Memefest 2014: Radical Intimacies Recap
Friday December 05th 2014, 5:33 pm
Filed under: events,miscellaneous,news,reading and writing

Bowl full of Memefest badges from the last few years.

It feels next to impossible to synthesize the experience that was this year’s Memefest at this point, however it seems important to provide at least a cursory overview of what happened in Melbourne a few weeks back, while it’s still fresh in my memory. It was an intense and deeply transformative experience for me, and I hope the following words and images might do it a bit of justice.

Artist Alana Hunt, Sam Burch from the Brisbane Aboriginal Sovereign Embassy, and Oliver Vodeb of Memefest opening the symposium, articulating the themes of Radical Intimacies and Decolonization.

The event kicked off at Swinburne University with 3 days of “extra-disciplinary” symposium presentations on design, media, art and activism. Over 30 presentations from local and international participants took place, with an incredible diversity of subject matter, between theory and practice, from the personal to the political.

Tom Liacas, from Montreal, with an insider’s look on the role social media can play on pressuring resource extraction companies.

Myself presenting on “Material Cultures of Resistance”, focusing on work created during the student strike and how it has carried forward through other social movements.

Graphic designer (and personal hero of mine) Sandy Kaltenborn presenting on the anti-eviction movement Kotti&Co.

Auntie Hazel and Uncle Albert from Grandmothers Against Removals spoke about the crisis of continuing stolen generations, with children being forcefully removed from their families by the authorities. This issue, and Aunty Hazel’s heart-rending story, became central to the projects we would do in the workshops.

Jade and Kristy-Lee from BASE and WAR (Warriors of Aboriginal Resistance).

The more “academic” presentations were punctuated by powerful first-hand presentations on critical issues facing aboriginal communities in Australia by representatives from Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne. For many of the international participants, and many of the students as well, this was a full-on crash-course in Aboriginal politics in Australia.

BASE had just arrived from organizing protests against the G20 in Brisbane, and it has to be said, there was understandably much healthy skepticism towards the institutional context of the symposium and its participants. One of the most amazing aspects of Memefest this year was to witness the dialogue that was created between all the participants, and how trust, respect, and even love was earned over the 7 days, through genuine listening and action.

Skype lecture from Mariano Mussi (Argentina) on Health and Art: A Dialogue of Provocation. Deeply philosophical, and deeply engaging, despite the distance.

Co-organizer of this year’s Memefest, Lisa Gye, with a very personal presentation entitled Unsettled: History, Time, Space and Belonging.

Students were also invited to present the work they submitted to the friendly competition.

Lucy Doolan speaking passionately on her personal transformation from participating in the sacred fire in Brisbane.

A deeply engaged audience.

The crowd and Fee Plumley‘s beautiful bus #homejames.

The above photos only provide a small snapshot of the symposium. On the whole, the presentations were enlightening and challenging, showing how much has been done, and how much we must continue to do, in the realm of socially-engaged/responsive communication practices. A full list of the presentations is available here.

Students work on visualising data on ongoing stolen generations.

The symposium was followed by 4 days of workshops, facilitated by the invited presenters, with the aim of delivering concrete strategies, tactics and tools for/with the Aboriginal groups. Several groups focussed on directly addressing and challenging the crisis of ongoing stolen generations, while others tackled various other issues of aboriginal oppression, resistance and sovereignty.

Early stage brainstorming for the Stop Forced Removals website

Oliver acting as “hovering art director.”

Tess planning the picnic/occupation/jam session at Edinburgh Gardens.

Checking in with Uncle Albert.

Much work was done whilst smoking on the steps.

Stencil test.

Strategies and tactics.

Video editing and transcription.

Documenting Auntie Hazel’s emotional testimony.

3CR community radio.

It was very important to get out of the university institution and engage with the broader community, resulting in dialogue and collaborations with the local community radio station and the Melbourne mob. An occupation/picnic/jam session was organised at Edinburgh gardens in Fitzroy.

Teach-in at the rocks with the Smith Street Working Party of Collingwood and Fitzroy.

Meeting of the mobs.

Miranda in action.

Our own working group (the “best” team :P) produced a series of posters and booklets exploring/challenging the loaded words “country, decolonisation, family, and law” for aboriginal and settlers/migrants in Australia. We interviewed participants, took their portraits and created a series of posters to take to the streets…

Our first hit.

Our second hit, with interaction from the public.

Presenting our work to the rest of the groups.

Many projects were delivered within those 4 short days; 3 websites (the Stop Forced Removals and Maayali/Whisper sites are now online, though still awaiting some content), documentary videos and interviews, flyers and leaflets, street interventions, posters and posters and more posters. I’ll be posting more details soon on the projects we completed with the group I facilitated.

Stop Forced Removals is a website that provides information and resources to support groups trying to keep aboriginal families together.

First time stencil artists/activists!


More posters bringing attention to the shocking facts of forced removals.

Polemical posters designed by Sandy Kaltenborn.

Promotional/informational leaflets.

A happy Jade!

Beyond all the work that was created, what is really hard to communicate here is the social relations and resulting dialogue that was built through working so intensely and intimately together. It was an emotional experience to be dropped in to this context, to deal with such difficult issues, over such a short and intense period of time. The friendships that were formed will hopefully last far beyond the end of the event, and over the distances that separate us.

From a pedagogical perspective, I believe Memefest has built a unique model of critical educational practice, that works on so many levels. Every single student I spoke with told me that this was the best learning experience they have ever had. I think the same can be said for many of the invited presenters/facilitators.

Gathering in the park.

Ella and Elsie touring me through the laneways of Melbourne.

I feel truly honoured to have participated in this year’s Memefest, and to have had the opportunity to meet, work with, and celebrate with such a diverse group of wonderful people. It was also very important for me to be able to reconnect with other members of the Memefest network, Oliver, Vida and Mina (my gracious hosts), Rok, Sandy, Tom, Alana, and Scott. Simply to have a bit of time to eat, drink and talk together with kindred spirits from across the globe, was such a rare and precious experience.

I was genuinely sad to leave, but also inspired to keep the work going, to “keep the fire burning”. I was reminded that this is exactly the kind of work I want to do, that these are the kinds of experiences that bring meaning and value to my life. Many thanks to all involved, and hope to see you next time…

Photos by Rok Klemencic, Michelle Gunther and myself.

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