I forgot myself: Indigenous Art Practice

You know when you’re listening to something and suddenly the penny drops? As I was going through my art practice around ‘skin’ I forgot myself and got caught up in the university engine—which is what it is designed to do.

I was out in the backyard raking and burning the leaves and sticks and messing with my dog Tanu. I was listening to my podcasts, first on permaculture and then on diversity. The Colour Cycle Podcast was speaking with Lily Shearer and Colin Kinchella about learning from the diversity of our Indigenous peoples here in Australia. Lily was speaking two listening to the land for guidance—that was my moment. I know not all my readers will get this, but for me my knowing has always been my guide. My awareness of what I had not done during the last 6months of my art practice has clicked. I have not respected the space where I am and have come from. My grounding much be in indigenous research methods and practice. It is where I’m from and the language that I speak without pretence. So I must send a thank you out to my sister Lily Shearer, thank you for reminding me to come back to earth.

I’m now off on a more connected path. So if I can communally source a number of academic sources on indigenous art practice and research from all over the world I will be infinitely grateful. I’ve started a list here. Feel free to add to and borrow from…




Skin: the beginning

Artist’s Statement

Title:                Skin

Artist:              Christina Donoghue

Medium:          Digital video installation

Skin is a series of interviews that asked the participants to share the life experience of their skin. Skin was conceived from a desire to have a conversation about identity from a common baseline. By allowing people’s narratives and emotions around their skin to unfold organically on film both our sameness and our differences are discussed by association in a microcosmic fashion that relates to the larger discussions of personal, ethnic, generational, gender, sexual and minority identity. Travelling from the textural to the visceral Skin speaks to our awareness of self and explores the connections between our internal and external journeys.

Skin: Growing pains, a lesson learned

Hell! The last four days have been hell. But, I thought it was well worth the post to record my growing pains as it is part of practice. Here’s how it went…

Here was I triumphantly thinking that I was ahead of the game as I finished up my interviews and edits last Friday. I entered all the settings for export and pressed start. The result was underwhelming. For the next 36 hrs my computer worked itself to the bone, just when it had reached the end and I dare not hold my breath, it had 30% left and I went to sleep. I woke up in a nightmare THE COMPUTER HAD CRASHED!!!!! I was CRUSHED… Here I thought I would rock up my university in the morning with my little flash drive and here I was with nothing to show for the last four days and my assignment was meant to be installed that day.

So, I sat at the Uni all day and attempted to cut up my film and export it into small chunks… The long and the short is after a whole day trying to export one chunk it dies AGAIN. So the technician Glenn tells me if I have something by about 8am it will be no problems, so I headed home on a mission. I had read up and knew that the export out of Premier was taking a long time both because my computer is old and because it takes a long time to render the effects and my film was split screen with effects.

img_1078So, I got back home and started pre-rendering the effects in 2min increments. It took me half the night, I was setting the timer to wake up every time the render would finish. Then I attempted an export with one pass and a lower bitrate. It took hours but with fingers crossed it finished about 7:30am.

Major lesson learnt on this one, whenever possible I have an excuse to buy that $20K Apple, and when doing film, I need to allow around 2 weeks to render and export the project.

At least this time, it all came out in the wash.



Influences: Installation film format

When trying to find the best possible, achievable way to present my film installation Skin, I’ve been looking for other ways that people have used a screen format to present documentary like film. I’m interested in how the format affects the way the content is received. How the aesthetics of the film effect the content.

FOUR – TELL from Kathryn Ferguson on Vimeo.

I came across this film called Four-tell by Kathryn Ferguson. The project interviews four influential women who are speaking to being woman from a space of power and influence. What was especially striking to me was the aesthetic quality of the film. How colours, geometrics, costume and shadow and light had been used to create interest for the eye, whilst subjects were being interviewed. The interviews were cut together so that all the subjects were responding to the same topic areas, within this subject area it served to bring more meaning or weight to the discourse.

