PANEL 1, MAY 19
Video presentations are below,
followed by a panel discussion.
Raafat Ishak: After viewing four compelling presentations for the Nourish segment of this year’s Art Anywhere? symposium, I had two particular thoughts in mind, and many questions to ask.
I was reminded of the artists Julie Davies and the late Alex Rizkalla’ garden in suburban West Brunswick, which they started planting in the mid 1980s. Every single plant in their garden including fully grown fruit trees, shrubs as well as herbs and vegetable beds, is edible. There is nothing in their garden that cannot be consumed. This was their collaborative project, which they have utilised over many years to feed family and friends over the countless lunch and dinner gatherings they held at their place. It was never their artwork, yet it was creative, generative and generous.
My other thought was with Truganini, the supposed last full-blooded indigenous Tasmanian. I was reading Cassandra Pybus’ book on Truganini while watching the Nourish presentations and I was reminded of the emotional and physical significance of place. Place is not an artwork. It is not a masterful stroke of creativity but an accumulation of lived narratives. My slightly more distant thoughts now lie in the suddenly pertinent notion of shopping locally, brought about because of the current pandemic. In my local urban setting, countless cafes and restaurants have turned into grocery stores. I suddenly know many shopkeepers’ names including their likes and dislikes and their particular and often peculiar attachment to the place of their businesses. But this is also the place that marks an important point of time, a global health and economic crisis. Place has never meant so much as it does now, and every precious conversation is full of previously uncalled for details about lives lived in a very specific environment.
Yet, none of this is art. So where is art? I guess the obvious answer is Art Is Anywhere, which may also translate to nowhere, which is some kind of relief, given that I cannot locate the notion of art except in the historical context. John Glover. Thomas Griffiths Wainewright. The colony created works of art because what it has put in place was truly artificial, it had no semblance in lived realities. It was also superficial as it covered up a trail of destruction and displacement. Art!
After viewing the Nourish presentations, I went back to my water colour of a bouquet of flowers, realising, with more relief, that I was no longer engaged in making a work of art but a political statement, but I will say no more lest I need to show it to anyone, under the pretence of having created an esoteric work of art.
Any sense of a critical response to the Nourish presentations, not that there was much to criticise, suddenly dissipated. The question was no longer about art as a thing but art as a response, a staging, a temperament and an appeasement of guilt and shame. So I presented two prosaic questions to the speakers, asking: Is the sense of guilt, and I do not mean guilt or shame in a negative sense, but that feeling that we are singularly or collectively responsible for history, is that sense of guilt a first world privilege? For example, had Australia not become a first world nation as we understand it, would we be addressing the same concerns in the same way? Buying properties, setting up gardens, even delving into family history. What positions this form of inquiry into the contemporary social discourse? And in relation to Peru and the Hawapi project, how does it, if at all, differ? and with some hesitation: …. what is the purpose of the exhibition and/or the exhibition space as a vehicle for delivery? …. Why does this format (the presentations) which I see as self-fulfilling require the conventions of a gallery, or even an art public? Why would an activity or a form of enquiry that is so inherently inward looking for the purpose of offering out social discoveries and revelations, require a secondary format, particularly one that is in itself mired in historical amnesia at the best of times? Is it possible that social practice risks the appearance of an ideologically driven undertaking that would rely on a kind of disbelief in other forms of art to guarantee its effect, and/or success?
Elizabeth Presa: You ask, “Is the sense of guilt, and I do not mean guilt or shame in a negative sense, but that feeling that we are singularly or collectively responsible for history, is that sense of guilt a first world privilege?"
