Girls just want to have FUNdamental human rights!

This is just a bit of an update about what I’ve been up to lately and what projects are coming up just over the horizon… in no particular order. 

Firstly, I was extremely honoured to have recently visited “Knit Your Revolt” superstar Shannon Morton in Brisbane to talk all things Craftivism. She said that my figurative quilting has inspiered her to create a story quilt about the “Knit Your Revolt” gang. So we met up so I could show her some techniques and talk more broadly about the power of craftivism. We made this little prototype portrait of one of the gang members: 
 
After which Shannon made gave me a “Knit Your Revolt Tricycle Gang” patch and made me a member of the gang (even though I can’t knit!). I’m so stoked about it – watch this space for future Craftivism actions taken as part of this inspiring group of dissenters.     

After this exciting trip to sunny Queensland it was time to head back to Melbourne and get started on the next two projects:  

The ‘Great Stash Swap’ and ‘fGeneration: Feminism, Art, Progression’ 

I was very excited to be invited to take part in these two totally separate really awesome projects. The Great Statsh Swap was a week long event organised by fellow Craftivist and Crafiti artist Sayraphim Lothian. The project involved getting a bunch of crafty people to get there fabric stacks together at Gallery 314 in Richmond, Melbourne and then to basically swap it for other people’s stash. Over the week this was happening Sayraphim held a sort of pop-up artist in residence, where she invited one artist/crafter to sit and make in the space with her every day. I was one of those lucky artists invited to raid the loot and make something out of it. This was super timely because I had just been invited by artist and curator Caroline Phillips to contribute to an upcoming exhibition at the George Paton Gallery, Melbourne titled: fGeneration: feminism, art, progression. So I ended up making a mini-appliqué quilted hanging titled “Girls just want to have FUNdamental human rights” as my contribution to the exhibition while at The Great Stash Swap. 

This is me making at The Great Stash Swap…    

I’m also going to show another little mini-embroided quilted hanging at fGeneration, this one is titled “Feminist KillJoy”. I made just for fun not long ago and luckily for me it fits right in with the exhibition theme!

 

Venus Court

Another really exciting art-making project which I’m happy to finally be able to share is my first ever commission. Venus Court is a Melbourne based band made up of two talented brothers Jake and Sam O’Brien, I’ve known them forever and my partner George Carpenter produced their upcoming EP at his Gold Coast studio ‘Little Pink’. They have both been big supporters of my work and at the start of the year they asked me to make them a quilted banner for their band that they can use on stage. I made them this hanging below (2m x2m)  and they were so stoked with it that they’ve decided to use it as the cover of their upcoming EP! 

  

This is them standing in front of the hanging during the photo shoot for the cover – as you can see it’s a portrait of them.  
 

Below is a super close up to give you a sense of what the work looks like up close and in 3D.

  

In between these bigger projects I’ve been playing around with some smaller crafty ideas. I’ve started hand making patches using felt and embroidery and I’ve also started a very ambitious cross-stitching piece as my response/contribution to Peter Drew’s “Real Australian’s Say Welcome” campaign. 

   
  
As you can see this cross stitch is nowhere near finished – I can’t believe how long it takes! Luckily I was in bed for three weeks with pneumonia recently otherwise I would never of got as much as I have done. I guess its going to be one of those ongoing labour of love type pieces.

Upcoming Projects:  

Finally, I have three really exciting projects coming up in the next 6 months that will make up the primary case-studies for my practice-led PhD research. They are all socially engaged craftivism projects that involve a partnership with different non-profit organisations. 

The first is a non-traditional residency with Igniting Change, a charity that works to support some really outstanding organisations including the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre. I will be spending about 4 weeks over Oct/Nov this year in their office space making a story-quilt that celebrates the values of the organisation and shares some of the impacts they’ve had. I’ll be donating this work to Igniting Change so they can use it as a story telling device to help with communicating their complex work going forward. 

