On occasion, to do with the nature of being a part time Associate Lecturer my freelance work clashes with my academic commitments and I was unable to make it to the presentations on 2 July, having advised advised my tutor.
The presentations were discussion on the Self Initiated Project (SiP) with peers either having completed it, or presenting ideas in development – and also, I believe, an opportunity to exchange ideas for future research/development,
I’ll be undertaking my SiP next January so as it’s quite some distance off I want to consider carefully what my project will be.
I enjoyed working on the two minute presentation exercise I prepared in our small tutorial group on how walking affects creativity as part of a wider interest in creativity and collaborative practice. I also have a long standing interest in the applications of technology into documentary practice and a desire to keep up with developments in newer technologies such as Virtual Reality, 360 imagery and Augmented Reality presentations. One of our alumna works for the Guardian making VR videos and we’ve invited her in to speak with our students in the last two years. We didn’t have any sessions in the MA programme then on VR (it was still in its infancy), but she got the job on the strength of her graduation film project. Storytelling remains the core skill to be developed for our students, but the intersections between non-fiction filmmaking and technology is most interesting. How do new technologies change the way the story is told?
I’ve also recently been approached by one of our visiting lecturers about a collaborative project with her organisation, The Independent Film Trust, and Raindance Film organisation to involve our students and the students of the new MA VR course in a VR community history project in Brixton. I’m hoping to develop that as an elective in our Collaborative Unit, but it depends on backing by the CL, and the hours that might be available to me to develop it.
As part of my professional development I applied to and was successful in receiving funding, and so was able to attend iDocs symposium in Bristol in March. Most recently I attended Sheffield Doc Fest in June, one of the premiere international documentary festivals with a dedicated section on new technologies – though our students attend there was no departmental funding for it.
Being fortunate enough to able to attend both iDocs symposium and Sheffield Doc Fest this year (which also had a great array of VR / AR and interactive projects this year) gave me a rich resource on which I can draw for my self initiated project.
I also work on developing an interactive ethics tool with the Associate Dean of Research, so that could be a rewarding exploration for my Self Initiated project also. The Ethics of Making
My notes on the chapter I shared for our reading are attached here below as a possible resource for my SiP.
Anna (Rhodes) posed two questions in our shared Google doc – I found this an interesting question:
How should we teach art and design history and context in this post digital era of content overload and digital creative outlets on social media?
I might be able to respond in part, after seeing Mark Cousins give a presentation at Sheffield DocFest. It was a kind of performance lecture. It was in the dark which gave primacy to the screen and created a black space around it, and his voice provided context- he had a radio mic on and had a laser pointer – it was called ’30 Images in the Dark’. Most images he projected were single frames, against the dark space – so their presentation was clear of distraction, they were to be regarded one by one, or at most, compared to one other image. And because they were regarded this way we had time to think about each. So masses of images can’t be read or responded to in the same way without time or context.
It’s interesting to note that Anna’s instagram referencebank presents its image in the same way, – they have a (white) border, and mostly some discussion in text with each one, and responses from people to each (which ’30 Images in the Dark’ didn’t feature). Yet to regard them singly, they don’t fill the frame, they hover above the grid of other images – they are always there, more images.
There are side effects of seeing too many images – discussed in this article by Rebecca MacMillan, a researcher and teacher in Texas revealed her students to be “feeling overrun by photographs and addicted to posting images” and quotes experts on the effects including: “heightened anxiety to memory impairment”, “the idea that photographing may discourage remembering”, “fragmented focus” – but then she notes that in further research there’s an indication that:
“However, a second study found that if a student took the time to zoom in on an object, their memory was not impaired – an indication that increased attention and cognitive engagement can counteract this effect.”
However, the deleterious effects of the pressures of using images in social media to construct a public persona in a competition for attention, and addiction to media is a huge subject – which I can only acknowledge and refer to now.
But if as the second study suggests, taking time and ‘zooming in’ – that is, concentrating and observing, improves memory, then active looking must go a way toward being the antidote.
‘Join the acclaimed filmmaker for an intimate lecture exploring the aesthetics and emotion of ‘looking’. Using 30 key cultural images, Mark will examine how our ‘looking selves’ develop and how our social and cultural surroundings shape what we see.’
‘….and acclaimed Edinburgh-based filmmaker, author and criticMark Cousinswill examine how our ‘looking selves’ develop over the course of a lifetime, the ways that looking has changed through the centuries and explore how our social and cultural surroundings shape what we see.’
Cousins opened the talk by saying that that day he’d seen a middle aged woman clutching a teddy bear in the street – and that he’d never seen that before. It shows he interrogates his own internal database of images in his mind, (or references to them) on a regular basis, as he knows he’s never seen this scene before. And it shows that he can remember images and scenes.
Furthermore, he broke down the elements of looking (for a screen based medium) into areas listed below – and gave pertinent, new and sometimes unexpected examples to illustrate these, eg in ‘form’ he juxtaposed a Henry Moore sculpture and the mask of Darth Vader. We can all potentially make those connections, if we are active ‘lookers’ because of the wealth of images that surround us, but because of his age, I know that it’s highly likely that the original images of those two images he saw first, was in the analogue era. Perhaps because my sense of looking (rather than seeing) was also formed in the analogue era, I have a strong sense that my personal database of images that I have seen, informs everything I see, sometimes consciously but mostly sub-consciously. I’ve probably had more time to really look at something than is now difficult to do, in the Western digital age, unless one has a rigorous conscious reason and related action not to engage with the flow of images that surrounds us through our screens.
