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Research Process Journal

Far Flung: Connecting Intergenerational Families

Doncaster, In partnership with the City of Manningham, 2019+

Birralee Primary School, The Chinese Museum and Chinese Social Services

Funded by Creative Victoria - Creative Suburbs


STAGE ONE: PLANNING & PREPARATION

Introduction

Building on my social engagement work, this new project will be developed through a 'social artist in residence' model. As an resident artist, I will work over a 10 week period with 12 local families to develop an art project, which will be exhibited at the Manningham Gallery at MC2 as one of the outputs of the project. The project will focus on new immigrant families in the Doncaster area and seek to recognise and strengthen their relationships with other families in the community through engagement in an art project. In recent years, the Doncaster area has experienced rapid population growth as a result of Melbourne's overall growth. New urban developments in the local area have also attracted many families to the area. This project seeks to focus on the relationship between place and the people who inhabit that place, looking at ways they can connect to their local environment and develop an increased sense of belonging. 

The 'Social Arists in Residence' Project Team

Our project is to be developed by a creative team which includes myself as the lead 'social artist in residence', Jessica Simmons, the Arts and Cultural Officer of Manningham Council, Yuso Lee and Amy Kennedy, Manningham's Ceramic Artists and Teachers, Davie, the curator and Hollie, the Assistant Curator of the MC2 Gallery and Arts Studios. The journey of the families will be documented by artist Sofi Basseghi, who has been invited to work with me as the videographer. Rong Ping Jiang will be working with our families as a translator of Mandarin. 


Planning and Preparation

Over the last year we have actively planned and recruiting our families appropriate for this project with consultation from our partner Birralee Primary School. The project is developed with the City of Manningham and funded by Creative Victoria's Creative Suburbs program. After working on the grant application in mid 2018, we found out we were successful in being granted our Creative Suburbs grant in September 2018. I recall receiving the good news when I was travelling Barcelona, whilst waiting for the Sagrada Familia to open, which left me in a good mood to enjoy the beautiful and awe inspiring architecture. 


Progress to Date

1. Developed an overall plan for the project, considering time, budget and resources

2. Recruited our team of creative practitioners to planned our activities

3. Recruited our Industry partners which include Birralee Primary School, Chinese Social Services, The Manningham Library, The Chinese Museum

4. Applied for funding from Creative Victoria through their Creative Suburbs program and successfully received the grant

4. Consulted with and selected our participants from Birralee Primary School community - We have selected 24 participants from 12 families, each family consisting of a child (upper Primary School aged 9-12 years) and a nominated parent.

5. Internally launched the project with partners

6. Researched the Doncaster/Manningham region to gain a better understanding of how this community fits within the broader region and to understand the position of new immigrant families - here Edward Soja's 'Thirdspaces' was considered in analysing the region.

7. Researched the work and strategies of contemporary visual artists working are a social engaged manner and also artists dealing with issues of globalisation, migration and mobility. 

8. Researched Materials and Technologies - Considered the meaning of the material of ceramics in relation to Manningham's ceramics history, Chinese/Asian artistic cultural history and ceramics as an ancient and global recognised art form. Considered the ways in which digital media can complement and work together with ceramics as the main medium for exhibition, considering the spatial concerns of the gallery and the production of the project. 


The Participants

The children have all identified as new immigrants and the majority have Chinese heritage (and Chinese diaspora heritage - including Malaysia, Vietnam & Hong Kong), although there are also two families who identify as Korean-Australians and also Columbian-Australians. In this instance we will reflect on developing an expression, that speaks about an universal experience, which our participants are able to contribute to individually, but also to form a larger collaborative effort of the group. 


