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Nicola

Nicola Gunn

Year of Award: 2016 Award State: Victoria Arts - Performing > Theatre And Stage
The Gilbert Spottiswood Churchill Fellowship to research socially engaged and site-specific practices in contemporary performance - Austria, UK, USA
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The purpose this Churchill Fellowship was to research socially-engaged and site-specific art practices and projects in the UK and North America, focussing on the work of Artangel, Mammalian Diving Reflex and Aaron Landsman. I chose this organisation, company and individual because of the varied nature of their work, its scale, ambition and visibility and by very virtue of the fact I have found them all inspiring at various times in my own practice in the way I think about art, power and impact. I also had some connection with Darren O’Donnell, founder of Mammalian Diving Reflex, and Aaron Landsman already, having met previously and at the beginning of a tentative conversation about art and the social.

I work as a performance artist, writer, director, designer and dramaturg – mostly in the context of theatre, sometimes in dance. I came at this research because I often found myself wondering if my work was doing enough. Was it useful? I started to move across mediums, first with a Master of Arts in Public Space at RMIT and secondly with a series of performance works that allude to the morally and ethically grey area around collaboration, participation, authorship and situation that constitutes socially-engaged art. My approach came off as always slightly cynical, caustic and self-deprecating in the most sincerest of ways – because I honestly do have a desire to build a better world and I do actually believe that art can be an agent for liberation, voice and empowerment.

I imagined I might be able to make a kind of handbook for myself and for other artists interested in working – primarily with performance – in socially-engaged and site-specific art. I didn’t manage to do this. Towards the end of my research I thought I might also be able to propose a revised funding and organisational model in Australia to support this kind of work that isn’t so tangible-outcome-orientated. I haven’t managed to do this yet either.

The fact is, I am still processing this experience, ways of working and the changes I would like to see happen – if any – to systems of funding and support for this kind of work in Australia. I am still trying to draw conclusive ideas and extract a clearly defined process and set of values in order to share it with others. This is perhaps the crux of socially-engaged art: it is a process that takes time.

What this report is, is a collection of fragments of observations, musings, interviews, diary entries and anecdotes. It reflects the dialogic and very un-scientific approach I took with this research, especially when things didn’t go to plan, as they often didn’t. I have tried to honestly capture the spirit of the artists and organisations I spoke to working in this field, their projects and some of the problems encountered.

Keywords: Socially-engaged, site-specific art practices, performance artist, Artistic Director

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