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Situations describe disciplinary contexts which States and Territories operates within and between. While the inquiry involves working directly with learning environments associated with a broad range of disciplines across the arts, sciences and humanities, the project's outcomes are specifically contextualised within the fields of environmental education, arts education, and contemporary art. A brief geneaology of ecological, ethnographic and pedagogical approaches to contemporary art is also undertaken, along with modes of analysing the sustainability of artistic practice. Following this, a series of case studies are presented of artistic, educational and environmental projects which have influenced the directions taken in States and Territories.  




Environmental Education


The discipline of environmental education has encompassed an expansive and highly contested range of values, theories and practices since its formal inception in the early 1970s (Cutter-Mackenzie, 2009; Jickling & Spork, 1998). Traditional currents in environmental education have tended to focus on the environment as an external object to be preserved and managed by humans, with various emphases on education within, about and for the environment (Sauve, 2005; Jickling & Spork, 1998). More recent trends in the field have emphasised the relations between social, cultural, and environmental dimensions, through critical, creative and interdisciplinary processes (Jickling, 2013; Sauve, 2005; Ardoin, Clark & Kelsey, 2013; Wattchow et al, 2014). Yet despite four decades of publication in the field of environmental education, there still exists little agreement as to what the term ‘environment’ means, let alone what its relationship to education might actually entail (Smyth, 2008). As Smyth (p. 2) describes it, ‘the environment is the totality of what we live in, natural or constructed, spatial, social or temporal.’  All education, in this sense, is inherently environmental, because all education in some way contributes to a particular relationship between humans and the environment (Orr, 2004; Ingold, 2000). This necessarily implies the ethical question of what (or whose) environment is to be addressed in education, a critical question found at the basis of many contemporary debates in environmental education practice and research (Selby, 2006; Jickling & Spork, 1998). Furthermore, environmental education is being clearly positioned as a discipline that can effectively address the question of educational change in and for the Anthropocene era (Lee & Howarth, 2012; Greenwood, 2014; Morgan, 2012; Stevenson, Nicholls & Whitehouse, 2012; Wagler, 2013; Whitehouse, 2012). 


Stevenson et al (2013, p. 5) acknowledge five characteristics of environmental education that are achieving broad consensus internationally: 1) that environmental education is concerned with normative issues of ethics and values with respect to the environment; 2) that the field is inherently interdisciplinary, due to its explicit emphasis on relationships between people, society and the environment; 3) that environmental education is concerned with developing knowledge, understanding and values, but also with enabling agency, participation and action on issues of sustainability; 4) that the discipline encompasses learning taking place within varied educational environments in both private and public domains, not just schools and universities; and 5) that environmental education spans local and global scales of reference in engaging with social and environmental issues. None of these five categories explicitly accounts for artistic and aesthetic modes of learning in relation to the environment, despite the editors’ attempts to provide a comprehensive overview of the current state of environmental education. This gap in the environmental education literature appears to be both widespread and profound. Ardoin, Clark and Kelsey (2013) recently published a study that identified current and future trends in environmental education research. Their intensive review of 900 articles found in leading environmental education journals between 2005-2010 was further informed by interviews with leaders in the field. While the study revealed trends towards community and collective learning, digital media, urban and multicultural studies and socio-ecological communities, the arts are not mentioned once with regards to current or future trends in environmental research.


This historical and contemporary lack of attention to the arts in the environmental education literature has lead to a series of resonant calls for engagement with the arts within the field of environmental education (Ingram, 2012; Leinfelder, 2013; Stables, 2003). In order to effectively respond to the rapidly changing material conditions of the Anthropocene era, researchers in environmental education are being called upon to intensively redress the epistemic divide between the arts and sciences (Rayner, 2003; Stables, 2003; Ingram, 2012; Whitehouse, 2011; Leinfelder, 2012). However, only a small number of scholars appear to be exploring the rich possibilities for artistic theories and practices to critique, expand and transform research and practice within environmental education (Burke & Cutter-Mackenzie, 2011; Eernstman, Boeckel, Sacks & Meyers, 2012; Ingram, 2012; McKenzie, 2008; 2009; Carr, 2004; Stables, 2003; 2001; 1993; Morton, 2008). This is surprising given the recent turn towards the Anthropocene thesis in the earth sciences (Steffan, Crutzen & McNeill, 2007; Zalasiewicz et al, 2010), along with the eager and timely uptake of the Anthropocene concept in the arts and humanities (Heartney, 2014; Ellsworth & Kruse, eds., 2012; Trischler, ed., 2013; Ryan, 2012). The longstanding discipline of arts education provides a strong conceptual and practical basis for undertaking interdisciplinary work across the arts and sciences. More specifically, arts education offers a significant platform for developing sustainable and effective ways of teaching and learning about cultural and environmental changes associated with the Anthropocene (Jagodzinski, 2013).



Arts Education


Arts education is historically understood as education that involves learning in and through engagement with the arts (Davis, 2008; Ewing, 2011; Irwin & O’ Donoghue, 2012). Over the last several decades, this role has been extended to include the unique and valuable contribution of the arts to educational theory, research and practice more broadly (Gadsden, 2008; Eisner & Barone, 1997; McNiff, 1998). Gadsden (2008, p. 29) makes a useful distinction between what is now known as arts education, which emphasises multiple genres of artistic practice; arts learning, which refers to the cognitive and social learning outcomes promoted through engagement with art; the arts in education, which positions the arts as an integral component to teaching, learning and schooling; and the arts and education, which describes the relational interactions between the arts and education as seperate lines of inquiry.


