Cultural Consciousness: Conceptual Framework And Case Study Research
Cultural Consciousness’s aim is to identify the uniqueness of a “Third Culture Kid” perspective, as expressed through contemporary art practices. I am attempting to understand what it means to grow up as a “ Third Culture kid”, someone who has grown up in countries and cultures other than that of my parents and my own nationality. The focus is to explore what that means and how in turn it has affected my own views about my art and myself. The framework revolves around the experiences I have had as a Third Culture Kid growing up in Thailand where I was born and Hong Kong and Japan where I spent all of my school life and the effect that has had on my personality and how I express myself as an artist. While my research has mostly focused on the ideas surrounding my own experience as a Third Culture Kid I have decided to expand upon the themes in order to judge how it has affected me as a member of society as well. Through practical and material research I aimed to be able to illustrate what I have learnt about the subject. In addition that has meant summarising some of the background research I have undertaken, early learning’s and my first conclusions as to what it means to be a Third Culture Kid.
The research had to begin with me first understanding the background or situation that made me a TCK. A TCK is someone who has grown up or been raised in a country other than that of their parents or the country/culture that is named on their passports for a significant or majority part of their early development years. I am an Australian by nationality who was born in Thailand and has moved through Asia, more specifically to Hong Kong, Japan and back to Hong Kong. I lived in those three very different Asian countries until I was 18 and moved to Australia for the first time to live in my “native country”. Of course I had visited Sydney every year as a child visiting my grandmothers but had always seen Sydney more as a place for vacations and where relatives lived rather than “home”. It was the experience of moving to a place to which I was supposed to belong, but actually had little connection with that has become the fascination that has led to a feeling that growing up as a TCK my experiences have been very different to others, I don’t have any specific culture I identify with or any place I see as “mine”. Instead I think of myself as almost a neutral across all these cultures. I take in parts of all and merge them, I feel empathy with all, but truly belong to none in the sense of only seeing myself as being from “ a place”.
Community of Practice:
Through my research I looked at multiple artists as well as art pieces that relate closely to my theme and topic. Comparing the different methods used to show the ideas of being a TCK, as well as the positive or negatives that come with a lack, confusion or fusion of cultures that form a person. Artists such as Grace Kim and Miguel Rio Branco. Both TCK artists, who use different methods to show the cultural separation or the negative sides of what it is like to be a TCK.
Grace Kim is a fellow TCK artist who represents her life through her art works. More specifically her work is about the uncomfortable, uneasy and unstable lifestyle that came with moving around as a kid. She was born in South Korea, but grew up moving around the world. Kim’s makes her work represent the difficulty that comes and encompasses all TCK’s including myself when someone asks, “Where are you from”. Kim has said she doesn’t know how to answer and often changes response depending on who asks. Her works go into depths exploring her identity and are great examples that align with the themes and focus of my own work. Artworks she has created such as UpRoot as described by her are meant to make you feel “uneasiness like you don’t belong there, or feel a bit uncomfortable.”3 That description encompasses my personal feelings as to what it’s like being a TCK, a feeling of awkwardness, not belonging, because you don’t quite fit. Overall her art such as UpRoot4 really do depict my emotional feelings towards being a TCK. A kind of dark, uncomfortable feeling as I am trying to reach out and understand where I come from or belong. Through my works I hoped to no necessarily show the uncomfortability as I don’t like that feeling, but definitely want to show the connections or “roots” that are showing my identity as a TCK.
UpRoot by Grace Kim, 2013
Miguel Rio Branco is a multimedia artist working through photography, painting, film and installation. Never actually referring directly to being a TCK he conveys he is rootless and if he had to expound it would be that he is rooted in all the places he has lived. It is in that rootlessness that I feel he is connected to my research. Specifically, he does not belong or come from any individual country or class. Unlike myself Miguel’s works show the suffering and pleasures of other cultures and their differences. Rather than attempting to use cultures to represent himself, he try’s almost to show off the different cultures he has experienced and how their difference are valuable in different ways. The Exhibition “Barro” which was held in Galeria Millan in 2016 was a work made by Branco to show the culture of an Indigenous Brazilian Tribe. The way he uses his art to represent and show the cultures of more unknown or smaller communities is a great way to use his TCK experiences. I feel however that before I can you art to represent a culture other than my own I first need to better understand what mine is and how being a TCK not only gives me the opportunity to represent multiple cultures, but also potentially show my own personalised culture.
