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  • Writer's pictureRitchard Allaway

24/07/23 - Reflecting on the Arts in Society Conference

Reflecting on the conference: New Aesthetic Expressions: The Social Role of Art – Jagiellonian University 5th – 7th July 2023

I flew out to Krakow on Tuesday 4th July from Manchester Airport. I had never been to Poland before and my family and friends who have been informed me that it was a wonderful country to visit. Lots to see and do within Krakow, but unfortunately I was not going on a sightseeing trip, I was going to take part in the 18th International Conference on Arts in Society at the university of Jaelligon.

I started off with a train ride to Manchester Airport from Thornaby, which was of course busy due to train cancellations, but this appears to be a commonality now within England. The flight itself was good, and I got chatting to a couple sat next to me who were very excited to visit Krakow. On arrival, I hopped on the train to Kralow Glowny station. I decided to get the train to save myself a lot of money as a taxi was around £20 whereas the train is only £3. The train ride was quick, around fifteen minutes and took me to the station which was located in a shopping mall. The mall was busy but only located around a fifteen-minute walk from my hotel. The weather was warm, very warm. I later found out that the next few days were due to be the hottest days of the year so far and I definitely felt them. During my walk to the hotel, I went through an under pass which was filled with people, but it was also filled with wonderful smells of Polish food and my goodness it looked delicious. I made the decision to go back at some point to try out the Polish delicacies. Continuing on my walk, I entered old town via the north-eastern park. The park reminded me of English parks with a grandstand and wide walkways. The architecture surrounding the park was what I expected it to be, traditional central European, which has not changed since the war but is maintained and wonderful to admire. My hotel was just on the edge of the park in the street Tomaza, meaning that I would be staying in Old Town. Hotel Campenoli, nothing fancy, just a budget hotel similar to a Premier Inn. As long as I have a bed and a roof over my head I am happy. After checking in, I put my things in my room and headed out. I thought to just explore Old Town and get my bearings as to what was around me. I passed a jazz bar and made note to head to that later. Old town was stunning and busy. Lots of hustle and bustle, what you would expect in such a city with many types of tourists and locals taking it all in. Without dragging out this introduction to Krakow (as I am here to discuss the conference), I made sure to find the University just to help with directing myself in the morning. After locating what was an old building with many historical figures memorialised as statues, I scouted about to find a local restaurant that would aid my hunger and provide me with a great evening.

The next morning, I awoke to a bit of a sore head, the jazz club wine went down well! After some breakfast I headed to the uni and on my arrival found no signage to point me in the direction of the conference. I went to reception and overheard an American accent asking for the conference and so I chipped in asking the same question. It appeared that me and him were in the wrong uni building and the location of the conference was a 20minute walk west of old town. Not a problem but a little frustrating that there was no signage. I made friends with Brad who was from the University of Florida working in the administration department. He is originally from Tallahase and we had a good chat about his research and his recent trip to Lithuania. We found the uni and saw the signs for the conference. I registered and found my presenter/attendance pass and grabbed a coffee and then headed into the hall. The conference had already started and only a few people were there… I reckon that was due to not many people knowing that they had changed the destination, in which an email was sent to everyone during the first panel (Brad showed me the email to which we laughed at… bit late for email).

