For the Centre of Visual Art’s 2021 Grad Academy Conference ‘Memory’, Currents presents Memory Bank, a space to host conference resources for each research stream as well as a series of conversations with recent graduates and current graduate students from both the University of Melbourne and the University of Western Australia. 

Memory Conference Organisers
Centre of Visual Arts Graduate Academy 

The Graduate Academy has been established with the aim to connect graduate researchers across the Faculties of Fine Arts and Music (Southbank) and Faculty of Arts (Parkville), to encourage the development of innovative interdisciplinary approaches to visual arts research and provide new opportunities and pathways for students pursuing research careers in relevant disciplines.

  • Corinna Berndt
  • Elyssia Bugg
  • Chloe Ho
  • Miriam La Rosa
  • Chris Parkinson
  • Clare Rae
  • Belinda Scerri
  • Genevieve Trail
  • Jessica Williams

Memory Conference and Memory Bank Contributors

Alice Edy, Alison Kennedy, Amelia Winata, Ashley Perry, Belinda Scerri, Bobby Nicholls, Caroline Austin, Chelsea Coon, Chloe Ho, Chris Parkinson, Claire Lambe, Clare Rae, Corinna Berndt, David A Calf, Dr Chris Barker, Dr Danny Butt, Dr David Sequeira, Dr Emmanuel Rodriguez-Chaves, Dr Kathleen McCaan, Dr Kirsten Lyttle, Dr Stephanie Parker, Dr Susanne Pratt, Dr Zoë Sadokierski, Elham Eshraghian-Haakansson, Eliane Touma, Eloise Florence, Elyssia Bugg, Erica Charalambous, Genevieve Trail, Isabella Capezio, Jeremy Eaton, Jessica Laraine Williams, Jianni Tien, Judith Martinez Estrada, Kade MacDonald, Kathryn Henry, Kelly Fliedner, Mark Shorter, Max Piantoni, Melody Woodnut, Mia Salsjö, Miriam La Rosa, Natasha Narain, Olga Bennett, Pauline Bianca B. Ma-alat, M.A., Penelope Hunt, Sacha Barker, Samuel Holleran, Sanja Pahoki, Scotty So, Soo-Min Shim, Suzannah Henty, Suzanne Fraser, Tess Mehonoshen, The Mulka Project, Therese Keogh, and Wukun Wanambi.

︎︎ Currents Conversations, Memory Bank

For Currents Conversations, Currents editors Jeremy Eaton and Kelly Fliedner caught up with graduate researchers Ashley Perry, Elham Eshraghian-Haakansson, Sacha Barker and Therese Keogh to discuss their practice-led enquiries and what it means for their research to become a part of the archive of the university. We posed the provocation: how can researchers continue to be critical of the infrastructure of the institution that their work has been borne of and continues to be a part of?

In conversation with
Ashley Perry

To cite this contribution:
Eaton, Jeremy and Fliedner, Kelly. Interview with Ashley Perry. ‘Memory Bank 2021’. Currents Journal Issue Two (2021),

Ashley Perry’s course of study:
Master of Fine Arts, Faculty of Fine Arts and Music, Univeristy of Melbourne

Image ^^^ Ashley Perry, We will keep this for you, (2017), looped video.

Jeremy Eaton [JE]: So, to begin, I'm really interested to hear where you are up to with your research and the arc that your research has taken over the Masters period? 

Ashley Perry [AP]: I started my masters in 2019 and then I took leave last year due to things that occurred pre-COVID. My research project started off broadly looking at the internet, and the intersection of Indigenous experience with post-internet discourse. As I got further into the research, I moved away from that, and I returned to work that I was doing into archives, looking at repatriation and discussions about repatriation. This also considered the practical realisations that came out of that exploration, and so my research this year has been homing in on and focusing on museological approaches to repatriation alongside artistic approaches. I’ve been thinking through these ideas in terms of my own artwork alongside the work of other artists who make works in this area, including Christian Thompson and Julie Gough.

JE: Can you give us some examples of how artistic repatriation functions? 

AP: I've been trying to look at a whole bunch of different approaches to it. So, Christian Thompson has a really interesting approach. It includes a spiritual form of repatriation, which is about excising the stories from objects. This may not be exactly how he would talk about it, but I see the excised stories of objects as something that can then be returned to their specific community’s. In a way it potentially separates some of the aura, the Walter Benjamin kind, from the object to actually reclaim the essence of the thing to give back to the community. It acts to heal, but also unpacks what that process might be for the community. Whereas I think Julie Gough has a slightly different approach, in terms of considering the connection to Country, all the locations or histories that an object is from, and what those connections are geographically and politically. 

I think my approach to repatriation processes is perhaps a bit more in-line with that kind of approach. This includes criticizing, or engaging with, the processes of histories, stories and methods that have, and could take place. I also work from a position that knows there are limitations to what art can do in this field.  

JE: That’s amazing, I think about your material and media approaches to this idea, given you use a lot of technology, which I think it is interesting, especially in the context of thining about memory. I wonder if you could talk about your approach and the methods you use, especially if you're talking about ancestral knowledge and objects, how do these contemporary media forms and approaches to historical objects intersect with each other and your critical perspective?  

AP: For some context, I am a Goenpul person from Quandamooka Country, the islands off the southeast coast of Queensland, but I do live on the Countries of the Kulin Nations and so I think this distance from my Country has really informed the way I engage with archives and collections as well. Also, from previous experiences, engaging with collections as an emerging artist, means that it is difficult to generate institutional interest in what I could bring to those spaces. This really made me interested in what the public access and opportunities are. What is an institution actually making available to the public? And not just someone who is a prestigious artist or researcher who can access that material through those privileged access pathways. And so, I think, for me, it was a process of looking at these collections from the outside and asking: Well, what is the public display of these objects? What information is on their website? Or do they have an archive that's accessible? What information is being recorded there? And then working from those relatively accessible vantage points and looking at a whole bunch of different institutions from university collections to National Archives, libraries, museums, even personal websites (blogs), I was able to build my own archive pulled from all these different sources that are related to cultural stories. In particular, I was looking at material from Southeast Queensland, specifically from my Country. Although, an object that was collected in Southeast Queensland was often documented in a particular way that did not specify where that object was from. My process became a way to capture objects from my Mob, but also from other surrounding Countries as well.

This archive I’ve pulled together, then becomes a springboard where I can look through those stories and find things that get reworked into different artworks. So, works like the digital 3D modeling pieces are made by pulling out either stories of objects that don't have documentation of them, or there's maybe a different type of record of a particular object that I can then unpack and remake and some of these stories then turn into sculptural installations. 

Image ^^^ Ashley Perry, Reformation (2019-21). Steel, monitors, three channel looped video. Exhibited in ‘The Image is not Nothing (Concrete Archives)’, Melbourne's Living Museum of the West.

JE: Considering artistic repatriation and what you’re talking about, and this may be incorrect framing, but I think your practical approach of collating and drawing together narratives and ephemera informs the way you develop forms, and you distil this material into an image from something that had otherwise been dispersed or diffused, and I think that's a really fascinating approach to reclaiming an object.

Kelly Fliedner [KF]: And I find what you were saying about the problems with public access really interesting too. Because as an emerging practitioner you, me or others often struggle to get access to collections that we're interested in. You can, to a degree, leverage your time within the institution to gain access to things that you wouldn't otherwise get access to. But then, once you're in the institution and understand how institutions actually work, you can quickly see that they're often very poorly resourced from within as well, and so that stifles engagement even once you're in. At the University of WA the Berndt Collection is housed, it's one of the largest collections of Indigenous and First Nations anthropological objects anywhere in the world, it's kind of amazing. And yet it's so poorly resourced by the university that there are not sufficient Indigenous practitioners put in place to caretake the actual collection itself. They haven't been able to archive the objects that they have with any kind of cultural specificity and they give any individual object over to someone who is interested in it, and so it's a very frustrating system. But unfortunately, it just takes a lot of resources. Have you experienced that yourself?

