Interview | Annie McKinnon

February 19th, 2018 | Interviews

Annie McKinnon is a creative technologist and sound artist. Below, she shares her thoughts on her experience working with Orana Arts on CETA.

Annie grew up in Coonabarabran and moved to Sydney in 2010 to study a Bachelor of Sound and Music Design at UTS. After she completed her studies she started as a research assistant in the Interaction Studio and as part of that team became much more immersed in interaction design and creative technologies.

Annie has been working closely with Orana Arts for Lab 2 of CETA, a digital arts engagement program of experimental labs with Aboriginal communities across the Orana Region. The project is inspired by contemporary arts practice, developed for cultural sustainability and driven by Aboriginal people. Their innovative process works across art forms, disciplines, nature, technology and culture.

The pilot for CETA is the Ukerbarley project, working with Gamilaroi community in Coonabarabran. Annie McKinnon is mentoring the lead artist Paris Norton in conceptual development for Ukerbarley, as the team works towards a merging of innovative practices with culture.

On working as a creative technologist:

I work with electronics, sound and software to create artworks or products. I’ve worked in lots of different industries with many collaborators. CETA is so different to the project that I was working on twelve months ago – to design an exhibition that would tour for three years – so my project briefs are always changing. I’ve got a bit of a mish-mash of skills so I get to work on quite varied things; really I’m a bit of a ‘jack of all trades’ – sometimes that’s hard and sometimes that’s good. It’s a bit of a rollercoaster. You don’t always know when your next job will be but it’s exciting to be an artist in this space – it’s always changing and evolving, and I’ve always got new tools to work with, which I really love.

On technology and art:

I don’t think that tech and art necessarily have to work together. I think it’s important that each of those things separately are always commenting on one another—as an artist you can use technology as a tool just like a painter uses a paintbrush. As a technologist, being aware of art and the value of art and how that can inform your practice is important as well… I do think that our current society is very dismissive of artists and art and the value that it brings, which is to our detriment because a lot of the time art is able to communicate things that we don’t yet have a language for or capacity to explain.

Technology is something that is ever-changing and rapidly morphing our world into something new – it’s uncharted territory – and using art and tech, those two things working in symbiosis will bring an understanding that will be much richer than the two being totally singular. There’s a cross-pollination and from that you get some really exciting things.

On the mentor role in CETA:

My role in CETA is as a mentor to Paris Norton but I see Paris much more as a collaborator and a friend—we get along really well and our families are both from Coonabarabran. It was probably ten years ago when I saw Paris at a friend’s birthday party and we started talking – it was pretty late at night – and we both were really keen even at that time to talk about ideas.
I do remember saying that it would be really cool to work together one day so it’s really great to finally – ten years later – have that opportunity. I’m really excited and grateful that Paris and Orana Arts contacted me to be a part of this project because I think it’s really important and exciting.

On her first visit to Ukerbarley:

It was totally calming – I went in putting a lot of pressure on myself about the project and feeling anxiety around how we might look at a place as rich and vast as Ukerbarley. I was aware of the rare, vibrant and thriving ecologies within this larger landscape.

I was sitting in the backseat of the ute. Jill and Jeremy – the National Parks and Wildlife Service rangers – were driving us through and I was just sitting there and I just felt so calm. I was looking at this place and thought wow, it’s so beautiful. It was like a blanket sitting on top of you and I immediately felt calm. That was my first experience of Ukerbareley.

On Ukerbarley:

It makes me feel amazed. I’m constantly in awe of the colours – wherever you drive or walk in that environment there’s something new to look at; it’s full of different textures. Growing up in Coonabarabran – my dad works for the National Parks – so I’ve been to the Warrumbungles hunderds of times and you see such beautiful ecologies and textures.

On the first Ukerbarley visit we saw an emu with six chicks running around and rare rock-tailed wallabies just hopping around and they had vibrant yellow tails. It just makes it feel very precious; there’s something really powerful about the place, like it has so much to give and there’s so much there to explore.

What stands out for me the most is just how welcoming the landscape feels – it feels like a massive mouth and you’re driving into it and the trees come around you like a big hug. You look up into them – one morning we stopped there and the birds were all singing and I’ve never heard that many birds at once singing. We got the recorder out and we caught all of that. There aren’t that many words for how that feels, being completely immersed in nature. I came straight from the city and you feel like you’ve been taken into another world but in another way you feel connected to who you are and what you’re doing; your role on the planet, specifically in this place.

It’s a very generous place. I feel when I’m at Ukerbarley that I have a huge responsibility – that landscape and that environment has been able to communicate that to me or awaken that in me. I have a responsibility to give back in some way or to listen and to understand what I can of this place. It does feel like it wants to give and that it’s very, very much alive – it feels quite magical and surreal.

On CETA:

What excites me about this project is that Paris is wanting to push boundaries and challenge ideas and I’m getting to feed these super-exciting ideas back and forth with her – being at Ukerbarley takes you out of the riff-raff of the everyday. I guess what excites me about it is how large the project can be but also how centred the project is and how we can actually make quite a big statement together, or I can be part of Paris’ process in making an artwork that can inform a connection to place and a practice of connecting to place that may not have been documented in such a way through art and community; engaging with interactive technologies: it’s the bringing together of all of those things that excites me the most.

We’re right in the middle of it right now and I’m full of thoughts and ideas around it and I’m just so excited to see what becomes of it and how it plays out in the future. I hope that it keeps growing – it’s an incredibly exciting time.

This interview originally appeared on the Orana Arts website and has been reproduced with permission.