Adaptation: turning the tables on our magnificent obsession

Assoc. Prof. Denise Ferris (ANU)
2016 Conference

Art and design schools located within universities, in research schools, faculties or in a unique ANU way – colleges – are only too familiar with changing to suit the university’s academic environment. To name the ways creative practitioners shaped have themselves to fit would make a long paper. Rather let’s turn the tables and focus on the university’s adaptation to the pedagogy and the research of art and design schools. Reviewing their progress so far, I offer an obvious illustration and one more influential example.

A fairly predictable example is Exquisite Corpse: understanding anatomy through visual arts, co-taught by academics in Art and Medicine, using two-dimensional and three-dimensional materials in the Medical School anatomy laboratory and the studios at the School of Art. Less predictable is an annual scheme for artists funded by the Vice Chancellor that fosters collaboration between practicing artists and researchers from other disciplines. An early career School of Art researcher/practitioner is supported, with limited funds for materials, to work with a chosen colleague from another discipline at the university for up to one year.

Links emerged with Law, Chemistry, Applied Maths, Biology, Economics, Archaeology, Physics, Computer Science, Sociology, Climate Change, Earth Sciences, Environmental Science, History and Psychology. Progressing understanding of art and practice-led research across the university, the program sows inter-disciplinary thinking between collaborators, generating new research networks and collegiality across the campus. As practical exemplars these and other intangible shifts register the discernible influence of schools of art and design demanding our place in contemporary universities.

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About the author


Denise Ferris is an educator and art practitioner, Head of the School of Art at the Australian National University. She has lectured and supervised at ANU SOA since 1987, holding roles as Honours and Graduate Convenor. She was the Associate Dean (Education) for the College of Arts and Social Sciences, and long-term elected member of the ANU Academic Board. In 2011 she was the recipient of an ACUADS Distinguished Teaching Award. As a photographer her research interests move from considering the sublime and confronted winter landscape of the Australian Alps to examining motherhood’s historical and contemporary challenged visual representations.