The second will be a project delivered when I’m a guest-in-residence at the Billilla Historic Mansion in Brighton thanks to artist and craftivist Kate Just who has kindly given me her studio there while she is overseas. The project will involve raising funds and awareness for the International Woman’s Development Agency through me making and giving away a appliqué quilted portrait of the first 50 people who donate $50 to the organisation as part of this campaign. I’ll be launching this project in December so keep an eye out for that. 

The final project is a series of Crafternoons which I will facilitate at the Museum of Australian Democracy at Eureka in Ballarat. These workshops will hapen around March 2016 and focus around the issue of getting young people engaged and excited about voting. Again I’ll have more information to share about this project later in the year.   

  
Oh yeah, and I nearly forgot – I am also going to be contributing a quilted/appliqué hanging to an exhibition that the Ballarat Quilters Association is holding at the Museum of Australian Democracy at Eureka in Ballarat. Contributors to this exhibition were asked to create works in response to the lyrics from a selection of songs about freedom and democracy. My contribution will be called “this old freedom train is such a long time in a comin'” and above is a work-in-progress shot of the piece.  

That’s all for now, thanks for stopping by and keep an eye out for more updates in the coming weeks. 

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My full PhD Confirmation Report

As promised here is my full PhD Confirmation Report, submitted in April 2015
as a PDF document:
Confirmation-Report-Tal-Fitzpatrick-2015

Alternatively, below is the Title/Research Question/Abstract for all those of you who “aint got time fo’dat!”

Research Title:                 Craftivism and the Political Moment

Research Question:         Can craftivism create Political Moments?

Sub Questions:

  • How is craftivism different from other forms of activism?
  • Can a material, craft based practice such as craftivism be understood as a socially engaged art?
  • In light of a post-political critique of participation is it possible to initiate political moments through socially engaged artistic practices?
  • How do feminist new materialist and post-humanist conceptions of agency and matter reshape our understanding of power and the potential of art to enact social change?

Abstract:

This practice-led research project is shaped by an artistic practice that plays in the spaces between craft, socially engaged art, activism, community development and autoethnography. It looks to explore how a particular style of figurative appliqué quilting might be used to initiate what philosopher Jacques Rancière describes as ‘political moments’ in a post-political environment. Through a series of creative case studies delivered in and with different community groups and organisations, this project will test the material-discursive potential of appliqué quilting to act as a socially engaged strategy for activism.

Importantly, this project doesn’t aim to develop a set of tools for leading revolutions or even to create a methodology where outcomes can be reliably repeated. Instead it looks to develop a practice based methodology for becoming more mindful of the patterns of consequential differences and of the overlapping ideas between: art, craft, activism, socially engaged practice, feminist new materialisms, post-political critique, post-humanism and community development theory.

However, if anyone actually does read my full report – I would love to hear your thoughts, feedback, reading suggestions, artists I should know about and constructive criticism. As always you can get in touch with me via email: tal.fitzpatrick@gmail.com

Finally – just for fun, below are some of my powerpoint slides from my PhD Confirmation presentation.

Cheers

Tal

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PhD Confirmation Presentation – 16 April 2015, TF

As promised, here is my full PhD Confirmation speech which I presented at VCA on April the 16th, 2015. If you read it I would love to hear your thoughts, so please don’t be shy!

Full presentation with slides: Confirmation-speech-TF

Here is an outline of what I covered in this 40min presentation:  Slide02Once again thanks to everyone who was there, and for those who wanted to come but couldn’t be there. I am really excited by the fact that other people are interested in my research.

My panel meeting with my supervisors and assessors is on Wednesday so wish me luck!

🙂

PhD CONFIRMATION – 10 days to go

FU-tal-fitzpatrick

It’s now ten days until my PhD confirmation, which is the first major hurdle I have to get through in order to formalise my PhD candidature with the VCA . For those of you who are in Melbourne you are welcomed to attend my presentation which is scheduled to happen at VCA on Thursday the 16th of April, at 1pm (Room 216). For those of you who are interested by can’t be there keep an eye on the blog as I’ll put up my slides and some highlights from my speech afterwards. For now, here is my official up to date title and abstract:

Craftivism and the Political Moment

Grounded in a feminist history of using craft as a strategy for activism and using a new materialist/posthumanist conceptual framework, this practice-led research project will explore how craftivism can be used to create what political theorist and philosopher Jacques Rancière describes as ‘political moments’ in a post-political environment.

