Kathleen Irwin


Kathleen Irwin (Doctor of Arts, Aalto University) is a scenographer, writer and educator (Head of Theatre, University of Regina) whose practical and theoretical research focuses on site-specific, community-based practice and alternative performative spaces including found space and the internet. As Co-director of Knowhere Productions Inc., she produces large-scale, site-specific performances in Saskatchewan, Canada. She presents regularly at international conferences and has given workshops in Helsinki, Belgrade, Tallinn, Utrecht and Melbourne. Her research is published in Canadian and international journals, anthologies and is disseminated through documentaries and web-based archives. As Canadian Education Commissioner for the International Organization for Scenographers, Architects and Theatre Technicians she was active in organizing the digital workshops for Scenofest for the Prague Quadrennial of Space and Performance Design/2011 and is co-chair for the History and Theory Working Group (OISTAT). Publications include Sighting / Citing / Sighting (Canadian Plains Research, 2009) & The Ambit of Performativity (Aalto Press, 2007).







Exposition: Innerground_ an Exploration of a Disused Mine Through the Memories of Former Miners (01/01/2013) by Carolina Goradesky
Kathleen Irwin 22/06/2013 at 17:39

This practice-based research explores and recreates sound in order to investigate a specific, no longer extant, heritage site (Genk, a mining town in Belgium) in order to penetrate, activate, decode and archive the memories held by its aging workers and their family members.


Characterized as both arts research and arts practice, this project is multilayered and represents a well-considered collection and analysis of abundant data that serves to illuminate the history, sitedness and socio/political context of a specific and unique place from a phenomenological perspective. Simultaneously, the research has been foundational in presenting the work as an audio installation in a gallery and a virtual installation (and article) for this on-line journal. It is interesting in its subject, methodology (in situ research conducted mainly through interviews) and outcomes, which will, among other things, preserve the site for further consideration.


The author sets out to investigate, indeed recreate a discrete, though no longer extant, site - the Winterslag mine - by probing the memory of its aging mine workers. Using sound to illuminate these recollections, miners were interviewed and their videoed reminiscenses form the narrative context for the sounds, which are intended to evoke the space/place of the mine. The author fulfils the intent of the research well – to reconstruct this rich historic site through sound and memory. However, the project seems to intentionally disregard the visual background that could buttress the virtual presentation and help the non-Belgian viewer/listener situate this work/site in a geographical context. I was fascinated, for example, by how the landscape was said to have changed entirely through the mining process. While this was well described, some photo documentation of this would have been worthwhile. I was also struck by the written description of the housing designed and built to reflect and differentiate a social hierarchy of workers and managers. As rich (and central) as the sound reconstruction is, some architectural drawings or photos of the built environment might help us better understand the site.


Another important area of investigation touched on but not evidenced, was the issue of post war immigration to the area undertaken to activate the industry. Like the alternations to the landscape, such social modifications must have had enormous impact on the Belgian soundscape. Was it possible to make this dissonance (the language modification used to communicate in the mines) audible after so many years? The work is potentially sonically richer than what is evidenced in this journal article and it leaves the readers wanting many more means, both audio and visual, by which to understand the spatiality / temporality of the Winterslag mine.


This submission is successful in that it performs / exposes its core research investigation and methodological approach in innovative and effective ways through creative means. It is clear in articulating the research question and through text, audio and video clips it develops its argument so that this reader feels that the central issue has been adequately dealt with. Having said that, I feel that because the material is so rich, there is an opportunity for further investigation. Rather than this being a fault, it shows that the author is on to something.


Finally, while the article reflects some current virtual reality theory, the work is not adequately contextualized within contemporary performance practice, audio practice, heritage or tourist destination studies of the past 20 to 40 years, a period in which site-related work has burgeoned across a range of disciplines in many parts of the world. The author, indicates that providing such a context is outside the context of the work, nonetheless a short section on what locates this work in relation to similar practice would broaden and deepen the investigation.


While going down into the mines was predominately “men’s work,” the author writes that mining involved the entire family. This leads me to ask - where are the women’s voices?


Furthermore, although human subjects were used in this artistic research, there is no evidence that participants were made aware of the eventual outcomes of the project. Did they give their written permission? They are, as well, not identified or cited in the bibliography. I understand that this issue and how it is taken up varies from country to country and among disciplines, however the degree to which participants were made aware of the extent to which their memories inform this research should be spelled out.


