By Associate Professor Keely Macarow
We live in uncertain and debilitating times which deserve informed and transparent political and cultural discourse and participation. However, numerous political leaders across the world lack courage, empathy and imagination in their approach to the COVID-19 and climate emergencies and the lingering and toxic outcomes of colonisation and globalised capital. Our planet is at a tipping point due to the effects of global heating, neoliberalism and the continuing dominance of outdated political systems which do not value democracy or justice.
Artists cannot afford to merely represent Portland burn or the polar bear as the ice melts. It is important that we also engage and collaborate with researchers and activists from other disciplinary fields to enable and equip sustainable and equitable communities and to respond to the climate emergency, COVID-19 and systemic racism and inequality. Artists have agency, guts and imagination and these are crucial attributes to change the world.
Because we are at a crossroads in life on earth, it is important for artists to contribute to not only conversations through exhibitions, performances and events (when they can) but to experiments and solutions: whether it be in the running of citizens’ assemblies to restore democratic participation, the development and rollout of renewable energy, new methods and interventions in public healthcare provision or (very) affordable and sustainable housing. I believe that it is no longer enough for artists to address “tricky questions” through representation, illustration or conceptual responses alone. Our imagination, lateral and creative thinking and material practices are also needed for experiments and solutions for reconciliation, social, ecological and health justice and innovation.
My interdisciplinary collaborations have spanned the creative arts, design, ethnography, public health, engineering, aged care, social science, housing and activism. I refuse to be locked into a discipline, medium or message, and seek opportunities that are much bigger than me, and which are difficult to achieve alone.
The researchers I collaborate with provide a dynamic interface for experimentation and a generative community of practice. This fusion of disciplines and creative thinking (or design thinking which is more common parlance), has enabled the creation of medicalised jewellery wearables; sound compositions to alleviate the stress and anxiety of emergency department patients; choreography as a method to understand the relationship of bodies in aged care settings and manifestos and creative interventions advocating for homefullness (rather than homelessness). In short, I have collaborated with researchers from diverse fields to critique and advocate for social and political concerns and to use creative, social and material practices to provide interventions to assist medical practitioners, housing policies, hospital departments and aged care residences.
My vision is for a culture in which creative arts researchers, students, artists, designers and activists are situated in creative and non-art environments including non-government organisations, cultural institutions, government agencies, health settings and transport systems to develop and present projects and participate in diverse workplaces and communities. I believe that it is important for those of us working in art and design schools to locate and foster external opportunities for our researchers and students to enable and ensure that creative thinking, making, practices and research contribute to local, national and international actions, conversations, exhibitions, performances, events, residencies, innovations, policies and solutions. Diverse work integrated placements, artistic residencies and projects will extend creative thinking in workplaces and community settings, provide a range of sites and contexts for artistic production and presentations, and lead to new employment and projects for researchers, students and graduates.
We need the creativity and boldness of artists to collaborate with researchers and practitioners in other disciplines. I am by no means suggesting that artists are not involved in interdisciplinary research and practices, as there are many artists who engage with creative, scientific and technological innovations, ecological rebellions and projects of social and ethical responsibility with researchers and activists from diverse fields.
I am also not suggesting that artists shift away from creating works for public presentation. Far from it – but I am encouraging colleagues in my loudest voice to think and act laterally and contribute to interdisciplinary projects to not only pose questions but contribute to actions and solutions. We need the thinking, risk taking and courage of artists to collaborate with colleagues and activists from other disciplinary fields for knowledge exchange, advocacy, experimentation and action to drive the health, social and ecological change our planet sorely needs.
Awan, N., Scheider, T., and Till, J. (2011), Spatial Agency. Other ways of doing architecture, Routledge: Oxon and New York.
Gill, A. (Ed) (2017), The Future of Public Space, Metropolis Books: New York.
Haslem, N., Johnson, G., Macarow, K. & Knutagård, M. (2019) “Cities of
Homefullness; innovating global action on housing issues through art and design” in Designing Cultures of Care, Vaughan, L. (Ed.), Bloomsbury Academic: London.
Heiss, L., Macarow, K. & Beckett, P. (2018), Smart Heart Necklace, in Reciprocity, Design.Liège, the Triennale of Design and Social Innovation, Liege, Belgium, 5 October – 25 November 2018.
Macarow, K. (2018), “Art Does Matter: creating interventions in our thinking about housing.” From conflict to inclusion in housing – perspectives on the interaction of communities, residents and activists with the politics of the home. Graham Cairns, Georgios Artopoulos & Kirsten Day (Eds.), Housing – Critical Futures book series, UCL Press / AMPS: London.
Macarow, K., Weiland, T., Brown, D., Jelinek, G., Samartzis, P., Grierson, E. Winter, C. (2011), “Designing Sound for health and wellbeing in emergency care settings.” Journal of Applied Art and Health, Vol 2.3, 207-219.
Thompson, N. (2012), Living as Form. Socially Engaged Art from 1991-2011. Creative Time Books and The MIT Press: New York and Cambridge.
Associate Professor Keely Macarow is Coordinator of Creative Care, School of Art, RMIT University, Melbourne. Keely has worked as an artist, creative producer, curator and writer for creative arts, performance, exhibition, design, cinema and publication projects which have been presented in Australia, the UK, the US and Europe. Keely is currently working on interdisciplinary projects with creative arts, design, housing and public health researchers based at RMIT University (Melbourne), the University of Arts London, the University of the Arts Stockholm and Lund University (Sweden).