Ethics Approval 

Ethics approval was also sought through RMIT University and the Victorian Department of Education. Even though the nominated participants were taking part in this project outside of school hours at another facility, RMIT did require us to obtain ethics approval from the department of education, because the participants were selected through the school community. Ethics approval required a 'Letter of Support' for the project from Birralee's Principle and also evidence to support this project, which was situated in public and socially engaged contemporary art and curatorial practice and theory literature. Through this ethics process a 'Letter of Consent' was developed for the project to be used as a guideline for the families, to be introduced and signed in Week 1 of our sessions. Ethics approval was received from both organisations, allowing us to work with the selected families in a public project with public outcomes. From the process of going through ethics approval, I gained experience in being precise with my methodology and methods and how this translates into the actions of interacting with targeted participants and being more considerate of the impact and implications of developing projects which have a public outcome. The process was slow (mostly because of the need for two approvals), but RMIT now has a system where suggestions and feedback are given to applicants before submission to the panel, which allows applicants to improve their applications before final submission, to address any potential issues before going to the review panel. This certainly makes the process smoother. 


STAGE TWO: CREATIVE CONCEPTUALISATION

Project Weekly Reflections

Week 1 - INTRODUCTION

Friday 19 July, 2019


Social Artists Team and Family Introductions

We finally met with our participants this week, personally I was feeling anxious after spending over a year of preparing our approach of engagement. Today's session was held in the Templestowe Room, which was a good sized room for a group of about 25 diverse people. As each family entered the room, the parents expressed the excitement of their children to be invited to participate in a extra curricular art project. Sofi began documentation right from the beginning, from when the participants entered, through to during the session. Rongping (also my Chinese teacher) also attended as a translator of Mandarin to support families with limited English. We tried to make the room comfortable by laying the floor with a rug, so that our families could sit together on the floor. Firstly we introduced 'social artists in residence' team, so that everyone was familiar with people who would be with us during our time together. I explained my experience of working with various groups with quite a range of communities across Melbourne, showing them images of previous projects of how we had collaborated and how over ten weeks we hope to achieve something similar through our collaboration. 

Find Someone Who...

We spend this afternoon getting to know each other and familiarising ourselves with each other over afternoon tea. We decided that our first activity should be a game "Find somebody who...", which encouraged all participants to run and around asking each other question. There was great energy in the room during this activity. This was an excellent activity to start the sessions. We all found out a lot about each other including our interests, tastes, where we've been, languages we can speak and even details such as favourite films. It was a great way to find access into understanding each of the outlooks of the participants. 


Family Portraits, Absence & Virtual Spaces

Our next activity involved the families explaining who their families are, through the drawings the children did as attached to their applications. The explanations of the drawings led to discussions of who we considered to be part of our family. Quite often the children represented their extended families and included the children's grandparents. The drawings, mainly simple pencil sketches varied in style, some were quite cartoonish, many were influenced by Japanese anime. I cheekily asked one participant "Why is your head the biggest in her family portrait?" Her answer was "That I used a selfie shot to base the image on", thus reproducing the way the photograph was taken and the positioning of the family based on current and accessible photographic technology. 


I also noticed that many families discussed global places they were from (mostly from China and around Asia, but also Columbia) and who was absent from their families. In some cases only half their families were present, while their elder siblings and even their other parent remained behind due to work or education arrangements. The distribution of their families was a way of life for the these families and it made me reflect on the contemporary global condition of families and how they often exist beyond one social space, families are spread across time and space, as suggest by geographer David Harvey. These discussions made me consider, who we consider our families to be, how families are beyond geographical boundaries (perhaps virtually orientated with our social media connections) and home and family are not only a physical place but also a mental space, connecting these ideas back to Edward Soja's 'Thirdspaces' an expanded notion of space, which incorporates the past, present and future (including imagined space). So how we relate to the physical space we live in (for these families, Doncaster) is an aspect of their everyday lives. The conversations reminded me of some of the funny photos I have taken with my husband when he is working overseas and how today this is a part of our everyday family life - perhaps this may influence some of the visual representations of our families. Overall it was enjoyable session and it was great to see the families were quite relaxed and eager to participate. 

