After considering the nature and role of creative co-production in research contexts, Boyd describes the processes involved in producing artworks for the ‘Finding Home’ exhibition based on research findings from the Engaging Youth in Regional Australia (EYRA) Study. Commencing with work produced by some of the study’s participants, Boyd moves on to discuss the commissioning of a set of textile works and a contemporary Aboriginal artwork for the exhibition. The chapter is interwoven with a description of Boyd’s own artworks as an artist-geographer, produced in response but also in sympathy with the rest of the exhibition as it emerged. The chapter concludes with some first-hand reflections on curating a research exhibition.
- Creative co-production
- Placed-based photography
- Aboriginal art
- Research Exhibition
Introduction: Creative Co-production
The co-production of knowledge and its feminist underpinnings have a long history, not just in geography but throughout the social sciences and the humanities (Barry & Keane, 2019; Ersoy, 2017). When it comes to creative co-production, Conrad and Sinner (2015) suggest that it takes one of three main forms: participatory arts-based research, community-based arts research and collaborative arts. Participatory arts involve engaging and co-creating with research participants, whereas community-based arts research is much more directed at the needs of its ‘end users’. Collaborative arts involve bringing diverse perspectives together, usually under the direction of a practising artist. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the EYRA Study couldn’t include community-based arts research as was originally intended; however, the ‘Finding Home’ exhibition was made possible through a combination of participatory and collaborative arts, alongside researcher-led creative practice.
There is a plethora of examples of creative co-production within and beyond human geography (see Hawkins, 2018 for a review). In reference to the ‘Finding Home’ exhibition, however, two recently published examples are particularly relevant as each employed participatory dissemination as a strategy. In the first example, Valli (2021) describes participatory dissemination as ‘a practice that engages research participants in the interpretation of preliminary research findings, and through arts-based methods, leads to the co-production of visual outputs and research communication for diversified audiences, especially those beyond solely academic readers’ (p. 25). The EYRA Study also sought to do this by engaging some of the participants in a creative activity designed to extend and deepen the findings from the earlier, interview stage of the project. The second example is a study by Urbanik and DiCandeloro (2020) which, although based on an in-person creative workshop with research participants, produced creative work for the purposes of exhibition in an art gallery. This imperative of producing work which would eventually be exhibited was also something envisioned as part of the EYRA Study from the outset.
What follows is a process-oriented account of how 16 artworks were produced for the ‘Finding Home’ exhibition during the latter half of 2020. For most of this time, not only were Australia’s state borders closed to interstate travellers but some of us were also living under lockdown orders (i.e. only allowed to leave home for limited periods of time to exercise or access essential goods and services to slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus). These conditions made for a different kind of collaboration, a much more distant one, which also imparted greater creative freedoms to all involved.
Various methods of participatory photography, including photovoice and photo elicitation, have been employed by social researchers in the past to explore participants’ viewpoints on many issues (Byrne et al., 2016; Ozanne et al., 2013). Within human geography, there has been a growing interest in situated knowledge in relation to affect theory, and the ways in which photography can help orient participants towards the more-than-human world (Alam et al., 2017). Alam et al. (2017) refer to more-than-human-oriented photography as ‘photo-response’. Photo-response involves three steps—the first is where participants ‘respond to the camera’ in the taking of photos, the second is where participants ‘respond to the images’ by discussing them with a researcher and the third is ‘responding to the image locations’ where individual participants physically guide the researcher through the locations where the images were taken while reflecting on them. The approach taken in the EYRA Study involved these first two steps but not the third (as it was not physically possible due to constraints imposed by government in response to the COVID-19 pandemic) and so I am referring to it here as ‘place-based photography’.
In the interview stage of the EYRA Study, emails and phone numbers were collected as part of the recruitment phase (and kept securely and separately from de-identified transcripts). After an open call, ten participants from the interview stage agreed to take part in the photographic activity. As part of the consent process, young people were given the option to be identified, they gave permission for their images to be used for research purposes (including publication and the research exhibition), and they were not asked to transfer copyright. Understanding that the copyright remained with them as the photographers, all ten participants agreed to be identified by name in association with their photographs.
