Cubic reflections: an interactive cartography of the sensory, spatial and ontological dimensions of tertiary learning environments

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Rousell, D 2014, 'Cubic reflections: an interactive cartography of the sensory, spatial and ontological dimensions of tertiary learning environments', paper presented to the 34th World Congress of the International Society of Education Through the Arts, Melbourne, Vic., 7-11 July.


Cubic Reflections is a participatory arts-based research project that explores the sensory, spatial and ontological dimensions of learning environments through mapping and creative reflection. The project was initiated at Southern Cross University in 2013, when twelve site-specific cubes were created and installed in locations across the disciplinary domains of the Lismore campus in Northern NSW. The cubes were designed to form a network of reflexive objects that could connect both human and non-human modes of existence within an interactive cartography. Participants were invited to both activate and modify this network, by mapping and reflecting on their own movements within and between the twelve learning environments. The arts-based methodology developed for this project was informed by recent work in the anthropology and geography of the senses, as well as ecological philosophies associated with speculative realism. The research began with the siting, creation and installation of cubes in specific locations, taking into account the sensory and spatial dimensions of each site. Photographs were taken from the five faces of the cubes in each location, then reversed, printed in high resolution, and adhered to the respective faces of each cube. In this way, the cubes were literally used as surveying instruments for reflecting the non-human elements of different learning spaces. The cubes were then re-installed at each of the twelve sites, and a campus map was modified to illustrate the cubes’ locations. Following this, staff and students from the university were invited to participate in the project by navigating between each of the cubes, reflecting on each site through words, drawings and photographs, and transcribing their movements across the campus on the map provided. Participants were not primed in any way as to the implied meaning or significance of the work, but were rather encouraged to reflect creatively on their own experiences of the spaces through which they traveled. As a result, each participant interpreted and modified the project in a different way, providing responses that were personal and authentic rather than predetermined by research questions. One participant wrote a poem for each of the twelve locations, tying together observations of the surrounding flora and fauna with snippets of conversation overheard through classroom windows. Another created a virtual map of the project using a smartphone, replete with GPS coordinates, photographs and reflections on each cube and location. Yet another participant produced a complex drawing of her movements around the campus without lifting her pencil from the paper. In this way, the project successfully generated a multi-layered cartography of learning environments across the campus, as well as a deeper awareness of the relationships between humans and non-humans within those spaces.