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Research Process Journal

Spatial Thinking

In this section, I would like to consider and reflect upon evolving concepts of space and how this impacts upon the way think about how we live and ultimately how this has an influences the ways in which we inhabit urban spaces. During my PhD research I became interested in the writing of Henri Lefebvre and his notion of the right to the city, Habermas and the transformation of the public sphere and how the curation of cities may contribute to these discussions. 

Thinking about Space-Time and Social Relations

June 27, 2018

So have just finished off a paper on Curating Inclusive Cities through Food and Art for the special issue on 'Human Food Interaction', for a journal called 

Multimodal Technologies and Interaction. One of the key learning outcomes of the development of the Flavours of Glenroy project (2013-4) was considering the relationship between space and time further. Previous to the project, I was focused on spatial concerns, as a result of my research being 'public art' orientated, which deals more with objects in space, but as my research has progressed I have become more interested in the 'social relations' which are developed from these objects that are in spaces. During the Glenroy project, I became obsessed with the community and trying to reconcile the place or displacement of the diverse community in an average working class Australian suburb. At the time, I felt somewhat at odds, because the focus had changed and I wasn't sure how to reconcile my research process, as I felt I was becoming a 'community' artist, which I felt was moving into different territory, as I maintain that my interest is in the broader picture of the globalising conditions of the city. So what I am really looking at is 'social relationships to the urban through art'. 

This interrogation of the social relationship between the place and the various types of people, led me to realise the study was less about the space, but more about the relationship between the people, the time and the space and how together they make a place. Realising the relationship is about space-time-social, has taken me towards urban geographical writing on urban spaces, in particular the work of Edward Soja and his writing on 'thirdspaces' which attempts to expand on the idea of space, by being inclusive of all these aspects, including the imagination. I particularly like his writing because he considers the way people have imagined a space in the past, present and future and how this has an impact on how we see space. I found this particularly useful as an artist and curator writing on the ways in which artists engage with each other. 

Doreen Massey has also been very useful, in that she argues the definition of space, cannot be separated from time and social relations and that spaces of globalisation are fluid and changing. This approach to space was also very useful and allows me to understand why I am drawn to understanding social relations in artistic processes, because it is because of a series of social relations that an artistic outcome is able to happen. This may be more apparent in the performing arts, as they are generally more collaborative as art forms and artists do need to work together, but in the visual artists, it is more of an individual practice. Visual artists are generally trained this way and work this way, as a result of the way authorship is credited. It has been good to reflect on these ideas, as I am developing a concept for new projects and it certainly has made me consider how I want to be framed, as I don't feel community artist is fitting. I feel more comfortable with the term 'socially engaged' and perhaps to say I have a social practice is the most appropriate, as it is about dealing with these social relations to develop ideas with individuals of the community and work through the process of encouraging their participation in order to build their capacity and also encourage active citizenship. 

Curating the Right to the City

May 11, 2018

Currently writing a reflection on the Hyphenated (May 2018) exhibition and also thinking about a paper in relation to my project Flavours of Glenroy (2013-4). It has taken me back to revisiting the concept of The Right to the City which was heavily discussed by Lefebvre in his writings on cities and thoughts on the urban revolution. There are three areas I am preoccupied with that relates to this idea of the right to the city, coming from the perspective of the right of the migrant voice in the city. 

1) Lefebvre's perspective on The Right to the City 

Lefebvre's perspective is focused on this idea as open and evolving, that comes to understand itself as more than anything a democratic project, as a struggle to shake off the control of capital. By this he is referring to the activation of urban communities, as participants who actively engage and shape the urban environment they take part in. Lefebvre believes that through the struggle on certain urban issues comes the birth of a right, which I find interesting because of the idea which I felt evolved from the Hyphenated exhibition was the that each of the artists were individually grappling with their position in society and this is part of the process leading to an urban right. Lefebvre also discusses the production of space, not only from an economic perspective, but the 'lived' space and how through an urban revolution that the fuller lived space can be imagined and enacted. 

2) The Right to the City in action
So as an actual movement, it has accumulated in different forms, in particular programs such as the UN-HABITAT which recognises and encourages Human Rights. It is often expressed in the form of Charter of Rights and Responsibilities which are designed to encourage inclusivity of minority groups. There are also community based organisations who also promote the right to the city and work as activism groups to lobby for certain social issues as a result of urban development and transformation. As we see further awareness of human rights by younger generations, there will be more discussions around diversity and inclusion and a struggle towards this direction, as a result of entering the age of human rights. 