Arts education has a significantly longer history as a formal academic discipline than environmental education. Stankiewicz (2007, p. 7) traces the history of arts education in Europe back to the sixteenth century, when elite children began training with master artists in the ‘liberal arts’, which included the visual arts, architecture and philosophy. In Asia the history of elite arts education goes back even further, with the establishment of an Imperial Art Academy in China in the twelfth century (p. 10). By the late eighteenth century formal arts education existed in most parts of Europe and the European colonies, while continuing to privilege the children of the wealthy and powerful (p. 12). Following industrialisation in the nineteenth century, arts education was found in the curricula of most state schools being formed in Europe, the Americas and Asia, along with institutions for higher education (p. 15). The arts have since retained a continuous, yet contested, presence in the curricula of public and private schools and universities worldwide.


Since the mid-twentieth century, the field of arts education has shifted from an emphasis on self-expression to one of intellectual rigour (Stankiewicz, 2007, p. 21). Another distinct change over the last four decades has been the grouping of distinct areas of practice under the subsuming umbrella of arts education, which now includes the visual arts and crafts, design, music, dance, drama, creative writing and digital media (Bresler, 2007, p. xvii).  This has led to a softening of boundaries between the creative arts disciplines in the twenty-first century, extending the range and hybridity of cultural forms and locations of expression (Gadsden, 2008). This has also contributed to a proliferation of diverse and multilayered ways of knowing, as informed by engagement with the arts in education and in everyday life (p. 31). In accordance with this movement has been the shift towards the study of visual and material culture in the context of arts education (Duncum, 2004). This has brought popular forms of expression into the arts education curriculum, which had previously focused primarily on canonical and institutional examples of artistic merit.


In higher education contexts, arts education has also become associated with anthropological studies of materiality, human perception and cultural production, often involving hands-on engagement with traditional art, craft and design practices (Ingold, 2013). A paradigmatic shift for arts education in higher education has followed the formal recognition of artistic practice as a legitimate form of research output in universities, both for students and for staff (Smith & Dean, eds., 2009). Arts education in universities now encompasses research training in arts-based research methodologies, along with its historical applications in teacher training and discipline-based studio studies (Mottram, 2009, p. 229).


Recent scholarship has also expanded the range of locations in which arts education takes place, to now include museums, galleries, theatres, street corners and other public spaces (Ellsworth, 2005). This shift has been associated with scholarship in the area of public pedagogy, which explores place of learning outside of formalised school environments (Sandlin, Shultz & Burdick, eds., 2010). These changes in arts education scholarship and practice have echoed the shifts in the artistic disciplines themselves over the last century, moving from modern, to postmodern, to contemporary frames of theory and practice (Smith, 2006). This can also be described in terms of the shift towards broader understandings of site-specificity as a form of mobility, both in contemporary art (Kwon, 2002) and in arts education (Ellsworth, 2005).


In many ways, the positioning, orientation and influence of arts education in relation to the wider curriculum have dominated the focus of research within the discipline for the past four decades (UNESCO, 2006; Ewing, 2010; Winner, Goldstein & Vincent-Lancrin, 2013). A wealth of empirical research now exists supporting the integral role of the arts in primary, secondary and tertiary curricula in Australia (Ewing, 2010; Davis, 2008), as well as research revealing strong support for arts education from the Australian public (Costantoura, 2001; Commonwealth of Australia, 2013; Australia Council, 2014). Participation and exposure to the arts have been linked internationally with educational and developmental outcomes (Vaughan, Harris & Caldwell, 2011; Ruppert, 2006; Catterall, 2009), positive mental health and wellbeing outcomes (Karkou & Glasman, 2004; McNiff, 1998), and adaptive social outcomes with regards to intercultural communication and understanding (UNESCO, 2006).


 As described in the international ‘Road Map for Arts Education’ (UNESCO, 2006), there are currently two fundamental approaches to arts education in primary, secondary and tertiary education: 1) the teaching of individual subjects and disciplines which develops students’ skills, sensitivity and critical thinking in visual arts, creative writing, music, dance, drama and more (learning in the arts); and 2) arts education as a modality for teaching and learning which includes artistic and cultural dimensions across disciplines and curriculum areas (learning through the arts). This inquiry focuses mainly on the second trajectory, in which arts education takes form as a modality for interdisciplinary teaching and learning within diverse learning environments and communities of practice. This approach is supported by Eisner’s (2003, p. 376) claim that the ‘aim of education should be conceived of as the preparation of artists’. Eisner is by no means suggesting that education should be exclusively about training painters, playwrights and poets, which was the traditional role of arts education in the past. Rather, Eisner (p. 376) is suggesting that the function of education is to develop ‘the ideas, the sensibilities, the skills and the imagination to create work that is well proportioned, skillfully executed and imaginative, regardless of the domain in which an individual works’. Artistic principles and practices are thus liberated from the institutional boundaries of the fine arts, and applied freely across disciplines as an integral part of teaching and learning in the 21st century (p. 377).


With specific regards to this inquiry, arts education is identified in recent scholarship as a critical modality for engaging with social and ecological issues associated with sustainability in higher education (Graham, 2007; UNESCO, 2010; Illeris, 2012; Blandy, 2011). In North America and Europe there are growing bodies of scholarship that addresses the connections between the arts, pedagogy, environmental education and sustainability (Garoian, 2012; Graham, 2007; Kagan & Kirchberg, 2008; Miner, 2006; Slivka, 2012; van Boeckal, 2012), as well as emerging literature re-orientating arts education for the Anthropocene (Jododzinski, 2013; Osbourne, 2012). Scandinavia, for example, has a history of ‘environmental art education’ that can be traced back to the 1970’s (Tokela, 1995; Mantere, 1992). Current Scandinavian scholars such as Illeris (2012) are now drawing from this genealogy to construct pedagogical frameworks which effectively integrate arts education and education for sustainability. Despite these international movements towards ecological issues and sustainability in arts education, little to no research appears to have been published in Australia that clearly links environmental education and arts education within a single framework. This presents a significant opportunity to address this gap in the literature, and also to encourage further interdisciplinary work of this ilk in an Australian context.