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My presentation for the VCA Student Graduate Symposium – July 2014

Quilting as a methodology for participatory art-making and research

My story begins with my Grandmother, artist Dawn Fitzpatrick, who in the early 1970’s developed her own unique style of appliqué quilt making which she used to create painted wall hangings. She coined the term “cloth art” to describe this way of working and retrospectively it is possible to say that she was one of the pioneering artists working with textiles this way (that is with a blatant disregard for the strict traditions and techniques of quilting coupled with a painterly, figurative, mixed media approach). I’ve brought one of her pieces from her Jerusalem series to show you because you really need to see and touch these works in person to appreciate them – or rather to connect with them.

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“The Prime Ministers at The Marble Bar” (1983) hanging held by the Museum of Australian democracy at Old Parliament House.

Dawn’s work was political, topical and largely misunderstood by those both on the Art and the Craft sides of the battle line which at the time she was working (early 70’s till the mid 90’s) were still deeply entrenched… Crossing them was certainly no place for a woman! And that isn’t even bringing into the conversation her attempt to facilitated a collaborative project in Jerusalem between Israeli and Palestinian women – a project that we would now see as a worthy (and still relevant) socially engaged art project but which at the time made no sense to funding bodies such as the Australian council for the Arts or the NSW Arts Grants for Women whom she looked to for support. Apparently one woman who interviewed her as part of the application process for these grants asked her sarcastically whether she was trying to win the Nobel peace prize!

Anyway, to me her work resonates strongly with the work of other feminist artists playing with the medium of quilting during the 80’s such as:

– Suzanne Lacy with her socially engaged performance work “The Crystal Quilt” (1985-1987) which explored the experience of aging, and specifically how aging women are represented in media and public opinion.
– Miriam Schapiro “who, as a leader of the Feminist art program at CalArts, who turned to an expressly decorative style that incorporated materials and processes such as fabric appliqué.” (Adamson, 2007, 31)
– Judy Chicago who alongside her famous work “The Dinner Party” also called for the submission of small, triangular quilts honouring women of the quilt maker’s choice in a work called the “ International Quilting Bee 1980”

Coming back to me and my PhD research.

Firstly, I want to clarify that quilting is actually not a medium that I’ve worked in before starting this PhD, but it was the obvious choice for me going into this project – in fact it is a medium that has literally been staring me in the face my whole life (growing up my grandmothers work hung in every room of our house) meanwhile I’ve been jumping from one medium to another trying to find the one that ‘speaks’ to me. In all honesty this lack of experience with my chosen medium has left me feeling a little behind the rest of my cohort who all have established arts-practices. However, it also gives me a unique opportunity to really allow my practice to evolve hand in hand with my theoretical explorations, each feeding into one other, and to document my learnings as my practice develops.

Pablo Helguera in his book on Education for Socially Engaged Art identified that many art students, myself included, find the “prevailing cult of the individual artist” and the “capitalist market infrastructure of the art world” uncomfortable. He also wrote that many art students attracted to socially engaged art-making often find themselves wondering whether it would be “more useful to abandon art altogether and instead become professional community organizers, activists, politicians, ethnographers, or sociologists.” Which is, in fact precisely what I did – after graduating with a BA and 1st class Hons I moved straight into the non-profit sector and becoming a community development worker first with a small arts organisation that ran arts and music programs for young people with disabilities and then with the state peak for volunteering in Qld, where I coordinated a state-wide capacity building program for community leaders in disaster affected communities. I did so because I felt the work I was doing there (workshop delivery, grant writing, natural disaster resilience building etc.) felt more useful, hands-on and meaningful than just making Art. However, after four years of exploring innovation and best-practice in the non-profit sector it struck me that much of the work I most admired incorporated the arts as a strategy for engagement, facilitating social exchange and communicating ideas. So, I decided go back to my own practice and do a PhD in order to research and develop a way of working that would bring together my artistic practice with my professional practice as a community development worker.

