International students are an important community group in Australia. 'Vertical Villages' project is engaging artists and international students in a bilateral dialogue and investigating the student experience in Sydney. Throughout the project, which is supported by the Australia International Cultural Council, the Jakarta-based artists' collective ruangrupa is working with the 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art, Australia-based artist Keg de Souza, ArtLab, and local communities in Sydney and Jakarta.
The project began with a Sydney phase, taking students and artist collaborators from a mapping and meeting stage in August 2013, through exhibition activities in Sydney in September and October. An artist's residency in Jakarta is under way in October 2013, and will be followed by an exhibition at the 15th Jakarta Biennale in November-December. 'Vertical Villages' will end in January 2014.
Throughout the project, multidisciplinary workshops, seminars and screenings are invoking 'design thinking' in the participants to create contemporary art in various artforms. The results illustrate the complexities of the international student experience, and reflect artist Keg de Souza's training as an architect.
'Vertical Villages' in its Sydney phase reflected dramatic shifts in Sydney living, with intensely high-density living and multiple occupancy having become the norm among international students. The project's inclusive and dynamic conversations threw up questions: "Is the City of Sydney equipped for such a dramatic shift in the scale of personal and public space?" "How does this student population self-organise in an unfamiliar environment?"
Meanwhile, in Jakarta, similar investigations are under way, exploring the experiences of migrant workers who, like the Sydney students, are also living in dense high-rise. Jakarta's sister project, also with Keg de Souza as its main animateur, had site installations, writing workshops and performances centred on Jakarta's RURU Gallery.
Besides public diplomacy outcomes through creating cultural linkages, 'Vertical Villages' provides invaluable social research insights into the lives of our international students, and provides an impetus for better understanding of this valuable part of Australia's multicultural mix.