NiTRO Creative Matters

Perspectives on creative arts in higher education

Listening across boundaries: Learning through collaboration, reciprocity, and interdisciplinary creative practice

By Leah Barclay and Tricia King — Listening to place offers a rich and dynamic way to understand patterns and inspire connections. Listening as method has been integral to a series of interdisciplinary collaborations on Kabi Kabi Country in Queensland that have explored the idea of listening with images, listening with Country, and listening as an active method to inspire action and engagement with the changes taking place in our environment and communities. 

Our research draws together sonic and visual methods, with King’s work grounded in lens-based practices through photographic sharing and oral storytelling, and Barclay working with acoustic methods for understanding environments and connecting communities. In our recent collaborations, we have been privileged to work with Kabi Kabi artist Lyndon Davis on a body of work where place, listening and care has emerged as fundamental to what we do as creative practitioners. These collaborations also intersect our broader research, with King’s arts health research in aged care settings and Barclay’s relational approaches in acoustic ecology projects having mutual values around inclusivity and reciprocity in interdisciplinary research. 

These synergies emerged in our practice through a project called Listening in the Wild – a series of immersive soundscapes and site-specific photography exploring environments across the Sunshine Coast commissioned for Horizon Festival 2020. This project was produced as a series of remote listening experiences in response to COVID-19 lockdowns. Through Kabi Kabi stories, digital photography and virtual sound walks along Eudlo Creek, Maroochy River and Old Woman Island, this project investigated how remote embodied experiences of natural environments can facilitate ecological empathy and connection to place.

Our second major collaboration, Beeyali, is a Kabi Kabi word meaning “to call” and acts as a call to listen – an alarm for the multitude of vulnerable species on the brink of extinction in Australia. The project was conceived by Lyndon Davis as a way to visualise the calls of wildlife using cymatics – the science of visualising sound or acoustic energy. This collaboration has allowed us to experiment, explore and collaborate to find new ways to work together through a meeting of Indigenous knowledges, creative practice and new technology. This has resulted in a large body of creative work that has explored new methods for revealing ecological interconnection in our environment.

In addition to these projects, we have been exploring new ways to present and share our research and connect communities with a focus on accessibility. This includes hosting annual events such as Field Trip – an experimental national research symposium featuring creative practice at the intersection of art, science, technology and the environment. Field Trip launched in 2020 as a response to the pandemic and has featured hybrid presentations, panels, interactive artworks and participatory experiences connecting and sharing research online and in person. Field Trip was designed with the intention of reimagining the traditional format of an academic conference and in 2022 will feature a series of transient experiences including walking research panels and environmental immersions responding to the theme of planetary health.

This exploration in connecting and sharing research has also applied to our own collaborations. Our paper on Listening in the Wild for SPECTRA 2022 was presented from the banks of the Maroochy River, with the three authors in conversation at the location we first worked together. The visual and auditory elements of the environment became an integral part of the presentation and spoke to our intention with the project. Our recent paper for EVA London on Beeyali engaged a similar approach, with the presentation opening at the site of the fieldwork, and the authors surrounded by the energetic black cockatoos that featured in the research. These experiments extend in our upcoming paper on Beeyali which will be presented remotely from the ocean, with a focus on cymatic explorations with migrating humpback whales and hydrophones beneath the surface. In these examples, the modes of sharing our research have become creative experiments and extensions of the research ideas.

There are a multitude of ways to explore best practice in interdisciplinary collaborations. Our research background is extremely different, yet we continue to find more synergies and synchronicities in the way we work and what we can learn through collaboration. We have recognised that reciprocity and listening is fundamental to everything we do. Our research comes from a shared understanding that the arts are key to a relational approach when addressing the health and wellbeing of our communities and environments.

As practitioners we learn through making. Our research is grounded in connecting with people and places, building relationships and interdisciplinary collaboration that come from shared core values and a commitment to expanding the possibilities of creative practice in having a meaningful, positive impact in our communities. The research we have introduced in this article has been developed on Kabi Kabi Country and as non-Indigenous practitioners, we are deeply grateful for our ongoing collaboration with Lyndon Davis. His friendship, generosity, and guidance has been integral to this body of interdisciplinary work, and we are inspired to continue these collaborations long into the future.

Dr Leah Barclay is a sound artist, designer and researcher who works at the intersection of art, science and technology. Her work explores ways we can use creativity, new technologies and emerging science to reconnect communities to the environment and inspire climate action through listening and acoustic ecology. Leah leads several research projects including Biosphere Soundscapes and River Listening that focus on advancing the field of ecoacoustics. Leah is the Discipline Lead of Design at the University of the Sunshine Coast.

Dr Tricia King is a researcher and Lecturer in Photography at the University of the Sunshine Coast. Her research focuses on creative arts in health and wellbeing and the role that photographs can play in personal and cultural constructions of identity. Using techniques such as photo elicitation, documentary and collaborative photography, Tricia develops collaborative participant driven projects working predominantly with older people to explore their lived experience and develop programs to assist with social isolation and wellbeing.

More from this issue

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