Critical and Contextual Studies (CCS) is a school-wide teaching curriculum that aims to orient and engage students in the histories and theories of their discipline. It offers students a space to reflect on their practice, to test the ethical and ecological implications of their work, and to acquire the language and practical tools that help them understand the histories, theories, objects and phenomena that constitute the culture that surrounds us. Taught by an interdisciplinary team of practitioners, the programme helps students to develop important academic skills, but with a specific focus on the creative and critical affordances of writing in its many forms.
Teaching and learning in CCS culminates in the development of an independent thesis in the final year of study. In this context, the school has created one of the UK’s most innovative teaching frameworks in third-year undergraduate study. The AAD Dissertation brings together students from all areas – art, architecture and design – in cross-disciplinary, elective dissertation studios led by tutors and practitioners from a broad range of backgrounds, whose differing interests, approaches to teaching, research and writing practices produce a uniquely open and vibrant learning environment.
After an introductory series of school-wide lectures, seminars and workshops, students join a dissertation studio to develop an independent topic which can be aligned or productively juxtaposed to the studio’s programme of research and activities. The outstanding work produced in the dissertation studios represents the cumulative effect of three years of sustained learning and the quality of the dissertations is a testimony to the the creativity of our students and school’s unique and expansive approach to teaching history and theory.
Overall Winner, Best Dissertation 2020–21
‘The illusion of control over perfect, linear cities, has generated a diffused rejection of irregularities. It has led us to ignore the fact that we dwell upon the death of others. Paradoxically, ruins from a remote past are today widely appreciated, and thought of as unique documents of a time that no longer exists; they arouse the most disparate emotions, but they do not disturb us. On the other hand, places that have been recently abandoned make us feel uneasy; it is difficult to enter houses where life still lingers, where people seem to have only drifted apart for a moment. But in the instant that we walk in, the far dimension of ruins becomes contemporary, invasive, needing to be dealt with. Calabria is a region where the decay of the landscape has been a background throughout its history. Here, the ruins have grown to inhabit the restless spirit of its people, along with their constant attempts to overcome a condition of alienation. Abandoned towns perturb us precisely because people feel tied to their vicissitudes.’
Winner, Writing Prize and Commendation for Runner-up to Best Dissertation
A monster lies in wait, lurking outside.
It soars, it alights on a steep roof.
It sucks the viscera out of villagers when they sleep. It is the
most feared mythological evil spirit in Filipino folklore. Its split body
is a crack in my Filipino community.
Winner, Best Disseration (3D)
‘I felt uncomfortable in my own skin to the point I wanted to rip the flesh off my bones. I was having intrusive thoughts and I felt itching like there were ants crawling all over me. Even with all that happening, I didn’t realise there was a problem with me or the way I drank. I can look back now and realise that wasn’t normal. Normal isn’t someone at 15 getting liver damage due to excessive drinking and being told by the doctor in the children’s unit that if I carried on, I was going to get liver failure and die.’
Leland McHugh, Emergent Archival Methodology: Understanding the Role of the Archive and the Mechanisms of Collection in Curatorial-Based Contemporary Art Practice. AAD Dissertation Studio 4 – The Conquest of Joy. Tutor: Aleks Catina
Winner, Best Dissertation (Art)
‘In many ways, the archive can become something far greater than the sum of its parts. One could go so far as to say of this “representational” (Stewart) aspect that, because a collection is ordered by its own internal logic (as curated by the artist), it can be seen to function as a microcosm of the material world. Perhaps it is also the freedom of archival methodology to reorder the relationships between elements both relational to and representative of the material world that attracts artists to an archive-based practice.’
Winner, Best Dissertation (Architecture)
‘A ghostly presence is insinuated – the pilasters suggest a physical impression of the free-standing columns, which have already initiated a process of detachment from the building. They are a moment in time, a representation of memory, a piece of archaeology embedded in the elevation.’
Reka Podlussany, Character Design in Pixar Movies: An Analysis of how Pixar Animation Studios uses shapes to reflect the personalities of its characters. AAD Dissertation Studio 3 – Narrative and Storytelling. Tutor: Jon Baldwin
Winner, Best Dissertation (Film)
‘Audiences would typically wonder: What makes a hero in a film look relatable? Or why does the viewer react instantly to a villain? Whether it is a drawn cartoon or digital animation, many of these films begin with a pencil and a piece of paper. The visualisation of a story helps the viewer to understand the narrative and get an impression of its characters based on their appearances (Ekström, 2013). For character designers, it is crucial to accurately convey a character’s personality through its external features to allow the audience quickly identify the nature of the individual (Hauser and Docter, 2009, p. 19) and categorise it into its role in the plot (Tillman, 2011, p. 11). But how can a designer indicate a character’s personality through their look? This dissertation explores the use of geometric shapes in character design from its psychological origins to the methods and schemes of current practitioners, such as Pixar Animation Studios.’
Winner, Best Dissertation (Interiors)
‘Physical and social dimensions become blurred due to objects’s ymbolic ecology and ability to represent the relationships with the dead or those we have lost. And, as objects are material possessions which we take responsibility for and control, we can delve deeper into the relationship we have with our objects, more so than we could with the living [ … ] We remember people for the glasses they wore or the car they drove; people aren’t independent or detached from their objects, as objects are their owners and their identities.’
