Reading images : the book club in the art gallery

Ellison, Elizabeth, Holliday, Penny, & Van Luyn, Ariella (2012) Reading images : the book club in the art gallery. In AUCEA Next Steps : Community Engaged Learning, 9-11 July 2012, Queensland University of Technology. (Unpublished)

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This paper seeks to document and understand one instance of community-university engagement: that of an on-going book club organised in conjunction with public art exhibitions. The curator of the Queensland University of Technology (QUT) Art Museum invited the authors, three postgraduate research students in the faculty of Creative Writing and Literary Studies at QUT, to facilitate an informal book club. The purpose of the book club was to generate discussion, through engagement with fiction, around the themes and ideas explored in the Art Museum’s exhibitions. For example, during the William Robinson exhibition, which presented evocative images of the environment around Brisbane, Queensland, the book club explored texts that symbolically represented aspects of the Australian landscape in a variety of modes and guises. This paper emerges as a result of the authors’ observations during, and reflections on, their experiences facilitating the book club. It responds to the research question, how can we create a best practice model to engage readers through open-ended, reciprocal discussion of fiction, while at the same time encouraging interactions in the gallery space? To provide an overview of reading practices in book clubs, we rely on Jenny Hartley’s seminal text on the subject, The Reading Groups Book (2002). Although the book club was open to all members of the community, the participants were generally women. Elizabeth Long, in Book Clubs: Woman and the Uses of Reading in the Everyday (2003), offers a comprehensive account of women’s interactions as they engage in a reading community. Long (2003, 2) observes that an image of the solitary reader governs our understanding of reading. Long challenges this notion, arguing that reading is profoundly social (ibid), and, as women read and talk in book clubs, ‘they are supporting each other in a collective working-out of their relationship to a particular historical movement and the particular social conditions that characterise it’ (Long 2003, 22). Despite the book club’s capacity to act as a forum for analytical discussion, DeNel Rehberg Sedo (2010, 2) argues that there are barriers to interaction in such a space, including that members require a level of cultural capital and literacy before they feel comfortable to participate. How then can we seek to make book clubs more inclusive, and encourage readers to discuss and question outside of their comfort zone? How can we support interactions with texts and images? In this paper, we draw on pragmatic and self-reflective practice methods to document and evaluate the development of the book club model designed to facilitate engagement. We discuss how we selected texts, negotiating the dual needs of relevance to the exhibition and engagement with, and appeal to, the community. We reflect on developing questions and material prior to the book club to encourage interaction, and describe how we developed a flexible approach to question-asking and facilitating discussion. We conclude by reflecting on the outcomes of and improvements to the model.

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ID Code: 53723
Item Type: Conference Paper
Refereed: Yes
Keywords: Book Club, University-Community Engagement, Social Reading, QUT Art Museum
Divisions: Current > Schools > Creative Writing & Literary Studies
Current > QUT Faculties and Divisions > Creative Industries Faculty
Copyright Owner: Copyright 2012 please consult the authors
Deposited On: 18 Sep 2012 23:54
Last Modified: 25 Oct 2012 21:54

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