While it was possible to ask participants to take photos on their mobile phones, they were instead sent a black-and-white disposable film camera. There were several reasons for doing this; foremost was the ‘forgiving nature’ of black-and-white film and its long-standing association with both art and documentary photography (Grainge, 2002). Another reason was the limited number of shots (24 + 3 in reserve) which meant that participants had to be judicious in how they used them. A less anticipated reason was the tendency of black-and-white photography to elicit placed-based memories (see Boyd & Gorman-Murray, 2022). Finally, the camera itself, as something unfamiliar to be negotiated and learned, might encourage a different way of thinking, noticing and encountering what were otherwise familiar places (Coats, 2014). Participants were sent the cameras by mail with a plain language statement, consent form, model release forms (should they chose to take photos of people), and one page of instructions which included how to use the camera and some suggestions on how to go about the task:
It might be difficult to know where to start, but this video on YouTube is a great example: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vVl6f3Gfe94. These guys use the same camera as you’ve been sent to take photos of the place that they live in. There are a lot of things about the way they’ve done this that are good—they take photos of areas and scenes that involve some kind of activity (doesn’t have to be human, can be birds or animals), and they take photos of areas or scenery that they like. They also take photos from behind people or from a distance that means that they don’t need permission from those people to use their image. I’d like to encourage you to use a similar approach but make it about what’s important to you.
Other than this initial guidance, participants were free to take photographs however they wanted. The disposable camera also contained a flash so that it was possible to take photos at night and indoors, but these were of much poorer quality and none of them ended up in the exhibition. After cameras were returned, they were sent on to a film processing lab where they were processed and then scanned. The scans were sent electronically to me ahead of the physical negatives being posted. Each set of scans varied according to how many photographs were ‘useable’, shots that had ‘failed’, or some participants not using all the available shots on the roll. Out of each set of scans, and due to interviewing time constraints, I chose four to discuss with participants during a follow-up phone or video chat. The set of four included at least one which had potential to be exhibited and in choosing that one, aesthetic choices like composition, lighting and focus came to bear. The final decision on which photograph to include rested with each participant. For the remainder of the photographs selected for discussion, I just aimed to get a range in locations and subjects.
Participants were interviewed individually for approximately 30 minutes. The interview was semi-structured around three questions. The first question was about their experience of the task. The second question was about ‘why’ they’d taken each photograph, and in the third I asked them to imagine being in that place and what it was that they sensed. This third question was a remote attempt at something like Alam et al.’s (2017) ‘responding to image locations’ stage, but in practice was a poor substitute. Overall, participants found doing this third stage via memory and imagination too confusing and difficult.
When it came to commenting on the task, participants were generally positive and made comments that reinforced the choice of an analogue medium. For example,
It was taking photos in a different way, where you had to be a lot more conscious of what it was that you were taking a photo of. If you’d just said go out and take a whole lot of photos [with your phone] it wouldn’t have been as self-reflective.
I gave a bit of thought of what I wanted to take but just wasn’t sure how it would turn out. You have to really think about it and get the frame right. Using the ‘old school’ camera definitely brought back more memories.
When it came to taking the photographs, some participants had planned ahead but most had taken a ‘roaming’ approach (see Bhattacharya & Barry, 2021 on the affordances of roaming), and most had taken all the photographs in one session of around an hour and a half. Regardless of the approach, participants mentioned that the task had helped them to notice things that they would normally take for granted, realising their importance (see Stedman et al., 2014 on visual methods, place attachment and place meaning). Participants also talked about how the task brought up place-based memories for them:
I hadn’t actually stopped and looked around Lincoln for a while. To actually stop and have a look around at what is here, even the colours and stuff like that. It was just a good experience to stop and see what actually is here, and what was important, rather than focussing on what’s not here.
Every corner you walk around, every street, you realise that it does have a significance to you. I found I had a lot of memories.
Some participants described being acutely aware that their photographs would become part of an exhibition and so applied thought to what they wanted to represent. As such, some participants wanted to represent their town, not just what was important to them.
I was picking places that sort of described Hedland in a way, through a picture. It’s a really industrial town and you have to see how mining is a part of everyone’s day regardless of whether you work in a mine.
