Centre for Cultural Partnerships - Theses
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Craftivism as DIY citizenship: the practice of making change
As it is currently understood ‘craftivism’ is a term that can be used to describe any activity that incorporates the techniques of craft with the goals of activism. In this thesis, I consider the limitations of this conception and ask whether a more nuanced account of the value of craftivism could be developed by broadening this understanding to include seeing craftivism as a mode of do-it-yourself (DIY) citizenship. Through this repositioning I consider how craftivists can actively perform, test, rehearse and engage in the practice of democracy as part of their everyday lives. I also investigate the different ways that craftivist actions, regardless of their scale or political intent, contribute towards positive social, cultural and political change. I do this by considering how craftivism works to enhance people’s sense of political agency, foster social connection and reveal dissensus. The key question driving this research is: How does approaching craftivism as a mode of DIY citizenship empower artists and makers to actively engage in the practice of democracy and to materialise social, cultural and political change? To tackle this, I explore what approaching craftivism as a mode of DIY citizenship looks like in practice through seven socially engaged craftivism projects delivered over the course of four years. These include a variety of participatory and collaborative craftivism projects, as well as projects delivered in partnership with community groups and non-profit organisations. These projects vary in scale and political intent, and include interventions in public, private, institutional and online spaces. The material artworks and two self-published books created as part of this research project were exhibited at an exhibition titled ‘Craftivism HQ,’ which was held at Kings Artist-Run in Melbourne (7-10 March 2018).
Miranda Must Go: Rethinking the generative capacities of critique, discomfort and dissensus in socially engaged and site responsive art
This PhD research is situated within the expanded field of public and socially engaged art. Such art practices employ participation, dialogue, community engagement and site- responsive activities to stimulate reflection and action on the present social order. This study is concerned with examining the strategies and methods that socially engaged artists employ when responding to conflict and tension encountered in the social field. Prominent advocates in this field, such as Grant Kester, have championed a socially engaged art that ameliorates social conflict by producing consensus-building, collaborative engagements and concrete social outcomes—such as an increase in community cooperation and cohesion. Attending this argument is a belief that contemporary artists should move beyond a detached, superior position of critiquing or problematising the social in their work and instead engage communities in constructive dialogue that seeks to formulate actual solutions to society’s problems. Against this view, this research explores socially engaged art’s capacity to stimulate trouble and critical reflection, contributing to social change by providing spaces to collectively confront and debate divisive problems that are overlooked and have no straightforward resolutions. Informed by theory and artistic strategies concerned with critique and disagreement’s generative capacity to stimulate bad affects and foment dissensus, this study draws on theorists such as Claire Bishop, Sara Ahmed and Jacques Rancière in order to rethink what a valuable artistic engagement with the social could constitute. Specifically, if we are to accept that deeply entrenched antagonisms and conflicts are irreducible social facts that should not be smoothed over, suspended or elided, how should a socially engaged artist negotiate tensions and divisions encountered in the social field? Furthermore—and as recent theorists such as Ahmed have contended—if vocal disagreement, refusal and discomfort are a transformative resource for a politics of social justice, how should the practical effects of critique, negation and troubling affects in socially engaged art be conceptualised? This study is significant as it contributes to socially engaged art discourse by reappraising the transformative effects and political importance of critical methods, examining how such approaches might be mobilised in the expanded field of socially engaged and public art. It does so primarily through a discussion of practice-led artistic research undertaken at Hanging Rock in Victoria, Australia, that culminated in the major artistic output of this research. The subsequent work produced, Miranda Must Go, was a conceptual campaign that made a decisive critique of the habitual, unthinking associations with a white vanishing myth at the iconic location. The work did not seek to reconcile tensions at Hanging Rock, but instead sought to productively animate them: enlarging what could be thought and felt about the site and provoking a collective review of the stories told there.