The first speaker was Barbara Formis from the University of Paris. She was discussing…… I’l be honest, I was struggling to stay awake, and this was nothing to do with Barbara’s presentation, I think it was just due to travel and it being early. I enjoyed her discussion around the artist being a mirror. We reflect what we see in society and project it back to an audience. In the afternoon I went to the breakout rooms and into a room of about twenty people for the talks on and around the theme of Visual Connections. Billy Simms was up first, and he was discussing his exhibiting and developing work ‘Craftowne: the 7th Hole’. It was a humorous and fictitious town which was based around a small cult but delivered in a comedical way. It did have a meaningful agenda, but Billy delivered it in a cool and collective manner that aided the context of the work. A side note here is that it helped me view how other artists were presenting and that was one of a much more relaxed and informal way. I think I expected a much more scripted deliverance from all speakers but instead most presenters had a very calm projection. A bit more on Billy’s Craftowne, the work was playful and mixed media utilising painting, drawing, sculpture, and photography. Billy embodied different characters from his imaginative town creating backgrounds and even going as far as to state what happened to them after the events of the monolith orgy. It was a never-ending project that was growing, with the ambition to publish a newspaper based on Craftowne but to be sold and distributed around Ohio. It really was fun to listen too. Next up was Elmarie Costandius and Gera De Villiers from the Stellenbosch University in South Africa with their presentation ‘The Haunting Presence of the Marais Statue on the Rooiplein (Red Square). A wonderful discussion about hauntology which is a mixture between ontology and haunting. They referenced it as an ongoing conversation with ghosts of the past… not literally but it was about addressing what is in existence at the university, why it is there and how can the university re-dress it. An example used was white male sculptures which felt out of touch with the culture and identity of the university. Instead of aggressively removing said statues without any thought they allow student to react to it through methods of art practice. They spoke about the importance of creating a culturally aware and engaging university that speaks about all cultures, but they understood the complexity of said task. Following on from Stellenbosch was Eve Ruet from the University of Cardiff but originally from Paris. Eve’s conversation was titled, ‘A multi-layered production of Identities: a sociological study’. I was looking forward to Eve’s presentation as it was the one within the program that addressed photographic practice and of course that is purposeful to my interests with photography. Her research involved addressing how stereotyping becomes a fossilised representation on communities within Welsh towns and villages. Eve discussed need and importance to create a new visual understanding that moved away from traditional viewpoints (not fully removing such traditional values) but extracting a contemporary perspective that is in line with today’s understanding about Welsh culture and history. Through her research, Eve used multiple methods of practice to extract ‘data’, and this was done through exhibition showcase, photographer interviews and policy reviews. Eve demonstrated an honest outside/inside view on the cultural landscape of rural Wales and how perspectives need to developer for the growth of community. Following on from Eve was Kathleen Wentrack from the City University of New York with Video as Mediation of Performance: The Work of Ulrike Rosenbach. I am a little bit familiar with Rosenbach, but it was wonderful to hear and see in a deep dive how Wentrack demonstrated the value of a prominent feminist artist and her impact in changing and developing the practices, landscapes, and roles of the female artist from the 1960’s to now. I caught up with Kathleen the following day and discussed the landscape of academia in which she informed me that it was the same in the U.S.

After the presentations had concluded, the moderator opened up the floor for questions to the panel. From the offset questions were flying in and conversation was flowing, again great to be a part of. I had a question for Eve about high-brow art which was answered well, and which also opened up further dialogue between presenters and the audience. At one stage I became questioned due to my role as a lecturer within the British educational system, as Stellenbosch was discussed more, and we addressed how curriculums within Britain are unfortunately archaic and need changing. At first I was abit ‘oh! On the spot’, but what I noticed about this conference was that everyone was very forthcoming to all and responsive, inquisitive, and engaged. I was on the spot, but I discussed with confidence what I believed needed addressing within the British curriculum. Of course, on reflection, there are more things I wish I addressed but there is only so much one can remember on the spot. One of the Stellenbosch lecturers grabbed me on the way out and had a bit of a joke with me, which I will keep to myself, but it was funny.

After a quick grab of a cup of tea, the audience, and presenters from the conference I was just in were running behind and so I was a bit lost on where to go but I knew I wanted to watch the creative practices talk, it was just a case of finding the room. Luckily Kathleen Wentrack had the program itinerary open, and she helped me locate the room. Now I do not want to run into as much detail here with this panel as I do wish to move towards my presentation and reflect on it, but I will still discuss this panel as a collective.