AP: Yes, I have two notes on that. I've done a little bit of work with the little North Stradbroke Island Historical Museum, where my family's from and it's always quite interesting. I think working there and seeing the kinds of limited funding that they're working with, for example they have part time roles, by splitting a full-time role, across two people and you know, the struggles that they go through with the limitations that they're working with. And I think from the work that I've done in other institutions as well, you can see there are funding limitations and that impacts their ability to create access or bring people in to work with the objects. And so I don't think it's exclusively the issue of those collections or the institutions themselves, but maybe part of a larger issue. On the other hand I also think institutions perform access too. One experience that was quite formative for me was spending about six months getting in contact with Queensland Museum about accessing their collections and it was always a dead end. You know, responses would stop and then when I arrived at the museum without having access to it, there was this huge display area where they were promoting how accessible their objects and stories are to the community. Like huge banners and posters, and a lot of marketing and promotional resources had gone into performing how accessible their collections are, which is contrary to my experience.  But there is also an ‘insider’ form of access too, because a couple weeks later when I was working on other projects a person was like, ‘oh no, I know the curator from there, I'll put you in contact’ and that's how you get in. So, it's quite interesting how the mechanism of that all operates, the informal versus formal, and the performative aspects of these spaces.

JE: Have you had any of these collecting institutions re-encounter your work after you have taken on aspects of their collections, or have you managed to re-enter the institutions with your work in some way?   

AP: I haven’t no. A part of a work I have been working on is about submitting objects to institutions to insert them into their collections. But I am yet to get to that part of the process in the project’s life-cycle. These objects I've been working on are compound, small sculptures that have computer components and programming that enacts particular actions within an institution setting. The first one I produced is a surveillance object that takes photos if it's plugged in and archives them to be sent back to a collection to then be reviewed—to give an actual picture of what's inside an institution. The idea was that these could be sent into an institution to help assist with a process of repatriation. I believe you've seen them Jeremy, they are kind of humorous things and I think a lot of the institutions I would like to send them to have collection practices that emphasise historical objects or pieces with a very particular aesthetic. I think the aesthetics of these objects is to challenge that.

Image ^^^ Ashley Perry, Reconnaissance Object (2019). Epoxy resin, pigment, steel, brass, bronze, Raspberry Pi 3 Model B+, Raspberry Pi Camera Board and wax.

JE: It is interesting to think about this appeal to the institution and the broader way you’re navigating that space, different collections and histories, whilst maintaining these different approaches simultaneously, and it raises a question of who the potential audience for this work is, and how do you envisage their own memories and experiences inflecting their encounter with your work?

I think my works operate in a few different ways. When people from my community encounter one of the installations that might have parts that specifically relate to my Mob or the Country that I’m from, many of the members of my community are quite familiar with the references to cultural practices. They will have a particular relationship to the work. At the same time there's a lot of different experiences that people could have with the work as well. They connect with other parts of history and other communities, especially their relationship to institutional collections, ideas of historical framing and repatriation as well. I think there's a number of different ways that people can connect to and experience my work, and I think I'm quite open for how that can shift for different people. In terms of the objecs I was just talking about, a lot of people connect them to the idea of surveillance for instance, or an uncomfortable feeling of being watched.

I recently worked with Léuli [Eshrāghi] and ia has this idea that I’m really drawn to that looks at ancestral knowledge and memory as a type of futurity. I find that sense of temporal movement and process really engaging and I think about some of your technological approaches as an interface for how different people and your Mob could encounter your work and ancestral knowledges — it produces this interesting confluence of different temporal registers all occurring at once.

AP: That is interesting because I've always been critical of the way people say that Indigenous culture is a living culture but then under the umbrella of this idea, they don’t include things from a broader cultural consciousness. You know, when you walk into a museum and there's a lot of material culture, and you see what you expect to see, particular types of cultural practices, but you don't see the law books of the first Indigenous lawyers for example. I think by questioning how we frame culture that we can start to slowly think through what could be included in these collections. Maybe it is something like tech or other media that can create these relationships to culture and different practices, which creates unexpected and potentially new connections. That’s not to say that there isn’t value in the stories in the archive, we can still learn from what is there and take this knowledge with us into the future

KF: I think that that idea of futurity is really interesting, not only for thinking about ways Indigenous people or groups might work with an archive, question an archive or work to undermine it, but create a shift in its processes. It's a really useful way of thinking about archives, because when you think about an archive or even submitting your thesis, right, you have written the paper to capture a group of works that have been made now. You're tethering it to a historical marker which is 2021 and then all of the context of 2021 gets scooped up with it, or it becomes a memorial for this moment. But contemporary artistic practice is not really like that it's always constantly moving and shifting and changing, and so what do you do with the information that has been tacked onto that signpost of history? 

AP: I was at a talk four days ago about submitting a thesis and I was thinking during the meeting what if I have an amendment after?  I was like, can I go back into the archived thesis and make some amendments?

KF: But the point is, you can't do that.  Wouldn't it be really great if you could?

AP: Yes, within other fields of the university, there is the idea of, you know, continuing to publish. And you become like a researcher in the university and you’re endlessly publishing papers. Then, maybe one of those papers four years down the line articulates an amendment to your thesis, by incorporating new research that's come out.  But in contrast, it is a problem with how art schools work, where there is not space for you to become a researcher in that same way and to update your record through research processes. But I like the idea of being able to change or adapt the archive.

JE: With all of that in mind, and thinking about institutions, now that you've gone through this process of research and developed some of your practical outcomes and writing it will fall into that expansive archive of the institution, how do you see it managing to maintain a critical position, which I think your work is about, especially when we talk about institutional access and repatriation. How do you see your project holding that position within the archive of the university? 

AP: I don’t think my project specifically looked at its own complicity with the archive of the university, research and those specific systems, which might be a bit of an oversight. But I think in terms of the areas that I have been looking at that I am hopefully offering something new to the pool of practitioners who are also working in this field.   

KF: I really see what you mean. And also, from the perspective of my own research, I’m simultaneously having problems not just with archives, but also the commercialization of the uni sector and the fact that casual employees don't have rights and so it's a labour law issue. There are these multiple things that we tend to have very strong opinions about yet we continue to work within this structure, and so I feel like I reconcile these things by taking pleasure in researching and spending time with the thing that I have chosen to sit with. It's a of way of respecting the content in that pleasure can be found in it and that’s how I reconcile my time, if that makes sense…

AP: Definitely. I think it's such a big grey area. I’ve written a section about the history of institutions and museum collections as a way to contextualize how I got to my practice and have done some uncovering—in-line with what we were talking about earlier—around the maintenance of collections and accessibility. For example, I read an article that's about a museum collection from the 1500s in Italy and they're talking about how their labelling system collapsed because it wasn't really maintained for 100 years, and all of the specimens in the whole collection were mixed-up because there weren’t the resources even back then to maintain collections. And these issues have been ongoing for hundreds of years across a number of different countries and cultures. Then at the same time, looking at the National Archives in Australia, which is struggling with the same kind of issue of not being able to document or digitize all of their photographs in time before they actually expire. Then there’s this weird situation where we as employees of these spaces, want the best for the collections, but how do you manage that? When you have your own bills and maybe you are only funded to spend a half day on a project, if you are lucky.

Image ^^^ Ashley Perry, enlighten illumination (2020). Sandblasted acrylic, aluminum, and LED strip and A Fiction, about the repatriation of...(2017).Poster. Both exhibited in ‘An Incomplete Register’, Outer Space. Documentation: Charlie Hillhouse.

JE: Yes, it is a similar situation with digital attrition and a lot of conservation, trying to deal with video art and digital technology now, institutions can't keep up fast enough. 

KF: Not to mention the question of what is best practice in this space? Do we have to digitize everything? UWA is a part of this huge university consortium in WA, and so a bunch of universities got together, and they're like ‘we're going to digitize everything.’ And yet they are also aiming to reduce their footprint to something along the lines of negative emissions by 2050, and actually, if you have a million TB capacity, to host your archives, then actually the sheer footprint of that is enormous. And so the assumptions that digitization is even the thing that we need to do is interesting to me.

AP: Definitely, in terms of these huge server rooms and the amount of energy that they use really begs the question are the things you're digitizing even worth keeping? Are some things fine to be lost to history?

KF: Do I need to see James Stirling actively colonizing? Why can’t we just let some things gather dust.

AP: Exactly. In the discussion around conservation and obsolescence, I have works that I’ve produced over the last ten to eight years and so much has changed in that period of time in terms of new technology, file types not being supported anymore or outmoded software updates. It becomes really tricky to navigate. Some artists go to the trouble of seeking out something from a particular period of time, to be able to continue producing works with anachronistic tech, but I think for me I've been interested in going with the flow of how things have changed, and reworking things when I can. I guess that artworks from these particular times become like a stamp, or like we were talking about earlier that it captures everything from a particular moment.