Neurologically, I (subjectively) believe that we record everything we see, and that memory is only a faulty retriever from a lifetime’s perfect database of vision, and I should corroborate this in science I know, – but truly, how is it possible to believe otherwise? There are those few who have a neurological singularity – Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory (HSAM), and remember everything, from very early on in life. I don’t know how they can live – the burden of total recall must be enormously tiring. Thank evolution for the ability to forget the vast majority of the visual flow of the world before us and to be able to discriminate and focus on selected events. If memory is in good working order.
I believe that this is the crux of Cousins’ thinking: that even in the deluge of imagery we can see things we’ve never seen before. And if we can see it in the real world, we can photograph it through a lens, or create it on a screen. So in considering teaching of images perhaps we have to add axes of volume and time to an active and conscious act of looking. And add also the sense of a kind of visual pollution, and device addiction, that are now parts of looking we didn’t have before the digital age, and yet the thirst for narrative and images is still driving us as it ever did, but faster, toward – what? A crash? Blindness? An inability to concentrate? A blurring between the real and the created world (particularly in immersive gaming or VR / AR / 360 imagery?)
Though as David Hockney noted (among many others) whoever controls the media controls us, but photographic images – which are inherently unreliable – are only one way of seeing the world.
“Photography, with its claim to truth, is a discipline, he thinks, and he’s glad digital technology is ending the rule of the one-eyed monster that never lied. “I suppose I never thought the world looked like photographs, really. A lot of people think it does but it’s just one little way of seeing it. All religions are about social control. The church, when it had social control, commissioned paintings, which were made using lenses” – as Hockney has argued in his book Secret Knowledge – “and when it stopped commissioning images, its power declined, slowly. Social control today is in the media – and based on photography. The continuum is the mirrors and lenses.”
Perhaps there might arise a group of visual refuseniks who will resist the volume of digital images and look at things one by one, in their own time, until they’ve had enough, until they’re part of their memories.
Anyway, back to Mark Cousins’ elements of looking. There were more but I’ve forgotten them. (Yes I’m resisting a ‘smiley’ because I live in the digital era I now think of emoji as necessary to convey a joke, as I never did before.)
– ‘eyes’ ie directing the gaze over different parts of the screen
Mark Cousins is about to publish a book The Story of Looking (4 Oct 2018) which will definitely be worth a read.
For the last two years I’ve designed and delivered a day to our cohort on Indigenous Cinema – this year called Screening Indigeneity, in collaboration with the Artistic Director of the Native Spirit Foundation.
The academic day led into a free evening screening open to the public to encourage informal interaction with the University around this subject.
There is a complex and difficult history around naming groups of peoples arising not only from Western colonial thinking, but anywhere in the world where groups of people in close and historical cultural relation to their land have been rapidly supplanted by others, and where ownership of land shifts due to invasion, or other catastrophes.
So why describe people as Indigenous at all? There is no one general term that everyone agrees to, but looking at the issue globally, nationally and locally may help.
On a global level “Indigenous” describes peoples internationally with the same kind of relationship to their land, and to a majority culture, with whom they share common concerns. Human rights organisations use it eg World Resources Institute reports “Landmark, the first online, interactive global platform to map lands collectively held and used by Indigenous Peoples and communities” helps collectively in lands rights activism and environmental battles, IWGIA uses “indigenous”, Amnesty International Indigenous peoples. The UN, after around 25years work with peoples around the world adopted a Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (2007).
Be aware that some, if not many, Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander peoples are dissatisfied with the term ‘Indigenous’.
yet elsewhere in the country more recently “Indigneous Australians” is growing in acceptance. What is acceptable changes over time and within different communities. Also some language is encoded in law by the majority culture, so that embeds words into the culture that do not respond to cultural shifts over time.
For instance, in India there are over 700 groups of First Peoples, many of whom are not recognised in the Constitution, so they are excluded from contesting rights to land claims and crucially on state recognised identity i.e. they are disappeared legally. Some refer to Indigenous peoples as adivāsi, others within India are opposed to this word, and it also means different things within the country. Those Indigenous peoples who are recognised by the state are legally called “Scheduled Tribes” and in a further complication, according to IWGIA:
“India voted in favour of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples on the condition that after independence all Indians are indigenous. Therefore, it does not consider the concept of “indigenous peoples”, and therefore the UNDRIP, applicable to India.”
“If the community uses its ancestral name then use it rather than the Anglicized version.”
People have a right to be named as they wish to be identified.
Article 13 ofThe United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) recognises:
“Article 13 1. Indigenous peoples have the right to revitalize, use, develop and transmit to future generations their histories, languages, oral traditions, philosophies, writing systems and literatures, and to designate and retain their own names for communities, places and persons”
Here’s the schedule of the day below, and the programme of the evening screenings with information on the filmmakers attached.