Composing contemporary ceremony
Towards a praxial technique from a critical ‘practice as research’ perspective. Composed between 2007 and 2014, in collaboration with artists, Elders, and general public, Contemporary Ceremonies map multi-sited, transcultural ritual-art practices where Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians meet in reflexive exchange. This thesis posits a theory for composing these events from an emplaced and relational perspective utilizing Nelson’s definition of ‘Practice as Research’ which interrogates the “know that, know how and know what” of composition. This perspective includes propositional knowledge as found in ritual studies and Indigenous studies, procedural knowledge found in practice, and the ethical and instinctive choices made from experience and insight, which temper and guide aesthetics and poetics. An ‘Indigenist oriented research paradigm’ guides each step of this research, its findings, and outcomes, in an emplaced reconsideration of ritual theory and the artistic praxis of ceremony making. One vital ethical and relational imperative has been to articulate compositional ‘matters of concern’ from Western onto-epistemological lineages that I find to be in concert with Indigenous “Ways of Knowing, Being and Doing.” In doing so, I acknowledge and interrogate my own heritage and story in accordance with Indigenous protocols of research, as articulated by Shawn Wilson in ‘Research is Ceremony.’ The post-humanist philosophies of Bruno Latour and Peter Sloterdijk and their complimentary theories of spheres and networks have assisted in articulating the ethical, relational, and spatial perspectives in this approach. Through abbreviated grounded theory analysis of the structural, philosophical, and social dynamics revealed in four case studies, theory coalesces throughout the passage of the thesis to reveal the proposed praxial technique for Contemporary Ceremony composition as conclusion. Data collected for analysis includes auto-ethnographic accounts of case studies, artist’s diaries, video and photographic documentation, anonymous questionnaires, and working drawings, all of which have enabled the ‘matters of concern’ found in compositional dynamics to be identified and grouped into ‘categories of meaning.’ Categories of meaning emerged from scrutinizing data through a ‘Lefebvrean lens’ which considered producing the space of CCs, determining how they were conceived and perceived, and charting them as they evolved and were enacted in lived experiences. Hyperlinks in the text enable an experience of a mediated version of these CCs, and further detail is provided in auto- ethnographic accounts of each of the case studies. This thesis is structured in three books. It honours Wilson’s contention that ‘research is a ceremony’ through following the trifold schema of Arnold van Gennep’s theory on rites of passage. The first book, ‘Cosmos – Rites of Separation’ considers how the cosmos of Contemporary Ceremony is conceived. The second book, ‘Community – Rites of Transition’ considers the communities’ and other entities’ perceptions of CCs, whilst the third book ‘Artist’s Self – Rites of Incorporation’ reveals the artist’s material thinking, and from analysis of lived experience, disentangles the praxial technique.
Aesthetics of change: multiculturalism and the street art of Footscray
This practice-based research investigates the relationship between street art and multiculturalism in the Melbourne suburb of Footscray. The aim of this research is to prove the value of incorporating multicultural theory in the development of street art projects. The practice component of the research is the creation of a documentary entitled, Who made that? which looks at five case studies of artists that have created a street art piece during the research period 2014 – 2018. This film is created using techniques of collaborative filmmaking through a reflexive practice, based on Sarah Pink’s approach to visual ethnography. Street art is also examined as a cultural practice. There are varied opinions about what constitutes street art and how to define a street artist. In order to contain our research, the documentary focuses on artists who create murals. Through an exploration of their work, techniques and intent behind their art, the documentary presents an understanding of the diversity that exists within the street art community. Culture and multiculturalism have broad interpretations and this research suggests understanding multiple perspectives from a lived experience to political forms of management and integration. Theoretical literature, from Kymlicka’s liberal theories of ‘multicultural citizenship to modern day Islamaphobia, are reviewed to explore how they are at work in contemporary discourses of government, arts and community. The setting for the documentary, Footscray, is known as a culturally diverse inner city suburb, that has been reportedly going through the process of gentrification. We examine gentrifications impact on social diversity and also explore the role of street artists as both gentrifiers and activists against gentrification. Through this research, we investigate street art as a manifestation of the cultural diversity of the community. As such, its demonstrates how an understanding of multiculturalism from different perspectives can provide a framework for the development of future street art projects by artists, communities and organisations.
