Site specific performance, the piano and the emergence of cyclical operations in critical spatial practice by Campbell Drake

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This research is situated within the field of critical spatial practice and examines how site specific performance can activate engagement in the spatial politics of contested urban and rural landscapes in Australia. Carried out through a series of iterative performances, the practicebased research uses pianos as performative, spatial and semiotic instruments to explore interactions between spatial conditions, cultural practices, communities and their environments. The research explores the cultural, ethical and political resonance of juxtaposing the piano – as a cultural artefact of western origins – within a variety of Australian sites. The practice research has evolved through three phases of project investigations: firstly, through the spatial exploration of two 19th century urban landmark buildings – Melbourne’s Flinders Street Station ballroom and the Princess Street Theatre; secondly, through a phase of investigative engagement with the spatial politics of contested Australian landscapes, at Hobart’s municipal rubbish dump and a property acquired by the Indigenous Land Corporation as part of a land bank established for Aboriginal people, and into a third and final phase which sees the learnings accumulated and synthesised within the abandonned 19th century Pentridge Prison in Melbourne. Explicating a conceptual and locational progression from the urban piano recitals of Phase One, to three regionally situated piano experimentations of Phase Two which are then synthesised in Phase Three, the practice research enacts an iterative design process from which has emerged four critical spatial operations: Inverting, Instrumentalising, Spatial Tuning and Cultural Burning. The research offers this combined set of cyclical operations as a methodological contribution to the field of critical spatial practice, with capacity to activate new spatio-political formations and critical engagement in the spatial politics of contested landscapes.


Examiners:  A/Prof Heather Galbraith, Dr Janet McGaw  Supervisors:   Dr Mick Douglas, Dr Marieluise Jonas

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