NiTRO Creative Matters

Perspectives on creative arts in higher education

Garden of Australian Dreams: Are we finally available?

Winding through ARM (Ashton Raggatt McDougall) Architects’ 2001 design for the Garden of Australian Dreams at the National Museum of Australia Canberra, snakes an impressive architectural interpretation of the Boolean string rising and plunging like a rollercoaster. This bold element is intended to conceptually embody the past and future of our Australian history, within which we are entangled.

By Dr Lynn Churchill

Winding through ARM (Ashton Raggatt McDougall) Architects’ 2001 design for the Garden of Australian Dreams at the National Museum of Australia Canberra, snakes an impressive architectural interpretation of the Boolean string rising and plunging like a rollercoaster. This bold element is intended to conceptually embody the past and future of our Australian history, within which we are entangled. Australian history is an unfinished evolving work in progress. From a number of perspectives, this evocative work continues to raise questions about the built environment, the political, social, cultural narrative we (designers) articulate through our work, and the agendas we enable. In particular this work sited within the context of the Australian National Museum (and all that that institution connotes) foregrounds a need to reflect on Australian history, that the past is an unfinished entanglement to which we should attend.

The built environment is complicit in affirming and or shifting expectations and experiences that influence ways in which we know and understand each other … We would all benefit from listening to the diversity of indigenous knowledge around living with this land

Then in 2015, ARM completed the William Barak Building on a prominent site in Swanston Street Melbourne. This 32-storey apartment block is a provocative and controversial building because the entire southern and eastern curved façade bares the sculpted face of William Barak (1824-1903). The 80 metre high face of Barak, a Wurundjeri man known to be an authority on cultural lore, can be seen looking out into the distance from as far away as the Shrine of Remembrance nearly 3 kilometres away. Again, this work seems significant in its provocation, in the questions boldly raised by this design move to which a number of people including academics have rightly engaged in discourse around understood rights and infringements on either side of ARM’s “design action”.

However, this brief essay is not a critical review of ARM’s architecture. Rather, the mention of these works serves here to reference the absence of indigenous voices in the conceptualisation of our Australian built environment. This essay posits that the built environment is complicit in affirming and or shifting expectations and experiences that influence ways in which we know and understand each other, and consequently behave towards each other. We would all benefit from listening to the diversity of indigenous knowledge around living with this land, and to their range of perspectives. As designers we could do more to listen and incorporate this knowledge because our design decisions influence behaviour.     

Point number one that the creative process be “indigenous led” and, point two, that indigenous people have the right to determine how their knowledge and culture is represented in design. As designers, we are no longer left wondering how to proceed.

Design thinking and practice in general is never neutral, there is always reflection and reinforcement of particular worldviews embedded within the designer’s decisions and these decisions will impact the quality of people’s lives. Even within particular cultures, people have different perspectives/lenses through which we understand the world differently from each other. Within any group there is often a diversity of experiences, and therefore diverse perspectives and voices. Often if not usually, the environments we designers create are an extension of existing historical narratives.

For example, many of us in Australia are unaware of how this country was occupied prior to invasion. We often compare Australia to Europe, considering our country to be huge, empty, young and English speaking. But for whom is this actually true? Many of us are unaware of the many countries that existed across this continent, or of the many languages and multiple seasons that pre-existed colonisation. Thankfully, Bruce Pascoe’s Dark Emu generously documents evidence-based discussion of thousands of years of settlement, agriculture, irrigation and life across this continent prior to colonisation.

In 2018 the International Indigenous Design Charter: Protocols for Sharing Indigenous Knowledge in Professional Design Practice was published. This important work, co-authored by Dr. Russell Kennedy[1] and Dr. Meghan Kelly from Deakin University, Mr. Jeffa Greenaway (Wailwan, Gamillaraay) from Indigenous Architecture and Design Victoria (IADV), Greenaway Architects and the University of Melbourne, and Professor Brian Martin (Muruwari, Bundjalung, Gamillaraay), provides a set of 10 points to which they expect designers to adhere. These include, for example, point number one that the creative process be “indigenous led” and, point two, that indigenous people have the right to determine how their knowledge and culture is represented in design. As designers, we are no longer left wondering how to proceed. This document makes explicit the terms of engagement. In addition, it has established a set of criteria through which we are now able to critically reflect on our own work and that of others, to measure our consultation processes, the efficacy of our design moves in relation to diverse indigenous perspectives and to know how best to proceed.