Contemporary Art


Contemporary art comprises an ever-expanding constellation of theories and practices which resist clear definitions, as well as a formal academic discipline grounded in research and publication (Smith, 2006). As an increasingly diverse and international field, contemporary art encompasses the creation, exhibition, critique and theorisation of visual art in the present day, as distinct from earlier historical art movements such as Modernism and Postmodernism (Smith, 2006; Danto, 1997; Groys, 2008). While some scholars restrict the definition of contemporary art to include only work produced by living artists, Groys (2008, p. 71) makes a useful distinction between art which is produced in the present, and art which is contemporaneous with the present. For example, Robert Smithson’s environmental artwork ‘Spiral Jetty’ (1970) continues to change in response to the material conditions of the present day, even though the artist died in 1973. In addition, Smithson’s body of artworks and scholarly writings are considered critical and prescient influences on current cultural understandings of sustainability (Margolin, 2005) and the Anthropocene (Turpin, 2012). Even forty years later, Smithson’s work remains contemporary art and theory because it is contemporaneous with current discourse and practice.




























                                                  Spiral Jetty, by Robert Smithson, 1970 (creative commons)


In this direct orientation to the conditions of the present day exemplified by Smithson’s work, contemporary art becomes distinct from Modern art which looked progressively towards the future, and Postmodern art which reflected critically back on modernity (Groys, 2008, p. 71). In privileging the present and the site-specific over the future and the past, contemporary art is defined by a spatial and curatorial capacity to provide audiences with access to immersive, aesthetic encounters with contemporary issues and ideas (Smith, 2006, p. 694; Kwon, 2002). As Ranciere (2009, p. 31) further explains, discourse in contemporary art is not focused on the comparative value or meaning of certain art objects, but rather with the spatial distribution and curatorial framing of aesthetic experience in relation to the contemporary world. A contemporary art exhibition may feature the work of a famous living artist, a collection of ancient artifacts, the drawings of a child, a digital interface, an empty room, an abstract soundscape, a silent film, an interactive book, or a shocking performance. It may take place in a gallery, on a street corner, in a classroom, underwater, in an abandoned building or an empty carpark (Ellsworth, 2005). It may also feature a multiplicity of aesthetic styles and tastes, from the abject, to the banal, to the hyperreal, to the sublime, to the posthuman (Buckner, 2013), and in many cases will also feature educational activities orientated towards both children and adults (Pedagogical Impulse, n.d.; Irwin & O’Donohugue, 2012).



In this sense, it is not the individual artwork itself or its properties which define its contemporaneity, as in Modern art, but the spatial installation of the artwork in relation to the concepts, issues and conditions of contemporary life (Groys, 2008, p. 76). Rather than having a traditional support medium such as stone, canvas, print or film, the support medium for the contemporary art installation is the space itself. For the contemporary artist, the environment is not only a source of inspiration but the very medium with which the work is carried out (Morton, 2008). The inherent flexibility in the spatial and curatorial framing of the environment through contemporary art renders the installation into ‘an artform that includes all other contemporary art forms’ (Groys, 2008, p. 77). The contemporary art installation also has the capacity to encapsulate any number of practices from the hard sciences and other disciplines, as in the case of Latour and Stengers who curated a series of scientific experiments in art galleries and museums (Colard & Demorand, 2002). There is essentially no limit to what can be exhibited as contemporary art, nor any limit to the field’s capacity to recontextualise other fields of practice, from education, to ecology, to horticulture, to gastronomy, to pharmacology, to medical surgery, and beyond.


Over the last decade, many contemporary artists have adapted fieldwork practices from anthropology (Schneider & Wright, 2010), geography (Harmon, 2009) and the earth sciences (Ellsworth & Kruse, 2012), in order to more directly address social and ecological issues through artistic practices. This has been part of a broader shift in contemporary art towards site-specific practices in communities and environments initially associated with environmental and earth art in the 1970s (Kwon, 2002), and more recently with the ‘ethnographic turn’ in contemporary art practice (Coles, ed., 2001).   More specifically, the recent proliferation of social practice art (The Pedagogical Impulse, n.d.), ecological art (Kagan & Kirchberg, 2008), community art (Lipard, 2010), visual and sensory ethnography (Pink, 2007; Rose, 2012), interactive art (Massumi, 2011) and aesthetic cartography (Powell, 2010; Harmon, 2009) have constituted significant turns towards sustainable arts practices (Smith, 2005). In taking the form of relational and participatory events rather than products, these artistic practices have enabled contemporary artists to engage productively with regional communities and environments in collaboration with other disciplines across the sciences and humanities (Foster, 1996; Smith, 2005). In this way, contemporary art presents a powerful framework for re-contextualising the aims and practices of educational research in the 21st century, wherein contemporary art enables new questions and methods to be addressed in educational settings (Fox & Geichman, 2001). This is particularly the case for this inquiry, in which the aim is to re-imagine the learning environments of a regional university for the Anthropocene era. 



Ecology, Ethnography and Pedagogy in Contemporary Art


Over the last three decades, the field of fine art has expanded to include not only the aesthetics of objects, but also the aesthetics of participation and action in social and ecological systems (Margolin, 2005). In this context, three movements in contemporary art specifically contextualise this proposed thesis: 1) the ecological turn; 2) the ethnographic turn; and 3) the pedagogical turn. Each of these movements has offered a different lens on the contribution of art to social and ecological change since the 1960s. This section reviews the history and current state of each of these turns towards sustainability in the art world.



