Rita Irwin

Professor

Research Classification

Teacher Education
Arts, Literature and Subjectivity
Social Impact of Artistic Education

Research Interests

Education
Arts Education
arts based research
a/r/tography

Relevant Degree Programs

 

Research Methodology

Qualitative Research
arts based research
A/r/tography
autobiography

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Master's students
Any time / year round

arts education; artists-in-residence experiences; cosmopolitanism; identity; a/r/tography; international education; arts based research

I support public scholarship, e.g. through the Public Scholars Initiative, and am available to supervise students and Postdocs interested in collaborating with external partners as part of their research.
I support experiential learning experiences, such as internships and work placements, for my graduate students and Postdocs.
I am open to hosting Visiting International Research Students (non-degree, up to 12 months).
I am interested in hiring Co-op students for research placements.

Graduate Student Supervision

Doctoral Student Supervision (Jan 2008 - May 2019)
Painting as thinking ; painting as conversation : an examination of learning through painting through studio visits with Canadian artists (2018)

This dissertation discusses contemporary Canadian painting practices through a cross-Canada research journey, from the west coast to the east coast, visiting approximately 125 artists (who work primarily with the medium of painting) in their studios. Through in-depth interviews with artists about their artwork, process and communities, and exploration of the studios through photograph documentation, my doctoral research examines: How is painting a way of learning?As practice-led research, this research is generated and analyzed within the perspective of my own painting practice. I analyze the research through the lens of new materialist theories to examine painting as performative by drawing from Bolt’s (2007, 2013) discussion of materiality and the performativity of art practice and through the lens of Barad’s (2007) discussion of diffraction. The research is presented as a series of propositions that present qualities of learning through painting with examples from artists interviewed. As a performative practice, these propositions discuss painting as an emergent, embodied, material, affective, relational and experiential process of learning. They propose that through the material process of painting, artists learn about themselves, others and their relationship to the world in which they inhabit. Photographic interludes extend the discussion by presenting the space of learning, the studio. The final chapters present my own paintings that evolved in relation to the research thus revealing a generative relationship between practice-led and qualitative research methods.This research is conceived, developed and analyzed through my lens as an art educator. Within the context of rapidly changing education that includes inquiry-based, experiential and creative approaches to learning that are often at odds within a system that continues to rely on measurable objectives, and within the context of increased emphasis on digital technologies, I propose that this research has significant implications. This study contributes to research about artistic inquiry within art education particularly as it relates to material practices, and highlights the necessity for embracing uncertainties, ambiguities, messiness, affect, embodiment and material engagement within the creative learning process.

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In/visibility of the abandoned school : beyond representations of school closure (2016)

This research is an artistic form of inquiry in which knowledge is generated from a closed school because it is a de-institutionalized and de-commissioned place that has not yet legally been re-zoned, re-sold, or repurposed. Much of the research on the topic of school closure suggests that its aftermath wreaks havoc on cities and neighborhoods. The abandoned school, marginalized and forgotten, enters into a process of neglect and decline (Chambers, 2007). This research demonstrates how acts of ‘re-territorialization’ (Smith, 2010) in the context of the socio-political state of the closed school, holds pedagogical possibility. To complete this project, I photographed multiple closed schools in cities across Canada and I spoke with principals, students, board directors, faculty, and community members about their experiences with school closure. For one of the final stages of my inquiry, I projected images of the inside of the decommissioned school onto the outside’s physical structure and invited the public, community members who experienced the closure of the school, to take part in an immersive experience in which they could project their own stories and imaginations onto the artwork. Encounters with the abandoned school are brought forward in five ‘concessions,’ articulated here as a virtual spatial practice that explores the abandoned school through photographic images and text, provoking readers/viewers to (re)imagine relationships between space, time, place, and memory. I articulate how this inquiry acts as an intervention — an experience that occurs because of art and because of the artist who is working as a catalyst within the context of the everyday. Drawing attention to the architecture of the closed school as an archive — a repository of memories (both individual and collective) that has been locked off from the community in which it exists, the abandoned school brings forth a possibility (however partial) to (re)construct, (re)store, and (re)present stories of the past with our own existing narratives. Conceptualized as a work of art, this exegesis challenges the more traditional dissertation structure. Rather than answering or advancing a hypothesis, it asks that you look at artistic inquiry in a new way, perhaps even provoking a shift in thought itself.