I have also studied Home and Rootlessness, which is not a single artist but rather a collection and online gallery purely for TCK art. Each artwork represents different aspects of being a TCK. Showing not only how it has affected the artist themselves, but also their outlook on society and their artistic styles. Through the many styles represented it becomes clear that the most common theme is a loss or lack of a place to specifically call home. Not knowing where one belongs. They show how some cultures can have an enormous emotional/artistic effect while others play only minor roles. While they are great for potential Material Practice Pre-research the topics are all quite similar. I can connect to most of the works, but also a lot of the artists seem to only have the 1 off artworks making continued research to see how they themselves have adapted and used being a TCK to their advantage or disadvantage difficult. However by looking at the collection as a whole it does inspire thoughts about the disparity that having a rootless life brings.
All three of these art sources or artist gave me as more potential starting points to further my own material practice research. Through looking at the methods and symbolism used I could potentially adapt further the ideas of these TCK experiences to show my own understanding.
Case Study Research:
Using case study research and learning about the experiences of others seemed like the most logical method to get a clearer understanding of the positive and negative aspects that have come from being a TCK. One of the main points/topics that has come up has been learning about a sense of belonging or a sense of identity. Through some of the studies and watching various TED talks I can at least give an origin to my own sense of belonging /identity and understanding of my outlook on society. This has helped reveal to me more clearly how much of an impact the cultures I grew up in and around have affected my overall artistic style. The use of colour, the topics I prefer to focus on, why I am drawn to certain artistic styles and how I tend to merge all these influences in my own original work.
Through the research process I was led from what started as an attempt to just find out about what TCK’s might learn from their experience to broader studies and examples of TCKs and experts to understand more about the different positives and negatives of being a third culture kid from others perspectives compared to my own. I have read and learned a lot about positive and negative aspects of this type of growing up experience and the opportunities and skills that I have gained from being a TCK. For example in the Dewaele & Van Oudenhoven study on Multilingualism and Multiculturalism, they conducted tests in which they compared TCK to non-TCK’s in order to see what gains may come out of being a TCK. From their results it was quite clear that while the TCK’s showed higher signs of cultural empathy and open mindedness they also showed a lower level of emotional stability in comparison to the non-TCK’s. Similar results are also seen in Lyttle, Barker, & Cornwell’s study on interpersonal sensitivity of TCK’s. Another study done by Lijadi & Van Schalkwyk looked at TCK’s through different interview techniques to see the psychological effects of how we need to recreate or adapt to new cultures and surroundings. The results of their study concluded that there were many benefits that came from growing up as a TCK including a wider cultural knowledge and a stronger value of place. However the results for the TCKs Place identity were not as conclusive. This was said to be because the idea of place identity was formed by people with a stronger sense of belonging or home. Where for TCK’s the sense of origin is not as set in one place. My art works can show that result through the combinations of cultural symbols and elements of the place I grew up in all showing how I am confused, by lack of belonging to one cultural identity. This result is similar to Hoersting & Jenkins study on cultural homelessness. The study asked questions about cross-cultural topics as well as non-cross-cultural topics to TCK’s. According to the results when it came to the idea of being culturally homeless the results showed a lower self-esteem in participants. While when it came to belonging to a cross cultural or having a commitment over multiple cultures the overall esteem was higher. Similarly my own artworks often feel less emotionally connected or more graphic design like in style as I often have difficulty in showing a strong connection to one particular place. Again this is also seen in Moore & Barker’s study to examine TCK’s identities. They concluded that overall while third culture kids lacked more of a sense of belonging, they are more competent multicultural communicators and mostly viewed their experiences as beneficial. What has been interesting in looking at these studies is that they have led me to keep wanting to read more about the different positives and negatives of being a third culture kid. I felt as they were talking both to and about me. From the simple things like how being a TCK has most likely lead me to be more culturally accepting/understanding where I find it very easy to deal with people of all kinds of cultures and indeed tend to have friends from diverse backgrounds to the very common thread of how it may have negatively impacted my emotional stability. I know I am “Australian” for example but hold no real feeling or knowledge of what that means. I feel close to being Japanese but am obviously not. Which is why I also find it to be more representative of myself to use Japanese or other Asian motifs from the countries I grew up in my works. I can understand why my family, friends and people I meet react to their own cultures yet I do not and have not ever felt that same reaction.
