Architecture and Design building, RMIT
My first PhD meeting went well yesterday – or so I think/feel. I had some time to kill in the city beforehand so I sat down in a cool Melbourne cafe and over a soya flat white wrote down my intentions for the meeting. They were:
– to be myself
– to listen
– to be present
– to admit vulnerability
– to ask stupid questions
– to not try too hard
– to tell the truth
The School of A&D covered in discs, is all concrete and steel, not a pot plant in sight. There are spaces called roof pavilions and warehouses. The offices are all open-plan, so in fact my desk – I get a desk with a PC for three years – is at the other end of the office where Mick, my supervisor sits. There is no natural air in the building, in fact no windows – the temperature is computer controlled – and apparently, all sorts of problems with this system. There are all sorts of semi-public break out spaces, where tutorial groups happen and posters on the wall instead of saying ‘Footprint Dance Festival’ read ‘Drawing with Robots’. The building itself is awe-inspiring if completely, in-human. Even the spaces that have timber floors are laid over concrete, but there is a deck outside with the most magnificent views across Melbourne and perhaps I can have a daily movement practice there or in the sound studio (with linoleum floor) or in the Botanical Gardens down the road. I suppose coming into School of A&D invites us (i.e. me and them) to test these limits.
The first meeting consisted of something between personal and professional, formal and informal. We covered topics from jet-lag, to the novels I’m reading in my sleepless nights – all by Murakami – to my needs analysis – a formal document Mick and I have to fill out at the start of my candidature – to auditing an MA module with Charles. So, I didn’t understand everything Charles – 2nd supervisor and Landscape Architect – said but what I did understand that I’ll be sitting in on is an inter-disciplinary module consisting of MA A&D students and Industrial Designers (yikes!). It will held at a gallery space in the Yarra Valley (about 2 hours out of Melbourne) that Charles is using as his office for the first semester – he’s creating an installation out there – and we (students) will be joining him in this ‘studio’. Not sure yet if that means going out there for the whole day or actually spending 3 days at a time at points across the semester – living and working there – naturally, the food and wine is excellent (his words, not mine)!
Mick is on research leave for the next semester but I will have one weekend with him – somewhere in Victoria – with other candidates – where we’ll all gather and hang out and give presentations that are not about outcomes but just sharing where we are. It seems that both my supervisors like to have overnight working groups – not that I’m complaining – when I told them my tent is in a cargo ship bobbing along the Pacific – they let me know that Technical Services at RMIT, apart from having state of the art cameras, sound equipment, computers, boom boxes, surveying equipment also have (state of the art?) camping gear to lend out. Welcome to Australia!
Before Week 1 of term there is of course, Week 0. In week 0 all the studio leaders present to the entire student body their ‘studio’ for the semester and students choose which one they want to join according to the presentation, which also includes posters that give you short synopsis of what you can expect from undertaking this mission. I’m invited to these presentations – it will give me a good sense – so they say – of the kinds of activity happening School wide.
In other news, I begin my only course-work called ‘Creative Practice Research Methods’ led by Pia Ednie-Brown in the roof pavilion (which by the way has an industrial kitchen somewhere along the way for catering during PRS – more on that later) in a few weeks and there some compulsory online courses e.g. ‘Ethics’ that I have to do before my confirmation of candidature – which is the first milestone I’m working towards – possibly in May but if I need longer then it can be later in the year – and if I happen to be in overseas, I could, should I wish, present in their other campuses of Ghent, Barcelona or Ho Chi Minh City.
I experienced my first meeting in a semi-haze. I’ve been pretty hard struck by jet lag and perhaps unsurprisingly, I’ve gotten ill with a chest cold. I felt there was a good balance in the meeting between all our voices, and a series of very easy questions and
answers that went both ways. Mick is great at guiding me through the bureaucracy of candidature and Charles seems genuinely excited to have a choreographer in their midst. He tells me that there’s alot in common between Landscape Architecture and choreographic processes. I’m very happy to take his word for it. They talked to me about teaching on their undergrad courses – they encouraged me to consider co-running a studio in 2016 – there is a formal application process for this but they both thought teaching as a way to think and do through candidature was a good idea. And, I talked about some residencies, performances and projects that I’ve applied for in UK and Aus. which they seemed excited about and willing to support.
I feel like I’ve entered another continent. Of course in terms of being back on Southern shores but more what I mean is in regards to having fallen, not unlike Alice, into the wonderland of A&D. Language(s) and resources I’ve taken for granted are no longer there – I literally feel that the ground beneath my feet has shifted – there is something else there although I can’t yet put it into words. Apart from studios in vineyards, there’s a palpable sense of something new. In terms of arriving, each day gets a little easier – but right now – I think more than arriving I’m dealing with ending. Not that I particularly miss my life in the UK but I certainly value it and think about it recognise that I built something very beautiful there and the people I met and the networks / communities I belong to were a kind of net that gave me hope and nourishment in a too-hard city. Here the canvas is more or less blank. In a way, I’m starting again – and right now, it’s mostly tiring. But despite the fog, I see chinks of sunlight – it is 33 degrees out there after all – and the opportunity to make something new is alive, and fragile and thin but humming with life.