Category Archives: education

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…

Convergence Lab, Hobart

This week, Lizzie and I will be travelling to Hobart to run a workshop for Convergence Lab.

about the lab:

Convergence Lab offers researchers, educators, artists and producers a facilitated environment for collaborative investigation into digital culture and making.

A diverse range of next generation artists will act as catalysts, offering cluster groups a hypothesis to provoke their realm of investigation for each day.

The program has two stages:

Stage 1: Provocation and play – 7, 8, 9 Dec 2011
Stage 2: Curriculum enrichment – 12, 13, 14 Dec 2011

This is a facilitated curriculum design and program development process offered to staff from the Tasmanian School of Art and College teachers undertaking the Graduate Certificate of Fine Arts and Design.

We will be presenting as part of Stage 1.

Looking forward to meeting a bunch of amazing people who are going to be taking part.

Farewell, Young Arthur!

arthur russell

On the weekend I received sad news from Perth, that Arthur Russell has died. He was just shy of his 82nd birthday.

The above photo, taken by Mickie, is from about 8 years ago, when we three visited Kings Park together to check out a memorial sculpture to the volunteer fire brigades by artist Jon Tarry.

Often our adventures with Arthur would involve photography – not just to document the occasion, but also as an act of making compositions. Later, having gotten the photos developed, Arthur would sit with the shots and shuffle through them one by one, comparing the image’s cropping and shapes and tones and colours, and asking anyone in reach to nominate their favourites.

You had to be able to give a reason why, or else you’d get in trouble for a kind of aesthetic cowardice. This was a funny process, because initially you might just choose one of the shots at random as “my favourite” to shut him up, but then, facing the Russell Inquisition for Aesthetic Judgement, you’d have to scratch around your brain and come up with a communicable reason for your choice.

This wasn’t easy, but you’d manage to dredge up something, like “the shapes of the trees anchor the rocks, they almost seem to embrace them” which would then prompt Arthur to scrutinise the photo even more closely. If he could follow what you were saying, he’d laugh out loud and say “Yes! That’s Right!” as if you had shown him something he could never have worked out on his own.

He loved this game. He played it with any pictorial compositions, found or made: his own painstakingly crafted pen and wash drawings, a random photograph from the sports page of the crappy West Australian newspaper, or a cheapo calendar with pictures of horses he’d got on special at the newsagency.

I remember he once told me that he even asked his cleaning guy to help him select the best drawings to be framed for his latest exhibition. Arthur really listened closely to the opinions of others, and you didn’t have to be “qualified” to say something. “Looking”, he believed was a skill everyone had. And Arthur’s skill, I guess, was to get others to look with an increased clarity and intensity.

Arthur was, after all, a teacher. For many years (way before I met him) he taught art at high schools, and also ran the educational programme at the Art Gallery of Western Australia. I met him first, back in 1993, when our teacher Barb Bolt brought him in as a guest lecturer to run a series of life drawing classes. I was only 17.

Here are two things I remember about that class:

great artists (1). Arthur lugged in a whole bunch of these 1980s periodicals called “the great artists”. (Here’s one I found a picture of, in fact, I’m pretty sure he brought this particular one to class.) He wanted us to give our opinion on which artist made the most interesting drawings of bodies: Leonardo or Klimt or Schiele etc. We had to point to specific things in the drawings as we grappled to express our half-baked preferences. Schiele‘s drawings seemed very tortured and contorted, I remember we students liked that. We thought Klimt was a bit decorative. And so on. The point is, he always validated our thinking: the Russell Inquisition was gruelling and sometimes irritating, but if we got into the spirit of it, he made us feel important and intelligent, like we were coming up with new insights that were fresh and special.

(2). He brought along oranges cut into wedges for “half-time”. We thought this was hilarious. The oranges made the life drawing session seem like a sports game rather than a dreary educational obligation. It was a small gesture, incredibly cheap and easy for him to execute, but it really made us feel like he gave a shit about making our encounter into an event.