JE: Speaking of time, what do you think is next?

AP: My research project really has uncovered a number of areas I would like to continue exploring. I like the idea of understanding what you may be pushing against, and it makes me think that there's a lot of work to be done in the histories around cultural objects. It is something I'll keep working on. I’m also intrigued by the histories of museum collections as a larger construct and ideology. There are some things that I uncovered through the research in the last year around how we got to this point of having art gallery's and anthropological collections separated, and when that started to emerge is an interesting period of time. It is absurd that a lot of museums don’t reflect on their own history, and I think it is interesting to try and understand those histories a little more deeply to unpack why we are at the point that we are at. And perhaps there is something in that, that can impact some of the issues that are happening now with cultural objects.

About Ashley Perry:
Ashley Perry is an interdisciplinary Goenpul artist from Quandamooka country. His recent works come from research into Quandamooka cultural practices, focusing on material culture held in museum, university, and private collections. Perry’s research is used to produce works that uncover and question the discrepancies embedded in these archives. Drawing on firsthand accounts to historical documents, these varied and often differing accounts are interrogated, compared, and are used to produce sculptures, installations, videos and digital renderings. Perry’s works enter a dialogue, questioning the certainty around institutional and narrated accounts, engaging in a process of speculative potential. His recent works have examined information and data systems, interrogating the methods of collecting and categorising. Perry’s works often examine the legacy of colonialism in these systems as way of understanding embedded issues in their current form. Perry was the recipient of the Incinerator Art Award: Art for Social Change (2019). He recently presented work in Florence, Italy for the First Commissions Project, the University of Melbourne.

In conversation with
Elham Eshraghian-Haakansson

To cite this contribution:
Eaton, Jeremy and Fliedner, Kelly. Interview with Elham Eshraghian-Haakansson. ‘Memory Bank’. Currents Journal, Issue Two (2021),

Elham Eshraghian-Haakansson’s course of study: Masters by Research, Fine Arts, University of Western Australia.

Images ^^^ Elham Eshraghian–Haakansson, Asha Kiani with the Second Generation Collective, Áshená, Bear Witness to Me, 2021, multi- channel installation, 4K video with sound, 25:00 minutes. Exhibited at the School of Design, University of Western Australia.

Kelly Fliedner [KF]: We are interested in the experience of being a student in this moment in time and how your own research is translated into the institution of the university and as recent graduate what that experience has been like. But maybe before we get into that, could you describe the work that you made recently as a part of your Masters? 

Elham Eshraghian-Haakansson [EEH]: Well, the final work I showed for Masters was called Áshená Bear Witness to Me and it was developed from a combination of workshops with my community that was hosted over the past year. These workshops started from an initial step which included storytelling. We wanted to make sure that this platform of exchange was held in a really safe space, because we looked at stories that included trauma, experiences of displacement, persecution described by the first generation migrants and we somewhat identified as second generation children of those elders. For the workshops I ended up partnered up with Asha Kiani, who is a performer and theater maker, and we teamed up and created this series. From there we engaged the youth of our community and then one of the goals of our project was to bridge intergenerational gaps. We wanted to facilitate conversations that assisted people to meet at a certain point, to unite community from the first workshop of storytelling. So the first generation, the elders of our community, shared their experience with the youth, as well as us. Then from there we were in collaboration with an art therapist, Cara Phillips. Cara helped us lay some groundwork in terms of creating art and navigating these experiences safely, because of course, you know, we always have to be mindful that these experiences can be triggering. Especially for people that connect with them so intimately. And this project was about showing that art can be a mode of healing, and showing that people can express their stories safely through creative practice. From there we hosted various workshops looking at film, looking at storyboarding, music, poetry and a huge range of visual art. We were especially vigilant and from there we curated this space, called Áváreh & Found (as part of Lotterywest’s Community Arts Network Dream Plan Do 2020), which showcased all the work that the youth had done, as well as the research we had developed. Because my masters was really intimately looking at community art, social practice and how to build trust with your community through art. Ashena, Bear Witness to Me my final Masters of Fine Arts exhibition was born from this process. You know there were many iterations of this, and I think that's really important to mention, because this project didn’t just happen, it came from such an expansive artistic process engaging with community, with collaborators, with partners and forming artistic partnerships. And I chose film as the medium because I just love video art, everything about it. We created the film over a few days, looking at memory, especially the memory of our first generation as well as post memory - how we can attempt to understand it. And it culminated into this nine channel screen installation with some archival prints. Also, archival footage and the actual props from the filming. I think that covers the project!  

KF: It was such an amazing installation to walk into and I think that it does speak to a lot of different audiences, I was really drawn to it for that reason. Video work is so immersive and can create a powerful space to be within. You're talking about the kind of iterative process and the collaboration with community and it being ongoing and a conversation a lot of the time, and I am really interested in what the experience of the installation was from some members of that community, I don't know if you had feedback from people?  

EEH: It was a constant conversation, how the audience, and the art responded to one another. In particular there was a unique dynamic between me and Asha [co-author and collaborator]. A good example is how we creatively spoke between visuals and audio, as she produced the music and the soundscape for the whole work. And we constantly responded to one another on how this makes us feel, how this response might talk to the community, how it talks to the stories, what emotions it evokes and it was such an incredible process. And even the feedback from community when we hosted our first exhibition in Fremantle, a few members of the community came in and they were in tears, they felt heard. There was one bit of feedback that someone came in and she just wanted to stay in the space and pray for the whole duration. Then the first and second iteration of the work (the second iteration being Delara showcased on Runway Journal), in conjunction to all the community work that the youth had created as well, it was truly phenomenal. With the film itself the feedback we received said that we had captured the essence of the stories, and that's really important because that was exactly what we set out to do. We set out to understand, or attempt to understand, their experience. We acknowledged that we would never fully know, because we've never experienced it ourselves but we have witnessed how it has impacted our community, and we understand and acknowledge that the shared stories is like a hand being offered.  

That was really important, I think, especially when you're navigating trauma, that it is always an offering to understand or attempting to. That is some of the reactions from many who identified as Iranian and/or Australian. I also felt that the emotional resonance was another aspect that was really important, the universality of grief, of loss and of displacement. The migrant experience. And that’s something that a lot of different communities could connect with, especially in this day and age. It’s important to have that embrace of the wider picture, whilst honoring my local community as well.   

Images ^^^ Elham Eshraghian–Haakansson, Asha Kiani with the Second Generation Collective, Áshená, Bear Witness to Me, 2021, multi- channel installation, 4K video with sound, 25:00 minutes. Exhibited at the School of Design, University of Western Australia.

Jeremy Eaton [JE]:  It is so moving and beautiful to hear about the process of the development of the work and all the levels of consultation. Also, the act of working with an art therapist to create a trusting and safe space to share stories. Often in an artistic process we can have a preemptive idea of what something might look like or begin to be like from the outset, and I wonder how much the consultation and engagement shifted the form and visuals of the work throughout that process?

I think the work shifted a lot. In terms of my personal practice, I like to work organically. I do have a certain vision, but it's never set in stone and if you end up with exactly what you anticipated then you didn't do it right. Because it needs to evolve, it needs to shift. And that is definitely what happened, especially with the first workshop we held with our elders. There were certain things that were just absolutely poetic, it was incredibly moving, and it was incredibly hard to hear sometimes. But one of the most incredible things we felt was that it is so important to share these stories in a way that does them justice. And that was one of the key questions that we always asked ourselves when creating the work. Does it do it justice? Is this acknowledging them? Is it providing the outcome that it needs to, which is to create understanding? By inviting people to come and see this story that they might not otherwise be aware of, how do we create empathy between two strangers, between anybody? As well as making our community feel heard through a different lens such as art. And I think art is probably one of the most potent forms to enact social impact. That being said, it can often be inaccessible and that was another really huge part of the project. Making the platform of art accessible was really interesting to navigate and learn about. This whole project was a learning curve of huge proportions and a phenomenal experience.  

You're talking about the learning experience for you, but it also seems like a really good learning experience for the institution too, because I often feel like the academy, and you know this is speaking from experience, is often really bad at creating safe spaces for people who have had traumatic experiences and there's a documented history of that, of extracting information and not doing due diligence to give particular people or “subjects”, or even just saying “subjects” likens a person who is giving information over or a research subject creates a hierarchy through language. But I guess what I'm trying to say is that it hasn't been unusual in the history of academia to totally not care about any of that and so even getting an art therapist in to negotiate those relationships seems like a really good way of working, that institutions should think about too, so I don't know how you felt about being somewhat of a conduit between your community and then, the institution of the university, which has a history of being comparably bad at engaging with diverse communities. Do you feel like it was a learning exchange?    

