Researcher, University of Technology, Sydney, Australia
My name is Gail Kenning. I am an artist, researcher, educator, and writer. The following article is an interview with myself. I am currently Design United Visiting Research Fellow at Eindhoven University of Technology (TU/e), Netherlands. I will be returning home to Sydney, Australia, where I am Researcher at University of Technology Sydney (UTS), Australia. I wanted to take time to reflect on this particular experience and also to think about what residencies and fellowships means for those in the new media field. The self-interview format allows me to briefly address some of the questions that come to mind when completing a fellowship or residency.
You position yourself as artist, researcher, educator, and writer. How does a residency experience change the way you see yourself?
I am an artist with an ongoing arts practice. For me this informs everything I do. I have a varied career, which includes working in industry; owning a business; having an arts practice as a sculptor, installation artist, textile artist and media artist; and as a researcher operating across a range of disciplines. I recognize that in all areas my personal approach is informed by my arts training, arts practice, and arts thinking. This arts thinking is evident in how I engage with residencies and how being faced with new situations that are unfamiliar impacts me. In these situations I strongly identify as an artist seeking out potentialities.
What do you mean by ‘arts thinking’?
I would suggest that it involves thinking creatively; looking for the new, novel, and the innovative in any situation; allowing for open-endedness, that is, genuinely not having an end in sight; trusting in the not yet knowing, allowing myself to be confused, not having a next step, and accepting that I might get off track. While I do not believe that this approach is the sole prerogative of artists, I recognize that my art training has given me ‘permission’ to use this approach and to play with ideas rather than chasing solutions.
How would you define your approach and how does that help when completing a residency?
My art and research work, projects and collaborations operate across art, design, and craft, but for some, aspects of my work are perceived as social engagement, art therapy, or community art. However, I neither accept nor reject these classifications. As artists and designers engage more closely with their publics, which are a combination of audience, participant, user and consumer, questions about what is ‘art’ and ‘not art’ inevitably arise, and this type of working becomes part of a long and ongoing debate. 
Increasingly, I recognize that my work rather than being a series of discrete projects or a linear development – as I observe in other people’s work – circles around particular concepts, processes, materialities and meaning. For example, while textile forms are not always apparent, they often have a presence, or at least resonance in my work. I have explored textiles as data, code, text; as materials through threads, fabrics, braids and wires; as phenomenological processes; as embodied practices and tacit knowledge in the work of crafts persons; and as a particular media that brings forth meaning. Similarly, issues relating to creativity, health and wellbeing are explored through this circular approach. This approach enables me to engage with the residency through a pre-existing array of concepts and ideas that are malleable, adaptable and open to challenge by new ideas and experiences and can be introduced or disregarded as needed.
What is the focus of your current work/art practice?
I resist differentiating between my art practice, my research and my writing. For me, they are facets of the same work, all operating at the nexus of art, design, craft, and all draw on art, science, and social science approaches. My work currently focuses on creativity in relation to wellbeing, and has an emphasis on creative ageing and age-related conditions such as dementia. My art investigates creativity as a process and an experience, from which traces are left in material forms. My work explores these concepts through materialities of expanded textiles and digital media, and experiments with new technologies and materials to promote positive embodied experiences and feelings of connectedness that contribute to wellbeing.
My hosts at TU/e are Professor Panos Markopoulos and Professor Berry Eggen of User Centred Engineering (UCE) in the Department of Industrial Design, and Associate Professor Elise van den Hoven of the Materialising Memories Research Program at UTS. The city of Eindhoven and TU/e is a hub of creativity, technological, and material exploration, with innovative approaches to testing and understanding users’ experiences. One of its key strengths is the work carried out in relation to health and wellbeing. It hosts the world’s only ‘living lab’ for dementia, which is a partnership with GGzE (Dutch Association of Mental Health and Addiction Care in Eindhoven) and Brainport, Eindhoven (a cooperation between business, governments and knowledge institutions). This allows for people living with age-related conditions, such as dementia, to have a real and meaningful input at the early stages of a project that impacts the outcomes.
Why are these types of exchanges and residencies important for artists and researchers?
I would suggest that important aspects of residencies and fellowships are the experience of travelling, the potential for shared futures with new people, and the opportunity to reflect on new experiences and relate them to existing experiences and knowledge.
Why do you think the travel is so important?