Later, Mickie and I became good friends with Arthur outside of the university context. We would visit him at his home in Scarborough, later at Northam, then at the crazy Serbian Retirement Village he wound up in. His house was scrupulously clean, and he had nothing more than what he required: just the right amount of plates and cups and glasses, all carefully chosen for their utility and aesthetic value.

He liked lunches. When assembling lunch, an important job (delegated to the visitor) was to choose which plates to use. Once again, it was important to discuss why you made these crockery choices for this particular food: decoration, form, functionality, food: there was no ordinary lunch with Arthur. But none of his kitchenwares were expensive, usually just accidentally “marvellous” designs that had somehow made their way through to the discount store at the mall.

He was crazy about iced coffee. He developed odd ways, as I suppose happens to people who live on their own. He would make up half a dozen iced coffees at once, and then store them in the fridge, ready to go, in six separate glasses. I’m not joking – one day a few years back I documented the process:

iced coffee factory by arthur russell
Sharing the huge batch off coffee into six glasses…

iced coffees lined up
Lining up the glasses in the fridge…

final product
Look at how pleased he is with himself…

When he wanted an iced coffee (which was quite often) Arthur would add cold milk (a 50-50 mix) just before drinking. (I guess this just-in-time milk addition would give him the option of offering his guest a black coffee…)

After you visited him, undoubtedly you’d get a phone call a day or so later to reprise some tiny corner of a topic of conversation you’d already forgotten about. Even if he was a bit cranky sometimes, “Young Arthur” excelled on the phone. He would ring up abruptly to share “a new thought”. Even though these thoughts were often compliments, they were delivered in a very brusque manner, with very no time for pleasantries. The call would go like this:

Me: Hello?
Arthur: Arthur here.
Me: Ah, gday, how’s it going?
Arthur: Two things: first, I think you’re spot on with what you were saying about that [insert name of exhibition or movie here]. I think that was a bloody good insight. Second, your latest project is a real gift to [insert name of institution or community here]. It’s an act of generosity, they’re lucky to have you.
Me: Yeah well I wonder what…
Arthur [interrupting]: Did you hear that? I just paid you a compliment and you moved on and changed the subject without acknowledging it!
Me: Oh. Thanks.
Arthur: You have trouble taking compliments, you know that?
[…this would carry on for a short time… Then, as abruptly as it began, Arthur would decide it was now time to end the call…]
Arthur: Are we right then?
Me: Yep.
Arthur: Righto. Talk soon. Bye.
Me: Bye.

Speaking of phonecalls: Arthur was one of those “old people” who pride themselves on being able to guess who is on the other end of the phone, just by the sound of their voice. So it was pretty alarming to me, last May, when I called him up and said playfully “guess who this is ?” – and he couldn’t guess.

I thought he was joking, but he wasn’t. And his voice had gone all slurry. Oh. God. “Young” Arthur was now old. My eyes were filling up with tears on the phone, I didn’t want him to hear me cry as we talked. Arthur had changed. He struggled to tell me what had happened. They didn’t really know, but he was going into the hospital for some tests. Maybe Parkinsons.

But it wasn’t Parkinsons, the doctors thought it was a series of “mini-strokes” which had rocked his body. I visited him in hospital. He found it easier to communicate in person, still trying to make fun of the nurses and the fluorescent food they served him for lunch (which he tried to fob off on me). His life was already flagging at that point, but he sat up in bed making drawings, getting the orderlies to sharpen his pencils for him.

Here are the drawings he was working on the day I visited:
arthurs hospital drawings

These are the last images I have of Arthur.

arthur reads my acdc dream

I brought him a copy of a screenprint, the handwritten text of a dream about AC/DC which I made during the Bon Scott project I did last year. It’s a pretty funny dream, with the members of AC/DC sharing a warehouse with the members of a feminist architecture collective. He immediately engaged with it, reading it from start to finish in front of me, in silence, while I sat waiting, watching him, and taking these photos. When he got to the end, he cracked up:

arthur cracks up

After I returned to Sydney, I sent Arthur a few postcards to keep him updated on what I was up to, especially what I was trying to write about in my thesis. I knew he was not much chop on the phone – there was too much “what?” and “say again?!” from both of us – but I guessed he would enjoy getting the cards. Every time, a few days after I sent a card, he’d call me up. Sometimes we’d talk, but more often, he’d get my answering machine, and leave a long, convoluted and mumbling message I could only half make out. These messages were incredibly sweet, and incredibly sad. His last message was full of praise for me: he said something about how it was really marvellous what I was doing, how my project was generous and intelligent and most importantly, “not at all elitist”. I saved it on my phone, but after seven days the phone company cleared the saved messages and it was gone.

