Shift/Work: Unlearning

  • Mulholland, Neil (Principal Investigator)
  • Brown, Dan (Co-investigator)
  • Lampa, Crille (Co-investigator)
  • Kaye, Sean (Co-investigator)

Project Details


Shift/Work is a research project jointly developed by Edinburgh College of Art and Edinburgh Sculpture Workshop that has run since 2010. Setting out to examine and reconfigure comprehensive workshop-based approaches to artistic production that are theoretically informed, practical and participatory. Shift/Work facilitates new experiential knowledge, practices and tools for artists and art educators to adapt and implement.

Shift/Work: Unlearning targets the rapidly expanding international audience for contemporary art education: specifically, artists, educators and curators. It will focus on current discourses and practices that engage with the values of unlearning, deschooling, improvisation and amateurism.

Key findings

CHSS Knowledge Exchange and Impact Grant – Report
Project title, name of Principal Applicant and year that the KEI Grant was awarded.
Shift/Work: Unlearning
Prof Neil Mulholland
Details of the activity and whether/how this met the set objectives of the project.
To generate a lively and generous critical discussion of the role of improvisation and unlearning in contemporary art education.
To develop and run new workshops directly in response to this discussion.
To participate in the workshops and calibrate them for share-and-share alike distribution.
To publish the results in online, in print and a finnisage.
All four objectives were met and the discussion and iterative development of the Shift/Work research project continues apace. Further Shift/Work activities are being planned. For documentation of the Unlearning workshop see:
For events: Number of attendees, evaluation forms and results.
In 2014, Shift/Work commissioned two artists (Leeds United and a designer (Crille Lampa to facilitate a three-day workshop at Edinburgh Sculpture Workshop. Shift/Work Unlearning (28-30th May 2014) acted upon current discourses and practices that engage with the values of unlearning, deschooling, improvisation and amateurism.
Working in two groups, the participants, a mixture of artists, educators, curators and arts administrators drawn from five of Scotland’s leading artists’ and designers’ led organisations, spent the first day undergoing an induction to the workshop theme by the facilitators followed by an induction into the charette process. On the second day each group designed an unlearning process for their peers to experience on the final day.
[16 Participants; National]
For events targeted to practitioners, policy makers or industry please attach the list of invitees as well as the delegate list, both including name, job titles and company/organisation. We will not use these without your permission but are delighted to help you follow up as appropriate.
In addition to the facilitators, we invited stakeholders from the following artist and designer led organisations:
3 participants from the Embassy Members / Committee, Edinburgh
3 participants from the Transmission Members / Committee, Glasgow
2 participants from the Generator Members / Committee, Dundee
2 participants from the ESW Studio holders, Edinburgh
2 participants from the Catalyst Members / Committee, Belfast
Details of outcomes and evidence of preliminary impact. This includes any activities occurring as result of the event/project. For this reason, we encourage people not to submit the report straight after completion but closer to the 3 month deadline.
The workshop was evaluated by all participants and facilitators. This was achieved in part by a discussion at the end of the third day and, in whole, by follow up surveys using the Bristol Online Survey tool. The Shift/Work team combined this feedback with constructivist data collected by Neil Mulholland and his PhD student Jake Watts. This consisted of written notes (behaviourist analysis, non-participatory observation) and photographs taken at regular intervals through the workshops. This allowed us to account for the iterative flow of unlearning on each day, indentify strengths and weaknesses of the facilitation and environment. Taking account of this feedback, the thematic and charette inductions were re-written (scored) and condensed so that they could be played by any individual to any group of participants in any environment.
Through the enthusiasm of the participants, the workshop became known to other artists, designers and educators. In particular, it came to the attention of the MFA Director of Malmö Art Academy who commissioned Shift/Work to run an international workshop for art, design and curatorial students studying in art and design colleges around Europe.
A re-calibrated version of the workshop ran at the Malmö Art Academy, Sweden (12-14th September 2014) with Neil Mulholland acting as the sole facilitator. This included participants from Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Spain, France, Iceland, USA and Australia. Malmö is widely considered to be the world’s leading art school and their alumni are hugely influential (for example, one participant is the Director of the National Gallery of Iceland); thus there will, undoubtedly, this iteration of the workshop will generate further impact.
If a core element of the project is dissemination and engagement using the web, please provide stats on number of hits etc., as well as information on resulting engagement (i.e. responses, comments to blog posts etc) and, crucially, the enhanced impact (new target group(s), better understanding of research relevance, etc.) that has resulted.
While the project appears on the web and share-and-share alike licensing is a good means of documenting each workshop, word-of-mouth and paragogy have more readily led to its application in other areas. Presenting on Shift/Work at specialist art and design education conferences and events has led to rapid dissemination of our projects. We are, therefore, looking to pursue such channels as a means of drawing traffic to share-and-share alike resources. Locating the scores of the workshops on Peer2Peer networks (PDF P2P file-swapping) as well as on open academic hosts such as PURE also seems to be effective. We have been attempting to carpetbomb the scores of our workshops rather than locate them in a single ‘golden copy’ resource. Releasing them into distributive networks enables them to become genuinely open.