My response is no. I don’t believe that shame and guilt and a capacity for reflection are merely the prerogative of those living in Western democratic societies. In my view, a capacity to experience shame and guilt is fundamental to being human and possessing moral agency. Of course other beings, including animals and plants are also, in a sense, capable of ‘moral agency’. But I’m not interested here in some instinctual, learned or pathology of behaviour , but rather in how experiences of ‘shame’ ‘guilt’ and indeed, ‘doubt’ might be a necessary condition for seeing and apprehending suffering and injustice, as a human phenomenon. Hannah Arendt has something useful to consider in this context. She says, poverty only appears, and it can only be understood in its “proper nature,” when it provokes “moral indignation” and that “this has nothing to do with judging”. In Arendt’s understanding those who do not experience “moral indignation” while looking at poverty, actually fail to see poverty. Following Arendt’s thought, if the very condition for seeing the suffering of others, relies on a capacity to experience moral indignation, whose lexicon includes a language of shame, guilt and doubt, - then how much more so, should artists, who are sometimes said to see for others, be attentive to these emotions. Is this not a moment when preoccupation with the aesthetic shifts into the ethical?
You continue: “For example, had Australia not become a first world nation as we understand it, would we be addressing the same concerns in the same way? Buying properties, setting up gardens, even delving into family history. What positions this form of inquiry into the contemporary social discourse? And in relation to Peru and the Hawapi project, how does it, if at all, differ?”
Firstly, I'd suggest there are many discourses constitutive of contemporary society - discourses surrounding gender, identity, politics, climate change, the economy and so on. Sadly, very few offer genuinely radical critiques of received modes of thinking. For me it’s not so much a question of which ones, one aligns oneself with, but rather, how can new discourses be generated. But I think your question Raaf, may be more about how such commonly perceived practices - such as buying real estate, gardening and inquiry into one’s genealogy, for example – might be made to function as forms of inquiry in art? Artists, of course, have been employing such common practices as strategies in their work for some time now. In my own case, while I’m not specifically using the purchase of a property- thought that is the reality of how I come to be there- as ‘a form of inquiry’ as such, it could well become one. If this were to happen, much deeper consideration would need be given to state and federal laws of ownership, property rights and to traditional Aboriginal lore framing the uses of land and waterways- who could access that land, for what purposes and so on. And I'd probably be looking at other practices such as that of the Franciscans who tried to implement a life outside of laws regulating the ownership and use of property.
But gardens yes!
In this project gardening is certainly my chosen form of inquiry, my method of proceeding and making, one where I’m engaged with all my senses and with life as it unfolds in unexpected ways - with the earth and the seasons. I watch for the rain. I watch the mist that sinks into lowest parts of the land, the morning light as it thickens and turns golden, as it shimmers on the dew and the frost. Through gathering sensations into some unanticipated logic, my hope is always that some image will form, no matter how fragile, that holds open a space without time, free of preconceived judgments and value. The question is always - image of what?
It's as though making a garden allows me to imagine another way of life, one that allows me to say “and that is art”, “as I need it”, not to imply some theoretical assumption about art as social engagement, or to make assertions about its social value, but to show empathy, with discretion, for all things. In so doing I try to open myself up to other forms of meaning beyond the purely sensorial and beyond the purely intellectual. This is my ambition. But I don’t say it’s my accomplishment!
Susie Quillinan and Maxim Holland: We think that Elizabeth makes a good point when she says that "shame and guilt and a capacity for reflection are [not] merely the prerogative of those living in Western democratic societies.” In first world nations like Australia, just as in places like Peru, there are multiple experiences of and engagements with colonial history to which a sense of guilt or responsibility for history applies. While it is tempting to view social inequality and injustice through the lens of geopolitics it is necessary we recognise that doing so exclusively, belies the more complex and entangled reality of social and economic structures and the continued effects of colonialism.
Through its activities, HAWAPI specifically seeks to insert artists and their works into spaces in which they are compelled to confront unfamiliar realities but also recognise their personal place within these systems and structures. Having access to, and operating within the contemporary art world, carries with it a certain degree of inherent privilege and as such it is important that we act in ways that acknowledge and recognise its implications. One way of doing this is to recognise ourselves as part of a community (predominantly urban dwelling artists in a position to access spaces for the presentation of our ideas) and by broadening the scope of who and where we consider to be interlocutors, partly by producing work with and within communities that do not necessarily enjoy the same privileges.