EEH: Being in the institution, I guess, really made me think of agency. Especially the agency of the artist and their story, and then the institution’s input into that. Overall, I had a pretty good experience in terms of the university allowing me to have agency over the stories and the art that's being expressed. I also had agency over how I navigated and conducted that process in regard to the university. I think more importantly the process is something that I've experienced personally, so I knew that when you deal with trauma or traumatic experiences that it can be quite triggering, I have felt the first-hand experience of what that can do emotionally, spiritually, mentally. But then when you think about engaging in wider collaboration you have to see how that can actually look for others that may or may not experience that themselves, and I think having that understanding helps drive the process and enable a re-learning between artists/researchers and the institute.

In terms of the institution, not necessarily the university but broader institutions, there have been moments where they don’t necessarily have experience in community arts, nor do they have the language to communicate with and we found with a lot of these spaces that minority groups and communities from a refugee context that these spaces can be really inaccessible and it's hard to actually navigate them, without having the instruments or the knowledge. I feel like Asha and I were a conduit for that in terms of of learning and navigating these spaces.

KF: Yeah, I think it's hard to be a conduit in this situation because whilst you’re speaking, you also have to code switch between different spaces. Artists in this context have needed to become good at producing the work that creates connections and speaks across different contexts. There are these inherent skills that you need to develop over a period. 

EEH: There's definitely been a learning curve, code switching and navigating language, especially when you’re exploring community arts. A lot of it was private, how do you bring the private into the public safely? What do you share? What do you not share? Showing your scars, not your wounds and navigating that in a wider institution. Even working out the business-y stuff. And sometimes we didn't want to have the wider public, we wanted to keep it within the communal, we wanted to keep it so that our community had priority and then we could gently open it up to the wider public. And that was interesting to navigate, especially for community-oriented practice within art spaces that are still learning.   

Images ^^^ Elham Eshraghian–Haakansson, Asha Kiani with the Second Generation Collective, Áshená, Bear Witness to Me, 2021, multi- channel installation, 4K video with sound, 25:00 minutes. Exhibited at the School of Design, University of Western Australia.

KF: Institutions, and I speak for arts organisations as institutions, government bodies as institutions, academia as an institution, are only really starting to wrap their head around all these various spaces and experiences. But I feel like there is a push to make everything accessible and there's a language around accessibility that assumes that all information needs to be for everyone. But there is a kind of inherent privilege in that, and it actually needs to be so much more nuanced. Your work really speaks to that, not only in the consultation process of developing the work itself, but in terms of the images that show who is seeing things, who's speaking, who isn't speaking, your use of masks and coverings, this idea operates in many ways in your work.  

EEH: It's a type of symbolic exchange or creative exchange. It is like the opening of a chapter and then also we're giving it closure. At least that is the way I curated that Masters exhibition. For example, when someone enters the space you're being forced to be pilgrims through the space because it's durational. Some people just walk right through and didn't see anything, but you have to have patience and trust from the very beginning. Creating is such a beautiful and intense process of sharing vulnerability. And I think that it is a breathtaking process, but there definitely needs to be trust. And I think that the essence of trust doesn’t occur a lot of the time between artists and institutions. It can feel like a transaction and trust hasn’t been built over time, especially when you're dealing with really vulnerable content.  I think that's maybe the nature or the structure of “the institution”. But in the exchange with like my supervisor I built trust with her over time and it definitely made navigating the shift from a really organic, emotional process too an academic form much easier – translating it into a formula of sorts that honors these nuances.

JE: And I think about the capacity for art to come into that institutional space and actually transform what that space is. It sounds like what you created really shifted how people could engage with an institutional space, like the woman who wanted to pray the entire time while she was in there, and I think that's remarkable as well. 

EEH: 100%. The first iteration, Áváreh & Found, we did was at the Blue Room Theatre. Asha created a theater piece derived from the content we had. Even in that space, our community came in and one of the responses from people was that they had never seen this, in terms of “seeing this many people who look like me” in a space in so long, or ever. There's this term decolonizing art spaces, and how do you make these spaces safer for community? A lot of the process was about shifting cultural perceptions, or even shifting the perception of art within culture. Because even the priorities of a lot of the audience who came to Australia did not have art at the top of their list, and it's completely understandable why. But now we've started thinking that art has the potential to be an instrument for healing, and that was the first time where it really felt that way.  

KF: It's simultaneously really exciting and yet exposes how much work needs to be done that that kind of reaction of “this is the first time I've seen people like me in this space like that”. I had this conversation yesterday in the context of PICA, I'm a board member there, and there is this desire for the organization to reach broad audiences. And I think that maybe we need to reach specific audiences, and to think about what works that we're supporting that speak to people who have been systemically left out.  If you're trying to constantly speak to the largest group of people possible all of the interesting idiosyncrasies of site, location and space get lost. So I’m more interested in asking what are the small audiences that we can reach and have meaningful exchanges with?  

I have one other question as you've said a few times that you're really interested in the visual language of film, performance and theatre. Before you joined the chat, Jeremy and I were talking about how your work has a magic realist quality, that it is talking to a specific people and place, but it also has a magical quality that simultaneously gives it a sense that it could be happening anywhere. What are your thoughts on that? 

EEH: I know this might sound naive or idealistic, but you know, I really feel that my purpose as an artist is to make a world that is ingrained in my identity and faith which is about unity. How do you achieve unity, especially when working across a diversity of experiences and difference? I feel like the exchange of a conversation can creatively come when you're expressing your story, but then also expressing the universality of that story. And that can so beautifully come about through poetry. Whether that's visual poetry, written poetry, or filmic poetry. There's this term film-poems that was coined in response to Sergei Parajanov’s film work. I am a huge fan of his work and a large part of my research was navigating his portfolio, especially the Colour of Pomegranates. He looks at film as poems and I feel like that idea allows for a wider scope not only of my expression, but for people to understand the work in their own way.  I think it's important to not be too didactic, and to acknowledge that this happened and to create room to ask how can we move forward so this doesn't happen again? And that comes with connecting with the viewer, connecting with your collaborators, connecting with yourself and with your family. 

Image ^^^ Sholeh Pirmorady, Bánu, 1993, Goauche, watercolour, ink on paper. 594 x 841. A miniature painting made by my mother.  Archives sourced from Sholeh Pirmorady and the Bahá’í Archive Committee of the Bahá’í World Centre, Archives of Bahá’í Persecution in Iran Archival Content. Presented as part of Áshená, Bear Witness to Me, 2021, multi-media installation. Exhibited at the School of Design, University of Western Australia.

About Elham Eshraghian-Haakansson:
Elham Eshraghian-Haakansson (b. Boorloo, Perth, 1996) is an award-winning Iranian-Australian Bahá’í video artist, researcher, director, producer, and curator, and has exhibited nationally and internationally. Her research navigates inherited stories and post-memory felt by her displaced community following the 1979 Iranian Revolution. Through the poetics of the moving image, she invites viewers to become the 'witness' rather than the 'passive bystander', inviting a critical discussion surrounding empathy, trust, custodianship, compassion, and social change in response to the current global social and political climate. Her practise values align to empower the voices of women within her art making. Working in community arts and collaborative social practice, she examines empathy in film and poetry, uncovering ways to build identity in first and second generation Iranian- Australians and the Bahá’í community, to close the gaps in finding the universal threads of cultural, social, gender and spirituality that unite us all.

In conversation with
Sacha Barker

To cite this contribution:
Eaton, Jeremy and Fliedner, Kelly. Interview with Sacha Barker. ‘Memory Bank’. Currents Journal, Issue Two (2021),

Sacha Barker’s course of study: Masters by Research, Fine Arts, University of Western Australia

Image ^^^ Sacha Barker, The Fear (SWS 3). Photographed by Daniel Grant.