And now, so is he.

Farewell Young Arthur, I loved you old fella.

instructional artworks

in preparation for a workshop accompanying the erwin wurm show at the mca, i am compiling a few links for "DO IT YOURSELF" and/or instructional artworks.

the DO IT manual:

and erwin wurm's contribution with some cute drawings:

101 Art Ideas You Can Do Yourself, by Rob Pruitt:

fluxus performance workbook, compiled by Ken Friedman, Owen Smith and Lauren Sawchyn (315kb pdf document, to download right click the link and "save target as" or "save link as"):

any suggestions to add to this list welcome!
margie suggests:

Henry Bursill's  Hand Shadows To Be Thrown Upon The Wall [Originally published by Griffith and Farran in 1859!!]:

and also from Margie:
assignments galore (and they're fun) from Miranda July et al:

participatory action research

A great intro to “Participatory Action Research” by Yoland Wadsworth

excerpt here:

We are looking for our daughter’s shoes in the early morning scramble. We review previous ‘historical data’ (memories of earlier experiences!) as part of planning our ‘research design’. We generate several hypotheses and move quickly into the ‘field’ to involve other participants and gather new data to test them! We use some observational anthropology. Two brief interviews with daughter and sibling result in reports of failed hunches! (they weren’t in their cupboards or on the back verandah!); we engage in further open-ended interviews with the entire household population. Then secondary analysis of the previous day’s timetable generates a further hunch (Sports Day!: shoes replaced with runners) and an additional round of observation reveals: shoes in school bag!These trivial microcosms contain a structure which reliably:

* commences – ironically – with stopping. That is, we do not begin to inquire until we actually suspend our current action because of the:
* raising of a question; which then provokes us to go about:
* planning ways to get answers – ways which will involve identifying and involving ‘questioners’, ‘the questioned’ and an idea of for who or for what we desire answers;
* engaging in fieldwork about new, current or past action in order to get answers and improve our experiential understanding of the problematic situation;
* generating from the ‘answers’ an imaginative idea of what to do to change and improve our actions;
* the putting into practice of the new actions (followed by further stopping, reflecting and possible ‘problematisation’).

feedback manual

Clubs Project Space in Melbourne runs “Feedback Sessions.”

From their Feedback page:

CLUBSfeedback focus upon on the means by which the work in question exists in the space of its presentation/actualisation. It is an attempt to develop an engaged reading or analysis of work through focused and extended collaborative dialogue. CLUBSfeedback begins by unravelling, through observation, the material and spatial structure of the work. These observations then open into critical discussions. The artist is not required to justify or explain the work in this process, but is engaged towards the end of the discussion when questions are formulated. These sessions are intended to be supportive, whereby the artists’ project is opened up to detailed analysis. We borrowed and developed this practice from an academic model that we shared together as students and we decided to continue it in order to build empowering and engaged peer relations.

Recently, in Sydney, a bunch of us (including Lisa Kelly, Sarah Goffman, Anne Kay, Kylie Wilkinson, and I) have adopted this model, and Feedback Sessions have been carried out for Michelle Ussher (as part of MCA’s Primavera 2005) and for Josie Cavallaro (for her recent show at Scott Donovan Gallery).

At the moment we’re running off Clubs’ Feedback Manual (which is on their site, and a pdf is saved here also). I reckon before long we’ll reformulate that manual for our own ends, in keeping with the Clubs open source policy!

– –

ps: as of 2007, we now have a Sydney Feedback Sessions on the go! See

allan kaprow student experiments

…from page 60 of “Allan Kaprow”, Corso Superiore Arte Visiva, Fondazione Antonio Ratti, Skira, 1998, Milano.

