Although unfortunately unable to attend in person, slide-shows documenting 2 creative projects I have instigated and collaboratively created and curated are being shown in a session entitled “Geographer- artists: creative practice as research tool?” at the annual meeting of the American Association of Geographers happening in Seattle today.
The aim of this session is “to explore the use of creative practice as geographical research method, critically engaging with the entwining of research and creative sensibilities”. The four panels that make up the session have the different focuses of:
- and ‘Reflections’
While each session has a slightly different focus all four sessions will broadly consider the possibilities creative practices offer when applied as geographical research methods (and vice versa) and will critically engage with the politics of production and consumption that arise through art-geography collaborations. The session therefore seeks to reflect on the practice of geographer-artist projects, their varied audiences and the politics involved in their knowledge production.
The papers across the four sessions engage with elements of the production, consumption and circulation of creative practices, themes for the sessions include, but are not limited to:
· The methods and practices and experiences of ‘creative geographies’:
· The settings for these intersections of art and geography, their production, consumption, audiences and impacts
· The challenges of critical creative practices
What is slightly telling about this session, however, is that almost all of the participants are funded or supported by university funding bodies and structures in some way. The only presenter who appears to be unconnected with university funding and support structures is Neal White of the Office of Experiments.
In a paper entitled “Radical Knowledge Production” Neal talks on behalf of the Office of Experiments (represented by himself as Director of Experiments – UK and artist Steve Rowell Director of Independent Research- International – USA). The paper will discuss the critical role of emerging marginal organization’s in relation to new forms of cultural production within a framework of geography.
Office of Experiments traces its origins to a tradition of ‘institutional critique’ within arts discourse. Situating their practice in the context of radical and marginal institutions, they ask how can experimental approaches to fieldwork, informational databases, photography, participatory research and collective engagements, represent new alternative realities?
The issue of marginality in relation to institutional settings is an important one and I am glad it is being raised at this session. I have spent the last year attempting to become a geographer-aritst while being unaffiliated with a university institution and without university privileges. This has involved me taking on part-time jobs at arts institutions in the city (jobs which I came to see as part of my research into the creative industries in Canada) to fund the creative projects I have initiated and collaboratively created and curated in my ‘spare time’, notably the audio-visual installation Terrible Karma: Reverberations of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory (entirely self-funded) and the exhibition Fashioning Feathers: Dead Birds, Millinery Crafts and the Plumage Trade (funding for the production costs of staging the exhibition is being provided by the University of Alberta History and Classics department).
- what kind of spaces generate the conditions in which geographer-artists come into being, not as distinct figures but rather as temporarily shared trajectories?
My questions in connection to this would be:
- is it possible become a geographer-artist? can one commit to this practice full-time?
- while there are many notable examples of artists becoming geographers or artist-geographers (i.e. Trevor Paglen, Perdita Phillips, Angela Last, Amanda Thompson, Steven Rowell, Hillary Ramsden, Neal White, Amanda Rogers etc) there is less in the way of academically trained geographers committing to becoming geographer-artists (i.e. practicing full-time in this capacity).
- To reiterate Jellis’s question what kinds spaces exist which generate the conditions for this possibility?
- What funding bodies/structures/residencies are open to geographer-artists outside university structures/funding bodies?
- Is being a geographer-artist a sustainable practice in the long-run if you are confined to marginal and experimental spaces outside institutional structures?
- or do these more marginal/experimental spaces offer the conditions for more ‘radical’ knowledge and art production?
- in other words, do they create the conditions for other ways of being geographer-artists?
While there are a number of practicing aritist-geographers presenting in the session (Angela Last, Hillary Ramsden and Neal White being of note) the majority of the other speakers are academic geographers reflecting on collaborations they have been involved in with artists and other creative producers and institutions.
While I fully support the relevance and import of art-geography collaborations and their outcomes (though some are more interesting/successful than others), it appears to me that what is missing from many of the presentations in this session are the voices of the artists and creative practitioners that the geographers have been working and collaborating with.
This may have something to do with the price of attending the AAG (it costs between $390-$435 to attend as a non-memeber) but also may be due the the fact that the audience and discourse is not of sufficient interest to artists and creative producers… in other words what would be in it for them? The American Association of Geographers Annual meeting is, after all, a meeting about communicating geographical research and practice to other geographers. This issue prompts the following questions:
- what politics of power are involved when conversations about the import of art-geography collaborations are told from the geographer’s perspective and are confined to the disciplines institutional spaces like the AAG?