So, “What is my research question?” “How is my art research?” and “What is my unique contribution to knowledge going to be?” I hear you all scream silently inside your skulls.

Well, I (somewhat reluctantly) apologise and admit that I don’t know yet. However, I can say that it certainly has something to do with:
– Sarah Pink’s work around sensory and visual ethnography,
– The interesting paradox in Tania Bruguera’s idea of “Art Utile” as articulated by Ellen Feiss, a subject which is also touched on in John Carey’s book “What good are the arts?”
– The many tensions between the views of Claire Bishop and Grant Kester on the subject of participatory art (what makes for ‘good’ socially engaged art, how we preference and value the ethical v. the aesthetic, the politics of collaboration/authorship and audience)
– Pablo helguera’s work on socially engaged art
– Marcel Mauss’s writing on “The gift” (1925) as a way to explore how socially engaged art can subvert the power and influence of the Art Market and indeed perhaps even capitalism itself
– The performative nature of facilitation and the performative research paradigm as described by Brad Haseman in Barbara Bolt’s book ‘Practice as research’, as well as her book “Carnal Knowledge: Towards a New Materialism through the Arts”
– Glenn Adamson’s book on “thinking through Craft”
– Carol Becker on “The subversive Imagination” which explores artists, society and social responsibility, particularly in modern democracy’s

While exploring all of these ideas, I am trying to focus on ensuring my work is practice led and turning my attention first and foremost to my actual arts-practice. I am trying to understand the what are the unique opportunities an insights that are revealed when working with quilting as a socially engaged medium, and then to understanding: What is the artistic and aesthetic outcomes of these exchanges? How are these exchange experienced and understood by participants and audiences? And, How do these outcomes and impacts change when this practice is transposed to different site-specific situations? and perhaps these are in fact my research questions for now.

But, before I go any further…
We have finally come to the part where I explain why this quilt top quietly sitting on the desk here – in an effort to be truly practice led in everything I do and in order to help me with my explorations into this practice – I am hoping that at least some of you are willing to join me in an experiential experiment! I need at least 8 people who are willing to collaborate with me on this piece. You don’t need to have any particular skills to participate, it’s a very quick and straightforward activity – I will give you 2 very simple and clear instructions that should make this really easy.

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Activity Part One – Instructions:
You are going to be drawing onto this quilt top with the fabric paint provided, but first of all I need you to
1) Look around the room and choose one person who you don’t know without them becoming aware of it (eg. Don’t point at them or tell them!)
2) Now, I want you to somehow document their face onto the this quilt top, you can draw or write your observations, but remember that you only have like 10min, I’m not expecting you to capture a likeness or event document the whole face, you can focus on one feature if you like… you can use the space however you like – draw as big or small as you want!

Okay, while you guys work on that, I’m just going to chat a little more about my work…

I’ve always been interested by the questions: “What is the responsibility of the artist to society? …What has been the role of artists within democratic societies? [And] Historically when have artists made an impact?” (Becker, 1994, xv). Perhaps I am typical of my generation, which according to Kester, have led a “dramatic growth of interest in collaborative, collective, and socially engaged practices” (Kester, 2013, XVIII) centred around notions of dialogic exchange “as an active, generative process that can help us speak and imagine beyond the limits of fixed identities, official discourse, and the perceived inevitability of partisan political conflict.” (Kester, 2013, 8)

I have a hunch that a research methodology developed around the medium of quilting has the potential to be extremely generative and provide a unique entry point for facilitating collaborations in and with community with outcomes that do not sacrifice aesthetics at the “alter of social change”(Bishop, 2012, 29).

