequalities between men and women are reinforced by educational ones. Women tend to study the humanities which according to Kate Millett, have a lower status than sciences. As a result women lack knowledge and this restricts their power. For example, women often do not understand technology so they cannot compete on equal terms with men trying to earn a living.’

In addition to the above, when beginning to research theatre, I have attempted to define the theatrical experience. My intention being, to be able to place my work more effectively within the convention of theatre. Deborah Bruch (1990) defines and introduces theatre as a fundamental activity ingrained in society, which I find rather inspirational:

‘‘From the very beginning of civilization, the theatre has helped us discover and understand ourselves and our relationship with our world, with others, and with God (or the gods.) As such, it is and always has been an affirming force in the world.’’

‘’Unlike any other art, the total, intense focus of theatre is on the human being, his or her existence, and his or her relationship with life. It is a part of human nature to need to examine who we are in relationship with where we are. Consequently, basic elements of theatre and drama exist in every society.’

Project content

It is my intention to produce a series of simple interactive, kinetic, mechanical sculptural pieces that will either be stand alone pieces or that will be incorporated into one final piece of more complex street theatre.

These basic set of experiments will explore the simple elements of mechanics and movements such as, levers, pullys, ratchets, gear cogs, wheels, and springs. The intention is, for me to conquer the understanding of, and ability to construct such mechanisms. As well as movement I also will look into incorporating lights and sound into the pieces.

They will be ergonomically proportioned in relation to the human body, with the intention of them being able to be operated by a member of the audience or a performer. The only size constraints will be access into a building and a transit van for transportation.

I wish to define and explore levels/ways of interacting with the work such as peddling, pushing, switching, levers, pumping (bellows), and turning. I will explore large effort requirements and movement as well as small delicate touch operation. I will also look into using more advanced technologies such as pressure pad sensors, motion detectors, blow sensors and movement/motion sensors to activate the machinery.

I am very interested in encouraging participants to take measured risks, in a society that is risk adverse. I will be looking into attitudes towards heath and safety and positive risk taking. Such personal theatrical experiences and interactive requirements of the pieces will, I hope, encourage greater involvement, reflection and contemplation upon the art/experience, rather than a casual passer by, disengaged and passive in viewing.

Martin Klinker (1994) p. 19-22, a curator of an interactive sculpture exhibition entitled ‘Please Touch’ held at the Bedford Gallery in Walnut Creek, Calafornia, during 1993, illustrates my reasoning behind the level of experience intended and the time to reflect upon the experience possible:

‘‘In this exhibition, art is experience. An experience made complete by the viewers interaction. The familiar museum label ‘’Do Not Touch’’ is replaced by an invitation to become involved.’ ‘In this exhibition, hands-on participation can be seen as a metaphor for the ongoing, process of active looking.’’’

Treu (1992) also serves to illuminate why I feel that interactivity is an important part of the presentation of my work, and that I am hoping to break down those barriers, created by learnt rules and behaviour from past experiences of the audience in a gallery setting:

‘’Children are most willing to ‘play’ with my machines and discover what the sculptures can do. Children exhibit a lack of inhibitions because they have not learned that galleries are a place in which viewers are supposed to ‘look but not touch’. Adults on the other hand have learned this rule too well and are more tentative in their approach.’’

I also wish to make sure that my work has a voyeuristic and pleasing aesthetic value in addition to the proposed interactivity, Treu (1992) further re-enforces this when explaining his own work:

‘’Although these machines are fully experienced only with viewer interaction, there still is something to be experienced from merely looking at them. Surface treatment, composition, and structure are still important and play more than a supportive role in the overall impression of these works.’’

I am also interested in the accessibility of the art pieces for all ages and abilities. Therefore it is my desire to bear in mind positioning, operation and practical use by people with limited mobility, ability and sensory impairment. Some could be operated by hands instead of feet and be accessible via a seated position. I plan to contact the MS Society (as an MS sufferer myself),GantonSpecialSchooland social services for more information and support with these issues.

I will research and design the individual elements as well as ideas for final larger pieces based on maritime and nautical influences. It is my intention to look at Jules Vern’s’ Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea’, The Deep, Hull’s Maritime museum, The Hull fish trail. I will contact Yorkshire Water Authority for information about local marine and river life as well as research issues regarding overfishing, water polution and endangered marine habitats.

This research will inform my work aesthetically with imagery for the overall design of the mechanisms as well as auxiliary elements such as automata objects and puppetry.

It is my intention to use the marine imagery to help highlight and pose questions about elements of our everyday lives. By using humour and non-sensical combinations of imagery I wish to convey messages of making light of lifes problems and raising people awareness around political, sociological and ecological issues.

This quote from Wikipeidia (2011) about Heath Robinson’s illustrations indicates the kind of resulting work that I hope to produce:

‘’Robinson’s cartoons were so popular that in Britain the term “Heath Robinson” is used to refer to an improbable, rickety machine barely kept going by incessant tinkering.’’ ‘’ The name “Heath Robinson” became part of common parlance in the UK for complex inventions that achieved absurdly simple results.’’

Functional Requirements

I will need the use of the 3D workshop area, assistance and training from the 3D technicians and staff in the fields of welding, the use of plastics and metal working. I have my own workspace and tool collection which I intend to expand upon during the course to give me the ability to be self sufficient upon completion.

I have purchased a couple of ‘How to’ books on mechanics and automation which are proving useful essential reading already. I plan to interview contemporary practitioners when I need specific solutions to problems, and to forge close relationships with the local maritime museum and The Deep for increased access to research activities and archived resources.


I hope to be able to continue to develop and produce three dimensional, kinetic, interactive sculptural stand alone pieces as well as apply the skills and knowledge gained to my street theatre practice. I hope to be able to produce work that can be exhibited indoors as well as work that can be performed in an outdoor setting.

I believe the knowledge and skills gained from this course will be very beneficial from a continuing professional development perspective.


Books / journals.

Dougherty, D. (2010) Geared Candleholder by Benjamin Cowden. Make, Vol. 21, p 86-95.

Haralambos, M. and Holborn, M. 4th ed. (1995) Sociology, themes and perspectives.London, Harper Collins. Chapter 10 Sex and gender biology and the sexual division of labour, p 586 -589.

Haralambos, M. and Holborn, M. 4th ed. (1995) Sociology, themes and perspectives.London, Harper Collins. Chapter 10 Sex and gender, Gender inequality. p 592-593.

Haralambos, M. and Holborn, M. 4th ed. (1995) Sociology, themes and perspectives.London, Harper Collins. Chapter 10 Sex and gender, Educational factors, p 603.

Klinker, M. (1994) Please Touch: An Interactive Exhibition. Leonardo, Vol. 27, No. 1, p 19-22.

Roberts, D. (2011) Making Things Move. N.Y. McGraw Hill.

Treu, B. (1992) My Electronic and Computer-Controlled Sculpture: Robotic Techniques Applied to Kinetic and Interactive Sculpture. Leonardo, Vol. 25, No. 1, p 51-54.

Wilson, M. (2006) Storytelling and theatre. N.Y. Palgrave Macmillan.


Bruch, D (1990) A Guide to Studying the Relationship Between Engineering and Theatre [internet] available from:  [Accessed 15th Nov 2011]

Wikipeidia. (2011) W. Heath Robinson [internet] Available from: [Accessed 29th October 2011]


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