Skin deep - April 1, 2011 by Eliza Murray

­There is nothing quite as divisive as a tattoo; permanent, deliberate, and more-often-than-not painful – these skin-deep etchings signal more than a fashion statement.

It was a sunny Sunday and we weren’t sure where to go when we arrived at Sydney Olympic Park in search of the annual Australian Tattoo and Body Art Exhibition. Homebush is huge. Eventually we fell into step behind a lady sporting several facial piercings and a t-shirt that commanded “Shut Up and Skate”. Feeling rather like an anthropologist, travelling through the deep Amazon, I recognised her as part of the tattoo and body art tribe and trusted her sense of direction in this unfamiliar place. I wasn’t disappointed.

Underneath the cavernous roof of the Howie Complex stretched stall after stall dedicated to the practice of tattoo and body modification. Tattoo artists competed against one another, using volunteers as their canvases. Row after row of stalls were plastered with images past tattoos, current designs, the latest tattoo supplies and technology. New techniques were on display next to old techniques, ink colours and mixtures were created and sold. In every stall someone was marking themselves out with their tattoo. It was like another world.

Coming from a small, conservative town, tattoos in my mind have always been a way to stand out. When you look at the bigger picture, though, tattoos have historically been about being within.

Cultures all over the world have used the tattoo to signify the tribe, from Polynesian cultures to Celtic knots and African tribal scarring. My Tribe contributor Mundial has uploaded some strong images of English gang tattoos and contributor Lisa11 has tracked someone’s process of deciding to get a celtic tattoo. But tattoos don’t only mark out cultural tribes and clear affiliations; they can also be used to acknowledge the accidental tribes in which we find ourselves. JB Rowley found this with the heart-warming story of the Flowerdale Tattoo – a story of different people who recognised their momentous shared experience of the Black Saturday fires, and marked their skin with it. Go to this tag link see all works about Tattoos submitted to my tribe.

We are part of many different tribes – family, colleagues, teammates, and fellow citizens to name a few. People also get tattoos for many different reasons – making a fashion statement, commemoration, or personal reasons. But when we find ourselves willing to tattoo our tribal membership right into our skin, it drives home just how important the tribe is to us all.

images: Artist at Work by Cherry Voodoo, Flowerdale Tattoo by JB Rowley

The Murray Clan - February 27, 2011 by Eliza Murray

A post by our ABC Pool intern, Eliza Murray

The most interesting thing about working as an intern on my tribe is the stories. Simply by asking someone where they belong, you come across deeply felt ideas of attachment, belonging, and dedication to the tribe. With this often comes a will to defend the tribe, to protect it, to cherish it – like ashlim and his football team. There is, of course, the flip side as well. Exploring my tribe can stir up ideas of being the outsider, the misfit or the loner – the one who feels without a tribe, or feel that they aren’t in the “right” tribe, like in Simon Brown’s Odyssey

If I was asked on the spot which is my tribe, I don’t think I would know what to say. Generally I feel without a tribe. Just one of millions of Australians who aren’t certain how they got to this country, nor can think of a grandparent or great-grandparent who wasn’t born here. I grew up without feeling the need to defend who I am or where I come from. Though going to Catholic school earned me some name-callings, much like Susan.Dirgham’s uncle in “Wogs. Wogs. Wogs.”

Given a second to think about it though, there are many things in my life that are specifically designed to remind me of my tribe. I am part of a Scottish clan. In various cupboards and drawers in my parent’s house one can find sets of coasters featuring the Murray clan emblem – a mermaid looking at her reflection in a hand mirror. My uncle, Timothy, has even purchased a plot of our clan’s “traditional” land and is now technically Lord Murray of Athol. At my cousin’s wedding, he gifted his new daughter-in-law with a shawl made from the traditional Murray clan tartan. As far as I know, my father’s family came to Australia during the Highland potato famine in the 1840s. We haven’t known or communicated with our Highland brethren for over 150 years, and I wouldn’t even know where to start. Yet these symbols persist as reminders that I am part of something bigger, my clan, and my tribe.

