MA Critical Reflection

MA Critical Reflection.

Section 1: MA Proposal and Project: Inspirations and Critical Underpinnings:


MA Proposal: TRADMOD / The Art of Utopia.

My original aim was to create works that combine traditional craftsmanship using contemporary applications and techniques that challenge modern thinking with traditional values whilst adding philosophical artistic twists. Objectives included challenging accepted beliefs within the realms of creativity, to uphold traditional master crafts whilst representing them to a contemporary audience, create a challenging body of works that aims to transcend social and commercial divisions serving as an educational vehicle and generally up skill in all areas of my practice whilst establishing further sophisticated business strategies for future practice.

I am satisfied that I addressed every objective within my proposal and although the project focus shifted slightly to a more pertinent goal relevant to my subject matter, the underlying ethic of the proposal did not change in essence, more over the subject of contemporary Utopias was firmly established. A clearer and further sophisticated understanding of a lifetimes practice ensued and a refined ethic and methodology is resultant.

The Art of Utopia:

The word ‘Utopia’ is compounded from Greek ‘ou’ and ‘topos’, meaning ‘no-place’ and it is this very translation I take literally as inspiration underpinning my practice.

Please see appendices 1 for further reading on Utopia.

Within the last degenerate decade it is no surprise there has been a significant resurgence in utopian practice with many contemporary artists and organisations like The Arken Museum Copenhagen, Yes Men – Steve Lambert, Prof Stephen Duncombe (, Kelly Anderson and Social Acupuncture practitioner Darren Odonell to name but a few. Each one paving the way to a renewed and more realistic approach to social change for the better.

There are common underpinnings within most utopian practices I have researched to date, the most prevalent being themes of destabilisation or a lack that ultimately ignite the imagination setting forth new realisations and possibilities. This is the key to and the essence of the evolutionary power of Utopic practice which serves as significant inspiration to my practice. Utopic practices have become ever more realistic, necessary and absolutely relevant to current times, for me Utopia works hand in hand with life and the creative process, Design.

“We learn best through discomfort” Stephen Lambert Interview excerpt 2012.


‘Man must aim higher than what he thinks he is capable to arrive at his full potential’

Frankle, Victor: Man’s Search for Meaning.

Seminar excerpt:

Thorough research leads me to the belief it is my unique take on utopia by interpreting ‘No Place’ as Emptiness.. A reference to Phenomenology, Kadampa Buddhist philosophy and also akin to Zen Buddhism which speaks of unlearning all that we think we know, in order to attain enlightenment and harmony in the world. Recent study of Wabi Sabi, the Zen based Japanese Art of Impermanence has proven vital to cementing a life times practice by crystallising my design ethic where uncanny resemblances to this ancient art were realised to enabling me to further define my practice and realise what I believe may be a niche in the Utopic academy. Fundamentally I refer to the fuller integration of imperfection within my work having served to liberate my practice infinitely whilst being driven by a desire to create products for transformations that challenge and reveal conventions.

‘In Zen philosophy the mind should be a window, rather than a mirror, so that the world is seen directly and not through the filters of the intellect’

Wabi Sabi: The Japanese Art of Impermanence, Juniper – Andrew. Tuttle Publishing.

‘ Dystopia is the mirror reflecting Utopia, acting as catalyst. Without this life is death alone’. PJBR 1.3.2013.


MA Project:

So why The Art of Utopia?

As a designer, the idea was born out of wanting to highlight an alternative perspective of the world. To create original products to facilitate alternative life styles for consumers and public alike whilst at the same time creating a healthier more rounded practice for my self. To produce multi functioning utilitarian products that may also be useful to the human spirit.

To find a balance between arts practice and consumerism being effective yet healthy, not just for people but for the planet.

To produce products that blur the lines of definition perhaps, or at least hint at this possibility, as a way of re education from the ground up, as way of living existentially.


I asked myself…. How can designers shape a world that is more harmonious from products alone, products of thought even, in fact what is our definition of design?