Understanding all of these positives and negatives has helped to give me a much clearer image of my outlook on society and has helped me to answer the questions I have about being a TCK and how it has affected me as the artist I am now. The connections to my own emotions and how I feel about trying to understand my own belonging or at least what I could call home it what effects the culmination of cultures I represent through my artworks.
Material Practice Research:
The second form of research was done through using a range of mediums from drawing in either material or digital formats or by creating through origami or using 3D modelling to represent and reflect the influences of the Asian countries where I grew up. The art pieces and works usually represent individual or a combination of the three nations of Thailand, Japan and Hong Kong and some cultural aspects that shaped me. Of course these three cultures are quite different while also having some links, a Buddhist background, a heavy use of symbolism in both art and communication, the distinct history and use of mythologies like the dragon as symbols of power, the use of symbolic imagery and drawing as popular media like variations of manga, the propensity to like the use of symbols, emoji and stamps in social media rather than actual words. By means of using symbolism or patterning styles associated with those countries and their cultures I hoped that people would be able to see my personal migration. Defining it as a “Tantric Zentangle” I use patterning to help show the uniqueness and confusion involved in being a “third culture kid”. Never a single pure cultural focus, instead always some crossover that leaves a uniqueness but also never a clear definition. The confusion, which I have found in myself being rootless, will be seen through my material practice research. I will reflect on and walk through the process of some of the more relevant pieces.
1. Initial Experiments
My initial pieces I created throughout the 1st semester using different methods and materials as I attempted to find the way that could best represent myself and help me reach a better conclusion to my research. I looked into using traditional materials and methods from the three countries where I grew up. I began first by just using different materials to try and find a way to best represent being a TCK, or at least the way I feel about being a TCK. This is shown through Practice Figure 1, Practice Figure 2, and Practice Figure 3 which are shown in the following pages. Practice Figure 1 was the first experiment and is a combination of materials that represent and originate from the countries I grew up in, being traditional rice paper used in all three Asian countries and ink stamps using Italian coffee grounds as the medium which in turn represents another aspect of my mixed cultural experience as it also represents my mother’s Italian descent.
Practice Figure 2 then is looking at resin pouring and colour mixing as a possible way of showing the confusion that came with being a TCK and the almost loss of a starting point. I wanted to use the continuous swirling of colour and patchiness to potentially represent that. Practice Figure 3 then moved back into a more traditional method and material. I returned to an old art style I learned in school while living in Japan, being origami. I thought initially that the complex structures or shapes I could build using origami methods would be the perfect way to represent the complexity of being a TCK. The many layers and folds showing the changes and stages in which I moved or adapted to different cultures.
After those initial 3 practices I decided to continue my research to show what it is like to be a TCK. I did this by taking the initial experiments to the next stage. First by combining both origami and resin in an attempt to show the complex nature of being a TCK through the numerous folds and the negative confusion through all the colours of the resin as shown in Second Stage Figure 1. In Second Stage Figure 2 I took this experiment to the next stage and tried to make a single piece that incorporates all the positives and negatives of being a TCK, while still appearing visually pleasing. Sticking with the origami lily I expanded its size and then proceeded to cover half of it in a mix of colours. The goal is a combination of both my resin and my origami experiments. It is a representation of the sides of emotions that come from being a 3rd culture kid. The complexity of the origami shows the complexity of my cultures or origin and the colour resin pour represents the mess that is my emotional stability or understanding.
The last initial experimentation piece was again looking at the complexity and layers that involve being a TCK. As shown in Laser Etch 1 I used laser etching to create a complex layered piece that meshes together the train maps of the cities I have lived. Displayed in order bottom to top, Bangkok, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Hong Kong and then finally Sydney the complex layering causes the viewer to get lost in all the interweaving lines. The overall layering aimed to show how lost and confused I sometimes feel as a TCK, the crossing of lines and the complexity of the overall map layers show how much I have learned. I can discern each city/map each place, whereas others would view it as chaos. It also felt more connected to some of the studies such as that of Dewaele & Van Oudenhoven as well as Lyttle, Barker, & Cornwell’s as it shows almost a lack of emotion in its more robotic or diagram like style. It shows how as a TCK the complexity can be seen as an amazing array of opportunities, knowing all these places/maps it also has a negative ramification on how I may be able to share that knowledge/feelings.
