Sustained Connection Through Material Dialogue: International collaborative painting during the COVID-19 pandemic

This paper will discuss early findings from cross-cultural collaborative research that proposed travel to South-East Asia prior to the advent of COVID-19.

This practice-led research (PLR) aims to explore emergences between diverse positions through the material practice of collaborative painting. This PLR is dialogic, as informed by Mikhail Bakhtin’s (1981) seminal essays, in its approach to collaboration. Dialogic collaboration is understood as a process of intersubjective meaning-making through mutually reciprocated utterances. Utterances that exist as a combination of verbal, written and material exchanges within a framework that does not seek consensus. Findings from these collaborations will contribute to a wider discussion of how bodies of artistic and cultural knowledge can translate and transform across divergent communities. A process that generates cross-cultural understanding within an intersubjective space that embraces difference and the inevitable misalignment between any two positions.

I began this research with a prescribed model of collaboration in mind, a series of face-to-face encounters both locally and overseas that quickly became an impossibility. This paper focusses on how my methods adapted during the advent of COVID-19 to keep my local and international networks connected and active. Specifically following two of my international collaborations where the material practice of painting was preserved via snail-mail. One collaborator living in her home-city of Hong Kong during the protests, and the other a Chinese national studying abroad in London, while I was based in Western Australia. My two collaborators painting from spaces much more disrupted than I could have ever appreciated—disruptions which from Perth can sometimes feel like a world away—yet a connection to these geographically cut-off spaces was maintaining through collaboration. Both collaborations were drawn out over months, not only because of increasingly congested mail services, but due to the situations of each artist. This paper presents some of these emergent artworks and discusses the experiences surrounding their creation.

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