Inherent to the craft of quilting is a way of working – a unique logic – that has been around for generations and has acted as a bridge between generations and cultures, connecting women (and men) through the act of: making, skills sharing, story telling, collaboration and through the act of passing down these quilts as treasures and heirlooms. Embedding these objects with an aura, a personal and emotional significance that I would argue is much more powerful than that of most artworks…

In a chapter on the Wunderkammer (vun-der-kam-mer) Helmut Luechenhausen (Le-chen-hausen) wrote about a study by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi who:

“after interviewing 315 individuals in 82 families about the objects which were special to them, discovered that these objects (least among them were art) evolved meaning by context and association. He found that ‘visual values are created by social consensus, not perceptual stimulation. He concluded that: These patterns, and many of the others that emerged from the data suggested that (at least in our culture and in the present historical period) objects do not create order in the viewer’s mind by embodying principles of visual order; they do so by helping the viewer struggle for the ordering of his or her own experience” (Lueckenhausen, 1997, 36).

This quote really resonated with me and how I feel about my grandmothers quilts- they would be the thing I would take with me if my house was burning down, they are absolutly invaluable.

To me there is something really important happening here –something about how this medium able to really capture and represent people’s experiences and relationships, something about how a quilts transforms from a craft/art objects into a treasure – which makes me suspect that these object, or more specifically the way we relate to them, are incredibly powerful and therefore have great potential to provide the foundations for meaningful exchanges and for co-creating art.

I’m very conscious however that the baggage the medium of quilting brings is not all good – and that it a way of working that can easily dismissed as just craft, women’s work or simply as ’nice’ which could also be translated to mean ‘harmless’. In my quest to make socially engaged art that actually addresses issues of social justice I swing between desperately wanting to agree with Brugeuera’s idea that art can be something that transforms affect into effectiveness, where “art’s function is no longer to be a space for ‘signalling’ problems, but the place from which to create the proposal and implementation of possible solutions.” (Bruguera, 2012, 2) And where artwork is understood and valued according the “usefulness of the work for the audience.”

To, on the other hand, being extremely sceptical of this prescriptive instrumentalisation of art… with Bishops’ warning ringing in my ears that for all the positive impacts of social participation in the arts

“As the cultural theorist Paola Merli has pointed out, none of these outcomes will change or even raise consciousness of the structural conditions of people’s daily existence. It will only help people to accept them.” (Bishop, 2012, 14)

Plus, I worry that as John Carey wrote:

“The assumption that the arts make people better is seldom accompanied by any serious consideration of what better people might be like.” (Carey 2005 p.103)

Finally, I agree with Bishop when she write that:

“Participatory art is not a privileged political medium, nor a ready-made solution to a society of the spectacle, but it is as uncertain and precarious as democracy itself; neither are legitimated in advance but need continually to be performed and tested in every specific context.” (Bishop, 2012, 284)

And perhaps this is really the best articulation of what I hope to do with my work: test and perform democracy through participatory practice; and to see if I can open up and facilitate:

“public spaces predicated on the multiplication of spheres of daily life where people can debate the meaning and consequences of public truths, inject a notion of moral responsibility into representational practices, and collectively struggle to change dominating relations of power.” (Becker, 1994, 204)

…In some kind of attempt to contribute to democracy’s ongoing existence and its potential to thrive and evolve despite our globalised neo-capitalist reality; While at the same time also being able to researching, learning and contributing in a ‘useful’ way to each site-specific context, each community, I work in AND of course lets not forget to make great art!

So where to now?

My next step is to start working on getting some real world projects up and running. I’m currently starting a conversation with Emerald Community House about the potential for developing a quilting-resilience program where we invite women living in high-risk areas (highly susceptible to bush fires) to take part in a disaster preparedness program “quilting bee” style which will see us making a collection of quilts to exhibit as part of the Emerald PAVE Festival – an annual festival which aims to “Build community stamina, creating strong working relationships that strengthen the community’s reflexes to respond to natural disaster adversities and challenges”. (http://www.emeraldcommunityhouse.org.au/pave-festival/) If it goes ahead this project would actually be the precise meeting point of my professional and artistic practices, bringing together everything I’ve learned to date and also brings us back in a nice loop to the beginning of my talk.

So perhaps that is enough about me – how are you guys going with you drawings?

