Pour only when your own cup is full… South West International Women’s Day Art Prize

Earlier this year I submitted an artwork to the Women’s Health & Wellbeing Barwon South West Inc. International Women’s Day Art Prizehttp://www.womenshealthbsw.org.au/art-prize. This year’s theme was to “Be”. It asked artists to consider what it was or meant to “Be” from ones perspective or position in in the world as a woman. I last submitted work to the art prize in 2015 for their inaugural exhibition themed “Women & Place”. After completing my PhD I felt it important that I develop a work for the show. I considered my responses to the theme in the months leading up to the closing date. The final concept solidified in a moment of honesty and surrender on the eve of the closing date. It was one of the most important works I’ve ever found the courage to make.

“Pour only when your own cup is full” was an act of drawing a line in the sand, it was the artistic equivalent of shaving my head. It was as much a performance as it was as installation or sculpture in absenteeism. Not making an artwork was like choosing to breathe for the first time in years, to let go, to not force, to not exert myself on the tread(trend)mill running from the fear of disappearing, slaying temporal sacrifices to the creative gods of “not giving up”.

I described the rationale of this submission to another artist on the night of the award opening. She laughed, for a few reasons, and then blurted out “it sounds like giving up”. And perhaps it did, or does. And in the wake of this artwork I was scared of that. There has been a forward urging in my body since before I arrived at this sandstone bay 20 years ago, a compelling surging drive entangled in my creativity and my politics, in my imagination and my will to live. It has brought me amazing experiences but at many stages the requirements of tending to it has brought me to the darkest nights of my soul. It has foreclosed other opportunities, it has taken time and attention from my family. Through the many stages of conclusion to my PhD (my amendments were approved on April 3 this year!!) I have found myself reassessing what it means “to make it”, what does success mean, what does it look like? For the whole of my embodied world, not just its artistic dimension.

Accordingly there has been something liberating about the installation. When asked what kind of art I make I always explain that I work across mediums in order to find the most appropriate materials and methodology for the given situation- be that a PVC pipe river built inside my house or a high altitude camera launched into the stratosphere. This artwork exemplifies that ethos. There is a lovely confidence that has come through this piece- some of this is in that despite its lack of form and whiffs of academic wankerey it made it through the selection process- and some of this comes from that sense of catching my breath: I have moved into a new space as an artistic, I have lost something frantic and fearful from my motivation, I have more resolve to work at a pace that is sustainable.

For now success is balance.

Kang O Meerteek

Kang O Meerteek was an incredible project for the community of Narrawong. It was funded through a Small Town Transformation Grant through Regional Arts Victoria. The place based project stirred the earth and history for this coastal community just east of Portland. Driven through brilliant creative minds the project was a symbiosis of landscape, indigenous culture, settler history, ecology and art. You can track the history of the project through Kang O Meerteek’s Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/kangomeerteekstt/

The township of Narrawong celebrated the conclusion of their extensive art-led community development project through the unveiling of two amazing public artworks. One is the stainless steel sculpture of a flame comprised of 6 meter high leaf-like forms. It was created by local indigenous artist Wal Saunders titled Mayapa Weeyn (Make Fire). The second sculpture sits further below and closer to chose at the mouth of the Surry River. Made of blue stone it is a remarkable sundial with the four directions marked by exquisite stone carvings of piece of whale created by Glenn Romans & Mark Trinham. It is called Koontabpul Thirng Wuul (Whale Sun Shadow).

Sometime in the haze of the third stage of birthing my PhD two of the project leads, Jodie Honan and Deborah Saunders reached out and invited me to curate a series of ephemeral textile works along the trail to each sculpture – the grand unveiling of the two amazing public artworks that map and activate the rich and complex history of the area. You can see footage of the installation via the link below. https://youtu.be/F3XmqwJj9J0

I met with Deb & Jodie on a special day last July. We walked the sites together and they explained their project, process, and artworks to me. All of a sudden I felt really honoured to have been asked to participate by these beautiful wise women. The opening weekend was ultimately scheduled for November. Following a conscious decision to better link my creative life with my family life my two daughters joined me for the installation.

Three sets of eco-died curtains were positioned along the Saw Mill Track at Mt Clay. The ghostly textiles were skilfully made by Deb Saunders- I think that they really activated the trail. The other works included collected sticks that had coloured wool wound around the ends. Embedded in the bush forest they looked like totem flowers.

This was a great gig. Utterly loved my role on its fringe. Make the trip to Narrawong and complete the trail between the two sculptures – drop in to the Bay of Whales Gallery while you are there and call in on Deb at SWAMP’s Tyrendarra Art Space on your way.

Shifting gears

Completing my PhD research put me in a place of needing to effect the world from a different angle. Working in alignment with community development and health promotion through my years of community arts facilitation drew me to this field. My research had focused on how it is we create the spaces around us and conversely how those same spaces create us- I recognised an easy confluence between the space making practices of installation art and of community development.

It is also a field that lends itself to creative thinking, both in terms of project delivery and adaptation as well as utilising the arts as a vehicle for engagement. It’s been a really good space to channel my energy.

My first official role was as Age-friendly Communities Project Officer at a neighbouring local government. The purpose of the role is to foster opportunities that make it easier for older people to stay connected to the community and to live healthy, independent lives for as long as possible. There are layers and layers to this work, it has led me to draw on varied research from the tangible health benefits of social connection (go look up the Coalition to End Loneliness https://www.endloneliness.com.au/ as well as the Social Cure https://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/bigideas/the-health-effect-of-social-contact/9720152 ) to the wrath of ageism to barriers to transport in regional Australia …. and more and more…

One of the rather interesting realms that this work has taken me into is the area of death, and our tendencies to avoid the topic which causes us (ironically) a whole heap of unnecessary grief right when we can least afford it. In October and November last year I worked on a project that brought the “end-of-life roadshow -Unspoken: what will become of me” to Corangamite Shire. This involved chaperoning Born in a Taxi’s “Fallen Angels” street theatre troop through the Cobden Spring Festival & the Camperdown Rock the Clock. It was a blast. Attaching angle wings to two of my off-spring and employing their services in the gig added to the delight.

I have continued to work in the age-friendly communities space and have also recently begun work as an elder abuse prevention worker. This later role has required me to dig into the imagination bank and produce an arts-led community awareness campaign. The “Warm Safe Home Project” is its title. The core of this project emerged from my PhD research and the years spent examining the home/house and the intersection it facilitates between body and world. In many cultures the home is a symbol of security and safety, in family violence situations- such as elder abuse- however, the home can become a space of fear. In addition, it is access to housing itself that can exacerbate the risks associated with elder abuse. This project was launched at World Elder Abuse Awareness Day events Warrnambool and Timboon this June- the Commissioner for Senior Victorians Gerard Mansour even made the very first campaign house. I am proud of this little project and really excited to see where it goes over the next twelve months.

A significant body of work…

Over the course of my research I made a number of series of artworks that explored the intersection between the body and the environment. The home- the built house and the domestic interior- became a significant framework through which to map this intersection. Presenting these works at the ANU Sculpture Workshop as part of my PhD examination provided me with the opportunity to install these works together. Functioning as another test site, this proxy domestic space honoured the virtual one that illuminated my imagination throughout the research process. I plan to revisit these works and this format- there is unfinished business here that deserves fuller realisation in its own exhibition process.

Bringing the video work “Gaia is Symbiosis as seen from Space” into this installation was again critical to activating the artworks. A sense of this is captured in the video found via this link: https://youtu.be/REWz7kWsOEI