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Forms for Encounter and Exchange: Laughing Waters Fieldschool Residency for Socially Engaged Artists 2015

Over ten days in May 2015, twenty international artists came together to live and work together at the historical iconic mud brick houses located in Parks Victoria bushland nearby Eltham, Victoria. I devised this residency to explore the 'pedagogic turn' found in new forms of socially engaged residencies while realising a partnership between the Centre for Cultural Partnerships (CCP) at the University of Melbourne and the Arts and Culture Team at Nillumbik Shire Council (NSC). Together with guest faculty from California College of the Arts, including Ted Purves (Chair of Social Practice) and Susanne Cockrell (Chair of Community Arts), and myself (at the time I coordinated the Master of Arts and Community Practice program), we sought to expand our approach to teaching art outside of the university classroom and in a community context.

Held at the site of NSC’s Laughing Waters Artist in Residence program at Riverbend and Birrarung houses, as well as a nearby community house Caitlin’s Retreat, Field School was imagined as a collaborative learning exchange between socially-engaged artists and researchers. While reflecting on both the historical and cultural significance of these houses, Field School participants would pay careful attention to the social and environmental contexts of the residency: primarily traditional ownership of the Wurundjeri Tribe and also the recent tragic events of the 2009 Black Saturday bushfires. The peer-developed curriculum was developed from both the NSC hosting partner’s interest in local sites and the participating artists’ proposed responses to place including a series of practice-based art workshops, theoretical lectures, site walks, public art tours, public events, and  flexible time to develop collaborations in situ.

As reflection on Field School, a journal article (with Kate Hill, Ted Purves, Suzanne Cockrell, and Amy Spiers) was co-authored to examine the social forms of residency through turn of the century social theorist George Simmel’s dual lenses of encounter and exchange. This essay offers my recent efforts to theorise the ‘social turn in artist residencies’ (2015) drawing on their development of a loose taxonomy of institutional and artist-led residency initiatives as discourse towards the emergence of the ‘guest-host’ paradigm. The article presents a series of as ‘field notes’ ruminating on place, pedagogy and praxis with aim to examine Field School as social form. These attempts are supported by guest faculty Ted Purves’ preoccupation with Simmel’s concepts of ‘exchange’ and the ‘between-ness’ and Susanne Cockrell’s frame of story as a social form.

Another 'Forms for Encounter and Exchange' residency is planned for 2020 and has informed interdisciplinary curriculum development for School of Art at RMIT University. 

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