I had a lot of fun, actually. It got me out of the house to a lot of places that I wouldn’t have gone. It gives you more of an appreciation for home, because you’re sort of showing it off like ‘these are the good bits’ and there are a lot of good bits, so that was nice.
In addition to place-based memories, photographs focussed on the aesthetics of natural environments (Berleant, 1992, 1997), human and non-human relationships (Basu, 2020), belonging and community (Mee & Wright, 2009), and restorative or ‘soulful’ places (Hooks, 2009). The ten photographs that were mutually chosen to be included in the ‘Finding Home’ exhibition are reproduced below. Each is preceded by a statement and direct quotation from each young person (and approved by them), which appeared on a label next to each photograph in the exhibition.
Carla took this photograph, because as time passes her memories of being a child in that place become more vivid. In the photograph, her daughter Emma is eating a cupcake from Bertoldos Bakery, which is opposite the memorial park, just like Carla did when she was a child (Fig. 3.1).
It’s something that’s so ingrained in Griffith. Parents do it with their kids, grandparents do it with their grandkids. And when you actually stop and sit, you realise how important that place is to you and other people in Griffith.
Down Oxford Street
Roger took this photograph, because, for him, it captures what he loves about Sydney—energy, community and freedom. In the foreground is a common area in his apartment building, and in the background is Oxford Street which is known as Sydney’s Golden (Gay) Mile. The common area is a sanctuary of sorts where residents are free to sunbathe and socialise (Fig. 3.2).
Level 3 is a great place to relax. Most weekends other residents are there chilling out, sunbaking, alone or with friends, some having a few drinks, a barbeque or even a party … and it’s just fun. Everyone loves it. It’s a great place to be on a Sunday afternoon after a night out on Saturday.
Jasmine took this photograph, because she loves her dog. He’s really important to her, especially with her family being in Perth. He’s her boy, and he’s with her all of the time. Wherever he is, home is (Fig. 3.3).
He’s just sitting there, and you can see the dirt. There’s not much grass growing in the background. Grass up here is really hard to grow. The dirt and the rocks are mainly what makes up everyone’s backyard. His ripped toys are ragged. He needs new toys!
The Swing Set
Vicki took this photograph, because she remembers playing on this swing set as a child at her Nonni’s farm just outside Griffith. It moved from the farm back into town with them. It represents family for her and the Italian culture (Fig. 3.4).
It’s served three generations. Broken plastic seats have been repaired with pieces of scrap timber; the chains have replacement sections. As Italian immigrants, the Nonni were the original ‘reduce, reuse, recycle’. They didn’t believe in waste, due to lack of money but also a great respect for the environment. The land provided food for the table and a means to build a life. This I attribute my ‘work hard’ ethics to.
The Civic Centre
Claire took this photograph of the Civic Centre in Port Lincoln, because she likes going there in the summertime and watching the water. It makes her feel peaceful and excited for summer. The Civic Centre and the foreshore symbolise the heart of the town for her (Fig. 3.5).
I go and hang out there with my friends. Typically, you’d park your car and go for a walk or a swim. It’s where everybody meets. It’s a lovely area to be in. Those steps are a stage area where we have performances during festivals. It makes me feel part of a community to be there.
Rebekah took this photograph, because she spent a lot of her childhood and teen years during summer hanging out at the jetty with friends. It has a lot of memories tied to it for her, and she knows a lot of young people who use that space (Fig. 3.6).
One of my first memories of this place was when a bunch of us went for a swim. We had to work each other up to jump off into the shark cage, and I just remember all of us being so terrified but when we actually did it, we ended up feeling very accomplished, and very lucky to have a place like that.
Out to Sea
Kody took this photograph of her sister at the beach in Port Hedland, because she likes to go there when she needs some time to herself and look out to the horizon. When it’s not windy, it can be really peaceful (Fig. 3.7).
The beach is calming. Nature has a lot to offer. It can actually be peaceful, relaxing and therapeutic. It’s a place to escape and be quiet. Sometimes there are no people there, and you’ve got it all to yourself.
Iron Ore Trains
Jack took this photograph, because he finds that people who live in Hedland are constantly reminded of the ‘work’ the town does. Even when they leave work for the day, it’s difficult to escape it. At the same time, it does give him a little bit of pride to know just how much the town produces (Fig. 3.8).
