Category Archives: collaboration

Daoshan Dude

English Translation of lyrics from Daoshan Dude, by Wu Tiao Ren

Daoshan dude, Why are you wearing broken shoes?
Daoshan dude, Why don’t you have your hair cut?
Daoshan dude, Why are you still riding the worn out bike?
You are cocky. You are cocky. You are cocky.

It’s going to rain.
My mum is waiting for me to have supper.
But what can I do?
I’m in a watch house.
My mum said “come home and eat”
It’s all my fault
I am cocky.
You are cocky.

Haiku and Socially Engaged Art

This week I was invited to participate in a one day public forum entitled “Live Art, Social & Community Engagement: Methodologies of Practice” at UNSW, convened by Stephanie Springger and Lenine Bourke.

Here’s how it worked:

In the morning, 5 artists gave brief presentations addressing key questions about the ethics and aesthetics of socially engaged art, community art, etc (the naming of these practices was also in question).

These artists were Leuli Eshragi, Latai Taumoepeau, Rosie Dennis, Cigdem Aydemir, and Lauren Booker, and their presentations were moderated by Francis Maravillas.

After lunch, each of the speakers was teamed up with a “live writer”. The live writers included Jennifer Hamilton, Rebecca Conroy, Keg de Souza, Astrid Lorange, and Lucas Ihlein. About 40 people were in attendance – from what I could gather, mainly artists, students, and curators. Around each pairing of speaker + live writer there was a breakout group to flesh out some of the salient points from the morning’s discussion.

The speaker led the small workshop discussion and the live writer used whatever method s/he felt most useful to map, transcribe, document etc what went on in the discussion. I was teamed up with Latai Taumoepeau, and our allocated theme was “class, negotiation and power”.

Many times in these kinds of events, I’ve used diagrams and mindmaps as a tool to make sense of the complexity of the discussion. However, this time I decided to try something different, proposing to use the Haiku form as a way to engage in live writing.

My previous experience with Haiku is minimal. I’m a fan of the great Japanese Haiku-ist Basho, and his “Oku no Hosomichi” aka “Narrow Road to the Deep North“. And I enjoyed John Cage’s translation of Basho’s Mushroom Haiku.

On the train up to the forum, I listened to a podcast I found by googling “socially engaged art” and “haiku”. It was by John Paul Lederach, and it was called “The Art of Haiku and the Soul of Peacebuilding”. Lederach is a “peacebuilder” who sometimes travels to places of deep conflict, and sits down with people to assist with the reconciliation process. In his talk, he says that he sometimes finds the Haiku form useful in crystallising complex ideas without requiring closure.

I found Lederach’s ideas inspiring, particularly his thoughts on the relationship between complexity and simplicity. He quotes a poem from Oliver Wendal Holmes Jnr:

I would not give a fig for the simplicity on this side of complexity
But I would give my life for the simplicity on the other side of complexity.

I found this interesting – often in my mindmaps and diagrams, I create an image of complexity. The graphic squiggles and vector lines are sometimes useful in explaining the intractable stuckness of a complex multi-stakeholder situation. But the Haiku has the potential to travel through this complexity “to the other side”.

What, Lederach asks, is simplicity on the other side of complexity? It’s a way of “finding the essence, while holding the complexity, and living into places that we don’t fully understand”. For Lederach, the Haiku can be a way of doing this. If the diagram breaks things down, the Haiku is about putting things together. He describes how sometimes he is able to practice a form of deep attentive listening at multi-party negotiations, where different positions are at odds with one another. At some point in the proceedings, somebody will say something which seems to rise with clarity from all the words. The Haiku at this moment writes itself. Then Lederach, when the time is right, reads the Haiku back to the group – and this is sometimes able to catalyse a deeper understanding within the group of the current dynamics of the relationship.

Back to the present. In our group discussion there were five of us: Latai, Pedro, Stella, Pippa and I. Francis and Stephanie also popped in briefly at different points. We didn’t even try to stick to the assigned subject of “class, negotiation and power”. If these issues were addressed it was part of an organic evolving conversation which was warm, probably assisted by the fact that there were only 5 of us.

