MA Contemporary Art Theory

MA Contemporary Art Theory

Re-imagining the Art School Since 2001

‘Weird Studies?’ | Learning Sprint

The sprint incorporates elements of LARP workshops by The Interactions Group and Reed Berkowitz: The Wonder Machine and Guided Apophenia from Blend&Bleed: On Transreality and Pervasive Play both of which serve as  contemporary exemplars of weird practice that we can all experience through participating in them. It also incorporates a number of writing workshops that Neil Mulholland has created. The writing workshops are focused on forms of fabulation and fictioning that are found equally in contemporary art and weird fiction. They will draw upon fabulation methods that Neil has developed with Norman Hogg as the Confraternity of Neoflagellants. (link)


‘Weird Studies?’ is a two-week learning sprint, the third in the 40 Credit Themes Course within the MA Contemporary Art Theory programme.


‘Weird Studies?’ course participants will attempt to respond to this provocation:

‘”Weird Studies” is a scholarly field that doesn’t and can’t exist. The Weird is that which resists any settled explanation or frame of reference. It is the bulging file labelled “other/misc.” in our mental filing cabinet, full of supernatural entities, magical synchronicities, and occult rites. But it also appears when a work of art breaks in on our habits of perception and ordinary things become uncanny. ‘ …’

As much of the Weird Studies sprint as possible will be taught ‘in the open’ (OER)  

This page contains information specific to MA CAT students, but, if it’s open, you are free to use it providing you stay within the license of the OER:  ‘Weird Studies?’ | Learning Sprint designed by Prof Neil Mulholland is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike CC BY-NC-SA 4.0.

What will we be doing in this learning sprint?
As a way of responding to the provocation, we will pursue forms of weird (psuedo)research. This should not only mean exploring the weird as a field (as perhaps  a ‘weird studies’ might do?) but crafting weird methods for exploring or generating (anti)knowledge.
You should be able to apply what you have just learned about making a scene (the logic of art/scenes) and the idea of artworlds as a forms of anticipatory institution (Sprint #2).
This should give you the skills you need to:
a) fabulate a weird scene with its own weirded logic
b) investigate how your scene not only anticipates an institution but fabulates such a (cultic) milieu into existence.
These insights should work well as catalysts for your own organisation-building as CATs.
What else might this learning sprint involve?
In this sprint, we will encounter claims to knowledge and research methods that are frequently rejected as ‘psudeo’ or ‘anti’-knowledge.
We will also engage with unusual methods for divining what is yet to be known, with allegedly ‘hidden’ knowledge, and with different concepts of the unknowable. Imagining an (impossible?) discipline such as ‘Weird Studies’? requires that we engage with forms of miscelleny by adopting and adapting their logic; viewing them from the inside as active participants in their reproduction.
In so doing, will gain a different view of the culture of what is commonly accepted as ‘research’ within the academy. We will be able to investigate nonknowledge/knowledge boundary formations and gain insight into where and how forms of (anti)knowledge are produced, disseminated and challenged. In addition, we will gain more insight into what drives counter-knowledge and what forces help it to grow.

Weird Resources

To begin with, here’s a tentative resource list:

Weird Sprint

This is the structure we will follow:

Week 6

Day 1 – Monday – Which Weird(s)? | October 25th 2021 |

10:00-12:30 Monday 25th October| Neil Mulholland et al | R.02B, Hunter Building, Lauriston

The Wonder Machine | We will start by playing a game devised by the The Interactions Group. The Wonder Machine. The Interactions Group is a nomadic autonomous group affiliated with the Institute of Advanced Studies, University of Amsterdam, where it began, and Center Leo Apostle, Free University, Brussels.

To find out more about The Wonder Machine, please follow this link (link).

We will watch some of this video in class before we attempt to become The Wonder Machine.

Can there be a “Weird Studies”?