I’d like to thank Tweed the Artistic Director and curator of the Native Spirit Foundation film for all her input and hard work – she has put together a fantastic programme for this evening from 5 – 8pm (it is open to the public and invitees) and Tweed also put me in touch with our visiting speakers this afternoon from Lista Calista Films, Mixtec Mexican filmmakers Armando Bautista Garcia & Itandehui Jansen andalso organised the Q&A with Trevor Carroll this evening.
WHY are we screening Indigneity?
According to the UN ”Indigenous peoples account for most of the world’s cultural diversity. “Throughout the world there are approximately 370 million indigenous peoples occupying 20per cent of the earth’s territory. It is also estimate that they represent as many as 5,000 different indigenous cultures” and in evolutionary terms, diversity is the key to survival. Indigenous Australia is the oldest living continuous culture so I believe there’s a lot to learn from people who have survived and thrived in a hostile natural environment and survived hostile man made environments like invasion and genocide.
Indigenous people bear the brunt of the environmental battles against corporations and governments on all our behalves, we all rely on the continued existence of natural environments like the Amazon, that support life.
You could see it as an effort to decolonise our curriculum. You may have heard of the row that erupted last year in Oct. around the Cambridge University English faculty when students asked if they could examine ways of decolonisation by incorporating more black and minority ethnic voices into their reading list – “new ways of seeing the canon”.. The Telegraph wrote a misleading article about it and the young woman who wrote the open letter became the subject of a hate campaign on social media. It’s quite sobering to see how little you have to do to rock the boat of the status quo to see the backlash rising up.
Or you could see Screening Indigeneity as a way of responding to the University’s commitment to upholding the Equality Act2010.
For me, its an ongoing interrogation as a white Australian from a refugee family, now a migrant to the colonising nation, to examine our terrible history and examining the ongoing repercussions of colonialism on all survivors.
As filmmakers we know the power and responsibility of representation, and the opportunity to represent yourself and tell your own story is being illustrated by the rise of Indigenous media being made all over the world.
And as filmmakers it’s important to know how to approach the bridging between the self and others, to work out our relationships to each other together. Ken Kirby, Course Leader will introduce his work with different Indigenous peoples, and introduce his guest James Wilson, a director of Survival International, the movement for tribal peoples, and I’m delighted too that our student Carlo Lavarini is able to share with us how he approached volunteering with a Cree Community school and how he is working out his relationships together. And I’m really grateful too to Dr Pratap Rughani the Associate Dean of Research, for joining us this morning who will be conducting a short workshop with you.
Also, as filmmakers, it’s a rare chance to see and celebrate the incredible creativity of Indigenous filmmakers. Many are using filmmaking for their own audiences as a means of education, for preserving culture or for entertainment, for political protest and some like Karrabing Film Collective from Australia are turning the lens back on the colonizers and also making media for their own purposes.
Before we start it may help to look at a definition by the UN on Who are indigenous peoples?
“It is estimated that there are more than 370 million indigenous people spread across 70 countries worldwide. Practicing unique traditions, they retain social, cultural, economic and political characteristics that are distinct from those of the dominant societies in which they live. Spread across the world from the Arctic to the South Pacific, they are the descendants – according to a common definition – of those who inhabited a country or a geographical region at the time when people of different cultures or ethnic origins arrived. The new arrivals later became dominant through conquest, occupation, settlement or other means.”
I chose to concentrate on Jon Nixon’s ‘The Place of Pedagogy’ text. Within it a fascinating and well worth reading analysis of the work of philosopher and sociologist Zygmunt Bauman.
In a discussion group with Stella, Kuldeep and Lucy and I talked about the text – and then we looked at the old (existing) UAL marking matrix. Using the new matrix of three criterion, we first assessed it then we had to mark ourselves using it, on our discussion – a surprisingly difficult exercise which drew up complex and interesting issues. We were somewhat hampered because we didn’t finish our analysis before we had to use the matrix but you could see enough of the function to engage with the issues.
It’s quite a different exercise assessing each other as peers verbally in real time, as opposed to asynchronously marking a student work as a tutor, having time to consider a written response …
And as the HEA Feedback toolkit (2013) indicates, (see below), ‘verbal feedback provided in a group meeting’ is the least popular way that students want to receive feedback. Of course there’s a variety of ways that feedback can be given, but I found it interesting to note that in the face to face environment I didn’t want to give too critical a response to my peers. I know I learn better in an encouraging and open atmosphere and I want to be sensitive to each person. It is a given in formal education that we need some critique to improve, but as learning styles are not the same in any group, to name but one factor in the assessment debate – how can we encourage real thinking and development in our students, and not just meet standards manufactured to meet the needs of a University business model? How can one student be “better” than another? Surely each improves / or doesn’t against themselves – or even less oppositionally – in a continuum, instead of in competition to others?
The dynamic of our four was interesting as we three students had our tutor with us who understandably took a step back to allow us free discussion – but would then contribute in a timely way; I found it was really useful. The personalities of our group made it for a rich and lively organic discussion, typically as a pattern of one person contributing the other responding or contesting and I felt I had to interrupt that conversation to be able to contribute my opinion and relate our discussion to the text. Assessing one’s self as part of the exercise is very much a worthwhile task encouraging honest reflection upon one’s own effort – which perhaps should be part of an education where students are encouraged to become their own educators, responsible for their own creative thinking and analysis as part of their own ongoing process. I’d very much like to introduce student input into the assessment process and one of our colleagues described how she does that – I made contact to follow up on that.