 

Notes on the Contemporary Family

What I did come away thinking about during this week's meeting is that artists often take away information and reflect on these ideas and attempt to find meaning in reading situations, which in turn allows them to find a way to visually represent these moments. What I found interesting about our conversations was that the contemporary family in the Australian suburbs are multilayered and complex


Many contradictions of their context exists, they are both local and global beings, they exist as families both in physical and virtual spaces

They also connect to an ancient sense of time but also exist in the now and look towards the future.

In relation to our project this could be reflected upon in our usage of materials (ceramics, which is an ancient practice and connects us to earth and our physical surroundings) and ephemeral electronic mediums such as photography and video, which can translate and exist beyond geographical spaces to interpret the now. Next week we can reflect on these findings when we re-cap at the beginning of the session. 


Week 2 - MAPPING MANNINGHAM

Friday 26 July, 2019


This week we are working on a 'site analysis' drawing on a notion of 'expanded space' with our families, to begin to understand how they see themselves in the Doncaster/Manningham neighbourhood, through investigating images of the area and identifying places they relate to. 

During these activities, Sofi captured the families being interviewed individually in the next room and will continue do so next week. She bought in a few different backdrops, but decided to go with a rich, deep red colour as a backdrop, as aesthetically it was complimentary to the families being interviewed. 

We engaged the families in the local area through two methods:

1. Doncaster/Manningham Photo Gallery Brainstorming
Historical images of Doncaster/Manningham (from the local historical society) were presented, mostly concentrated on images of shared public places such as parks, roads and central areas of the suburbs. These were intentionally chosen to stimulate conversations on the knowledge we have about the area, and to share new knowledge about the area today. Images included Doncaster's many apple orchards, the former Doncaster Viewing Tower (where Doncaster Westfield is today), the past electric trams to and from Box Hill (which still exists in the naming of Tram Road), the building of new infrastructure in the area and the main street of Warrandyte. 

By having these conversations, we were able to reflect on how we connect or don't connect to the places represented and why this may be the case. The families also commented on the lack of diversity represented in the images of the past, revealing it doesn't reflect or include those who live in Doncaster today. The children were curious about images of the Doncaster Primary School. Some felt the image of the school in the past looked tidy and neat, but also sad, lonely and lifeless, without the liveliness, colour and creative outputs of a contemporary class room. 


2. Mapping Manningham 

Two large maps were printed, one of Manningham and the other a world map. During this activity we will ask our participants to consider:


A. Where they live? In Manningham and the in the world? 

B. Local places significant to them

C. Somewhere they would like to go and why? 

D. Somewhere they wouldn't like to go and why? 


The purpose of this exercise was to capture places, which the group had personal attachments towards. These insights allowed us to build on developing a better sense of their engagement with local place, as global citizens and also to understand the narrative we are trying to present based on the experience of the participants. The World map revealed how far spread our engagement with place is as a community, with family connections as far as Columbia, Korea, Taiwan, Malaysia, Vietnam, Hong Kong and China. On the local map, a dominating feature today of Doncaster is the local shopping centre (which I got lost in today!) the families expressed their desire to be more engaged with the natural environment, through local park spaces and lamented the lack of trees due to development. Some parents commented they like the busy shopping centre environment, stating it was convenient, a place they often went to, and an everyday part of their lives. The library and their school was also an important safe place for them in their community. And of course, some children expressed, their favourite place to be their homes


Narrative Building

This week from a research perspective, I have re-engaged with ideas around narrative building and how this may work together with the development of an art project. I am very interested in recent writing on how developing a strong narrative can create strengthened meaning in one's life. Emily Esfahani Smith is the author of a book called The Power of Meaning - Crafting a Life that Matters, 2017, which speaks about how finding meaning through crafting a personal narrative, can deepen our lives and potentially lead to more fulfilling experiences. I have started to read more about 'narrative identity' to understand this area of research, to understand how this may inform the methodology we have taken with our engagement with our families and the outcomes of this process. As we gain a better understanding of our participants, a narrative is starting to unfold around the way contemporary families connect in 'physical and virtual spaces' as a result of increased migration. My intention as an artist/researcher is to build on these themes, so they inform the direction of what we create collaboratively. 