An introduction to various forms of weird studies across different disciplines by reviewing the resource list for this course: ‘Weird Studies?’ | Weird Tales, New Weird, Weirding, Weirdness Coefficient, Quantum Weirdness, Spooky Action, Hauntology, Esotericism, Misc.

James Clegg The Weird (Curator, Talbot Rice Gallery, University of Edinburgh)

James Clegg is a writer, curator and MA CAT alumnus. We will watch a little of James’ unique response in response to the provocation ‘can there be a weird studies’, which he has created especially for us. You must watch all of James’ provocation following class today.

Weird Methods:

Weird-o-verse board (link) Login via LEARN using your EASE UNN and password

Working with the Weird-o-Verse that’s been created in Miro, each CAT will select a different example of methodological weirdness to research on Tuesday afternoon.

This solo research needs to be completed before you meet in your Basho on Day 2 (Wednesday)…

We will walkthrough how to do this solo research towards the end of our first class. The instructions are in Miro (link):


Pick out one thing from the Weird-o-verse (link) that is of interest to you.

Copy it into the space to the right>>>

Start to add images, sounds, videos and links that relate to the one thing you started with.

Build up a picture of associations as rapidly as you can.

Try to add as many relevant examples of art/cultural practices and ‘weird’ methods of engaging with these examples as you can find.


Before you finish, ensure that you do the following:

What are the rules/logic/laws that govern the behaviour of the world you are constructing here?

Try to present this ‘logic’ in the form of a typology (see: Ross, Sarah Gwyneth. “Weird Humanists.” I Tatti studies 22.2 (2019): 345–354.)

You can draw this typology or write it down in the space provided for you>>>

Provocations on the Weird:

Following class, you should also set aside a little time to read/listen to the following two provocations:

– Phil Ford, Birth of the Weird  (link) Reality Bites: The Tragedy of Magical Thinking (link) Podcast, Duration: 9:42

Then, if you still have some time, have a browse of The Weird Fiction Review (link)

Day 2 – Wednesday – Weirdverses, Weird Methods, Weird Scenes | October 27th 2021

10:00-12:30 Wednesday 27th October | Study Space Booked Lecture Theatre O17, Hunter Building, Lauriston. Please meet in the Hunter Lecture Theatre where you can work alongside peers in your Basho.

Today, your Basho will begin to create a body of propositions that will generate your own ‘weird scene’ or ‘cultic milieu’ (Campbell, 1972). This weird scene will contribute to and form a part of a larger Weird-o-Verse, the nebulous sphere of allegedly ‘counter-knowledge’ that we collectively seek to explore.

Jigsaw Group

Each basho should meet in a jigsaw formation to pool and share the initial research they conducted on Tuesday afternoon. You should do the following:


Present your own boards to each other; focus on:

– the examples you have chosen

– the rules/logic/laws that govern the behaviour of the world you constructed.

– your typology


Once you have presented your ideas to each other, do the following:

Weird Scene-Building:

In the space between the boards that you have created individually, collectively work on the following:


a) Create a technology for your Basho’s collective Weird Scene. 

How does this technology behave? What does it enable?


b) Design a ritual for your Basho’s Weird Scene.

What does the ritual involve? How is it practised?

Week 7

Day 3 Monday – Workshop: (Re-)Weirding Forgotten Books | November 1st 2021

10:00-12:30 Monday 1st November | Neil Mulholland | R.02B, Hunter Building, Lauriston

Jigsaw Group

Illuminatus! Trilogy

Basho will reconvene in R.02B to construct a body of Weird Theory by weirding Forgotten Books and the Joy of Knowledge home reference library (Rigby International Ltd, 1981)

This workshop will help you to develop forms of weird concept engineering as a theoretical practice.

We will situate this theoretical practice within each Basho’s unique Weird Scene.

