Residency Projects: Boorhaman, Victoria
Published in Art+Australia
By Abbra Kotlarczyk


I: INTRODUCTION

"An act of hospitality can only be poetic."

—Jacques Derrida [1]



I would like to extend a virtual hand out to this thought experiment in order to elongate its function and to hold space for the relationship between poetics and hospitality. Like poetry, hospitality is an art made possible by a proclivity for encounter. It is in the generosity of information, the cooking of a meal, the gifting of an object and all the other material and immaterial acts of care that hospitality is afforded an elevated and an everyday cachet. It is in these small accumulative gestures that poetry comes to us as a verb, able to carry bodies into foreign surroundings. Whether supple of language or embodied form, poetry as a state of doing (and in many instances of un-doing) is by its very nature open, malleable and parasitic. In the case of artist residencies, a limber approach to reciprocity defines how and why these modes of making operate. Hospitality comes down to a series of exchanges between people, places and processes that is grounded in a given location—however physically or experientially defined—and in many cases pries open a post-colonial unsettling of the complexities of occupation.


In the case of Residency Projects’ pilot program in Boorhaman, Victoria, a peripatetic approach to site has been central to the project’s pragmatic and narrative outcomes. While the program was always set to take place in the small rural town of Boorhaman—located 18 kilometres to the north of Wangaratta in eastern Victoria on Pbangerang and Yorta Yorta country—its eventual form took four years to arrive at. It is with this extending impulse in mind that an analogy can be drawn between the project and what poets Rachael Zucker and Ross Gay refer to in conversation as the ‘sustained durational attention’[2] of the long-form poem. According to Gay, the long-form poem gives up the illusory task towards perfection and furnishes a space for the regular happenings of a life: the stuff of labour and failure, of domestic interference and all the additional noise elements that work their way into the final work. These noise elements can be understood also in terms of informational parasites, a third triangulated definition of a broader parasitism that Michel Serres draws out in his 1980 book The Parasite. As Astrid Lorange notes in her review of the book: ‘...a parasitic relation, refers to both parties of parasitism as well as that which passes between them—confused messages, un-received signals, extraneous symbolics and waste.’[3] The interlocution of this informational white noise can be located within the organisational structuring of the pilot program, as well as in the crux of works produced: from the material and functional negotiations to the incorporated waste elements of the project’s temporal sound and textile installations. And so, a series of lines can be drawn between the long-form poem, the parasite and the work of artist residencies such as Boorhaman; all revolve around a premise of residing within the work in order to arrive at an authentic expression of an original nucleus.





II: ON HOSPITALITY


One Saturday morning I arrive at Murnong House, family in tow, to an old homestead five minutes’ drive from the site of the program at the centre of the small town of Boorhaman, population 126. The property is accessed by two cattle gates, a periphery of citrus orchards and daubs of wattle that pop with the last rites of the spring season. The homestead is host to artists-in-resident Chaco Kato and Dylan Martorell, program founders and managers Kate Hill and Eugene Howard and visiting family members and guests. The house is old and well loved, with themed rooms honouring its owners’ occupations as Geologist on the one hand and Zoologist/Botanist on the other. Snake skins hang above the dining room door and the bathroom walls are papered floor to ceiling with Art Nouveau flowers of William Morris era, if not actually original. On entering the house, I gesture to its significance and ask how the connection to place was made. With a prior knowledge of Hill having been raised and schooled in Boorhaman, and her and Howard’s protracted history having studied together and as continuing collaborators, Howard makes the connection known. The house was owned by family friends, with visits to Boorhaman as a young person signifying his own personal relationship with the town before he and Hill ever met. He lets me in on a winsome moment the two shared at university when learning of this shared history. Despite having known these two and the basis of their relationship for many years, I arrive at an increased sense of kinship as I start to stack up the many layers of this project that resound with new conviction. It is at this point that a lithe approach to hospitality starts to gather in my mind, as a kind of puzzle piecing of the various actants that have enabled this project—artists, managers, sites, communities, funding bodies, materials and channels of internal and external feedback. There is no one host in this nexus, but rather a series of interchangeable relations that are responsible for the holding and being held: from the lemon-scented gum tree that holds Kato’s large weaving work; the structure of the school building that holds Martorell’s interactive sound installation; the various sites that hold the resident artists and managers and the program that holds the community in an open invitation for creative engagement.





