Topography is the study and description of the physical features of an area or the representation of these features on maps
— Collins Dictionary

TOPOGRAPHER is a research project which experiments with how children – from a broad range of cultural backgrounds – relate to landscape and place. The 4-month-long program will generate new participative art frameworks which involve children and position their perspectives in compelling ways within the adult world.

As an artist I am shaped strongly by my childhood on an enormous isolated cattle station where I roamed endlessly around the hills, paddocks and creeks free to interpret and imagine through play. My diverse theatre practice is influenced by this background more strongly with every project. Now living in the urban environment of Melbourne in an era where many children do not ‘roam free’, I am  interested in exploring how different children respond when given permission to tune in to place, and what creative structures will enable their stories, perceptions and mapping to sit in the landscape, framed as a genuine contribution to civic life.

Research with children as young as 1 year-old reveals that we are enculturated to perceive objects and environs very early. This project will enter important territory by exploring interpretation of place by Aboriginal, non-Aboriginal and first generation migrant children. It will develop in relationship with the Boon Wurrung Foundation, Aboriginal anthropologist Suzi Hutchings and senior University of Melbourne anthropologist Monica Minnegal. It is supported by partnerships with the Royal Botanic Gardens and Artplay.

I am fascinated with the challenge of engaging the broadest possible audiences in outdoor places, and specifically by creating experiences of narrative whilst moving through landscape. Topographer will enable me to explore new mediums for journeying audiences including children’s maps, geo-locating, orienteering processes, buses and unpowered vehicles. These journeys hopefully invite a ‘tuning in’ to the detail of landscape, provoking creative observation of features both micro and massive and an opening up to a very different way of looking at the world – through the unpredictable and poetic logic of a child’s mind.

Topographer presents refreshing alternate readings of landscapes that have been constructed by adults and adult logical thinking.  It will empower kids to become the imaginative ‘makers’ rather than ‘users’ of a place based interactive technology, making it accessible without relying heavily on screen-based interfaces. 

Topographer is currently in development.