Migration Patterns: The distribution of people relocating to Australia

On another note, I came across an article on Australia's migration patterns written by AHURI How many people are relocating to Australia, and where? (23 July, 2019). The article giving me greater insight into the distribution patterns of new migrants to Australia. Just looking at 2018, Australia received close to 256 620, 192 940 were on temporary visas (including international students), 63 680 were on permanent visas. 85 690 of those people settled in Victoria, which is about 34.6%, the second largest population by state intake. What was noted in the article is that temporary visa numbers have risen since 2004. It is interesting to consider these patterns in relation to the project, as we are working with just a small handful of new families, but the temporary nature of being in a particular place is already reflected in the conversations we are having as a group. 




Week 3 - RITUALS & CUSTOMS

Friday 2 August, 2019


We're now at Week 3, we are feeling more comfortable as a group and gaining a better understanding of how the activities should work in relation to the session and how long we should spend on each one. 


Who's in Doncaster and Greater Manningham? 

During this session we looked at the most recent Australian census data to understand what an overview of the people in the area looks like. The census data points to a growing Chinese community, which is almost a quarter of the Manningham population, with a high proportion of the Mandarin and Cantonese speakers. From our group, we understand that the population is much more diverse, as we have participants from across Asia and even Columbia in South America, which weren't represented by the information we collected.

Our Kid Reporters

To find out from a more personal perspective why these families decided to live in Manningham, we decided to ask the kids to interview their parents about what led them to move to Doncaster? The kids asked the questions and wrote down the answers. These answers were then shared with the group and discussed. Parents expressed that they felt the area was convenient and close to the services they need and in good proximity to Box Hill and the city. Some also mentioned that they had friends living in the local area, who recommended they live their as well. The activity encourage the children to take an active role in finding out about their own circumstance in relation to their parents and hopefully would give them further insight into their family life. 


Rituals and Customs

Following this activity, we focused on our own personal rituals and customs. As a way of drawing out how our families spend time together, we asked to consider a daily, monthly and yearly ritual. I bought in three samples of my own, to stimulate their ideas. From my own experience of working with children, it is often good to have an example, which may help to stimulate their own imaginations. The three examples I bought in, was 'Daily' - a picture of a car showing how my family connects on a daily basis, 'Monthly' - Movie Tickets, as we often see movies on a monthly basis and 'Yearly' - Giving out Chinese new year red packets each year. The families came up with some interesting ideas including sharing dinner as a family on a daily basis. loving hobbies like Karaoke, and also travelling back to their 'home' countries on a yearly basis to re-connect with their families. 


We also had Peter from Chinese Community Services introduce himself, as a partner on the project. He was impressed to see the way we were creatively connecting with the group through our activities. The families are looking more relaxed and we are getting into a good rhythm with our sessions. This last session made me realise it is important to communicate with the group and recap and also remind the group where we are going on this journey, so they feel that we are on the same page with the aims of the project. I will plan this carefully as we transition into the ceramics studio. 


The Chinese Museum Visit, Sunday 4th August, 2019

Another partner of our project is The Chinese Museum, who have a focus on Chinese-Australian History. As a group we visited on Sunday 4 August for a tour, to gain a further understanding of how a dominant cultural group have existed here in Australia. We had an amazing tour run by Ji Hong, who was a charismatic and energetic guide. It was nice to be on the other side and enjoying the content of the museum and let someone else tell the story and also to hear about the diversity of the Chinese community within the narratives of the museum. It was important to recognise that migration to Australia has a long history and that we are a part of that important history. We will surely discuss the visit on Friday and consider how we may add to the museum's narratives, by telling the story of super diversity in Melbourne. 


Week 4 - Exploring Ceramic Arts

Friday 7th August, 2019

The Ceramics Collection

The first three weeks we have focused on building the relationships of the participants and also getting to know our place and each other. The conversations have led to gaining a deeper understanding of the interests and out look in life and how they relate to local place. 


