My Place in the Sun

Summer, 2016-17

Mine, thine.—"This dog is mine," said those poor children; "that is my place in the sun." Here is the beginning and the image of the usurpation of all the earth.  

- Blaise Pascal’s Pensées, 295

Who gets to speak? Who sets the agenda? We’re told, “you’re free to decide, on condition you make the right choice . . . the implicit paradox beneath the Kantian reasoning: not only does freedom of thought not undermine actual social servitude, it positively sustains it” (Zizek, 2002, p. 3). The structures of economic and social oppression loom like large buildings on the terrain of all things abandoned, orphaned and victimised. I continually find the dichotomous Same/Self and Other remains alienating and divisive, fostering dualistic thinking: socially constructed binaries stemming from the language of division. Philosopher Slavoj Zizek has observed, the “notion of the ‘clash of civilisations’, however, must be rejected out of hand: what we are witnessing today are, rather, clashes within each civilisation” (2002, p. 41). Law, governance, society reinscribe difference until nuanced diversities are unseen or unrecognised if seen.

Creative practices offer a generative space to actively engage in opening dialogue that in its very act breaks down the division of Self and Other and asks us all to recognise that which makes us different from each other, and that which unites us. In particular, artistic practices which celebrate difference and  invite a point of meeting within ‘difference’ offers a model for post-colonial interventions in global economies where the divisive rhetoric of ‘them and us’ has become increasingly prevalent. The act of supporting those making art work is like nurturing the growth of tiny plants as they push up from beneath the foundation of structures that overwhelm. In seeking and struggling, the cracks widen, and eventually undermine the foundations of systemic systems of injustice. What seems impossible today can become reality tomorrow, as artivist, John Jordan, reflects in an interview with Lars Kwakkenbos: 

If in 1987 I would have said to you ‘Okay, you watch, this is the seed, little groups like these are opening up the public space for discourse again, in three years time [sic] the Berlin wall will come down and the Soviet empire will collapse’, you would have probably gone like, yeah yeah… But it did happen. Often such little small cultural experiments open up space and possibility for the bigger changes to happen. The real seeds for revolutionary changes can grow in artistic practices. (20 January 2011, p. 1)

Power relations continue to thwart the subaltern desire to develop culture, not just to effect change. The conversations about ‘change’ need to embrace some profound and arguably, revolutionary concepts. In the words of Myanmar’s revered political leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, “some have questioned the appropriateness of talking about such matters as metta (loving-kindness) and thissa (truth) in the political context. But politics is about people and . . . love and trust can move people more strongly than any form of coercion” (Aung San, 2010, p. 17). Love and trust in action puts others first, opening space for dialogue and ultimately, this “communicative action can serve as a form of resistance to influence the ways in which public discourse is structured, which is a necessary component of social change and hence conflict transformation” (Knight, 2014, p. 82).

The moment I revel in my own prominence, claiming my place in the sun, is the moment of occupancy which, in the words of mathematician and philosopher Blaise Pascal, leads to “the usurpation of all the earth” (Pascal, 1958, p. 76). I suggest we all can begin with something as simple as a gesture: moving towards the Other. These are subversive bodily acts. In the context of the philosophy of Emmanuel Levinas, the approach of the Other is to see face-to-face which is the situation of discourse. To see the human face of the wholly Other is to be unable to harm because “the face signifies itself” (Levinas, 1996, p. 10). The aesthetic of a work that invites conversation allows a space for emancipatory dialogic exchanges, across fractured cultural landscapes. We each have power to shift entrenched attitudinal perspectives on the Other, through gesture, discourse and service committed to love and trust.

My place in the sun

Photography of Monica, Ellen & Grace Avery, by Mary Avery, Brighton Beach, South Australia. Used with permission, 2017.


Aung San, S. K. (2010). Letters from Burma. London, England: Penguin Books.

Knight, H. (2014). Articulating injustice: an exploration of young people’s experiences of participation in a conflict transformation programme that utilises the arts as a form of dialogue. Compare: A Journal of Comparative and International Education, 44(1), 77-96. doi:10.1080/03057925.2013.859881

Kwakkenbos, L. (20 January 2011). Art, Activism, and Permaculture. Foeign Policy In Focus. Retrieved from

Levinas, E. (1996). Basic Philosophical Writings (A. T. Peperzak, S. Critchley, & R. Bernasconi Eds.). Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Pascal, B. (1958). Pascal's Pensees. New York: E.P. Dutton & Co., Inc.

Zizek, S. (2002). Welcome to the Desert of the Real! London UK: Verso.