III: PARA-SITE


After a relaxed morning walking in the nearby Pbangerang (Warby) Ranges, we regroup and meet at the site of production: the disused Boorhaman Primary School, district no. 1996. Established in 1866, the original Boorhaman school was then known as a Common School, a forerunner to the State School model which provided equal opportunity to all children. With varying levels of attendance over the decades, the school eventually closed in late 2008 with seven pupils in attendance.[4] Up until a few weeks prior to the residency’s launch, the local golf course and community hall were nominated sites of activity for the three-week long program. At this late stage, an original appeal to occupy the grounds of the school was granted by the Victorian Deputy Premier and Education Minister James Merlino, who personally owns numerous properties in similar stages of disrepair throughout the state. With the disused school and its grounds due for imminent redevelopment, permission to occupy the site was granted for the building’s external spaces only. Aside from one community member showing some dismay at the use of the school’s exterior spaces, Hill explains that most people were open and welcoming of the opportunity to engage the site through new creative avenues. Considering the nature of work being made—both site-specific, outdoor projects—what might otherwise be perceived as a functional limitation turns out to be an appropriate apparatus for a parasitic approach to institutional contingency and a genuine opportunity to engage the natural ecology of the site.


In addition to Serres’ informational parasite, parasitism finds another expression via the word’s deconstructed etymology: by definition the prefix ‘para-’ describes the ‘sitting adjacent to’ as well as the ‘protecting of’ something, in this case the disused school grounds. While the term ‘parasite’ conjures up a spate of pejoratives that are exploitative in their crudest form, the expanded ‘para-site’ becomes an adjunct framework for the happenings of Residency Projects where the metaphor functions in the obverse. Rather than enacted as a process of extraction, parasitism here fulfils a complementary role. Take for example that the Latin derivative of parasite is ‘parasitus’ which literally means one who eats at the table of another. This definition offers a more gregarious appreciation of a reciprocal host/guest relation that is not conditional to exploitation, but one that gestures to the true ethos of artist residencies more broadly. By extension, custodianship and care become central modi operandi through which the broader concerns of the residency model can be called into question. Discussion turned to this during a conversation with Hill and Howard on the school grounds one mild afternoon in late September whilst sitting next to Kato’s work in progress. Some of the ways in which care was shown to the site included: neatly swept piles of debris gathered from around the schoolyard; hand dyed cotton cord stained from the lemon scented gum tree; a succession of native saplings planted at the front entrance to the school grounds and a myriad of other gentle and generous acts of preservation. Regardless of a clear trajectory for the program’s continuation in its existent form, there is the ability for these visible acts of care to communicate value in an efficacious way to a community attuned to the site’s future potential. After a series of conversations with Boorhaman residents—often taking place at the local pub—a general consensus was observed regarding a desire for a community art centre to continue the work of the disengaged primary school. With the site’s future status up for negotiation at a local and state level, Hill and Howard see the pilot program as an opportunity to reify some of the proposed outcomes of the site, regardless of whether it can accommodate the pursuits of the program-at-large. While there is a marked sense of buoyancy when the two speak about the program’s possible future in Boorhaman, there is an understandable resistance to over-investing in the site beyond the immediacy of the programs current objectives.



V: LABOUR


Like other expanded collaborative networks—Field Theory, Local Time, Debris Facility et al.— an adherence to DIY and parasitic operating models allow for a kind of labour production that in many cases bypass the bureaucratic requirements of larger institutions. Artist residencies are often afforded greater liberties of operation than major art institutions, wherein a premise of ‘residing-in’ allows for more informal and provisional approaches to making and presenting work. Itinerancy is another key generative force for many artistic practices that rely on shifting contexts and site-responsiveness in order to make work that is cogent to a whole set of ethical, aesthetic and material questions. For Kato and Martorell as well as Hill and Howard, this mode of working is central to their solo and collaborative practices across art making and cultural management. Since 2009 Kato and Martorell have worked together as collaborators in Slow Art Collective, an artistic commons that aligns their individual practices through DIY processes with a focus on slow exchanges of value, environmental sustainability, material ethics and collaboration. Previous to Kato and Martorell’s invitation to participate as artists-in-residence in Boorhaman, Hill and Howard 




About the author:
Abbra Kotlarczyk is a visual artist and writer based in Melbourne. Her practice is hinged on visual and linguistic articulations of subjectivity, trans-historicism and expanded notions of publication. She has participated in solo and group exhibitions at North Projects (NZ), Bus Projects, c3 Artspace, TCB, Lindberg Galleries (Australia) and AIRY Gallery (Japan). Her essays and reviews have been published by Transgender Studies Quarterly (Duke University Press), Decoy Magazine (Canada), un Magazine and Das Platforms (Australia).




This project has been assisted by the Australian Government through the Australia Council, its arts funding and advisory body, the Victorian Government through Creative Victoria and by the Besen Family Foundation through Creative Partnerships Australia's Cultural Fund.