As I was coming to the end of my first semester of research I also reflected on these experiments eventually deciding that the most effective methods and most stand out pieces were my laser etching initial piece along with my original art “Tantric Zentagle” style drawing which I had been doing for many years before the research actually began. They made the most impact and were more connected to my personal thoughts of the research and topic as well as they seemed to be the most clearly understood pieces out of all of the experiments I had made.
- Practice Figure 1, 42x59cm, Ink and Coffee Grounds on Rice Paper, 2018
- Practice Figure 2, 15cm, Poured Resin on Plywood, 2018
- Practice Figure 3, 7cm tall by 10cm wide, Folded Paper, 2018
- Second Stage Practice Figure 1, 7cm tall 10cm wide, Poured Resin of Folded Paper, 2018
- Second Stage Figure 2, 100x100cm, Poured Resin and Folded Paper on Wood Board, 2018
2. Final Experiments
- Untitled 1 (Left Side), 40x180cm, White Ink on Black Painted Canvas, In Progress Piece
- Untitled 2 (Middle), 40x180cm, White and Black Ink on Painted Canvas, In Progress Piece
- Untitled 1 (Right Side), 40x180cm, Black Ink on White Painted Canvas, In Progress Piece
The drawing Untitled 1 is a piece I am currently working on as an approach to the topic of cultural appropriation and how big of a grey area/common problem it is for a TCK such as myself. Using a combination of cultural symbolism, metaphorical symbolism and my style of ‘Tantric Zentagle’. The white side is depicting traditional Asian symbols and can/might be seen as appropriation however as a person who grew up surrounded by those cultural representations and who learned about them constantly in school why/is it wrong for me to use them. Symbols such as the traditional eastern dragon, the Buddha, the koi fish or even the Sakura blossoms are direct representations of the countries in which I grew up. On the opposite black side the images are less obvious depictions such as the hands grabbing or reaching out as I really do not have the same cultural connections to my ancestral/nationality that I do with the Asian countries I grew up in. It also depicts leaves which can be seen as either eucalyptus leaves or possibly bamboo leaves, and it is this possible mix up that makes them relevant as without detail or explanation they can be a symbolic representation of my Australian nationality or another common symbolism for Asian culture. Overall this goes back to my initial case study research and more specifically looking at the ideas and conclusion found in Dewaele & Van Oudenhoven study as well as Lijadi & Van Schalkwyk study. The adaptation and use of the cultures I grew up in are not meant to be anything more than my way of showing the complete adoption of them and the mixing as they all come together.
- Untitled 2 (Etch 1 Train Maps), 29.5x21cm, Laser etchings of Clear Acrylic, In Progress Piece
- Untitled 2 (Etch 2 City Maps), 29.5x21cm, Laser etchings of Clear Acrylic, In Progress Piece
The 5 acrylic multi layered etchings Untitled 2 is a more personal/ memory based work and a result of my research readings. The work is being created as a representation of the many adjustments I had to make as I moved around and how they have stuck with me, but also its mechanical and digital nature is a negative commentary on the effect it may have had on my emotional output. As a continuation from my initial experiment Laser Etch 1 I used maps and routes to show the many paths I memorised and travelled throughout my life. First with the train maps. Then with city maps and is being continued with most common route (such as my school route). These complex lines coming together as a etched drawing that can fully show the confusion and complexities that are all part of being a TCK. I decided then to take this work to the next stage by including a lighting system that would allow me to individually display more clearly each layer and eventually show the complete overlap. This would not only give clearer images of the stages of my life, but also add another layer of depth to the work even more clearly showing the complexities and almost confusing nature of what it means to be a TCK.
As a result I have learned that being a Third Culture Kid may have led me to being more culturally open minded, accepting and understanding, while also possibly having had a negative impact on my emotional wellbeing. Feelings of being separate in some way from both the cultures where I grew up and the one where I should belong. Understanding these positives and negatives, has helped give me a much clearer image of my outlook on society but more as an observer rather than a participant. Overall the understanding I have of my own cultural consciousness has given me more opportunities and has let me have far more area or topic from which my art can directly relate back to myself from. I can expand upon cultural combinations and cultural culminations through my experiences and understanding. While I do feel as a Third Culture Kid I can better explain myself and my experience, my practical research has lead to more questions and issues that will cause me to need to continue my work. Especially as while I am a TCK my use of Asian cultural symbolism is still in a grey area.