CETA Lab 2: meet the mentor (part two)

Part two of our interview with the creative technologist Annie McKinnon sees her talk about the CETA Ukerbarley project and her response to the Ukerbarley environment. If you haven't read part one yet – about art and technology and mentorship – you can find it here

On her first visit to Ukerbarley:
It was totally calming – I went in putting a lot of pressure on myself about the project and feeling anxiety around how we might look at a place as rich and vast as Ukerbarley. I was aware of the rare, vibrant and thriving ecologies within this larger landscape.

I was sitting in the backseat of the ute. Jill and Jeremy – the National Parks and Wildlife Service rangers – were driving us through and I was just sitting there and I just felt so calm. I was looking at this place and thought wow, it’s so beautiful. It was like a blanket sitting on top of you and I immediately felt calm. That was my first experience of Ukerbareley.

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On Ukerbarley:
It makes me feel amazed. I’m constantly in awe of the colours – wherever you drive or walk in that environment there’s something new to look at; it’s full of different textures. Growing up in Coonabarabran – my dad works for the National Parks – so I’ve been to the Warrumbungles hunderds of times and you see such beautiful ecologies and textures.

On the first Ukerbarley visit we saw an emu with six chicks running around and rare rock-tailed wallabies just hopping around and they had vibrant yellow tails. It just makes it feel very precious; there’s something really powerful about the place, like it has so much to give and there’s so much there to explore.

What stands out for me the most is just how welcoming the landscape feels – it feels like a massive mouth and you’re driving into it and the trees come around you like a big hug. You look up into them – one morning we stopped there and the birds were all singing and I’ve never heard that many birds at once singing. We got the recorder out and we caught all of that. There aren’t that many words for how that feels, being completely immersed in nature. I came straight from the city and you feel like you’ve been taken into another world but in another way you feel connected to who you are and what you’re doing; your role on the planet, specifically in this place.

It’s a very generous place. I feel when I’m at Ukerbarley that I have a huge responsibility – that landscape and that environment has been able to communicate that to me or awaken that in me. I have a responsibility to give back in some way or to listen and to understand what I can of this place. It does feel like it wants to give and that it’s very, very much alive – it feels quite magical and surreal.

On CETA:
What excites me about this project is that Paris is wanting to push boundaries and challenge ideas and I’m getting to feed these super-exciting ideas back and forth with her – being at Ukerbarley takes you out of the riff-raff of the everyday. I guess what excites me about it is how large the project can be but also how centred the project is and how we can actually make quite a big statement together, or I can be part of Paris’ process in making an artwork that can inform a connection to place and a practice of connecting to place that may not have been documented in such a way through art and community; engaging with interactive technologies: it’s the bringing together of all of those things that excites me the most.

We’re right in the middle of it right now and I’m full of thoughts and ideas around it and I’m just so excited to see what becomes of it and how it plays out in the future. I hope that it keeps growing – it’s an incredibly exciting time. 

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CETA Lab 2: meet the mentor (part one)

Annie McKinnon is a creative technologist and sound artist, currently based in Sydney. Annie grew up in Coonabarabran and moved to Sydney in 2010 to study a Bachelor of Sound and Music Design at UTS. After she completed her studies she started as a research assistant in the Interaction Studio and as part of that team became much more immersed in interaction design and creative technologies.

Annie has come on board for Lab 2 of CETA: Ukerbarley and after an intensive and invigorating stint working on the project, she shares her thoughts with us in the first of a two-part interview.

On working as a creative technologist:
I work with electronics, sound and software to create artworks or products. I’ve worked in lots of different industries with many collaborators. CETA is so different to the project that I was working on twelve months ago – to design an exhibition that would tour for three years – so my project briefs are always changing. I’ve got a bit of a mish-mash of skills so I get to work on quite varied things; really I’m a bit of a ‘jack of all trades’ – sometimes that’s hard and sometimes that's good. It’s a bit of a rollercoaster. You don’t always know when your next job will be but it’s exciting to be an artist in this space – it’s always changing and evolving, and I’ve always got new tools to work with, which I really love. 

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On technology and art:
I don’t think that tech and art necessarily have to work together. I think it’s important that each of those things separately are always commenting on one another—as an artist you can use technology as a tool just like a painter uses a paintbrush. As a technologist, being aware of art and the value of art and how that can inform your practice is important as well… I do think that our current society is very dismissive of artists and art and the value that it brings, which is to our detriment because a lot of the time art is able to communicate things that we don’t yet have a language for or capacity to explain.

Technology is something that is ever-changing and rapidly morphing our world into something new – it’s uncharted territory – and using art and tech, those two things working in symbiosis will bring an understanding that will be much richer than the two being totally singular. There’s a cross-pollination and from that you get some really exciting things.

