Margin to Margin: from artistic research to an iDoc

…there are two kinds of purposes. The purpose of having a result, something that exists after the process is stopped, and does not exist until it has stopped…and there is the purpose of carrying on, of keeping the process going, just as one may breathe so as to continue breathing. The purpose is to carry on.
– John Christopher Jones, The Internet and Everyone, 2000

Departing from the two-year artistic research project, that was implemented through a series of in situ workshops with peripheral artist communities in South Australian outback, Finnish Lapland and Russian Kola peninsula, we, the researchers of Margin to Margin, found ourselves left with a wide variety of material and immaterial raw data that still bears great potential in itself. We decided that the next step would be to transform the collected textual, video, photo and audio materials and data into an interactive documentary (iDoc) that explores the theme of marginality in a wider sense of the word, drawing from the skill and knowledge of the participating communities, their relationship with art and craft making and their life stories. This will serve the objectives to promote, diffuse and continue the project. We are currently seek time and funding to proceed with the implementation.
The proposed iDoc aims to overcome the gap between scientific and popular communication, creating a platform that allows for both. On the one hand, it communicates the results of the artistic research project, serving also as a type of library for any ongoing research processes. On the other hand, it adds an aesthetic value to the data and documentation we collected, creating an immersive experience for the viewer, who can reconstitute the span of the project’s geography, from the Australian deserts to the remote Arctic.

Collecting data
Our approach during the workshops aimed to enable art making activities around specific themes: roles and identities, “the margin” and art making as a coping mechanism. After the introduction of the themes, the participants would engage in the process of creation, resorting to various media and techniques, such as painting, textile art and installations. Once an art piece was produced, the maker would share the stories and reflections behind its creation. Additionally, we initiated discussions between the different locations, having the participants share artefacts and messages that would be sent from one margin to another.

Throughout the two years of Margin to Margin, we have collected various types of materials and data to base the web-platform upon, namely:
(a) video documentation of the processes of creation, as well as the thoughts and feelings behind the work;
(b) audiovisual documentation of the locations and people taking part in the workshops;
(c) video and sound recordings, translated and transcribed, partly compiled in the video work titled Life Story Mandalas;
(d) physical works of art and craft produced in the context of the workshops; (e) video messages, translated and transcribed, that participants from different locations exchanged from one edge to another;
(f) texts, both academic and creative;
(g) audio recordings of the team discussions throughout planning and fieldwork stages;
(h) a network of real people and communities that keeps on growing due to ongoing collaborations and sub-projects.

Steps have been taken to process, curate and present the project outcomes in meaningful ways, including exhibitions, academic and popular articles, online video channel, blog and social media. These attempts contributed to the participants’ representation and connectedness. However, in the proposed iDoc we will employ a more holistic, immersive and democratic approach to the publication of the rich project outcomes and stories. Additionally, the platform will allow for the continuous uploading of new material, thus facilitating the expansion of this online community.

Stories, themes and processes
“The margin”, as an overarching theme, allows for multiple interpretations of this concept with further references to the notions of gender, race, class, economic stratification, peripheries and belonging. These issues are mostly touched upon informally, on the level of personal storytelling. The iDoc will allow audiences to navigate between people’s stories, the themes they address, the created artefacts, and the identity representations that are transported from margin to margin, artwork to artwork and person to person.

Examples of the documented stories
The concrete stories varied in nature and some focused, for example, on memories of nuclear weapons testing in native Aboriginal land in South Australia. Many Aboriginal artists present at our encounters either lived through “the bomb” era or are the descendants of the families who were indissolubly affected by the nuclear testing. Other narratives in Australia reflected the differences between living in a city and back in the country as an Aboriginal person and the ways identities may enter an inner conflict.
In the Arctic contexts, many participants reflected on the objective limits of their realities, namely, harsh climatic conditions and the limitations of living far from the national capitals. Although acknowledging the challenges, many of them referred to being drawn to these limits, feeling empowered and inspired through overcoming them: “Any discomfort, all the minuses and pluses of studying here, of living, working and creating in this city formed me the way I am. My whole creativity is based on overcoming” (Participant, Murmansk). Feminist thematics were also prominent in the narratives of the Nordic participants: from questioning the gender roles defined by society, in Russia, to the personal boundaries in discussing sexuality and gender issues, in Finland.
Common personal narratives throughout the communities often referred to the inspiration and the struggle behind “making it as an artist” and sustaining this identity alongside other multiple specific roles and identities, be it a single parent, a family breadwinner, a caretaker of an elderly relative, an addiction survivor, an immigrant or a community rights activist.