I got a lot from the two minute presentation task. I decided to prepare for it as I know the important parts of what I want to transmit may not get said – I tend to go off track.
So when the question was posed to us before delivering our presentations, ‘what makes a good speaker’, I was glad I had prepared. Unless you are very practised and confident speaker that’s one of the things that makes a good speech – it is prepared.
I talked about walking and why it’s important for humans physically but also mentally – in particular for creative thinking and problem solving. In preparation I started it at over 5minutes and then pared it down to under two minutes; that paring down was the important part of the exercise for me – the focus on what was important, what was the real message I needed to say? It seemed to work – my audience of two applauded and gave me positive feedback and unexpected suggestions – they found certain ideas that I thought were not that crucial, the most interesting for a (putative) future follow up.
2 minute talk to the tutorial group.
WALKING as an aid to creative thinking
Walking is simple yet powerful
AS A SPECIES we have been walking for a very long time: (British paleoanthropologist Mary Leakey identified marks of bipedalism dating back 3.7 million years in Tanzania) it conferred evolutionary advantages on early hominids in that they could see further and range further
The more “civilized” we became the more sedentary and physical activities in western societies were more and more divorced from the body
Contemporary science has identified walking is good for you “moderate exercise — typically walking for 30 minutes three times a week — produced a 26% reduction in the risk of death from heart disease and a 20% reduction in the overall death rate”.
Two Stanford psychologists’ 2014 report concluded that “Walking opens up the free flow of ideas, and it is a simple and robust solution to the goals of increasing creativity.”
Walking can be many things – an act of pilgrimage, art, or politics
For instance, on 27 August 1981, the 36 women and children whowalked from Cardiff to Greenham Common (around 97miles) andafter they stopped walking, established an anti-nuclear armamentspeace camp for 19 years – an important event in the history of thepeace movement around the world.
So although walking is a simple act open to all who can walk, it is a powerful act that encourages creative thinking, problem solving and health.
Wakulenko, I. (ed.) (2018) Group images of a female guardian sculpture from the Sepik River area, Papua New Guinea.
From our tutor’s lesson plan: “Your task is to prepare and deliver a ten-minute learning activity for your tutor group based around an object. You can approach this activity imagining your tutor group are your students, or as they are (a group of teachers from different disciplines and with different levels of experience); it’s up to you.”
While I was thinking about the objects in my household – or outside it – a sculpture at home came to mind, and the image persisted, so I pursued this focus. I picked the sculpture up from where it has sat for twenty years or so – on the floor in the hall as you come up the stairs. I moved it to my kitchen table so that I could see it more or less at eye level, for a week or so, to let my eyes go over it and see what thoughts came to mind as I passed. I’ve lost the paper which accompanied it as a gift to me from close friends years ago, but I remember something about it, which I will keep to myself in the learning activity. I gather that I should be the gatekeeper of the knowledge of the object in order for the group to look at the object without knowing its origin.
Wakulenko, I. (2018) Female guardian sculpture from Sepik River, Papua New Guinea.
I wanted to choose something that provoked discussion around subjects that interest me – one of them is Indigenous culture, and by association, post-colonialism. My reflections on the exercise follow beyond the bibliography below.
The very notion of anthropology (the study of humans and human behaviour and societies in the past and present, Wikipedia : 2018) and of ethnography, (the scientific description of peoples and cultures with their customs, habits, and mutual differences, Google Dictionary: 2018) are difficult enough, having evolved within the milieu of expansionist colonialism. Subsequently looking at the relationship between artworks of different cultures, particularly between those of the coloniser and the colonised, is a complex task, as noted here by McCarthy and Dimitriadis (2000):
The eye of Western art is anthropological in its gaze upon the other (Clifford). Primordialism is associated with the most thoroughgoing rationalism and logocentrism when visited upon the third word subject. Yet, the story of modernization in postcolonial art is a story of the yoking of opposites in which the Enlightenment perspective is always underlaid by subterranean acts of atavism and brutality. In response to dominant narratives of modernity, postcolonial art draws on the codes of double and triple register so deeply and historically entrenched in the survivalist practices of the dominated (Gilroy). Culture, for these artists, is a crucible of encounter, a crucible of hybridity in which all of cultural form is marked by twinness of subject and the other.
The idea of a stereoscopic link between Indigenous and non-Indigenous knowledge is also proposed by Professor Margaret Jolly, (2007) and Tongan scholar Epeli Hau’ofa (1994) notes that the pervasiveness of the Western gaze is now being reflected back in part through the vision of other non-Western peoples.
Indigenous and foreign representations of the place and its peoples are now not so much separate visions as they are “double visions,” in the sense of both stereoscopy and blurred edges. Foreign knowledges of the Pacific have both used and aspired to eclipse indigenous knowledges, as is obvious from the earliest forms of ethnology in the region. Indigenous visions have, since the late eighteenth century, been challenged and partially transformed through encounters with the imagined cartographies of travelers, missionaries, traders, planters, and other agents of colonialism, capitalism, and development. As Tongan scholar Epeli Hau‘ofa has suggested (1994), outsiders’ representations of the Pacific matter not just because of their geopolitical and discursive hegemony but because Islanders have, in part, come to see themselves through the Outlanders’ lenses.