A lot of people don’t understand how long our trains are! They’re well over a kilometre long. It intrigues me how far we’ve come with technology to be able to move such extreme amounts of weight. And yet it’s still really relaxing to be there, when you sit at the lookout or walk up the ridge to the bridge to look at the trains.
Almond Trees at Dusk
Jacinda took this photograph, because she feels enticed every year to wander through the almond blossoms when the orchards are in bloom. Almond farming was initially a big risk for farmers in the region. Seeing the almond plantations makes her feel proud of just how much Griffith produces (Fig. 3.9).
I feel at peace here. It’s calm and very pretty. A lot of people get family photos taken out the front of the almond trees at this time of year, so it’s a sense of home as well as happiness. But it also provides jobs for people, so it’s ‘giving back’.
Tijana took this photograph, because it brings back happy memories of going to the beach near her grandparents’ house. She loves the freshness of the sea air, compared to the pollution of the city. Being by the sea gives her a feeling of calm and peace (Fig. 3.10).
In the photo, the sand is being washed onto the rocks. The ocean, sand and the rocks under your feet feels funny, but it’s kinda nice. I like spending time in the natural environment. And when I look out to the expanse of the ocean, it creates a sense of space in my mind.
… I thought about the quilt I covered myself with in childhood and then again as a young woman. I remembered Mama did not understand my need to take that ‘nasty, ragged’ quilt all the way to college. Yet it was symbolic of my connection to rural black folk life—to home.
However, quilts are not just bed coverings. They can also be considered a fine art form. One of the first examples of quilting as fine art was a ‘story quilt’ made by Faith Ringold in 1983 through which she narrated her personal experience as an African American woman (Sider et al., 2018).
Tal Fitzpatrick is a contemporary textile artist who ‘combines the physical techniques of appliqué quilting and embroidery with the practice of socially-engaged art making’ (Fitzpatrick, n.d.). Known as ‘craftivism’ (a portmanteau of craft and activism), Fitzpatrick’s practice aims to ‘amplify the voices of people from diverse backgrounds’ while ‘challenging patriarchal ideas and values’ (Fitzpatrick, 2018a, p. 15). Craftivism is politically driven, but as Fitzpatrick and Dunlap (2021) assert, it is also a caring and ethical practice which enables people with shared, affirmative values to make meaningful connections.
I first met Tal Fitzpatrick when we were both PhD students in the Centre for Cultural Partnerships at the Victorian College of the Arts. Tal’s PhD was titled Craftivism as DIY Citizenship: The Practice of Making Change (Fitzpatrick, 2018b), and I had the pleasure of witnessing exhibitions of her quilts, and even participating in some of her research projects during that time. We stayed in touch after our studies, and so when the opportunity to contribute to the ‘Finding Home’ exhibition came about, I was grateful and thrilled when Tal agreed to fulfil one of the commissions. The commissions for the ‘Finding Home’ exhibition were made possible through savings from the EYRA Study’s research budget that were meant to go towards in-person creative workshops for the co-production of the exhibition solely with research participants. As with the place-based photography, the commissions weren’t originally planned but instead presented an opportunity to extend the exhibition in both form and content.
I was keen for this commission to not just represent the testimony of the study’s participants but also the places involved in the study. And so, Tal and I discussed the possibility of three story quilts—one for each town. I had been inspired by Tal’s ‘Back Track’ story quilt from 2018 which was created with input from young people at Backtrack Youthworks in Armidale, New South Wales, Australia. As Tal explains on her website, she worked directly with the young people as they shared their experiences of what made Backtrack Youthworks special to them. I asked her to produce something similar based on what the young people in the EYRA Study had said was special to them about their regional hometowns.
Although we worked in the same city, Tal and I were unable to meet in person while she completed the work because of Melbourne’s 111-day lockdown in the latter half of 2020 (New York Times, 2020). Even after the lockdown lifted, the policed barrier between metropolitan Melbourne, where Tal lived, and regional Victoria, where I lived, remained in place, and so our communication about the commission took place by email or video chat. After an initial video call where I summarised the findings from the EYRA Study’s interviews, we discussed the locations, activities and landmarks that young people had identified within each of their towns. I also compiled a list of links to websites so Tal could see what these places, activities and landmarks looked like. Otherwise, the only request that I made of Tal, apart from the size of the works, was that the dominant colour for the Hedland quilt would be orange/red, green for the Griffith quilt and blue for Port Lincoln—the same colours I had strongly associated with each location during the fieldwork in 2019 and which I hoped would also resonate with people from those towns.
