Too Many Cocks: On the (im)possibility of graffiti re-writing colonial narratives

Graffiti observed on signs and monuments associated with Captain James Cook are used here as a departure point for considering the ways in which different narratives about Cook (e.g. authorised, monumental, vernacular, imaginary) are assigned value. Our particular focus here concerns the role that graffiti has played in producing counter-narratives to the hegemony of a particular national discourse that celebrates Cook—with a focus on a theme in Australian popular culture that strips Cook of his pants and his dignity. This leads to a consideration of how graffiti might be approached in some instances as a legitimate mode of reparative writing against colonialism and its effects. In the Australian context the intensification of activist graffiti on monuments may signal a growing community awareness of historic injustices, the surfacing of rituals of recognition and reparation, and a growing desire of the broader community to play a role in the (re)construction of public memory. Interventions of this kind could be construed as an unconventional channel through which the dialogue of democracy can take place.

Stitching Art Practice: As action and metaphor for care and repair

This paper examines the sewing needle as a tool for reparation within art practice, and reflects on the capacity for art to heal aspects of self, culture and the environment. Through my multidisciplinary art practice – stitching, installation, writing, and walking – I consider how attentive care and repair can transform grief and trauma; specifically, in the wake of the 2019/2020 fire season on the east coast of Australia; and to a lesser extent, the global pandemic that quickly followed. The work at the centre of the paper is the creation of a blanket wrapped rock cairn, built in my studio during the months-long Greater Sydney 2021 lockdown. The action of stitching remnant pieces of blanket around rocks builds upon Louise Bourgeois’ concept of the needle as an object of psychological repair, bringing individual fragments of creative practice, grief and trauma into conversation. Walking as art practice is both the medium that underpins all the others, and the journey I begin in the fire’s wake. Unable to prepare for a long-planned durational walk while still in lockdown, I instead walk by stitching steps through wool, temporalities and across landscapes, real and imagined, demonstrating how I see walking and the needle as synonymous.

[Thread]baring my soul: Regrets and reparation

This creative essay is a retrospective look at a body of work created by the author in 2018. The work, Thread Bare[ing]: a confessional response to witnessing dementia, was a personal exploration of the emotional impact of bearing witness to a parent’s descent into Alzheimer’s disease. This essay describes the process and thinking around the creation of four artworks that embodied the emotional context of bearing witness: guilt, frustration, sorrow and fear. The aim of this autobiographical and deeply personal project was to generate discussion about the emotional fallout for carers as a result of dealing with a loved one’s dementia. With the hindsight of three years and the death of the author’s mother, additional insights into the reparative nature of the work became possible. A re-examination of the project, through this paper, reveals how the act of making can facilitate a longer term healing influence on relationships, even retrospectively.

A Matter of Balance: Visual Arts in the Australian Defence Force ARRTS Program

This paper examines visual arts practices in the context of Arts for Recovery, Resilience, Teamwork and Skills (ARRTS), a four-week intensive residential program for ill or injured serving Defence personnel, which has been hosted twice annually by the University of Canberra since 2015. Two datasets of visual material sit in the public domain and invite opportunities to undertake close reading of the visual artworks produced and processes pursued. Our work considers the intersections between participatory, expressive creative practice, and art instrumentalised for its therapeutic benefits. We attend to the tensions between stakeholders operating in an explicit hierarchy that does not reward expressive individualism, vulnerable participants emerging from this social and professional context, and researchers defined by an obligation to critically evaluate. Navigating this delicate space challenges ARRTS mentors to achieve a productive balance between artistic critique that reflects the professional legitimacy, rigour and worthiness of creative activity, both intrinsically and for its beneficial effects, and creative practice for solace and escape. Interpretations of participants’ own published disclosures, combining visual artwork with descriptive statements protected from a clinical gaze, enable us to better understand how the program’s participatory and expressive agenda aids recovery. This supports a tentative finding that positive health outcomes in ARRTS are enhanced by sidelining health contexts and goals.