Ecological Art


 The ecological turn in contemporary art primarily describes artworks that fall into four categories: (1) works that use environments and found objects as materials; (2) works based on sensation and movement through environments; (3) works that are environmentally mimetic or ecomimetic (Morton, 2006); and (4) works that explicitly engage with the principles of sustainable development and design (Margolin, 2005; Smith, 2005). In contemporary practice, the environment is not restricted to ‘natural’ places, but also includes urban, architectural and even virtual spaces, all of which provide fertile sites for engagement with ecological art practices (Harmon, 2009). Margolin (2005) also describes how sustainable arts practice greatly precedes its acknowledgement as such, for example through the extensive use of recycled materials in Modern art since the 1920s. Indeed, Duchamp’s appropriation of readymade objects as artworks and Picasso’s early experimentations with collage are both considered examples of sustainable arts practices that emerged over a century ago. Ecological artists and their artworks have been comprehensively documented in such scholarly publications as Grande’s (2004) Art Nature Dialogues: Interviews with Environmental Artists; Art & Place: Site-specific Art of the Americas (Renshaw, ed., 2013); and Conversations About the End of Time (Gablik, 1995).


            What is known today as ‘ecological art’ is rooted in the environmental art movement, which began in the 1960’s with the seminal work of artists such as Robert Smithson, Christo, Nancy Holt, James Turrell and Richard Long (Kastner, ed., 1998). Many of these early works were described as ‘earthworks’ or ‘land art’ at the time, in that they utilised the landscape itself as the material that could be manipulated to produce an artwork. These practices had a significant impact on the art world by shifting the location of art from the gallery to a timeless and expansive landscape, and breaking down the boundaries between art, artist, audience and environment. This heralded a turn towards site-specific artworks in which the site is an integral part of the work itself, including both the physical setting and social milieu in which it occurs (Kwon, 2002). The environmental artists of the 1960s are thus credited with kick-starting the conceptual art movements to follow, and also paving the way for the proliferation of public art in both urban and natural environments (Foster, 1996).




Significant early examples of site-specific art are Smithson’s Spiral Jetty (1973), and Turrell’s Roden Crater (1979-ongoing), both of which have involved large-scale alterations of a specific landscape through the use of industrial excavation machines (see Figure 18). This paradoxical practice of deconstructing the land for aesthetic and conceptual reasons came under scrutiny from environmentalists, leading to increased awareness of the environmental impact of artworks. Indeed, 7000 Oaks (1982-1987) by Joseph Beuys is one of the most extensive environmental artworks ever executed, in which he coordinated the reforestation of the entire city of Kassel, Germany (see Figure 19).




More ephemeral works with little or no detrimental impact have also emerged since the 1960’s, as characterised by the work of Richard Long and Andy Goldsworthy. Goldsworthy, for example, hikes into remote sites and constructs sculptures using only the materials he finds there, using photography to document his work. John Wolsely also traveled across the Australian desert, mapping the geologic formations he found through meticulous drawings and notations (Carter, 2004). These methods of working artistically through walking have more in common with psychogeography than land art. Psychogeography is a process of mapping psychological states as affected by movement through geographical locations, and emerged within the Situationist enclave of 1960s Paris (Foster, 1996). Psychogeography often took place in urban locations through the improvised movements of the artist or flaneur (Foster, 1996). There has been a contemporary resurgence of psychogeography in arts practice, as taken up by artists such as Mark Bradford, kanarinka and the collective Institute for Infinitely Small Things (Harmon, 2009). Mark Bradford, for example, walks around his Los Angeles neighborhood collecting posters and advertisements, and uses them to create layered cartographies (or palimpsests) reflecting his emplacement within the social landscape. Situationist cartographies such as Bradford’s can also be described as palimpsests, a concept which refers to the stratified layering of texts by which voices are ‘entangled, intricately interwoven, interrupting and inhabiting each other’ (Dillon, cited in Powell, 2010, p. 541). Palimpsests, in this sense, reflect an archaeological engagement with historical strata and the politics of ‘superimposed horizontal structures’ (Massey, 2005, p. 110). Meanings are rendered within a palimpsest through an excavation of the relational interactions between ‘layers of materials, text, discourse, social practices and history’ (Powell, 2010, p. 541).


            Where pychogeography emphasises the stratified and historical movements of the individual across psychic, social and geographic space, artists are also creating more collective and ‘horizontal’ cartographies which fold people, places and things together within relational assemblages or networks (Garoian, 2012). Such works often taken the form of site-specific installations, soundscapes, relational events, ethnographic mappings and ecological artworks, rather than stand-alone artworks (Pink, 2009; Harmon, 2009).


Ethnographic Art


             The turn towards ethnography in contemporary art has in some ways a more complex genealogy than that of ecological art (Coles, 2000). Rather than a clear series of thematically related movements and events, Foster (1996) traces a diverse range of precedents that have lead to a tenuous and contested discourse between art and anthropology. He cites the ‘dissident surrealism’ of George Bataille in the 1930’s as an early indicator of ethnographic art, which connected the ‘transgressive potential of the unconscious with the radical alterity of the cultural other’ (p. 175). From there Foster follows the development of environmental and minimalist art in the early 1960’s into conceptual, performance and site-specific art in the 1970’s. These movements broke down the institutional definitions of art, artist, gallery, and audience in line with social movements such as feminism and civil rights, pushing art into a critical dialogue with the field of cultural anthropology (p. 184).  Foster describes this as a shift in the ‘siting’ of art, which has brought forward the practice of artistic cartography ‘to the point where an ethnographic mapping of an institution or community is a primary form of site-specific art today’ (p. 185). Foster cites the work of earth artists such as Smithson and the psychogeography of the Situationists as powerful influences on the development of ethnographic art as an aesthetic practice of cultural mapping.


