Danielle Hewitt

Studio 9: ‘The Form of the Text’

Image credit: Giovanni Battista Piranesi. Fragments of the Marble Plan of Ancient Rome. (1756)

Studio brief

“The word connects the visible trace with the invisible thing, the absent thing, the thing that is desired or feared, like a frail emergency bridge flung over an abyss.”
Italo Calvino, Six Memos for the Next Millenium, Penguin (2009)


What if we thought of a text as material, spatial, something that it is crafted and inhabited? A place that we can step in and out of? This is the approach to dissertation writing that will be explored by Dissertation Studio 9. The studio will encourage you to approach the dissertation as a crafted textual project. Through workshops and seminars we will consider some of the elements and activities of which the dissertation is comprised, and look at innovative and exciting ways to work with the form of the text, and the act of building it.

Together we will explore the space of criticism; acknowledging our point of encounter with objects, places, sites and processes and the relationship between text, writer and reader. We will slip notes into library books and eavesdrop on fictional conversations to rehearse dialogues with theory. Through a number of exercises we will ask if images alone can stage an argument and find what poetry can teach us about description. We will follow peripatetic formats of discussion – the essay film, the artist’s performance lecture and the guided walk to help us to get our heads around the task of structuring the dissertation. 

The studio takes the position that creative approaches to the form and structure of the dissertation can inform the refinement of your subject matter and the development of your argument. Each week you will be introduced to a range of texts and works, not necessarily as material to inform the subject of your dissertation, but to help you to think about strategies for doing it. 

Summer activities

Familiarise yourself with Cass Writing. This document will be useful throughout your dissertation project. Read the sections on Essay and Dissertation. Read Brian Dillon’s essay on essays. Make some notes on what the similarities are between the essay and the dissertation, and what the differences might be.

Explore some or all of the following:

  • Watch Mark Leckey, Cinema in the Round (2006-2008) and think about what this performance might have in common with a dissertation. Does it share some of the features that you would expect to find in a dissertation, such as an original argument and references to existing ideas?
  • Listen to Maria Fusco, Master Rock (2015). (This also exists through text and image as a book). How many voices do you hear? Think about the different perspective that each provides.
  • Read Jane Rendell (Un)Doing it, (Over)Doing it Yourself: Rhetorics of Architectural Abuse in Occupying Architecture (1998). What is the relationship between doing and writing? Between practice and thought?
    For further reading see: Jane Rendell, Site-writing: The Architecture of Art Criticism. (2010).
  • Browse Richard Kostelanetz, ed., Essaying Essays – Alternative Forms Of Exposition (1975).
  • Think about what you would like to write your dissertation about. Begin to collect texts and images related to your subject.
  • Find a piece of communication that excites or intrigues you. This might be a piece of writing with a tone or subject that you enjoy, an illustrated piece of text, a documentary, a podcast, a guide, a letter... Find it and keep it, to refer back to later.
  • Spend some time amongst the journals in the library, this is a good way to find inspiration for your dissertation. Find what intrigues you, inspires you, or what you disagree with. If you fancy a change of scene you could also browse the journals at the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) Library or the National Art Library.

Indicative bibliography

  1. Mieke Bal, Louise Bourgeois' Spider, The Architecture of Art Writing, University of Chicago Press (2001)
  2. David Carrier, Writing About Visual Art, Allworth Press (2003)
  3. Mark Z Danielewski, House of Leaves, Doubleday (2000)
  4. Brian Dillon, Essayism, Fitzcarraldo Editions (2017)
  5. N Katherine Hayles, Writing Machines, MIT Press (2002)
  6. Roni Horn, Another Water, Steidl (2013)
  7. Katrina Palmer, The Dark Object, Bookworks (2010)


Tutor Danielle Hewitt


Tutor biography

Danielle Hewitt

Course leader of MA by Project and senior lecturer in Critical and Contextual Studies

Dissertation Studios

Studio 1: Another India

Harriet McKay

Studio 1: Another India will examine, reflect upon and critique the historic use of "exotic" motifs in design.

