Through my Doctoral research, which is being supervised between Western Sydney University and The University of Cambridge in the UK, I am focusing on interdisciplinary, intercultural arts research, because, as declared by ’Jermyn, Helen, in the Arts Council of England’s paper, ‘The Ripple Effect’,
The arts do not offer a panacea for the complex issues that cause social exclusion, but it has been shown that they can be a significant part of the solution because they transcend barriers of language, culture, ability, and socio-economic status. Jermyn, Helen. (2001).
The roots of my rhizomatic, nomadic research methodology: AKA my nomadic childhood
As a working-class child, I left the country of my birth (Australia) on an ocean liner when I was less than a year old and spent a decade moving between towns and countries as we followed my dad’s band across the UK and Europe. During that time, when we lived in all sorts of accommodation: a shared band house in Birmingham where the kids all got nits; the upstairs flat in Rota in the province of Cadiz, in Andalucía, Spain where mum worked in the harbour-side bars and dad played to the American troops on the military base (going off-base and drinking cognac with the locals after the gig until the small hours of the morning) and my brother and I stayed home alone – often playing in the streets until hours after the streetlights came on.
We were always the new kids at school and after our school day, if we weren’t running the streets as was our way in the 70s, we hung out on band stands or in pub car parks, depending on the culture of the town we were living in. As a blond moppet, with a modest wardrobe that fit into a Kombi van and included swirly, psychedelic tunics and a hand-crocheted rainbow poncho, I had the look of an iconic, flower power child on the hippie trail. However, we weren’t hippies – we were ‘with the band’. I was told years later by an English cousin landlocked in the suburbs of London – that I had an air of sophistication which, I can tell you from the inside – I didn’t deserve and didn’t live up to.
During these peripatetic early years, I loved being in galleries and classrooms, to me they were spaces of friendship, curiosity and discovery, providing a welcoming community even when I didn’t speak the local language. My professional life honours these two spaces of creative encounter and my doctoral research seeks to bring the landscape of large public galleries, that I experienced as glowing touch stones in a volatile world, into relationship with more people. Further to that I am ambitious to build value into those relationships based on recognising and championing individual perspectives and affirming the value of difference.
As philosopher, Rosi braidotti says, we are differently situated and embodied and embrained and that difference is a resource. Braidotti asks us to:
carefully ground the statement ‘we humans’. For ‘we’ are not one and the same. In my view, the human needs to be assessed as materially embedded and embodied, differential, affective and relational. Let me unpack that statement. For the subject to be materially embedded means to take distance from abstract universalism. To be embodied and embrained entails decentering transcendental consciousness. To view the subject as differential implies to extract difference from the oppositional or binary logic that reduces difference to being different from, as in being worth less. Difference is an imminent, positive and dynamic category. The emphasis on affectivity and relationality is an alternative to individualistic autonomy. (Braidotti, 2019, p. 11-12.)
After a decade of being on the road – I was left with a deep doubt about my ability to fit into the local status quo and a deep curiosity about how people think. More than wanting to belong – I wanted to understand. I wanted to understand how and why other people felt, thought and acted as they did/do.
The kind of transitory encounters that happen ‘on the road’, can at times offer unique coalescences of thought and rhythm where if we are lucky, for just for a moment, we discover we are not alone. My early peripatetic life has led, after I rebelled and bought a house in the suburbs, to an adult practice of going ‘on pilgrimages.’ For example, walking the Camino de Santiago, spending a literary summer in student digs in Greenwich Village, New York and throughout my life, continually going on mini-Caminos in art galleries and museums. My Gallery pilgrimages offer the opportunity to encounter strangers both through the embodied other in the space, but also through the embodied artwork as generously offered by the artist. When I was an art student, I used to describe exhibiting as, ‘peeling off my skin and pinning it to the gallery wall for others to inspect,’ raw, vulnerability inducing and steeped in the DNA of the maker. ‘On the road’ suggests to me, encounters marked by brevity, honesty and intensity, however if you read Jack Kerouac’s, 1957 seminal counter cultural text on the beat generation, ‘On the road,’ this phrase has both a utopian and a dystopian side to it. The oxygen fueled, liberatory way that I am thinking about encounters ‘on the road’, is that they are encounters where we are released from the burden of having to present a ‘face’ or standpoint and then maintain it interminably. (E Goffman, 1966, Behaviour in Public Spaces). To me, encounters ‘on the road’ are enhanced by the freedom to walk away, Transitory spaces for me are liberatory spaces, where delight, discovery and occasionally truth can be be encountered – however fleetingly.
