14 May 2012
Handshake of trust
Initiated by the Design Research Institute at RMIT University, "Trust: Intervention through art" aims to tackle issues surrounding trust in the public arena through the medium of visual art.
RMIT's Program Director and Research Leader of Public Art, Dr Geoff Hogg, said the proposition was that the shared exercise of trust between individuals, often in a cross-cultural context, could contribute to safer communities.
"By encouraging individuals to interact through aesthetic participation with one another, trust can develop and can mitigate against anti-social behaviours," he said.
As part of this international cross-cultural project, artist and RMIT graduate Karen Casey travelled to Mexico, where she worked with local partners the Kopali Foundation, along with institutes in Oaxaca and San Luis Potosi.
Along with curator Damian Smith, she developed a number of projects including community workshops, exhibitions and performances.
One of the projects took place at CASA, Centro de las Artes San Agustin, Elta in Oaxaca.
CASA, in the Sierra Madre mountains, was established by Franciso Toledo, Mexico's best known contemporary painter, and is housed in a former textiles and weaving mill.
The project involved working with local youths, which included members of the indigenous Zapotec community. She worked with people of all ages and backgrounds to participate in a unique hand-casting process.
Ms Casey said wet plaster was poured onto the hands of attendees, who then shook hands with a partner.
"The handshakes were then sustained for around 15 minutes while the plaster set, resulting in a variety of sculptural forms.
"Not only were these shapes imprinted with the hand prints of the participants, but they also capture something of their personal encounters as well," she said.
The handshake process is an extension of her ongoing project "Let's Shake", which aims to bring people together across social and cultural divisions and began in the context of Indigenous reconciliation in Australia.
"Working with the kids and teenagers in Mexico was so much fun; they really embraced the project, and they even came back on the second day," Ms Casey said.
The resulting exhibition at CASA, "Woven Histories: a gift of light", was part installation and part performance piece.
It included an arrangement of the plaster handshake forms and a nocturnal candlelit ritual, with Ms Casey in the guise of a religious medium.
The exhibition was about her response to being at CASA and the kinds of energies that intersected with the site.
The workshop connected her with the local people but there were many other aspects to the town, as well as the Day of the Dead celebrations.
"Mexico is a lively place but equally celebrates and reveres the dead," Ms Casey said.
"Seeing all of this, it was hard not to wonder what had been here before; who the people were and what they might have lived through.
"The exhibition was designed to acknowledge both the living and the dead, to make a connection in both directions and through this convey a sense of continuity."
Artist Karen Casey taking part in the "Woven Histories: a gift of light" exhibition to acknowledge the living and the dead in Oaxaca, Mexico.
Part of the exhibition installation at CASA – stencilled flour.
Karen Casey with the staff at Centro de las Artes, San Augustin Etla, during the hand-casting workshop.