Interviewed

The interview, or rather the proposal Viva process, was unexpected before it even started. On Monday, I received a phone call from Chelsea College of Art and Design, asking me if I would go for a interview on Wednesday. Of that very same week. I had been waiting 5 months and everything happened within 3 days. Of course I accepted.

But after a demanding day of teaching and being observed, I felt utterly unprepared. The night before, after a surname misspelling problems, I finally received the invitation letter. A presentation of my work wasn’t mentioned and at 10.30 the night before I threw a few archival images into a PowerPoint and played around with different orders. Starck, Man Ray and Vicky were there to assure me I did not dream all these seduction.

When I got there, they were running late. One of the interviewers had to come from Oxford and was very delayed. I welcomed the cup of coffee in the student canteen. Jordan’s book on designing pleasurable products would help me to focus. When I was asked to go up, they sat me on a chair outside the interview room, while they discussed my proposal and agreed questions. The worse thing was that I could hear bits of sentences I did not want to:

…history… and psychology… but she… no, she… I think she… interesting but I don’t understand… I can’t quite get… and psychology… she…

I missed all the important bits and was getting fearful that perhaps they did not understand what I wanted to do. I finally met them. I had done the supervisors course with one of the interviewers two years ago and that interviewer wasn’t kind to me or to my proposed research, perhaps because they themselves are a member of staff doing a PhD. A PhD I had scrutinised on previous occasions.

I thought the interview was going to revolve around research competence and my ability to undertake what I was proposing. Instead, everything was about what I was proposing. I started with context and question. Why did I want to do a PhD? Because I wanted to propose different models to approach the study of seduction in Fine Art, as all the previous models start from a tautological standpoint. I wasn’t as articulate as I hoped. It is difficult to talk about one wants to do when that is an unknown quantity. I tried to lay out my methods very clearly and methodically and my interest in the interface between art and design provoked 2 opposed reactions.

Within 10 minutes, I felt I had won one of the interviewers over whereas the other one was even further away from me. The latter comes from a belief that the creative process is unique and can’t be scrutinised. It is the outcome, the artifact and its influences that can be scrutinised. I was proposing to make objects and give them to a focus group that would then tear them apart and make me change aspects of my practice. The former had to come into my rescue and ask me if I thought of Art as a cultural product, which, for the purposes of my research, I do.

I am not sure if intellectual rigours gets someone a place in a course, but considering the time I had to prepare and the fact that the interview resembled an exam, I couldn’t have done better. For the first time, my research felt like a problem rather than a crystallized piece of writing. I am grateful to my students who put me on a enquiring mode the day before, when I presented a text in our Drawing Reading Group. As I was going out, the kind interviewer asked me to leave my details and my funding application on the research office. He then asked me if I knew the work of Neil Cummings, which I vaguely did and liked. That afternoon, looking at his online CV, I found out he lectures at Chelsea. Thinking that they were assigning me a supervisor was a very nice omen.