I’m not as confident that act of cutting the interviews together would work with my work. But, I do plan on experimenting with that to see how it impacts the work. Whether my fears of creating conflict between the voices are realised or whether it just creates a pace or friction that is more stimulating for the viewer.

The animation between squares and movement on-screen is interesting. I would also be interested in experimenting with that approach to see if it adds or detracts from the quality of the piece. The idea of creating an aesthetic uniformity throughout the piece appeals to me, but I would like to look at doing this without losing any of the ‘everywoman’, ‘everyman’ quality to the documentary frame.

Under my skin

I suppose I should preface this post. There are no great theoretical discussions, just a relaying of my raw practice, which is all you are likely to receive after several days of interviewing and editing.

I’ve mixed down an advance version of my project for marking. But, as with all of my work, it becomes apparent once I start to put the project together, how much better this could be with time.  This project needs years rather than hours, this is where it is right now.


The interviews have been pretty amazing. As expected the skin has been this interesting doorway with which to view a persons life, how they see the world and how they believe the world sees them. Perception of perception. There are many common themes that have come up, medical conditions, race, personal memories, sex. I am not sure how they would be if they were sorted into subject categories and then placed side by side. I felt like that would be moving toward the didactic, so I steered away from supplying the opportunity for comparison. The interviews were left edited, but untouched in the affect. I aimed for leaving them to be interesting in their authenticity and real consideration of the topic. They interviews are very natural and human. Presented in real time.

As interviewer, I find the process of interviewing each new subject both delightful and draining. Having to draw out the subject one by one. Interviewing on a topic such as skin can be arduous as no one considers the world through their as a matter of course. So it takes some prodding to reach beneath the skin (pun intended) of the questions and speak through our own bodily experience.


The format is video split-screen. Ideally I think eventually I can see a series of handmade silk screens coming from the ground, encouraging the audience to sit down and experience them as a conversation, or to just walk from screen to screen, receiving impressions from each. The projector screen is split in three, the one large is a mid-length to full length shot of the interviewee speaking direct to camera. The subject was placed in the centre of the frame and cropped in post. In the small third I have placed a profile shot of the subject that is not in sync. The profile shot offers the viewer the chance to examine the subject of the interview unobserved. It also appears that the close-up profile shot is listening to the main interview and responding.

In the third split sect there is a range of loosely related textural images interspersed. I played with this frame seeing what impact it had on the frame as a whole. I found it interesting, and at times distracting which was not unpleasant. I found that the interest it provided pleased me visually and the interplay between the three frames was interesting to watch. It’s interesting to watch the ‘skins’ of other things living and inanimate. Juxtaposing the verbal expression of race or freckles with water or tree bark acts to ground and speaks to a larger truth and shared experience.

The larger truth of this work is that it is a work in practice. It needs the time to breathe and be massaged to allow it to express itself completely.

Completely aware of this 2am rant. I will attempt to dissect the piece with increased clarity in a future post.

Pieces of me: a film journey

Pieces of me from Christina D on Vimeo.


Project statement

Pieces of me was conceived thinking about multi-dimensionality and the idea that we energetically leave pieces of ourselves everywhere. This proposition is current in both quantum science and cosmology; as physicists grapple with our concept of time and the possibilities of a multi-dimensional reality. The exploration of our relationship to time and place and the creation of our personal narratives was foundational to this piece.

Pieces of me continued to pursue George Ella Lyon’s idea of ‘Where I’m From’ and took on board the expanded criteria to look at the idea through someone else’s eyes. I asked my daughter Kya to write a poem about where she’s from. What she wrote was a list of places and events that she identifies herself through. During the filming, we went back to some of those locations; back to Bondi where we lived till she was three; back to our first house that we left due to domestic violence and back to the city streets, before returning home to Bradbury (Campbelltown). The experience of temporal confusion was described as “weird” by my eleven-year-old daughter. Everything feels so familiar and yet a lifetime away.