Initially, I thought that having and presenting the sculpture as the object of my – and subsequently, our attention – in this exercise, may put me in a certain light – which I wanted to avoid. So that became interesting and I want to examine some of those things – I didn’t want to be perceived as a certain kind of white Western person who collects Indigenous objects. We enter into the world of:
colonialism and post-colonialism
the relationship between economies of different cultures and countries
objects made specifically for sale ? or an object originally for the makers’ own cultural purposes sold out of that context and put into the economy of a gallery in a Western country, and the idea of “authenticity”
symbology from another culture whose meaning or intent I have no idea of – (and do I have to know?)
selling art in a gallery with provenance, supports an artist – though to what degree? How would I know if the artist was paid?
Papua New Guinea (PNG ) has been the focus of different colonisers. It was visited by Russian anthropologist Miklou Miclay in the 19th century – who was one of the first anthropologist to refute the profoundly racist idea that different peoples were of different species. PNG was exploited by British, German, and Australian interests in the 20th century, invaded by Japan, taken by the Allies and regained its independence only in the 1970s. West Papua was invaded by Indonesia in 1962 and now is under direct rule and is called Iryan Jaya by them, where it is considered by many western news agencies that Indonesia is implementing ethnic cleansing of the Indigenous peoples. It is not only Western colonisers who are invading, or have attacked Indigenous peoples and their cultures.
How can we look at artworks made by peoples of different cultures? Many groups don’t have the relationship with objects that we call art, as (Bolton : 2011) points out; “Art” is problematic because of the many debates on how aptly the English term ‘art’ (and its European language equivalents) can be applied to objects made and used by people who do not have a cognate term.
I looked at an interpretation by a Western anthropologist (Clifford) via a Western Professor of Art History (Seltzer Goldstein) on how “objects from traditional societies” may be regarded:
The anthropologist James Clifford (1998: 224) developed a model that allows objects from traditional societies to be positioned in four ‘zones,’ based on the utilitarian or aesthetic purpose attributed to them, and on the degree of proximity to their original context of production. The ‘zone’ of ‘authentic artworks’ includes items valued by artists, curators and collectors; the ‘zone’ of ‘authentic artefacts’ comprises examples collected by researchers, held in historical and ethnographic museums; the ‘zone’ of the ‘inauthentic artworks’ includes falsifications; and finally the ‘zone’ of ‘inauthentic artefacts’ comprehends tourist souvenirs and mass-produced objects for everyday use. Clifford argues that an object can shift from one ‘zone’ to another, changing its value and status, which increase as it moves from ‘cultural artefact’ to ‘artistic object’ and from ‘inauthentic’ to ‘authentic.’
Although I do love the sculpture, I would not necessarily choose to buy an artefact like this. Its provenance makes me feel uneasy, yet I appreciate its aesthetic properties. I also want the artist to be financially supported in their work. Can I have any relationship to the artwork besides one of ownership? Looking at the artwork and knowing it came from a gallery and using the ideas posed above, that it might be in the “zone” of “authentic artefact” but it may well be an “inauthentic artefact”, I wouldn’t be able to tell. Sculpture from the Sepik River area of Papua New Guinea (an area of rich cultural activity) started to be carried away by Westerners in the 1960s and local people began making more, specifically to sell. Does that make it “inauthentic” and of less value, weirdly, to the foreign buyer, even though made by the same people, for the foreign demand? It seems that foreigners want not only to possess the objects that have value to the Indigenous maker and community, but outsiders want to appropriate the actual cultural impetus that maker has for producing it.
But as I looked at the sculpture every day I noticed more of the material.
Papua New Guineans are famous for their knowledge and exploitation of trees, and carving traditions are highly developed across the Pacific region. The spirit of the tree that had to be cut down to make the carving will often transfer to the artwork that is produced.
Culture of the Countryside (no date) Carving in Papua New Guinea. Available at: http://www.cultureofthecountryside.ac.uk/resources/carving-papua-new-guinea (Accessed: 1 March 2018).
I looked some more. The natural colours, the texture, the uneven bottom of it so it doesn’t stand on its own easily, the design of the markings, and the arresting eyes of cowrie shells, the brushstrokes, all the physical properties of it, and, obviously, saw it is a representation of a woman. But when I photographed her (I feel compelled to call her human, in an animistic way), I saw her anew. I noticed the proportions, that she is tall and slender, she has markings on her face arms and legs, she stands on a mound and her two hands each touch a centre of energy on her body – one hand at the heart and another on the pubis – and it wasn’t until I tried to imitate the stance (mimesis) that I realised that she has her left hand to her heart and not her right, as was instinctual for me, being right handed. It jolted me to realise that I’d had this sculpture for so long and hadn’t ever noticed this, consciously. The act of active observation, framing, focusing and photographing sections of the sculpture really did change my perception.
As Helen Chatterjee (2010) notes:
Object-based learning in higher education draws on many of the learning strategies already known to inform students, including active learning and experiential learning
The energy centres in the body the sculpture touches calls to mind the Hindu, Buddhist & Jain tantric systems of chakras, points of focus of the subtle body sited in various points in the body explained by Fondin below.