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Displaced displacement : an a/r/tographic performance of experiences of being unhomed (2013)

This study is an a/r/tographic living inquiry that investigates the theme of displacement through visual and textual performances of my experiences of being un/homed. It is an aesthetic (and not anesthetic) self-exploration of my struggles of in-betweenness and unbelonging through and with/in multiple layers of my identity as a Persian-Canadian, and emigrant/immigrant artist, researcher, learner, and teacher. Additionally, this work draws on post-colonial literature to analyze the journey of an artist, researcher and teacher sharing her personal experiences as an emigrant/immigrant struggling with absence and loss, trying to make a place to belong. In the pedagogical process/product of this living performance, I re-visit, and re-member my lived and living struggles with the concepts of home, language, Othering, invisibility, exoticism, pain and ethics, and critically analyze those struggles through a post-colonial lens. What is re-presented throughout this dissertation is a critical self-exploration through art creation (photographs and video installations) and writing. I suggest that through the process of visually/textually writing about home one can create a home for oneself in the spaces of one’s creation. I highlight the significance of the pedagogical moments of being together, with pain and I call for a sensitive pedagogy of representation in art education.

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Educating artists beyond digital : understanding network art and relational learning as contemporary pedagogy (2013)

This dissertation is offered at a time when there is renewed interest in the conceptual overlaps between contemporary art and discussions about pedagogy, along with a desire to provide alternative ways of learning through different forms of pedagogy. Understanding art today often requires a shift away from the art object to the encounter with the work. For example, this research study aligns itself with the notion that network art is a type of art not based on objects, nor digital instruments alone, but on the relationships and processes that occur between the multiple components and individuals that contribute to the work. Artists today work in relational and networked ways in which digital media exists as one part of a larger complex process. Art educators have called for an approach to the post-secondary pedagogical model that responds more to the multidisciplinary practices of contemporary artists and current cultural production. I suggest that a network understanding of both art and learning, drawn from the practices of contemporary artists and complexity thinking, can lead to new ways of rearticulating and understanding pedagogical practices. In this research study I examine the practices of seven contemporary network artists who teach in post-secondary art programs. Through a reflexive methodology of active interviews and narrative inquiry, I inquire into the ways that these multidisciplinary and network artists make art and approach pedagogy. I am interested in how these modes of art production might impact ways of teaching and learning. Based on data collected during interviews, online correspondence, and examination of artworks, I observed three main thematic connections between the participants’ art and teaching practices: dialogical, collaborative, and performative. I suggest that these characteristics are related to notions of network within art and learning. I argue that network art, when looked at through the lens of pedagogy, can potentially be understood as relational learning, or performative learning. I end by suggesting further research into the idea of knowledge being something that becomes performative within our situational experiences.

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Art as ecological practice : a curriculum of movement for teacher education methods (2012)

This a/r/tographic research investigates the partially accessible forces of movement that engender and co-substantiate experience. It renders an image of a vital socio-geologic ecology consisting of feelings of the energies of movement of all bodies made through struggles of rendering manifest the fullness of experience in its every example. In regards to teacher education methods, this is addressed as both an ecological and aesthetic issue. Feelings of capacity for being affected and for affecting generate more reality. Rather than attempting to separate, unqualified feelings emerging within affects’ temporal events add qualities with an existence and energy of their own. Increasing standardization, accountability schemes and attempted control of quality pose problems for the ecological significance of feelings of capacity to vary. This research addresses methods rather than just the subjects engaged in them to generate an image of a more tightly imbricated ecology that also includes the affects of our practices. It seeks educational experiences where subjects of all kinds subsist to the extent that they resonate with feelings of capacity for being moved and for moving within this ecology. Each chapter re-poses the issue of conveying experience’s simultaneity of continuity and discontinuity. Aesthetic practice and art-making are needed for feelings that precede cognition and for more repeated availability of making determinations within experience which are not simply opportunities for direct exchange but rather tokens of trust for invention and unprecedented space. Drawing concepts from a variety of disciplines, each chapter re-poses educational experience in ways that do not put methods in charge and through aesthetic experience, reconnect to the world by opening to the non-human world of which we are a part. Tending towards teacher education as currere, a living curriculum, this study suggests three qualities of assessment: availability, arrival, and the analog. Through initiating and proliferating creative practices, a/r/tographic methodology in teacher education is encouraged to draw on art’s methods of generating productive entanglements. Repeated affective engagement in creative practice is suggested towards augmenting and sustaining a more inhabitable present and future.