Activity Part Two – Reflection:
Having done that it would be really useful for me if you could share something about that experience with us, what did you feel? What did you notice? How did it change your experience of this space? How did it change your relationship to other people in this space? How did you feel in relation to the material and physical process involved?

End.

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Bibliography:
– Adamson, Glenn (2007) Thinking Through Craft, Bloomsbury London
– Becker, Carol (1994) The Subversive Imagination: Artists, Society and Social Responsibility, Routledge: New York.
– Bishop, Claire (2012) Artificial Hells: Participatory Art and the Politics of Spectatorship, Verso: Brooklyn.
– Bruguera, Tania (2012) Reflexions on Arte Útil: Useful Art, available online: http://www.taniabruguera.com/cms/592-0-Reflexions+on+Arte+til+Useful+Art.htm
– Carey, John (2005) What Good Are the Arts? London: Faber and Faber.
– Emerald Community House Pave Festival: http://www.emeraldcommunityhouse.org.au/pave-festival/)
– Helguera, Pablo (2011) Education for Socially Engaged Art: A Material and Techniques handbook. Jorge Pinto Books: New York.
– Helmut Lueckenhausen (1997) ‘Theoretical and Museological Perspectives’ in ‘Craft and Contemporary Theory’ Ed. Sue Rowley. NSW: Allen & Unwin.
– Kester, Grant. H (2013) Conversation Pieces: Community and Communication in Modern Art. University of California Press: Berkeley.

Sinners and Saints

Forgive me blog for I have sinned. It has been 39 days since my las post. 

I have been away in sunny Queensland to escape the cold and deliver the Volunteering Qld “Natural Disaster Resilience Leadership Project” in 3 communities across the state: Kingaroy, Rosedale and Atherton.

IMG_0628Here I am being silly with the RLP group in Rosedale

During this time I have also been working on writing a chapter on community resilience for a US textbook called “Disasters and Public Health: Planning and Response”   by Bruce Clements. It is a great honour to have been invited to write this chapter and as the icing on the cake I will also be flying to present at the 6th Annual Preparedness Symposium in Galveston, Texas which will be held this year on the 5-7 November. It will be my first time visiting the USA and I am going to take the opportunity to meet up with family and friends while I’m there. Amazing!

shifts-happenI’ve been back in Melbourne a week now and another piece of very exciting news is that I have started a new job as the social media coordinator for an inspirational charity called Igniting Change which is led by the even more inspiring Jane Tewson. I’m really excited about taking on this one day a week role as it will give me a really unique platform from which to a) act on my values and support a really wonderful non-profit organisation, and b) build connections with community groups and organisations in Victoria. Igniting Change is really supportive of my creative work and hopefully I will be able to weave some of my artwork into the work I do with them.

IMG_0683This is some of the Igniting Change family on our visit 
with Twich Women’s Sewing Collective in Dandenong 

Meanwhile, getting back to my PhD studies, I will be presenting at a Student Graduate Symposium next week on where I am at with my research 6 months in. I will use this 30min slot as an opportunity to run a micro creative workshop which means that this weekend I will be chained to my sewing machine in order to get ready! Keep an eye out for photos next week.

IMG_0756Anyways, I’m back now! So expect more posts and more updates 🙂

Side note: I stayed up last night watching a really interesting documentary about “hacktivism” and the cyber group know as “Anonymous” – if you are interested in what civil disobedience looks like in this digital world of ours I highly recommend checking it out: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-zwDhoXpk90&feature=youtu.be 

Critical Information Infrastructure Protection

Ooooh Shiny!