Within creative practice, Jody Wood (New Jersey) presented ‘Social Pharmacy’, Sakinah Ismael (Bahrain) discussed ‘Pills, Paints, Prognosis: Art in Medicine and the Art of Medicine: using the arts to learn how to see the patient’, and Veronica Piller (Netherlands) presented, ‘Mapping the Future: Reframing Architecture Heritage for a Globalised World’. I thoroughly enjoyed Jody and Sakinah’s presentations as they both worked within the realm of arts as a form of medical remedy. Jody discussed how she worked within lower class areas of New Jersey engaging with the community as they did not trust the US medical health system. Instead, she created a pop-up art installation that was a form of data exchange between swapping medical remedies. It worked through social engagements, connecting via emotional, mental, and physical intertwines. It was a demonstration for highlighting social dimensions of care and how each participant played an integral role within the social pharmacy. Each participant was a script write, they collaborated without knowing, they received and exchanged ‘data’, they worked together as a community to help one and other in their own safe environment and health care system. Sakinah on the other hand discussed the important role the health care individual should take on the patient as a form of artist. Taking the time to look and being patient with the patient, demonstrating some form of empathy that embodies the patient needs and highlights/focusses on areas within the exchange of descriptive prognosis. There was a connection between both presentations that informed the importance of working between individuals to highlight similarities and areas for change but how art could and does play a role in the development of medicine.

The second day of presentations was to be that of mine in the afternoon and a small series before lunch. I attended the Education Dynamics panel from 11:30 – 13:10. This panel involved Anna Panszcyk from Boston University discussing Object Oriented Ontology in college through writing, Triona Stokes and Ruth Forrest (who I bumped into later on in the day in the Jewish quarter) from Ireland and Angela Schopke Gonzalez from the state University of Michigan. Each presentation worked within an education academic setting discussing and demonstrating methods of practice that developed learner progress either within college, university and or other educational settings. I made a note of Anna’s OOO task she uses with her students, and I told myself to try it when I return to work in late August.

Room 20, 14:10 – 15:50… I was up!

The room was full, with about twenty people inside and I saw a good few familiar faces I had spoken to during the past two days, which was wonderful to see. Up first was Constance Kirker from Pennsylvania State University, a retired professor discussing her research, Universal resistance to depicting consumption in visual arts: eating is ugly.’ I will be honest, at this point I was on the verge of a panic attack, I was trying to keep my mind elsewhere and Constance was wonderful at keeping me calm. Before she begun she was joking with me and during her presentation, she played the room well, keeping everything light-hearted and comical at times. I would say a little old lady in her late seventies being a boss! What a delight Constance was, and her presentation had the whole room questioning why art never depicts humans eating. Although it sounds so simple and basic, this presentation was full of interesting questions and avenues for inquiry. After Constance, came Elena Baraban, a professor of Russian studies at the university of Manitoba in Canada. Unfortunately for me, my panicking was creeping in, Elena’s discussion on the soundtrack of Nikolai Gubenko’s film ‘The Orphans’ just did not keep me focussed.

Showtime! I just had to do it, no backing out, not that I wanted to, just this was new to me. Normally I am so confident at speaking to others, I mean come on, I use to play gigs to thousands of people on stage for years, why was I shitting a brick to discuss my work to twenty or so international art researchers? I had Anneke and Gareth in my head, ‘this is your work, you know it best’. Sound advice and one that really did help. Afterall I was accepted into this conference due to my work and because they wanted me to share my work. My presentation was about demonstrating my current practice, what I am doing and why and how does it work within aesthetics and the theme of troubling views. I have at the bottom of this conversation pasted in my script if you wish to read. I had twenty minutes to present and so I decided to present around twelve slides of imagery that would take the audience on a journey. One that was current but did have a little bit of back story to give context as to why my practice was where it is now. The structure of the presentation was put into chapters;


