MECO (THE MATERIAL ECOLOGIES NETWORK) 2015 PROGRESS REPORT AND 2016 ACTIVITY

Introduction

The MECO (Material Ecologies) Network was established in July 2015 as part of the faculty restructure of research entities. In the first five months of existence MECO held a research camp, built a website, hosted two visiting speakers, developed a series of provisional manifestos, and worked towards a full calendar of activities for 2016.

MECO RESEARCH CAMP July 2015.

The research camp was attended by 20 MECO members including postgraduates and faculty with a wide set of disciplinary backgrounds ranging from eco-art, literature, film, and architecture to digital art and amateur drone research.  A program of activities and selected readings for discussion was developed before the trip. Over two days the group workshopped in small groups and large to shape and consolidate MECO’s research agenda.

Discussions of readings and provocations were interspersed with participatory art experiments and workshops. A number of individual projects were allowed the space to germinate, and alongside these some future driven collaborations were established.

Jo Law and Agnieszka Golda collaborated on the first iteration of their Twilight States and the Edges of Darkness project. This has now been submitted as a faculty grant application that brings microelectronics, textiles and site-specific art into dialogue with nocturnal landscapes.

Brogan Bunt tested his Flat Pack Feral project in preparation for Site Works. This was a successful interactive performative project at Bundonon’s September Site Works event.

Ted Mitew, Chris Moore, Nicky Evans and Graham Barwell undertook some experimental drone flights and hosted a workshop critiquing the vision and agency of the drone. This is being developed into a number of research outputs.

Su Ballard encouraged the establishment of a  collaborative library from which we workshopped a series of manifestos. These manifestos are hosted in their provisional state on the MECO website and will form the basis of MECO’s 2016 activities.

As part of the walking/thinking exercises at camp, Kim Williams discovered some logs that were then used for a sound work called Noisy River Pots in her show at the Broken Hill Regional Art Gallery (Watermarks, Sept-Oct 2015).

Lucas Ihlein introduced a scratch board printmaking session, which helped consolidate a number of thoughts from the textual workshops. The workshop resulted in a logo for MECO.

Kim Williams, MECO wombat, 2015 (adopted as the official logo for MECO).

Kim Williams, MECO wombat, 2015 (adopted as the official logo for MECO).

MECO Camp also coincided with the confluence of Venus and Jupiter in the night sky. This inspired a number of photographic projects. Louise Boscacci continued a practice with light drawing using the the full moon over the Shoalhaven River. The work accompanies her essay, Spinoza was a lens maker (2015), linked below.

Digital photographs (2015).

Louise Boscacci What does a dark–turning–solar–moon–wodi wodi–river–hand–eye–light–lens do? Digital photographs. (2015)

MECO guest speakers 2015.

In July MECO hosted a talk by Eben Kirksey, DECRA Fellow in Environmental Humanities at  UNSW and Visiting Professor at Princeton University. Dr Kirksey spoke about his research on Ectatomma ant colonies, an extract from his forthcoming book Emergent Ecologies, and the aims of this work to create a new framework for thinking about the care of beings and things across species lines.

In August the animal studies cluster of MECO helped to bring Erica Fudge, Professor of English Studies at the University of Strathclyde and Director of the British Animal Studies Network to UOW to deliver the inaugural faculty research seminar.  Dr Fudge’s talk on ‘Farmyard Choreographies in Early Modern England’ exemplified the cross-disciplinary engagements that MECO hopes to encourage, drawing an audience from history, literature, linguistics, sociology and media studies.

MECO publications, performances and exhibitions 2015

MECO is a network for the generation and germination of research outputs of all kinds. Concepts developed through conversation and collaboration have also resulted in a number of individual ERA outputs these include:

Kim Williams’ Watermarks exhibition at Broken Hill Regional Art Gallery (September – October 2015) included research material gathered as a direct result of the MECO camp.

Joshua Lobb’s short story “What He Heard” to be published in the next edition of the Animal Studies journal, and is a direct result of the reading workshops on Jakob von Uexküll at the MECO camp.

