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On the path of untricking Hermes : adaptation of the design philosophy and methods of permaculture in community engaged art projects

Oszvald, T 2017 , 'On the path of untricking Hermes : adaptation of the design philosophy and methods of permaculture in community engaged art projects', PhD thesis, University of Tasmania.

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‘Believe me, we had 39 people today!’ Linda tells me, counting through her list as we sit
down exhausted, but also elated, after hosting our constant flow of visitors over an
eight-hour time period in our Lorinna home.
Within days, two thirds of the permanent members of this remote Tasmanian village
visited our socially engaged art initiative: the MugWall'Social'Café. I love talking—but
the cafe was more than an opportunity to chat amongst community members, both
those locally active or who have rarely met. Whilst nibbling apple-pear cake, our
visitors connected with an invented situation, in a place that is also a service: and they
were also aware of participating in an art project—one that explores the inclusion of
permaculture principles with social practice, as a form of artwork.
Sustainable thinking requires us to find art practices that resist both the destruction of
our environment and the broadening of socio-economic gaps between people.
Through my community-engaged art practice, I argue that such ethical project design
parameters are essential to successful, and socially sustainable, outcomes in social (art)
Pablo Helguera (2011) states that social practice (art) is rooted in openness: where
artists reconstruct newly useful vocabularies by synthesising knowledge borrowed
from different disciplines. The practice-led research in this project was informed by
design principles derived from permaculture: and involved principles relating to
observation, field-led investigation and critique. Permaculture combines an explicit
ethical focus with ecological design methods (Holmgren 2002) and these can be
pragmatically adapted to the field of social practice. Permaculture can also be
understood as a holistic mode of thinking, which permeates lived experience. So
within this project, it was also useful to draw upon phenomenological hermeneutics as
a means to analyse this mode of engagement.
After an experimentally variant series of smaller projects designed to test the idea of
social engagement as an art form capable of ‘sculpture’ (Luckenbach 2003), the
research itself culminated in fieldwork in the community of Lorinna, a town populated
by approximately one hundred self-identifying residents. Located in a hidden valley
alongside Cradle Mountain, the Lorinna ‘community’ comprises an intriguing mix of
people who variously identify as long-term settlers, ‘hippies’, retirees, vacationers and
‘alternative’ lifestyle-seeking families and individuals. The social composition and
environs of the area fitted well with both the demands of immersive engagement, and
the need to host a type of laboratory situation—a situation in which it was possible to
be welcomed as a participant-observer. The artwork produced by field experience
sought to embrace the holistic nature of permaculture and led to a body of work that
was focused variously on concept and process as well as material outcome.
Material outcomes—including elements of public intervention and installation
works—were also born of collaborative processes, and the'MugWall'Social'Café
provides an illustration of how this works. The processes involved in conceptualising
as well as facilitating the ‘events’ in situ are processes that constitute elements of the
work itself. Furthermore, the social interactions, material artefacts and documentation
each formed part of the work and, for this reason, it is intended that the creative work,
material artefacts and process collapse into one.
This research highlights the interdisciplinary interrogations and collaborations that
can be enabled through social practice, and how the interaction between community-
engaged art and permaculture is potentially transformative for both disciplines.
A core conclusion of this investigation is that the process of integrating permaculture
design principles with social practice is not suited to a prescriptive set of actions or the
automated replication of a complete system. Instead, a reduced model is proposed in
which the constant flux of decisions and actions informed by permaculture depend
upon the context, role and identity of an artist within a community. To begin with, I
modify the permaculture principle ‘observe and interact’ to ‘observation through
interaction’ in order to better sit within a hermeneutically informed, participant-
observer engagement approach that seeks out methods that are sustainable, whilst
retaining the personally interpretive and in situ capacity to evolve.
My four central ‘model’ findings read:
1. Spend as much time in observation as is practicable.
2. Find a personally intuitive way to transition from ‘tool’ to ‘attitude’.
3. Live with, rather than work with, a community, and
4. Avoid ‘trickery’ to practice ’small and slow solutions’ instead.
This culminating distillation perhaps sounds overly simplified. But the process of
reaching this model—and finding a realizable means to actually practice it—was by far
the most difficult outcome to achieve within my research. The collective objectives to
observe, holistically imbue an attitude, and live as a connected member of the Lorinna
community also consolidated in my need to avoid forms of antagonistic social practice
that I came to think of as cheapened, non-solutions oriented ‘trickery’. This creative-
theoretical resolution represents what I feel to be my most significant reflection
directly resulting from this research, where my role as a practice led artist—
understood in a metaphorically personified hermeneutic term—provided the title ‘The
un-tricking of Hermes’.

Item Type: Thesis - PhD
Authors/Creators:Oszvald, T
Keywords: permaculture, community engaged art, hermes, untricking
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Copyright 2017 the Author

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