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Every week the students who are doing postgraduate degrees with the Centre for Cultural Partnerships at VCA are invited to meet for a semistructured catch up/tutorial. This week, we were invited to spend the first 15min of the session writing down some reflections about the week gone by. This is an edited version of what I wrote:

I am a systems thinker and I constantly find myself drawn to thinking about how seemingly disconnected or unrelated things are in actual fact interconnected as part of a bigger picture. Since this time last week, which has flown past in the blink of an eye, I have had a bit of a breakthrough in piecing together the different streams of consciousness, thoughts, ideas and research that I have been conducting. For a while now I have been in the space of total not knowing (as described in my previous post) and as part of this experience I’ve been following a range of tangents that seemed disconnected but which were all interesting to me. A long time ago now I made a conscious habit of paying attention to whatever catches my interest, my former mentor used to describe these as my “Ooooh Shiny” moments, but these shiny distractions always seem to eventually come together and form a more cohesive shape.

Practically, I have focussed my energy on reading a lot and on writing, adding thoughts to my blog and making a few connections here and there with artists and craftspeople involved in socially engaged art projects. I go to gallery openings, artist talks and lectures weekly. I’ve got three new books coming in the mail: The Invention of Craft and Thinking though Craft both by Glenn Adamson as well as the Seventeen Contradictions and the End of Capitalism by David Harvey. Yet all this focus on theory has meant that although I have been dreaming up artworks and jotting ideas down I am yet to plug in my brand new super fancy sewing machine and I’m feeling pretty guilty about that.

I guess that I have also been looking for ways to put down some roots in my new community here in Melbourne. I’ve been looking at getting involved with the VCA student union and I’ve applied for a 1-day-a-week role as a social media coordinator for a small non-profit organisation called “Igniting change”. Excitingly they’ve shortlisted me alongside 1 other person for the role! If I get it I will be able to have lots of really interesting conversations with people involved in all the interesting grassroots projects that Igniting Change support. I’m also in discussion with the Golden Plains Art Ink about running a visioning workshop with them which would be a nice way to connect with a regional group of Victorian artists and explore what is going on in their community. Oh yea – and I delivered a two day resilience leadership project for volunteering Qld in Taree, NSW over the weekend which was very well received. So, even though it might not feel like it I guess I’ve managed to do a little more than just read…

Although my PhD is still far from being a clearly demarcated project with a focussed research question, a clear methodology and an informative theoretical framework it is slowly taking shape and emerging out of the darkness if you will. Encouragingly the shape that is taking form is much more interesting and complex than the one in my original vision and importantly it holds within it the seed of not knowing. So although I am still sitting in darkness, perhaps I have found that the flicker of light I have been searching for – although I am not ready to name it yet…

A space of Not Knowing

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Over the previous couple of weeks I have been in limbo, a space of total unknowing. A space which I can only attempt to describe through trying to explain how I experienced it – how it felt:

It was like finding oneself sitting alone on the floor of a dark and unfamiliar room. The room is silent and still, the temperature and humidity such that you can hardly feel the air around you. There is no way to tell how big the room is, or what else is in it, although you suspect its pretty large and largely empty. It is the feeling of being totally lost, but also safe at the same time. Nothing about this room is hostile to you, at worst it is indifferent, but you dare not get up for fear of heading off in the wrong direction, you strain all of your senses constantly: looking, listening, feeling, waiting. I found it an almost a meditative state, it came with this sense of openness and acceptance. I was meant to be in this place. This place is part of my journey. Sitting. Looking. Listening. Feeling. Waiting. Searching. Scanning for a flicker of light – a glow worm, a firefly –a point of light to act as a reference. A distant star towards which I could walk.

I’ve shared this description of my experience with not-knowing with a few of my friends and peers and surprisingly many assumed that this was a negative experience – which it wasn’t. However, upon reflection perhaps conjuring up an image of a young woman lost and alone in the dark does tap into an inexhaustible number or horror movie references for people… It seems that almost all of us are afraid of being alone in the dark – afraid of the unknown. We have become habituated to a world flooded by light, a world where everything is clearly demarcated, mapped out and defined; A world with clear rules and a set order; a world where everything makes sense and where everyone has a place. Or so we like to think. Despite our preferences the unknown looms large and infant all around us. Some of us, brave or foolish, dare to step out into the darkness and into the unknown in a quest to know more. A quest for new knowledge. I am one of those people and I embrace this darkness in the hope of noticing a new source of light – however distant and faint.