Sacha Barker [SB]: I was really excited when you mentioned that this [conference was] about memory and archives because that's something that I've thought a lot about with my practice, particularly as many of my works build upon each other. For instance, the Spider Web works contain messages that were submitted by past participants... they are wrapped orbs that contain all of the handwritten submissions that I've received beforehand and become a web that belongs to the place where the messages were collected. I’ve done these works at many locations: one outside UWA in a high foot traffic area, one near a school, next to a playground in Applecross as well. In these places it just says, ‘share your fear’ on the box. That's all it says.  I've been really humbled by the generosity and honesty of the handwritten submissions I have received. I copy the handwriting into embroidery and then wrap and work them together. Only small parts of the full message are revealed to the audience after the process of making the work is complete. A small revealing of vulnerability. A memory of the submission is only partially legible. So the weight of that submission, the memory of it, the archive of it, is actually physically in the web. I’m interesting in the idea of collapsing and bringing back and moving around, working with what I’ve already made and what I’ve already collected. 

Kelly Fliedner [KF]: Yes, I love those works. You said that the location of them was an important way of categorising each one and you're interested, obviously, in destabilising a sense of the author as the most significant subject of cataloging a work or a project and so I was just thinking about this  process of archiving. An archive within an institution will always have these categories that are attached to items within them, like an author, location, date, time, medium, events, whatever. The author is often the most significant way to categorise a work. But perhaps including other things like ‘feelings’ or just slightly shifting the emphasis so that ‘location’ is the most important thing is interesting. Maybe institutions should be classifying works by ‘emotions’ or ‘season’ or ‘location’, perhaps it needs to be more specific, not ‘Australia’ or ‘Western Australia’ or ‘Perth’ but ‘Boorloo’ or ‘Kings Park’ or…  

SB: The Web work wouldn't have happened without the handwriting of strangers. There isn’t really any way of knowing who will respond to the box, or what they will say or how they will react. There is no way of knowing the quality or quantity of the submissions. There is no way of predicting what I will receive and submissions are completely dependant upon the space where they are collected, and so as much as anything the work is inextricably linked to place. I’m definitely not the author. The place is as much the author as I am. In my thesis, I talk a lot about vibrant matter, which speaks to collaboration, working with an object or location rather than using it. Rather than approaching a material like, ‘I'm going make a horse out of you and you're going to do this’. Instead, I think about the material and if I were to use wood, for example, you look at the wood, you work with the wood, you experiment with it. You have a conversation with it. How does it respond? Perhaps it says ‘no, I don’t want to be a horse. It's actually really good being this other thing.’   

KF: I love thinking about objects or materials or locations as co-makers. It’s just a small shift in the language but it feels significant. It opens up how we might think about our day-to-day interactions, all of them, even something as simple as the time you spend in your car. How does my car effect how I'm traveling through the landscape?  

SB: The experience of your journey with your car and how your car responds to you and how you're interacting with other cars. I mean, if you had a different car you would have a very different journey wouldn't you?  

Jeremy Eaton [JE]: Thinking about this idea of vibrant matter and energy, makes me think a lot about the installation of your work in the masters exhibition. The objects themselves have a tangible, emotional weight to them, that feels conferred to them by the individuals who submitted their emotions or fears etc. which are rapped and embedded internally, enclosed and inaccessible… and yet they have this energy about them.  

I'm glad that you get a sense of that because there is very much an energy or weight that I wanted to convey through them. They are completely dense. I had the experience of a woman coming to see the work when I was installing. Completely by chance she'd come to drop off something at UWA. She had seen the box before out by the cafe on campus and had written something in it about two years ago. And she asked about it, and I said, ‘oh yeah, that's everything that was posted in there. I've embroidered the words’. I was busy threading needles and finishing up so my mum showed her around the room and showed her the box that she wrote in. She was really happy to know the whole process and what it became because I don't tell people what it will become. All the work is at that early stage is a box. She didn't know what it was. Didn’t know if it was an artwork or a survey or anything. She didn’t know what it would become and then to know after all this time was really exciting. She took photos of each piece. 

Yeah, it's actually really beautiful. I feel like the success of the work comes from that leap of faith from the participants… that whatever action they're doing does have some kind of purpose or consequence. And that is what we’re all doing all the time. Small acts, small gestures to the universe. And in turn the installation of all the objects has a real universe or outer-space feel. Floating, hopeful gestures in space.   

SB: Thank you. Yeah, I guess because the rocks were all floating too.  

JE: Seeing images of the work it did look as though it had this almost atomic, cosmological, visual floating energy. 

SB: Oh, that's really beautiful.  

KF: And actually that makes me think of the spider and how the digestion of food or nutrients becomes the threads of the web. Who was it? Carl Sagan? Who said we’re all made up of star stuff? Stars are the continually digested matter that makes up everything. A kind of composting, digestion, consumption. An alchemical flowing in and out.  

SB: Another thing about the spider is about trust and distrust. The actual paper that people write on is never seen. I keep everything but I never share them. I traced them with tracing paper several times. They get digested. The second one I did was within walking distance from my parents home where I lived at the time. I didn’t want anyone to see me there. So I would walk there in the dead of night. Then after opening the box and collecting the submissions I would walk back home along Stirling Highway. I couldn't read them in the light where the box was located, so there was this real sense of anticipation and excitement to get home. You don't want anyone to see it and you don't want to be recognised. You don’t want anyone to know that it's your box because then that'll influence what people put in there. I didn't technically ask anyone for permission where I put my boxes either, so I didn't want to be caught opening it.  

Are you ever disappointed by the things that you find in the box? 

SB: Not disappointed. Because everything is a type of sharing. Unless there was nothing. I was a bit sad sometimes when there had been no submissions. Sometimes there would be two days in a row. The box itself is quite engineered because at the beggining I was paranoid that people were going to scratch it, put cigarettes out on it, use it as a rubbish bin or put drinks in it. So it's very hard to break and is made from stainless steel. Once, I found two lolly wrappers in there. That’s is. The fact that it's been out in the public for probably collectively over a year, that's really amazing. No one has ever put a cigarette out on it or done anything mean toward it. None of the bolts have ever been unscrewed or anything. So, I’ve never been disappointed. I mean, some of the submissions feel like they're, you know, taking the piss a little but that's still an interaction. They have still given me their handwriting and made themselves vulnerable by standing over this box and writing to it. 

KF: There is a kind of fluid nature between that person leaning over the box, the location and your midnight missions and it’s made me think of our previous conversation with Ash. We were talking about repatriation of objects. I'm interested in how you engage afterwards with those co-makers, besides the serendipity of that lady dropping something off at UWA and remembering the box… have you thought about how you might take the objects back to those places? 

SB: I have thought about that but it's hard to say who the object belongs to. It’s really tricky. Likewise, it’s tricky thinking about an author of the map work I made. I was in the mindset of vibrant matter when I made it, and it's derived from all of these flawed maps, that show one thing very well. Like, maps that are used for mining purposes. They really home in on something specific, details in the landscape and because of that specificity they are obscure to the lay eye. You might need an education to understand or know what is being conveyed.

And I'm assuming they have ulterior motives, political or social or otherwise.  

SB: Absolutely. There's one that I'm thinking of that just shows ‘well’ across it. What it is actually mapping is the Canning Stock Route, but it simply shows the location of ‘wells’. Locating ‘well’, ‘well’, ‘well’, ‘well’, ‘well’. It’s from a time when we hadn't done so much research, understanding and respecting of the history of the people that were there before and are still there, and the fact that they just labeled ‘well’ really shows you, you know, what they were interested in was a stop on the way. Extracting and then moving on. Knowing now the horrible ways that the wells were made, it makes working with the maps quite loaded. 

In terms of co making with the maps. I try to respect the fact that they're flawed but also I want to highlight the fact that they are flawed. I’m co making not only with the map as an idea, but with the map physically, copying the lines, playing and manipulating the text. In that way, I'm not really an author. I had an idea, and then I collaborated with things to make something. Thinking more about ownership, in the original collection of these maps, there are many that are confidential, so no one is really allowed to look at them. So what does that say about ownership of a place and ownership of knowledge?

It really describes a particular political history and cultural memory that defines that aspect of place. And there could be things within those other maps that expose something. Just as scandalous, or you know negative, about a perspective that people had about the kind of country that they were working on. 

SB: Yes, and then the names of mines, I don't know who names mines. I'm talking about small mines, old mines, but they've got some really weird names.  

JE: That's so interesting. 

Those names are often violent. It’s also hard not to think of insidious “wellness culture” within the context of that well map. Language and naming can be violent, even through banal expressions.  