Regarding your question on the exhibition format, we’re glad you asked, because it's something we are actively grappling with.
HAWAPI strongly believes that one of the roles of artistic practice is to contribute to social and political discourse. It has thus been an essential objective of the project since its inception to give the participants a platform from which to share the insights and questions provoked by their experiences during the encuentro. Holding an exhibition of new works based on the encuentro and developing an accompanying public program felt like the most effective way of achieving these goals. However we have been questioning this approach in recent years and are exploring new modes by which we can generate more engaging conversations with audiences.
Over the years we have made minor adjustments to the group exhibition and public programming but have essentially worked within the bounds of these traditional models. While in many ways this has been effective, we have come to realise that it requires all of the participants to conform to a framework which is not necessarily the most appropriate for the individual approaches of each artist. For example, some participants have been very effective at producing works immediately after returning from the encuentro while others have needed more time to process their experience and translate it into a work for the exhibition.
With that in mind, we are exploring other ways in which each edition can engage with the broader contemporary art community after the encuentro, without necessarily conforming to the group exhibition model; traditional public programming events such as panel discussions and symposiums; or being constrained by a certain time frame. Some of the ideas we are considering are: arranging a constellation of smaller interventions by collaborating with different art spaces to display individual works; arranging the display and/or performance of works in public space; holding informal gatherings with the artistic community; organising scheduled screenings of video works etc. That being said, in keeping with HAWAPI's ethos that the form of the project should be shaped by the nature of the location and the participants of each edition, we intend to fine-tune these ideas as part of the development and research stages of the project.
Tania Blackwell: In relation to your question about online presence vs public:
For A Guide to Remembering – A Colonial Amnesia Project, there wasn’t a website initially. The focus of the project was primarily all about engaging the community - with the intent that through social exchange memorialisation would have a deeper and more profound impact.
This project has been in development for some time and when I went to Bothwell initially it would have been a real struggle to get anyone to engage. It wasn’t the right time, most attempts to talk about the project and history were dismissed.
After the project was selected for Project Anywhere, I created the website. The website then became an archive of experiences and provided some back story. This has provided the project a sense of validation and safety.
For community engagement I need the local people to feel that they can trust me and be willing to go outside of their comfort zone to be part of the experience. The website has enabled the project to find community champions who are now very supportive of the project. Due to this I feel confident that when we can travel again that there will be some really interesting experiences captured during the residency. Without the website and without Project Anywhere as a support platform, I doubt I would receive this reception.
I also recently read the book by Cassandra Pybus, Truganini and then as a follow on I watched The Nightingale film (a few confronting scenes so be warned). Prior to seeing this film, my new connection at Ratho Farm in Bothwell, Greg Ramsay actually said to me that it’s because of The Nightingale that he thinks the community is now ready.
The website also provides an opportunity for the social and political discourse created during the social exchange to extend beyond site and time enabling people from anywhere in the world to engage on their own terms.
Lauren Gower: Questions of responsibility and privilege are at the heart of my practice, and how to engage with the private property system as a First Nations person is something I’ve considered deeply. How do I navigate two value systems simultaneously: one that positions me as a being in reciprocal relationship with other beings, and another that positions me as an individual who can own other beings? How do I fulfil my custodial obligations to my* ancestral country when someone else owns it? Am I best able to fulfil my custodial obligations by purchasing property myself, at present? If this is ever something I have access to, and choose to do, what are the implications of this?
The Front Yard Project is an embodied response to these sorts of questions, but not necessarily an answer - if anything, more questions arise. What does it mean to restore the front yard of a property I don’t own, living as a guest in someone else’s* country, which will be sold at some point in the future? (Likely transformed into apartments, too, if what's happening where I currently live is anything to go by). What does it mean to plant the same species of plants in Kulin country and Mouheneenner country - plants that are from both of those places, and connect them to each other - when I can no longer legally transport them from one place to another due to restrictions governing what can be transported across current state boundaries? Furthermore, why transplant them into a gallery space?