So if, like me, you’re unsure of your tribe, dig around in the old drawers and cupboards. You might find your tribe.

My Tribe returns! - February 19, 2011 by kylabrettle

All very excited here at My Tribe HQ – don’t be misled by our stagnant surface  -  underneath it’s a raging torrent of action.

The My Tribe project has been preparing for a 2011 season to coincide with the unveiling of the freshly re-vamped and capability-enhanced ABC Pool website. The launch (of My Tribe and Pool) will kick off at a respectable time after breakfast on February 21. It’s a soft-launch only, so don’t be surprised if we are still a bit fuzzy around the edges.

We’ve got big plans for 2011. After a successful collaboration with 360documentaries to ‘unearth’ a talented radio producer and a great (big) screening event at Federation Square in Melbourne – we are staying on the same tack and developing more broadcast, screening and exhibition opportunities for My Tribe participants. At the moment we are working on a broadcast project with ABC Radio National’s The Night Air and also teaming up with Museum Victoria’s Talking Difference initiative. Other sponsored projects are in the wings, but more on those later … the idea is to bring together a whole suite of projects that link in with our My Tribe theme and make My Tribe a rich and rewarding experience for makers, users and audiences alike.

Media production students from several universities ran with My Tribe in 2010 (talking us in lots of different directions) – they were are great energy within the project and produced some really interesting contributions. We are working with the education sector again in 2011 – only this time we’re involving more courses and they will be more visible and sharing more of their story with us. We want to hear some of the behind-the-scenes tales of their production adventures and find out what kind of ideas and works the ‘media makers of the future’ are messing with.

This blog will be opened up to more authors too – we still want it to examine interesting  research and interpretations of ‘my tribe’ and somehow draw together the threads of the tapestry that tells the story of My Tribe. We hope you will continue to drop in on the project and check out some of the great works produced to the mother-lode of themes – community, belonging and social identity.

Winner of best radio feature in My Tribe announced … - September 20, 2010 by kylabrettle

Selecting the winner of Radio National’s 360documentaries competition for best radio feature in My Tribe was not an easy task.

Judges Claudia Taranto, Gretchen Miller and myself (Kyla Brettle) were looking for the audio work that told a great story, was original and compelling and demonstrated technical excellence. The winner of the competition would be going onto produce a commissioned work with the 360documentaries crew – so it’s a prize with lots of challenges and we needed someone ready to take it on.

Our first step was to actually find the audio-only works in the My Tribe exhibition group. As you can imagine, there were lots of segues and time spent getting lost looking at the many great videos, still images, text works and multi-media pieces – but we finally put together a list of audio on the My Tribe HQ Delicious Tags.

There was lots of really strong entries to choose from including some excellent programs from students at LaTrobe University and the University of Wollongong.

Among the works we thought highly commendable and well worth a listen are the audio documentaries ‘My Gamelan Clan’  by Metallophone and ‘Video Game Nerds Unite’  by Rocknroll_Joel Also, for some very evocative audio montages and musical soundscapes check out Stephen Barrass’ ‘Refugee Realities’ series and ‘Babel; dancing about architecture’  by david porteus.

When it came down to the finalists – love was definitely in the air and online with two beautifully crafted and compelling works. A favourite was Rose’s radiophonic ‘Love in the cloud; the 100 dates online dating project
which explores a quirky approach to meeting others online. But in the end we decided to hand the winning ticket to Robbie-McEwan for his feature, ‘Me, my boyfriend, his girlfriend and his mum’. As judges we all felt that it was a highly original idea that packed a lot of punch. Robbie’s candour about his private life, his funny and frank script that was delivered naturally, his creative use of music and devices like his audio diary all made for a winning entry.

So that’s a wrap for the radio documentary competition – and if you would like more recommendations My Tribe HQ – (including works in across all media forms) explore the My Tribe Showcase.

image: ‘Bucket Head St Kilda Market‘ by My Tribe Contributor Underground Productions

Join My Tribe for better health! - August 25, 2010 by kylabrettle

Well, it probably doesn’t have to be My Tribe, I think any tribe will do – the main thing is that you feel ‘socially connected’.