Gallery based exchanges with culturally encoded objects, have always, since I was a child trailing through galleries half-step behind my family, beckoned me to come closer. I was alert and alive to the promise of the art object to draw me in to something bigger than myself. Artworks offered me a space of discovery – within which I was still central – where in the end I discovered myself through the encounter with the other as offered through the body of the artwork. Art Galleries and museums were like a magnet to me, beckoning me in like a wise mentor, curling an index finger, compelling me to come closer. Galleries and art were my ‘call to adventure’ as described in Joseph Campbell’s, seminal text, The Hero with a Thousand Faces. I didn’t always know what I was encountering but I loved and still love that about art – I don’t know what will be revealed to me, I don’t know what will be asked of me, I don’t know if I will be found wanting – but I walk towards the precipice, where encountering new knowledge becomes a leaping off point – I hope to meet you there. My nomadic childhood has led me to a professional life in art education, starting as a high school art teacher where out of 900 students in the school where I was teaching, I loved 897 of them, into a career in education in galleries and museums.
I can’t hide it – I’m a believer. My experiences in art galleries and museums have taught me, that every now and then we will be caught-up in something transformational, something expansive, transcendent, imminent, braver and more light-filled than we predicted. A practice that for me, is predicated on the notion of radical hospitality – welcoming the stranger. (Cooke, 2019).
My research: Theorising my delight in art encounters with strangers as a catalyst to affirmative, relational transformational change
My practice-led research explores how artful-relational-cultural-mediation, working with intercultural contemporary art (Burnard, 2019) as a catalyst to change can help address contemporary societal and political issues marked by the privileging of some voices and the exclusion or marginalization of others. (Braidotti, 2019)
The theoretical framework for my rhizomatic research and nomadic analysis (Deleuze and Guattari, 1980) is situated at the lively intersection of:
Art: particularly photography and video art that features the body as metaphor and/or the body enacting activism.
Relationality with a focus on intercultural arts (Burnard 2018, 2019),
Cultural Mediation: the collective navigation of encoded cultural objects (artworks), operating as dynamic catalysts to intercultural communication with the potential to lead to personal and civil evolution/transformation.
I am using the European term cultural mediation in my research rather than other similar English terms such as: art education; art appreciation; audience development; or learning and engagement in the Galleries Libraries, Archives and Museum (GLAM) sector, as it more clearly represents the relational and engaged practices of interpretation that I am interested in researching, developing and championing.
A pressing imperative for my doctorial research will be the exploration of how to develop and deliver museum and gallery practices of artful-relational-cultural-mediation that are inclusive and affirmative; this includes acknowledging that museum practices are embedded within an historically colonising institutional framework and that cultural mediators must also, ‘when we are entering these intercultural research fields… challenge our self-understanding and how we interpret the degree of privilege our position carries. (Burnard, 2019, p 4). In exploring this theme, I position art galleries and museums as ‘third spaces’ (Bhabha, 2004) and both the gallery as an institution and the art itself as conceptual ‘spaces between,’ where we are invited to negotiate and navigate insider and outsider knowledges. (Mercer 2007, as cited in Burnard, 2019). In my practice-led research, I will establish how affirmative practices of artful-relational-cultural-mediation, both situated (in-gallery) and virtual (online) can play an enhanced part in further democratizing these spaces in order to make them more intrinsically part of the cultural evolution of society. My aim is to contribute to the process of honoring and including minoritarian voices as part of the affirmative and positive post human (Braidotti, 2018) and new materialist agendas to work in radical relationship to all things that are matter and do matter (Barad, 2007).
Conceptually, my research methods will be rhizomatic and nomadic, (Deleuze and Guattari, (1980) and Braidotti, (2013), whilst positioning artful-relational-cultural-mediation as a form of bricolage. (Levi-Strauss, (1966). I use Levi-Strauss’s term bricolage for its relevance to the way that artful-relational-cultural-mediation operates: working with what is ‘to hand’ both conceptually and materially – juxtaposing and adapting as needs demand, pivoting when needed, circling back to make as writer and political activist, Rebecca Solnit says, wide ranging connections and lateral moves, connecting things in, at times, unpredictable ways by responding to the nuance of the situations, materialities and theories most relevant/pressing within each encounter.
This process of bricolage and nomadic, rhizomatic research methods will continue through my review of the literatures that explore intercultural and intersectional aspects of pedagogy in art appreciation (Burnard, 2019, bell hooks, 1994, Dewey, 1934), in particular in my practice-led research I will examine both situated cultural mediation (in galleries) (Burnham & Kai-Kee, 2011); and virtual (online) cultural mediation as embodied and performative modes of enquiry (Harris, 2016; Taylor & Bayley, 2019, Leahy, 2012). I will be exploring Artful-relational-cultural-mediation as engaged with the flows of immanent materialities, (Spinoza, Barad, 2008, Braidotti, 2017), as affective, (Spinoza in Braidotti, 2018) social, imaginative and narrative-based forms of enquiry (Bedford, 2001, 2004; Vygotsky 1978); and as a socially mediated exercise of making meaning from embodied, culturally encoded experiences among communities of learners (Bourdieu, 1984; Falk & Dierking, 2000; Vygotsky, 1978; Wenger, 1999).