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The teacher monologues : exploring the experiences and identities of artist-teachers (2012)

In this research I examine the experiences of four Conservatory style trained actors, who go onto complete teacher education programs. In keeping with a/r/tography this research uses social science methods and creative methods of data collection. Interviews and reflective writing about the participant’s educational and experiential backgrounds were complimented by the writing of monologues. Themes from the data collected during interviews, reflective writing and monologues led me to understand that: there is a connection between developing consciousness and having a noetic experience; actor-teachers want to talk about their noetic experiences; residue is an a/r/tographic rendering used to describe the way that having an illuminating experience in theatre school affected the participants; and an immanent curriculum can be understood by theatrical engagement. In addition to exploring the interview data and monologues, time is spent understanding the works of Antonin Artaud, a prolific theatre artist and a/r/tography, a method of arts-based research. This theoretical and a/r/tographical investigation leads to the creation of Interludes. These Interludes, theorized as rhizomatic curricular offshoots, allow for multiple entry points into the new understandings.

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A study of dress through artistic inquiry : provoking understandings of artist, researcher, and teacher identities (2009)

What understandings are provoked by concepts of dress when related to artist, researcher, and teacher identities? An artist/researcher/teacher recruited a public secondary school art teacher and her students to join this participatory study. Participants were invited to investigate concepts of dress while inquiring through artistic processes. The written rendering of this dissertation is a mashup inquiry—a nondeterministic bricolage or ludic play—of images, text, and diverse theories, which gives rise to understandings of artist, researcher, and teacher identities. A key understanding from this study is the redescription of artist, researcher, teacher, and student identities. For example, redescribing a teacher as one who occasions learning rather than solely transmits fixed bodies of knowledge generates new understandings. Teaching and learning co-exist as neither fully separate roles within the identities of teacher and student nor as perfectly balanced and equal; they are processes that are relational, shifting, and shared. Likewise, as inquiry and research are redescribed alongside artist, teacher, and student identities, spaces of the possible or as-yet-unimagined emerge. The qualitative arts-based research methodology a/r/tography, which is utilized as the primary methodology in this study, is also conceptualized here, as a pedagogical strategy where the teacher becomes teacher-researcher and students become student-researchers. This places inquiry at the center of the curriculum. Participants in this approach to education work as independent and capable a/r/tographers moving toward an emancipatory form of artistic creation and inquiry. This study investigates how a secondary art course centered in inquiry can open perception to new possibilities as opposed to viewing a teaching/learning relationship as simply shaping perception to existing frames. Anti-oppressive forms of pedagogy may surface when the classroom is decentralized and the inquiry is nonlinear and outcomes are not pre-determined.A graphic version of this dissertation was also created and can be found at http://m1.cust.educ.ubc.ca/Artography/phd.php. The juxtaposition of the standardized format alongside this graphic version highlights how knowledge and communication are managed and maintained. Form and structure, like dress and the format of this dissertation, are explored within this study as both potentially liberating and potentially oppressive.