Despite these few omissions, the work is an excellent example of practice-based research leading to a dynamic sound installation, and in its current manifestation, as an article in an online journal.

Exposition: A Place, Constructed (01/01/2011) by Laura F. Gibellini
Kathleen Irwin 21/11/2011 at 14:44

The submission chiefly comprises a short video entitled Home Thoughts and an essay that contextualizes the artist’s analysis of her subject. The link to the video was discovered accidentally and if the page hides other video portals, I have not been able to access them – save one other that moves a 2D image from one plane to another. A pattern of dots and numbers opens more dots and numbers – all appearing to be repetitions of the same pattern. Small illustrations punctuate the page in ways that appear to illustrate the conflux of mapping symbols and abstract decoration. The scant text offers little illumination as to the meaning of these illustrations.


The video itself investigates a variety of physical spaces that represent, I believe, moments and landscapes of the artist’s life – and the underlying mobility that seems to characterize her current circumstances. Overlaying these images is a filigree of lines, a pattern that is reminiscent of wallpaper motifs or perhaps topographical mapping lines. The soundscape is comprised of a child’s music box: this lends a certain aura of nostalgia to the work. The video, rather than being particularly innovative in itself, serves to launch the ideas in the critical analysis, an essay entitled A Place Constructed. It does this rather successfully. The article deals with spatial practices, embodied spaces and the interiority / exteriority / subjectivity of place. In this, it covers ground that has been well travelled in the last number of years from a number of perspectives, chiefly phenomenological and from a variety of disciplines. The notion of space is taken up here through a range of metaphors including becoming, mapping and cartography; the idea that the attempt to represent space simultaneously masks and reveals it is a key trope in this work.


The paper activates a number of key theorists (Barthe, Heidegger, Korper, de Certeau) and these citations are well positioned to move along the argument. The conclusion of the paper argues that the use of topography as a new decorative pattern means the absorption of exteriority into interiority. The circularity of this argument is neatly illustrated in the layout of the page and how certain symbols double back to reveal the same decorative element. This is a clever strategy and one that is not apparent until one has read the entire article and explored the site. In the end, I was not clear if the submission was complete in itself or referenced a project with a life beyond what is represented here.


This submission would be of interest to textile designers, graphic designers, print makers, performance artists, intermedia / video practitioners (among others). I believe that the submission cleverly takes up the task of representing a complex range of ideas in a visual and abstract way. This argues for an interest in it beyond a specific range of disciplines. The submission is explicit about its concerns and articulates the argument well. The author explicitly states that the article takes up issues that are currently of concern in her artistic practice but does not make further reference to the nature of the practice beyond the short video clip that animates the page. In my opinion this is a serious omission as the video is not, in itself, particularly innovative or well done. Having said that, the nature of the submission is interesting in the way the video and graphics are woven through and illuminate the critical writing. The whole is pleasing and well constructed.


The writing contextualizes the key research concerns within a range of relatively recent theorists but does not make reference to the work of other artists who function in the same sphere of ideas. Nor does it situate itself in relation to the social or political. The writing is quite abstract – even poetic. It may well benefit from the layering on of aesthetic / social / political contexts but then it would be a completely different submission.


I do not believe that this submission provides particularly new or innovative insights. Having said that, it is a good piece of writing and I enjoyed exploring it. It is a good example of practice-based dissemination.


The article exhibits a very good level of written English, builds a good argument and shows a proper use of citations. I found the layout aesthetically pleasing although the size of my computer monitor (13 inches / 33 centimeters) made it extremely difficult to get an adequate overview of the page. I am not certain that I have an adequate sense of the page even after spending a considerable amount of time exploring it. Having said that, I felt that the way that the page unfolded and opened up through the use of portals was an extremely good foil to the hermeneutics of the critical writing.


This submission is on a level with other examples found in JAR and should be accepted as is. Any suggestions that I might make as to adding layers of context would change the nature of this submission beyond what it might be able to sustain. I have some concerns that it does not adequately reflect the artist’s own practice, that it is unnecessarily abstract, and that the studio practice is not readily evident. However, as in all things practice-based, there is a range of approaches. This is an interesting submission and I support its inclusion.