Why creative practices breed innovation

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Through his thick black-rimmed glasses, Professor David Cross studies those around him. His unwavering attention to his environment and patient ruminating enable him to see details that other people might miss. It’s this quality that gives his art a unique perspective. He’s not content to mimic. Rather, he challenges his audiences to re-evaluate the way they see the world.

Prof. Cross, Head of Arts and Performance at Deakin University, sees his primary role as teaching people to embrace the challenges of being independent thinkers and makers in the world. ‘There are so many reasons why people conform, so many reasons they don’t make adventurous decisions for themselves,’ he says. ‘But I strongly believe that creative practices, and an adventurous and innovative way of approaching the world, are so fundamental to just about everything you’re going to do,’ he adds.

Disarming through immersion

In his creative work, which has been exhibited around the world, Prof. Cross attempts daring feats that tread the fine line between ordeal and enlightenment in order to inspire insight in his audiences.

‘I think that our responsibility is to always find new ways of making cultural statements and transform people’s experience of the world,’ he explains and adds that he likes nothing more than creating work that people expect to provide a pleasurable experience, only to give them something completely different, in turn transforming their world view.

His installation Bounce lured audiences to a large inflatable structure. They were encouraged to interact with it, only to discover they were not alone: Prof. Cross was inside, watching from under their bouncing feet. A few injuries and a broken nose later, Prof. Cross says people who attended gained an uncomfortable new insight into mob mentality.

Activating these moments of reflection doesn’t always leave bruises. In his participatory artwork Skyball, Prof. Cross sought to create an opportunity for community engagement by inventing his own sport. Noticing a large cluster of empty fields in New Zealand, Prof. Cross and his team designed a new game. Players run around in huge clear pods that allow them to dive and bump into each other with ease, while trying to score points by catching balls kicked by other players. The piece inspired a new community event in a previously unused space.

'I strongly believe that creative practices, and an adventurous and innovative way of approaching the world, are so fundamental to just about everything you’re going to do.'

Professor David Cross,
School of Communication & Creative Arts, Deakin University

Expect the unexpected

Underlying his work is the belief that you have to be ready to step out of your comfort zone and provoke an emotional reaction to gain new insights. ‘So many of our experiences are mediated, we’re afraid to let ourselves go,’ Prof. Cross points out. He aims to instill the boldness in his students to ‘make cultural statements’.

The work of a true creative practitioner is never done according to Prof. Cross. He believes that artists practicing in all mediums must cultivate a restlessness in people. ‘I think artists are always trying to find ways to kind of perfect and shape the things, but it’s the joy of not getting there that makes you keep going,’ he explains. As far as future jobs for artists are concerned, he argues that opportunities are right there, waiting to be created. ‘We don’t even know what the jobs of the future look like, they haven’t been invented yet, so we need a level of reflexivity that enables people to thrive in the world of the future,’ he concludes.

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Professor David Cross
Professor David Cross

Head of Arts and Performance, School of Communication & Creative Arts, Deakin University
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