Implications of the project for the linked research – this may include increased impact of the research, new questions or focus areas identified, new collaborations established, new research applications planned or submitted etc.
The charette methodology developed in this project has been subsequently applied to Shift/Work projects that have emerged from it. It has generated a greater focus on the following areas:
Unlearning & Paragogy
PAR (Participatory action-research) & OER (Open Educational Resources)
With regard to unlearning/paragogy I have become increasingly engaged with IAD and a number of international research projects such as the Peer2Peer Foundation, the Creative Commons and Open Research (Open Access) which offer alternatives to representational democracy and proprietorial knowledge. In relation to PAR and OER I have been engaging with the Practice Programme of SPS in UoE, a DTP that has been pivotal in exposing our students to such methods.
Specifically, I have used the charette methodology to different ends, for example, as the structure for the Future Norths charette , a KE with Timespan in Helmsdale, Highlands 29/3/14 The methodology also forms the basis of Atelier: Making Research Material Across the Arts & Social Sciences developed by the Edinburgh Visual & Material Research Group (EVMR) which has KEs with the National Museums of Scotland and Atlas Arts, Skye. The aim of this network is to develop models of making and enquiry that can bring together often separate visual and material research practices within the social sciences and humanities through the facilitation of ‘Atelier’. Atelier is a charrette-structured commons that allows us to make shared research ‘objects’ through collaborative research practices.
In turn, the work of Atelier and the EVMR has led to the Routledge journal Visual Culture in Britain re-locating from Northumbria University to the University of Edinburgh (ECA and SPS). EVMR will be editors of Visual Culture in Britain and the charette methodology will form the core of future thematic issues.
Very recently, I have been asked to conduct a KE ‘probe’ charette with Hospitalfield House to determine how ECA will collaborate with them on a PGR programme and how we will establish research residencies with them for staff and visiting academics.
Learning from the project – what would you like to share as good practice and what could have been done differently to increase the benefits?
In an abstract sense, I have been seeking to share and expand the charette methodology in other research projects and subject areas. This constitutes good practice – they method is transferable and has particular resonance for KE since it includes academics, non-academics and ‘user-groups’ in the collaborative research process.
The more specific research on unlearning is ongoing. The unlearning workshop can be run over and over, achieving quite different results in each iteration. The iterations make an ongoing contribution to research into unlearning.
Overview of co-funding, follow-up funding applications and/or income through consultancy or continuous professional development courses resulting from the project (if relevant).
With Dan Brown at ESW, I have established Shift/Work as the core component of ESW’s curatorial programme. The new building opened in November 2014 and with this Shift/Work officially became a core-funded programme of the sculpture centre.
In the run-up to the project, I was able to successfully bid for a Scottish Graduate School for the Arts & Humanities AHRC grant to support the PhD research of Jake Watts into and through workshops. The bid to the SGSAH was successful largely due to the support that this project provided him with in the form of KE and MoA with ESW. It has significantly increased ECA’s impact and research environment, so much so that the MoA is now benefiting all of ECA’s subject areas.
Jake is now also being supervised by Daphne Loads in IAD and Neil McGuire at from the School of Design, Glasgow School of Art. This has expanded the Shift/Work project advocates, ensuring that it has firm connections with education and design research. In addition, I have a new PhD student from the USA, Patty McMeans, who, supported by the Principal’s Career Development Scholarship, is researching the related subject of artists’ residencies. Both Jake and Patty are fully supported by our KE MoA with Edinburgh Sculpture Workshop and are full members of the Shift/Work research team.
As previously mentioned, a re-calibrated version of the workshop was run at the Malmö Art Academy, Sweden (12-14th September 2014) with me acting as the sole facilitator.
We are currently planning to run the workshop again as a contribution to the 4th International Visual Methods Conference at the University of Brighton 16-18th September 2015. The workshop will be prefaced by a co-authored academic paper in which Jake Watts and I will analyse the two iterations of Shift/Work Unlearning as examples of how to design, evaluate and develop an iterative action-based approach to artistic learning that is at once theoretical and practical. The paper will include contributions from our two facilitators Crille Lampa and Leeds United.
We will draw upon relevant literature, discourses, practices and models of unlearning that enable and inspire artistic researchers to implement their own workshops. Working in two groups, up to 12 conference delegates will spend a morning designing a process of unlearning for their peers to undertake that afternoon. We will document the process and engage the delegates in an evaluation of their unlearning in the weeks following this conference. Once this has been completed, we will present the paper for publication in a relevant journal of research practice / art and design pedagogy, the Journal of Artistic and Creative Education.
Effective start/end date28/05/1430/05/14


Explore the research topics touched on by this project. These labels are generated based on the underlying awards/grants. Together they form a unique fingerprint.