An Artist En Route to UNLEASH 2017
When I first heard that feminism came in waves I imagined a thousand women holding hands, wearing stackhat’s* and kneepads, running towards an issue to solve it together. I was really into roller skating at the time and that Christmas I’d been given the coolest item of clothing I have ever owned, a pair of red kneepads with thick rainbow elastic bands. Sadly, while I have had the pleasure of working with many great feminists, I’ve never experienced anything the scale of that human wave my nine-year-old self conjured up…that is until now.
On the 12th of August I’ll be landing in Denmark along with 1000 other people from across the world under the age of 35 (that’s right folks I’m a young person for another five months) and while I don’t think we will be wearing stackhats and kneepads, or even holding hands, we will be working together as part of UNLEASH 2017. UNLEASH 2017 is an interdisciplinary innovation lab bringing together young talents from diverse fields to work together on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
As a practicing artist and PhD candidate in Fine Arts I have only recently come across the UN’s SDGs; however, like many artists, particularly those with a socially engaged practice, I have actually been working towards them throughout my career. So what can an artist bring to a lab like UNLEASH?
In his book Social Acupuncture, Canadian theatre maker Daren O’Donnell suggests that artists can rebalance the qi of cities by finding points of social inequality and disruption — a city’s ‘blockages’ — and using their art to generate a discourse that draws attention to, and resolves, those inequalities and imbalances (O’Donnell 2006). O’Donnell’s holistic yet quirky approach resonates with my own practice and the role I see for artists in approaching globally challenging areas such as urban sustainability. Artists can use their practice to change our cities:
1. By acting as a conduit, deciphering complex ideas, data and information and presenting it to audiences in a legible fashion.
2. By amplifying information and issues so that people engage with them, discuss them and react to them.
3. By working closely with community they can help researchers, and greater audiences, understand the social impacts of things like urban gentrification, climate change and poor planning.
4. Finally, and perhaps most importantly in this context, artists ability to think laterally and creatively, when mixed with other experts in a field, can lead to genuinely new ideas and resolutions for critical urban needs.
An example of how my arts practice has achieved some of the above points is Section 32 an immersive installation I created in collaboration with local government in the outer suburbs of Melbourne (Australia). Created in 2016, Section 32 transformed an ordinary suburban home into a vision of the Australian suburbs at the end of the 21st century. The work explored how domestic routines, personal relationships and the fabric of the house itself will adapt to a post carbon world affected by climate change, extreme weather events and new technologies. Working outside the often adversarial relationship that government planning departments have with community, the project encouraged a conversation about climate change, sustainability and planning within the local community, concluding in a significant research paper that contributed to local governments planning guidelines and framework.
Like Darren O’Donnell, I don’t believe that artists can change the world, but I do believe that together with other disciplines artists can play an incredibly important collaborative role in reshaping systems of governance, communities and the built environment. We can bring our communication skills, creative abilities and unique vision of the world to the table to escalate, elevate, enliven and help deliver the innovative ideas of others to change the world we live in. Consequently, at UNLEASH 2017 I look forward to working with 1000 talents to develop, communicate and deliver their wonderful ideas in a wave of enthusiasm equal to the one I imagined when I was nine (sadly stack hats and kneepads not included)!
*The stackhat was a brand of sports helmet in Australia that was produced in the 1980’s just when various state governments started to legislate the compulsory wearing of bike helmets. Consequently it was a ubiquitous item, and has become a symbol of the 1980s. The word ‘stack’ is an Australian colloquial term that means to ‘crash’ or ‘fall’ over. Used in a sentence it would be: “I fully stacked my BMX because I was fanging down the gravel driveway”. ‘Fanged’, ‘fanging’ or ‘fang’ is another Australian colloquial term that means ‘going really, really fast’. If you are a Mad Max fan you would have heard it coming out of Charlize Theron’s mouth in Mad Max: Furry Road, a movie that provides an insight into what our world will become if we don’t get these SDGs happening!!