We had the fantastic opportunity to be in residence for two weeks, with 14 fantastic postgraduate students from the Victorian College of the Arts, pursuing Foodways: Melbourne at Federation Square.
We came to work at Fed Square because of the efforts of Marnie Badham, a lecturer at Victorian College of the Arts, who organizes the Master of Arts program in Arts and Community Practice at the Center for Cultural Partnerships. Marnie brought us in as guest artists for a two-week intensive course “Fieldwork: Publics & Places” and set up the residency with Fed Square. The team there that supported our residency included Kendyl Rossi (Creative Projects Director, Kelli Keating (Multimedia Screen Program Producer) Diana Trajanovski (Multimedia Program Coordinator), Kate Buchanan (Venue & Event Operations Supervisor) as well as other staff. Amy Spiers, who’s doing her PhD at the Center and is a remarkable public artist, was the tutor for the intensive course.
The students in the CCP program are a remarkable bunch. They are both artists and producers, all with a humbling amount of life experience in a range of (largely social justice) contexts: arts producers, managers, artists, and activists from music, theatre, poetry, game design and visual art.
Members of the group hail from and/or have lived and worked in Cambodia, Congo, Indonesia, New Zealand, and Palestine, as well as many parts of Australia, Canada, and the United States. They are all at moments in their lives where they are questioning and also solidifying their practices, so they brought great resources to the table and showed up ready to take risks.
Fed Square is huge, and its programming is mammoth, with hundreds of events every month. It’s also of necessity a very large organization with a lot of cultural goals, concerns, and set ways of getting things done. They also usually program finished artworks or performances, so having us basically hang out and do our “process” was a bit of a challenge for them. We had such a great experience with literally every staff person we interacted with. They often had to say “no” to us, but they always heard us out and actively explored what was possible.
We did some normal sort of “teaching” activities, like a lecture about our work and some class activities, but our main approach was to guide the students through a compressed, “intensive” version of the larger Foodways project. We were quite daunted by the task of developing the project with 14 students we’d just met (some of whom were just meeting each other), and doing so out in public in the center of the city! We wound up having a great time, thanks to the high quality of the students, who did three activities that fulfilled the three components of a Foodways project, as described in our last post: research, spectacle, and knowledge exchange.
In our own gathering of Foodways narratives, we’d been working toward the idea of a conversational “menu”, opening with casual “appetizer” questions, followed by heartier “mains”, and concluding with dessert questions. We also explored the idea of “daily specials” that would have a changing focus or an oddball approach. At Fed Square, the students worked in groups to develop their own menu of questions, designed and produced them, and then worked with the public in the square, gathering foodways and engaging in conversation.
There were two highly visible activities that we’d count in our “spectacle” category. We used the idiosyncratic display space, the Fracture Gallery, for a slowly changing installation of objects, images and texts that served as a “visual representation of research on food culture” at Fed Square. To begin, each student brought in a place setting for our gingham-covered dining table. Over the two week course, they added material to reflect on what they were learning from the public and each other.
It was a striking space to work in, and awkward, it must be said, but also very public and despite their workloads the students created a strong impression of the complexity of the conversations they were having. It seemed very popular with the public, as well, and we constantly observed passers-by stop to read the wall text and look at the tables.
Another activity combined spectacle and knowledge exchange and saw the tables moved outside: the students to created dinner parties to take place in public. In three groups of five, they designed their table’s visual effect, planned the structure of the meal and conversation, and curated dinner guests to attend and participate. It was an exercise in rapid planning and collaboration, and each of the groups generated unique solutions.
For the last day of our residency at Fed Square the students made individual projects, prototyping the “food walks” that will be a feature of Foodways: Melbourne later this autumn. We’ll list each of them here:
By the end of our two weeks, we were all exhausted but also energized by each other and the energy of the city. We shared hundreds of interactions, entertained both special guests and the general public, and got to experience how a giant cultural space operates. As teachers, we’re grateful to VCA, Marnie, and Amy for the chance to engage with such amazing students. As Spatula&Barcode, we’re also grateful to the students and to the management of the Square for the many ways in which the residency advanced the Foodways: Melbourne project.