Here are two tools used commonly in Concept Engineering:


Neography is the practice of constructing a new writing system or ‘conlang’ e.g. Nüshu, Hobo signs; Huttese; Shorthand. See also:

Neologism are what we might call ‘new’ words that are beginning to be more widely used e.g. as I write this, Astroturfing, Amirite, Whataboutism and Cloud Kitchen are still neologisms. The practice of theory can construct ‘new’ words, but they become neologisms only if and when they start to be used by others.


Solo Weird Research | All participants should spend Tuesday afternoon researching the resources on ‘pataphysics, apophenia + pareidolia (specifically apophenia+pareidolia relations with psuedo-research and Invented Religions/the invention of religion.)
Please read: 
On Audio Apophenia:
Banks, Joe . Rorschach Audio: Ghost Voices and Perceptual Creativity Leonardo music journal, 2001 Volume: 11, p77-83. DOI: 10.1162/09611210152780728

On Visual Apophenia (pareidolia):

ROBERT G. BEDNARIK. “PAREIDOLIA AND ROCK ART INTERPRETATION.” Anthropologie (Brno) 55, no. 1/2 (2017): 101–117.

Further listening, examples os Audio Apophenia:

The Ghost Orchid: An Introduction To EVP (CD, Compilation, Misprint) | Discogs

Further reading on Visual Apophenia (pareidolia):

Read Chapter 2 ‘Animism, Perception, and the Effort after Meaning’ in
Guthrie, Stewart. Faces in the Clouds : a New Theory of Religion / Stewart Elliott Guthrie. New York ;: Oxford University Press, 1993.

Add examples of apophenia to your Basho’s Weird Scene in Miro before you meet on Wednesday.

Apophenia Moon

Day 4 Wednesday –  Guided Apophenia: A Conspiracy Theory Workshop | November 3rd 2021

10:00-12:30 Wednesday 3rd November | Neil Mulholland | Lecture Theatre O17, Hunter Building, Lauriston 

Guided Apophenia | This final component of the sprint is a modified version of a Conspiracy Theory Workshop devised by Reed Berkowitz.

This is a good short intro to Reed Berkowitz and, at the same time, an intro to a present-day American conspiracy theory:

Berkowitz is a media professional with over twenty-five years of experience designing, writing, and researching award-winning interactive experiences for some of the best entertainment companies and brands in the world, including Universal Studios, Paramount, Cartoon Network, Peanuts, Sanrio (Hello Kitty), and many more.

Each Basho will now build upon their Weird Scene and Weird Theory to transform them into a fully fledged Conspiracy Theory.

We will use techniques outlined by Berkowitz – specifically research on apophenia and on Cambell’s ‘cultic mileu’ (e.g. Jorgensen 1982; Kaplan & Lööw, 2002.) We will equally consider the important work here of hacktivists and affiliated contemporary artists (specifically Discordians and ‘pataphysicians) here. This will enable us, hopefully, to create our own viable consipiracy theories as significant contributions to counter-knowledge and psuedo-research.

If we have time at the end of this workshop, each Basho will attempt to induct the other into their ‘cultic mileu’ and consider what directions a ‘Weird Studies’? might take (or not).


Post-Theme Diagnostic (link)

A short online diagnostic to ascertain what you have (and have not) learned so far about “weird studies”, the social production of counter-knowledge, so-called? ‘so-called psuedo-research’, and what remains as misc. Add this to your Portfolio. (link)


Campbell, Colin. “The Cult, the Cultic Milieu and Secularisation” A Sociological Yearbook of Religion in Britain 5, 119-36, 1972.

Jorgensen, Danny L. “The Esoteric Community: An Ethnographic Investigation of the Cultic Milieu.” Journal of contemporary ethnography 10.4 (1982): 383–407. Web.

Kaplan, Jeffrey, and Heléne Lööw. The Cultic Milieu: Oppositional Subcultures in an Age of Globalization. Blue Ridge Summit: AltaMira Press, 2002.

Ross, Sarah Gwyneth. “Weird Humanists.” I Tatti studies 22.2 (2019): 345–354. Web.


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