            Based on the outcomes of their 2003 conference, Fieldworks: Dialogues between Art and Anthropology, Schneider and Wright (2010) break the ethnographic turn in contemporary art down into practices based on the senses, relational aesthetics, and experimental fieldwork.  Sensory ethnography is an emerging field that focuses on learning about, understanding and representing social worlds through sensation and materiality (Pink, 2009). Pink (2008) has recently applied sensory ethnography to the study of cultures associated with sustainability, in her multi-sensory ethnography of the Cittaslow (slow cities) movement in the UK. The artist Sissel Tolaas provides a different approach to this kind of work, in which she has sampled the odors of various streets in major world cities, and distilled them into an extensive olfactory cartography (Schneider & Wright, 2010). ‘Soundwalks’ and ‘soundscapes’ are also increasingly being used to communicate the results of anthropological and artistic inquiries. Feld’s Rainforest Soundwalks (2001) and Voices of the Rainforest (1991) are examples of this, in which Feld creates soundscapes from recordings he has made while immersed in indigenous cultures.  Feld draws on twenty-five years of experience in ‘being taught how to listen’ by indigenous people in order to create sonic compositions which guide listeners to hear the world in different ways (cited in Pink, 2009, p. 142).


            Ethnographic practice associated with Bourriaud’s theory of relational aesthetics is rather concerned with how artworks can work ‘on or through social relations’, by changing social structures or using them ‘directly as the artist’s material’ (Schneider & Wright, 2010, p. 8).  This has recontextualized understandings of art as a relational practice situated between cultures and environments, what the artist Joseph Beuys referred alternatively to as ‘social sculpture’ and ‘social architecture’ (Borer, 1996). For Beuys, the utopian project of social sculpture involves the construction of a new social organism through participatory engagement with art, to the point at which ‘every living being is an artist’ (cited in Kuoni, 1993). Beuys is generally credited with shifting the context of art from museological to anthropological concerns in the second half of the 20th century (Margolin, 2005). Shelley Sacks is a social sculpture artist who originally studied under Beuys, and now directs the Social Sculpture Research Unit at Oxford Brookes University. In the tradition of Beuys, she contends that ‘we need to activate the artist in every one of us. This will inspire our capacity to see and re-see, to wonder and connect’ (Eernstman, et al, 2012, p. 209). Contemporary ‘social practice art’ also falls into this category of ethnographic practice, which uses art as a modality for restructuring social systems and relations, including those associated with education (Irwin & O’Donohugue, 2012). Also included are more ritualistic, shamanic practices in the tradition of Beuys, such as Marcus Coates’ artwork Dawn Chorus, which matched audio recordings of endemic birdsongs with video footage of local people (Walters, 2010).


            A third category of ethnographic art based on fieldwork methods associated with anthropology, including artistic forms and uses of interviews and participant-observation. While both anthropology and contemporary art evolve through experimentation, the former discipline is still reticent to adopt emergent research designs (Schneider & Wright, 2010, p. 10). On the other hand, anthropology has a rich tradition of rigorous ethics and methods for fieldwork, which artists may opportunistically select to suit their needs (Marcus, 2010). Foster (1996, p. 303) has criticised trends in contemporary art which he terms ‘quasi-anthropological’ or ‘pseudo-ethnographic’ because they fail to reflect an authentic engagement with the fields of inquiry which they adopt (and in some cases even co-opt for careerist purposes).  According to Marcus (2010), artists and anthropologists each bring specialised skill sets and theoretical perspectives to ethnographic fieldwork, suggesting that both fields can benefit from interdisciplinary collaboration.



Figure 19: Still from Suzanne Lacy’s The Roof is On Fire (1992-1994) © Suzanne Lacy


            The artist Suzanne Lacy, for example, has been conducting rigorous ethnographic fieldwork within disadvantaged communities all over the world since the 1970’s. Lacy’s immersive ethnographic projects often take several years to complete, the ultimate aims of which are to ‘bring the voiceless into the public sphere’ (Lippard, 2010, p. 29). Lacy’s project The Roof is On Fire (1992-1994) involved 220 teenagers discussing their experiences of public education in parked cars on an Oakland rooftop (see Figure 19). These conversations led to a series of ethnographic and performative works involving young people, police officers and teachers in the local community, and eventually impacted on public youth policy in the city of Oakland.  Renowned anthropologists such as Bruno Latour are also now working with artists and scientists to produce exhibitions based on ethnographic fieldwork (Gane, 2004). Whether approached from an artistic or anthropological perspective, however, Marcus (2010, p. 85) maintains than the strength of ethnographic fieldwork lies in its ongoing commitment to a realist and naturalistic engagement with situated cultures and environments. 


Pedagogical Art


Compared to the ecological and ethnographic turns described above, the ‘pedagogical turn’ in contemporary art is apparently the least documented and theorised. Despite this, the movement towards educational outcomes through art can be clearly linked to socially-engaged models of artistic practice and the associated discourse between anthropology and art. In this context, Springgay (personal communication, 2013) describes a current explosion of educational initiatives in contemporary art, including artist residencies in schools and universities, arts-based educational research projects, and social practice artworks presented through galleries, museums and community arts organizations. Irwin and O’Donoghue (2012, p. 222) also describe how artists, curators and cultural theorists ‘have turned their attention to the potential and possibilities of education as a medium and practice of art making’. This has led to the emergence of ‘alternative models of learning and spaces of pedagogy’ through projects and events of varying scale and social impact (ibid). The authors cite a number of conferences which have supported scholarship in this area, including Transpedagogy: Contemporary Art and the Vehicles of Education, 2009 and the Deschooling Society Conference, 2010, both of which have specifically addressed the ‘pedagogical potential of contemporary art and curatorial practice’ (ibid).


