SAMSTAG ALUMNI 2002

Astra Howard
Born 1978, Sydney, New South Wales

Astra Howard describes her work as 'action research', a hybrid of social science and performance art by which she investigates how people relate to public space. A central problem of the human sciences is the way the presence of the observer changes the behaviour of the observed. Instead of trying to avoid this, Howard tackles it head on to explore its unpredictable complexities.

An early project involved sitting on a city sidewalk with a huge sheet of paper and a big black texta, making notes of everything she saw. Naturally, the 'subjects' under observation were curious to see what was going on.Recognising themselves as the subjects of research, they responded to their situation in various and unpredictable ways. Eventually the police were called and the disruptive presence of the researcher was removed.

For Public [private] living spaces II Howard lived for a week in a tobacconist's booth at the entrance to Sydney's Kings Cross Station, writing observations on people's behaviour in reverse on the glass walls of her observation post. People began to respond by writing back curious questions, confessions, suicide notes, friendly chitchat. The project quickly became a focal point of discussion and debate throughout the neighbourhood. The unpredictable 'research outcome' from this project was perhaps to demonstrate how a transparent and permeable membrane between researcher and subject, between performance and everyday life, could open up an extraordinary space for subjectivity and selfexpression at the heart of one of Sydney's busiest public spaces.

Russell Smith from his Samstag catalogue essay, Making The Makers
 
2002 Anne & Gordon Samstag International Visual Arts Scholarship
2002 Post Graduate Research, The Central Academy of Fine Arts, Beijing, China 
1999 Bachelor of Design (Honours), College of Fine Arts, University of New South Wales 
1998 Bachelor of Design Studies, Queensland College of Art, Griffith University