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…

https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1Q39s57iWdx1R6JmgCMl8rVZBP55he19dp87Bcmkw5VM/edit?usp=sharing

 

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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.

Interviews

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.

Format

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.

Skin

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.

_____ enough?

For those who are none the wiser, this post is a brief description and proposal for digital art project form yet unrealised. For now it is a busy soup of ideas and potentiality which I am now charged with translating into a cognisant whole.

Power & Identity

Last year I undertook a writing work that was occupied with post-colonial theory. In this time I came across theorists such as Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, Franz Fanon and Eduard Said and was already painfully aware of Foucault who seems to have something to do with everything across the humanities. What stuck with me was this idea of erasure of history and culture and therefore people’s concept of identity. Franz Fanon said it most succintly for me in Black Skin, White Masks, “Without a Negro past, without a negro future, it was impossible for me to live my Negrohood.” Fanon (1952, p.153) I had a similar experience when reading Spivak’s response to Macauley regarding the codification of Hindu Law by the British in Can the subaltern speak? 1988. Foucault refers to these actions as ‘epistemic violence’. A theme inspired by all these texts is the idea that ones identity cannot be known as it has already been erased or stolen. And all that you think you know about yourself, if it is based of misinformation or the space of erasure, how do we form our identity and authenticity.

The interaction with power in this space, is the power enacted by the dominant discourse to create a reality based of a context designed to support the dominant power.

Realising large concepts in finite space

Going forward with the idea of keeping this project reflexive so that it is doable within a shorter period of time, I plan on using myself as the subject. Growing up black/white biracial a subject of societal binaries I would like to explore the space that is unsatisfied with who we are and seeks to define and classify.

My idea at present is a combination of photography and video. I would like to use time lapse photography and apply make-up to camera and ask the question “am I _______ enough?” This comes from the experience of growing up in both Australia and the USA and being told by both Australian and African-American communities “where are you from?”, “You can’t be from here?”, “You’re not very dark?” or to my mother, “Oh, whose girl is this?”. Dealing with questions of visual displays of cultural identity and how the power is enacting on us.

img_0522.jpgThe Process

  1. Research – Together with my team I will be researching identity theory. Looking at the three main classifications of identity formation; individual identity, social identity, cultural identity. As well how as power interacts and/or influences the construction of identity. Research into other artists that are working with similar themes and mediums will be part of this body of research.
  2. Project planning – Final plans will be made for how to begin shaping the material to express the ideas cohesively. This will occur with the openness to the process of making quite often changing the direction of the project.
  3. Creation – creation of the material project in consultation with the group.
  4. Exhibition

Feedback and collaboration with ideas is part of my project model. For this we will be using in class time as well as Facebook groups and Google Hangout as well as face to face closer to exhibition time.


Video piece by multimedia artist Jessica Wimbley who deals with themes of erasure and identity within the American landscape. During the research phase I will be seeking more artists that have used these contemporary mediums within this space of inquiry. I also love her use of photography and film.

 

References
Bunch, A 2015, ‘Epistemic violence in the process of Othering: Real-world applications and moving forward’, Scholarly Undergraduate Research Journal at Clark, vol. 1, no.2, pp.11-18
Fanon, F 1986, Black skin white masks, trans. CL Markman, Pluto Press, London
Spivak, GC 1988, Can the subaltern speak?, Macmillan

 

 

Following the path

From the moment my team stepped into Puckey’s Reserve and the boardwalk groaned as we stretched its ageing back. The conversation switched from easy to uncertain. My mind tripped to my own children as the younger students around me revealed their immediate loss of direction and feeling of being lost and isolated despite only being several feet from the main road. As we went on the mood grew easier, rocked by the meditative pace of an easy walk and respectful smiles and nods of the runners and dog walkers passing by, the conversation meandered with the path.

We started theorising about paths, noticing how we ourselves would follow a constructed path without question. So conditioned we even know how to behave on the path. How do I feel?  I resent paths. This is not reasonable thought I know. If left to my own devises I never follow them choosing to ‘go bush’ and follow an instinctive sense of direction. I may be comforted though, knowing that the path is there.

This idea can be taken as an analogy for anything really, so for the purposes of this post what if I use it to explore possibilities for my art practice… Intrigued? Of course you are.


Staying on the path – available opportunities

SAMSTAG Scholarship – Is an award of $48000 to an art student to cover the reasonable costs for one year to study outside of Australia. To be eligible for this you must be completing or having completed a practice-led Visual Arts university level program.

Artshub – has a list of grants and scholarship opportunities available

Arts Council Australia – has grants available for all disciplines, as well as companies.

Art Almanac – listing of Australian Art Prizes


Veering off the path  – opportunities created

Veering of the path for me looks something like what I used to do with my Hip Hop Dance work. Go out into the community or come up with a concept or piece and create it, recruiting people along the way. There are many grants and residencies that can assist with this process, but there seems to be a dollar amount necessary and an element of the starving artist to this route. But there is an amount of temporal freedom and lack of accountability except to the self that is attractive in this package. Not completely though.

Residencies available in Australia – https://visualarts.net.au/space/studio-residencies/list-studios-residencies/

International art residencies – http://www.resartis.org/en/

Self organised projects – hire a venue such as Campbelltown Arts Centre’s performance space, publicise the project myself and create and manage the project myself.

Creating an Arts Company or Cooperative – one of the ideas I’m definitely toying with at the moment. Is the creation of a theatre company in Campbelltown (South-West Sydney) that has a focus on telling diverse Australian stories and acting as a breeding ground for new writers, artists, designers etc coming out of South-West Sydney. Giving a voice and a platform for the public performance for people considered marginal, but shown to be integral.