Jo Law’s  Disappearing Landscapes: Contemporary Hong Kong’s Spatial Politics in Independent Screen Media‘ on Asian ecomedia in the pipeline to be published with ISLE (interdisciplinary Studies of literature and environment), the official journal of the Association for the Study of Literature and Environment (ASLE),  published by Oxford Journals as a division of Oxford University Press.

Jo Law Delivered the  paper,  “Mapping Disappearance through Transversal Material Practice in Contemporary Hong Kong Spatial Politics”, at the New Materialist Conference in Melbourne 27 – 29 September.

Su Ballard published the major essay “Signal Eight Times: Nature, Catastrophic Extinction Events and Contemporary Art” in Reading Room issue 7 Risk. p. 70-95.  The essay has been reviewed in Art News New Zealand (Summer, 2015 p. 129). “Another highlight is Susan Ballard’s essay discussing a range of works that begin from Aotearoa’s distinctive history of extinctions, and considering how these might enable fresh understandings of ‘the natural’. Among the works she looks at is Bill Hammond’s chilling painting, Buller’s Table Cloth (1994), which shows the naturalist’s kitchen table laden with the carcasses of native birds. Reading Room engages in meaningful ways with significant artworks and projects of recent times, making a valuable contribution to local cultural debate.”

Su Ballard presented “Carbon moon-moths: Joan Brassil’s resonant machines for ecological listening,” at the Energies in the Arts Conference Co-presented by the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia (MCA) and the National Institute for Experimental Arts (NIEA), UNSW Art & Design to coincide with the exhibition Energies: Haines & Hinterding 25 June-6 September, 2015 at the MCA. The paper is now being developed as a book chapter for Energies in the Arts a publication with MIT Press.

Louise Boscacci published “A-bodied: How to make a river bowl”, a feature article for Yarrobil magazine, issue 3, 2015.

Louise Boscacci’s short essay Spinoza was a lens maker  (September 14, 2015) is related to the writing practices encouraged at MECO camp and combines speculative writing with a night photographic series composed on the bank of the Shoalhaven River at Riversdale.  It draws on her PhD research thinking and intersectional writing. It will be the first of a series of essays to be hosted on the MECO site in 2016.

Brogan Bunt, Lucas Ihlein and Kim Williams exhibited in the Performance Studies International conference exhibition Performing Mobilities at Margaret Lawrence Gallery, VCA Melbourne in Sept-Oct 2015. Their project Walking Upstream: Waterways of the Illawarra was represented with a gallery installation; an artist book publication published by Big Fag Press; a talk within the associated conference; and a local creek walk with Melbourne artist-academic Karina Quinn.

Lucas Ihlein and Louise Curham (Canberra University) convened two panel sessions at the AAANZ conference in Brisbane, November 2016, on the subject of Re-enactment / Repetition / Reiteration / Re-performance as embodied research. Artists and scholars from University of Sydney, University of Melbourne, University of Tasmania, Deakin University, and Central St Martins College, University of the Arts London spoke about the potential of re-enactment as a generative method of embodied research:

Significantly, Lucas Ihlein was awarded an ARC DECRA for his project Sugar vs the Reef: Socially Engaged Art and Urgent Environmental Management Problems. The project uses a creative practice-based research methodology to investigate the connection between sugar cane farming in north Queensland and the health of the Great Barrier Reef, and will run from 2016-18.

MECO Website development 2015

The basic structure of the MECO website has been established. It is anticipated that this will grow into a dynamic site in 2016. In 2016 we will begin publishing the MECO 360 on the website. Released on the 1st of the month, every month, the MECO 360 will be a 360 word essay from a member of the MECO network. Each essay will be accompanied by an active social media profile.  In 2016 further developments will occur online in the documentation of our collective and individual projects.

MECO Collaborations 2015

Louise Boscacci and Nicky Evans collaborated with Dr Kimberley Maute, a research ecologist at UOW to develop a new subject that brings students in the arts and sciences together to design projects to foster more generous human-animal relations.  The report and syllabus are posted on MECO’s website.