On the mentor role in CETA:
My role in CETA is as a mentor to Paris Norton but I see Paris much more as a collaborator and a friend—we get along really well and our families are both from Coonabarabran. It was probably ten years ago when I saw Paris at a friend’s birthday party and we started talking – it was pretty late at night – and we both were really keen even at that time to talk about ideas.
I do remember saying that it would be really cool to work together one day so it’s really great to finally – ten years later – have that opportunity. I’m really excited and grateful that Paris and Orana Arts contacted me to be a part of this project because I think it’s really important and exciting.

Click here to read part two of our interview with Annie McKinnon — about the CETA Ukerbarley project and her response to the Ukerbarley environment. 

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CETA Lab 1

The CETA (Contemporary Environment Technology Arts) project is running full steam ahead in Coonabarabran. The final stage of Lab 1 was completed last week through community consultation sessions, after the initial mapping of the Ukerbarley property by artists Paris Norton, Annie McKinnon and Dylan Goolagong, with the support of National Parks and Wildlife Services rangers.

The first stage of CETA – with a planned roll-out across the region – is Ukerbarley. Ukerbarley is a property that until recently hasn’t been accessible to Aboriginal people or the broader community. Since the 1920s it has been a private property and is now in the care of National Parks and Wildlife Services, acting caretakers for the traditional owners of the land.

Lead artist Paris Norton – a Gamilaroi woman raised in Coonabarabran – has a reverence for the space. She says ‘The environment is really striking. It’s been untouched for so long. What’s there has always been – it’s uncleared and the animals are unafraid, undisturbed and full of curiosity. The energy of the place is really special.’

The property contains many Aboriginal sites, the meaning of which hasn’t yet been fully explored. Looking at how technology and arts could help a community – to access and map a space in different ways and connect it back to culture – is what inspired the project.

CETA is a chance to reclaim the space culturally. It has become the community’s property through the National Parks and Wildlife Service, which identifies Ukerbarley as an Aboriginal area and so ‘a project like this is an opportunity for community to take back the narrative,’ says Norton.

The community consultation process has revealed a wealth of ideas of how to map and share this narrative, with technological elements allowing an access to Ukerbarley not otherwise possible for some community Elders. These ideas will be developed through Lab 2, which will build on cultural and community engagement and present documentation to the community by the end of the year.

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CETA on the move

Paris Norton, lead artist on the CETA project, reflects on her recent visit to Goulburn, where she presented the possibilities of bringing arts, culture and technology together.

We were thrilled to receive an invitation from Southern Tablelands Arts to talk about our latest program, CETA – contemporary environment technology and arts – especially with a group of people who are inspired by the possibilities of what these tools can bring to the art world.

The road from Dubbo to Goulburn is one of many shapes and textures. From dense bushland to canola covered hills to rolling mountains that shelter the valleys from the cold winds of the south, it provides just the right recipe for reflection and creative thinking – which is what’s needed a few hours before a presentation, especially one fusing place, culture and technology arts.

A room full of people from the Southern Tablelands science hub network community – including the Mayor and new Goulburn Gallery manager – joined us for the evening. Our presentation explained our goals and vision for the CETA project and what that means to us, not only as Orana Arts but as community members.

When it came time to demonstrate the technology that we had brought along, it was then that you saw the full effect of what technology and art can do across generations. I was delighted to see a young boy interact with robots, seeing the potential in their abilities and putting them to the test, an elderly gentleman learning about a drone and watching his eyes tick over as he contemplated its uses. It was humbling to see the group as a whole with big smiles, as interesting and creative conversations filled the room.

I was honored to receive such warm and passionate feedback and couldn’t help my mind running off with the possibilities of what a program like CETA could do for their communities as I later drifted off to sleep.  

The next morning, we were scheduled to present CETA at a local high school; a practical and fun session with our various technologies.

Almost 40 children bustled into the room with curious faces so we wasted no time, jumping into practical play after a brief introduction. The children were broken into groups and robots were divided between them. They were to experiment with the robots and reflect on what their use could be. The energy in the room immediately went from 50% to 110% – with laughter, teamwork and excitement reverberating around the room and corridor outside.

The group had many exciting ideas for these robots; from turning them into futuristic cars that take tourists around town, to outer space and mini cave explorers. It was clear that technology has its place amongst this generation and that in the hands of these young people really anything was possible.

A positive creative session flows into positive social benefits. Children who usually found large group sessions confronting and unappealing were interacting with the technology with enthusiasm and confidence. The class came together to create a large-scale track made from their initial experimental drawings and students took turns in navigating the robots through this maze.

High excitement levels only increased with the next activity: it was time to fly the drone. The children were given a demonstration of how the drone worked and then as a group made shapes with their bodies that would be recorded from above.

By the end of this session we were left with a sense of hope for what these participants could grow to do with these technologies and how it could influence art, lifestyle and culture. This experience cemented the importance of CETA in our communities and inspired us for our journey ahead.

Thank you so much for the opportunity, Southern Tablelands Arts!

If you are interested in more information on the CETA program, or in arranging a talk or workshop for your area, please contact us via info@oranaarts.com