During the production of the quilts, Tal sent through regular updates on her progress, including test pieces and conceptual drawings (see Fig. 3.11). While some modifications were needed for accuracy, Tal was free to represent the towns in her own way, which apart from appliqué also involved hand painting with screen printing inks. The resulting story quilts were vibrant and rich in detail and iconography. Each of them is presented below, after the short description that accompanied them at the exhibition. Ironically, Tal was also a young person in the millennial age group who had just decided to return to a regional area after studying and working in Melbourne (not something I had known before the commission). In putting together the exhibition label for her pieces, she offered the following quotation:
I take the telling of people’s stories very seriously. I grew up in a regional area of Australia myself, moved to the city to study and work, and I’m now moving back to regional Australia again. As an artist and a young person of a similar age, I can empathise with these stories.
The Hedland story quilt incorporates images that represent Port and South Hedland. Favourite activities like camping and fishing, football and basketball, can be seen as well as the iconic water towers, esplanade hotel and iron-ore trains. The sea turtle and ghost gum are indicative of a love of nature, and the treasured ‘mingle mob’ bus takes pride of place in the centre (Fig. 3.12).
The Griffith story quilt depicts elements from the landscape including the vineyards and orange groves visible from Scenic Hill. Young people’s enjoyment of nature-based activities and local festivals is also apparent as well as iconic landmarks and symbols of settler/post-war immigration (Fig. 3.13).
The Port Lincoln story quilt celebrates the coast and the activities it affords such as ocean fishing, bike riding and swimming. Iconic structures like the jetty and the silos provide a backdrop for the famous Tunarama festival each year. Netball and horse riding were pastimes that young people from this area enjoy as well as an appreciation for live music and the arts (Fig. 3.14).
With Tal’s story quilts, there were 13 complete works for the ‘Finding Home’ exhibition, but as a researcher I was acutely aware that they didn’t tell the whole story. By the nature of the works themselves, but more so the guidelines and suggestions provided, the exhibition at this point was largely positive and affirmative of the three regional locations. This overall affirmative message was also skewed between those who had chosen to stay and those who had chosen to return, thereby omitting the voices of young people who had chosen to leave and never return for negative reasons. As Rose et al. (2021) argue, the ‘problem’ with affirmation is not what it does but what it leaves out, such as ‘the dark, broken corners of geographical thought where failure, exhaustion, and frailty are real’ (p. 14). In sympathy with this idea, I sought not to negate or compromise the affirmative messages of the exhibition but instead do them justice by including other, less affirmative, ones.
As discussed in Chap. 1, there are several researchers around the world who identify as artist-geographers. Although their art takes different forms, they generally understand that it is their ‘training in social and cultural geography that influences and impels [their] art practice’ (Gorman-Murray, 2018, p. 221). This is why some geographers refer to the practice as geography-art, because the geography, in many ways, takes precedence (Hawkins, 2013). Either way, art takes skill. Patchett and Mann (2018) suggest that there are five aspects to skill of any kind—it is practical (concerned with doing something), processual (emergent and responsive), technical (involving techniques of the body), ecological (not just individual but inclusive of the field of relations that make practice possible) and political (both micro and macro). Each of these would play a role in creating the text montage.
Having some skill with Adobe Photoshop, I thought I could create a text montage for the exhibition which comprised direct quotations from the entire pool of young people who were interviewed for the EYRA Study. A text montage normally involves replacing a person’s image, usually a close-up of their face, with text (see Cross, 2009). There are many different effects, but most enable the image to be seen from a distance and the text to be read on closer inspection. I had the text, which needed to be selectively sorted through, but I didn’t have an image and was still unable to travel back to case study locations to take more. And so, I waited, in hope that an image might ‘reveal itself’.
