03: Finding and making opportunities

SEMINAR/WORKSHOP NOTES: http://aaronlburton.com/2018/MEDA301/WEEK03.html

In the interview below, Olafur Eliasson articulates some interesting thoughts about the role of art/ making in society. This week’s module focuses on the creative impulse: what is behind the urge to create? What is your motivation?

[The Creators Project features the practice Olafur Eliasson]

Watch this interview of Eliasson and tease out his argument: why does he make things/ art? What does he think the role of art is in the broader community/ society? What values does art bring? What motivates him to keep making things?


In the following ABC news story, the Relaxation ‘apps’ project for Children Undergoing Painful Procedures – the collaboration between artist George Khut and paediatrician Dr Angie Morrow at The Children’s Hospital at Westmead, is introduced to a television audience. How is the role of art/ design/ creative practice positioned in relation to the broader soceity?

[BrightHearts ABC News story by Barbara Miller, September 19, 2012]

Khut’s practice stems from his experience with the Feldenkrais technique. You can trace how this interests developed with his experimentation with ideas, media and materials as well as the desire to engage and share through his works. What motivates him to carry on with these experiments?


[Shirin Neshat]

Shirin Neshat is an Iranian-born artist based in US. She works with images both still photographic works and films that are grounded in exploring Iranian culture and politics that changed irrevocably in the 1979 revolution. Central to this is the Iranian woman. Her feature-length film, Women without Men (2009) won the Sliver Lion for best directing at the 2009 Venice Film Festival. Here is her more recent Ted Talk. What is her motivation in making art?

These are three examples of contemporary media arts that is embedded deeply within the broader society in ways that cannot be reduced to a simple instrumentation of art (i.e. turn an creative idea into a product, or personal expression into a didactic political message). The works are connected with people, their lives, and their experiences on a number of dimensions. What are these dimensions? What values would you put on these works? Are they important? Why?


What moves you?

So, what motivates you to turn up to this class every week at 8.30? What is your motivation to coming class?

If you find ‘marks/ grades/ assessments/ credentials/ degree’ are the first words that pop into your minds, continue and ask what do these things mean to you? For example, what do you anticipate a degree will do for you? If the goal is to be employed, what does this mean? If money is the goal, then why do this (degree) over other things matter? Why make? What motivates you to engage in making? What moves you? What is the most important to you?


‘Art has a very long history of investing its focus on how to touch people in ways that make a difference for them”.

Olafur Eliasson

Below are three examples of artists/ makers who responded to monumental events in history through their works/ practices. The interviews/ documentaries below provide some insights into their thoughts, processes, and motivation of creating these responses. See whether you can locate the ‘why make’ in their work. Write down their objectives in making these works.

Creative practice is always filled with uncertainties (with Maya Lin’s example being the most extreme) – why do the makers persist with the work in spite of these difficulties? How do they make the work happen? What media and materials do they engage with? What innovation emerge from the work?

[Steve Reich interviewed by Andrew Ford ABC RN] watch 4.11 – 10.30

[excerpt from Freida Lee Mock, Maya Lin: A Strong Clear Vision, 1994] (watch till 3.40). This documentary won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature in 1994. You can find out more about the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial, Lin’s more recent works on her website and at Art 21.

[The Creator Project features Chim↑Pom‘s Don’t follow the Wind] Watch till 6.23

More about the project here or here.

Contextualise your practice, find a Hero

No one works in isolation. Even if you work by yourself, you are still engaging with existing knowledge that someone else has developed somewhere along the line. Last week, you are asked to delve deeply into research to firm up this  broader field of knowledge your practice.

Drawing and texts by Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

Find a guide in this field of knowledge. Is there a practitioner you admire? Or a figure you have come across who impressed you immensely? For example, while not a great biography-reader, I have read the biography of French writer, Georges Perec (author of Life. A User’s Manual), and the letters of American author Kurt Vonnegut (author of Slaughterhouse Five). Both of their practices and processes became firmly lodged in my mind – not so much their successes, but their repeated failures, struggle, and persistence.

A pencil and paper plan for Georges Perec’s novel Life A User’s Manual

What may the failures and struggles your hero may have encountered in their practices?

Hayao Miyazaki

Animation practice is time-consuming and labour intensive. With few exceptions, feature-length productions generally require a team of committed animators and workers to bring ideas, stories, and visions to screen. As a young animator in an expanding industry in the 1970s, Hayao Miyazaki’s involvement with the labour movement influenced his views on the modern workplace. When Miyazaki split from Topcraft (after leaving Toei) to set up Ghibli Studio with fellow animator Isao Takahata, both animators envisioned a production house that would allow them to create different types of anime from the industry standard.