Am currently reading Louise Samway’s The Twelve Secrets of Health and Happiness (1997) published by Penguin. I’m intrigued by Samways, she wrote this book after writing Dangerous Persuaders; An expose of gurus, personal development courses and cults, and how they operate. She told me that cults are effective at hoovering people in because they give new recruits key things that made them happy and healthy – namely, a sense of community, purpose and someone to love. The problem with cults, however, is they practice deceit and force you to reject your existing community, sense of purpose/meaning and loved ones in exchange for the new – so throwing out the baby, bathwater and all for a flimsy simulacra with a hand in your pocket. So I think the Twelve Secrets… is the other side of Dangerous Persuaders – a positive response to undermining the power of cults.

I’m particularly interested in what she says about the importance of ‘the “glue” that binds us’ – our social connections. Referencing Robert Ornstein and David Sobel’s The Healing Brain, Samways writes that ‘if people are single, separated, divorced or widowed, they are five to ten times more likely to be hospitalised for a mental illness or emotional problem and two or three times more likely to die than if they are married.” p.251

Now, that’s an argument for legalising same-sex marriage – though I’m sure single people are just as likely to die as non-single people!

Politics and grammar aside – it’s an interesting idea. She goes onto say that socially isolated people are more likely to commit suicide, more susceptible to disease and illness and less likely to seek medical advice . Even caring for a pet or pot plant can fulfill “that need to be needed”.

Another point Samways makes is that communally owned social assets like public hospitals, water supply, parks, public transport etc “give communities a sense of cohesion and common purpose,” and that our bond and sense of responsibility to society is weakened by privatization. This resonates with a lovely project in My Tribe called ‘Transport Tales‘ where people have shared their experiences and funny stories about being on public transport.

I’ll end with a quote that I think sums up Samways’ position quite neatly;

“We know that in order to be healthy and happy people, we need to be useful members of a social structure working co-operatively together, not just for the good of the individual but for the good of the community as a whole. Optimum health and happiness comes from a balance between a respect for individual needs, community needs and the need for individuals to be involved in something bigger than themselves.” p.259

image above: Laughter Club at Federation Square by contributor, Underground Productions.

One door closes … - August 5, 2010 by kylabrettle

Thanks to everyone who contributed to the My Tribe open exhibition. We have a wonderful body of work to explore and enjoy. While you will still be able to enter work into My Tribe@pool – submissions for the best audio producer competition have now closed. Over the next few weeks we will be judging all the audio entries … so it wont be long before we announce the winner who gets to develop and make a radio documentary with the 360documentaries crew.

Culture vultures - July 10, 2010 by kylabrettle

The first time I had a strong sense of ‘being an Australian’ was when I went overseas. I was fresh out of my teens and backpacking around India. Maybe my awareness was born from having to recite my passport number so often and the necessity of learning how to talk about cricket. Just as I was beginning to identify with this assumed and unexamined fact of my existence – a chance conversation forced me to consider what this really meant. It started the usual way – introducing myself to the Indian traveler sitting next to me on the bus. After asking me where I was from our conversation progressed to the weather. He commented that it must be very cold in Australia at this time of year. It was December, so I smiled and replied in the negative. The man looked at me strangely, “I don’t understand – if Australia is a hot country, then why are Australians white?”

It’s difficult to examine ideas of belonging without acknowledging its shadowy other; exclusion. Cultural identity is a strong theme in My Tribe and the exhibition is rich with both affirming and challenging stories.

Recently uploaded is a audio documentary called La Voce Della Luna (the voice of the moon). Excavated from the troves of Radio National’s Into the Music archives, this is a warm documentary about the Italian women’s choir. Woven among the earthy music tracks are stories of immigration, feeling dislocated and then found in the deep pocket of the Italian community in Melbourne. It seems that feeling grounded in our own community gives us the strength and confidence to reach out to the people of another.

Move a quarter of a century into the future and check out the video ‘My Asian Tribe’ – a fresh and playful student work celebrating being Asian and the adhesive power of shared cultural experiences like having ‘the same bowl hair cut as a child’.