            Despite the recent proliferation of practice and discourse around pedagogy and contemporary art, Springgay (personal communication, 2013) remains critical of patronising attempts by cultural institutions to educate the public. She observes that artists and curators often lack understandings of learning theory and pedagogy, while professional educators may lack knowledge of current social practice and theory in contemporary art. In addressing this disconnect, Springgay argues for intensive collaborations between artists, teachers, and researchers, within the context of institutional partnerships between schools, universities, art galleries and communities. Having worked in the spaces between contemporary art and education for the last twenty years, Pablo Helguera also addresses the concerns brought forward by Springgay. Helguera (A Bad Education, n.d.) specifically critiques the way that participants are solicited into the institutional production of socially engaged artworks, which too often amount to tokenistic gestures towards the public involved.  For Helguera, pedagogical art isn’t about publicising how an artist or institution has educated an audience, but rather about creating artworks that actually facilitate cultural evolution. This is a critical perspective that differentiates between ‘art that claims to be about social change, and art that embodies social change’ (p. 5). Helguera further explains how the crucial relationship between pedagogy and art is embodied through dialogic and participatory engagements which enable cultural change processes to take place. Pedagogical art is thus defined as a participatory process that is inextricable from situated learning experiences. Through this process,  the learning self actually becomes a medium for art in relation to the environment in which the work is enacted  (Irwin & O’Donoghue, 2012, p. 228; Ellsworth, 2005).


Summary and Analysis


            A critical analysis of this brief survey of ecological, ethnographic and pedagogical movements in contemporary art reveals several key perspectives on understanding sustainability as a cultural change process.  Firstly, it becomes apparent that sustainable arts practice is not restricted to artworks that engage directly with environmental content, but that an awareness of the social, cultural and environmental impacts of an artistic practice are all crucial to its contribution to sustainability. It is also clear that ecological, ethnographic and pedagogical arts practices share a common genealogy of environmental and social engagement through art. In addition, all three streams are increasingly adopting rigorous models of theory and practice from education and the social sciences, thus catalysing new collaborations between artists, teachers, researchers and participants. As a result, artistic practices of cartography are emerging as interdisciplinary methods for mapping the psych-geo-cultural topographies of a rapidly changing world, contributing new perspectives to the ongoing search process for sustainability (Powell, 2012; Harmon, 2009). To this end, the discourse around pedagogy in contemporary art questions the aims and processes of environmental and social interventions, shedding light on the ethical and political implications of public participation in the name of art, education and research (Irwin & O’Donoghue, 2012). As a framework for learning, it appears that sustainable arts practice is less defined by public engagement with particular content and values, but moreso by experimental and participatory processes that effect tenuous cultural changes with uncertain and anomalous outcomes. This approach requires a certain trust in what Garoian (2012) describes as ‘the research, practice, and pedagogy of art, namely its irreducible and interminable logic in sustaining sustainability through exploration, experimentation, and improvisation’ (p. 285, emphasis in original). Indeed, it is this historical and contemporary embracing of sustainability in the creative arts which requires a suitable framework for scholarly analysis.


Analysing Artists’ Contributions to Sustainability


            While there is clearly growing engagement with cultural sustainability internationally and in Australia, there still appears to be less recognition of the critical role that artists play in sustainability discourse and practice. Arts-based approaches to sustainable development present an emergent and wide-ranging field of research and professional practice. To this end, a number of analytical models have emerged which are designed to evaluate the contribution of arts practice to the aims of cultural sustainability.


            Scholars associated with the Cultura 21 collective such as Kagan, Kirchberg, Dieleman and Brocchi offer a critical and analytical approach to sustainability in art, from the disciplinary perspective of the sociology of art (Kagan & Kirchberg, 2008). In this context, Kagan (2008) describes three ‘qualitative indicators’ of sustainability in art practice. The most explicit of these is the contents of artistic practices and products, including issues associated with sustainability such as social justice, cultural diversity and ecology (p. 17). Kagan makes a strong point that in terms of sustainability, effective artworks are often those that work across cultural, social, political and ecological issues. While these issues may be addressed in global or local contexts, Kagan further argues that ‘an understanding of sustainability implies a linkage of global and local realities’ (p. 18). This scope also applies to time-scales, with the implication that sustainable artists should be aware of short- and long-term social and ecological impacts with regards to their work.


            Along with certain contents and issues, Kagan (2008, p. 16) evaluates the sustainability of the processes which artists engage with, including search processes, research processes and learning processes. In analysing these processes, Kagan identifies a set of reflexive skills that are specific to sustainable arts practice. These reflexive skills and capacities extend ‘beyond the limited types of rationality tapped by most scientific discourses and beyond the limit of imagination embedded in established rules and routines’ (2008, p. 18). Hence, artists have a unique contribution to make to the human project of sustainability, by accessing new capacities for empathy, reflexivity and creativity which respond to the shifting environmental conditions of the Anthropocene.  This new paradigm of relational thinking and action is variously described as ‘systems thinking’ (Kagan, 2008), ‘material thinking’ (Carter, 2004), ‘complexity thinking’ (Davis & Sumara, 2006), and ‘ecological thinking’ (Morton, 2008). While these scholars offer diverse interpretations of sustainable arts practice, they collectively emphasise a cultural shift towards ecopoeic[1] working processes, characterised by the creation of material, social and imaginal ‘worlds’.


            Besides the contents and processes described above, sustainability in the arts suggests an array of values that drive aesthetic inquiries into social and ecological issues in the contemporary world (Kagan, 2008). Sustainability implies a certain   normative frame, an explicitly ‘open culture’ which supports the multiplicity and mutualism of diverse cultures. As described by Brocchi (2008), an open culture adapts itself to other cultures and environments, rather than attempting to shape cultures and environments to fit the demands of one particular ideology. In this context, sustainable arts practices point to possibilities for a post-critical art movement, despite being rooted in the meteoric rise of critical practice in art since the 1990s (Smith, 2005). Critical practice in art is defined as ‘an ethically based, conceptually grounded approach that addresses the social sphere from a position of critique’, based on the inherent belief that a world with different social structures and behaviors is possible (Smith, p. 15). This critical perspective that the world can (and should) be other than it is has underpinned the development of sustainable art modalities over the last two decades, including social engagement, collaboration, cultural pedagogy and other interactive frameworks for intervention and re-imagining. However, sustainability questions the value of an ongoing critique of social systems, instead favouring active engagement with cultural change processes through the capacities of reflexivity, empathy and collaboration. The following section describes a selection of creative artworks, practices and projects which effectively engage with concepts and practices associated with sustainability and the Anthropocene.


