Feeding creative beasts

Creative beasts. (Supplied)

Creative beasts. (Supplied)

“Daddy,” five year-old Josh would say with a sense of anticipation and wonder that is the privy of only the young and the young at heart, “Daddy, let me tell you a creature.” Ian Marley, a graphic design lecturer at the North-West University’s Potchefstroom Campus, would then sit on the bed next to his son and listen as Josh, with vivid recollection, described one of the beasts that he saw in his dreams. 

All the while Ian would draw and bring to life the fruits of the youngster’s imagination. There was Canny, a creature with the shell of a turtle, the head of a duck (mounted on which a futuristic laser blaster), extended crab-like claws, small wings unsuitable for flight and a tail comprising of a feather. 

Fishy had the bloated body of, well, a fish, but with three arms reminiscent of any number of avian species, sharp triangular teeth embedded in a devious, grinning smile and four scheming eyes under slightly bushy eyebrows. Others included Choppy, Ducky, Froggies and Ostrigy and a host of wonderful beings more. 

  Of all the research entities on the North-West University’s Potchefstroom Campus, none but Visual narratives and creative outputs through interdisciplinary and practice-led research can boast a beginning like this.  These nightly conversations almost seven years ago between father and son led to an exhibition “Tracking creative creatures”, an interdisciplinary investigation into the creative process by the faculty of arts. Initially the project was designed to explore the research possibilities between the subject groups creative writing and graphic design by means of practice-led research, but it later grew to include contributions from art history and literary studies as well. 

Each participant from the various disciplines was given nine illustrations (as drawn by Marley through the voice of Josh) and asked to present their own interpretations or reactions to the drawings. It was a resounding success and led to the founding of the aforementioned research entity. “We wanted to find a way to bring artists and researchers together as there is so much that they can learn from each other,” says Dr Rita Swanepoel, research leader of the niche entity. 

The artist book project “Transgressions and boundaries of the page” followed and the research entity is currently in the final stages of its third project, “Reflective Conversation: typography, topography, typology”. 

“Our aim is for creative and practical knowledge and expertise to supplement each other. We think together, we plan together and we work together,” says Marley.  After every exhibition (planned by the various disciplines), research is conducted and manifests itself in accredited articles (almost 30 already), master’s degree and doctorates. 

“Research can be a very lonely process, but not here. Here we all work together and we are each the others’ pillar of support,” says Swanepoel. Marley says: “It is amazing to think that we have a continuous process where research leads to art and vice versa.” Every project also has a community outreach component. These range from making beaded replicas of Josh’s creatures to a quilting project and creative writing workshops that were held in the adjacent community of Primosa. 

Bonds with fellow universities are formed or further cemented and there is an ever expanding national and international dialogue pertaining to the various visual narratives in which the research area invests. The biggest beneficiaries, however, are the students, says Swanepoel. 

“Practice-based research is of immense importance to young researchers, as it fills a huge void that was such a hindrance to researchers in the past. It gives a better understanding of the chosen discipline and leads to unique outputs. It not only bridges gaps, it fortifies interdisciplinary relations.” Where there was, in the past, only one leg to stand on, now there are many. 

Where there were only two eyes to see, now there are twenty. Where there were only two ears to hear, now there are plenty. Sort of sounds like one of Josh’s creatures, doesn’t it?

This supplement has been paid for by the North-West University Potchefstroom Campus. Contents and pictures were supplied and signed of by the NWU