Eleanor Beaumont, Food, Art and Theatre: The Way in which Food, Art and Theatre Connect. AAD Dissertation Studio 13 – B(read). Tutor: Harriet McKay
Winner, Best Dissertation (Visual Communication)
‘People’s perceptions is typically dominated by what their eyes see’. (Ramsden, 2011).
‘Zines can be black and white or coloured, have drawings, collage, be handwritten or typed with annotations, photographs, rough edges markers, with spelling mistakes. That's what makes zines personal, organic, spontaneous, unique, and mirrors the character and personality of the writer. The imperfections it contains to handle a statement on the nature of truth is mixed with our inclination to believe what we read. In some zines, it is as if I were reading the letter from my best friend talking about subjects that are never addressed by the media. (...) The zine was a powerful tool for the Riot Grrrl movement to emerge and spread, giving girls voices across the world.’
Carla Vargas, Phenomenology and Sensory Design: Philosophical Design Tools for Memorable Places. AAD Dissertation Studio 6 – The Practice of Space: Writing Atmospheres in Art and Architecture. Tutor: Nico de Oliveira
‘Ocularcentrism filtered in all the areas of our society, including art, design and architecture; transforming them in mere intellectual images with no haptic memory behind. The issue with ocularcentrism and consequently reduced sensory experience is, not only that our body and mind need a complete set of sensory information to feel safe and secure, but the fact that spaces that do not create a sensory experience, do not allow us to bond with them and create memories.’
Hannah Vincent, The Effect of Instagram on the Art Exhibition: What Infuence Does Instagram Have on Our Experience and Agency as Viewers During an Art Exhibition? AAD Dissertation Studio 7 – Meaningful Work. Tutor: Paul Harper
‘In the culture of Instagram, art risks being demoted to a backdrop in which we present ourselves to others.’
Tiia Salo, Loneliness is Reproducible. AAD Dissertation Studio 8 – Speak, Form. Tutor: Andrew Hewish
‘The more our daily life appears standardized, stereotyped, submitted to the accelerated reproduction of consumer goods, the more art must become part of life and rescue from it that small difference which operates between levels of repetition, making habitual consumption reverberate with destruction and death; linking cruelty to inanity, discovering, beneath consumption, the chattering of the schizophrenic; and reproducing esthetically, […] the illusions and mystifications which are the real essence of this civilization—so that, in the end, Difference can express itself […] even if it’s only in the form of a contradiction here or there, thereby liberating the forces needed to destroy this world.’ Gilles Deleuze, Difference and Repetition (1994)
‘It is easier to imagine the end of the world than it is to imagine the end of capitalism.’ Frederic Jameson
‘I remove or add just one carbon molecule. All impressions become highly informational regarding objects, elements that are spatial and combine odour experiences. And in this instance, odour has the same spatiality in relation with the sense of smell that the starry sky has on my retina in relation with vision. Now my thought smells of interrelation. Smells of a moron taken out of an oxymoron—a conscious of unconsciousness of collision of senses.’
‘The British and other ex-colonial powers took cultural artefacts, such as the Benin Bronzes, from their colonies in an attempt to control them culturally which in turn would make it easier to control them physically. Decades after the end of colonialism however, Britain and other European countries continue to hold their ex-colonies’ cultural property hostage.’
‘There was a time when furniture was bought to last in our homes for decades and then passed away from generation to generation. Sofas, chairs and dining tables were looked after because made with valuable materials and upstanding workmanship. In the past when furniture would break, they would then be fixed, refurbished and adjusted in order for them to be used till the end of their lives. Nowadays capitalist society has lead us to a continue research to ‘convenience’ privileging cheap, low quality, standardised products which are also putting the environment and renewable resources in danger.’
‘the thistle is unwanted here even though the butterfly likes it’
‘This study will focus on how designers have embraced this ‘urge to affiliate with other forms of life’ to re-think the built environment as a place where ‘the relationship between mankind and nature [can] be one of respect and love rather than domination’ (Dubos, 1980). This relationship can be achieved by designing to increase the occupant’s connectivity to the natural environment as a vital aspect of the design.’
Angelos Foulis, A Qualitative Investigation about the Inherent Connection that Exists Between Art, Politics and Activism in the Contemporary World. AAD Dissertation Studio 15 – ‘If I stay silent, nothing will change’: Identity, Politics, Social Change and Creative Culture(s). Tutor: Christina Paine
‘Eventually, artists must adapt to the political system and its influence on the content of art, and then skillfully navigate its complicated barriers in order to succeed in progressing their politics and ideology while maintaining a strong personal voice.’
‘Africa’s resources are rich and plentiful, it is time that the resources and development is put into the uplifting of the people.’
‘This inability to exchange perception with others allows individuals to conserve a psychological reality, the self being unchanged, unchallenged and eternally trapped in its own perception at the centre of its reality. Being able to go past it would destroy individuality to the benefit of a merged global consciousness.’
Fiona Burnett, Likes, Camera, Action! Investigating the Detrimental Impact of Mass Media on Mental Health. AAD Dissertation Studio 19 – Paths of Desire. Tutor: Heidi Yeo
‘Both sexes have become victims of the culture of consumerism, appearances and glamour, though experienced in different ways.’