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Leveraging the pedagogical force of art in precarious times: Socially engaged art and experimental pedagogies in the de-re-industrializing city.

conference contribution
posted on 2023-10-06, 04:15 authored by Merinda KellyMerinda Kelly
This paper presents an overview of selected case studies emerging from a practice-led PhD research project situated at the intersection of socially engaged art and art education in the de-/re-/industrializing City of Greater Geelong, Victoria. The research undertaken emerged amidst conditions of accelerating flux and change as Geelong continues its transition from an industrial city to a rebranded and gentrified Creative City of Innovation and Design. Throughout the practice-led research process, a series of socially engaged art projects with participatory and pedagogical elements were activated with young people in Geelong to elicit critical and creative responses to the rapid changes unfolding with and in their city. The evocative and imaginative responses produced by the young participants revealed that beneath the veneer of the creative city narrative, were palpable feelings of uncertainty, precarity and concern about their futures in and for their city and the world. In many Geelong suburbs and beyond, sustained access to arts education and other avenues for young people to respond creatively to their rapidly changing world have been significantly compromised. This is due to what Dennis Atkinson (2018:1) has described as the 'persistent under-valuing of the educational force of art in education by governments around the world’. Current disruptive local to global conditions, including the Covid-19 pandemic, have illuminated the essential value of learning with/in the arts and culture in the lives of young people and their communities. The diversity of creative responses researched and developed throughout this project illuminated inclusive, safe and diverse ways for young people to co-create, mediate and communicate new knowledge, ideas and creative actions, responsive to precarious times. This research proposes a timely return to the potentialities of learning in and with The Arts, beyond its instrumentalization in service to other subject areas. Leveraging the ‘educational force of art and arts education’ in schools and communities across Australia would make for a more culturally aware, visual and media-literate society of creative, innovative and agile thinker-makers, well placed to navigate and respond to uncertain futures. In response to rapidly transitioning temporal, spatial, material, socio-cultural, political, and economic conditions in the deindustrializing City of Greater Geelong, this research traverses a social turn materializing in my creative practice. Interweaving with my practice-led and autoethnographic research process are complex personal, professional and community-based experiences of art, life, and social change in the Geelong region. In post-Fordist times, issues of precarity, inequality and marginalization have intensified. As former industrial cities have moved towards highly corporatized, private service sectors and other forms of contemporary industrial production, my social turn mirrors the lived experiences of other cities in Australia and elsewhere. The impacts of accelerating growth, urban development and gentrification continue as deindustrialization destabilizes the lives of inhabitants in Geelong affected by social and material change. Entangled with the conditions of deindustrialization and the precariat are systemic fault lines of settler colonialism and enduring stories of Indigenous dispossession and resistance. These are times for urgent reckoning for ethical and socially just futurities and settler-Indigenous relations. Responding to the uncertainties of social and cultural tensions in the City of Greater Geelong, Victoria, my creative practice mobilizes towards experimental forms of socially engaged art and pedagogy. The research aims to leverage the potentialities of these converging and transdisciplinary practices as I set out to discover what might materialize with Geelong citizens and sites with the activation of a suite of process-oriented, creative encounters with participatory elements. The three case studies analyzed in this paper, illuminate the trajectory of the social turn in my creative practice. Posthuman and new materialist lenses are also applied to envision new potentialities and other ways of coming to know Geelong differently. These extend the constellation of case studies beyond the boundaries of specific situations, signaling suddenly immanent new relationalities with humans, more-than-human entities and the land. The three case studies analysed include: 1. #Vacant: Iconic Industries 2. Tread 3. Drive-by in Pivot City The final case study culminates with a mobile performance titled 'Drive-by in Pivot City.' This immersive, sensorial experience mobilizes participants through the city to encounter unexpected places, spaces and times. Driving here, there, and into present-future-past, participants may encounter, re-encounter or re-imagine other narratives and ways of coming to know Geelong differently from the shiny back seat of a beautifully restored 1966 Ford Mustang convertible. The title, Drive-by in Pivot City, playfully troubles and unsettles notions of colonial blindness and amnesia. The concept of a 'drive-by' can often be conceptualized as an unobservant action or a premeditated mobilization through space for the purpose of stealing, causing harm or potentially wreaking opportunistic havoc. Driving comfortably through the industrial precinct of the Northern suburbs of Geelong can habitually become a threshold space for many, a blind spot for tuning out on the way to somewhere else. Drawing on Fluxus artist Allan Kaprow's idea that 'movements call up movements in response,' the drive-by experience might move a participant towards a momentary encounter with a mutant rock or an unexpected place of spatial, material and temporal disjuncture. A pause point might hint at a bite-sized story fragment or a strange, space-time wandering back to the future. Seemingly incidental gestures might prompt a step towards 'undoing' normative ways of seeing and knowing Geelong through entangled colonial lenses of 'discovery, possession and capitalization.' Committed to setting time aright, this performative work enacts the 'counter-hegemonic practices' of re-turning to the past with/in the present moment. It takes response-ability for re-membering as a 'counter politics' for undoing injustice, inequality, erasure and colonial avoidance. In all, it is a project of imaginative re-worlding, for the revisioning, reconfiguring and co-production of ethical and socially just relationalities for sustainable futures with/in Geelong, the planet and its inhabitants. Kaprow, A. Kaprow, A, (1966), Notes on the elimination of the audience, Assemblages, Environments and Happenings: Harry N. Abrams New York, p.195 in Doherty, C. ed. (2006), Participation, Whitechapel London, The MIT Press Cambridge, Massachusetts, p.103. Slater, L. (2019) Anxieties of belonging in settler colonialism: Australia, race and space, Routledge, New York, Oxon, p.5. Atkinson, D. (2017) Art, disobedience and ethics: The adventure of pedagogy, Education, psychoanalysis and social transformation series. Springer International Publishing AG.



University of South Australia, Adelaide, Australia

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AARE Arts Education SIG


Australian Association for Research in Education Conference



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