Second Chakra: The Svadhisthana chakra is our creativity and sexual center. It is located above the pubic bone, below the navel, and is responsible for our creative expression.
Wakulenko, I. (2018) Female guardian sculpture from Sepik River, Papua New Guinea.
The Fourth Chakra: The Connection Between Matter and Spirit. Located at the heart center, the fourth chakra, anahata is at the middle of the seven and unites the lower chakras of matter and the upper chakras of spirit. The fourth is also spiritual but serves as a bridge between our body, mind, emotions, and spirit. The heart chakra is our source of love and connection.
Is using systems of knowledge from other cultures a valid interpretation of foreign artworks? This is what Western scholarship is, after all.
How could Western critical thought help us in approaching this artwork.
Wakulenko, I. (2018) Female guardian sculpture from Sepik River, Papua New Guinea.
I read an article in Art Quarterly (Sweet 2018) that recalled Baudrillard’s Le systeme des objects (1968) which seemed like a useful way to help look at this object together, and made me wonder if Clifford had based his zones on the values of Baudrillard.
“Jean Baudrillard identified four kinds of value that an object can accrue. Two simple and two strange. The first is functional value – a measure of an object’s usefulness…. Next comes exchange value – the economic worth of an object….. The last two, though, are more occult. Baudrillard wrote about the symbolic value of an object. If you received a tie or a pair of shoes for Christmas, then you also received a symbol of your relationship with the giver… Fourthly, Baudrillard also proposed that objects can possess a sign value – which is derived from a thing’s relationship with other comparable things.”
However there’s many meanings and events that no Westerner observing will know, unless, perhaps they are from that area of the Sepik, or are familiar with this type of sculpture. How can I know what the artist knows?
I know, yet no-one else in our group (probably) will know that her function is of a guardian – something I remember from the accompanying piece of paper; an example of magical thinking, that in or attached to the sculpture there is an active protective force. No-one else (definitely) will know that I was carrying her wrapped up in newspaper and string over my shoulder on the way passing though Madrid very early one New Year’s Day when we were robbed at gunpoint by a very unpredictable nervous man. Of course I am tempted to think that the function of the sculpture as guardian worked for us. Rational thought would say otherwise, as illustrated by researchers Subbotsky and Qinteros (2002).
Indeed, the contemporary Western culture is based on the strong belief in the universal power of physical causality—a belief which is supported by the whole system of education. Yet, an average individual living in this culture, under certain conditions, does not act differently from the individuals who still live in a magic-tolerant culture.
Coming back to the problem raised in the Introduction, we can conclude that, according to the results of this study, individuals do ‘give up’ their magical beliefs and practices as long as their official culture becomes dominated by the belief in scientific rationality. Being quite evident in the individuals’ verbal responses, this ‘surrender’ affects the individuals’ behaviour only to a certain extent. At a certain level (i.e. in the conditions in which the individual is strongly personally and emotionally involved), the individual can deviate from the beliefs of technological civilization. When acting at this level, a person can retreat into practices (like magic) that are viewed as ‘left behind’ in history by the person’s official culture and education.
Throughout these readings I thought about how to present the exercise. I would have the sculpture revealed at once standing in the middle of a table where we all sit in a circle around her. My phone is passed to each person who photographs the sculpture and talks about what they see, and how they interpret what they see, which I record separately. I produce a compilation image of the images and verbal responses that I can edit together as a record of our observations.
Learning aims are open and critical observation, communication and discussion on the creation and sales of indigenous artefacts, and how we can interpret or relate to them, as people from other cultures.
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McCarthy, G. and Dimitriadis, G. (2000) ‘Art and the Postcolonial Imagination: Rethinking the Institutionalization of Third World Aesthetics and Theory’ ARIEL: A Review of International English Literature, 31:1 & 2, Jan. – Apr. 2000 Available here: https://journalhosting.ucalgary.ca/index.php/ariel/article/download/34300/28336 (Accessed: 26 May 2018).
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Seltzer Goldstein, I. (2013) ‘Visible art, invisible artists? the incorporation of aboriginal objects and knowledge in Australian museums’, Dossier: Cultural Heritage and Museums Part 3: Otherness. Available at: http://www.scielo.br/scielo.php?script=sci_arttext&pid=S1809-43412013000100019 (Accessed: 17 March 2018).
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On the day of presenting the exercise itself, annoyingly I had a technical fail of the sound recorder, (despite having tested it) which you just have to deal with, and stay on track. I still used the iPhone camera images which our group used to photograph the sculpture, and I constructed it as a collective image of the sculpture (see at top of page). As I was using my iPhone as camera I couldn’t use it as recorder. In retrospect I could have used someone else’s camera and used the app on my phone for recording sound.
I’d set up the table with the recorder to record half the “student’s” comments on one side while the other half were to observe, then to move the recorder to the other side and record the other half of the comments to utilise the 120 degree span of the twin stereo microphones. In feedback one person commented that they felt restricted by that instruction, but others commented that it was useful to have time to listen and then add new information. I acknowledged that the recording had failed, we just moved on and had open discussion on the object.