I will be working with the mediated forms of contempory photography and video and thinking with and sometimes against photography writers: Sentilles, (2017, 2010) Azoulay (2008) and Lindfield, (2010), Sontag, (1973), and Barthes (1981), to explore how mediated encounters with contempory photography and video art can effect and affect (Deleuze and Guattari, 1980, Braidotti, 2018, Massumi, 2002, Manning, 2013) audiences and generate change. For example, how art can be disruptive and provocative and thus demand a more nuanced sense of judgement about, and sensitivity to, people, objects, ecologies and politics.
My thesis will include ficto critical, auto ethnographic vignettes (Gibbs, 2005) that place my experience of visiting art galleries and museums from my youth as a working class child travelling through Europe and the UK with my father’s band in the late 60s and 70s, into juxtaposition with my adult participation in culturally mediated experiences as a gallery visitor and my own professional practice of artful-relational-cultural-mediation.
Central to my practice of artful-relational-cultural-mediation is the concept of ‘radical hospitality’. (Cooke, 2019), a concept often used in theological terms but one which I will theorize is central to making cultural mediation an evolutionary, transformational experience. Radical hospitality returns the meaning and act of hospitality to its Greek roots in the Greek word Philoxania translating to, “friend to a stranger”. Here I am referring to working with strangers as people and I am also referring to the artwork as a metonym of the ‘stranger’ given form in the shape of the artwork.
In my research approach I am acknowledging that each of us enter every encounter with our own set of prejudices and biases. (Dewey, 1934). And I posit that artful-relational-cultural-mediation can contribute to helping us acknowledge and respect differences through generating dialogues that honour all the people in the encounter as well as the cultural object, the histories and the differing perceptions of those histories.
Philosopher, Axel Honneth places the ‘struggle for recognition’ as the crucial mooring points for future efforts in critical theory… Honneth argues, It is by the way of the morally motivated struggles of social groups their collective attempt to establish, institutionally and culturally, expanded forms of recognition-that the normatively directional change of societies proceeds’ (1995, p. 92). (Fleming & Fergal Finnegan, 2010)
I am currently thinking I will develop my research assemblage working with inter-disciplinary young scholars from The University of Cambridge, UK, and Western Sydney University, Australia, as emergent leaders and examine what situated practices of artful-relational-cultural-mediation can be effectively and affectively migrated to online platforms. This research assemblage would give me the opportunity to model and test asynchronous, synchronous, facilitated and standalone online cultural mediation strategies. I am particularly interested in how practices of cultural mediation can contribute to broader and more diverse audiences being able to access meaningful, memorable and affecting experiences with contemporary art operationalized through effective and affective artful-relational-cultural-mediation as a catalyst to change.
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Barad, K., (2007), Meeting the Universe Halfway, Quantum Physics and the Entanglement of Matter and Meaning, ISBN: 9780822339175.
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Bhabha, H. (2004). The Location of culture. London & New York: Routledge.
Braidotti, R., (2018), A Theoretical Framework for the Critical Posthumanities First Published May 4, 2018.
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Cooke, Nicole A. (2019) Leading with love and hospitality: applying a radical pedagogy to LIS, Information and Learning Science; West Yorkshire Vol. 120, Iss. 1/2, (2019): 119-132. DOI:10.1108/ILS-06-2018-0054.
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Jermyn, Helen. (2001). Arts and Social Exclusion: A Review Prepared for the Arts Council of England. Arts Council England. As cited in The Ripple effect. WitV.
Lindfield, S., (2010), The Cruel Radiance: Photography and political violence, The University of Chicago Press.
Manning, E., (2013) Individuations Dance, Always More Than One, Duke University Press.
Massumi, Brian (2002). Parables for the Virtual: Movement, Affect, Sensation. Durham and London: Duke University Press. ISBN 978-0-8223-2897-1.
Sentilles, S., (2017) How We Should Respond to Photographs of Suffering, New Yorker, August 3, 2017 https://www.newyorker.com/books/second-read/how-we-should-respond-to-photographs-of-suffering
Sentilles, S. (2010) The Photograph as Mystery: Theological Language and Ethical Looking in Roland Barthes’s Camera Lucida. The Journal of Religion, 90(4), 507-529. doi:10.1086/654822ontag, S., (1977) On Photography, ISBN 0-374-22626-1
Spinoza, Benedictus de (2002) . Complete Works. Trans. by Samuel Shirley. Indianapolis and Cambridge: Hackett Publishing. p. 278. ISBN 978-0-87220-620-5. Levi Strauss, C., (1966) The Savage Mind, University of Chicago Press