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Living the divine spiritually and politically : art ritual and performative/pedagogy in women's multi-faith leadership (2008)

In a world of increasing religious/political tensions and conflicts this study asks, what is the transformative significance of an arts and ritual-based approach to developing and encouraging women’s spiritual and multi-faith leadership? To counter destructive worldviews and practices that have divided people historically, politically, personally and sacredly, the study reinforces the political and spiritual value of women spiritual and multi-faith leaders creating and holding sacred space for truth making and world making. An a/r/tographic and mindful inquiry was engaged to assist self and group reflection within a group of women committed to multi-faith education and leadership in their communities. The objectives of the study were: 1) to explore through collaboration, ritual and art making processes the women’s experience of knowing and not knowing, 2) to articulate a curriculum for multi-faith consciousness raising, and 3) to develop a pedagogy and methodology that can serve as a catalyst for individual and societal change and transformation. The co-participants/co-inquirers (including the lead researcher as a member of the group) are fourteen women, who practice within eleven different religions and/or spiritual backgrounds, and who are part of a volunteer planning team that organizes an annual women’s multi-faith conference (Women’s Spirituality Celebration) in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. The aesthetic/ritual structure of the labyrinth served as a cross-cultural multi-faith symbol in guiding the dissertation, which includes three art installations and four documentary DVDs of the process and art. New understandings found in the study include: 1) the ethical sanctuary that a/r/tography as ritual enables for personal and collective change to take place within, 2) the addition of synecdoche to the renderings of a/r/tography, assisting a multi-dimensional spiral movement towards a whole a/r/tographic practice, 3) a lived and radically relational curriculum of philetics within loving community that drew forth the women’s erotic life force energy and enhanced the women’s ability to remember the power of the feminine aspect of the Divine, and 4) the decolonization of the Divine, art and education, which took place as a pedagogy of wholeness unfolded, requiring a dialectic relationship between restorative and transformative learning.

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Master's Student Supervision (2010 - 2018)
How visual art -making activities impact the overall wellbeing of retired seniors : a case study of Creek Springs Retirement Center in Vancouver, Canada (2018)

The aim of this thesis is to inquire into how engagement in visual art-making activities can impact the overall wellbeing of elderly seniors in retirement centres. My basic interest was to explore the possibilities and limitations of visual art-making activities in the lives of the seniors. As an artist, researcher and teacher, I was guided by an a/r/tographical case study methodology of research. Using living inquiry as focus, I created openings, allowed slippages and gave way for loss, shift, and rupture to create presence through absence during the visual art-making activities with the seniors. The research was situated in an independent living facility in Vancouver BC whereby the elderly seniors voluntarily had an opportunity to work with various materials and tools to create visual art works. Seventeen participants were involved in three workshops that took two hours each. As the researcher I documented the proceedings through detailed field notes, photographs, audial recording and videos. The process of art-making provided the seniors with an opportunity to relate to their lives. Art-making activities have the power to encourage conversations about the present, the past and the future thus giving hope and direction to the seniors. Visual art- making activities elicited humour leading to social enjoyment, boosted self-confidence and raised self-esteem for the seniors. This research has demonstrated that making with materials, social connectedness and the flow in the process of making are essential attributes that can contribute to the overall wellbeing of the elderly. It was also clear that completion is not an end of learning, instead it is a state of continuing change that invites the seniors to explore more creative possibilities. The study hopes to share concerns raised by the senior residents and hence benefit the larger community as programs are designed for retirement centres. This may eventually generate guidelines for directing visual art-making activities for the seniors in retirement centres.

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Outsider Art - Forty Years Out (2016)

No abstract available.

The embodied and emotive role of the art gallery educator (2016)

This self-study outlines the uncertainties and insecurities that art gallery and museum educators face as our roles are defined by shifting policies and mandates in education as well as within the museum. I collaborated with a classroom teacher who observed a tour I gave her grade three class. After an in depth dialogue and ongoing correspondence reflecting upon ways of engaging students, I led her class through another exhibition to see if our collaboration and dialogue shifted my thinking and practice as an art gallery educator. As I searched for a way to articulate my role, I found the roles of collaborator, audience evaluator, and emotive catalyst to be just as valuable as engaging school groups in verbal dialogue in the gallery. The dialogue that was transformative for my thinking was the one outside of the gallery with the teacher. This self-study tells the story of the shifts in my thinking and practice. I learned to hold back information rather than focus on verbal dialogue to allow students to have their own ‘emotive embodied experience’ of learning in the gallery.

