Creating a Sustainable Environment through Culture, Asia-Pacific (SECAP)

Sustainable Environment through Culture in the Asia Pacific (SECAP) is a research initiative of the Queensland College of Art (QCA), Griffith University. The objectives of SECAP include multi-disciplinary approaches to the visual arts that are cognisant of UNESCO’s 2001 Declaration on Cultural Diversity that notes: ‘culture should be regarded as the set of distinctive spiritual, material, intellectual, and emotional features of society or a social group, and that it encompasses, in addition to art and literature, lifestyles, ways of living together, value systems, traditions and beliefs.’

Directed by Professor Pat Hoffie membership of SECAP includes research active staff and research students at QCA who work in a range of ways including collaborative initiatives and projects, a number of which have been established in conjunction with other organisations and institutions.

These include The Peel Island Project, a residency initiative established through a relationship with key members of the Environmental Protection Agency, Queensland on the island formerly used as a lazaret and now sequestered as National Trust land. The residency offers postgraduate students and overseas academics short residencies during which time they can respond to the environmental, historical, cultural and social impact of the island on Queensland’s history. To date the residency project has produced a publication, an exhibition and a number of documentary films.

Plans for the future include further participation with the EPA centre on sites with similar local and national significance. The 2008/09 Woodford Folk Festival provided a collaborative venture with SECAP that resulted in a showcasing of visual arts at the festival, well-known as the biggest of its kind in the southern hemisphere and renowned for its commitment to cultural and environmental diversity. Titled Carnivale Collaborata, the project involved a series of workshops, performances, installations, a forum, an exhibition and a catalogue. Highly innovative and experimental in nature, this collaborative venture offers graduates the opportunity to work alongside professional artists in an alternative venue with maximum exposure to large audiences. Planning for the 2009/10 program is underway.

An ongoing exchange project with the Geidai University in Tokyo, Japan, has produced a number of exhibitions in both countries, each with individual catalogues. Students from both institutions have also enjoyed successful residencies in each country. In 2008/09 the Planet Ueno project resulted in three exchange exhibition projects and a significant publication.

In 2008/09 members of SECAP have been working closely with Kevin Wilson, CEO of Queensland Artworkers Alliance in developing the arc Biennial, an exhibition, workshop and forum project that moves into new spaces in Brisbane in order to extend and challenge the more traditional approaches to such ventures. These include one of the old heritage listed Brisbane Wharves and the historic site of Fort Lytton. The program involves international, national and local artists in a series of events aimed to generate increased critical responsiveness to the ways in which artists approach their practice and their audiences.

Other collaborative ventures include The Australian Photo Journalist, (APJ) an annual journal that attracts many of the world’s leading photojournalists, bringing to light stories — mostly on human rights — that are overlooked by mainstream media. The journal has been recognised as exemplary in its field and a number of its contributors have been highly acclaimed (including Megan Lewis who won the 2006 Walkley Award for her (photo) story Conversations with the Mob published in the Australian PhotoJournalist Vol 11 no 1 Celebrating Journalism). In 2009 the APJ is engaged in establishing an on-line community within the title Centre for Documentary Practice, that consists of practitioners, academics, students and emerging journalists. The CDP will host international on-line conferences, and will initiate a range of international projects that focus on the necessity of visalising those places, people and events rendered invisible by mainstream media.

The photographic department of QCA has also worked from many years with institutions that include the Wesley Hospital, the Wesley Mission, the International Red Cross, the Australian Army and is currently in negotiation with plans to involve students with cultural development in East Timor.

A number of research staff of the fine art department at the QCA have been engaged in cross-cultural activities and projects across the region for the past two decades. These include collaborative exchange programs (with Japan, Noumea, Thailand, the Philippines) residencies and research that is ongoing and developmental and that often involves tertiary institutions in other countries.

The Bachelor of Contemporary Indigenous Art (CAIA) program is evidence of the importance of SECAP’s core research values to the QCA; recognised as the leading tertiary degree in visual arts offered to indigenous students and taught by indigenous artists, CAIA has fostered the careers of many of the leading urban based contemporary artists in the country, including Vernon Ah Kee, Tony Albert and Andrea Fisher. Lead by proppaNOW member Jennifer Herd, the program has worked closely with other proppaNOW members that include Richard Bell, Gordon Hookey, Laurie Nielson and Bianca Beetson, each of whom have contributed to the teaching and projects associated with the program. Many of the indigenous artists associated with CAIA are spearheading a deeper understanding of contemporary indigenous values within Australia and across the broader region.CAIA was devised by Aboriginal people for Aboriginal people and the area has an ongoing and importantly continuing connection with Aboriginal communities around the country. Research is a very important part of Indigenous students’ study in the program and much of it draws from researching into family histories and Aboriginal cultures from family regions.

SECAP’s emphasis on cultural diversity has underscored the commitment to such issues that already existed in the work of a number of postgraduate students. These include the names of internationally acclaimed visual artists such as Vernon Ah Kee, Dennis Nona and Alfredo Aquilizan, each of whom continues to produce works that challenge orthodoxies about contemporary art production by indigenous and marginalised cultures. Each of these artists has maintained internationally acclaimed profiles through their representation in the world’s leading biennales and triennales, while still maintaining strong commitments to localised community and cultural practices.
SECAP’s commitment to international engagement and grass-roots intiatives across the region is reflected in the stellar careers of QCA’s Adjunct Professors who include Tim Page, Dadang Christanto, Tony Fry, Jenny Watson, Judy Watson, Craig Walsh and John Rodsted.