Purpose of Presentation



Acts of Practice

Durational Performance




Natural Processes


When building this presentation, I wanted to demonstrate the purpose of my research and what it is doing, and I made sure to keep it clear and simple, with no wiffy waffy art non-sense. I began with a light-hearted apology about my accent. People had been asking if I was from Ireland due to how I sound when speaking, but people also assume that I am not from England because I do not ‘look’ English (which I do encounter a lot when abroad). This did receive some laughs and it also set the tone, as I was able to try and project how I present and that is in a not so formal way, in which I mean, I like to have conversations about art. I made sure that I discussed that within my section ‘purpose’. So I introduced myself, I discussed why I was here and then I gave the audience an understanding of what it is I do in the form of my practice. To give context as to how I got to this stage within my research journey, I discussed my beginnings as I would call them, that time when I explored the Arctic and began looking at remote landscapes. I wanted to briefly touch on this idea of being remote and why I want to be remote without stating that you can never truly be remote (as that would ruin the research journey/presentation). I showed visuals on earlier outcomes using installation, light and photography. Afterwards I moved into the acts of practice, explaining what methods I explore, why and how they support the practice. This last section was added only a week or two before, but I thought it necessary to include as it gave some purpose and a link to the conference itself. When I had my recent supervisory meeting we discussed ruckenfigur, natural processes and rewilding, and each topic gave a deeper meaning to what it is I am doing. It is not stating I am rewilding, or I review natural processes, but I thought that within the cannon of my practice these three topics were relevant and purposeful. I did not go down the rabbit hole when discussing them as I am not fully within the rabbit hole myself, but I touched on what they are and how they give context to my research and how they can be analysed and used within the practice. I found that they concluded my presentation well, but also gave me further direction and food for thought as I continue on my journey. Concluding my presentation, the audience applauded and shouted, ‘well done’ and ‘excellent’ and throughout people were nodding, smiling, taking photographs and when the electrical current was shown alongside the outcome, a few gasps of ‘wow’ was heard and seen. This was all very delightful to see and gave me a sense of relief and success. Twenty minutes later I was done, and Dr Janice Baker and Dr Melanie McKee were up next discussing after neutrality: a case study of a museum exhibition in a western Australian coal mining town.

Baker and McKee rounded off the presentations with an excellent exhibition on the reflective reaction to coal in Collie, a small industrial town in Australia. Baker discussed how they had invited seven international artists to respond and generate new artistic perspectives on the coal industry in Collie. What was interesting was that the artists were not local to Collie, and so with these artists they had to be conscious of how they responded and navigated a space/place not of their ‘own’. The artists took it upon themselves to engage, listen and learn to the local community so that no dislocation occurred. It was about developing progressive thinking to developing the community’s involvement with coal and climate change, as well as building bridges through art practices that spoke about tensions within Collie.

The presentation was rounded off with questions and answers for the speakers, but instead of having all the presenters placed at the front of the room, we decided to say seated amongst the audience, continuing with the relaxed atmosphere and to also not draw boundaries between presenters and audience members. Questions were thrown my way, but what worked was the blended discussion between presenters and audience members. I was asked whether I could ever find a remote non-human place and I obviously responded discussing climate change which then led into the presenters from Collie. This was how the Q&A worked, and I enjoyed this form of discussion. A dialogue opening up between artists at ease with no forced need for discussion. Once the Q&A was completed, I had some quick chats with others in the corridor and foyer and then myself, Brad, Margaret, and Billy ended up walking to the Jewish quarter to grab a couple of beers and continue with our conversations. I pleasant way to end my time within Poland.

What then did I learn, receive, get from partaking in this conference? First and foremost, the academic, higher ‘being’ idea of what an arts conference is, was squashed. I found a calm, relaxed and comforting setting for like-minded individuals to discuss all areas of art from cultures and communities across the world. Each artist had their own experiences and ideas, and each person was open to everyone’s conversations. The concluding point I took away from the conference was that each presenter was working towards awareness and progression. The arts are being used as a communication tool within all topics. It is being used in multiple formats to discuss and progress communities and develop awareness to projects. I suppose all arts communicative, but the commonality was how through the cannon of sociality does the artistic outcomes better serve ourselves and others.

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