3) Imagined cultural space - The power of artists

In rethinking Edward Soja's 'Thirdspace' where he claims that space should be reconsidered as 'physical and mental' and conceived as a 'spatiality-historicality-sociality' and includes imagined space. I love this interpretation because it takes into account how spaces are made up of a number of charateristics and that they can be re-imagined, if we take into account imagined accounts of a space and how artists potentially have the POWER to re-imagine spatial possibilities. Soja was also influenced by Bhabba's ideas of 'Thirdspace', where he is referring to hybridity which occurs out of post-colonialism and mass migration. He refers to the 'Thirdspace' as a new cultural space which is productive, fluid and has a capacity for new possibilities. So with Hyphenated for example as a collective group we were able to re-imagine the Australian cultural experience through a hyphenated lens and perhaps claim this hybrid space as an Australian experience and thus carve out this space as a legitimate space and right to the city. I am also preoccupied with this constant re-iteration of the migrant voice being a disempowered problematic voice in main stream society, which is reflected in our cities through the inequality and access of migrant heavy neighbourhoods. I felt that the curation of a group of Asian-Australian artists who are able to powerfully express a voice of self awareness of their positions in society, was our way of reclaiming that power and showing the public that it is possible to demonstrate an empowered migrant voice. 

Lately I have been thinking a lot about the Dada artists, who were largely refugees during World War 1, seeking refuge in Zurich Switzerland and how they became empowered through the activities of setting up their own artist run space The Caberet Voltaire to express the absurdity of war. I have also been thinking lot about The Stars and how their was no provision for their voice of personal experssion in a communism society and how they protested and created their own cultural space until their work was accepted and they were allowed to have an exhibition on the gates of the public park, highlighting how new cultural spaces can be created but they can also be highly contested as a result of the existing social and cultural constructions of space. These two examples certainly do confirm this idea that with struggle comes a right and perhaps with persistence there is comes recognition. Is this the same as a right or is this just being tolerated? The next thing I am trying to understand is how does one curate the right to the city? Do I continue with projects out in the community or do try and curate a series of projects out in public spaces to expand the scope of the public urban sphere? Hyphenated was an interesting experiment, as it was a return to the gallery space, but at least it was not a traditional white walled decontextualised gallery, it was a former industrial space, reclaimed for arts use in the western suburbs, the most diverse part of Melbourne. It was good to be included in the mix of voices in their program, to give us a legitimate voice in that space. 

Another very important part on this expanded project of The Right to the City is the appropriation of urban spaces and participation of the citizens as a point realising the full potential of the city. How citizens engage in active participation and through their own collective becomes revealed to them through the process, understanding how they are capable of becoming stewards of urban and collective life. I was particularly interested in this idea, as participation has been a big part of the development of my socially engaged projects and that this methodology of asking for participation is a part of the broader project of asking participants to empower themselves by taking part in the project, by finding meaning and connection to place through the process of reflection, re-imagining, transformation and interpretation of place. This was particularly the case in the Flavours of Glenroy Project. 

Purcell (2013) reflecting on Lefebvre's work comments "...there are everywhere these little eruptions of the urban, brief moments where we flourish, meaningful connection, play, and the collective autogestion by inhabitants emerge and flourish. But these moments are brief and fleeting. The urban does not yet exist in it's mature form; rather it is still partial, an occluded image of what it can become". This reminds me of urban moments when I have been most inspired when there have been brief moments beyond the experience reduced to a capitalist value, when an artist has offered an insight out in the public sphere, when this potential was expressed. I am reminded of the time I discovered the poetic parking signs in the lane of Chinatown, which left me curiously thinking about life beyond the grind of capitalist systems. Later I found out these hidden surprises were part of the broader Laneways Commissions programs interventions designed to surprise and suggest that the city has many more layers and narratives to discover, that these public interventions still offer a point of contemplation and power to inspire in our increasingly contested public urban sphere. 

Rethinking Australia and India through Water & Wisdom

December 4, 2017

Today I visited the exhibition Water & Wisdom at RMIT Gallery. I was curious about the exhibition because it considers environmental similarities between Australia and India, which is explained by each continents connection before drifting apart. The exhibition focuses on the similarities between the two countries in relation to water management, with research supported by academics and the works of artists giving varied perspectives in relation to the water. I was interested to consider the Indigenous perspectives on water management and was pleased to see a video interviewing local elders in relation to the Merri Creek, which has been neglected and is in recent years being cared for again in relation to communities such as The Friends of the Merri Creek. I did wander around thinking that Rebecca Mayo should be in this exhibition due her work in relation to the Merri. As I turned the corner into one of the side rooms, I did come across her work, a very interesting comment of introduced species of gorse used as hedging, which have since become overgrown pest plants in our creek system. Rebecca had cleverly compacted the weed into bricks emphasising the problems caused by this introduced species. I have made this comment in 'Spatial Thinking' mostly because the exhibition did expand my thinking in relation how Australia relates to Asia, which I have been concerned with since considering the framing of the Hyphenated exhibition. I think these geographical and environmental connections often give further evidence that Australia was once much more culturally linked to our Asian neighbours and that it is time to see ourselves as part of a broader region with shared cultural interests. 

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