The MFA program is a two-year full-time course that is designed to facilitate self-directed Studio Research and Practice toward the achievement of the Final Competencies for the MFA degree. Students meet those objectives via learning outcomes, which indicate the expected skills, knowledge, attributes, and competencies acquired through these program modules:
- Studio Research and Practice: involving independent research and practice, tutorials with core and guest tutors, thematic projects, seminars, excursions, workshops, independent study, and self-organized initiatives.
- Reading, Writing and Research Methodologies Seminar: involving an introduction to best practices in research and writing as preparation for writing the master’s thesis.
- Analysis of Practice-Group Critique: involving self and peer evaluation of research and practice.
Students present and discuss their Studio Research and Practice in the Analysis of Practice-Group Critique module and the feedback received there impacts the evolution of their work. The skills, contextual and critical perspectives developed in thematic projects and seminars, workshops, and self-organized initiatives embedded in the Studio Research and Practice module can widen the scope of and focus self-directed research, helping students refine and reflect upon their own work and the work of others. In year one, the Reading, Writing, and Research Methodologies Seminar guides students toward a better understanding of artistic and academic research methodologies and encourages a regular writing practice, which is essential for the successful completion of the body of work and writing component of the Graduate Research and Practice module in year two.
THE CURRICULUM IN FOCUS
The MFA program emphasises independent learning, research, and communication, and stresses the complexity and scope of issues raised in and by artworks. Research, defined simply as studious enquiry, is a key element of the curriculum. The ultimate outcomes of artistic research are the questions, forms, meanings, and knowledge that can emerge from it in a body of artistic work. Therefore an experimental approach to research prevails. The MFA program understands artistic research as embedded in the present conditions of production, distribution, and reception of art and culture and the curriculum fosters the investigation and deployment of a range of research and practice methodologies.
Because qualifications for a MFA are first and foremost embodied in artworks and the research that leads to them, it is sometimes difficult to measure these quantifiably in a one-to-one relationship. As a counterbalance, the MFA program maintains that the students’ ability to reflect critically upon and to make explicit their artistic questions, methods, and decisions, is inherent to advanced artistic practice. Students perfect their capacity to communicate about their research and work to peers and general audiences in their tutorials and group critiques, their written theses, in seminars and public presentations, exhibitions and publications. In this way, students develop an informed relationship to their work and the work’s potential address to a public or in a specific context.
The MFA program recognizes the inherent diversity of perspectives, methods, practices and channels of dissemination (via the art market, exhibitions, publication, the Internet, live-performance, ephemeral events, public commissions) that are available to contemporary artists today. It promotes a critical and contextual understanding of an artist’s own research interests and practice alongside an awareness that art makers are situated within historical and theoretical trajectories, which are themselves complex constructions worthy of exploration. The curriculum modules are designed and interact in such a way as to reflect this perspective.
Studio Research and Practice in the MFA is comprised of practice-led research and the production of work. It is enhanced by tutorials and thematic projects and seminars that explore topical issues in contemporary art practice, history and theory in depth. Rather than covering a fixed set of themes and references, these thematic projects and seminars change every year, thus allowing us to engage with a range of relevant issues, and to work with a variety of leading artists, curators, critics and theorists. Artworks, texts, working processes and research methods are informed, developed, analysed, evaluated and assessed through an on-going dialogue with peers and core and guest tutors who conduct tutorials, teach thematic projects, seminars, and workshops, and consult and guide public programs.
Studio Research and Practice is the main focus, largest component and point of reference for PZI MFA students throughout the programme. Students develop a body of work focused on questions, ideas, or themes that motivate their research and practice and use media, materials and working methods they find most appropriate. Research and work are undertaken independently, in forms and directions that are specific to each student, including archival and field research, technical training, collaborative partnerships, and public presentations.
In year one, emphasis is on experimentation and exploration of processes, materials, and ideas. By the end of year one at least one or more individual and assessable works should give evidence of the ability to integrate self-directed research and critical, contextual perspectives in a developing body of work. Students in year one are assessed in the Integrated Assessment-Self-Evaluation. A group ‘interim exhibition’ accompanies this assessment. In year two, students enter in the Graduate Research and Practice phase, which leads to the production of a written text of circa 8000 words and work for the graduate exhibition.
Mandatory thematic projects and seminars are embedded in the Studio Research and Practice module and may take the form of a classroom-based seminar, a lecture series, or workshops involving a combination of close readings, lectures, practical work, and self-directed research. Reading and discussing texts, analysing artworks and artistic approaches, joint exhibition visits and excursions, screenings, work on location, and (public) presentations are also features of thematic projects and seminars. They provide a forum for the exploration of artistic approaches and theoretical concepts, consider the critical and contextual frameworks from which they have emerged, and take stock of their implications in the present. They deliberately connect theory, contextualisation and practice, and focus on themes and topics that traverse different modes of making and discourses (visual art practice, social practices, exhibition making, art criticism, cultural theory, philosophy, politics, etcetera). Students develop a critical, conceptual framework and vocabulary for reflecting upon specific artistic approaches and formations, which enable them to evaluate and set standards for their own work and working methods.
Year two of the MFA program offers students a concentrated period of self-directed study devoted to the conceptualization and completion of the Graduate Research Project, which is comprised of a work for exhibition and a writing component to be developed in relationship to the student’s individual practice. Each trimester in year two corresponds to a phase in the graduate research project: Proposal Phase, Project Phase, and Completion Phase.