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Published as: Neil Mulholland ‘Shift/Work: Speculations’, in L. Campbell (ed.), Leap into Action, New York: Peter Lang. 12th December 2019. pages 21-26; 39-40; 59-60

ISBN 9781433166440



CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 March 2017 Shift/Work (Neil Mulholland, Dan Brown, Jake Watts) Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International


Edinburgh Sculpture Workshop March 2017 | Kochi-Muziris Biennale, India March 2017 | University of Agder, Kristiansand, Norway August 2017 | ISSoTL17 University of Calgary, Canada, October 2017 | SAW Video, Ottawa, Canada, November 2019



Shift/Work identified Speculation as a key trope of artistic learning recurring in previous Shift/Workshops. Speculation materialised as a unifying ethics (or cognitive bias) in artistic practice commonly summarised as working ‘without a script’ or ‘not knowing’. Drawing explicit attention to an implicit ethics within artistic research, and exposing it to the scrutiny and practices of non-artistic learners, raises awareness of its operations and limitations. This, in turn, enables Shift/Workers to repurpose, invent and practice metacognitive forms of speculation that have operational significance for artistic research.


Shift/Work: Speculations was composed by a group of Shift/Workers at Edinburgh Sculpture Workshop in March 2017 working in three groups led by Neil Mulholland, Dan Brown, Jake Watts. The workshop was supported by Edinburgh College of Art’s RKE Fund and The British Council. The composition phase constitutes a workshop in its own right. The three scores it produced may be run separately or in sequence.


Materials (Composition Phase)

Shift/Workers: 12> participants 


Download and print:

                 - Speculations Playing Cards x12

                 - Speculations Score

Speculations Probes x12

Stationary: Post-it notes, Paper, Pens

[Break] where a comfort break is listed, it must be taken at a pre-determined time. 


Induction (5mins)


Shift/Workers should arrive unprepared. They convene in a common space and are briefed on the genesis of the workshop. They are then split into three groups. The space is divided simply (by a wall, screen, curtain or by placing tape on the floor) to form three distinctive P-spaces. It is important not to allow the group to introduce each other in order to avoid pre-empting their expectations of one another.


Composition (>1.5hrs)


Each group works with 4 of the 12 Speculations Cards and 4 probes (speculative objects).

The probes and objects are related, but this is not apparent from how they are arranged.

The group should discuss the verbs on the cards in relation to the probes. 

The group should make visible notes on their conversations.


[Break] lunch 1hr


Playtest (>2hrs)


The group will test out their workshop. Adjustments are made to the workshop composition and play mechanics informed by the playtest observations.


Prep (>30mins)


The group will test prepare their workshop to ensure it runs smoothly. They source and provide materials and write a score to be performed by the other two groups.

Sample Scores: 

A Ladybird Second Speculations Book:

Shift/Workers: 3> participants 

My First Book of Speculations (PDFs to print)

Stationary: Post-it notes and Pens


This metacognitive icebreaker takes the form of a ‘flipped’ parlour game, introducing and enabling participants to play with up to a dozen forms of speculation. It applies objects depicted in a children’s book as a probes through which to practise different speculative methods. The group work rapidly to swarm author and publish an OER book that can, in turn, be used to practise speculative methods, interpolating their implied reader only at the very end of the editorial process. After 60mins, the group will have written the pages of the book, its preface and given it a title.


1. On the wall there is an image of an object accompanied by a ‘speculative’ verb.


2. Use a post-it note to write a question of the object that encourages the form of speculation suggested by the word. Repeat. Write questions as quickly as possible. (5 mins)


3. Stick your questions on the wall next to the image.Take it in turns to read your questions. The other members in the group should answer. (5-10 mins) 


4. Based on the answers they solicited, individually, quickly eliminate the ‘least speculative’ questions. Stop when there are only two questions remaining. (2 mins)


5. When you have exhausted your questions, repeat the process with the next image/verb. (Stop after 50mins)


6. Using the template provided, the group will rewrite the preface and change the book title (10mins)


7. Another unique edition of A Ladybird Second Speculations Book is ready for publication on

Materials for ‘Make Gold’:

Shift/Workers: 3> participants 

Marker Pen and a large sheet of paper (A3>)


Make Gold encourages speculation about how to achieve the impossible and make a recipe for doing so. Combining alchemy and licensing, the exercise encourages a group to collectively speculate on and negotiate what the act of making gold could entail (both abstractly and/or literally). They must suggest the necessary ingredients for others to make their own group's agreed upon version of gold and detail directions for how others can go about pursuing this elusive goal. Make Gold provokes and channels this activity through the use of the recipe format as a non-copyrightable system of distribution, acting as a generative constraint the group’s recipe for making gold doubles as a set of potential workshop instructions for future individuals or groups to consider, speculate upon, or attempt to enact.


    1.    Guided Meditation on Gold (10mins)

    2.    Select Ingredients; Create a recipe using the template provided (20mins)


    3.    Cook your recipe. Does it work? Make adjustments (play-test) (10mins)


    4.     Swap with another group. Cook their recipe. Does it work? Make adjustments (10mins)


    5.     All groups feedback on their cooking experiences (10mins) 

Materials for The Board's Game:

Shift/Workers: 3> participants 

Modelling Clay (e.g. Plasticine, Play-Doh)

Sheets or blankets for each participant


The Board’s Game enables Shift/Workers to sculpt and create a shared ontology for speculative probes by reverse engineering their perceptions of ‘board games’. Shift/Workers individually speculate on possible board game mechanics through sculpting a game piece. As an artefactual outcome of speculative practice, the game piece is an example of practice-based research, a thing that demonstrates, embodies and delimits the maker’s p-space. By immediately requiring makers to abandon the constraints of their object’s legitimising game-world in order to collectively narrate a mechanics that encompasses all of their pieces (‘Board’ as collective noun), The Board’s Game asks participants to practise through the ‘thing-power’ of their objects to produce a form of speculative creative work.


  1. Guided Meditation on Board Game (imagining your own board game) (10mins)

  2. Cover yourself or hide from the others in your group. Model a playing piece for your game (15mins)

  3. Convene with your group. Each player narrates their piece in relation to the mechanics of their speculative board game. (15mins

  4. Form a ‘board of game designers’, and formulate game rules that incorporate all the pieces made by your group in speculative play. (20mins)

  5. Play-test the game; make adjustments. (15mins)

Supported by:



Shift/Work Speculations is licensed CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 2017 Shift/Work (Neil Mulholland, Dan Brown, Jake Watts) Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International You may remix, tweak, and build upon this score non-commercially, as long as you credit you and license your new creations under the identical terms.


Shift/Work will add any documentation of Speculations performances they receive to the Shift/Work website as a CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 licensed OER.

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