Apmere Angkentye-kenhe: language as a music playing us
Apmere Angkentye-kenhe: Language as a music playing us describes a practice based research project that examines and actively attends to the valuing of particular local knowledges and forms of knowing. Alongside a shadow ‘un-knowing’ it considers these forms of knowing in their function as critical apparatus in this moment of globalised imagination and movement. The research was materialised through an artist-led social project Apmere Angkentye-kenhe (which translates from Central/Eastern Arrernte to English as ‘A Place for Language’) which was produced and designed collaboratively with Central/Eastern Arrernte people in Alice Springs, the town built on Mparntwe in Australia. The project created a language learning and exchange site in the centre of the Alice Springs CBD, designed for and accessed by both settlers and Arrernte families, which was advertised publicly and open for three weeks. Open-invitation events and activities that promoted and generated resources for engaging with the first language of Mparntwe were promoted at the site. The space was also open certain days over the three-week period for casual visits to engage with the tactile, visual and aural content contained within. Apmere Angkentye-kenhe sought to create situations that expose certain colonial ideologies in action both in the public work and in the interactions within its making; within my own research and within the practice. Methodologically the research prioritised the politics of listening over the politics of voice. The project materialised various questions of political responsibility and created situations for listening across alterity, both within its collaborative structure, and with and for a public. In writing about this work, I question the possibility for this type of practice to realise arts great emancipatory promises, illuminating where it can function as a neo-colonial force. Where awareness for the potential for harm must be held in tension in throughout many stages of the work are examined. The research interrogates what the vocabulary of art could affect in Mparntwe, when multiple campaigns in that context appear to require urgency? How can art, in this context, generate alternative temporal or spatial economies of exchange? Here I look at the implications of the research for relationships of local responsibility and listening on behalf of settlers – intimating the complications and philosophical double-binds into which we are tethered.
Dissenting fiction re-righting law: practice-led research into biopolitics, women’s rights and reproductive justice in Ecuador
Through a feature-length screenplay and accompanying dissertation this creative practice as research project addresses questions of biopolitics, women’s rights and reproductive justice. The research focuses on my own country, Ecuador, but alludes to a broader Latin American context. In this research, the practice of fiction screenplay writing configured my own understanding of the addressed issues. Based on this understanding, in the dissertation, reflecting upon “The Ladies Room” screenplay, I formulate an explanation around these issues. The first chapter of the dissertation focuses on the legislative context of “The Ladies Room” story. The second, third, fourth and fifth chapters articulate the possible world the screenplay proposes, relative to our four protagonists, respectively. The first chapter juxtaposes Ecuadorian Constitutional and Criminal Law, and public policy, against international human rights instruments with regard to women’s rights. Through the screenplay’s character of Isabel, the second chapter interrogates reproductive coercion and access to safe abortion, the notion of potentiality (not) to, the institution of motherhood and the practice of mothering. The third chapter revolves around Marcia, and how this female character embodies forms of biopolitical power that discipline the body and regulate the population; this chapter also reflects upon the family as an institution and the differential valuation between productive and reproductive work. In the fourth chapter, I understand Alice as a gendered configuration of Giorgio Agamben’s Homo Sacer, and it is through her that the screenplay investigates the possibilities of speaking and been heard, the historically conflicting appearance of women before law, and contemporary forms of thanatopolitics. The fifth chapter interrogates the notion of “unwanted” children, articulated by the character of a little girl, Karlita. This proposes a reflection about a child, any child, as a being-after-birth, the pure possibility of a life, that is a life-to-be-mothered, characterized by a constitutive relationality. The dissertation’s final chapter argues for the necessity of beings-after-birth to create another form of biopolitics, one that is no longer a technology of power over life, but of power of life.