I don’t think it's necessary to frame The Front Yard Project within a gallery space, no. For me, though, it was a place in which I could gather the plants in relation to each other and to invite people into that relational framework. It was a transitional space; an eddy. I think it’s important to note that the exhibition itself was framed as a relational process, concentrated in a particular place at a particular time. Having the time and space to practice, together, was a privilege, and also an opportunity to deconstruct the gallery space as we engaged with it. Doing things our ways. Taking up space. Being present, and making our presences felt. Creating space for other beings to be present, and to make their presences felt.
The way I see it, the front yard project is an invitation for people to engage with questions of responsibility in a generative way. Responsibility, in my perspective, is something that we all have because we always exist in relation to other beings. We are all already engaging in reciprocal relationships all of the time (with different capacities related to different levels of privilege), and responsibility arises out of an understanding of ourselves in relation to place, story, family, self. By shifting our focus from what separates us as individuals to what connects us as beings in relation, we begin to see our selves as part of a whole (and not necessarily at the centre). In doing so, we can begin to consider what we might gift country in return for everything it gifts us (and it does gift us everything).
*The possessive form is clearly out of place, here!
Comments on this panel are now closed. Thank you to everyone who contributed.
To begin I would like to thank each of the panelists for your presentations and inspiring projects.
Susie and Maxim, I was really drawn to HAWAPI’s collaborative and transdisciplinary approach to research and practice linked to a specific context, exploring the multiple interdependent relations and complexities.
I am interested in knowing a bit further about the dynamics and relationship of HAWAPI and the artists with the local communities where the encuentros have taken place.
You mentioned in many occasions members of the local communities participated in the creation of the works, How was the initial approach and how did the collaborative processes develop?
You also talked about some of the challenges you faced in Huepetuhe, like hostile and suspicious attitudes due to the community’s history of oppression and violence related to their mining heritage. How did the new strategies and dynamics you explored helped in establishing a relationship of trust with the people? What was their reaction to the temporary community center?
And lastly, how do you believe these encuentros have influenced the local communities and the ways they relate to the different tensions they face? How do you see today the encuentros and communities that you worked with at the beginning of the project?
Thank you all again.
Thank you for your question Sofia. Generally the dynamics between HAWAPI, the artists and the communities we work in vary greatly depending on the specific context of the location. As organisers we try to encourage and provide opportunities for the artists to collaborate with individuals and/or organisations within the community, but these often depend on the specific projects of each of the artists. Often collaborations between artists and individuals in the community are spontaneous and the result of serendipity, but other times artists will need to work with specific individuals or groups within the community as part of their projects so this is planned well ahead, discussed and negotiated with all parties.
As part of our research phase we conduct multiple visits to the location in order to foment a broad network of local contacts who are able to help us meet the needs of specific artists. This has involved a number of strategies such as open town hall meetings, interviews on local radio stations, approaching people in public space and even knocking on doors. However because the areas we work in are often quite remote and unaccustomed to visits from large groups of artists we tend to attract a lot of attention and more often than not people will approach us out of curiosity.
HAWAPI aims to encourage artists to develop their capacity to think and act from where they are standing and with whom they are standing. This approach intends to allow for other narratives to emerge and influence the artist’s practice rather than simply representing or depicting the struggles which exist at the core of their social and political concerns. HAWAPI believes that this approach creates the possibility to re-formulate the relationship of art discourse to social, political and environmental struggles and sited knowledges, through the development of an active practice of seeking common ground.
HAWAPI is clear with all participants that the central mission of the project is about this capacity to impact the artists. With regards to the places we work in, the intention and purpose of the project is always made clear; that the primary mission is to challenge artists to deepen their engagement with the nature of how they approach work related to sites of conflict or struggle.
The HAWAPI methodology is about sharing space, time and work in challenging situations where sometimes hermetic academic and art discourses do not necessarily apply. The aim is that the experience of finding common ground, of self-reflection on the condition of ‘from where one speaks’, impacts the ways in which the artists make work going forward. HAWAPI makes no claim to profound, intensive, ongoing knowledge of the places we work in, and does not claim to offer new perspectives on the spaces themselves. Rather the focus is on how artists can navigate their role with relation to places and communities living under conditions that are directly impacted by issues they address in their work.