They also wanted fairer treatment and better working conditions for professional animators. Ghibli maintains a core staff when production is at a low and animators are hired on contracts when projects get underway. Ghibli operates on the belief that an animation studio should be ‘a workplace that creates good movies’. Working within globalised production, exhibition, and distribution networks, commercial animation production must confront the economics of labour. The nature of work is all-pervasive for a professional animator. These thoughts and reflections are brought to screen as portraits of craftsmen and craftswomen in Miyazaki’s films.

This is a trailer for a documentary film by Mami Sunada featuring Hayao Miyazaki during the production The Wind Rises (2013). the Kingdom of Dreams and Madness gives insights into this creative impulse over 50 years of practice.

Miyazaki has this advice:

“When young, nearly all of us want to be taken seriously, as soon as possible. Perhaps because of this we tend to overemphasise technique. In fact, many of those who have not yet taken the plunge into the professional world of animation tend to speak endlessly about animation techniques, or concentrate on gaining as much knowledge as possible about the technical aspects of certain scenes. In reality, however, once you enter this industry, the techniques required to make animation can be mastered very quickly.

Sometimes high school students and others ask me whether they should first go to college, or start working as animators right away. When asked, I respond as follows: It doesn’t matter so just go to college. Go to college and, while enjoying four years of student life, study art if you really want to.”

He writes:

One of the things about drawing is that , if you put in serious effort, you will become good at it, at least to a certain extent. But that’s all the more reason to study a variety of things that interests you while you have time, before you enter the professional world, in order to develop and solidify such fundamentals as your own viewpoint and way of thinking.

If you don’t do this, your life will be treated as just another disposable product. In the animation business, most people spend a long time working at the bottom of the organizational ladder. You usually have to endure a lengthly apprenticeship period, waiting patiently for the change to someday demonstrate what you can do. But the opportunity to demonstrate what you can do only comes along once in a while, so unless you are extraordinarily lucky, you’ll probably never make it.

To endure something is obviously exhausting and agonizing. But at the same time, you must also continue to hold what you regard as important close to your heart and to nurture it. SHould you ever relinquish what you truly hold dear, the only path left to you will be that of a pencil pusher- the type of animator whose sense of self-worth is determined by the numerical amount of his earnings , or who cycles between tjoy and despair over the high or low ratings his works receives.

Exercise: Hero

Answer the following questions:

  • Do you have a hero in your field? If not, find one by researching into the field you identify with. (Your hero does not necessarily have to relate to your practice or your field. She/ he can be someone you admire deeply.
  • Describe his/ her practice/ work.
  • Describe how his/ her practice is situated in a larger field. For example, are they pioneers in what they do? Or perhaps their works challenge the conventional ways of thinking or working? Or they are recognised as being excellent in their fields?
  • Find out more about them: What are his/ her skills started with? What may be some of their failures? What are some of the hurdles they overcame (or not)? How has he/ she contributed to his/ her field?
  • What is the most important thing for them that they ‘hold dear’? What is their core value that they never deviate from?
  • How do you relate to this core value?

Then dig deeper:

  • What are his/her working methods? How does he/she work? (e.g. Find out what his/her workplace/ workshop might look like. Does he/she work with other people? Who are the people she/he works with?)
  • What is the ‘shape’ of their practice? (e.g. Peaks and troughs, successes and failures)

Using your answers, make a map.

  • Write the words ‘my hero’ or his/ her name in the centre.
  • Place descriptions, keywords, and ideas as nodes that connect to the centre or to each other.
  • Scan and upload to the subject blog.
  • Share your maps by posting a scan/ photo onto a blog post (we will return to this hero later in the session).

Discussion: Who is your hero?

In a group of 3, present a brief biography of your hero.

  • Who is your hero?
  • Describe his/ her practice. What is the ‘shape’ of this practice?
  • How is he/she situated in his/her field?
  • Are his/her influential in this field? How did they become influential?
  • What is his/her contribution?
  • What is his/her working methods?
  • What materials does he/she work with? What are the ideas he/she work with?
  • Does he/she have any advice?

Blog this.

Tasks (to do outside of class):

  • Keep blogging: post entry(ies) and documentation
  • Keep researching: supplement your post with your contextual research
  • Keep reflecting: you may have some reflection in response to this week’s exercises

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