craig walsh

This week renowned Australian digital media artist Craig Walsh talks to arts interview about the impact of diversity on his two year touring artist residency ‘Craig Walsh: Digital Odyssey, a Museum of Contemporary Art touring project’.

Interview by Vanessa Anthea Macris 

How does the technology you utilise in your work help connect with diverse audiences?

I think that technology or tools are always secondary to the concepts that you explore. Having said that, what made a huge difference with Digital Odyssey was the ability to create work digitally and then be able to share it with the community. For example, if we created video projection pieces or documentation of video projection work that we collaborated on with the community, we could actually provide copies of the work to everyone involved. The digital medium allows for sharing and I think that was very practical because it enabled the community to work with it further or utilise it in other ways. Quite often technology can be misused, but in our application it was used really successfully.

Can you give an example of the community you have worked with that went on to use the digital work you created?

Digital Odyssey started off in Murray Bridge, South Australia in February 2010. We worked closely with a group there, who were collecting oral histories from the local new migrant community. Through the process we developed a few projects and one of them was the ‘Home Project’. It was a video portraiture project/assemblage installation relating to the notion of home and what home means to individuals. The installation took place in the local op-shop in town. Following on from the realisation of the work, the concept was taken on by the local oral history group and they applied for grants to get computers and cameras so that they could continue on with the home project. Indeed, the group was able to utilise all the content that we had already developed for the installation while we were there. This way, there was the continuation of the concept, but also I suppose, the skills were shared for e.g. animation techniques that we used. This is just one example of how there was a follow on from the production of a collaborative work, and then how the community took and extended on it.

The Digital Odyssey project really celebrates the diversity of the landscape and population. By responding directly to the environment, was your creative output enhanced or limited?

The way that Digital Odyssey project formed meant that we actually had quite a tight schedule. From the initial project we developed a couple of proposals, which were to be taken as a formal and conceptual structure to each of the communities, but then input from the community actually formed those works to be quite specific and localised. The process was more about developing concepts and a dialogue between these concepts and locations, which became really interesting and important. When we talked to members of the community as part of the Home Project about their notion of home, they obviously responded very differently depending on a location. Responses from people living in Winton, North Queensland compared to Cairns, Ballarat or Hobart are very different. The project in many ways gave individuals in these communities expression through the artwork about their own situation as well as the situation of the community. So it does celebrate diversity, but it celebrates within a context, which is accessible to everyone from every community. This is what is most interesting about these projects; many of them took place in every community and there were different responses based around similar concepts. To me, that shows how diverse these communities are, and I think you only really experience or understand that through doing a project like this and spending large amounts of time in regional Australia.

Can you describe some highlights of the Digital Odyssey project? Did you encounter any elements within your work that seem to guarantee success in terms of the audience engagement?

The project was all consuming and so it is not always easy to identify the benefits or successful elements. We are still going through the vast amount of work that was generated; we created 16 new projects over 18 months. This is a huge body of work and we are still documenting it. Now is the time to distil it, have a look at it and see what it is. A publication will be formed where we can really analyse what took place. For me personally, the opportunity to take this sort of work to regional Australia to develop projects and collaborate closely with regional communities was a really grounding experience. It links me with a sense of place as I perhaps was feeling a little disconnected with the Contemporary art world. It has been a great benefit to me and my practice, and helped me look at what is relative to this continent. Creating work that is relative to Australia, engaging and collaborating with remote communities was a major strength of the project. Other highlights of the project include mentorships with young regional artists, master classes and of course the public outcomes, which affect the broader community. Overall, I feel as though it is an effective model for having a major impact and influence on the communities that we spent time with.

Further reading on arts and diversity:

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