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Art education and new media : understanding the roles of artists and educators in the age of immediacy (2014)

This thesis is an act of inquiry into the entangled relationship between new media and art and how art education should re-position itself towards the cultural, political, and social shifts brought on by new media. By positioning new media as an entity yet-to-be-understood, I drew upon Marshall McLuhan’s writings as well as diverse and intersecting views of new media from debates and discussions occurring in multiple fields of studies. These are offered in the hopes of providing various spaces in which we may think about what art and art education is and can be as well as to expose the complexity behind thinking about the relationships among the following terms: contemporary, new, media, art, and education. Questions raised in this study do not stem from a mode of resistance nor celebration, but rather from the positions of being an educator, an artist, and a researcher who seeks to critically and reflexively examine and make sense of her role and that of others in this creative ecology. Toward the end of this journey, it became more evident that new media indeed needs to be embraced and its potentials recognized if art education is to revitalize its curricula and pedagogies. However, to do so, I argue that we must approach new media through art first and foremost, and then new media, focusing on cultivating an environment within which new media is approached and understood from the perspective of artists.

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Trust through art and its practice : a/r/tography study (2014)

Beginning with art as life and art practice as living inquiry , my investigation starts with the question, How can we trust each other through art and its practice?Throughout my Art-based research, A/r/tography study, I examine how I deal with obstacles in my life by looking back at my childhood memories and my artistic practice. I have always been interested in dialogic relationships with others. My past experiences guide me in understanding reciprocal relationships among diverse people who live in multicultural communities. This interest has led me to analyze how the Great East Japan Earthquake that hit Tohoku on March 11, 2011 affected me as a Japanese immigrant. This thesis includes: autobiographic narratives; the visit to Tohoku reflected in my art practice; stories of an artist, Linda Ohama, a Japanese Canadian filmmaker who supports Tohoku people through her art and creative process; and my past art practices. This collection of work (method) represents my own tsunamis as I face privilege, responsibility and respect that reciprocate with my feelings of trust. Tsunami, as a metaphor of life, is a central theme. The problem I have is that I often distrust myself when I encounter obstacles in my life. As I inquire more deeply through my art-based research—conceptually, spiritually, and theoretically—I come to understand that each experience of distrust I have had in the past is an evolution, part of my own tsunamis within which I re-examine the meaning of life, personal values, and humanity. There I learn from the differences between myself and others. This thesis is presented as an event, which includes a series of my own tsunamis, divided into four exhibitions. I welcome and invite you as a reader to become a participant.

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Art from withing: An Encounter with Holocaust art from the Terezin Ghetto (2013)

No abstract available.

Beyond provocation : how viewers make sense of transgressive taboo art (2012)

Transgressive taboo art refers to a controversial visual art genre that deliberately discomforts its viewing audience by provocatively questioning commonly held values and widely accepted socio-cultural constructs. Within this provocation lies the potential for transformative critical reflection, as viewers recursively examine personal acceptance of socio-cultural constructs. But just as this art genre can enlighten, it also can outrage. To unpack the diversity of viewer exchange, the research presented here investigates circumstances in which novice viewers experience a pedagogic interplay and circumstances that cripple the meaning making process. As this contentious genre has largely been avoided by art educators, these findings are then used to make recommendations for optimal inclusion within an educational context. To investigate this complex process, 19 participants were extensively interviewed before, during and after they viewed three transgressive taboo artworks. Transcribed data indicates that viewers approach transgressive taboo art as both an artwork and a problem position. While most participants react with responses similar to traditional art such as comments on colour and composition, they may also engage emotionally and intellectually to the dilemma that the work presents. Often this intellectual engagement begins from an established self-position, then moves outward to the consideration of alternative perspectives. Circumstances that optimize a meaningful viewer exchange include willingness to engage dialogue openly examining intra and interpersonal values and beliefs. Circumstances that thwart engagement include an unending pursuit of artist message, anger due to a significant and specific breach in personal values, cynicism towards the artist/art world, and/or lack of knowledge. Strikingly, strong negative emotional responses and/or traditional art preferences do not necessarily impede viewers from having a meaningful exchange. Recommendations for the inclusion of transgressive taboo art within an educational context include: choosing pieces with pedagogic potential, an emphasis on sincere open dialogue, student self-awareness of personal hot points, exploration of related art history and providing students with guidelines for interpretation and a framework to facilitate art criticism. Recommendations also include two additional steps to the traditional interpretive process of description, interpretation, and evaluation, which include acknowledgement of emotional response and critical reflection of personal/cultural value set(s).