Examples of the documented art-based and narrative processes
1) Life Story Mandalas
were one of the recurring art-based activities we documented. These acrylic paintings were made on the circles cut out of recycled linen sheets, forty centimetres in diameter. Two participant communities in South Australia and a student community in Russia painted their life stories on linen. The life story mandalas are a participatory and expressive artistic tool used for creating empathy and understanding of the historical, political and geographical backgrounds, as well as deeply personal contexts of their makers. The mutual empathetic response of the workshops’ participants facilitated the creation of a safe environment for the women who shared their stories and for those who listened. Life Story Mandalas installation, alongside a video projection (produced from the art making activities and the stories the participants shared), was exhibited at the Helinä Rautavaara museum in Espoo, Finland. A sample video can be viewed here.

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(a) Russian art student Alexandra Krylova shares the story behind her mandala, still from Life Story Mandalas video; (b) the installation at Helinä Rautavaara museum with the Australian artist Judith Welgraven’s storytelling, photo credit: Nuno Escudeiro.

2) Conversations with the Edge: The first virtual contact between one of the South Australian artist communities and the team of the project had happened months before the in person meeting. The artists’ initiative to reach out to their Finnish counterparts had resulted in Conversations with Lapland, a set of stories and artefacts telling about the collective’s work. This later became a starting point for Conversations with the Edge, one of the collaborative processes and an part of the following exhibitions. In the physical gallery space, it was a challenge to present Conversations in their entirety: the artworks, texts and photographs were joined by video messages different communities recorded for their faraway peers. It became one of the complex sub-constellations of data inside Margin to Margin. A sample video can be viewed here.

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Finnish crafts expert Birgitta Sassi and Russian art student Oxana Loginova are sending video messages to their counterparts from other “edges”, stills from Conversations with the Edge video.

3) Field Journals: For each step of our journey, we collected video documentation not only of the activities, but also the locations we travelled to, different natural conditions we encountered, as well as the participants’ and our own insights and thoughts. Each milestone of our journey is represented by a video field journal published on social media, always with the objective of bridging popular and scientific communication. These field journals have been made short in order to match social media purposes, however, the documented audiovisual material allows for a wider exploration of the locations in the context of the iDoc.

Documentary approach
Documentary approach to data collection and representation throughout our work is reinforced beyond mere ethnographic recorded data. In order to make this approach and our project accessible, we will create the iDoc, a media art piece that allows for multimedia, multi-temporal and multi-spatial storytelling and representation of not only people’s identities, but also those of the places and locations we work in and with. This format can accommodate various types of media, including web-based responsive maps that will illustrate the geographic remoteness the project and the communities deal with. (The inclusion of such maps would also overcome the said remoteness by inviting the audience and the communities themselves to virtually visit all the represented locations.) Once implemented, the iDoc becomes an immersive experience that will lead the audiences through the encounters with represented actors, locations and art.

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A schematic representation of all the Margin to Margin locations to be included in the iDoc. The 4 main workshop locations are marked with red dots: Fowlers Bay and Port Augusta (SA), Rovaniemi (Finland), Murmansk (Russia). Some of the individual art-based actions implemented by the researchers are marked with blue dots: Kuopio (Finland), Cork (Ireland), Hancock (Michigan, USA), Grand-Popo (Benin), Windhoek (Namibia).

The artistic objective we hold is for this platform to be dynamic, alive, polyvocal and inclusive. It comes from the ambition to act beyond the familiar realms of academic and exhibition spaces, but rather to share the complexity of the project as experienced by multiple actors, thus including their varied perspectives, identities, roles and understandings. We aim for personal narratives to shape the wider contexts of the realities this project encompasses.

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