Imagine a pile of chairs in a room. Draw what you see, but not the chairs.

Imagine a pile of chairs in a room. Draw what you see, but not the chairs.

Today I photographed an empty space, the venue for our experimental art workshop, for 2 Fine Art academics who will be leading this event for us on 17th Feb. I felt a pang of deja vu and a little apprehension, wondering; what are we hoping will happen here? Yes there will be charcoal, sponges and pencils, board and giant sheets of paper, new people to create with, but …we are not an art school.

What does this mean for 10bn, and what are we trying to do? It’s been 2 years since I started work on level 2 of Achieve More and here was a pop-up anniversary to redeliberate curricular space and purpose.

This particular event – the arty one – bookends our opening week, for those of you participating in 10bn to visually and kinaesthetically output your thoughts about the concept of ‘negative space’ (having had the theory intro on Mon 13th and the chance to apply this on our tour of the unseen campus Tues – Thurs).

Are we hoping you might co-create an artefact, for fun, in 2 hours? Yes.

Are we suggesting that you help design an alternative campus map, one that might represent the interdisciplinary research networks we are introducing you to? That would be amazing.

But it’s not just about producing an object, or solving something. There’s the philosophical side to chew on.

What’s the gain in identifying the architecturally defined ‘negative spaces’ that unite our campus; those places in which we interact, drink coffee, collaborate? What work is done by multidisciplinary teams? What makes encounters with people from different subjects so interesting?

Academically, I’d say, we detect how other subjects teach and how we learn, what we learn; a taste of new methods, aims, skills, findings and approaches… and insight into our differences! Arguably, we need these interactions – a mode of interdisciplinarity? – in order to tackle societal and global issues such as migration, energy, water management and inequality, as these can’t be addressed in a monologue. But a more straightforward answer might also be, this is an opportunity.

As extended by our strapline – an opportunity to develop deeper, broader understanding as well as building new networks of your own.

It’s a chance to appreciate the anatomy of the campus, the materiality of scholarship and its potential. But why charcoal? It’s messy! (Come in old clothes!)

Well, it’s smudgy. With charcoal you can illustrate the impermanence of boundaries and sliding change.

For instance, has the curriculum for your subject always been the same? Why do new buildings evolve? What effect do new technologies have on our cognition?

Why are we are doing 10bn..?

The beauty of all this is, it doesn’t matter. (Of course it matters, silly, we work really hard to make it fab!) But it doesn’t matter if you can’t draw, it doesn’t matter which course you are on, it doesn’t matter if you want to find out more about groundbreaking antibiotics but you’re a archaeology student.

It’s not about an outstanding artwork, but your interpretation. We’re valuing thought. A bit old school, maybe …

The upshot is, while I don’t know what exactly will happen in here, I don’t need to. Repko says that interdisciplinary research is ‘reflexive..process..a heuristic tool for finding out’ (2008). We’re providing the apparatus so you can explore, do more, think more.

So pick up your brushes – or sponges – and get to work. And that’s got everything to do with scholarship.

By Fran Sutherland.

Fran is the educational developer for Achieve More L2: 10bn.

The art workshop is 10-12 on Fri 17th Feb, Icoss conference room.

Find out what else is on

Sign up to 10bn here

Twitter @Sheffield10bn


Repko, A. (2008) Interdisciplinary Research: Process and Theory, Sage.

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