SB: If you didn't know anything about what we've just discussed in terms of the history of Australia and WA, you might look at it from a European perspective and see something like reprieve. You’re going to have a totally different perspective that's alien to ours.  

KF: And so the co-making practice is part of who the audience is as well. 

SB: That's something that I find really interesting because I’ve been so wrong in my assumptions about audience. You really cannot judge an audience. I've learned a lot from the audience. They've taught me everything.  

JE: It’s a similar attitude when working with materials. I feel like you can learn things, define a sensibility or an attitude through the objects around you. Maybe I should take more care when I move things around my house. There's some really interesting writing by Karen Barad on this about how the effect changes the things around us.  

SB: I find that really interesting especially in terms of trauma. How trauma can change both the thing, place or person that enacted the trauma and that which is affected by the trauma. They both contain a mark that's not necessarily visible, but there was an exchange, I like that idea of the exchange.  

So when you're moving things around your house, Jeremy, you are making an exchange with yourself and the environment. Then things that you put next to each other. You think, oh, those elements are speaking really well to each other or they're fighting. That kind of language. It's really interesting. 

JE: Definitely. I think because they're physical and everything on this molecular level of exchange leaves a mark or a trace. And it goes back to how we were talking about energy and that  movement of the text into the fabric, and there is this element of trace that kind of inhabits your work. Similar with the maps, there is an indexical process of making a map in the first place, which is kind of strange, and it leaves a bizarre mark on the physical place itself. You could see this as a type of violence that occurs by defining or packaging it in. Then you shifted it into a material space again, which begins to unpick that violence.  

SB: Violence is a really interesting word to use because it is. It's a lot of about voyeurism and the colonial gaze as well as the human gaze. There's a lot of voyeurism in it, especially as the audience has a privileged view of a place without the consent of that place and without having physically gone to or interacted with it. You can then make a judgment about a place we're going to do XY and Z to that pocket of land. 

Because I've looked at the map and I reckon we should do this and it's going to make X amount of money and we're doing that. Even though I am never going to step foot there, I can look at this map and make that decision about its future. I can make all those judgments just from the map. 

I asked one of my mentors who was a prospector for many years about the process of making these maps and whether the people who made them had been to the land. He said yeah, most of them had, surveyors etc. But he also said there's a type of machine now that surveys land, and it’s like a giant magnet that hangs from a from a plane, in the sky. A very big floating sheet of magnet that passes above the land. It hovers about this perfect land that's hardly been touched, and it somehow sees through the surface and records the earths composition. It feels like such a false exchange to me. 

Those maps are incredibly sad. I was planning to go to Lake Ballard, so I was looking at archival photos and we were planning a trip there and I was getting really amped up looking at Google Maps, the colours and reading about people who have been there and then I found these maps by chance that showed that place. I ended up not being able to go there, so I just have my memory of the research that I've done and the information from those maps, which are very lacking. The line work is beautiful, but I don’t get any picture of my body in the space. There is no scale. They are insufficient and flawed but there is also no alternative really. 

JE: And we live through and by maps like Google. We trust them and believe them to be a true representation of the landscape. A few years ago I went to Morocco and Google just at that stage hadn’t mapped any of the old towns. It was actually quite liberating to not constantly defer to Google to define the way I navigated or walked through space. It really altered the way I experienced that place.  

SB: That's very empowering to the people that live there as well, because you now have to ask them in order to get around. And then sometimes you might have to first learn the language and then you'd have to speak it. At least it would be on their terms. I think that would be a really beautiful idea that you'd have to go to a place, respect the people there absolutely and to engage with them directly, instead of Google.  

KF: Maybe we could return to the institution of the university, which is also a process of co making as well. You have entered into relationships with people within the university like your supervisor, but also the other people that are there in your cohort that you're studying with or researching with at anyone time. Or other people who have moved through that space. 

SB: Yes, the relationships that you have at uni with your supervisors and your colleagues. Those that you have spent meaningful time with. They are important relationships. In a way they are not essential to your actual work, but they shape it through interaction and exchange. They’re so important to help you understand your own work.

About Sacha Barker:
Sacha Barker is an artist, working in sculptural and textile medias. She is interested in narratives concerning the body, politics and culture of our human environment. Barker lives and works in Perth, Australia. Her work is graphic and dynamic. It takes shape across recycled materials, fabrics and found objects.

In conversation with 
Therese Keogh

To cite this contribution:
Eaton, Jeremy and Fliedner, Kelly. Interview with Therese Keogh. ‘Memory Bank 2021’. Currents Journal, Issue Two (2021),

Therese Keogh’s course of study:
Doctor of Philosophy, Faculty of Fine Arts and Music, Univeristy of Melbourne

Image ^^^ Therese Keogh, Forge (2020).

Jeremy Eaton [JE]: Kelly and I will be speaking to a couple of people from University of Western Australia who have recently graduated and we spoke to Ashley Perry, who's just finishing Masters at the VCA. In comparison to the others we are speaking to, you're at a much earlier stage of the research process. It would be great to hear what you've been up to and what you're working on?

Therese Keogh [TK]: Yes, so I'm six-seven months into my PhD, so it's early days. I'm looking at the material excesses, or residues of extraction and burning. Particularly materials like slag and clinker, and the ways that they can be used as a model for rewriting histories of extraction, including the social and cultural histories around extractive industries. At the moment I’m looking at some sites around Newcastle in New South Wales and coal mining that occurs there. I have been considering the unique material condition of slag, it has a strange geology that needs to be written differently, and what that writing might look like is a part of the exploration.

JE: Is the slag and clinker naturally occurring? or is it predominantly the remains of human based processes?

TK: The material mostly derives from large scale industries like metal smelting and coal burning, but it does occur  outside of those processes too. There's a place called Wingen which is about two and a half hours northwest of Newcastle on the lands of the  Wonnarua/Wanaruah people, and there's a coal seam fire that's been burning for 6000 years. It's the longest coal fire in the world and that produces a kind of clinker.

Kelly Fliedner [KF]:
It's difficult to wrap your head around that kind of time, isn't it? That must constitute a lot of your research, thinking about deep time and trying to find ways of building a relationship between our present and an expansive understanding of time and space.

TK: Yes, but another aspect is that there's this really extended temporal scale of something like 6000 years, but then you also have fire which has an expendability, an immediacy and presence. So the idea that a fire could be burning for that entire period has the potential to rearrange how I conceive time.

JE: It really does. When I have a fire at home, I think about how quickly it exhausts materials so the idea that it could be constantly going and it is just burning coal is incredible. Is there a sense of the coal seam fire ever ending?

TK: Oh, it's kind of the edge of the coal seam that goes through the Hunter Valley, then to Newcastle and then dips under Sydney and then comes back up in the Illawarra around Wollongong.

And those are two really large coal mining areas in New South Wales and they’re mining the same coal that's burning, almost on its own terms, or according to its own terms, in Wingen. It is then transported and used in manufacturing and things like that. But I don't think there's a way, or I'm not sure that there's an easy way, to extinguish it, and there's no real need to extinguish it. It is at the edge of this giant coal seam, so I can't imagine how it would burn through. I think the fire moves around a meter a year due to the constant burning.

KF: Is there any sense of the environmental impact that the burning has had over that period of time? And has anyone attempted to make an assessment of that? Because when you think of burning coal you think of damage to the environment, right? Well, that's what I do as like a layperson to this subject.

TK: I haven't read anything about the environmental impact of the burning. I've read stories about kangaroos finding warm spaces on the ground to sleep, and things like that. The Earth itself is baked there, and there are these sulfur vents. So the air smells of sulfur and you can hold your hand up to a sulfur vent and it's hot. But I think the impact of that compared to the impact of the coal mines is so minimal. I think it's interesting the way that the mines and the burning of coal are kind of restaging these particular earth processes or earth forces that are happening independently of what we understand of technology and industry.

KF: It's actually really amazing to think about. I hate saying the word Anthropocene, but, you know, that we always centre humans in the environment and you think well, no, there are ways that the world mutates and changes and works within itself that is totally separate to us, and so this is an example of it. But when human intervention creates a similar force the impact is so dangerous.