Traversing physical distances and time zones makes real cultural and social differences. This is something we are particularly aware of in Australia with travel usually involving not only daily time-shifts, but also seasonal shifts. For example, I left Sydney in mid-summer temperature of 100°F and arrive in mid-winter temperature of 33°F. The change is marked and expectations of difference are reinforced and senses are heightened. This sense of the new, the novel, the alien and the strange is also reiterated through language, custom and through everyday events. Even simple activities like buying food at the grocery store requires focused attention in order to be discerning and differentiate between what is good and what is not. Each journey around a city or down a street is an adventure.
However, it is surprising how quickly resonances occur. Similarities to home are soon found. Walking the same street several times or visiting the same café quickly loses the sense of newness. Even the sounds of languages spoken, while not understood, become familiar. For me, this is when the experiences become most valuable. When I can begin to relate what I am seeing and experiencing to what I already know. This is not about absorbing the new experiences into the already known, but conjoining the familiar and unfamiliar, the known and half-known, recognizing resonances, making connections, extending and building new knowledge.
How are residencies important sites for connecting with people?
Residencies and fellowships facilitate meetings and exchanges with people in the same physical space. They provide opportunities to exchange ideas and explore commonalities. Physically meeting people facilitates positive resonances through face-to-face interaction, physical contact, and group dynamics and interactions.  In addition, residencies and fellowships facilitate chance encounters and happenstance. These meetings establish platforms of shared experiences on which to build future projects and experiences.
Meeting people, talking, and exploring possible collaborative opportunities turned out to be the content, form and structure of my Fellowship at TU/e. Visits, events, plans and conversations centered around recommendations made by key people. My network grew through shared interests in technology, materials, textiles and health. I not only became part of existing networks, but my presence was also a catalyst for new networks. I visited Amsterdam, Utrecht, Tilburg, and travelled further to the UK to meet people in London, Cardiff, Dundee and Edinburgh. Having an introduction through a third party meant that in most cases there was already a sense of connection, a point of mutual contact, and a level of trust.
What will you take away from this experience and what does the future hold?
The Visiting Fellowship to Eindhoven has been a valuable experience. The form of the visit enabled me to ‘circle around’ concepts, processes and materialities with new and like-minded people. I have explicit memories of people, place and events that I want to remember, to keep and to build upon. I have kept a journal, audio and visual recording, followed up meetings by emails, and attempted to store information for future use. An important aspect of this fellowship has been how meeting like-minded people with new and vibrant ideas has reinforced and revitalised my existing practice.
On returning to Australia it is not only an overall positive experience that I return with, but also two collaborative projects have been started. The first is a pilot project exploring bodily responses to craft activities through heart rate variability (HRV) and Electroencephalography (EEG) (See Fig. 1 and 2). The second project explores how positive resonance operates in environments where people are encouraged to use their creativity to contribute to a cause—such as in the Hand i Pockets event which took place in Sydney in 2014.  In addition, in the coming year a number of people will be visiting Sydney to contribute to ongoing projects in ageing and dementia.
I would like to thank my hosts for this opportunity and the freedom to explore possibilities.
- For discussion of socially engaged and participatory practices, see Claire Bishop in Artificial hells: Participatory Art and the Politics of Spectatorship (London; New York: Verso Books, 2012) and Nato Thompson, Living as Form: Socially Engaged Art from 1991-2011 (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2012). With regard to the notion of multiple publics, see Kate Lacey in Listening Publics: The Politics and Experience of Listening in the Media Age / Kate Lacey (Cambridge, MA: Polity Press, 2013).
- For a general introduction to ideas relating to positive psychology and positivity resonance see Barbara Fredrickson, Love 2.0: How Our Supreme Emotion Affects Everything We Think, Do, Feel, and Become (New York: Hudson Street Press, 2013).
- The workshop methodology will be available mid-2015. A general introduction to the workshops is available at University of Technology, Sydney. Hand i Pockets Funshop, 2014, http://newsroom.uts.edu.au/events/2014/08/hand-i-pockets-funshop.
Dr Gail Kenning is an artist, researcher and writer based in Sydney, Australia. Her work explores creativity and craft in relation to wellbeing, ageing and dementia through digital media, new technologies and expanded textiles using socially engaged approaches. Kenning researches at the University of Technology, Sydney, and is a member of the Materializing Memories Research Program, and an Associate of the Centre for Research in Inclusive Art and Design, Cardiff, Wales. She is Design United Visiting Fellow at Eindhoven University of Technology. She has exhibited and screened works internationally. Kenning has a PhD from University of New South Wales for her work exploring evolutionary patterns and code in relation to craft-based textile forms. She publishes in journals including Textiles: Cloth and Culture and Leonardo and has presented at conferences nationally and internationally, including the International Symposium of Electronic Arts, and as an invited speaker at Hangzhou, Academy of Arts, China.