Case Studies of Contemporary Arts Practice and Research


            This final section outlines several research projects and practices that address sustainability as a cultural change process through social, ecological, and pedagogical engagement. The examples are accompanied by images, and each includes a brief analysis of their relevance to this study using the content/process/values framework described in the previous section.


1. The Pedagogical Impulse by Stephanie Springgay


            The Pedagogical Impulse is a publicly-funded art and research project coordinated by Stephanie Springgay at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education. It is described as ‘a research-creation project at the intersections between social practice, knowledge production, pedagogy and school’ (The Pedagogical Impulse, 2013). The Pedagogical Impulse provides a critical platform for developing new practices between art and education, as put into action by a team of over a dozen professional artists and researchers. The team works together to enact and document a broad range of experimental projects and events in K-12 classrooms, teacher education programs, graduate programs and community art spaces. These projects include a series of artist-residencies across diverse educational sites in Toronto, in which contemporary artists work collaboratively with students and teachers to create social artworks within schools. They have also assembled a ‘living archive’ of interviews with significant practitioners and curators, who are critically engaging with the spaces between art and education. A diverse range of events have also been staged, including The Pedagogical Impulse’s Teacher Institute, in which teachers, artists and researchers involved with the project reflected on the residencies with regards to social justice and ecological issues. Other events have included symposia and conferences on the development of performance art, the theories of Deleuze and Guattari, and links between curriculum theory and social engagement. They also created an Artist’s Soup Kitchen open to all artists in the Toronto area.


            The primary aim of The Pedagogical Impulse is to explore ‘how artists are engaging with educational concepts as spaces for the development of new critical practices, and the potential transformative engagements that occur when such art practices are located in collaboration with schools’ (The Pedagogical Impulse, n.d.). While the project does not explicitly put forward sustainability as a core aim, it demonstrates how certain practices in contemporary art, education and research inherently embody the principles of sustainability. Springgay (personal communication, 2013) describes how ecology and sustainability were not prioritised in the initialisation of the project, but how sustainable concepts and practices emerged spontaneously over the course of the residencies. Reviewing the collection of projects and events that have been engaged so far under the initiative, there is evidence of authentic collaboration, social intervention, engagement with the environment, the use of recycled materials, and the creation of altruistic exchange systems (see Figures 20 and 20 below). Each of these aspects of this project tie explicity into the principles and practices of sustainability in the arts, as outlined in the section above. A rich discourse around the issues of contemporary art and education has also been developed, as documented through the ‘living archive’ of interviews with artists and educators.




Figure 20: From ‘Upside Down and Backwards’ by Hannah Jickling and Helen Reed © The Pedagogical Impulse



Figure 21: From ‘Your Lupines of Your Life’ by Hannah Jickling and Helen Reed © The Pedagogical Impulse










2.  The Avoca Project by Lyndall Jones


            Initiated by Australian artist Lyndall Jones in 2004, the Avoca Project is a series of collaborative engagements between artists, writers, scholars, scientists and the public taking place over ten years (2005-2015). The project is located within the historic Watford House, which was shipped from Europe in the 19th century and reconstructed in the small town of Avoca, in regional Victoria (see Figure 22). The house is now recognized as one of three of its kind in the world, and has been placed on the Victorian heritage list. Working with the local community and resident-artists and researchers, Jones continuously develops projects and artworks that become part of the house and its site, and specifically address climate change within the context of a small country town. These projects have so far constituted a series of land works, exhibitions, performances, film screenings, concerts and symposia.


            In the Avoca Project, the Watford House serves as a creative laboratory for interdisciplinary collaboration and experimentation. One of the major ongoing artworks is simply titled Mending the House, in which a series of many small artworks have been created during the restoration of the house since 2005. Another work called Portraits from the Swiss House involves the unearthing of written and oral histories regarding the house, and the production of ethnographic videos that document these narratives. Other examples include a 2012 event in which an environmental artist, a local soil expert, and a New York chef created a banquet using soil and weeds collected onsite. In 2009, a community-mapping project was undertaken in which artists visited every house in the town and created a large-scale video installation as part of the Avoca Eco-Living festival. In 2007, British artist Jane Prophet created an installation that mapped the recorded flood levels of the property using luminescent cable (see Figure 23 below).






Figure 22: The Watford House

© The Avoca Project



Figure 23: 2007 installation by Jane Prophet © The Avoca Project









3. Mapping Panama’s El Chorrillo Neighborhood with Kimberley Powell


            In 2006, Kimberley Powell coordinated a collaborative research project in Panama City, under the auspices of Pennsylvania State University’s College of Education (Powell, 2010). As part of an interdisciplinary field research course, Powell and her colleague Peter Auschbacher took a group of ten undergraduate and graduate students to the El Chorrillo neighborhood of Panama City. The professors and students came from a range of academic disciplines, including art education, fine art, geography, and architecture. Powell’s project is complex, and involves two distinct layers of research. Firstly, the group of students and professors conducted a series of investigations into the lived experiences of local residents within the cultural spaces of El Chorrillo. The aim of this collaborative inquiry was to generate findings that could inform future sustainable development in the neighborhood. Secondly, Powell conducted her own research on how the project itself developed new visual research methods and pedagogies to address critical social issues. Her primary aims in this research were to establish mapping as a creative means of ‘(re)presenting empirical material’, and to develop practices of cartography designed to ‘underscore polyphonic voices, experiences, and stories embedded in places’ (p. 539).