TK: Yes, I think it's the point at which those particular forces are coopted into something like capitalism or colonisation. It's seemingly the structures of those systems of value, trade and conquest that turn those geological forces into something else. I've also been looking at this dumping ground off the coast of Newcastle called the Spoil Grounds where they're constantly dredging Newcastle port. Coal ships go in and out and they've been continuously dredging the mouth of the Hunter River there for 162 years with this one little ship and dumping all of that material off the edge of the coast. I've been looking at maps of the deep sea and the way that they map the ocean floor is through sonar and echolocation, which is a large-scale version of what whales do, and at the same time a less efficient version of what whales do, and it's interesting to think about the ways that technologies are one of the things that make humans exceptional but they are also one of the things that make us very unexceptional.

JE: So that dredging process, is that on the opposite end of the coal seam?

TK: Yes, there are beaches around there and the coal seam actually juts out of the cliff. There is some wedged between the layers of sandstone, and so there's coal crumbling onto the beaches there.

JE: Is your drive to shift the narrative of extraction about going back to this 6000-year-old burning off as a type of naturally occurring form of extraction that counters the human oriented practices that have coopted this same site?  

TK: I’m not sure. It feels like very early days in the project and so I don't know where that particular site fits within the broader research. I guess I've been looking at material excesses and the ways in which excesses, like slag for instance, don't have a function in the way that coal does. And so it becomes an excessive material that operates outside of systems of trade and accumulations of wealth, and I wonder how some of those materials offer a different genealogy of mining that disrupts the more linear capital model of mining. Does that make sense?

JE: Yes, yes, perhaps because this material is harder to define or pin down as it is not as utilitarian or ‘useful’ it can’t be appropriated in the same way?

TK: And it is the stuff that doesn't fit within the dominant narratives of extraction. It's all of the byproducts or loose ends. These loose ends can be reconfigured into a new geology that potentially tells a slightly different story to the ones that the history of coal burning tells us.

JE: Thinking through the potential genealogies that you’re talking about, I’m interested in the multiple strands of your practice and how it engages with this idea. There's a narrative, speculative writing aspect of the practice and then you have a very site-based facet to the way you work, whereby you actually go and you produce kilns, or you interact with specific sites. I’m curious where these two aspects of your working process interface or meet, you do you have a sense of how one feeds the other?

TK: Currently in lockdown they do not meet each other…  

JE: We were going to ask, due to the site-based nature of some of your projects how COVID has impacted your research…

Image ^^^ Therese Keogh, Forge (2020).

TK: This research project is an extension of what I was doing last year. I did a Masters in geography in London and then I came back to Australia very abruptly at the beginning of the COVID pandemic and still had my dissertation to write. I had planned my project around a particular mining site in Europe, in the end the circumstances of the situation just made it impossible. It is interesting having to reimagine what field work looks like when you can't move, or what it means to think spatially when you're stuck in one location that you weren't expecting to be stuck in. So last year when I was suddenly back in Australia, I was living on my Mum’s farm in central Victoria, and I was looking at coal and clinker and I built a forge and I taught myself blacksmithing. I then spent the time that I thought I would be doing field work actually learning this particular material technique. I was then thinking about the forge itself almost like a kind of compressed iteration of the mining site, in that it's producing all of these material conditions through burning, there is this discharge of clinker. This created a set of narrative conditions that I could write through. And so, I wrote that project as a series of letters that were all written through the material excesses of the forge in different ways, to actual and fictionalized collaborators. And that was the geography paper. Is this answering your question?

JE: Yes! During the conversation we had with Ashley Perry he spoke about the limits of institutional access because he's interested in engaging with First Nations objects within museum collections. But he constantly encounters limitations in terms of his access to these collections. In response he has come to create, within his artistic practice, his own way of accessing them through online repositories or accumulated narratives, which can then be redeployed through the artwork as digital renderings or installations. It is interesting being faced with a very different kind of limitation in terms of your access to sites and how you have created this modular approach.

KF: I was also thinking that the narratives from the project and how they are an excess in their own way. It's not an excess that is not useful, in that it's an excess that finds use in other ways that might not be necessarily apparent from the beginning. I imagine this is a metaphor for the slag as an excess that comes from a site that will be used by various other objects or entities for something unknown or not apparent?

TK: I guess it depends what we mean by useful and how do we define usefulness and uselessness?

KF: Perhaps I’m thinking that it's not designed from the beginning, it's somewhat evolving although that’s not quite the right word either, but, perhaps unfolding?

JE: It is more experimental, a kind of unknown, this goes back to the previous question about the interface between the writing and site-based work and the fact that you're unable to access sites, but you can speculate around them, writing allows you to do that. I am curious to know how it has shifted in the past, from say a speculative position, to when you visit the actual place, has that process changed the writing or your approach to thinking about sites?

TK: I think it definitely shifts the writing. Although I've realized that a number of the sites that I've been looking at recently, like the Spoil Grounds, even outside of COVID, they are completely inaccessible, right? The site is three kilometers off the coast and at the bottom of the ocean. To some extent working with that site is always going to be a speculation or a kind of imaginary. I feel like I'm still learning about what the relationship is between actually physically going to sites and this kind of other speculative mode of writing about those sites, it is something that I've been questioning for myself as well.

KF: It is particularly prominent in this moment where it feels like we are either speaking from a place or to a place rather than transferring between. I feel very grounded at the moment in more ways than one. And so the writing that I've been doing is very much located here. I've been writing this essay for un Magazine and it's about a very specific history in WA. And it's not like I've not written for un before, I'm familiar, I used to work for un and I used to live in Melbourne, so more than ever I feel like I'm writing from here to there and I think that has a lot to do with not being able to visit Melbourne.  And when I was reading your text, that was in the most recent un Magazine it felt like it was written to a place and not just a person…

TK: Totally. I think that's what I was interested in when I was writing the letters last year. The epistolary form is such a spatial form of writing especially in the way that letters act in the world. They also signal that feeling of desperately longing to be in proximity to others. During something like lockdown, they offer a kind of closeness across distance. I also think that COVID forces us to think about our relationship to the world on multiple scales at once. Thinking about the domestic in relation to the global is not something I've ever considered prior to the past 18 months but now it's so intensely present that it is a necessary part of daily living.

KF: One of the other artists we talked to, Sacha, has this ongoing series of works that she's been doing before COVID where she sends packages to the gallery that she is exhibiting at. And from gallery to gallery the accumulative packaging of the work becomes the sculpture in this space as a part of the work. The work is quite an obvious and tangible way of thinking about what is picked up along a journey, right? Like the kind of material that's picked up in the correspondence, or the transformation that happens in a physical sense in the sending of information or object, or correspondence, or whatever it is. But it definitely made me think about how our digital interviews have picked things up along the way and it's not immaterial.

TK: I also think writing itself isn't immaterial like no matter what form that writing takes, it has a kind of materiality to it. Through its grammar, through its words or language.  That's something really interesting to me, especially working within the context of academia and writing being a major output of whatever it is that I do in my PhD. I like to think about particular material conditions through writing, at the same time you have to dig deep into the materiality of the writing itself.

KF: How are you reconciling academic writing and your own approach to the materiality of writing in your research?

TK: I guess I've been thinking about the ways that structures of power and things that facilitate mining are the same structures of power that facilitate academia. And so to deal with one, I think it's necessary to deal with the other as well. So to write about extractive industries and excess materials I consider the excesses of academia too, and the ways that some of those excesses can be adopted as writing methods. This might disrupt normative, academic writing or normative research processes to offer other possibilities for thinking and learning. It has somewhat of a dual purpose, especially since I have been thinking a lot about Australia’s national identity as being intertwined with the extraction of coal and trade. There was a Quarterly essay last year that talks about Australia’s export economy and the four top exports for Australia being iron, liquid natural gas, coal and education. When laid out like that it is apparent that they are a part of the same systems, and, in a way, I think writing can do a lot to challenge both at the same time.

KF: I always feel really confronted when the Victorian Government talks about the education system as an export, in in terms of finance, it's one of the most important industries in this state, but it seems like a harsh use of language to talk about humans in these terms. They're not commodities even though they’re treated as commodities, how weird and dehumanizing it is to do that. But then, at the same time, treating and speaking about the earth like that is also very harsh and jarring. 

TK: I totally agree.  It's so confronting to think about education in those terms because it is not the kind of ethics that any of us would want to reproduce through education.

JE: To counter some of the extractive processes it is interesting to approach the excesses of mining and academia as a way to renegotiate assumed narratives. And again, talking to Ashley, we touched on the institutional archive where so much research is deposited and it is this constantly growing repository, which is its own excess too, but where else do you find excesses that you engage with?

