Play Serious

I participated in Play Serious – a two-day event for practitioner-researchers in the North West and beyond – Thursday, 13th & Friday, 14th September 2012, 10am-8pm, 2022 NQ, Manchester M1 1EZ.

Play Serious is an innovative, seriously playful and playfully serious event for practice based/led/as researchers. An explosion of art, critical insight and creative activity where participants will be encouraged to share their unresolved ‘work in progress’, ask each other questions, reflect critically on how practice and research inform one another, make connections with others and seed collaborations for the future.

The atmosphere will be friendly, fun and fascinating and the event will be a rare and exciting opportunity to put the practice in research to the fore. So bring your paintbrushes, modelling clay, crayons, 4b, 2b and Hb pencils or script, scores and recordings, musical instrument, camera,16mm projector and computer and join up to play serious!

In a Nutshell

Play Serious aims to create a space in which postgraduate and early career practice based/led/as researchers can share their respective practices, connect with like-minded colleagues and explore potential collaborative opportunities in the region and beyond.


A two-day event of semi-structured and informal activities which will encourage sharing, making connections and fostering collaboration between the broader creative disciplines ‘on show’.


An opportunity to explore, share and focus on practice based/led/as research in an informal setting outside the scrutiny of an academic institution.

Who is the audience?

The participants… and though it’s not a closed event it is designed to allow ‘play’ within the scope of our own fields and away from an academic setting.

Who will gain from this event?

The participants… and hopefully this will lead to exciting collaborations either through studio practice, producing new forms of academic text or more traditional academic texts, forging links to other institutions etc. 

Future/Longevity of the event.

We envisage this two-day event as being the starting point for future collaborative projects and a substantial publication covering the event and future work (alongside the website).

What is Play Serious?

Play Serious came about through the PARC NorthWest (Practice as Research Consortium NorthWest)  23rd May 2012 event ‘Opportunities for Postgraduate Researchers and Early Career Researchers’. It’s aimed at practice based/led/as early career researchers, the postgraduate community and Supervisory teams of all HE Institutions who make up the PARC NorthWest Consortium – However, it’s open to any practice based postgraduates or early career researchers and their Supervisory teams from the North, Midlands and beyond.

What are the expected outcomes?

By contributing to the event we hope that participants will be able to:

  • show work in progress, as opposed to resolved and finished pieces
  • discuss a wide range of aspects and permutations of practice within a research context
  • raise awareness of their own and others practice for information, possible future collaboration and pairings

Play Serious will be supported by a publication created for the event including biographies and short statements from the delegates around the theme of ‘Play Serious’ and what practice and research means to them, with editorial from the group heading up Play Serious.

Play Serious will be documented and an embedded blog within the website will carry these updates, photography, video and written work, creating a springboard for future publications and collaboration.

Branding, logo and a website will be produced to act as legacy, possibly for future events. 


And some details from my application… (a 200 word biography, a 300 word personal statement around the theme of ‘Play Serious’ and what practice and research means to you, relevant URLs for your research project and artistic practice and a print resolution photograph of you and/or your work)

Playing Serious

I think that PhD research that involves art practice – whether it’s called practice as research, practice led research, practice based research or any of it’s other semblances – tries to argue for an alternative and artistic route to developing fresh insights and revealing new knowledge. Arguably this is because artists feel freer to produce and experiment, to follow whim and fancy or to systematically pursue a thought. In the process they make connections and linkages between things and ideas and find taxonomic, phenomenological, emotional and sometimes irrational associations and interdependencies. This is almost play.

I also think its fair to say that PhD research that involves art practice is tolerated but not embraced by the UK Academy. There’s something of a reluctance to acknowledge that it is actually possible to add to new knowledge through producing art. This makes the task for artists undertaking a PhD even more of a challenge. Not only do they have to engage with an unfamiliar academic dialogue, biased towards traditional models of research based on deductive reasoning and a sequential process of analysis, synthesis, conceptualisation and epistemology, but they also have to justify their work and make explicit their own, more often than not, intuitive and implicit methodologies. This is quite serious. 

Personally, I’ve found it quite difficult to find an appropriate bridge between these two worlds. However, it hasn’t been about aligning myself with more recent ‘fashionable’ thinkers in order to engage with academic strategies of thought. I’ve sought a more elementary personal position on PhD research that involves art practice.

As a starting point, my years of experience as an artist and curator and my implicit practitioner knowledge drew me to my area of PhD study and enabled me to formulate my key method. But once I’d started to research my context in greater depth, to investigate the lineage of my practice by looking at the ideas, approaches and techniques of artists that inspired me as well as select research from a range of seemingly disparate disciplines that resonated with my study, I’ve started to divine a congruence between these varied perspectives which are crystallising as the central argument within my thesis.

The key point for me and critical to why art practice can add to new knowledge, is that many of those ideas I consider significant and central to my research and that will be very things that produce fresh insights and new knowledge, can only be explored through my practice. I can’t deduce them through further research – the literature doesn’t exist. I can only find out if these notions have validity by actually producing and experimenting, by following whim and fancy and by systematically pursuing a thought. I think this is playing seriously. 


Lewis Sykes

Lewis Sykes is an artist, musician and digital media producer/curator based in Manchester, UK.

A veteran bass player of the underground dub-dance scene of the 90s he performed and recorded with Emperor Sly, Original Hi-Fi and Radical Dance Faction and was a partner in Zip Dog Records. 

He honed an interest in mixed media through an MA in Hypermedia Studies at the University of Westminster in 2000 and continued to fuse music, visuals and technology through a series of creative collaborations – most notably as musician and performer with the progressive audiovisual collective The Sancho Plan (2005-2008) and currently as one half of Monomatic – exploring sound and interaction through physical works that investigate rich musical traditions.

Director of Cybersonica – an annual celebration of music, sound art and technology (2002-2011), Lewis was also Coordinator of the independent digital arts agency Cybersalon (2002-2007), founding Artists in Residence at the Science Museum’s Dana Centre.

He is in the second year of a Practice as Research PhD at MIRIAD, Manchester Met, exploring the aesthetics of sound and vibration.