Further down the rabbit hole: Reflecting on auto ethnography

This is a reflexive post after presenting a Lightning Talk, as part of a panel on Auto/Ethnography as a Method for Western Sydney University’s, Virtual Research Creation Showcase, on 23 October 2020.

I was invited to participate in this panel because my research is practice-led (Smith and Dean, 2009), and will include auto ethnographic vignettes of my professional practice of cultural mediation. Cultural mediation is a European term for what is more commonly known as art appreciation in art galleries and museums in Australia. I am using the phrase cultural mediation as it more accurately reflects the kind of artful, relational, embodied practices of art appreciation that I am interested in researching, developing and championing.  

I began my presentation at the symposium by inviting attendees to watch a short excerpt of Erkan Ozgens, Wonderland and further inviting them to write a short reflection on the experience of watching the video clip. Wonderland was recently exhibited at the Museum of Contemporary Art as part of the 22nd Biennale of Sydney and for more about my reflection on this work see this earlier post: Art Cultures – A Day of Thresholds  

I work with audience participation in my practice of cultural mediation in order to move the audience from passive to active participation. It was, and still is, my belief that the shift from passive to active helps to create a more meaningful and memorable experience  of the artwork for the audience that is embodied and affective and articulated through their own individual responses. However, as the symposium was on auto ethnography, I was compelled to reconsider my language and my ‘voice’ when writing my paper. I realised I was using the second person ‘you’ and when I redressed this and wrote the paper in the first person, ‘I’, several things were revealed to me.

Writing for the auto ethnography symposium helped me recognize and begin to articulate the importance, the risks and the implicit bravery of revealing myself by including autoethnographic vignettes in the entangled process of cultural mediation. Indeed, Norman Denzin , says

The writer of an autoethnography will ‘strip away the veneer of self-protection that comes with professional title and position … to make themselves accountable and vulnerable to the public.’ (p. 137)

When recognizing my accountability and vulnerability as a writer and presenter of cultural mediation and coupling that with philosopher and physicist  Karen Barad’s, (2007) proposition that:

Individuals do not pre-exist their interactions: rather, individuals emerge through and as part of their entangled intra-relating. Which is not to say that emergence happens once and for all, as an event or as a process that takes place according to some external measure of space and time, but rather that time and space, like mater and meaning, come into existence, are iteratively reconfigured through each intra-action… (Barad, 2007)

I recognized why I am so zealous in my commitment to the practice of cultural mediation. Because, in each of those entangled intra-actions, we collectively have the potential to bring each other and the artwork into being and that is a powerful achievement in a world that needs each of us to bring our situated selves to the conversation. Implicit in these exchanges are ethical responsibilities: to each other; to the work; and equally importantly to our individual selves.  

I finished the presentation with the following quote by journalist Paul Mason, (2020) whom in his book Clear Bright Futures, proposes that Living the anti-fascist life involves putting your body in a place where it can actually stop fascism and having done so to hold a tiny piece of liberated space long enough for other people to find it, populate it and live.

I see contempory art as able to open up such ‘tiny piece of liberated space’. Therefor I see, cultural mediation in art galleries and museum, as I practice and theorise it, as a generative, valuable platform for ethical intra acting. (Barad).

I closed my presentation with: Mason goes on to say, The radical defence of the human being starts with you.’ (p.300). And, that is why I’ve chosen to include aspects of auto ethnography  in my doctoral research.

Thank you.

On refection I realised that I’d left something unresolved and needed to add one more sentence. Here it is:

The radical defence of the human being starts with me.

Reference List

Barad, K., 2007, Meeting the Universe Halfway: Quantum Physics and the Entanglement of     Matter and Meaning. Duke University Press.

Dewey, J. (1934). Art as Experience. Perigee Books.

Deleuze and Guatarri, (1980), A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. University of  Minnesota Press.

Denzin, N. (2003). ‘Performing [Auto] Ethnography Politically’Review of Education, Pedagogy, and Cultural Studies, 25:3, 257-278, DOI: 10.1080/10714410390225894

Dunshire, S. ‘On Autoethnography’, Sociology Review, 2014, Vol. 62(6) 831–850, DOI: 10.1177/0011392114533339

Mason, P. (2020). Bright Clear Futures. Penguin Imprint.

McCarthy, N.L. (2020) Lightning Talk on Auto/Ethnography as Method, Research Creation Showcase Western Sydney University.

Smith, H., & Dean, R. (2009). Practice-led Research, Research-led Practice in the Creative Arts. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.