According to Huttunen (2006, p. 2), text montage is
the principle of composition of a text constructed from separable parts, a principle which is based on the alternation between the author’s fragmentation and the reader’s integration … The bestowal of the general meaning of the text occurs in the reader’s mind in reconstructing the connections between the elements of the text. To put it briefly, a montage text is an apparently fragmentary (and often heterogeneous) text, which the reader brings together into a unified whole in relation to the general meaning of the text.
The text montage I created for the ‘Finding Home’ exhibition partially meets this definition. As a researcher, I sorted through over 150,000 words of transcript, distilling them down to approximately 3000 words of ‘text fragments’ (or phrases of testimony) which I then combined so that it would read as a single narrative while moving through the multiple stories of those who had chosen to stay, leave and/or return. Therefore, the ‘montage effect’ was partly in the construction but also in the reading, where what might appear to be a single narrative at the start would be disrupted by differences ‘along the way’ so that the reader would soon realise that it wasn’t a single narrative at all. More importantly, I constructed this narrative in thirds so that equal weight would be given to those who had stayed, left (including those who had done so under negative circumstances), and those who had returned having left for a time.
The image for the text montage did eventually reveal itself by happenstance. I was on social media when a friend and former colleague from the youth mental health sector, Mel Thurley, posted a photo of herself with the following quotation:
I always thought my parents were kooky for wanting to live in the middle of nowhere. I hated it when I was young. I felt asphyxiated and agoraphobic all at once. It was as though there was a world that was orbiting and pulsing and sparkling, where exciting things were happening, and the kids wore better clothes and knew interesting things. Then there was my world, on the dusty, forgotten edge of the other, better world. Long dirt roads with no streetlights. Strange creatures making strange noises in the deafening silence of the black, black night. The post office that was also the fish and chip shop that was also the video store. It was not a place for me. I kicked off my RM Williams boots and ran as fast as I could, as far as I could from there. And now, I find myself running toward it. My feet can’t carry me quick enough down open, winding roads, through empty, echoing spaces. Oh, the beautiful, aching irony of being proven wrong … to arrive in the knowing. I am here, and I finally understand. It resonates so deeply; the need to be separate, to be wild, to be on the magnificent, dusty edge of that other, broken world.
Mel’s quote, the photograph, and her experience corresponded so well to the composition of the text montage, I asked her if I could use it. She agreed and provided written permission for the use of her quote and approached her friend, Jade Bartlem who had taken the photograph, for permission to use the image as well. The image was taken in colour with a mobile phone and was of low resolution (72 dpi). I thought I could visually tie the participants’ photographs and the quilts together in the exhibition if the image were greyscale and the work was printed on fabric, but this also helped to compensate for the poor image quality. Within Adobe Photoshop, I experimented with fonts and colours so that the text would fit and be readable. In converting picture to text, there wasn’t enough contrast to delete the image altogether; however, I thought that the penultimate stage, including image and text layers, was visually effective, and so this became the 14th work in the exhibition (see Fig. 3.15). Mel’s quote was included on the label accompanying the work when it was displayed, and it was titled ‘The Dusty Edge’ after her inspiring quotation.
Contemporary Aboriginal Painting on Wood
For more than half my life as an Australian citizen, I never knew whose country I was on. I knew I was on stolen land, but I didn’t know the name of the peoples it was stolen from. I now know that I live and work on Dja Dja Wurrung Country and that the institution that currently employs me was first built on the lands of the Wurundjeri people. The majority of Australians over 65 years of age don’t know whose lands they live and work on, while 70% of younger Australians [say they] do, although it varies significantly by postcode (ABC, 2021). As a human geographer and an artist, it bothered me that in describing their hometowns, none of the participants in the EYRA Study had acknowledged the traditional custodians of the lands on which their towns were located. While ‘they could be forgiven for that’, I didn’t think that I could.
During my time in Hedland in 2019, I visited Spinifex Hill Studio twice. Located in South Hedland, this art studio supports over 100 emerging, mid-career and established Aboriginal artists from across the Pilbara region. The studio also functions as a ‘cultural hub’ where people from Indigenous backgrounds share stories and learn new skills (Spinifex Hill Studio, n.d., see also Mackell et al., 2022). In Aboriginal culture, painting goes beyond making and creating; as Butler (2019, p. 91) states, ‘visual imagery plays an amplified role in oral cultures where collective memory is transmitted through means other than the written word’. Furthermore, Aboriginal art often depicts Country, which, as Harrison et al. (2016, p. 1321) point out, is ‘the very anchor of life for many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island people … central to Indigenous identities and history, and [is] a powerful signifier of overall health and well-being’.