TK: Well, I feel like friendship is an excess of academia and that particular relationships are almost generated in spite of the institution, rather than because of it. There are also many possibilities for other modes of collective thinking, working and living within academia that can definitely be generated in excess of it.  

About Therese Keogh:
Therese Keogh is an artist and writer, living and working on the unceded lands of the Boon Wurrung and Wurundjeri Peoples of the Eastern Kulin Nation. Her practice operates at intersections between sculpture, geography, and landscape architecture, to produce multilayered projects that explore the socio-political and material conditions of knowledge production. Therese works collaboratively through writing and research projects, including facilitating ‘Incubating Imaginaries’ with Saskia Schut – investigating post-extractive landscapes using interdisciplinary fieldwork methods – and ‘Written Together’ – a collective workshop for non-normative writing in arts research. Therese has exhibited her work in solo and group exhibitions in Australia and Europe, and has published her writing widely. Therese holds a BFA from Monash University, an MFA from Sydney College of the Arts, and an MA Geography from Queen Mary University of London. She is currently undertaking a PhD at Victorian College of the Arts, University of Melbourne.

Watch, Listen

︎︎ Science and Technology, Memory Bank

The Science and Technology stream focuses on posthuman conceptualisations of memory. In particular, the workshops and presentations at the conference will explore the use of mnemonic technologies, digital archives and  more than human memory. This stream of Memory 2021 looks to  the convergence between nonhuman and human histories of remembrance, forgetting and erasure that go unrecognised by dominant historical accounts.

Image ^^^ Corinna Berndt, detail from “All My Chameleon Signals”, interactive digital work of 3D-scanned personal items, 2019.

Science and Technology Convenors

  • Jessica Laraine Williams
  • Corinna Berndt

Science and Technology Contributors

  • Bobby Nicholls
  • Max Piantoni
  • Dr Chris Barker
  • Jianni Tien
  • Dr Susanne Pratt
  • Dr Zoë Sadokierski
  • Eloise Florence
  • Jessica Laraine Williams
  • Corinna Berndt
  • Suzanne Fraser
  • Alison Kennedy
  • Natasha Narain

Panels, Talks, Workshops

Let’s Object Salon

Thursday 2 September, 3-5pm

Facilitators: Dr Susanne Pratt (UTS, Transdisciplinary School), Jianni Tien (UTS, School of Communication), Jessica Laraine Williams (VCA, School of Art); Corinna Berndt (VCA, School of Art); Eloise Florence (RMIT, School of Communication); Zoë Sadokierski (UTS, School of Design).

Panel #1:
Digital Memories and Posthuman Encounters

Friday 3 September, 11.30am - 1pm

Chaired by Dr Suzie Fraser

Panel #2:
Song and Cuisine as Mnemonic Technologies
Friday 3 September, 2-3.30pm
Chaired by Dr Danny Butt


Yalinguth Concept Film

Yalinguth is an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander history of Gertrude St, Fitzroy (Ngár-go) as told by notable Elders and artists. Yalinguth means “yesterday” in the Woi Wurrung language, the new augmented app is designed to connect past accounts from our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community, to provide today’s generation insight and context of this popular Melbourne meeting place.



  • This is not a Boundary Object: Reflections on the Origin of a Concept, Susan Leigh Star (2010)  ︎︎︎DOWNLOAD PDF
  • Institutional Ecology, 'Translations' and Boundary Objects: Amateurs and Professionals in Berkeley's Museum of Vertebrate Zoology, 1907-39Susan Leigh Star and James R. Griesemer (1989) >>>
  • The Future is Now: Diegetic Prototypes and the Role of Popular Films in Generating Real-world Technological Development, David Kirby (2009)  >>>
  • Discourse coalitions for sustainability transformations: common ground and conflict beyond neoliberalism, Chris Riedy (2020) >>>

︎︎ Objects, Materials and Spaces, Memory Bank 2021

Objects, Materials and Spaces will examine the potential for objects, materials and spaces to act as vessels, indexes, monuments or maps, with regards to memory. We encourage the submission of papers or practices that explore the capacity for material culture to embody or exude the past, however it may exist and persist.

Judith Martinez Estrada, Ramon, 2019

Objects, Materials and Spaces Convenors

  • Belinda Scerri
  • Elyssia Bugg

Objects, Materials and Spaces Contributors

  • Belinda Scerri
  • Elyssia Bugg
  • Judith Martinez Estrada
  • Dr Kathleen McCaan
  • Melody Woodnut
  • Penelope Hunt
  • Tess Mehonoshen
  • Claire Lambe
  • David A Calf

Exhibition, Panel 

Virtual Exhibition:

Thursday 2 September 1-5pm Friday 3 September 11.30-5pm
Curated by Belinda Scerri and Elyssia Bugg

Objects Materials and Spaces

Friday 3 September, 11.30am-1.00pm
Chaired by Elyssia Bugg


Sarah Sze:
How We Experience Time and Memory Through Art

Artist Sarah Sze takes us on a kaleidoscopic journey through her work: immersive installations as tall as buildings, splashed across walls, orbiting through galleries—blurring the lines between time, memory and space. Explore how we give meaning to objects in this beautiful tour of Sze's experiential, multimedia art. 


  • The Strange Lives of Objects in the Coronavirus Era , Sophie Haigney (2020), The New York Times >>>
  • The Art Object as a Memory Trigger, Kate McMillan (2019) >>> ︎︎︎DOWNLOAD PDF
  • Not Because my Heart is Gone; Simply the Other Side: Francesca Woodman’s Relational and Ephemeral Subjectivity at the Limit of the Image, Anne Backman Rodgers, in Female Agency and Documentary Strategies, Edinburgh UP, 2018, pp. 100-113. ︎︎︎DOWNLOAD PDF

︎︎ Remaking the Archive, Memory Bank

In Re-making the Archive: Contesting Institutional Power  the convenors present a series of presentations by curators and researchers interested in the archive and cultural memory. Through an interrogation of institutional power, truth and fiction, the archive as a site for contesting meaning and de-colonisation, we aim to generate a dialogue on issues of recorded memory in these spaces.

David Sequeira, Requiem for 51 murders, 2019 installed 2021, pencil and felt on offset litho, music stands. Installation: Grainger Museum 2021

Remaking the Archive Convenors

  • Clare Rae
  • Miriam La Rosa

Remaking the Archive Contributors
  • Dr David Sequeira
  • Dr Emmanuel Rodriguez Chaves
  • Eliane Touma
  • Isabella Capezio
  • Wukun Wanambi
  • Kade McDonald
  • Olga Bennett
  • Dr Kirsten Lyttle
  • Suzannah Henty
  • Chelsea Coon
  • Scotty So
  • Kathryn Henry
  • Erica Charalambous
  • Jessica Clark
  • Sanja Pahoki
  • Mark Shorter

Panels, Talks, Performances

Invited Speaker:
Dr David Sequeira

Thursday 2 September, 1-2pm

Panel #1: 
Photography and History

Thursday 2 September, 3-4.30pm
Chair: Dr Sanja Pahoki

Wukun Wanambi (The Mulka Project) in conversation with Kade McDonald (Agency)

Friday 3 September, 11-11.30am

Mia Salsjö

Friday 3 September, 11.30am-1.00pm

Counter-Colonial Methodologies

Friday 3 September, 2-3.30pm
Chair: Jessica Clark

Performing the Archive

Friday 3 September 3.45 - 5.15pm
Chair: Dr Mark Shorter



  • Indigenous Archives: The Making and Unmaking of Aboriginal Art edited by Darren Jorgensen and Ian Mclean >>>
  • Space, Time and Excessive Performances of Endurance, Chelse Coon (2020) >>>
  • The Image is Not Nothing (Concrete Archives), edited by Lisa Radford and Yhonnie Scarce, Art + Australia (2019-2020) >>>

Currents  is a collaboration between the Centre of Visual Art (CoVA) at the University of Melbourne and the School of Design, University of Western Australia, and is funded through the Schenberg International Arts Collaboration Program. The Advisory Board and Editorial Committee are comprised of staff and graduate students from across the University of Melbourne and the University of Western Australia.
Currents acknowledges the traditional owners and ongoing custodians of the land on which this journal is produced—the Boonwurung and Wurundjeri people of the Eastern Kulin Nation and Whadjuk people. We pay our respects to land, ancestors and Elders, and know that education involves working with their guidance to improve the lives of all.

ISSN 2652-8207