As part of the New Student Precinct Project, artist development platform Next Wave has been curating public art and programs at the Parkville campus. Through a series of installations, participatory programming and mentorship opportunities, the project seeks to amplify marginal voices, disrupt historical narratives and open the University’s pedagogy. Embracing disruption, as well as the transitional, forgotten and peripheral, Next Wave programming provides an opportunity for innovative thinking around the past, present and future of the site, as well as the way we live, think and learn as individuals and a community.
Everyone is an arts writer is Next Wave’s inaugural arts writing mentorship program in partnership with the University of Melbourne. Following a university-wide open call, six students from a variety of academic backgrounds were selected were selected to participate and paired with established mentors from the publishing industry. Following a series of workshops and excursions, the writers were mentored to produce creative and critical texts in response to the outdoor artworks on display around the New Student Precinct.
From the 27th of May to the 3rd of June each year it is National Reconciliation Week. The entire week celebrates Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture and history, as well as invites all of Australia to learn more about our stories and knowledge. It is also important to note that while Reconciliation Week is an important symbolic gesture, reconciliation is an ongoing project of decolonisation of our social, educational, legal and cultural institutions.
Through an extravagant pose plastered on a billboard, Thai-Australian artist Kawita Vatanajyankur asks viewers to consider the human labour expended within their consumption habits. Vatanajyankur’s Carrier II, installed on the exterior of the University of Melbourne’s School of Mathematics and Statistics building, shows her body suspended by ropes against a blue background bearing towering fish baskets. The work illuminates the fraught relationship between humans and their labour by symbolising the tribulations of the Thai fishing industry to a culturally-distanced audience, the University of Melbourne’s crowds. Overall, its dissonant display of beauty, objectification and endurance demands an awareness beyond surface-level aesthetics, soliciting discomfort to create value of the labour beyond indulgent consumptive behaviours.
The booth is fashioned out of rusty corrugated iron. It sits in Mon Pop Gallery, a pop-up space on the fake-grass patio opposite the Melbourne Uni tram stop; an area students habitually ignore. Facetiously resembling an outhouse, the booth stands tall; a placard informs us this is an impermanent fixture, an installation by the Asian-Australian artist Siying Zhou. On the back a sign reads ‘Karaoke Bar for Our National Anthem’ in a hokey ‘oriental’ font, which conjures the memory of sweet and sour pork, over-floured and roughly fried. Resting on a wooden platform, the booth is wide enough for just one person to comfortably stand inside.
Placed on an external wall of the ERC Library at Parkville, Power/Play’s large vinyl billboard greets you with open arms and uterine glee on entry to the campus. In the image, a worker is shoved into the lower left corner, a cleaning woman with mop in hand speaking silently to the marginalized voices of lower waged and predominantly part-time work of women, especially of immigrants, women of colour and single mothers. Two youthful exuberant women dominate the centre of the work, forming central core imagery in the cosmic space between them. Emblazoned on the dress of the central figure is the face of a goddess from antiquity, her eyes staring out like naked breasts. It’s a riff on #freethenipple and the constant policing of women’s bodies. “Plus it’s funny,” says Kelly. These women have all the optimism of youth, yet are dressed in 60’s fashion. Are these abandoned dreams? Along with the dashed declarations of “No Fees”, how long must we hold onto hopes of emancipation?
Viewed separately, each frame depicts a moment where the pre-existing social landscape is either challenged or laid bare, prompting shifts in its underlying structures, assumptions and foundations. Viewed in succession, they represent the shaping of a collective history. Each encounter, from mundane to monumental, is part of a wider cultural context that traverses social, generational and temporal borders. The flexibility of borders and boundaries is mirrored by the environment of the work. The area surrounding the New Student Precinct construction has become a labyrinth of shifting passageways (like Hogwarts, but with more temporary fences). The ten discs have been mounted, dismounted and remounted according to the fluctuating boundaries of the construction site. It seems an appropriate location for a work dealing closely with change, and the reconstruction of social and historical foundations.