Latai began by talking about some performances she has been doing – with fake spray-tan (at Gallery 4A in Sydney) and with white zinc cream (at the Hong Kong Basel Art Fair). She spoke about her choices of these darkening and lightening agents and their culturally specific meanings. While she spoke, I wrote my first haiku. A bit overwrought, but you’ve got to start somewhere:

What is light on one
Background can become very
dark on another.

While working on her spray-tan project, Latai had struck up a friendship with the proprietor of one particular company, “Black Magic”, who was so intrigued he decided to become a sponsor of the project:

Black Magic Spray Tan
Application by machine:
Darker and Darker.

Continuing her exploration of cultural identity and skin coloration, Latai told us how back in Tonga where she is “from”, her family members criticised her for being “too dark”. Perhaps it was the residue from her Spray Tan performance that made her darker, I can’t remember. Whatever the reason, her darker skin was regarded as being at odds with her privileged social status in the local community. Dark skin is associated with labourers and agricultural workers:

Skin colour darkens.
Relatives chastise me for
shellfishing all day.

Our conversation shifted to the Hong Kong Art Fair version of the work, where she used white zinc cream instead of spray tan – partly because of health and safety issues (the spray machine was not considered acceptable for the atmosphere of the indoor art fair environment). Latai didn’t know how to prepare for interacting with people in this strange setting:

Art fair audience:
How do they read all this stuff
Out of its context?

The audience for her work, Latai said, often shapes the kinds of performances she does. Sometimes, as a Pacific Islander, she receives invitations to perform in public under what she feels is an “anthropological gaze”. In these situations, she responds by performing unexpectedly – not merely doing a “nice ethnic dance”, but rolling herself up in long sheets of ceremonial cloth, writhing around, unravelling herself and

Fucking with my own
Material Culture. Fuck

At this point in the workshop, the other members of our group introduced ourselves. Stella, an artist and a recent masters graduate, is originally from Taiwan. In Taiwan, she told us, children are given English names. They do not get to choose. She was allocated “Betty”:

Taiwanese Betty.
Names distributed by force:
Betty for three years.

After three years, “Betty” decided to take the power back:

My own name. I choose Stella:
New identity.

Stella goes on:

Shared language shapes our
Collective memory. We
Can decolonise!

In her discussion of Taiwan, Stella mentions its other name: Formosa. I asked her about where that name came from, and what it means:

“Beautiful Island”.
Portuguese passing by shout
Out “Formosa Ho!”

Pippa, who works with the company Performing Lines, told us how she’d been in the UK for 14 years. She loves the context of “community art”, despite the fact that as a category of practice, it has been marginalised by the mainstream contemporary art world (this had been one of the contentious issues to come up in the plenary session of the morning):

Community Art.
Proudly looked down upon by
Snobbish Avant-Garde.

Pippa also made a strong case for consistency of language. She urged us to align the words we use in funding applications with the words we might use “on the ground” while doing community engaged projects. Too often, she said,

Funding proposals
Become marketing copy:
Bewildered people.

Pippa also argued that thousands of useful dollars get swallowed up when organisations have to pay large rents, and proposed that government funding should not be able to be spent on real estate:

Money should go to
People and Artists and not
To Bricks and Mortar.

This led to a discussion about how so many arts workers are chronically underpaid: clearly not a good thing. On the other hand, working beyond remuneration can sometimes generate more joy, because the time spent is not associated with a “job” and its demands for measurable outcomes. Questions arise:

Pleasure or exploitation?
And sub-contracting?

Pedro, who words for 4A Centre for Contemporary Art, had a lot to say about all of this. One of his main questions to me was about how as an artist I deal with the power and influence of the institution (in my case, embodied by my job at a university). It’s not an easy problem to negotiate – because when I’m embedded within an institution, potential projects tend to rise to the top of the pile only when they attract funding (whereas in my pre-institutionalised past I would have just done them “for free”). My response:

isation is a virus:
How to immunise?

Does postgraduate study make for better art?

At the ACUADS conference a few weeks back, the final panel discussion tackled this question:

“What impact are higher degree research programs having on emerging trends and themes in contemporary art?”