Susie Quillinan and Maxim Holland
Thank you Lauren, Susie, Tania, and Elizabeth for your interesting presentations. I found them poetic, inspiring and engaging. And thanks Raaf for your thought-provoking commentary and questions. I'd like to respond to the question Raaf hesitantly raised about the purpose of the exhibition space for projects generated and located largely outside of it. Elizabeth’s idea that the exhibition space is where people go to see what artists see for them is compelling and perhaps indicates one of the exhibition space's many purposes, but how should the exhibition space exist in the world? Each presentation showed that thinking broadly about the possibilities of art carries with it the idea of exhibition spaces that are as flexible and robust as the art practices they house. In this sense the exhibition space is not necessarily a gallery. The two spaces Lauren worked with are a good example of the difference between the two. Her front garden serves as an exhibition space for the particular plants she choosing to place there and care for (curate), while the gallery exhibition served as a site to bring her ideas, and those of her colleagues, to a place not only where people can see what artists see for them, but where the artists themselves can commune. I particularly enjoyed hearing about the various sites of art production and exhibition in each of these presentations. Thanks again!
Thank you Louisa, for your generous words and your insight. Your question ‘how can the exhibition space exist in the world?’ definitely resonates with me: whenever I’m in the front yard, I’m very aware of how it functions as an exhibition space, and also as a performative space. People walking past often pause or stop to chat briefly, which gives me the opportunity to share cuttings, tastings and stories about the plants. By transplanting the front yard project into the gallery and inviting people to participate in the installation by choosing a plant to take from the gallery and plant in their* front yard, I’m inviting people to consider the question that you pose, and to simultaneously imagine how they might participate in relational restorative practice in a particular place.
I would also like to thank you all for making this available and for the open and inclusive spirit. I have throughly enjoyed the variation and overlap of today's presentations and look eagerly forward to what tomorrow will bring! Thank you all again
Congratulations, what a powerful panel of artist's thinking and how smart to be able to progress the panel this way. The questions have led discussions; I was able to send to many friends who what not have been able to get to the one day event. A hard wrought and amazing panel, many thanks
Thank you to each of the presenters for your thought provoking and compelling presentations. I think the online presentation was surprisingly effective. During the past six weeks a highlight for me has been spending time in my garden reflecting on what my garden means to me so the focus on gardens and landscape resonated with me in addition to the themes explored being closely connected to an art project I am currently engaged in myself.
Tania, your project seems important and powerful. We clearly need to understand our history and to address it. I found the white line you placed in the landscape an elegant and powerful visual cue to addressing the issues raised by your project. And the Dinner Party project sounds intriguing.
Elizabeth I found your philosophical approach to the garden fascinating and your idea that art making is giving material form to philosophical content resonated with me.
And Lauren I found your searching for the meaning of 'Acknowledgement of Country' as an indigenous woman poignant and the making of a garden with indigenous plants seems such a fitting response. I particularly liked how you articulated that plants restore our relationship to place. Placing a garden in a gallery space threw up lots of questions about the relevance of gallery spaces. The garden seemed so displaced. And yet, possibly a very effective way of engaging public engagement in the issues you are working with.
Thank you so much,
Heather van Heerwaarden
Thank you Heather, for sharing your reflections, and also for sharing the joy arising from the time you are spending in the garden at the moment! It is a poignant practice, yes, and also a healing one. It contains many layers, but displacement is certainly at the heart of it. Engagement, too. Restoring species of the plains grassland plant community to Boon Wurrung country brings their original and ongoing displacement into relief, an act which is echoed by transplanting the front yard project into the gallery. It was my hope, yes, that I might mobilise the gallery space as a site in which to enact reciprocity through the gifting of plants and simultaneous invitation into a relational restorative practice. Necessarily so, it’s an ongoing project, and one which I look forward to returning to in a future iteration, somewhere, somehow!