With funds remaining for another commission, I approached then centre manager at Spinifex, Sophia Constantine, about the possibility of engaging an artist from there to respond to the findings from the EYRA Study. After speaking with her team, Sophia said that two artists—mother and daughter Lorna Dawson and Kimberley McKie—would accept the commission. In addition to being profiled artists, Lorna (see www.spinifexhillstudio.com.au/artist-profiles/lorna-dawson) and Kim (see www.spinifexhillstudio.com.au/artist-profiles/kimberley-mckie) both worked at the studio, and Kim is now the studio’s coordinator. However, this commission was different to Tal’s for several reasons. There is a shameful history of cultural appropriation, gross underpayment, and the ‘faking’ of Aboriginal art in Australia (Butler, 2019). Spinifex Hill Studio is a signatory to the Indigenous Art Code which protects Aboriginal artists from such exploitation (see Indigenous Art Code Limited, 2019). Thus, I didn’t speak to Lorna or Kim directly for the length of the commission, with all communication happening via the centre manager.
I had finished the text montage by this time and so posted a full-size test print of it along with a research summary and a note to Lorna and Kim to use whatever they wanted from this as their inspiration. As a way of adding further interest and variety to the exhibition, I also had an idea that Lorna and Kim could paint an object of some sort which could be a central, sculptural feature. Incidentally, a family member of mine had recently given me a piece of wood from a fallen Southern Blue Gum (Eucalyptus globulus) from his nearby house, so I prepared the wood with an acrylic polymer and sealer, thinking that Lorna and Kim could paint its surface. There was also a certain symbolism in something from Dja Dja Wurrung Country, where the exhibition was conceived, travelling over 5000 km to Kariyarra Country to be painted and then exhibited in the first of the ‘Finding Home’ exhibitions. I was delighted when Lorna and Kim agreed to do so.
Between them, the artists agreed that Kim would take the lead in their collaboration. This was exciting as it meant that the work would be created from the perspective of a young person of similar age to those involved in the EYRA Study. In community contexts, older Aboriginal people and Elders are valued for their wisdom and life experiences, although these roles and relationships have been eroding (Busija et al., 2020). Rather than reinterpret findings from the EYRA Study directly, Kim and Lorna chose to emphasise the importance of intergenerational knowledge sharing and caring among Aboriginal people in general, and for them especially. As Kimberley explains:
To my mother and I, the passing down of our knowledge and culture to me and my siblings is very important, as it gives us an opportunity to see what it was like for my mother to grow up, and how we will be able to learn and grow to make the future better for all the next generations to come. If my mother didn’t pass down her knowledge and culture to us, it would be harder for us to see the correct path in life for us to take to ensure we have a good future, and place to live in, for our next generations.
The above quote from Kim was included in the label for the work at the exhibition. The three themes of ‘growth’, ‘knowledge’ and ‘future’ tied in with the exhibition very well. The painting combines Lorna’s fine dot techniques with Kimberley’s contemporary style and symbolises intergenerational support through a mother’s hand supporting her daughter’s as she ‘learns and grows’. The ‘seed’ of knowledge sits within the brick-red dirt of the Pilbara region (see Fig. 3.16).
Silent Video Projection
As with the text montage and the contemporary Aboriginal painting, the silent video projection was designed to fill a perceived gap in the exhibition. Just as human geographers acknowledge and respect the world’s First Nations Peoples, we also appreciate that the human is not at the ‘centre’ of our planet—people are interconnected with, and dependent upon, non-human (or ‘more-than-human’) entities (Panelli, 2010; Williams et al., 2019). Known as ‘posthumanism’ throughout the social sciences and humanities, this idea not only challenges the sovereignty of the human subject but also increases the accountability and responsibility that humans have in relation to the more-than-human world (see Braidotti, 2013, 2019). At a time when the consequences of anthropogenic climate change are undeniable (e.g. Utsumi & Kim, 2022), the concept of posthumanism and its associated ethics of care are vitally important.