As serious consideration, do the products of our lives in fact speak the language of dystopia as possibly being the ultimate route towards the ideal?

Whenever are we disorientated by unfavourable experiences do we utilise the potential teachings therein and what part does capitalism play in holistic education?

Utopia as catalyst is a matter of reflection and education, again from the ground up. Re assessment of morals and values, perspectives included.

Works I have been producing focus on such very points and have generally involved transforming the ordinary into the extraordinary to afford alternative perspectives for myself the practitioner and the audience alike. Methodologies have been established via an array of professional and social contexts including Modernist Dieter Rams definitive guide to good design to self initiated SOS Design Forums concerning moral and social values within art and design. A general transformative methodology of life from death was established via quantitive, qualitative and contextual research and has continued to inspire and inform production from visual art that re organises the familiar into the unfamiliar to unusual 3d products that aim to re contextualise and challenge accepted social and artistic norms via de- stabilisation.

The Art of Utopia Methodology.

My focus is working across an array of media and medium whilst connecting the traditional with the contemporary, crafting socially and environmentally with care, involving communities in the creative processes of the products evolution.

Dealing with the conscious and subconscious, controlled and unconstrained realms of the creative process both in the material and psychological sense I concentrate on areas of meditation, reflection and mindfulness via craft and product leading to empowerment relative to perfection and imperfection. With a drive toward design for society I concern over fusing boundaries between art, sociology and psychology whilst addressing and challenging social issues and accepted beliefs. Where I relate Utopias can be pinpointed within the meditative act of crafting as mindfulness, as emptiness relating phenomenology and the transformative and empowering realisation of subjectivism and ultimately as no-thing or no place or otherwise relating as a lack and to further define as the void acting as catalyst to inspiration to the new, alternative or even enlightenment. This is the transformative power of the creative act, of which MA study has served to highlight to be the very seeds of my process and the reasoning behind my argument it being a genuinely Utopian practice.

Via the interactive nature of the processes within my products, insight is afforded into the holistic nature of the creative act which can simultaneously be related to personal or material experiences. My aim being to allow for a greater understanding of the very roots of the creative process residing not just in every human being but relating to ‘any experience’ good or bad as potential creative catalyst.

Creative and material processes carried out to date serve to cognise and highlight such themes as direction and order via chaos, beauty from decay, the natural combined with the contrived and the man made married with the machine age all culminating in a balanced approach to design and life philosophy.

Material Processes. Hand, nature, machine crafted techniques of the controlled and unconstrained. PJBR 2012.

I primarily operate from a self devised philosophy akin to Wabi Sabi – The Japanese Art of impermanence and with reference to the Arts and Crafts Movement, focusing on life itself as ‘design’ for living artfully yet also artlessly, ethics which are integral within The Art of Utopia products and methodology. Simply put my focus is life from death, a Utopian ethic with an existentialist core. I define this process as De-signing, destabilisation of the senses via the alternative or absurd for the purposes of re-education.


“Design is that area of human experience, skill and knowledge which is concerned with man’s ability to mould his environment to suit his material and spiritual needs.” 

The Need for Design Education. Royal College of Art. Archer, B (1973)

Design is essentially a rational, logical, sequential process intended to solve problems or, as Jones put it: “initiate change in man-made things”

Design Methods and Technology: Seeds of Human Futures. Jones, J.C. (1970)


Section 2: MA Project: Development and Modification          

Main Project: mODPOD and associated works and workshops.

With the established modified project proposal of Utopias spear heading inspirations, both practice and philosophy was at this stage compounded to a clear objective. Being a subject of transformations, a need for useful products and an educational vehicle became essential. A vehicle to inspire reflection in its audience, to be conceived of via a democracy. At this mid-way point within my research I began to further develop an early idea based on a multi sensory pod structure for purpose of transformational experience, a concept and philosophy culminative of my practice to date had been conceived.

mODPOD: Myriads of Defence Pod.