- also if geographers are not involved in the making of the art what kinds of politics and power-relations are involved in the appropriation of artist’s (often poorly funded) work to exemplify academic (mostly well-funded) arguments and to strengthen their own geopolitical careers?
- and finally is it possible become a geographer-artist? Is this a sustainable practice in the long-run? or must you always be an academic geographer first, creative practitioner second in you own time? Is it possible to marry the two?
To give the chairs’ of the session (Dr Harriet Hawkins and Dr Phil Jones) credit they are aware of the issues I have raised above and were very accommodating to accept a proposal to contribute to the session remotely.
These slideshows have been uploaded here to further remotely engage with this session:
This slide show documents a collaboration between two geographer artists: Adeola Enigbocan and myself.
Description of the work:
Terrible Karma: reverberations of the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire was a mobile audio-visual installation exploring the global reverberations of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire (in which 146 garment workers, mostly young immagrent women, were killed) on its 100th anniversary: March 25th 2011.
It brought together photographs detailing working conditions of garment factories at the time of the Triangle fire and oral histories of Triangle fire survivors with audio recordings of mega-scale garment factories in Qingyuan, China and protest cries and songs of present-day garment workers in Bangladesh and Cambodia to invoke the contemporary and global resonances of the Triangle fire.
The title – Terrible Karma – refered to both the title of a protest song sung by Cambodian female garment workers at a union rally in Phnom Penh (July 2010 – click for translation) and to the idea that events of the garment industry past continue to haunt the present, that they are always coming back.
The work arose out of experimental geographers – Adeola Enigbokan and Merle Patchett’s – mutual desire to mark the centenary of the Triangle factory fire whilst also exploring the constraints and conditions in which garment workers continue to work, live and die.
The first installation ‘took to the streets’ on March 25th, 2011 when the audio-visuals were projected out of a UHAUL truck parked in downtown Manhattan locations associated with the events of the Triangle Fire. Passers-by were invited inside the back of the truck to experience the work from within its claustrophobic confines. In the back of the truck urban areas like New York, Qingyuan, Dhaka and Phnom Penh folded into each other as we traced the rhythm of the needle’s stitch over a century.
The the work was then installed at Splash! – the official after party of Western Canada Fashion Week Spring 2011. Splash! took place place at 10507 109 Street, formerly Donovan’s Fashions (a high-end women’s fashion outlet in Edmonton). A re-worked version of Terrible Karma was installed into the fitting rooms area, in tune with the works previous commitment to site-specificity.
This slide show documents some of the research and curatorial work conducted by myself thus far for the exhibition Fashioning Feathers: Dead Birds, Millinery Crafts and the Plumage Trade I am co-curating with Liz Gomez at the FAB gallery, University of Alberta. This exhibition arises out of research carried out by myself on taxidermy and millinery crafts and collections and pre-existing collaborative curatorial relationships between myself and the artists Kate Foster and Andrea Roe.
The exhibition develops upon work produced by Foster, Roe and myself for the 2007 show Out of Time: an exhibition inspired by the arts of taxidermy at the Hunterian Museum, Glasgow, Scotland.
To apply this work to a Western Canadian context and Clothing and Textiles Collection new collaborative working relationships were sought and developed between myself and Dr Liz Gomez (who has expertise in Western Canadian visual and performative culture) and staff at the University of Alberta’s Material Culture Institute and Clothing and Textiles Collection.
“Feathers fascinate, feathers are fetishized, feathers are very much back in fashion. This exhibition takes us back to a time when the wings, bodies and heads of birds were used to adorn hats.
Fashioning Feathers… explores the complex geographies of collection, production and consumption behind the making of such ‘feather fashions’. From the hunting and killing of birds in their natural habitats, to their processing in metropolitan plumage sweatshops and crafting by professional and amateur milliners, to their becoming adornments on the heads of women in Europe and North America.
With all these human designs on bird feathers Fashioning Feathers… enlists the artwork of contemporary artists Kate Foster and Andrea Roe to help engage our curiosity to wonder at how birds use their feathers – and what we do to birds in the process of fashioning them.”