Abundance, Art and Creative Social Research

In January 2018 I launched the creative installation, Food For Thought, at Rainbow Serpent music festival, an internationally renowned festival drawing over 20, 000 people for a 4 day weekend of music and creativity in the Victorian bush. The installation sought to engage festival goers into dialogue about fresh food consumption and waste practices. I asked, where does your fresh produce come from and where do you put the waste? The bigger question behind this installation is one of how we can achieve sustainability and resilience within our food systems.

The creative research method crosses the disciplinary boundaries of artistic practice and social research. As an interactive installation the work has an educational and research basis, grounded in empirical evidence. The installation was designed for creative play, conversation and contemplation, while asking simple survey questions that allowed us to illustrate the consumption and waste practices of festival-goers. Alongside this, I collected ethnographic insights with my collaborators on the kinds of conversations and experiences people shared with each other whilst engaging with the installation.

Visually, the installation consisted of seven ‘pods’, each approximately 170cm tall, hung from trees, and lit up at night. The pods held information inside them relevant to either the consumption or waste of fresh produce. Participants were asked to answer a simple question by clicking a hand counter located inside the pods.  Icons inside the pods then allowed for participants to get a sense of their own food print profile from the accompanying information board. You can see more on the food prints at internalart.com.au if you want to explore your own.

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We estimate from the observed interactions and survey data that around 5000 people actively engaged with the research side of the project. Throughout the long weekend, while the installation was in place at the music festival, we observed numerous types of interactions ranging from vague acknowledgement that a pod was hanging down in front of their face and they needed to step around it to people settling down within the space and actively engaging with the work. Children would run through and around spinning the pods so that the tendrils would splay out to reveal the openings leading to further interaction. We also overheard conversations within the space of people discussing their consumption and waste practices with others and how their food print influenced their lifestyles and practices.   I also witnessed a grown man hanging and swinging off one of the pods – not the ideal behaviour an artist wants to see happening to their work, – but good to see that it was robust and resilient enough to take it.

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A key finding of the research to date is the guilt felt by many people. We found it interesting to observe some participants’ sense of guilt or shame for their consumption and waste practices. Working together with my collaborators, including Dr Alexia Maddox, we have run three ‘food for thought’ creative interactive research data collection installations, with the installation at Rainbow being the latest iteration at the research. Previously, insight on the high levels of consumption guilt (not linked to behaviour change) began through the first two installations. The first of the installations was initially conducted in a gallery through a large community created artwork and the second at a market stall where children and adults alike added potato stamps to the initial collaborative piece. During both works we occupied the installation space and struck up conversations with people about the work. The shame or guilt became known when participants made their marks on the canvas, along with statements like ‘I wish I could say that I do differently, but I shop at the supermarket and I dispose of the organic waste in the rubbish bin’. On occasions people would also express that they felt as though they had little control over these patterns of consumption and waste. These insights have led us to other questions asking how we can as a society make it easier for people to behave in ways that they know are good for the planet. This finding on consumption guilt raised in the first two installations was cemented for us during the festival weekend.

This installation is part of a long-term research project, a work in progress that I hope to install into a variety of places in order to gather data so as to map the consumption and waste habits around Victoria. The purpose of this mobile practice and multi-sited installation work is to collect representative data from people across the greater Melbourne region to creatively map the fresh food consumption and waste patterns. This final component of the installation will draw together the other creative works into a collective installation including my large-scale paintings of vegetables.

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Fractal Cabbage by Dianna Tarr

Human interaction and perception of the natural world is the common theme of all my work and as an artist and anthropologist and I am thoroughly enjoying the merging of the two disciplines. My new works aim to focus more upon memory spaces, value systems, and the ways in which humans engage with the natural world be it through the extraction of resources, waste production or recreational activities. By designing creative low-tech interactive art installations, it is my aim to ask for a contribution from participants so as to stimulate thought, conversations and input on how we as a species relate to the natural world……and possibly find new innovative ways to relate to the planet in a positive manner that is reflective of different ontological understandings of the natural world.

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