NiTRO Creative Matters

Perspectives on creative arts in higher education

Doubt and spandex

It’s taken me a few days to start writing. My reactions are slow at the moment. I find it difficult to focus. I’m distracted; often glancing between my work, the Guardian live blog and commentary on Twitter. I think often of home – Aotearoa – and trust I won’t find myself in a position where I need to return on compassionate grounds.

By Christine McFetridge

It’s taken me a few days to start writing. My reactions are slow at the moment. I find it difficult to focus. I’m distracted; often glancing between my work, the Guardian live blog and commentary on Twitter. I think often of home – Aotearoa – and trust I won’t find myself in a position where I need to return on compassionate grounds. I think often of my whiteness, and of how this pandemic has emphasised the violent structural class and racial inequities within our communities. I think often of doubt. And hope.

These residents were given no warning and, evidenced by social media reports, have been left without essential supplies promised by the government. It is an uncomfortable feeling knowing that this is happening while I am considering the impacts of the pandemic on my study, which is a privilege.

This time has been triggering for me. As the city-wide and university closures took place in March, I was reminded of my experience of the Canterbury and Christchurch earthquakes (2010 and 2011 respectively). I was undertaking my undergraduate study during this time at the Canterbury University School of Fine Arts, and after each event, or strong aftershock, the university closed for a period to check the structural integrity of its buildings.

The familiar anxiety returns; more gently this time.

Today, the city-wide restrictions returned in Melbourne. This follows the disturbing decision to imprison people in their homes in nine of the public housing tower blocks in Flemington and North Melbourne. Termed ‘hard lockdown’, these residents were given no warning and, evidenced by social media reports, have been left without essential supplies promised by the government. It is an uncomfortable feeling knowing that this is happening while I am considering the impacts of the pandemic on my study, which is a privilege.

Prior to COVID-19, I’d been working from a studio off-campus (to which I hope to return soon). It provides me with a rich and rigorous environment in which to conduct my research from, with a community made up of artists, not-for-profit organisations and students. However, having begun my research off-campus, I’d missed opportunities to make connections with other HDR students at RMIT.

As restrictions were imposed, there were successful efforts to develop online catch-ups. Through these, I’ve felt much closer to the School of Art community

As restrictions were imposed, there were successful efforts to develop online catch-ups. Through these, I’ve felt much closer to the School of Art community. I also learnt about resources, such as a writing group, that I hadn’t known about previously. Additionally, I’ve initiated an online reading group. Though these things don’t replace physical interactions, they make the time spent in isolation more manageable. Further, the shift towards organisations offering online events has made talks and workshops held overseas more accessible. I’ve participated in talks and workshops I would not have been able to otherwise.

My creative practice-led research explores the intersection of photography and writing. My project is about the Birrarung; its local communities, both human and non-human; and my unlearning of the river as a resource. Isolation and social distancing requirements have meant that fieldwork is a challenge, so I’ve been taking long walks to the river in activewear. Indeed, in a recent post shared on the Women in Photography Instagram NZ & AU account.

Tanya Te Miringa Te Rorarangi Ruka asked: “How can you connect with nature if you don’t give your time to it?”

With this in mind, I’ll continue to put on my shabby running shoes with the pink laces and walk either east or south, taking care to acknowledge the country I am always on, to greet the Birrarung.


Christine McFetridge is a photographer and writer represented by M.33, Melbourne. She is currently an MFA by Research candidate at RMIT University and a founding member of Women in Photography NZ & AU.

More from this issue

More from this issue

COVID-19 has had a profound impact on how music is taught and practised, not least because the reliance of so many musical activities on physical proximity has been turned on its head. With virtual lessons and ensembles becoming the norm, the move to online has challenged music educators to consider how we might do things differently in the future.

Art for me has always been a process to make sense as I am a performance artist that utilises endurance to challenge the contingencies of space, time, and the body. The focus of my PhD research is precisely this.

Continuing to study the arts in isolation required self-motivation, perseverance and the ability to think, even further, outside the box. The sudden shift from practical exercises to the confines of a screen was … frustrating for professors and students alike.

The portal is closing, and the artists in Australia have managed to seize control of their sector. The career ladder has broken down into snakes and slithered away. The old models of making and presenting have shed their skin, to reveal new ways.

As I began the journey of my PhD candidature, my main drive to proceed was a social conundrum. I wanted to explore and if I could, rationalise, the visceral empathy which at times many are affected by, when witnessing upheaval in the lives of those around us.

To describe this semester as anti-climactic would be an understatement. For my cohort and I, this would have been our final year of music school. As the new semester approached, our anticipation to collaborate, create, and learn together for what would have been the last time at Monash was almost unbearable. We were excited to perform, explore, and to succumb to our collective desires to make art and music.

It begins with me buying two 10kg bags of bread mix. I think we might have to bunker down for a while even though my husband’s words “Don’t worry it will all blow over in a day or two” continually float around the house.

How has it been for the students, as we slowly and carefully manage the return to campuses across the country? There is no doubt that the impacts and challenges will be ongoing particularly for students entering the workforce and coping with extended study after deferrals, which some have indicated will come.

As we find our way to a ‘new normal’ this is a good time to upgrade remote learning resources to support students who do not need to be on campus all the time, or even any of the time.

In the years leading up to 2020, the experience of studying my postgraduate degree had been highly anticipated. Having heard so many wonderful anecdotes from plenty of alumni students, I was thrilled to finally ‘have my turn’ and accept my position as a producing student at the WA Screen Academy in 2020.

COVID-19 has been a pivotal moment in my creative practice, pushing it in an unexpected direction. It has both challenged and inspired me in evolving my work … throughout this period of time my studio set up has altered drastically in not having access to the machinery that ultimately defines my work, a potter’s wheel.

By March 2020, after months of planning and organising, I was poised to enter the recruitment and data collection phases of my PhD research projects … studio practice had been identified as the key methodology through which I would test research questions and generate creative works.

Virtually all students have been affected by COVID-19 in one way or another. From the restriction of social distancing arose the transition towards online teaching, some courses were ready for this change while others weren’t.