Within the ‘Finding Home’ exhibition, the young people’s photographs were appropriately human-centric, especially when accompanied by their personal reflections. Although depicting the human and non-human, the story quilts revolved around favourite places and activities for regional youth growing up in the three towns. The text montage was obviously human-centric as was the contemporary Aboriginal painting (or perhaps less so with its subtle references to Country) as it celebrated intergenerational relationships among Aboriginal people. So, for one last exhibit and in the time remaining, I thought it was possible to produce a work which introduced the concept of posthumanism to exhibition audiences by highlighting the more-than-human environments of the EYRA Study’s participating towns.
There was a lot of unused video footage collected during fieldwork in 2019, some of it filmed in collaboration with Dr Elizabeth (Libby) Straughan. I approached Libby, also an artist-geographer, in late 2020 to see if she would be interested in collaborating with me on the production of an experimental video. She agreed, and as lockdown orders had lifted by then, we were able to collaborate in person. We met over several sessions to work on different parts of the video and worked independently in between. We conceived of a video that made use of the panoramic footage we had collected, with a ‘text crawl’ (slow moving text) running through the centre. Libby composed the writing for the text crawl while I sorted through and edited the video footage. Our thinking, alongside a description of our writing and film-making practices, was recently published (Boyd & Straughan, 2022). The resulting film was silent, ran on a loop, and was projected on to a wall in each of the ‘Finding Home’ exhibitions (see Fig. 3.17) except for the final one in Canberra where we instead provided a QR code so that it could be accessed via the internet and viewed on a mobile phone (see https://vimeo.com//502416861). The label accompanying the video at exhibition included the following definition:
Posthumanism refers to a critique of Humanism, emphasizing a change in our understanding of the self and its relation to the natural world, technology, biotechnology. The notion of what it means to be human in the 21st century no longer reflects the ideas of 18th-century Humanism. We are gradually becoming aware that man [sic] is not the center of the universe [but rather a part of] a multidimensional network of beings entangled with other beings. (Anastasiia Raina, Eye on Design Magazine, 2019)
Conclusion: Curating a Research Exhibition
Curators are more than finders. They organise content. Helping to bring order from chaos. Curators create an organizational framework, presenting their curated output in a coherent and logical frame. The art of honing down large collections of content to a digestible, coherent arrangement of editorial elements is often painfully difficult. The art is in the edit, culling the avalanche of information into a relevant curated collection (Rosenbaum, 2014).
The above quotation describes what curators normally do, at least those with access to an archive. However, when it comes to curating an exhibition based on research findings, the curator starts not with works of art or historical objects but with knowledge. Curatorial skills still apply—organising content within a logical frame, aiming for a coherent exhibition, and ‘culling’ information down to what is most relevant. The more difficult part of curating a research exhibition is guiding the creation of art. Encouraging creative freedom and constraining it at the same time is a kind of ‘reverse curation’ where the curator of a research exhibition is not selecting from a wider catalogue of work but exerting influence over what is produced before it even exists. This creates a bind, contra to creativity, and is difficult territory to negotiate. Trusting in people based on rapport, having faith in the creative process of another, and keeping lines of communication open, are key.
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Thanks to my (young adult) daughter, Graylan Williamson, for being ‘test subject’ for the photographic activity by walking around our hometown with a disposable camera. My thanks also to Madison Corkery from Digital Fabrics in Marrickville, New South Wales; the team at Atkins Photo Lab in Adelaide, South Australia; Sophia Constantine from Spinifex Hill Studio in South Hedland, Western Australia; Mel Thurley and Jade Bartlem in the Tallebudgera Valley, Queensland; and all the artists and young people who contributed to the making of the ‘Finding Home’ exhibition.
© 2023 The Author(s)
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Boyd, C.P. (2023). Creating the ‘Finding Home’ Exhibition. In: Exhibiting Creative Geographies. Palgrave Macmillan, Singapore. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-19-6752-8_3
Publisher Name: Palgrave Macmillan, Singapore
Print ISBN: 978-981-19-6751-1
Online ISBN: 978-981-19-6752-8