There were some interesting responses from the panel which included Tony Bond, Rebecca Coates, Chris McAuliffe, and Kate Daw. But nobody seemed to answer the question in the very literal way I wanted it answered. So I threw a more specific and perhaps reductive question to the panel:

“Do artists who complete PhDs produce better art than they did before?”

(M’colleague Maria Miranda has gone on an interesting excursion with this question at her blog, over here.)

After much humming and harring, the panel produced no real consensus – but if anything, the answer did seem to be tending towards the negative: “No – PhDs in creative practice do not lead to discernably better artists, nor the production of better artworks”. I shouldn’t have been surprised, but really I was a bit shocked (I feel naive even writing that here). So, at the risk of cementing my position as a naive utopianist, here’s my opening gambit:

Surely one of the fundamental reasons for the existence of creative practice based PhDs should be that they result in better artworks. Surely? If not, then what’s the point?
Continue reading



This tiny image is all I could dredge up on the web for this wonderful Fluxus performance. It looks like the score used to be available at Printed Matter, but not anymore.

I conducted an enactment of this piece in 2002 at the Experimental Art Foundation in Adelaide (precisely, at the Mercury Cinema) – a few notes on the larger project within which the event was conducted are here. For this enactment, I re-typed all of Fine’s scores and customised them a bit for the local context, and I also added in a few extra performers.

Here’s how the piece works:

There’s an individual score, typed up on an individual card for each performer, and each performer is in the dark about what the others are going to do. From memory, there are 24 performers.

Each score has a series of numbers running down the page, 1 to 15. These represent minutes. Thus the piece goes for 15 minutes. Each performer has to watch the clock and carry out the relevant instruction as each minute ticks around. If a number has nothing written next to it, the performer does nothing.

When I conducted the work, I inserted it as a ‘secret’ piece in the middle of an evening of film screenings called “Film” films? Fine! at the Mercury Cinema in Adelaide. The films shown were Buster Keaton’s Film and Gustav Deutsch’s Film Ist.

There were more than 24 people in the audience. Those who were not performers in the Fluxorchestra had no idea about what was going to happen.

The event was the aggregate of all the things that took place within that fifteen minutes.

It was pretty impossible to document. A video was shot – it’s mainly useful for the audio recording however, as the cinema was quite dark.

Here’s a re-typing of the score for the first performer:


2. Clap loudly at indeterminate intervals for short lengths of time
3. Yell: “Damn this boredom”, get up and walk out.
7. Re-enter and sit somewhere else, eating a bag of potatochips loudly, sharing them with your neighbors. When the bag is empty, inflate and
8. explode it with a bang if possible.
9. Chat with your neighbors, interrup it suddenly without warning and yell: “What do you think this is – Ben Vautier and Total Art?” then
10. resume your conversation
11. Continue conversation or remain quiet. Burp.
12. Get up and walk out. Come right back in and announce: “I’m as much
13. it as anything.” Sit in original seat.
14. Take a balloon from pocket and inflate it until it bursts.
15. Walk out.

The Pet Sounds Project

I wrote the following post during 2012, on my class blog for MEDIA ARTS 301. I’m transposing it here as it may have broader appeal… It details a collaborative project, involving pigeons, which I am keen to get off the ground, working with media arts students. So far I’ve not found the right class or assignment to slot it into. It could even be carried out with a small group of students who have already graduated, as a pathway project to working collaboratively outside the university context.

dubstep pigeons

Ok, so I want to begin by saying, I have no idea what the term “Dubstep Pigeons” could even mean.

A quick google shows that it’s the name of a live music act in northern England. I imagine that band is probably really good (and I love their logo), but apart from the “music” part, they don’t really have anything to do with this project.

It was Stacey [media arts student 2012] who came up with this term “Dubstep Pigeons” to describe the collaborative “pigeon project” which I’ve been thinking about for over a year now, and which I’ve been muttering about to anyone who will listen, and which I’ve been looking for an opportunity to carry out. But as I say, its relationship to the respected Dubstep flavour of dance music may only be coincidental…

In the blog entry which follows, I’ll outline my vision for the project. Maybe some of you want to get involved as part of your Major Project for semester 1.
Continue reading

The Human Fax Machine

The following is a set of instructions for a workshop activity I ran in Tasmania recently for the Convergence Lab. The original activity was devised by Brogan Bunt, and together with Brogan, I developed it in collaboration with Bettina Frankham at UOW Media Arts.