Events of 2020 are alarming but neither surprising nor new. As designers and creatives, we are able to orchestrate change. In an interview conducted by Dr Daryl Holland, University of Melbourne and published online[2], Jeffa Greenaway talked about design in Australia, and the value of connecting with the long and deep knowledge systems of indigenous communities, that a process of connection and communication should be normalised as the culture of the way we do things around here. 

References

[1] https://nitro.edu.au/articles/edition-4/styling-australias-new-visual-design-identity

[2] https://pursuit.unimelb.edu.au/articles/q-amp-a-the-indigenous-design-perspective


Lynn Churchill’s interdisciplinary approach to learning, research and design practice focusses on our human relationship with the constructed built environment, particularly in the dynamic context of rapidly developing technologies. As Discipline Lead (Acting) Interior Architecture Fashion Photography Design Masters and Course Coordinator Interior Architecture, Lynn leads curriculum design and delivery of the undergraduate and Honours programs and supervises HDR students. She is committed to developing academic capacity and strong student learning experiences, particularly embedding indigenous perspectives and Work Integrated Learning. In 2020, Lynn has re-designed two first year elective units, Philosophy and Practice, and History of the Interior, embedding indigenous perspectives using online content.

More from this issue

More from this issue

On 28 September, Currents, a new post-graduate arts research journal, was launched through the Centre of Visual Arts (CoVA) at the University of Melbourne by editors Kelly Fliedner and Jeremy Eaton. This new initiative, established between CoVA and the School of Design, University of Western Australia, draws on a broad range of arts-based research to form an interdisciplinary, supportive and valuable platform, which highlights the rigorous inquiries being undertaken by emerging scholars.

2020 has waged a remarkable and sustained attack on the ranks of the glass half full creative practitioner. As the consequences of COVID-19 have leeched through every fibre of our industry, trying to identify anything that might signal a bright, or even brighter, future could be seen to be the preserve of a strange cabal of tin hat wearing creatives.

2020 has brought major changes that have, and will continue, to impact upon higher education and tertiary creative arts in particular. But as our contributors remind us, these upheavals have brought resilience and innovation to the fore in creative arts.

Regional tertiary students learned alternative skills in performance when after just two weeks of face to face acting classes, we were forced to undertake all teaching and learning online via Zoom due to the pandemic. Emergency remote teaching offered in response to a crisis such as COVID-19 is different to well-planned online learning experiences.

My friend, Kate Daw, died from cancer on 7 September. Kate was Head of the VCA School of Art, in the Faculty of Fine Arts and Music, at the University of Melbourne. I first met Kate in 1994 when I was a third-year undergraduate student in Sculpture at the VCA. I saw her one day just outside the Sculpture yard and I approached her to introduce myself. From that moment we stayed within each others’ psychic radar.

The arts publishing industry in Australia is remarkably vibrant and resilient, offering a platform for a range of voices and serving the interests of multiple demographics in a nation built on the virtues of cultural diversity and equal opportunity. In this ecology, the running of a nationally distributed arts magazine can be a complex, albeit highly rewarding endeavour.

The current and projected state of Creative Arts, in the context of an ongoing global pandemic, can be symbolically represented by Aesop’s fable The Lion and the Mouse. This fable refers to power balances and how these can be inverted, regardless of the implied strength or magnitude, which ultimately indicates that even the smallest being – in their creative resourcefulness – is capable of assisting a greater one.

It’s probably not a good time to be using flu symptoms as a metaphor for the grim circumstances that envelops us all. But being the good scholar I aim to be, if I am going to use it then I’d better use the right source. It was, in fact, not an American politician but the Austrian diplomat, Klemens von Metternich, who first coined the snappy phrase “When France sneezes, the rest of Europe catches a cold.”

If we can look up and away from the ongoing challenges to both the arts and tertiary sectors, we may see some opportunity. Ways of doing things differently, working together in new ways, trying methods we may not have previously, looking at sustainability in different ways.