            In her analysis of the findings of her research, Powell (2010) describes four examples of student projects that used diverse approaches to map the cultural geography of El Chorrillo. These examples include a multi-sensory approach to cognitive mapping, a geographical approach using photo-surveys and collage, and two arts-based approaches that construct nonlinear representations of lived experience across space and time (see Figure 24 below). All four of these examples assemble uncertain and ambiguous narratives of place, engaging directly with the search process of cultural sustainability. Powell concludes that mapping offers a powerful, interdisciplinary modality for exploring the ‘ways that self and place are mutually constitutive and relational’ (p. 553). Her findings further suggest that mapping ‘carries pedagogical implications for the inclusion and teaching of visual and arts-based methods of research’ (p. 554). She concludes that an aesthetic understanding of mapping allows artists and researchers to create complex representations of cultures and places that might otherwise be hidden or unrecognized.


            Powell’s (2010) El Chorrillo project presents an ideal example of collaborative, participatory and arts-based research into the cultural sustainability of a community.  In addition, she establishes cartography as a post-critical research method and pedagogy that traverses the fields of contemporary art, art education and sustainability. Powell’s focus on developing sustainable processes, contents and values locates her work as a significant touchstone for this thesis.





Figure 24: A collage made by one of Powell’s student researchers, depicting scale-independent observations of El Chorrillo’s lived environment. The numbers indicate different elements of the cultural landscape (Powell, 2010, p. 551).











4. The Harrisons


         In this broad survey of current practice across the fields of sustainability, arts education and contemporary art, the Harrisons have consistently been acknowledged as ground-breaking exemplars (Garoian, 2012; Haley, 2008; Margolin, 2005). Newton and Helen Harrison began their ecological art practice in the 1960s, and over the last four decades have responded to the fragility of ecological environments through artistic experimentation, improvisation and collaboration (Garoian, 2012). Their primary methods can be described as multi-sensory mapping and storytelling, the outcomes of which they place in public gallery spaces to create ‘conversational drift’ around environmental issues (ibid). The Harrisons’ mapping processes combine visual, textual and performative art forms to re-imagine cultural environments as ‘sustainability icons’ (Haley, 2008, p. 201).  Their work has consistently created new engagements between scientists, artists, communities and most importantly, the earth itself. Garoian (2012) describes the Harrisons’ methodology as essentially viral, in that their practice involves visiting particular environments and discussing the social and ecological potentials of those places with the local community. Expanding on Joseph Beuys’ paradigm of ‘social sculpture’, the Harrisons contend that ‘the human species should treat the planet as sculpture’ (interview with Adcock, cited in Garoian, p. 294). To this end, the Harrisons have continuously worked ‘collaboratively across disciplines, institutions, and cultures to re-claim, re-position, and re-create a biologically diverse and sustainable planet’ (p. 294). This sustained development of ‘conversational drift’ via ecological and artistic practice has defined the Harrisons’ work over time, throughout projects such as Sacramento Meditations (1977), Devil’s Gate: A Refuge for Pasadena (1986), Atempause für den Save Fluss (1994), Peninsula Europe I, II, and /// (2000-2008), and Force Majeure (2009-present, see Figure 25).


         The Harrisons’ extensive portfolio of international projects presents an evolving conversation with the multiplicity and mutuality of life on planet earth (Garoian, 2012). Their work transcends the institutional boundaries of art, science and philosophy, by integrating the heterogeneous ontologies of art and environmental politics into dynamic and embodied events (ibid). Through the Harrisons’ ongoing, improvised dialogue between human culture and the world at large, they reveal ecological research and practice as a never-ending continuum that cannot be quantified. Their interstitial practices endeavor to accommodate the ‘complexities and contradictions of an environment’s narrative’, rather than ‘condemning or censuring’ the anomalies that emerge between studies of nature and culture (p. 298).




Figure 25: Sierra Nevada: An Adaptation (installation) from ‘Force Majeure’ (2009-Present) © Helen and Newton Harrison









            The interdisciplinary orientation of this thesis has rendered a complex contextual background, and yet has revealed a range of transversal movements and interstitial nodes of inquiry. Most broadly, the potential for environmental education and arts education to mutually enfold and empower each other is apparent, yet very little research has been published in this regard. The recently published International Handbook of Research on Environmental Education (Stevenson et al, eds., 2013) demonstrates this, in its omission of any reference to arts education or practice within its comprehensive scope of articles. The cultural dimension of sustainability also presents an emergent frontier for research into the potential for arts education to generate spaces for cultural change associated with sustainability. This is supported by an increasing wealth of publications addressing the role of arts education and practice in the context of sustainability (Blandy, 2011; Kagan & Kirchberg, 2008; Schmitt, 2012; Garoian, 2012; Illeris, 2012).  Cultural sustainability now offers rigorous frameworks for analysing how arts education, practice and research can develop reflexive capacities for cultural change in learning environments and communities (Kagan & Kirchberg, 2008; Smith, 2005). More specifically, the shift towards sustainability in educational discourse parallels the turn in contemporary art from material representation to site-specific social and ecological engagement (Foster, 1996; Kwon, 2002). These transitions are currently being extended by collaborative, dialogic, and creative practices that disrupt disciplinary territories and traverse the boundaries between humans, non-humans, and environments (Morton, 2013; 2008; Bennett, 2010; Latour, 2013).




[1] An autopoeic system is self-generating and self-evolving, often associated with systems and complexity theory (Davis & Sumara, 2006). An ecopoeic system creates new worlds, and often refers to speculative scientific concepts such as terraforming. The term could also be applied to Deleuze and Guattari’s (1994) description of art as the creation of possible worlds, which bring forth a new earth and a new people. 



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