MECO has also been networking with research centres at Usyd. Dr Laura Fisher (Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Sydney College of the Arts, University of Sydney) attended the camp at Bundanon in 2015 as an “external” member of MECO. Her research deals with international connections between creative practice and environmental management. Laura works with the “Space Place and Country” (SPC) cluster at SCA, whose research foci overlaps in significant ways with MECO. Dr Fisher and Dr Lucas Ihlein (who is on the advisory committee for SPC) have begun discussing opportunities for cross-institutional collaborations between MECO and SPC.

Animal studies researchers in MECO are collaborating with the Feminist Research Network on a symposium to be held February 2016. The symposium, entitled “Beyond the Human: Feminism and the Animal Turn” represents a wonderful opportunity to expand our network. It brings to UOW four guest speakers including Professors Annie Potts and Phillip Armstrong, co-directors of the New Zealand Centre for Human-Animal Studies, Dr Fiona Probyn Rapsey, co-convenor of HARN, the Human Animal Research Network at the University of Sydney and acclaimed artist, activist and scholar Dr Yvette Watts from the Tasmanian College of the Arts, University of Tasmania. Dr Watts will discuss the Animal Factories art project and an upcoming intervention in which a collection of artists will stage a performance of Swan Lake at the opening of duck shooting season in Tasmania.

MECO HDR and ECR engagement 2015

MECO is focused on research generation. This primarily involves helping researchers to articulate their individual research trajectories in a supportive and collaborative environment. Our aim is to be a network for all levels of research experience from HDR to seasoned researchers looking to reframe their work in the contexts of climate change and the impacts of the Anthropocene.  MECO operates on and from a flat, non-hierarchical structure, recognising that different modalities of research contribute to the diversity of the network.

In 2015 MECO actively included HDR and ECR participants at camp and in research seminars with visiting speakers.  In 2016 we aim to expand student participation to honours students and to build more opportunities for senior faculty to work with emerging researchers through, for example, collaborative writing. Strategies to enhance engagement of researchers from all levels will be a key focus of the Autumn Picnic.

MECO Research Network 2016 Activity Budget

We will host two events (Autumn and Spring), one camp (July), and a major symposium (November). The costings for these have not changed from the revised budget submitted in June.

In addition to the above, our activities in 2016 will also include one event organised in 2015 and presented early in 2016.  This is a symposium on Feminism and the Animal Turn in collaboration with FRN.

A number of members of MECO are also preparing a panel proposal on ‘data and nature’ for the ISEA conference in Hong Kong in May 2016.  This will draw on work presented and discussed at MECO events, and will form the basis of a separate Faculty grant application in early 2016.

2016 Budgeted activities.

Autumn Research Picnic. This event will involve an outdoor gathering of the network, with a specific focus on HDR and ECR participation. It will workshop the research manifestos from MECO camp 2015, and work towards a short ‘vision’ statement for MECO’s 2016 activities. The research picnic will happen in late February and will be open to all. We may fly some drones, and eat cucumber sandwiches.

Spring Writing Workshop. The spring writing workshop will be limited to 10 participants only and will be a 2 day intensive writing programme with invited facilitator. The aim will be to produce a number of co-written collaborative texts, modelled on the international ‘book sprint’.

MECO Camp 2016 Future Archaeology. July 2016. A critical aspect of the MECO programme of activities is the MECO Camp. The 2016 camp will be focused on Future Archaeological approaches that address relationships between the technological and the organic, and the networks by which humans understand each other and the physical world. In particular, MECO Camp 2016 will work to deeply examine the various, complex relationships between the human, the animal and the material.  Camp will be limited to 16 people.

MECO Symposium, (tba) November 2016. In early 2016 we will develop the framing for the symposium, and put a call out for participation by April. It is envisioned that this will be a collaborative round table symposium based on a  series of published provocations, and not follow the usual 20min paper presentation conference format.  We will work to develop a symposium format that also meets the requirements for peer-review.

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