Reflections on the Residency

Susannah Jo Foster

The residency closes in two days and I’m not sure if I’m any closer to connecting with my ancestors and feeling a part of deep time. However, I have had some experiences that have related to this and made me think about things. Firstly, listening to Leigh Ewbank and Cam Walker speak about activism, and the story of how a female Aboriginal elder scared a room full of suits by saying that her ancestors were listening to the discussion, and they would know if everyone was speaking the truth. I’ve also spent some time in the Decolonised Reading Room, consuming texts by PoC. So much of the stuff available is focused on African Americans. They have defined the contemporary narrative, which has been invaluable… but for my sake I wish that there was some more punchy contemporary writing about Polynesians, or mixed race people.

While I am writing this, a group of Japanese tourists comes into the space. They are all wearing dark suits and there is a translator with them. Joe starts to describe the collective’s aims and they stand in a semi circle, quite seriously taking in the translation. A few people take photos of me writing and lounging on the comfortable terrain.

I say, “you can lie down if you want!” but nobody wants to, or perhaps they don’t have time, or don’t want to remove their shoes.

After three minutes they are rushing out, thanking me politely, onto the next room. I wish we had made a resting room that was seductive enough to tempt a few away from their carefully curated tour.

A few days ago, when I was documenting my Prestige Fan work, my cousin called me to say that our other cousin’s child, due to be born any day now, will be born with severe physical issues that require surgery. She worries that that part of the family are not strong, resourceful enough, to be able to deal with this.

I tell her that, “time will tell.”

She asks about her brother, we’ve been hanging out a bit lately since his marriage went south. I tell her he’s fine, working out his mid-life crisis but he’s sworn me to secrecy. She says she understands, and in turn swears me to secrecy about the baby, although, I argue, won’t everyone know in a few days?

Afterwards I shed a few tears reading Kiese Laymon’s How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America in the Decolonised Reading Room.

I realise that I am a quite impatient person while making my Prestige Fan work. The wind patterns at Testing Grounds are very unpredictable, meaning I need to hit record indefinitely, hoping that something will happen. I often come onto the site to find that the work has moved with the wind overnight, when I as not there to witness it.

A few days later I’m recording again and the wind is flinging my sculptures from one side to another, hardly giving them a chance to use their wheels. They move in a funny way, sometimes flipping themselves over and then back again without any human intervention. I wonder, if I just left them alone, would they go ahead on their own unrecorded, tangling themselves up and falling over and back up again in deep time.


An introduction.

To Begin,

“The mind seemed to grow giddy by looking so far into the abyss of time” – geologist James Hutton.

‘While the Hour’ is the catalyst project for an ongoing multidisciplinary art collective of the same namesake. The collective will delve into the tangled world of ‘chronosophy’, the philosophical study of time, through projects that intermingle experimental art practices with science and philosophy in the study of what ‘deep time’ could be.

Deep time, a philosophical concept first coined by geologist James Hutton to describe geological time has been used recently in anthropology and other disciplines as a device to conceive of a time that is vast, expansive and beyond our everyday reach.

‘While the Hour’s’ first iteration will take the form of an artist residency. Using the theme of deep time as a point of departure, we will make work which inquires into the nature of time through events, workshops, installations, gift economies and ongoing-duration experiments.

During the residency, we will be bringing together individuals from such varied fields as art, psychology, activism and futurism. The slippery concept of time will be explored from diverse angles with a focus on how it relates to human’s impact on the planet. The residency will prompt both the collective and our audience to consider how viewing time differently can affect the way we live our lives.

Why now?

Time is an invisible force that rules our lives. Ever present like the air we breathe, time is relational, it can shift and warp depending on our mood, or waking state. In contemporary society, one may be forgiven for thinking that time is running out. As our environment faces enormous challenges and human society bickers as the ocean rises. In addition, we as modern humans so often feel ‘time poor’, as the race to be productive, fulfilled members of society results in us not taking the time to slow down and experience the malleability of an afternoon stretched out, or a moment fully experienced.

Studies in the area deep time show us that human society is but a mere blip on the timeline of the universe. If we think about the world existing for many years after we are gone we are better able to think emphatically about the future and to care about the earth’s  continuing wellbeing. In a contemporary context the Andrews government will release a draft coal policy in early 2017, and is currently amending the Victorian Climate Change Act. Thinking in a big-picture way will enable people to consider the significance of this policy in a deeper time-scale.  

‘While the Hour’ invites its audience to explore the plural possibilities, to find new ways of thinking and being during the National Sustainable Living Festival. It will be an experiential offering to the public: an invitation to explore our place in the universe and to consider human’s connection to the planet and its possible futures.

The residency at Testing Grounds:

For those of you who do not know ‘Testing Grounds’, it is a free outdoor space for creatives to test, develop and share their work. Their aim is to be a site of chance encounters, often with multiple events happening simultaneously on-site. An interdisciplinary melting-pot encompassing art, performance and design, available for creative, cultural and education-related activities through an ongoing Expression of Interest (EOI) program. Testing Ground’s central location in the Melbourne CBD provides the perfect space for us to experiment and take calculated risks.

The project will be both inward and outward facing. For half of the week (Sunday to Tuesday) the artists will inhabit the Testing Grounds space without it being open to the public, offering a rare opportunity to quietly delve into their experiments. The other half of the week (Wednesday to Saturday) will be open to the public. Visitors will be invited to participate in art workshops and playful tests.