Studio 2: Contemporary Ecology

Nabil Ahmed

In Studio 2 we will explore environmental topics through the lens of art, architecture, spatial practice, media and design disciplines.

Studio 3: Music is the Weapon: Performance, Culture and the Music Industry

Christina Paine

Studio 3: Music is the Weapon: Performance, Culture and the Music Industry is an exploration of race, gender, class and more in music.

Studio 4: Not allowed

Emma Davenport

Studio 4: What Not to Wear? will investigate the roles that dress and fashion play in our workplaces.

Studio 5: Imperfect Theories

Ektoras Arkomanis

Studio 5: Imperfect Theories allows you to critically examine any work that can be seen as theory or presents an interesting relationship with theory.

Studio 6: Curating as a Spatial Practice: From the Wunderkammer to Installation art

Nico de Oliveira

Studio 6: This dissertation studio is designed to help students who are interested in curating as a broad subject, as well as those who wish to contextualise their own practice within the scope of displaying art.

Studio 7: Souvenir

Dr Lesley Stevenson

Studio 7: This studio is concerned with those objects that are lent a particular enchantment because of their relationship with the past.

Studio 8: Post – card

Edwina Attlee

Studio 8 will look at one element of that system – the picture postcard – from a number of different perspectives.

Studio 9: ‘The Form of the Text’

Danielle Hewitt

Studio 9: Together we will explore the space of criticism; acknowledging our point of encounter with objects, places, sites and processes and the relationship between text, writer and reader.

Studio 10: Constellating

Sinead Evans

As creative practitioners we digest and produce images every day – as citizens of the digital age we consume between hundreds and thousands of images each day. This dissertation studio will slim down your daily diet to one image.

Studio 11: Science Fiction Futurity

Luke Jones

Speculative descriptions of the future reveal a magnified — or distorted — reflection of the fears and desires of the present.

Studio 12: Alternative Fashioned Modernities

Lezley George

Much is happening in the world today that foregrounds questions pertinent to our identities in a globalised world.

Studio 13: Desire, Trauma, History

Jonathan Whitehall

How does the relationship of memory to fantasy affect history? What are the links between desire, sexuality and trauma? How are these relationships played out or negotiated in visual and written practice? These questions will form the beginning of our enquiries into artworks, films and literature.

Studio 14: Design and Nature: Forms of an Entanglement

Gabriele Oropallo

We will look at how the idea of nature has been constructed over time and place, and study its impact on design practice in an age marked by the sustainability imperative.

Studio 15: Music, Technology and Ideas

Lewis Jones

Studio 15: Music, Technology and Ideas encourages you to explore how and why we make music, including its origin, relationship to technology and more.

Studio 16: Narrative and Storytelling

Jon Baldwin

Studio 16: Narrative and Storytelling will see you produce storygraphs, storyboards and various forms of narrative analysis in the seminars.

Studio 17: Knowing Audiences

Jeremy Collins

Studio 17: Knowing Audiences will encourage you to study an audience group using qualitative research methods in your investigations.

Studio 18: Time and the Image

David Howells

This workshop will address some perennial problems of writing in the field of visual culture.

Studio 19: Material in Motion

Heidi Yeo

Studio 19: This studio will explore a reading of objects focusing on the interplay between materials, the objects they form and their context.

Studio 20: The Liminal

Andrew Hewish

This Dissertation Studio examines instances of the liminal as they occur in critical theory and culture, and is open to any topic and students from all disciplines.

Studio 21: Reading the library (and nothing but the library)

Joseph Kohlmaier

This year, Studio 21 will stage an unusual experiment. It will move, unpack, catalogue, and perform readings from one private library; and make this library, without exception, the single resource for all the research and writing in the studio.

Studio 22: Meaningful work

Paul Harper

Studio 22: Meaningful work explores the value of making and the idea of craft as meaningful work.

Studio 23: A Common Thread

Gina Pierce

Studio 23: In A Common Thread, we unpick and examine the importance of textiles and how they underpin culture, industry, and global connections.

Cass Studios archive by year