The instructions below are by now fairly refined… although having carried it out in Hobart with nearly 60 highly trained artists and teachers, I have some ideas how to push it even further.

The Human Fax Machine

Collaboratively invent a sound-based code system to transmit an image through space.

Your group gets one unsophisticated soundmaking device:
eg a spoon+glass, or a bell, or a jar with dried chickpeas.

As a group, develop your transmission/reception system before you play the game.

Your group splits into two sub-teams:
The “ENCODERS”, who transmit the image-message, and the “DECODERS”, who receive it.

You should write down your code, so that both the ENCODERS and the DECODERS have a working copy of it.

Test your system out with a simple graphic image (a line drawing) that you draw yourself.

Discuss how it works, and refine it by answering the following questions.

-is your code appropriate for the soundmaking device you are allocated?
-what if the ENCODERS make a mistake when transmitting part of the image?
-what if the DECODERS make a mistake when receiving part of the image?
-how do you deal with “noise” in your system?
-what if you need to clarify, pause, or start from scratch?

Don’t agonise over making it perfect. Make sure you leave enough time to play the game!

Your team will be allocated an image you have never seen before.
THE ENCODERS will be handed the image, but the DECODERS must not see it.

The ENCODERS sit on one side of a partition and the DECODERS sit on the other side.
The two cannot see each other. Nobody is permitted to speak.

The ENCODERS use their soundmaking device to transmit the encoded image.
On the other side of the partition, the DECODERS listen carefully & decipher the audible sound.
The DECODERS now re-draw the image according to the established code.

Once the transmission is complete, the whole team gets together, discusses what went wrong, improves the code system, and carries out a second transmission.

-what species of code systems you all invented;
-what processes you went through to arrive at them;
-how successful your systems were at approximating the original image
(compare original image to received image);
-what was learned in the process;
-what was frustrating or enjoyable about the process…

Learning from Experience: in League with the City of Melbourne

The following essay was commissioned in early 2011, by the League of Resonance – a Melbourne artist group comprising Jason Maling, Jess Olivieri and Sarah Rodigari. In this piece, I try to tease out an anatomy of sorts for their particular brand of socially engaged art practice. Much of the underlying information comes from an interview I did with the artists in early 2011 (thanks to Liz Pulie for the transcription yakka)…

lucas diagram screen size
[…a diagram to accompany the article. Click on the image to see it larger…]

– – –

Dinner dates with strangers; excursions to inspect chewing gum stuck on waterpipes in back alleys; groups gathered to cross the road together; chance conversations on street corners: these are among the marginal, largely invisible activities which constitute the current project of the League of Resonance. The working methods which underlie a project like this are not widely understood. This is hardly surprising – the artists of the League employ a set of processes which are still relatively novel additions to the toolbox of contemporary art.
Continue reading

Sustaining Practices in Melbourne

speed dating at the sustaining practices workshop

On Saturday I went to Melbourne to facilitate the running of a participatory workshop organised by Clubs Project Space , called Sustaining Practices.

The first activity was a speed dating session, in which 2 minutes was allowed for blah-blah-ing about what your particular concerns were. I used a dinger to shift them along to the next date. I made a 9 minute mp3 recording of the dating. It’s loud and fun! You can listen to it here [9 min, 4mb, mp3].

The Clubs crew sent out the following info before the event, to encourage participants to bring along ideas which would shape the course of the day: Continue reading

with-out: Spiros Panigirakis

Spiros, a clubbsy fellow in Melbourne, is doing a fascinating process-oriented project at the moment. Check out the blog here:

It's tricky to see exactly what is going on  –  many layers of activity. But Spiros is engaging particular groups, [activist groups?], and designing posters for them (but not particularly "useful" posters, I think). He's also running workshops in the gallery, collaborative reading groups where the participants wear odd head-pieces, and is struggling mightily with the forces of gravity and a large curtain. It's part of the midsumma festival, at gertrude gallery.