Friday Seminar Series

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The ethos of SymbioticA is that ideas are discussed and shared openly and the Friday Seminar Series is designed to allow an open forum to disseminate artistic, scientific, ethical and philosophical research and practice of resident researchers, visiting artists and scholars. Our Friday Seminar Series are held salon style, in our studio space and commence at 3:00pm on Fridays. All are welcome.

Participatory Exchange: Generating Critique in Social Practice

Date: 25 May 2018
Time: 3pm
Location: SymbioticA
Speaker: Elizabeth Pedler

In my practice-led thesis I approach socially engaged art as both a theorist and practitioner to understand how exchange is employed by artists to generate critique. The burgeoning genre of relational aesthetics has led to interest and confusion as to the intent and methods of social practice. Through a study of the literature and critical investigation of fellow artists’ methodologies, I examine how exchange functions as a model in social practice to generate participatory outcomes, and the ways that exchange fosters critique. Analysing how exchange is employed by artists in the forms of commodity, gift, confrontational and dialogical exchange, I consider the effects of their chosen methods, and adapt selected strategies for use in my own practice. In the course of this research I produced four socially engaged artworks, each framed to examine how exchange facilitates participation and creates opportunities for social, political, and institutional critique. The artworks were constructed in a series of residencies and institutional art spaces within Australia and examine a range of audience responses to social practice. The information gathered from my reflections, and from participants in debriefing and interviews, is used to illuminate the experience of the artworks and my methods. Reviewing the strategies adopted and their artistic outcomes, I examine how the experiences produced by these exchanges generate findings that expand and diverge from my prior knowledge of social practice and human relationships.

Elizabeth Pedler was born and raised in Perth, and attained a Bachelor of Fine Arts with First Class Honours at the University of Western Australia. Her work has been shown at TarraWarra Museum of Art, Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre, The Jewish Museum of Australia, Perth Institute of Contemporary Art, Harvest Music Festival (Melbourne), Melbourne Fringe Festival and Gertrude Street Projection Festival. Elizabeth has held solo or two-person exhibitions at galleries in Perth, Melbourne and Launceston. In 2012 she was awarded an ArtStart grant from the Australia Council, and in 2015 was the recipient of a Young People and the Arts Fellowship from the Western Australian Government Department of Culture and the Arts. In 2014 Elizabeth returned to Perth, to undertake PhD (Art) studies at Curtin University, focussing on participatory art forms and audience engagement. Interested in the range of participation possible in art, Elizabeth's practice spans from playful and interactive installations to collaborative relational aesthetics. Exchange, food, and community involvement are areas of particular focus, and have led to significant artistic development in her recent arts practice, engaging with audiences through the sharing of experiences and storytelling. Elizabeth has been working with Janet Carter since 2015, and on the project Eat the City since 2016; sharing stories and knowledge relating to food through creative practice. Eat the City has been presented as part of Know thy Neighbour by International Art Space, Festival of Disrupted Ideas, Greenskills Sustainable Living Festival and Social Impact Festival, engaging with audiences and building awareness of food precarity.

What do we mean when we say “Art is Knowledge”?

Date: 8 June 2018
Time: 3:00pm
Location: SymbioticA
Speaker: Dr Boris Oicherman, Weisman Art Museum, University of Minnesota

Just as we should view art not as an accumulation of so-called art objects, but as a way of approaching knowledge, we should also view knowledge not as an accumulation of data, but as a flexible mechanism for reorganizing reality.
Luis Camnitzer, An Artist, a Leader, and a Dean Were on a Boat…

During three days in May 1970 an unusual event took place in Venice, CA. Robert Irwin, an artist known at the time as a minimalist painter, hosted a NASA-commissioned scientific symposium in his studio: The First National Symposium on Habitability of Environments.

The motivation for the symposium was set by changing needs in the space program at the end of the Moon landing era and the acute question it brought about: what would it take to construct an inhabitable environment for humans in outer space? Irwin, then an artist in residence with the NASA subcontractor Garrett Corporation, found scientists’ approach to this problem to be overly technocratic and lacking the perspective of the very human who would inhabit new environments. He believed that art, as a discipline dedicated to subjective experiences, was in the position to restore that perspective. Together with his collaborator, NASA program psychologist Edward Wortz, Irwin decided to turn a scientific symposium into an artwork crafted for a single purpose: to challenge NASA’s approach to habitability.

Frequently mentioned and routinely underexamined, The Symposium on Habitability provides an utterly unique case study for development of artistic agency. A radical hands-on attempt of an artist at challenging the dominant research discourse in the science of space travel, the significance of Irwin’s act is in proposing a new model of creative practice where the artist functions as a meta-scholar, temporarily attaching one’s art to other disciplines to create new insights. But what systems in arts support such a model of practice? More specifically, what are—or rather what should be—the institutional implications of this practice on art museums? Even more specifically: what operational, curatorial and financial practices should be in place in a university art museum that is interested in supporting artists in engaging head-first with social and academic discourses far removed from the arts?

Dr Boris Oicherman is the Cindy and Jay Ihlenfeld Curator for Creative Collaboration, Weisman Art Museum, University of Minnesota.