Robert NELSON & Julie ROBERTS & Mark McDEAN

Shifting the Paradigm: Collaborative Learning for the Development of Sustainable Aboriginal Art Practices in South East Victoria – a Community-Based Action Research Project

Abstract:

What would it take for the Indigenous population of East Gippsland to develop a vibrant art scene like the international art economy of the northern and central regions of Australia? Already there is plenty to build upon: local knowledge, local stories, lines of kinship and existing art centres. Our project team has developed an elaborate and elegant strategy to fold workshops, scholarships and networking into artistic projects that will acquire sustainable group energy. The proposed activities are based on careful assessment of community needs and latent enthusiasms. The project team is concerned to move away from old paradigms of teaching, predicated on outmoded notions of power relationships. Instead, we seek to institute a new paradigm of equality and mutual respect – a model cognisant of Aboriginal modes of knowledge exchange and skill acquisition, in which we have as much to learn as we have to teach. Our plans involve Indigenous people at all levels and are predicated on the belief that sustained art practice and recognition of that practice will add not only to the sense of community and identity of the Indigenous population of East Gippsland, but add substantially to the social capital of the region. This project is not simply a knowledge-seeking exercise but translates research into action and will actively build-up the art making culture of the region.

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Robert NELSON & Julie ROBERTS & Mark McDEAN:

Robert Nelson’s strongest interest is in the understanding of visual language. He wants to know how pictures make sense visually or what makes a jug or a cabinet or a building communicate spatially.

There are systems that organise the visual but they remain hard to fathom and most artists and designers rely on intuition to create their contributions to visual language. His means of understanding visual language involve four resources: art history; comparative language studies and philology; spiritual history and studio production itself.

He especially enjoys the two poles of contact with students at Monash: first year and graduate studies. In first year, students rehearse the historical development of form and content; and in the Masters and PhD programs they deconstruct it critically for the sake of original contributions of cultural significance. He is currently the Head of the Department of Theory of Art & Design, Faculty of Art & Design, Monash University.

His publications have mostly centred on contemporary Australian art, with 100 essays in journals and catalogues and 550 newspaper articles as art critic for The Age in Melbourne.

In 2000, he was awarded the Pascall Prize (a national prize for critical writing in all fields of the arts). He is also a painter, with 11 solo exhibitions. His most recent work has been scene painting for Polixeni Papapetrou.

 

Julie’s first career in the visual arts was as a curator and gallery director, working in London, including at the Tate Gallery and Riverside Studios (contemporary art space), in Auckland and in Melbourne. In the 1990s, Julie began her second career in the visual arts by moving from gallery and curatorial work into education and has since taught at various institutions in New Zealand, in the Northern Territory and at Monash University, at both the Caulfield and Gippsland campuses. She currently lectures in the Department of Theory of Art & Design, Faculty of Art & Design, Monash University.

Regional art and practices, and the visual culture of settler, post-colonial countries, such as Australia and New Zealand are of particular interest, especially cross-cultural exchanges, clashes, appropriations and hybrid art forms. Currently Julie is involved in a major cross-disciplinary ARC Linkage project exploring the role of social memory and its material manifestations in creating a sense of place.

Currently, Julie teaches predominantly into the design program, but she has extensive experience teaching Australian art, art of the Asia-Pacific region, Modernism and Post-modernism.

 

Mark McDean presently works in the Theory of Art & Design Department, Faculty of Art & Design, Monash University as a research assistant. He has worked with Monash for the past seven years, as visual arts lecturer and researcher. Mark’s current research project is investigating contemporary Indigenous practice in regional Victoria along with a co-operative research project based on the Creative City in the South East Asian region. Mark has exhibited widely including The Big Picture public art commission and Common Goods – Cultures Meet Through Craft at Melbourne Museum, both in 2006. An invitation to attend the South project gathering in Santiago saw Mark discussing Towards a World Craft in Chile in October 2006.