This week we shifted the location of the class to the Ceramics Studio, to focus not only on engagement issues, but also on the production of art. This week's session consisted of me recapping where we're at in the process of our journey and where we're going. This was followed by an introduction to Manningham and their special focus on ceramics in their collection, their annual prize and exhibition. We discussed how the history of ceramic arts in the area had informed the development of the gallery and continues to be a focus of their collection. We also spoke about ceramics being an ancient cross cultural art form, but also with proud traditions in many Asian cultures such as China and Korea. This led to a brief exploration of a few of the collection art works on display. We discussed the approaches taken by ceramics artists. We looked at Tina Lee's The Karens (2011) in the hallway, looking at the idea of celebrating the everyday, through the repetition of a common model of a coffee cup The Karen, which was once valued and loved, and now discarded in op shops. The artist celebrated the significance of the form in our everyday lives through the choice of bright colours in the recreation of the cups in the work. 

We also walked outside (briefly, because it was freezing!) to look at Debra Halpern's sculpture Water Creature (2006) to discuss how the artist has used small components (tiles) to make up a larger work and used fantasy to create her sculpture. We even considered how she was influenced by Gaudi, the Spanish architect in the choices she had made with her aesthetics. This was followed by heading to the Civic Centre to explore more works in the collection, which included functional and sculptural works. 


In the Ceramics Studio

We engaged families further by returning to the ceramics studio and focusing on an activity that asked the families to consider what in particular made Doncaster feel like their home. Many of them reflected on eating and cooking their favourite foods, the natural surrounds and their gardens, their pets, the larger homes they were able to live in and books they enjoyed reading and writing which they loved to take part in. This engagement activity was run by Chelsea, who has been working alongside us to develop our project. She used this creative engagement process as an opportunity to further gain an understanding of how the participants were engaging with the sessions. For this activity, I created an ideas board, and filled it with magazine images of ideas of what may remind one of home. This included gardens, favourite foods, books, smiling faces, pets, coffee, footballs and many other items. As this group had expressed limited engagement with art, I felt it was important to build their visual language, by connecting ideas to images, so that they could relate it more easily to their own lives and how they may have experienced a sense of home. 


The calming effect of clay

These ideas were translated into air drying clay by our families, who made objects or representations of these ideas. This was our first opportunity for 'clay play' and we found the concentration on making a small marquette was relaxing for the group. The specific task, the soft and squishy touch of the clay gave the whole group a focus, which they quietly concentrated on. 


There was one child participant who arrived expressing her feelings of sadness. When I went over to see how her and her mother were engaging, I found that they weren't quite following what was happening during the session. I could see that the child participant was quite distressed and unable to clearly communicate the ideas to her mother, even with the assistance the translator Rongping. As a way to calm her down, I spent some time talking through the activity with them and making some suggestions through the gentle questioning of what makes Doncaster home to them. I asked them about their favourite foods, which reminded me, that their mother had mentioned that she likes to make many traditional Chinese types of foods, such as jiaozi (dumplings), baozi (steamed buns), xiao long bao (shanghai dumplings) and tong yuan (sweet soup dumplings). So I picked up some clay (luckily I love jiaozi too) and started forming a jiaozi, soon the child participant followed, as did the parent. Soon their attention shifted towards the making of dumplings, to their surprise the lump of clay started to look like delicious dumplings, which they both love to cook and eat. I could see the child participants emotions shifting as she felt the coolness of the soft clay in her hand, it had a calming effect, bringing her back to where the class focused, it had an incredibly positive impact on her. By the end of the session, she was looking much less uncertain and had regained her confidence.  


Overall, it was great to have them focusing on a ceramics activity, as today's session, set them up in preparation for next week in understanding how we will work together as co-creators, which will be introduced next week. Each week gaining further insight into the personalities and relationships we are forming of the participants is informing how we run our session to be more tailored to their needs. 


After these making sessions, Sofi also had nominated families posing for family portraits in the Playhouse. She decided to photograph the participating family members with the missing family members on an iPad screen to indicate the contemporary condition of migrating families, who are between places.