Other graduates and candidates from the RHD and undergraduate programs at QCA continue to work in alignment with SECAP’s overarching mission both within Australia and overseas include Dr Michael Coyne, an established and widely published photojournalist stationed in Hong Kong who is currently engaged in a long-term project documenting the demise of rural villages and small towns in the region; Jack Picone, a current PhD candidate stationed in Bangkok, who has won a number of international award for his work in South East Asia documenting human rights abuses, illegal logging, sex trade exploitation and the impact of HIV on local communities; and Adam Ferguson currently stationed in New Delhi, who has documented human rights issues from the conflict in Afghanistan to the plight of Australia’s homeless.

QCA’s Master of Design Futures, headed by Adjunct Professor Tony Fry, offers postgraduate students cutting-edge research opportunities for engagements in sustainable futures and is currently engaged in international engagements with communities in East Timor. In 2009 QCA was awarded an Australian Development Research Award for a project titled Creative Industries, Development & Timor-Leste: A Case Educational Innovation. This QCA Griffith University-AusAID funded research project will gather research from which to establish design-based creative industry education in East Timor that is based on principles of sustainability, economic viability and employment generation.

To date research to date has focussed on craft and design objects and skills via the examination of historical material, artefact collections and an extensive program of fieldwork that will provide the basis from which to develop a locally focussed curriculum for an educational institution centredon the conservation of traditional skills and knowledge as well as product innovation, for design and craft through visual communication, languages and business.

QCA is also currently developing a Master of Arts in Visual Arts with a Public Art specialisation that will address issues specific to art and cultural practices within the public realm and will include internship possibilities for students with Urban Art Projects, a leading international public art consulting and fabrication firm with offices in Brisbane, Los Angeles and Shanghai. Research staff associated with the area have been involved in a number of acclaimed projects touring that include Craig Walsh’s Digital Odyssey — a two year mobile temporary public art project throughout regional Australia (2010–11),and Donna Marcus’ many public art sculptures including her designs for KAUST (King Abdullah University of Science and Technology) in Saudi Arabia.

The Griffith Film School’s involvement with the Asia Pacific Screen Awards and the Asia Pacific focus of the Brisbane International Film Festival are consistent with SECAP’s orientation within this region; GFS is one of three Australian film schools invited to be a full member of CILECT (Centre International de Liaison des Ecoles de Cinéma et de Télévision) with active involvement in the regional branch of the CILECT Asia-Pacific Association (CAPA).

Staff and students have maintained active roles in articulating the close and ongoing ties with Australia in the region in a number of ways: working through the UNICEF Social Mobilisation Video Project, they have been engaged in the interpretation of Pacific Island stories through documentary forms since the mid 1990’s. Staff member Nicholas Oughton produced the documentary Norfolk Legacy; was the Executive Director on postgraduate student Elia Vesikula’s Endangered Species: The Impact of Television on the Tovo Vaka Viti and has been a consultant to the Fiji Government for establishing television education in Fiji.

Trish FitzSimons and Pat Laughren are currently writing a book for Cambridge University Press on The History of Australian Documentary, and with the support of Q150 funding, Pat is also collaborating with the National Film and Sound Archive to produce Queensland Film 1930–1960: From the Talkies to Television, the third in an ongoing series documenting and preserving the region’s film heritage.

Students’ ongoing involvement in the region is diverse: set in Pakistan and Australia, Faramarz K-Rahber’s documentary Donkey in Lahore will screen at IDFA (Amsterdam), Tribeca, Singapore and many other prestigious international festivals; DVA candidate Shu Chang is documenting the work of independent documentary filmmakers in the People’s Republic of China and Yen Ting-Kuo is tracing the documentary tradition in Taiwan; Taiwanese doctoral candidate Zhu-Ming Su’s research is focused on Chinese calligraphy and poetic animation; Lei Zhang’s Lulu’s Opera House (a 3D animated lyrical story about experiencing the Beijing Opera) has been selected for various festivals, including the Beijing Film Academy Awards, while graduates Annie Ren, Yashpal Singh and Yee Peng Eng are making documentaries about aspects of contemporary life in the People’s Republic of China, Malaysia and Singapore respectively. The school also shares a research focus on documenting and analyzing practice in the region.

The SECAP research initiative is founded on a commitment to the idea that contemporary visual art practice is essential in working towards futures that are culturally, environmentally and socially diverse, inclusive and critically responsive
Professor Pat Hoffie

SECAP (Sustainable Environment through Culture, Asia-Pacific) Research Sub-streams:

The research outputs of staff and postgraduate students at Queensland College of Art, Griffith University are included within the following four SECAP sub-streams:

1.        Creative Practice as Research
2.        Training and Development of Art, Design, Film and Animation professionals
3.        Art, Design, Moving Image and Communities
4.        Art, Design, Moving Image and Experimental Technologies

These sub-streams include all the research produced at the QCA and also offer strong links with the research sub-streams at Griffith University’s Queensland Conservatorium of Music.

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