I think in retrospect that I’d put too many demands on the task for 10minutes as I wanted the group acting as my ‘students’ to take time to look, but the analysis of the sculpture from the group was I think really fruitful. How do we interpret other cultures’ art objects? We look at the materials, the markings, the stance, size and other observable phenomena, yet we can’t know more without other kinds of knowledge, cultural knowledge. No-one in the group knew where the sculpture originated, not that my aim was to obfuscate, but to question what we can know from observation and interpretation.
Is determining provenance, and collecting of art objects of other cultures itself an act that arises from colonisation? It’s conversely certainly a post-colonial act, in terms of identification and repatriation of artworks plundered by colonising powers. This is a topic being critically debated today between Britain and other colonial powers and those countries that had been invaded by colonisers. Invading and taking cultural objects from another nation and presenting them in a way that denies the culture and knowledge of the original makers in a foreign scholarly and economic system is indefensible, but arguments are always found by those in whose interests these acts are served – principally arguments that the coloniser is better at preservation and curation. Intercultural loans between museums is mooted as a way forward by many. However, there are those invaders who just annihilate cultural items that are not ideologically approved of, as ISIS destroyed in Syria, and Iraq, and the Taliban in Afghanistan, where destruction happens before any dialogue is possible.
The opportunity to actively engage with and respond to objects that my peers bought in truly made this session interesting, challenging and engaging. Many of us commented on how stimulating it was to be actively engaged in observation and interpretation, and knowing just how much we were engaged explained how exhausted we all felt afterward.
The UCL research carried out by Dr Helen Chatterjee et al found:
..”data collected between 2010 and 2012 revealed that a majority of students, across a range of disciplines, thought object-based learning was a more effective method of learning than a lecture or talk.”
University College of London Learning with our collections, Teaching and Object-Based Learning. Available here: https://www.ucl.ac.uk/culture/schools/teaching-object-based-learning (Accessed 15 March 2018).
Making a material representation of our conversation gave it a performative element, I found, so perhaps made us all be more focussed in what we were about to say, rather than really listening to what people said. I also found my attention split between what we were saying and how we used the string to build a form. I wanted to make modifications to it – when we went off topic – to wrap it up an arm or around another object (water bottle) and to extend it in dimensionality rather than a mostly linear fashion which a line suggests as its most basic form.
I was also thinking about silence and how important listening is in conversation. Pauline Oliveros, composer, sound artist, musician and educator developed a whole ethos that grew out of her practice “Deep Listening”.
There wasn’t really a way in that quick exercise to incorporate listening – though we could have, in retrospect – we would have made a more skeletal structure. The activity was focussed on speaking enough sentences to make the structure.
It might have been a quick exercise in interactive learning and freeing up conversation but it did spark thought.
“People’s experiences are all different, and you don’t know what the person experienced. They know, but you don’t, so I think it’s important to listen carefully to what a person has to say. And not to force them into any direction at all but simply to model what you’ve experienced, model it and also be what I call a Listening Presence. If you’re really listening, then some of the barriers can dissolve or change.” Pauline Oliveros,
Group presentations of who we are and who our students are: – it was fascinating to hear about the different paths that have led us to being arts educators.
We were assigned reading partners – never having had a reading partner, I’m looking forward to that interaction. I have shared discussions in a more general way through a google doc with other colleagues which I really enjoyed and found that process productive.
One of our cohort described part of her working life as being comprised of “bits and bobs”. Yet when she told us what they were – sometimes project based – or short engagements – revealed not only a rich experience that builds a creative practitioner’s life, but I think that it is by these varied length projects that we work in, with a variety of collaborators develops and encourages flexible responses to creative problems.
It also reminded me that Professor Orr mentioned in her lecture, the “imposter syndrome” that some arts practitioners may have, possibly due to the often circuitous routes we take as practitioners.
Buzzword activity with a specialist librarian. Her presentation of a history of librarianship as a political activity and her vocational passion for her work is inspiring. Our discussion on what inclusivity is and how it interacts / overlaps with diversity was a useful exchange. Between us we had some references to put into the grid immediately.
Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw‘s intersectionality theory (1991) was discussed. It poses a useful idea with which to analyse the states or categories that describe people as interwoven and complex, a more nuanced and connected look than, often blunt, simplified and alienating categorisations.
I would go on to learn that African-American women, like other women of color, like other socially marginalized people all over the world, were facing all kinds of dilemmas and challenges as a consequence of intersectionality, intersections of race and gender, of heterosexism, transphobia, xenophobia, ableism, all of these social dynamics come together and create challenges that are sometimes quite unique. But in the same way that intersectionality raised our awareness to the way that black women live their lives, it also exposes the tragic circumstances under which African-American women die.
Intersectionality has since 1991 gained ground and is reflected in the UK in this Social Sciences paper by Emeritus Reader in Population Health Aspinall, P. and Song, M. (2013). Is race a ‘salient’ or ‘dominant identity’ in the early 21st century. The evidence of UK survey data on respondents’ sense of who they are. Social Science Research[Online] 42:547-561. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.ssresearch.2012.10.007.
“However, many of these different identity attributes are consistently selected, suggesting the possibility – confirmed in in-depth interviews – that they may work through each other via intersectionality. In Britain race appears to have been undermined by the rise of ‘Muslim’ identity, the increasing importance of ‘mixed race’, and the fragmentation of identity now increasingly interwoven with other attributes like religion.”
