Multi-disciplinary artist, pedagogue, curator and writer Kym Maxwell will travel to Barcelona with the support of a Cultural Trust grant to undertake a residency and mentorship with fellow artist and educator Jordi Ferreiro.
Here she tells us how her experience as an educator inspires and informs her practice, how she feels about the title of emerging artist, and a major new work she is working on to be exhibited at Monash University Museum of Art in February 2019.
Tell us a bit about your artistic practice.
It shifts based on the context I work with, but generally I‘m developing a practice that explores how pedagogical discourse or widely, civic responsibility and social motivation can be critiqued utilising an artistic frame. More broadly, you could say I am exploring the lens of how society is administered through small discrete micro-political decisions within education, such as: a teacher-led versus student-led curriculum; school and governmental rules as opposed to child rules of play; civic space versus public space; how social justice is a part of childhood learning.
You have a background in Education. How does this inform your creative practice?
As I teach it inspires my practice, but for a while I abandoned art and only taught for a sustained lifestyle. I re-engaged with art happily being provoked by the exciting non-physical encounters I participated in and observed as an educator as well as how educational environments informed people about learning and inter-social possibilities. I felt profound, deep understandings happened in educational settings in unexpected ways, which were not intended by the institutional body: i.e: conflict in the school yard, school policies, inter-generational exchanges, environmental and social exploration. The educational philosophy ‘Environment is the Third Teacher’, a Reggio Emilia pedagogic approach, is right at the heart of my contemplations lately; it easily fits within the frame of artistic practice.
How have you juggled creative pursuits with work over the years?
That is one of the biggest challenges I’ve faced in my arts practice, to maintain ambition in my personal and professional life as well as build towards a stabilised arts career. I’ve learnt to persevere with my arts practice by trial and error regarding time management. Fortunately the education industry matched the ebb and flow of scheduling (school holidays) which fitted with parenting and providing financial and timetable consistency as a foundation for time management. Keeping professional connections to my teaching, but additionally investigating my pedagogic process has been a big risk. I often learnt from my superiors different ways to be informed, to research and to critique core educational values and how my own are displayed. Exposing this process and internal workings of Primary Education meant I needed permission from the school and participants and I had to develop sound judgement to balance relationships, ethics, my ambitions, personal as opposed to school, or institutional interests. This form of personal and public criticality has made my practice unique. I’ve recently come to understand as an emerging artist my own artistic boundaries through developing the necessary creative policies to protect the cultural, economic and educational communities I work with and the individuals too. This knowledge has contributed towards a recent project with MUMA, where I work towards artistic accountability as well as to expose implicit educational imperatives away from the pedagogical towards those that happen in the yard.
What does it mean for you to be emerging as an artist?
Some would argue I am not emerging, but I disagree. It has been through incredible adversity in this field I move towards a skill set I can claim as emerging. The building of these skills (which I hope to refine in Spain and Italy) defines my practice as emerging. It symbolises five years of feedback, setbacks and reflection, as I have had to personally chase, create, and build opportunities that didn’t exist prior; opportunities which would not have appeared unless I sought them. For example, I curated, wrote and created websites and personal publications in order to bounce ideas around; to learn to reflect; develop a context and network for my practice. Competitive opportunities such as these grants can also provide a refocus to extend skills. To emerge is to resemble a high jump bar which incrementally increases. If you keep refining your jump, you’ll find others (organisations) will support your leap of faith, seeing you drive dialogue, energy and skills realised with greater feedback. The bar is not necessarily lowered, rather you’re supported to reach over the bar, but firstly you need to demonstrate personal faith in your aims.
You’re developing a new work to be exhibited at MUMA next year, for which you received funding Creative Victoria. Can you tell us about this work?
This work extends one of my core interests: how cultural values are firstly honed by children among their own social cluster as role play, away from adult control. Child conflict and pleasures regarding found material use are detailed in their uninterrupted play as economic trade, the building of territories, exploring social identity and language. What happens without intervention? How do child peers experience or administer culture and social order? How do museum collections connect to this, and can children, teachers, artists critique this connection? Through six phases: the projects explores the MUMA Collection; the culture of yard play (via children’s research); build narratives through script writing; the production of a performance through prop, costume and set construction; and the performance of their script as a new theatre work; as well as, exhibition display at MUMA.
How did the opportunity to undertake an artist residency and mentorship with Jordi Ferreiro arise?
Ahh, Jordi contacted me from Spain where he resides. He saw my website and wrote me the most charming email. He and I both suffer a lack of criticality in this field and to communicate with fellow artist pedagogues, even if they are abroad… helps. He straight away invited me to work with him at Barcelona, MACBA and Institu Broggi, although currently his focus is on working towards an artist-run-space in Barcelona that focuses on facilitating his institutional mediations where he is soon to invite one international artist to present with one local artist. I am expected to participate. We also hope to develop new work and collaborate on future institutional interventions. His practice is a lot more advanced and well situated then mine. I am interested in exploring his European context and how that differs to here, and what I can learn from this.
What do you envisage for the next stage in your career?
I'm interested in re-exploring video making and editing in order to make my own films and also to empower children to critique video and mass media; to develop and produce kinetic water based sculptures as personal outcomes of pedagogic process and/or relationships; and better define what makes a good arts education as a new arts pedagogue at a primary school where I seek to create autonomous contexts for children’s self-defined learning that communicates as well as holds shifts of implicit learning. I would also love to do a large theatre work with children that is not school-based.
But formally I will build on the critical definition of the field, while working towards an international cluster of artists practicing and communicating within the educational realm.