Culture and genetic heritage calls even when you grow up and live removed from it. Contributor Mercedes takes us on a journey to understand her Italian and Maltese heritage in  ‘The all together Australian Tribe’ – while Lorriane shares insights about her Kenyan homeland in her work ‘My Tribe’.

The dark side of cultural identity  is eloquently explored by JNT in ‘Gazing at chicken village’.  A tourist takes a snapshot in a Vietnamese village and wonders just what she is shooting and why. A particularly thoughtful exploration of the notion of the other is a series of works called ‘Muslim Woman’ by contributor Susan Dirgham The series explores stereotypes and assumptions about Muslim women through audio, image and text. And for a work that tackles racism head-on, check out the multimedia work, ‘Violence against International Students’.

Perhaps the sharpest betrayal is the one that comes from within your own tribe. In ‘My [errant] Tribe’ contributor Jeff Lowenstein, a 67 year old Jewish Australian, explores his split with the Jewish community over the issue of Israeli treatment of Palestinians.

All rich pickings from the hot pot of My Tribe

featured image ‘The Tribe P.2‘ by contributor Stevie050

Seeking an idea for My Tribe - July 1, 2010 by kylabrettle

I’m clutching at raindrops –  an idea that appears so perfectly formed is destroyed the moment I grasp it.

I’m currently grappling with the question of what to make for the My Tribe exhibition. 360documentaries has charged me with the task of making a radio piece that explores ideas of community, identity and belonging.  As the sun sets on my rather extended period of blue sky thinking I’m feeling an uncomfortable resonance with ‘An ode to the elusive idea’. This is a quirky, highly-crafted and rather confronting animation by Tribe contributor – diam_qut. If you have ever struggled with a problem – it’s well worth a look!

In an attempt to better understand the nature of my problem I read Jeff Conklin’s paper, “Wicked Problems and Social Complexity”. Now, I knew problems could be naughty – but I didn’t realise just how diabolical they could get!

Wicked problems, Conklin explains, are a particular type of problem that not only can’t be solved with a right or wrong answer but are dangerous for those who attempt to; they are a leading cause of ‘analysis paralysis’ and a common trigger for group project melt-down. Some examples of wicked problems are – how to deal with climate change? What to do about child poverty? And what to include in the My Tribe radio piece I’m making?

As knowing your adversary is key – and because wicked problems can be lurking inside seemingly tame problems, I’ll outline a boiled down version of Conklin’s characteristics of a ‘wicked problem’ (these points were first set out by the rather earnestly named fellow Horst Rittel who came up with this rather flamboyantly ‘awesome’ term, ‘wicked problem’)

You don’t understand the problem until you have developed the solution

Wicked problems aren’t clearly defined with stable parameters – the goal posts shift according to which way you look at them and the agenda of the person looking. The problem only becomes clear – or definable – when you couple it with a solution (of which there may be many or none).  So, answering the problem is the method through which you understand it. Rittel says, “One cannot understand the problem without knowing about its context; one cannot meaningfully search for information without the orientation of a solution concept; one cannot first understand, then solve.”

Wicked problems never end and don’t have right or wrong answers

Wicked solutions are just as unstable as the floating questions that precedes them – there are no crunchy, satisfying ‘right answers’ – just a judgment call on what is better, worse, good enough or not good enough. Wicked problems don’t end – they just get exhausted; run out of time, money and energy.

Every wicked problem is essentially unique and novel.

From what I understand, the ‘wicked problem’ references the whole ecosystem within which the problem exists (including all the details, nuances and subjective viewpoints). While you can theorize a general approach a wicked problems – every one you come across will be different.

Maybe I’m just clutching at straws – but perhaps the only way I’ll solve the problem of what should be in this My Tribe radio piece is when I actually make something and (when I’m utterly exhausted 360documentaries confirms it is ‘good enough’) say it is ‘finished’.

A lot trickier than I first thought!