Find a comfortable place and sit down. Choose someone from among the people you can see and observe him/her.
Copy his/her position, movements, etc, exactly.

Split into three groups. Each group must try to push three different types of materials towards a given point.
Use only the power of your breath.

Choose a partner.
Pinch him/her and then let him/her in turn pinch you.
Check the increase in temperature of the part of skin pinched.

Arrange into small groups.
One person volunteers to be completely passive.
The others must push him in directions they consider to be right.
Having first agreed among themselves.

Choose a dirty mark.
Try to clean it using your saliva and one or more Q-tips.

Choose a partner.
One of the pair draws a line on the ground in chalk. The other partner must follow the line close behind and erase it until either the eraser or the chalk is completely worn out.

Choose a partner.
Observe your partner’s mouth in a mirror and copy his/her expressions.
Each time, move further away, one pace at a time.
Stop when you are too far away to see each other.

Sit on a chair.
Wait for a partner to rest his/her brow on your knee.
Exchange heat.
If you want, swap places and repeat.

Find a place inside.
Moisten a finger and blow on it until it is dry.
Moisten it again and wait until it has dried by itself.

Choose a partner.
Cover your head with a sheet of newspaper.
Breath in and hold for as long as possible.
Stop when the sensation of warm damp becomes unpleasant.

Split into groups.: those who wear glasses and those who don’t.
Those who do not wear glasses mist up the lenses of those who do.
Those who wear glasses must then give the glasses to those who don’t.
Repeat the procedure.

Form a line.
A boy/girl will give you a cold kiss and a warm kiss on each cheek.
Try to spot the difference.

Take a paper handkerchief.
Place it over your mouth.
All walk, starting from the same line.
Hold your breath or breath in until the handkerchief falls.

performance and kind-ness: lone twin

On the weekend i went down to perth to participate in a workshop by uk artists 'lone twin'. anne had tipped me off on it, and i managed to get there at the last minute. this performance duo is pretty inspiring. they take 'pointless activity' to the max – for example line dancing, blindfolded, without music, in cowboy costumes, for 12 hours continuously. in another work, they were asked to link two art centres at opposite ends of an english village, colchester. they got a map and drew a straight line with a ruler between the 2 centres. then they decided to walk as close to a straight line as possible between the two places. To make it a bit more difficult, they wore their cowboy outfits and dragged with them a telegraph pole – it took 8 days! each person they met with told them stories about the town… one woman said they had arrived "25 years late" since that was when a wall blocking their way had been built. each of these encounters was documented by burning the initials of the person into the pole using a magnifying glass and the sun. when they finally arrived at their destination, a crowd of townsfolk had gathered. they all raised the pole together, and lone twin told their stories back to them.

The title of the workshop was “performance and kindness”. [see] Lone twin are interested in the idea that their activity often generates kindness from those they come into contact with. In return, their lavishing of time and attention on a place or activity is a sort of kindness in itself. It's an interesting concept in relation to performance art, given its famous history of (self) violence. But then i started thinking about the idea of kindness. The word began to me to have a ring of other sorts of “ness” – you know, like the “tree-ness” of a tree is that it should stand tall and provide shade. The “bird-ness” of a bird is that it should fly and have feathers. Of course, these ness-es are negotiable, and changeable over time… It occurred to me that the word “kind” (when used interchangeably with the word “sort” could be a kind of category word – a word which attempts to come to grips with the thing-ness of a thing.
One definition of "kind" from "Fundamental, underlying character as a determinant of the class to which a thing belongs; nature or essence."
"Kind-ness": the condition of a thing that it should *be like* something (that it should "have a kind"). The character of a thing, precisely that it should *have* a character of some sort.
It's a humble definition, i realise, (and a fuzzy unformed one) but not without some kindness (generosity) within itself – it respects the nature of something for what it is, without trying to change it.

