At the time of the first UK lockdown in March of 2020, higher education institutions were required to rapidly adapt their learning and teaching practices for online delivery. For certain arts and design degree courses, requiring the use of studios, darkrooms or workshops, this sudden loss of access to physical spaces would bring into sharp relief the necessity of such spaces and the informal moments of learning that they engender. Between February 2020 and February 2021, I conducted my PhD fieldwork of interviewing staff, students, and recent graduates of UK photography undergraduate degree courses. Several of the participants spoke of the importance of communal studio and darkroom spaces to their course, learning, and practice. In this presentation I will discuss some of their experiences working alongside other students, staff members, graduates and established artists, as well as the importance of such encounters and interactions to them, and how these were affected by the lockdowns and restrictions put in place due to COVID-19. Throughout the interviews, participants used phrases such as “little corridor conversations” and “fleeting things” to describe these encounters and experiences, demonstrating their spontaneous and ephemeral nature. Learning happens in these encounters, as does growth and development of practice, although this is not always conscious or easily measured. Learning encounters such as these cannot be planned and timetabled in advance, nor easily transferred online. The requirement to move all teaching and learning online unsettled the sense of community found in the communal darkrooms and studio spaces where my participants worked. This presentation asks whether, and how, the kind of unprompted peer learning that can occur when working in communal studio and darkroom spaces can be recreated online.
Anastasia Fjodorova is an artist and researcher based in both London and Stirling. She is currently working on a PhD examining the effects of marketisation on UK photography undergraduate degree courses at the University of Stirling.