To me this “sense of who they are” in the paper’s title, along with who is defining whom, and if people have the opportunity to be self-defining, are relevant matters in the discussion of the collection and interpretation of demographic data, and the discussion on who our students are, how UAL defines them, the methodology behind the collection of data and how that data is used..
Featured image screenshot. TED (2016) https://www.ted.com/talks/kimberle_crenshaw_the_urgency_of_intersectionality (Accessed 30 January 2018).
I enjoyed being in the room with so many colleagues – it gave a sense of sense of scale of that you so rarely get of the people who work around you, and in different colleges. (However so many of our rooms are uninspiring and airless – but that’s another discussion).
The question proposed by Susan Orr about what we knew about UAL was quite revealing. It’s one of those basic things that I’ve never thought to ask myself, and clearly many others haven’t either – but it is a logical place to start to examine who we are and what we do. The Google doc that Professor Orr started and was populated by the attendees created communal knowledge so quickly. The Google technology works well for large numbers of contibutors too, (once you get past the difficulty of logging onto the UAL wifi ) and I use it successfully with our students in various ways.
Another question Susan proposed was what are our particular approaches to learning in arts design and media?
For our MA Documentary Film practice I think that our approach is:
academic, including ethics of practice, collaborative practice and history
with a relationship to industry
Another idea Susan Orr mentioned from her recent book that resonated with me was in regard to
As makers we operate in the unknown and in particular in documentary film practice there can be a vision for the production, but the path to the artefact is anything but known.
Thinking about working with differently abled contributors who cannot give their consent (recording sound for Pratap Rughani’s film Justine) and the research work he has done and in particular his essay “The Art of Not Knowing” he quotes filmmaker and founder of Project Artworks (which pairs abled and differently abled artists together), Kate Adams:
“This is not work of certainty,” Adams says. “It is a work of doubt and the necessary honesty of self-questioning that allows self doubt to have its proper place in the process of developing a way of working.”
Ambiguity, not knowing and doubt are essential to the creative process and it should be considered in our pedagogy.
“Ambiguity is central to creative learning because it enables the individual students to gain confidence and autonomy as artists and designers. If students and tutors are unable to manage ambiguity in the learning environment the students may never pass over this ‘threshold concept’ (Osmond et al 2009) and become creative practitioners.”
Orr S., Shreeve, A. (2016) Knowing, not knowing and the unknown. Ambiguity and the locus of knowledge and power in student – tutor relations. The Society for Research into Higher Education (SRHE) SRHE International Annual Research Conference 2016: 7-9 December 2016. Celtic Manor, Newport in South Wales, United Kingdom https://www.srhe.ac.uk/conference2016/abstracts/0323.pdf
Parts of the second lecture on statistics Interpretation of statistics in an HE environment was signposted by Dr Sabri as usually bringing up emotive responses and it did – but also considered non-emotive responses from the audience. Delivering a quiz which launched straight into using categorisation of people (in this case UAL students) into groups by ethnicity without first explaining their development or use – which may have helped toward smoothing the “hackles around these issues” – perhaps. Or otherwise, allowing space to consider those issues. Or talking about design bias and correction for it or language bias in questionnaires or demonstrate why there is no bias in these categorisations, if that is the case…
It provoked a lot of questioning and often in those situations there is no time in the schedule of the day to explore that questioning. The speaker has a talk to work through to its logical conclusion and a large audience who want to examine one part of the delivery can prevent getting to the place where the speaker wants to take the listeners. The categorisation of people (in this case UAL students) into groups by ethnicity, gender and sexuality, for instance, is instantly contentious. There are multiple issues around categorisation of people. Who is doing it and from what viewpoint? How are they using the data generated? All people have a right to be recognized and acknowledged by self-identification. Some don’t want to be identified by other people because they may be subsumed into a grouping that has no meaning to them and erases their identity in a deliberate political act of aggression. Others feel that organisations such as the University should recognize who their students and staff are and where they are from, know their students and try to close the attainment gap.
“Thus, independently of the identity threat that results from the inclusion of an individual in a socially disadvantaged or otherwise unattractive group (value threat), theorists have proposed that people can feel threatened when they are viewed by others as interchangeable category members, in situations where they think they should be treated as unique individuals, or as members of another category (categorization threat; Barreto & Ellemers, 2003; Branscombe, Ellemers, Spears, & Doosje, 1999; Ellemers, Spears, & Doosje, 2002). Because research so far has not systematically addressed the consequences of social categorization in this more general sense, we aim to assess how people react when others consider them in terms of a broader variety of categorizations, including seemingly ‘innocent’ group memberships that can elicit positive as well as negative expectations about individual group members.”
NAOMI ELLEMERS* AND MANUELA BARRETO Leiden University, The Netherlands. Categorization in everyday life: The effects of positive and negative categorizations on emotions and self-views
European Journal of Social Psychology Eur. J. Soc. Psychol. 36, 931–942 (2006) Published online 23 August 2006 in Wiley InterScience (www.interscience.wiley.com). DOI: 10.1002/ejsp.333
A nuanced and considered conversation around “seemingly ‘innocent’ group memberships” is needed.