Cunderdin High School Workshops Day 1

[the following post is part of the Bilateral Kellerberrin project. For more on my Cunderdin workshops, see this link.]

cunderdin is 45 km from kellerberrin. As part of my residency at kellerberrin i am running some school workshops. Since i often do these kind of workshops (as a job) i thought it would be interesting to approach them as an experiment “in themselves” ie – something without a known outcome. That way the workshop process becomes as much a part of my ongoing project as any other aspect of the residency.

Felena found what could be the ideal class for such an experiment – the multimedia and information-communication technology (MM ICT) class at cunderdin high. The students are about 13-14 years old, there are about ten of them. Their teachers, Iain and Trevor, have a focus on film/video and computers, respectively. I think its an interesting class to be working with (as opposed to an “art” class) because there is already, i reckon, an openness to the idea of utilising whatever materials and processes happen to be in front of you, and are appropriate, for a given project.

Of course, the kind of art that i do was kinda unfamiliar to them. I ran them through a very rough powerpoint presentation of some of my projects, trying to draw the focus onto a careful consideration of the banal and everyday as an approach to art making. The “Cornflakes” performance and the orange juice installation were kind of confusing to them, I think. But I pressed on. The lecture theatre piece with cushions may have made an impact, I'm not sure. It's hard to tell when you are not only introducing them to your work, but also the the WHOLE IDEA of this kind of work. One bright spark kept asking “what's the point?” (something that Deakin students also asked a few weeks ago when i talked to them) and indeed that is perhaps the crucial question.

Trevor pointed out afterwards that it was potentially empowering for them to realise that they can make something out of what is in front of them – it is an honouring of the minor things that make up your life. I guess that's some kind of point. But anyway, a lack of point didnt seem to deter them from sitting with me, fairly undistracted, for an hour, which is an achievement with any kids of that age, i reckon, especially when i am not trying to seduce them with razzamatazz.

Before they ran off to little lunch I tried to squeeze out of them some of their interests, with a view to “doing something” together for the 4 weeks when they get back from their fortnight of holidays.
“What would you like to do with that period of time?”
Responses included :
-make something…a car? Drive it off a cliff – a destruction piece. (are there any cliffs around here?)
-make our own drugs (probably a bit out of our league in the time frame)
-create our own music, create our own games.
-design a hockey stick (i was impressed with this one, this project would involve carpentry, graphic design, engineering drawings, testing etc)
-make a cartoon character.
-a car racing or horse racing game
-something involving guitars.

It was good to gauge what they were into, and the idea of games and music popped up a bit, so maybe we can head off in that direction. I am aware that I need to structure, quite cleverly, the “freedom” which i intend to give them. It is probably most unproductive to let them loose and do “whatever they want” because (like improvised performance) they will most likely fall back on that which is familiar, behaviour wise, and i want to do the opposite. Probably I will begin each week with exposure to some particular items of art or media (either by me or by various luminaries i rustle up) and then get them to participate in a collaboration/play activity a la allan kaprow, something self-contained, so there is a “result” within the day. If these are adequately documented, it would be enough of an achievement to present the findings of four activities as a “workshop outcome”.

bianca hester is working on a collaborative project with undergrad students at VCA (victorian college of arts). you can see some of the progress of her erstwile students in a bloggy form here:

much like the legendary allan kaprow, hester is keen to shake up her students a bit, to get them out of the normal routine of university art school process – which usually involves a single student authoring a single discrete and highly tangible object/outcome (and being "assessed" individually, and by an authority rather than peers).

instead, hester is "forcing" them to embark on a collaborative process, and to struggle with the project as a process in itself. i cant say i have any idea what the outcome might be, but the budding artists seem to have engaged in some sort of game based around "exchange" – they have divided their foci into "four intensities "falling under the headings "object, process, tool, material" – the use of which is kinda unclear…(one student's intensities were "TROLLY JOINING STRING SCISSORS")…

the blog comes across, to me, more as the collective minutes after an intense meeting, and i think thats why its a bit hard to follow what's going on. but it is clear that it is a site for exchange by the participants more than by interested outsiders like myself. furthermore (and this is most interesting to me) it is an experiment challenging the limits of hester's own practice as an artist. i'm itching to see and hear more…