Colliding Passages

Glen Forbes Camp
Glen Forbes Camp

In the current neoliberal global market that is Education survival of the fittest has shifted from an implicit instinct to an explicit strategy. Coupled with an increasing obsession with systematic and outward results there is little time and little space to question our ‘real’ responses to the unknown, the unexpected, the unconventional, risk and yet, these notions are common currency in creative practice and research and we all use them in every abstract / proposal we write. So what does it mean to gather a disparate bunch of PhD candidates (from Fashion, Architecture, Interior Design, Gold and Silversmithing, Choreography & Performance, Landscape) and go to a Scout Camp in country Victoria and hang out from Friday – Sunday in a place made for 10 year olds? And do things together – things that arise from varied individual practices colliding with the collective – and to reflect on the affect that that has on space, bodies, writing, objects. That was the objective of the first Pflab 2015. In other words to depart from external time to internal time, social time, eating-all-together time, play-time.

a Scout hall in the hands of a designer – Mick Douglas, Pflab 2015

Glen Forbes camp was discovered by Mick Douglas when his children were in Clifton Hill Primary School where some visionary at the School had the foresight to buy a Scout Camp so that inner city kids could spend time playing in the bush. He told us of the happy times he’d had in this place being part of collective children / parent communities fostered by camping out under the stars. We arrived to a bunkhouse  and 8 canvas tents laid out in a field, a hall with long wooden tables, long wooden benches and a long wooden floor, kitchen attached, the Ablutions Block with excellent hot showers, rolling hills, cows, horses, plenty of gum trees filled with romps of kookaburras laughing at dawn.

Glen Forbes Camp
Glen Forbes Camp

Aims of Pflab, 2015 or what I understood as its intentions:

To create a collaborative community for PhD researchers in what can often be a very long and lonely task;

To test how individual research can be mined collectively;

To actively steer away from the usual strategies of individuals working and thinking as islands

To share knowledge and strategies for building a sustainable creative / research practice;

To spend time cooking, eating, cleaning, camping, working, resting, questioning, listening;

To give time and space to the non-verbal;

To find unexpected connections and new pathways of doing / thinking;

To be human, together;

To collectively investigate how we might, as a group, ‘perform mobile identities’ at the upcoming PSi Fluid States Conference ‘Performing Mobilities’ in October 2015;

To make do with less resources.

by Kathy Waghorn, PFlab 2015
Badges by Kathy Waghorn (Architecture), PFlab 2015. We all picked some out at random. One of mine read ‘paddling’.

For me this weekend was a gateway, a threshold, a rite of passage.

I’m in it now.

I’ve dived in.

There’s no turning back.

Testing Agent: an experiment by Roseanne Bartley (Jewellery), Pflab 2015. Photo of me by me.

I think it continues to stun many (liberal, open-minded, conscious) Australians just how integrated Maori culture is in New Zealand in comparison to Australia where Aboriginal culture is largely invisible. One of the PhD candidates lives and works in New Zealand suggested an opening introductory session on the Saturday loosely based on a Maori tradition where people who are gathering, before they begin with any agenda or meeting orientate themselves by saying which mountain they’re from, which river etc. This is how we began – with our relationship to place and tribe.

Of course that’s something when you’re displaced like me.

where is my mountain / who are my people?


Water: by Saskia Schut (Landscape Architecture), Pflab 2015.

On Saturday night, in the old Scout hall, beside a crackling fire I wrote the following list; a kind of stock-take of our day.

watercrakers overflowing tipping point to lead and to follow in a pink dressing gown it’s Charlie’s 12th birthday the weight of stones released gold and silversmithing three cheese risotto colliding passages white clogs yoga with Mick by the horses fresh figs sliced the dance-off with eye contact presence / present / pre-sent apples from the neighbour’s tree rope poly-vocality snacks death-rituals starry starry night the lightest touch blue tarpaulin “it’s uneven” “on the contrary” “checked all the fences?” Runaway Bay the imagined disc-course White Rabbit white ale being done to being horizontal the performance of succeeding and failing the Ablutions Block drawing on the windows to throw pine cones in the fire spinning pot lids country cows blood trickling down an apartment block in Iowa bulldog clips scattering

Swapping clothes by Adele Varcoe (Fashion), Pflab 2015
Swapping clothes by Adele Varcoe (Fashion), Pflab 2015

As usual the weekend was full, overflowing with encountering. But there was enough space and non-verbal doing / building / making time to feel renewed by the experience rather than exhausted. Increasingly I’m coming to the conclusion that it’s fragmentation (of time and energy) that exhausts but being in one place, with no wi-fi, all together now that provides a certain kind of rest even though the days are filled. It was no holiday. And yet …

So what was useful? What remains?

One of the most important things I got out of it was a sense of community. I am not alone in this. There’s others, somewhere ahead on the path (I was the only one at the start of the PhD) but somehow we’re all in this together, including our supervisors – there is no us & them. It was also an opportunity to share my discipline. The School of Architecture and Design is very experimental, very open, very able to change, on all levels – otherwise they wouldn’t have offered me (and many others) a place in their School however, Choreography – being a dance practitioner / performer (in its original sense as opposed to the notion that everybody is (or can be) a performer and every act is (potentially) performative) – is something new in this context. The usual standpoint of spectatorship were immediately put to question. Also, the notion of doing one thing. Poly-vocality or multiple channels of entry seems to be favoured. But I am not ready to throw out the conventions of theatre just yet. Is the old relationship of watching / doing over? If not, how in the 21st C do we present a performance in which witnessing can be active without it becoming a participatory performance? Who am I relating to when I perform? How can the audience see and be a part of it? These are not new questions in the field. Nonetheless I’m grappling with them.

Building together in silence, Pflab 2015

What about enchantment? What about spell-binding? What about transporting the audience in time and space to another world? Isn’t this why we all love film? What about escape? Not mindless escape that shuts down the body-mind but the journey to mytho-poetic space/time and when you return you come back with more than you left, or less even, but what I mean is that you are changed – irrevocably – and you are grateful and even, humbled. What about the presence or present of one thing – in a world of multiple channels? What about singularity? What about expertise?

What is an expert anyway? Is expert a dirty word?


  1. a person who is very knowledgeable about or skilful in a particular area.
    Working together, Pflab 2015

    It was wonderful to be around people who were so at ease with objects from pinecones to light installations to stewed apricots to tarpaulin to felt to flannelette shirts to safety pins to mountain rope – the weekend was filled with sewing, building, making, drawing, and yes, dancing!

    Chaotic: by Roseanne Bartley, set in the female toilets, you had to chaotically throw felt over your torso and take a selfie on her phone.

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