University of Tasmania
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On the path of untricking Hermes : adaptation of the design philosophy and methods of permaculture in community engaged art projects

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posted on 2023-05-27, 10:50 authored by Oszvald, T
Thirty-nine!' 'Believe me, we had 39 people today!' Linda tells me, counting through her list as we sit down exhausted, but also elated, after hosting our constant flow of visitors over an eight-hour time period in our Lorinna home. Within days, two thirds of the permanent members of this remote Tasmanian village visited our socially engaged art initiative: the MugWall'Social'Cafe. I love talking‚ÄövÑvÆbut the cafe was more than an opportunity to chat amongst community members, both those locally active or who have rarely met. Whilst nibbling apple-pear cake, our visitors connected with an invented situation, in a place that is also a service: and they were also aware of participating in an art project‚ÄövÑvÆone that explores the inclusion of permaculture principles with social practice, as a form of artwork. Sustainable thinking requires us to find art practices that resist both the destruction of our environment and the broadening of socio-economic gaps between people. Through my community-engaged art practice, I argue that such ethical project design parameters are essential to successful, and socially sustainable, outcomes in social (art) practice. Pablo Helguera (2011) states that social practice (art) is rooted in openness: where artists reconstruct newly useful vocabularies by synthesising knowledge borrowed from different disciplines. The practice-led research in this project was informed by design principles derived from permaculture: and involved principles relating to observation, field-led investigation and critique. Permaculture combines an explicit ethical focus with ecological design methods (Holmgren 2002) and these can be pragmatically adapted to the field of social practice. Permaculture can also be understood as a holistic mode of thinking, which permeates lived experience. So within this project, it was also useful to draw upon phenomenological hermeneutics as a means to analyse this mode of engagement. After an experimentally variant series of smaller projects designed to test the idea of social engagement as an art form capable of 'sculpture' (Luckenbach 2003), the research itself culminated in fieldwork in the community of Lorinna, a town populated by approximately one hundred self-identifying residents. Located in a hidden valley alongside Cradle Mountain, the Lorinna 'community' comprises an intriguing mix of people who variously identify as long-term settlers, 'hippies', retirees, vacationers and 'alternative' lifestyle-seeking families and individuals. The social composition and environs of the area fitted well with both the demands of immersive engagement, and the need to host a type of laboratory situation‚ÄövÑvÆa situation in which it was possible to be welcomed as a participant-observer. The artwork produced by field experience sought to embrace the holistic nature of permaculture and led to a body of work that was focused variously on concept and process as well as material outcome. Material outcomes‚ÄövÑvÆincluding elements of public intervention and installation works‚ÄövÑvÆwere also born of collaborative processes, and the MugWall Social Cafe provides an illustration of how this works. The processes involved in conceptualising as well as facilitating the 'events' in situ are processes that constitute elements of the work itself. Furthermore, the social interactions, material artefacts and documentation each formed part of the work and, for this reason, it is intended that the creative work, material artefacts and process collapse into one. This research highlights the interdisciplinary interrogations and collaborations that can be enabled through social practice, and how the interaction between community engaged art and permaculture is potentially transformative for both disciplines. A core conclusion of this investigation is that the process of integrating permaculture design principles with social practice is not suited to a prescriptive set of actions or the automated replication of a complete system. Instead, a reduced model is proposed in which the constant flux of decisions and actions informed by permaculture depend upon the context, role and identity of an artist within a community. To begin with, I modify the permaculture principle 'observe and interact' to 'observation through interaction' in order to better sit within a hermeneutically informed, participant observer engagement approach that seeks out methods that are sustainable, whilst retaining the personally interpretive and in situ capacity to evolve. My four central 'model' findings read: 1. Spend as much time in observation as is practicable. 2. Find a personally intuitive way to transition from 'tool' to 'attitude'. 3. Live with, rather than work with, a community, and 4. Avoid 'trickery' to practice 'small and slow solutions' instead. This culminating distillation perhaps sounds overly simplified. But the process of reaching this model‚ÄövÑvÆand finding a realizable means to actually practice it‚ÄövÑvÆwas by far the most difficult outcome to achieve within my research. The collective objectives to observe, holistically imbue an attitude, and live as a connected member of the Lorinna community also consolidated in my need to avoid forms of antagonistic social practice that I came to think of as cheapened, non-solutions oriented 'trickery'. This creative theoretical resolution represents what I feel to be my most significant reflection directly resulting from this research, where my role as a practice led artist ‚ÄövÑvÆ understood in a metaphorically personified hermeneutic term ‚ÄövÑvÆ provided the title 'The un-tricking of Hermes'.


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