Postdoctoral appointments at Sydney College of the Arts
28 February 2013
In a first for an Australian visual arts faculty, Sydney College of the Arts has just appointed two postdoctoral researchers. While postdoctoral positions have been common in science and humanities faculties for some time, this is the first time such a career path has existed for researchers in the visual arts.
The fellowships holders, Bianca Hester and Saskia Beudel, will spend three years immersed in what's described as practice-led research. Both artists are keenly interested in exploring how spaces and places are made, so their 'studios' will be mostly virtual and located all over the world - from polluted waterways in Sydney to domestic architecture in Senegal.
Hester, who completed her fine arts PhD at Melbourne's RMIT, has a background in sculpture, installation, video and performance art. Her three-year Sydney College of the Arts Postdoctoral Research Fellowship will begin in Sydney with The Block in Redfern and will also see here travelling to Brazil to explore the rituals of carnival (among other things).
"The logic of real estate and development pervades place on many levels. I'm interested in investigating sites where people have the possibility to negotiate the use of space in ways that are less regulated and privatised," Hester says.
Her research output will include exhibitions and a large public project in an urban space in Sydney, as well as journal articles and at least one large-scale publication. Hester is thrilled by the opportunity provided by the postdoctorate, which provides an artist with a wage and intensive time to develop a deeper research practice.
Beudel, an accomplished writer, was awarded a University of Sydney Postdoctoral Research Fellowship - a competitive fellowship across the entire university. A dozen fellowships were awarded in the last round, predominantly to researchers in medical and science fields, with a smaller number in the humanities.
Beudel did graduate studies at the University of Melbourne and completed her PhD at UTS. Initially she practised as a painter but in recent years her main focus has been writing. Her novel Borrowed Eyes (Picador, 2002) was shortlisted for the NSW Premier's Literary Awards. During her fellowship at the SCA she will research urban waterways, which she plans to investigate as a walker and through intensively immersing herself in landscapes.
"I'll be using the idea of walking in the city, and spending a lot of time immersing myself in particular landscapes, as a way of thinking about the history of water use in Sydney," she says.
One of her first research sites will be the Alexandra Canal in southern Sydney, constructed in the 1890s with the intention of transporting cargo between Botany Bay and Sydney Harbour and developing industry in southern Sydney. Beudel says the canal has a reputation as "the southern hemisphere's most polluted and toxic waterway".
Beudel will also look at the wetlands around Botany Bay, the lower reaches of the Cooks River and the Tank Stream that was a source of water during Sydney's early colonial years, and which ran through what is now the city's CBD.
"By spending long periods of time in a landscape I develop forms of writing that are appropriate to that particular landscape," says Beudel, who plans to produce a book and three journal articles.
She is also keen to develop collaborative research with other SCA staff, a practice the SCA is actively encouraging, according to Professor Ross Gibson, the SCA's associate dean for research.
"These new positions show the rise of practice-led research methods in the creative arts and design, where it's been a powerful force for more than a decade, and where Australia has been a world leader," Professor Gibson said.
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