Dr Briony Thomas, Associate Professor in Design Science, collaborated with Kenneth Tindall, Resident Choreographer and Director of Digital for Northern Ballet, on the Leeds Creative Labs Virtual Edition: 2020. The pair invited each other into their respective creative methodologies, eventually focussing on maths and dance. Soon after their collaboration, they were awarded seed funding from the University of Leeds and Northern Ballet. With this funding, they produced ÅNGSTRØM, a three-minute digital dance film exploring how both science and the body — through dance — create patterns and geometry.
What encouraged you to apply to Leeds Creative Labs?
Briony: I had looked at the Leeds Creative Labs opportunity for a few years. It had always appealed as an exciting concept and great opportunity for a different type of collaboration.
I often work with scientists bringing in arts approaches through visualisation techniques, making, and modelling. But Leeds Creative Labs offered the chance to work across creative disciplines, which would be something new for me.
I had put off applying for a few years thinking I was not ready, or it was not the right time. The onset of the pandemic made me realise I was holding myself back and there was never going to be a good time. So, I went for it!
Kenneth: I am a curious creative and as such I am always on the lookout for collaborative opportunities, especially those outside of my current network. So when I came across Leeds Creative Labs, it looked to be exactly what I was in search of.
What was your experience of collaborating?
Briony: Despite our collaboration being online, we had a huge amount of fun. Between our sessions what we’d discussed would permeate through our different practices.
I’d be creating digital collages of ideas and Kenny would go into rehearsals and experiment with concepts inspired by the geometric forms and shapes we’d discussed.
So, we worked in our own ways – experimenting with form in our different mediums – and then we’d enthusiastically meet up again and discuss what we’d been up to.
I really enjoyed how we discussed such a huge range of artforms, from fine art and sculpture, textiles, and film and music. It was great to work with someone who could bring a different perspective and experiences into the mix. I even got to attend the premiere of Kenny’s new work ‘States of Mind’ at the Playhouse in October 2020. That was an amazing end to my Labs experience!
Kenneth: Wonderful. Collaboration can be a really tricky process and needs a lot of alchemy and chemistry for it to work in an honest and open way. I was fortunate to be paired with Dr Briony Thomas who was open minded, kind and incredibly skilled. We have become good friends as a result of this project.
What changed and what did you produce?
Briony: We created a visual journal and two short film pieces that combined our creative work, ideas, and inspiration. These really formed visual stories of all the ideas we discussed. We pulled it all together using Mural, so we had a digital space where we could store ideas in a visual way and include links and imagery to other sources of inspiration.
Leeds Creative Labs enabled us to build a great working relationship and more than that, a friendship. By documenting all our ideas – of which there were many – the Labs will form the first steppingstone and for future collaborative work.
Kenneth: Everything changed – the biggest problem for us was choosing a direction to go in. There were so many ideas and so many possibilities and we wanted to explore all of them. We produced several R&D snippets then went on to create a short work together utilising arts, science, math and education.
What was the impact of participating on your research and creative practice?
Briony: I think the major impact of the Labs experience for me was that Kenny really helped rebuild my creative confidence, which had taken a knock in recent years. I got an insight into Kenny as a mentor to the artists he works with and how he nurtures their talent. I now actively look to bring in artists and creatives on all my projects as they add huge value through different ways of working and bring opportunities for novel methods of engagement and creative outputs.
Kenneth: The impact is the invaluable experience of being invited into someone else’s creative process – a look behind and into their creativity and practice from inception. This is a huge privilege as it is at times vulnerable and private. I learned a great deal from this collaboration, some of which strengthened my resolve on the choice-making of my own practice and also had me reflect on others.
What's unique about the Leeds Creative Labs?
Briony: What’s really valuable is the freedom and having time committed to just exploring and sharing who we are and what we do. It felt like such a luxury to have the time set aside to do something where we could just have fun and explore ideas without any pressure.
Kenneth: Without a doubt, the most unique, special and quite frankly important thing about this project was there was no need for an outcome. A purely creative endeavor of exchanging ideas. The stuff of dreams.
What did you do after Leeds Creative Labs?
Briony: We were awarded seed funding from the University's Interdisciplinary R&I Fund for Culture, and with further support from Northern Ballet we were able to produce ÅNGSTRØM, an original piece of dance.
The three-minute digital dance film explores how both science and the body — through dance — create patterns and geometry. This is our first pilot work that was inspired by the connection between the artistic expression of pattern and the science behind it. The dance captures moments where a crystal scatters a beam of x-rays and expresses changing states of matter within an atomic world. Visual references to diffraction patterns, lattices, and the changing states of matter, are interwoven throughout the piece.
Kenneth: We have continued to collaborate and have won funding and grants for our most recent project and are currently in the application process for our next project together which is considerably more ambitious.
Briony: We have a few things in the pipeline. We are both passionate about advancing equity and inclusion within our respective sectors and disciplines. We’re keen to develop a greater understanding of the parallels between the disciplines to advance opportunities for learning and access. One project we’re hoping to advance soon is inspired by the mechanics of movement and dancers as modern-day athletes. We’ll be collaborating with colleagues in biomechanics. The concept grew from one of our Labs discussions, so watch this space!
Kenneth: A collaboration between two possibly three major organisations across arts science and education. Stay tuned!
About virtual collaborations
In 2020, all participants in Leeds Creative Labs collaborated remotely for the first time. This enabled creative partners from across the UK to participate. In 2021, we opened the programme to postgraduate taught students for our first ‘Masters’ edition. Students of different disciplines within our Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Cultures explored their creativity through the programme.