The whole idea was born some time ago from the memories I have embedded around the city. While sitting on a train at Central Station, I looked out the window, in my mind’s eye could see myself walking hand in hand with my Poppy—chatting happily. The relationship between place and living memory is one that may transcend the grave as spoken about in the theory of cellular memory.

Technically I wanted the film to remain simple and lively. The film was about an eleven-year-old girl’s view of the world, so the vision was for the piece to be uncomplicated and clean and to communicate Kya authentically.

The entire film was shot on a Canon DSLR with an external directional Rhodes microphone. In the opening shots, the ocean was sped up to express the subject’s temporal relationship to place. The continuity of light within this piece was not important as it was not a linier storyline within the film—as with the tonality. It was meant to be a patchwork of places and people with the elements of continuity being the narrative, the image of Kya, the beatbox track within the soundbed and the films fluid treatment of time. The few shots that are not of the subject, make use of the Kuleshov effect to bring the meanings of freedom and connectivity to theme and place, to Kya’s spoken narrative.

I decided to use the ambient sound from the shoot throughout the majority of the sequence to bring the audience into the different spaces and add another aural dimension. My daughter has this oral fixation and always is making noises with her mouth. I translated that into the piece and recorded her beatboxing, which was layered within the mix. Voiceover narration was used over the entirety of the film apart from one break where Kya spoke direct to camera, this was just the choice to speak directly to the viewer, the real-time moment creates a moment of discontinuity.

The filmmaker Bernado Bertolucci has always influenced me in the way that he allows what is, to just be. He sees the details of life and then pays attention to them with the camera’s eye, such as the way someone’s hand falls when they are sleeping or the way people look at other people when they don’t know they are being watched. This intention made its way into my film. A lot of what made the cut was the accidental cutaways, such as crossing the road, or Kya watching the dancing at a community BBQ. It is the natural laughter, smiles, intrigue or loneliness that is interesting and beautiful to watch.


As happens so often with our artistic work, we pursue a theme or a method only to get us to the real theme and the real method. Waiting for the ‘lightening bolt’ moment so we can feel inspired and excited. Yesterday was one of those days for us in my MEDA301 group.

Consciously opting out of the instructed ‘making’ activity set for us I felt the need to dig through all of our thought processes around the table. Be devils advocate for each other and create some real clarity around the simplistic point of our separate works. That electric thing that happens in a group of people happened for us, as everyone started to have those “OMG!!!” moments and mentally see their work and final forms clearly for the first time.

My lightening bolt moment came in the form of skin. I have had the idea to speak to people completely about their skin. How they look after it, any scars, how they feel that their skin has impacted their experience in this life. How it feels when it’s touched or not touched? I just feel like it’s a really simple discussion to have that demonstrates so much of what is the same about us, along with what is different. I feel that this is what I do in my writing, the showing instead of telling. It is not didactic or judgemental. It is just expositional on the one characteristic that leads to so much ‘othering’ as well as a real life barrier, and I suspect a place where insecurities are held.

The idea is to record interviews on video, and have either a couple of cameras rolling, or take a lot of different close-ups on the skin, so that the pores and hairs are visible while the voice is being heard.

IMG_1329I have two ideas for exhibition, either three profile screens side by side with the v/o that is talking about them. Images on the screens can either be 3 x same person different framing or 3 x different people with one v/o playing at a time.

img_8974.jpgThe other idea I had was like a salon hang of different screens playing coordinated footage of the same body while the v/o speaks

I’m going to start this journey by filming myself and editing that footage together for showing next week. But I’ve started recruiting a diverse range of at the moment women, to start filming over the next couple of weeks. As well as seeking other artists work and theorists that revolves around the perceived experience regarding our skin.

I’m actually really psyched and fascinated by this idea. I can’t wait to see what comes out during the process.

Below is Artist Angela Dass speaking about her Humanae project on TED. I thought I would add this as a start point for artists presenting mediations on skin colour.