Tender places: unsettling settler-colonial relationship to land through place-based, creative, and pedagogical practice

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Hickey, Kelly Lee (2022) Tender places: unsettling settler-colonial relationship to land through place-based, creative, and pedagogical practice. PhD thesis, Victoria University.


Humanity is living through a time of major ecological crisis exemplified by anthropogenic climate change and planetary-wide ecological system collapse. This is a driver for widespread and intersecting humanitarian and social crises including resource wars, famine, mass migration, and displacement. These entwined ecological and social crises are underpinned by global colonial capitalism that fuels systems of violent and inequitable extraction of wealth and resources from lands, people, and creatures. Indigenous and settler scholars acknowledge that addressing and dismantling colonialism is essential to effective action on the impacts and drivers of climate change, and other ecological and social crises, and the development of sustainable societies for the future. The research proposes that for settler individuals and communities to take action against ecological and social violence, they must develop ways of being, doing, and knowing that attend to the issues of colonialism and extractivism. For settler-colonists, engaging with and through place is particularly important due to the centrality of land and the subsequent ongoing role of colonialism in severing, masking, ignoring, and denying the relationship between land and people’s embodied identities and lived experiences. Tender places uses creative and pedagogical practices to examine the moral responsibilities of settler people in the time of ecological and social crisis. The research seeks to develop tools, processes that support anti-racist and anti-colonial creative practice that respond to ecological crises. The development of these tools and process has occurred through iterative engagement with a constellation of feminist, anti-colonial, Indigenous and queer scholarship including the work of Deborah Bird Rose, Max Liboiron, Claire Land, Ambelin Kwaymullina, Eve Tuck and Wayne Yang. The practices and ethics of engagement with anti-colonial and Indigenous literature are outlined within the exegesis. This doctoral research is undertaken as creative practice led research, with a 50/50 split between the creative product and the exegesis. I recommend viewing the work after reading the exegesis. As the creative works were created in three iterations, presented in multiple locations, and include an ephemeral durational installation, I’ve produced a website to create a permanent record of the work for assessment and documentation purposes. You can view the creative work here: https://tenderplaces.net/. The creative practice was undertaken at the Ilparpa Claypans, a series of 12 ephemeral claypans, located on ‘crown land’, 13 km southwest of the township of Mparntwe/ Alice Springs, in the Northern Territory, Australia. The popular recreational site was chosen due to my decade-long relationship with this place, and my distress over the impacts of dumping, four-wheel driving, and invasive weeds witnessed over this time. I undertook this research through the lens of Australian settler culture, as a queer, female, fourth generation Northern Territory settler of Irish, Scottish, and German descent. I bring my lived experience as an artist and activist to this inquiry. Through the research, I developed a practice of reading, walking, and making at the Ilparpa Claypans, as a method by which to investigate the use of critical race and environmental humanities literature as an agent of defamiliarisation, with the aim to disrupt the settler gaze within place. I documented new ways of seeing and being with/in place, which emerged from this disruption through field notes, photos, and creative works. These creative translations informed the development of three artworks reflecting on the impacts and responsibilities of settler people and cultures to the Ilparpa Claypans. Postcards from the Claypans was the first iteration of creative practice at the Ilparpa Claypans, which took place from May to June in 2019. In this iteration, individual walks were documented on individual postcards and mailed to individual peers in different parts of the world. The second work, Shadow Work is an autoethnographic map of settler experience and the impact on the Ilparpa Claypans was developed in January, 2019. This map is comprised of twelve cyanotypes created from dumped refuse and weeds found at the claypans. The third work, Testing Ground, was an 18-day durational performance installation, which positions the researcher’s body in service to place through daily visits to the Ilparpa Claypans to remove buffel grass (an invasive weed) and dumped items. These recovered items were used to create an installation that made visible the impacts of the ecological harms on the Ilparpa Claypans, alongside a soundscape created from field recordings and a public process journal of the 18-day practice. The exegesis locates the research inquiry theoretically and methodologically, and articulates the process, findings, and impacts. The autoethnographic component of the exegesis draws on the creative works, reflective writing, field notes, and formal research documents, to examine the development and use of arts and place methodologies and methods as a research process. Creative and reflective writing are used throughout the exegesis as a mode by which to locate the reader with my lived experience of place and process throughout the research lifespan. This exegesis, Tender Places, identifies and contributes processes for settler people to reflect on their complicity individually and collectively in ongoing colonial and extractivist drivers of entangled ecological and social violence. The methods and methodologies utilised in this project can aid the development frameworks of moral responsibility for the action that addresses these violences in order to restore social and ecological justice.

Item type Thesis (PhD thesis)
URI https://vuir.vu.edu.au/id/eprint/44409
Subjects Current > FOR (2020) Classification > 3699 Other creative arts and writing
Current > FOR (2020) Classification > 3901 Curriculum and pedagogy
Current > FOR (2020) Classification > 4410 Sociology
Current > Division/Research > Institute for Sustainable Industries and Liveable Cities
Keywords exegesis, creative research, creative practice, Mparntwe, Alice Springs, Northern Territory, colonialism, settler colonialism, land relations, extractivism, autoethnography, climate change, ecological crisis, social crisis, culture
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