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  • Writer's pictureSuzy Costello, workbooks

Week 12, 8-12 June, 2020

Second-to-last week of semester includes essay writing and final art work for hand-in.


One of the side-effects of Covid-19 Lockdown was the social distancing enforced between people which, oddly, seemed to engender a deeper engagement and connection with the community around me. It was during this time that I got to know the vicar of St Alban’s Anglican Church, who has a wood workshop in his garage which he invited me to use. As we worked alongside each other, he shared the difficult decisions yet to be made about the future of the church building. I spoke to him about the idea of doing a socially engaged artwork to honour the two 110-year-old pōhutukawa trees recently removed, and the space they had created for families of the parish for over a century, to which he kindly agreed.

Anne Pasternak, Artistic Director and President of Creative Time, explains socially engaged artworks “challenge audiences to expand their views while encouraging artists to broaden and deepen their relationships to the pressing issues of our times and the communities they effect”. There are many forms of socially engaged art (e.g. participatory, social justice, relational, eco-art) and I decided the most appropriate form for this project was a collaborative approach, which strengthens a community through participation in the development of an artwork. I would offer guidance and direction for the project, and an artistic framework to challenge participants to recognise the contribution of non-human life forms to their lives by reframing the space between human and non-human beings.

The project aim was to explore the space where human ritual, memory, and nature interconnect. Ten parish members were invited to share their memories enacted in the space where the trees once grew. Collectively they represented board members who had ratified the decision to remove the trees, a neighbour who had proposed it, and parishioners who had not been consulted but were upset by the trees’ removal. The collaborative framework allowed those silenced by the political management structure of the church to have a voice.

We created a safe space outside St Alban’s Church using the pōhutukawa stamen and wooden stools. Using material from the trees was an important component of the art form and could not have been realised using a dissemination strategy lacking social engagement. We began the discussion by reflecting on photos showing the trees when first planted alongside the newly built church and their growth over a hundred years. For some, this was the first time they appreciated the age of the trees and their significance to the life of the parish i.e. every child who was baptised, every couple who married, and every parishioner who had died, passed between the trees as they entered and left the church. Sitting in the site where they once grew was a potent reminder of both the trees’ removal and the church’s closure.

We engaged in a discussion centered around questions distributed to participants prior to the meeting. These were -

  • In this space between the front of the church and where the pōhutukawa trees grew, what are your earliest memories associated with this space? What important events and rituals from your life are associated with this space? Who did you share them with?

  • Environments form and influence our experiences; they create the space between us. How significant was this space in creating your experiences and reinforcing your memories? What did the trees bring to your experiences?

  • This space has been disrupted and disturbed. The church building has been closed since 2016 and the pōhutukawa trees have now been removed. How have these disruptions to this space affected you? How do these disturbances alter your memories?

Everyone contributed and listened to each other as they shared their memories from this space. Some had written their reflections; others spoke from the heart about their memories in this space. We discussed the nature of memories - how for some they reside in a site and for others in the heart. We discussed how the trees had been removed without acknowledging them. For the first time, parishioners collectively shared their grief following the church closure 3 years ago due to non-building compliance. I was overwhelmed by the effectiveness of this dissemination strategy to give voice to, and strengthen, a community.

These are some comments offered after the event –

  • “The opportunity to share about the disruption caused both by the closing of the church and the felling of the trees was very valuable, as being able to express some of the ongoing grief is effective in the grieving process” (Carolyn, participant).

  • “Suzy’s pohutukawa project approached the subject of loss, change and adjustment very gently and honoured not only the life of the two majestic trees but also the emotions of those whom had lived under, around and with them“ Jutta, participant).

  • “Thanks for sharing! Wow what a heartfelt project and ceremony… it looked like a memorial service, just beautiful! So many years of living and giving, yes! Nature asks for nothing in return but quiet contemplation and reverence” (Janine, resident).

How effectively this presentation strategy challenged audiences to expand their views is difficult to quantify. The trees had already been removed and a board member explained the issues of roots and shade impacting neighbours and the columbarium. He suggested new trees could be planted that would be less intrusive. I received positive written and verbal feedback from the collaborators of the art project as well as Eastbourne residents. An article of the event and accompanying photographs was disseminated to the wider parish community (around 200-300 people) via the monthly e-newsletter. I have not received any feedback from this, but hope it enables more meaningful discussions within the community as they grapple with the future of the church building.

Since this event, four more 100-year-old pōhutukawa have also been removed in Eastbourne without any consultation. After speaking with an Eastbourne Community Board member, I will do a pop-up community participatory art project soon. Who knows where that will lead!

On reflection, these projects have come about as a direct response to my decision to engage with locally sourced, organic detritus and they have given a new purpose and value to my artmaking practice that I would not have foreseen and which I hope to continue doing into the future. As a dissemination strategy, this project has increased my profile as an artist in the Eastbourne community. It has also made me appreciate the value in sharing my art practice.

2. ESSAY WRITING - ART IN CONTEXT 213.464 Case study : A pragmatically useful in-depth, critical engaged reflection on a particular current strategy of art dissemination applied to actual practice.

Case Study new
Download PDF • 604KB

3. FINE ART RESEARCH ESSAY Outline: to effectively articulate aspects of your individual studio research practice within a larger critical context.

Download PDF • 1.25MB

3. FINAL ART WORK FOR SUBMISSION Am thinking of doing a small participatory art project by Rona Bay Wharf to acknowledge the 3 pohutukawa removed from this area.


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