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Radical Housing and Socially-Engaged Art

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Distinguishing Nature January 2016 – December 2016

You receive an image from a stranger, a series of photographs from a place far, far, away, a place that is unlike a place you’ve ever really seen or experienced before – a place you have various assumptions about, but know very little of. This is what it was like for the students of Redeemer Lutheran School Biloela, a rural town in outback Australia and the transient community of students of The British School, in Delhi.

As young people we conjure imagery in our head of what things may or may not be like on the other side of the world. We base our understanding of a place on what we see on T.V or view online. This project aimed to break away from stereotypical depictions of a landscape and aimed to portray the unique lived experience within these spaces.

From the offset Bilolea and Delhi are two points of the map that appear to represent extreme polarities; however globalisation and the economic pull affects these communities in similar ways. Biloela, essentially a mining town, brings people in from all over the country and at times even the world. What this results in is a community, which has a limited connection to the place in which they live. These people uproot their lives and move around the country following the demands of the working globalised world. The expatriate community in Delhi functions in a similar way. Of the year 11 and 12’s at The British School very few students have completed their entire high schooling in one country; therefore their relationship with Delhi is quite an interesting one. These students from Russia, China, Korea, Africa and America (amongst others) each bring their own unique cultural heritage and range of experiences. The students were encouraged to capture these unique elements of their lives. Through a series of portraits, landscapes, close-ups and textures, the students were asked to document their world. They were introduced to analogue photography for the first time, they were asked to observe things around them closely and to be selective. Each student was given one roll of film, in these 24 clicks of a button they would share their lives with a complete stranger and try and paint a complete picture of their lives in Delhi, India.

Once the images were printed the students reworked the photographs using various erasure and mark making techniques. Mark making was used as a device, which assisted the student in formulating their desire composition, mood or feeling. Any images that were consider perfect, as they were remained untouched. Upon completing this final exercise the photographs were placed in an envelope and addressed to an anonymous pen pal across the world.

Once these images arrived at their desired destination each pen pal was encouraged to collaborate with the unknown artist and rework the images in any fashion. The point of this final exchange was to not only introduce the students to each other through an entirely visual language, but to also encourage the artist to lose ownership over their work, to challenge the notion of an artwork being something which is fixed, permanent and unchanging.

At the end of the year long exchange the students made a short video outlining what they thought of the project and were asked if the process unfolded as they had imagined; interestingly most of the students were surprised by the images and the outcome. They discussed the kind of photos they imagined they would receive and the kind they did receive, within the pool of expectation were the typical ideas of kangaroos in the backyard and Hindu gods dressing every room of the house; instead they were met with friends, family, the school yard, skylines and food. In essence the students realised that their counterparts of the other side of the global were dealing with, experiencing and being influenced by similar notions if different ways.

This project drew parallel lines of shared experience between students of a certain age group on opposite sides of the world, it aimed to breakdown stereotypes and encourage a wider, more diversified view of the world and its inhabitants. In encouraged the participants to stop and think. The analogue method of photography forced them to consider their compositions and their images carefully, without simply clicking a button aimlessly and then deleting the photographs with another click of a button. It worked towards encouraging a shift in this digital world of disposable production, to move with more attention and care throughout the world.