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The ambulatory artist-teacher

Mark Minchinton talks to Keith Gallasch about performance and teaching

Mark Minchinton Mark Minchinton
This journey begins with my awakening to my Indigenous identity. This awakening has taken more than 40 years.

The awakening is performed…I walk from the place now known as Busselton—where my grandmother was known as black—to Kellerberrin—where my grandmother was known as white. I carry a pack with food, clothes and shelter. I also carry a digital camera, a handheld computer, a Global Positioning System (GPS) and a mobile phone. A modern nomad.
Mark Minchinton Mark Minchinton
Twice a day I stop, take a GPS reading and 5 photographs and write about what I hear, touch, see, smell, taste, find, feel, think or imagine at the place I have stopped. Each day, I choose 2 of these photographs and send them with a text to a website.

After teaching performance full-time for many years at Victoria University, performer Mark Minchinton went half-time for 2 years working towards a 3 month artist-in-residency in 2003 at Edith Cowan University in Western Australia.

Minchinton spent lots of time mulling over his venture, one “with a number of agendas, personal, artistic and institutional.” Void: Kellerberrin Walking was a 6-week walking performance from Busselton, in the southwest, to Perth and then Kellerberrin via Wyalkatchem. The total distance traversed was “some 500-700 kilometres—there was lots of wandering!” Throughout the trip Minchinton wrote about what he was seeing and feeling and encountering, and relayed it to his online audience.

On the technical front he had to work out how to keep a growing audience (including many overseas) informed using a mobile phone as the tool for an early example of “the roving blog.” He hadn’t realised that every 3 days or so he could have stopped at small towns linked by a community Internet service, but his own way allowed him to transmit 2-3 times a day.

The experience was “fantastic, much better than sitting in university meetings...and I was paid to do it!” Minchinton discovered, among other things, that “humans are meant to walk long distances—and sleep in the middle of the day.” He slept incredibly well, a revelation for a life-long insomniac. Walking 6-10am was followed by camping and hammock sleeping and then walking again from 4-7pm.

For the first time Minchinton felt he was “bringing together concerns about my own identity and a political program I believed in...a fusion of the personal, the political and the artistic.” He revelled in the “everydayness” of a performance that coincided with his turning away from teaching undergraduates after many years. At almost 50 years of age not only did he feel jaded (“teaching the young is fine, but did they like being with me?”), but also he had a son almost his students’ age (“I get this stuff at home!”).

The experience of the 6-week performance confirmed more than ever Minchinton’s passionate advice to his students: “Forget worrying about form; deal with something that has real meaning for you. That will determine the form.” He likes walking in itself and as a form, and has another big adventure in mind.

Critically, Minchinton’s WA walking took him close to his Australian Aboriginal heritage, something that had been kept hidden in his family. The preparation for the venture, from 2000 on, had involved intensive research into his family history and determined that the performance would be in Western Australia, originally his family’s home.

Minchinton subsequently moved into half-time postgraduate teaching in performance and half time as Director of Moondani Balluk (“embrace people” in the language of Victoria’s Wurrundjerri nation), Victoria University’s Indigenous Academic Unit. Being one of the few senior staff in the university of Aboriginal descent, Minchinton says he leant his weight to such initiatives.

As for being an artist in a university, Minchinton thinks it’s an issue of how much you implicate yourself in university practices and how much you set yourself apart. It’s important, he thinks, to “work with colleagues to turn around expectations”, to assert for example that artistic practice in the university is research. “We teach artists and they do postgraduate work and we take their money, so we have to recognise what they do, and the university needs to recognise that its staff need to do artistic research.”

Above all Mark Minchinton sees teaching as playful and performance as “an embodied ethics.” Whether his own discoveries as he “tramped through landscapes known and unknown” or his students’ everyday encounters, “it’s a matter of observing and absorbing, of how you approach an Other, how you depart, how you make decisions. I don’t care if the student is going into television, performance art or real estate, at least they have a grounding in the understanding of others.”

Mark Minchinton, performance maker, is an Associate Professor at Victoria University and Foundation Director, Moondani Balluk Indigenous Academic Unit.

Although the online version of Void is no longer available, the background to the journey appears on a number of websites including:

RealTime issue #74 Aug-Sept 2006 pg. 4

© Keith Gallasch; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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