A smorgasbord of contributions to My Tribe - May 30, 2010 by kylabrettle

“[By] sharing different cultures and different foods you find out you all got a lot more in common than you think you do – because we are all really eating the same thing – just a different form of it. And just getting together and talking about it … you bridged a gap and you didn’t realize it.”

Customer at Tak’s Cafe

Food is a rich source of complex meaning – it speaks of our culture, our country, our climate, our traditions, our practices, our passions and people  – little wonder it is emerging as a significant theme in the My Tribe Open Exhibition.

Among my favourite food works is the image and text  “Contributor #3: Charlene” (pictured) by contributor ssa6789. The dish, called Yu Shang, brings people together – to the same plate, even – at Chinese New Year. To me it adds another layer to the old saying that ‘the family who eat together stay together’.

Comfort food steeped in memories of home and hearth also loom large in My Tribe. The table is laden with kaya puffs, roti tissue, chicken rice, melted soybean milk and grandma’s salty fish.

For a completely different take on the connection between food identity, community and belonging check out ‘My Faces’. It is a series of three photographic portraits created using food. The images are reminiscent of Giuseppe Arcimboldo’s famous 16th century painting Vertumnus – depicting a face made by arranged fruit and vegetables. In the notes to the work the artist explains how we see stereotypes before the person;

“My interpretation of MyTribe is that people are thrown into ‘groups’ without any consideration of them as a person. … we judge, we categorise and I believe, we misinterpret.”

And if you find yourself in the area, you should try having “Breakfast at Taks” by Tadashi Nakamura – a warm and intimate video documentary about LA café owner Mary, and the community of regulars who frequent her tables.

More than just flour and water – food can be seen the glue that connects us.

Can network theory be the solution? - May 18, 2010 by kylabrettle

Bored? Don’t have a date? Forgot have that relationship to end all others? Think it might be that time?

Don’t wander off into the wilderness alone – use your networks – ask a friend or family member to recommend a good person they know. Encouraging your friends to be match-makers and getting introduced to an acquaintance with good connections may sound like something straight out of a Jane Austen novel – but it is also the core idea behind a very new online dating scheme called the 100 dates project. Let tribe contributor Rose take you through the details in a gorgeous radiophonic documentary called ‘Love in the Cloud’ – highly recommended listening.

I’d be hazarding a guess that the founders of the 100 date project have done some research into social network theory and the importance of ‘weak ties’. If you haven’t heard of social network theory then the chances are that ‘a’ you know someone who has and ‘b’ you have heard of it as of ‘six degrees of separation’.

Basically, it’s a way of mapping and understanding our social connections. A theorist might start by sketching your personal network by indicating you as a dot in the centre of the page and drawing lines from you to other dots representing your close friends and family ties network. These are your ‘strong ties’ – people you trust and tend to rely on in a tight spot. Beyond your strong ties would be another rim of nodes (representing people) that you don’t consider yourself as ‘close’ with – but who you would invite if you were having a big party. Together, these two levels of connection represent your ‘sociogram’.

Where social network theory gets really interesting, though, is if you mapped not just your own, but all your friends social networks (and their friends as well) to indicate all the interrelated links. This map would reveal your ‘weak ties’ (people you know via other people). Ethan Watters describes the image well: “this diagram would look something like a picture of fireworks finale, when all the rockets explode at the same time.” p104 (Urban Tribes 2003). The theory goes that if  you included everyone you know, and everyone these people know (for six levels) then every person on the planet would be in your map. Nifty, eh?

Now, ‘weak ties’ are important in all this because they are (not just people but) ‘social resources’ (sources of information, opportunities and potential mates) you can draw on via your social network – even though you may not know them personally. Sociologist Mark Granovetter argues that the number of weak ties in your network is critical to success in getting a job and finding a house to rent. You might use this network to find a good dentist (ie a friend of a friend knows an excellent one) or, as the 100 dates project implies, use your ‘weak ties’ to meet someone new.

Ethan Watters writes about all this much more eloquently than I in Urban Tribes – but if you are after the crunchy version, then do download and read Mark Granovetters 1973 article, “The Strength of Weak Ties”.

Image: “Figure 8” by tribe contributor njw

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