The pods theme, ethic, structure and aesthetic were derived from the culmination of studio practice and masters research namely by way of the developing Art of Utopia methodology and philosophy that at this point was beginning to crystallize. From material processes, structure – functioning and scripting designs based on themes of decay, high craft and artlessness the pod began to take shape.

Please see appendices 2 on Modernist references and reasoning behind mODPOD and SOS titles.

I further refined the projects nature and content to be organic in its flexibility and adaptability and its ethic to involve social spheres and target markets such as the social and NHS services for greater marketability and social inclusion within the work.

Resultantly a design strategy, philosophy, product/ brand, book and an array of related art works have been conceived of and the flexible mODPOD project has been firmly established to continue to grow and be infinitely adaptable.


Section 3: Summative Evaluation                                                                                   

I have addressed and continue to address each and every aspect of my original proposal whilst excelling due to professional responses to and interest in the project. The need to control output due to time and resources has ensured I determine a flexible structure of working around a substantial and complex product to ensure its readiness for exhibition. I have arranged a manageable yet not diluted final major project structuring whilst engineering a design that is organic and universal in nature as well as being flexible and adaptable for future ventures or simply for ongoing design inspiration.

Few elements of the projects research have been omitted due to third party commitment failure yet this potential problem was overcome from the outset by not relying solely on any one form of social research, input or output.

Additional measures were put in place for gathering vital audience feedback to products and philosophy. Partially due to interest shown in the Art of Utopia concept, relevant current and future links have been established with ECHG (English Churches Housing Group) Hull, University of Hull department of Psychology, Freedom Festival Hull, Red Gallery Hull including local and regional practitioners inviting inclusion and association into relevant projects.

Via such necessary ‘test platforms’ mODPOD, The Art of Utopia philosophy and associated works can be further informed and developed on going. Involvement in Hull’s Freedom festival 2013 has not proved feasible however as back up the additional platform of Red Gallery (July 2013) was put in place and has proven vital to test marketing and analytical research into the product. Furthermore the HSAD MA Exhibition will serve as test marketing function. Additionally, the product philosophy is set to develop into a book and can also translate as workshop based activity for education and artist in residence related projects.

All projects carried out have enabled me to up skill in the various ways I had intended from business/ project management and planning, CAD CAM including learning MAYA/ Keyshot – 3d modelling and rendering software vital to my future practice, to exposure to, and further coverage of an array of arts and craft techniques from woodcraft to metalsmithing.

Interestingly the intended focus on traditional high crafting has at times presented me with stresses due to the need to attain perfection yet this has always been manageable as one is dealing with more or less ‘known quantities’ within the craftsman’s attainment. I affirm at this point my greater satisfaction in working to high standards yet allowing for imperfections hence the very nature of the Art of Utopia being to find or indeed design a balance in this regard.

Far more substantial have been issues with computer software presenting problems from installation procedures to barriers to learning due to over complexities of programmes. Time, input, networking and technical assistance have proved vital to my succeeding in this area to ensure the mODPOD is visualised to complete effect as time and resources may permit its entire fabrication within 2013.

One of the more substantial areas of successes has been within the process of the research itself, coupled with the directly related workshop based practice. I have established a greatly renewed conviction as a designer maker whilst further defining the ethic of my practice and re defining it to be infinitely more enjoyable on a personal and practical level. Enlightened by deeper insights and realisations into the transformative and meditative power of making and related extensions of empowerment into the social spheres, additionally I am delighted to have realised close if not identical resemblances to Zen based Wabi Sabi within my practice.

My search for the Art of Utopia has certainly proved a revelatory journey which will prove an inspiration for years to come. I maintain, Utopias can and do exist, if we are willing to accept that.

Art aught remind of a lack. “To aid the non-identical, which in reality is repressed by reality’s compulsion to identity”. Aesthetic Theory. Adorno, T: London Continuum, 2004.