Bridging the unseen in art writing
This project asks how blindness can inform art writing practice to bridge an experiential gap between sighted and non-sighted art audiences. Initially focussed on reducing cultural isolation and increasing inclusion in visual culture for people with low or no vision, this project later shifted into practice-led research. Based on the Vislan concept devised by Brisbane linguist Geoffrey Munck, the work is directly informed by the lived experience of blindness, and aims to translate visual objects and spaces to assist in comprehension. The context of project explores my own practice in art writing as a form of critique and ongoing learning. After experimenting with ekphrasis, didactics and visual literacy, the methodology settled on formal observation and dialogic learning. The outcomes of a pilot project, iC2, created text translations of public art works in Melbourne and a custom built website (vislan.net), made with the support of City of Melbourne Arts Projects. The pilot was presented at the Performing Mobilities symposium in 2015 and tested in public spaces with various participants on a walking tour, before being published online for testing. The full texts from the pilot project are included here as the creative component of this work. The final discussion suggests a generative language system as an adaptive tool for observing, verifying and writing about visual objects.
Aesthetic Systems of Participatory Painting: communicating in Third Space and mental wellbeing in Tonga
This thesis builds upon Homi Bhabha’s concept of Third Space to frame social connection and self-determination in a socially-engaged collaborative painting practice. Developed in the Polynesian kingdom of Tonga with On the Spot Arts Initiative (OTS) and involving diverse groups including patients from the Vaiola Hospital Psychiatric Ward, this research offers a new approach to collaborative painting and provides a framework to support mental health and wellbeing. I have theorised this methodology and titled it the Aesthetic System of Participatory Painting (ASOPP). Integrating mental health and contemporary art frameworks, this hybrid model promotes individual autonomy and critical thinking by supporting both harmony and difference, creating a generative space. This research argues that by expanding modernist, individualised aesthetic systems to accommodate a social application, ASOPP projects provide opportunities for local communities to critique social structures and self-represent. This can assist in empowering participants and destabilising pre-established cultural hierarchies that hold power and often determine cultural standards. ASOPP has also informed the accompanying documentary video used to account for the research, providing an accessible research outcome and an opportunity to self-represent for collaborative partners and participants.
Material matters at the coalface: a socially-engaged art enquiry into the politics of coal, space and place
“Material Matters at the Coalface” questions our human relationships with geological matter through a socially-engaged art enquiry into the politics of coal, space and place. Activating coal as “vibrant matter”, this project works with brown coal as a medium to investigate the role that coal plays in Latrobe Valley mining communities. This project combined socially-engaged, participatory practice and practice-led artistic research with an ethnographic sensibility to investigate the community’s response to living in, and among coal. It aimed to create dialogue and better understand the complex web of changes affecting communities, who are in transition and impacted by the closure of coal-fired power stations and sweeping changes in power generation. The research findings are presented through a written dissertation and durable records of the “COAL” graduate exhibition, which was staged at the VCA Art Space in Melbourne in February 2017. Unearthing coal’s performative material qualities, this exhibition put the gritty materiality of locally collected brown coal to work as an aesthetic medium in a series of visual artworks, performances and installations encompassing three interconnected galleries and 210sm2 of space. Questioning the physical, psychic and social relationships humans have with non-human matter coal, the “COAL” exhibition also included documentation of performative acts of labour, such as sweeping and cleaning, which were originally performed in public spaces, neglected historical buildings and empty deserted shops in Morwell. The resultant body of artefacts, performances and installations reflect a sustained material engagement with brown coal and socially-engaged arts practice with Latrobe Valley communities over the last three years. The creative works are analysed and contextualised by drawing on a lineage of artists, writers and philosophers from the intersecting fields of social practice, art and anthropology, who have explored the political ecology of geological matter and the environment. This investigation of coal’s role in the local community of Morwell demonstrates the increasing ecological impact of human beings’ commodified relationships to nature, place