Balloting i.e. curating one’s own education

Smell map Paris by Kate McLean

It is 9.30am and I am sitting in a full lecture theatre in Building 13, RMIT. It’s full of 1st, 2nd and 3rd year BA Landscape Architecture students or as they say The Lower Pool (I don’t think they mean gene pool). During my first supervision meeting both Mick and Charles (supervisors) suggested that I come along to Balloting. “It will give you a good idea of the terrain that is Landscape Architecture” they said; the what, why and how of this particular body of thinking / working. So here I am – the only one a) taking notes and b) with a notebook and pen. Old school.

There’s a short introduction about the wherefores of Balloting. A simple manifesto that reads:

  • Design in Everything
  • Modes of Practice
  • Rethinking Ideas of Representation
  • Curating your Design Education

So the way it works here at RMIT is that Lecturers present a semester long Studio. This happens both for Lower Pool (BA) and Upper Pool (MA). The students listen and don’t take notes! and then ballot for 4 studios that they’d like to participate in. It was encouraged by the BA Programme Manager that they don’t choose their studios dependent on liking a particular teacher / researcher or follow a strand that they already know, but rather stretch ideas / experiment with new methods / deepen enquiry. I studiously wrote this down, every one else jiggled their legs, scratched their beards, checked their phones.

What kind of studios are offered to Lower Pool? What kinds of thinking / doing do Landscape Architects engage in / with? Are there really strong links between Chroeography and LA (Landscape Architecture I mean, not Los Angeles)? Am I really in the right place, after all? I know I’m not doing a BA (sadly) but this is the foundation on which the rest of the glass tower is built, no? I wait in anticipation. I am the most excited, anxious person in the room.

From my notes ‘On Balloting’:

Studio: Light Works: human perception of light / space. Practices of looking and experiencing light. Determining a scale of intervention. Capacity of the work to speak for itself. Culture of feedback. Field trip to Canberra National Gallery to see James Turrell’s ‘Immersed in Light’. Studio involves walking in the city, particularly at night and observing light. Outcomes involve making own light work and working with light companies to source relevant light.

(BTW – I got in touch with the lecturer and am now going to be auditing this course! In fact, she’s really “fascinated” with choreography & performance and wants me to present to the students – what will I say? no idea)

Studio: Experiment: working in public space in a way that demonstrates design through experiments. Small changes that make a big impact. Grassroots focused. Dealing with the notion of pop-ups. Working with real client and real sites towards real outcomes.

Studio: The Valley II: on designing a bushwalk. How can you design through atmospheric and ground conditions and how does the body experience this? Students will spend 10 days on site – living in a National Park 1.5 hrs south of Sydney exploring methodologies that look at massive large scale projects and minute bodily scale projects. Methods include working with senses and critical cartography.

Studio: Meadow Lee: Notion of the a grassland in the Australian landscape. How do you manipulate the meadow? (A question I’ve never asked myself). What role does irrigation and the lawn mower play? How can the European model of a meadow be reframed in the Australia? The site will be (mowing) your own backyard. (The presumption being all students have one!)

Note: The man who gave this presentation had a very gruff, short, abrupt manner. He talked alot about the versatility and subjectivity of the lawn mower. He also wore a bright fluorescent pink pen behind his ear.

Studio: Working the Ground: this studio is based in the region of the Murray Darling basin and involves a road trip in a bus (driven by the lecturer). It is centred around developing techniques for eliciting stories from the community. How do we engender stories of landscape? Murray Darling has a rich colonial legacy – it’s full of stories about ‘back home’ i.e. England. It’s also full of contemporary stories. (This statement was accompanied by a slide of graffiti that said ‘Fuck You’ – students cheered). Studio technique asks students to work up juxtaposition. Using filmic references, ideas of collage and montage. Along the way, small pop-up exhibitions will be exposed in campsites, inviting fellow campers to engage with what they do.

I loved the concluding statement he made “camping puts us in immediate visceral communication with the ground”.

Studio: Composites: largely using Rhino (software) this studio tests and reflects on spatial concepts through drawing, programming, 3D virtual and phsyical modelling. She referred to the work of Smell Map, Paris (2013) by Kate McLean.

Note: Sensory Maps

Studio: Disturbance: is an ecological term meaning unstable landscape conditions. The site for this studio is Truganina Coastal Parkland 15km outside of Melbourne. The lecturer carrying her one year old baby which she termed “my very own disturbance prop” opened the studio by saying “if you don’t like walking, don’t sign up for this studio”. Later she used the term Geo-Mythology – “Geo-Mythology is outpacing digital technology” and restless Geomorphologies – “through walking, mapping experimenting with using your mobile phone for collection, you’ll develop your own classification logic”. The final outcome of this studio is to propose a disturbance or set of disturbances.

Studio: Overlapping Currents: this studio looks at the swimability of the Yarra (main river running through Melbourne) and peoples’ relationship to it. The outcome will be a comic inspired by this.

Studio: Kerb: opportunity for 3 undergraduate students to be editors of Kerb for one year – a high profile student led Landscape Architecture journal which (without wanting to sound like an ad) is sold in all good book shops.

Well, that was the morning. The afternoon was taken up with Design Research Seminars and Upper Pool Balloting Presentations. I (like the other students) stopped taking notes mainly because I came to understand that it’s all online! Of course. If you’re still reading this and still interested then look at the posters that accompany each presentation –

The whole experience was very insightful and fascinating. I feel much more grounded knowing the kind of context I am to be working in / from. And, this was just LA – next semester I’ll go the Architecture and Design Balloting Presentations.

But no doubt, you’ll hear from me before then.

Maps are my new best friends!

Smell Map, Amsterdam by Kate McLean

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