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Personal a/r/tographic narratives of cultural displacement : in Latino American immigrants living in Canada (2012)

Immigration is the act of moving to and settling into a new country. It means starting again while leaving many people and things behind. This phenomenon has been embraced, embodied, lived, celebrated and suffered by many people for various reasons throughout history. Factors such as war and political oppression, poor living conditions, economic opportunity and stability are explanations for why people decide to leave their native countries. Therefore, immigration embodies loss of one’s culture but at the same time embodies celebration for enhanced opportunities, when arriving and adjusting to the codes of a new system. Understanding cultural displacement as the sensation of being in a third space, of having to re-invent yourself again, adjusting day-by-day to a new culture, this study examines how Latin American immigrants to Canada confront cultural displacement.Applying a/r/tography and photo-elicitation as research methodologies the study sets up conditions for participants to engage and construct meaning together about being away from home. This research analyzes the extent to which Latin American immigrants to Canada negotiate being in-between these two spaces (their country of origin and Canada). It does this primarily through the creation of a series of photographs and conversations. Some of the findings reveal that indeed Latin American immigrants acknowledge that the process of settlement in a foreign land is complicated and it takes time to adjust and understand the culture. At the same time Latin American immigrants admit the importance of comprehending, cultivating and embracing Canadian culture, in order to merge easily in its communities. Similarly, the findings unfold the way participants created their own version of what it means to be Canadians rather than learning simply from others about its significance. As immigrants, the group I studied kept some features of Latin cultures alive in Canada, in this way, the study presents a new understanding of what is possible while dwelling in the in-between.

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Learning from and about artists : identity, place, practice (2010)

Learning From and About Artists: Identity, Place, Practice is an inter-personal exploration of thought-processes and activities involved in teaching and artistic practices. As an a/r/tographical living inquiry, the work investigates, disrupts, interprets, and re-creates understandings about how these practices relate to each other and how the three artists participating in the research negotiate their identities within/in-between teaching and making art. The general understanding of who artists are, how/why they produce art, and what/how/why they teach, is problematic if not vague. This investigation helps understand the relation among these questions and the conceptual connections brought forward by and manifested within theory as practice. Starting with the artistic process as shaped by the artists’ educational background, by the artist-teacher identity, and by the studio environment, the inciting question of the research is the following: how do artists understand their artistic practice in relation to their teaching practice? The participants in this study are three practicing artists who are or have been involved with teaching art. Conversations with artists Scott Plear and Thomas Anfield and visits to their studios offered the opportunity to interrogate and explore reflectively and reflexively through conversation, art making and writing. Thinking, values, and ideas transgress and transform with the visuals and texts and the dissolved researcher - researched binary opposition is carried through by a circulation in-between conventional positionings as well as by an autobiographical dimension of the research. This work is significant in its acquired understandings. Art and teaching practices are interconnected and informing each other. Identity, place, practice reflect a processual being-knowing-doing strongly related to a context of perpetual change. A cyclical re-affirmation, with the emphasis on the co-relational slash, draws on a multifaceted artist/teacher identity, thus meeting the conditions of a/r/tography. Vulnerability and Repetition emerge as active concepts and constitute a meaningful commitment to a learning-to-learn performance. The possibilities and experiences of this a/r/t inquiry should inspire teachers, regardless of their practice, to undertake such relational process.

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Publications

 
 

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