and matter. Departing from these site-responsive concerns and the context of peri-urban Victoria, coal’s political ecology acts as a microcosm, an allegory and visual metaphor for much larger political and cultural situations. Moving beyond the impact of globalisation on local conditions, the project scrutinises deeply entrenched thinking, which “places man-as-subject at the centre of all relations.”1 The research adopts a New Materialist lens to frame the project and foreground the agency of matter to questions such pre-conceived human-centric biases. As a heterogeneous, emerging cultural theory, New Materialism pays renewed attention to the central importance of matter in cultural discourse as a pathway to re-orientate human beings’ relationality with the material world. Responding to, and building on existing scholarship, debates and critiques of New Materialism, this research challenges binary perceptions, that coal is an inert resource to demonstrate coal’s vibrancy as an active agent in shaping experience and discourse. Contesting anthropocentric definitions of temporality, performance and authorship this research endeavours to act as a cultural agent of change and assist the local community to make the long-term transition to a sustainable local economy and cleaner energy future that better supports jobs, communities and their long-term health. The complex web of changes facing coal and communities in the Latrobe Valley are brought to the attention of a wider audience through art. The project was driven by a sense of optimism, that contemporary art and culture can create genuine dialogue, engagement and common ground between opposing and polarized views regarding climate change, so that communities can work together and re-orientate currently destructive social relationality with coal, to globally make the vital transition to renewable energy sources. 1 Estelle Barrett and Barbara Bolt, Carnal Knowledge: Towards A'new Materialism'through the Arts (Ib tauris, 2013).1z
Re: Marks from East Timor: a field guide to East Timor's graffiti
This thesis investigates the specific conflicts and contexts that produced East Timor’s fledgling graffiti between 2004-2008 to demonstrate links between its local lineage and a globally contextualised backdrop. It is a work that is advanced through the epistemological propositions of Southern theory. Primarily, it is concepts of the centre and the periphery and how graffiti negotiates movement between these positions that are the thesis’ main concerns. With this in mind, the central question of how East Timor’s graffiti contributed to the cultural expression of East Timor’s growth into nationhood from conflict is framed. In demonstrating graffiti’s contribution to the cultural expression of East Timor’s growth into nationhood from conflict, its location at the nexus of resistance and transformation is revealed. This thesis presents graffiti in East Timor as a hermeneutic, validating the expressions of marginalized actors in geo-political contexts of conflict, reconstruction and social relationships.
Hurdy-gurdy: new articulations
The purpose of this thesis is to expand existing literature concerning the hurdy-gurdy as a contemporary musical instrument. Notably, it addresses the lack of hurdy-gurdy literature in the context of contemporary composition and performance. Research into this subject has been triggered by the author’s experience as a hurdy-gurdy performer and composer and the importance of investigating and documenting the hurdy-gurdy as an instrument capable of performing well outside the idioms of traditional music. This thesis consists of a collection of new works for hurdy-gurdy and investigation of existing literature including reference to the author’s personal experience as a hurdy-gurdy composer and performer. It will catalogue and systematically document a selection of hurdy-gurdy techniques and extended performance techniques, and demonstrate these within the practical context of new music compositions created by the author. This creative work and technique investigation and documentation is a valuable resource for those seeking deeper practical and academic understanding of the hurdy-gurdy within the context of contemporary music making.
Each moment is the universe: filming the Tibetan Buddhist community of Yumbulakhang in China
This practice-based creative PhD project consists of a 135-minute PhD essay film and a context-driven dissertation, to demonstrate a research outcome for a relational, non-duality, improvisational, reflexive and formless filmmaking of “right now, right here” in the everyday world. This is an exposition which reflects a Buddhist framing of “each moment is the universe” as explored through 20 months of fieldwork and film production in the Tibetan Buddhist community of Yumbulakhang of China. The research showcases a process of filmmaking that emerges through a process of limitlessness to accommodate a possible film becoming, within and across a spectrum of key references, including Jean Rouch, Nathaniel Dorsky, Karl Heider, David MacDougall, inter alia, for interpreting a larger cultural and social context where the practical filmmaking here is refined.