Further reading on Utopia:

1: The idea of a perfect society intertwined with communalism can be traced back to Plato’s Republic, the book of Acts in the New Testament, and the work of Sir Thomas More. The years 1820 to 1860 saw the heyday of this movement with the creation of numerous communities as the celibate Shaker movement and the Mormons preaching polygamy to name but two, mostly all of such society’s meeting their fates before very long, namely due to some form of dictatorship.

Thomas More’s classic and original draught of the concept of Utopia depicted a fantastical distant island where society is perfected and men live in harmony. Yet there is paradox to be found within the title relating ‘No Place’, in fact all is not as it initially appears within More’s Utopia and can be translated ultimately as an attack on the failings of humanity.

Historically Utopian ideals have attracted widespread negative publicity, to be referred to often as dictatorships doomed for dystopia. The Russian Revolutions leading to Communism yet ultimately in this process creating mutinous frictions at the same time can be sited as a series of historical events relating such negative associations with Utopian ideals.

In the later half of 18th Century Middle England, socially aware designers  such as William Moriss spear headed the Arts & Crafts Movement with its slightly over idealistic Utopian Vision of a ‘life lived artfully’ and a total return to the crafts as harmonious to the human spirit, yet ultimately not to commerce. Moriss’s socialist ethics have proved an inspiration to me throughout my research by way of signposting the need for the greater emphasis of the power of artlessness within the creative process as well as actually embracing new technologies as way to enhancing commerce and to freeing social time, yet for the crafts to be upheld for their importance as direct link to a more harmonious world.

2:  Overview of reference to Modernism.

Involving the rejection and agreance of the modernist values within the Art of Utopia Philosophy. Rejection of traditional values in crafting ultimately being problematic to society’s wellbeing and over dependence on machinery serving to alienate the user from the natural world and human resources.

However the rejection of realism and enlightenment thinking through the dictatorship of reason appertaining to religion, faith and science serving to point to a potential for societal evolution, utopias. The Art of Utopia philosophy promotes not ignorance but transcendence of dictatorship.

m(OD)POD, a play on words relating Absurdism, in rejection of society’s tendency to wish to seek meaning in life. Myriads of Defence suggesting many possibilities in perception, being a play on the Ministry of Defence with an underlying proposal of war against oppression being the responsibility of the artisan, as necessary as catalyst to real change, for the better.

In addition to the MOD theme, the SOS Design Forum was created. The SOS symbol having similar suggestive qualities serving to query the requirement for change in current times, again with a symbolic reference to the social  responsibilities of the designer. With reference to mODPOD, ‘Save Our Soul’s’ was changed to ‘Systems Of Survival’ and serves as branding strap line to a concept project born of the Art of Utopia, A call to alarms and arms, Design for Life!




William Morris, News from Nowhere and Other Writings (1890), ed. Clive Wilmer (London: Penguin Books, 1998), 228.

Wabi Sabi: The Japanese Art of Impermanence, Juniper – Andrew. Tuttle Publishing.

Utopia. More, Thomas. Penguin books 2009.

Aesthetic Theory. Adorno, T: London Continuum, 2004.

The Need for Design Education. Royal College of Art. Archer, B (1973)

Design Methods and Technology: Seeds of Human Futures. Jones, J.C. (1970)

Man’s Search for Meaning. Frankle, Victor:  Rider Books.

Academic Papers:

Crafting Experience: Morris, William. Dewey, John. Utopia.

Freeman−Moir, John. Utopian Studies, Vol. 22, No. 2, 2011

Copyright © 2011. The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA

Stephen Duncombe’s ‘Dreampolitik’.

Duncombe, S. Politics as Art of the Impossible. The Case for Dreampolitic in the USA. Open 2010, no 20, The populist Imagination.


Duncombe, Stephen. Open utopia:

Frankle, Victor: Man’s Search for Meaning.

Seminar excerpt:

About generalmagnetic

Artist - Designer Maker - Craftsman
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