Friday, June 7, 2013

exchanging stories: telling the story - Part I

Preparing to present an artist's talk at the conference I attended over the weekend was an interesting challenge. I've become accustomed to doing the 30 min talk with slides over the past 4 years in varying venues and to all kinds of groups. This was a very specific audience however, gathered to dialogue on complex issues around climate change ... many were artists in interdisciplinary practices across the Sciences, Ecology and Technology... others from broader disciplines again, so it was a potentially intimidating audience if ever there was one.


The preparation time extended over days and late nights rather than the hours I often set aside to  assemble a similar talk. At the back of my mind was the leading thought from the conference website:

Balance-Unbalance is a major International Conference designed to use art as a catalyst to explore intersections between nature, science, technology and society as we move into an era of both unprecedented ecological threats and transdisciplinary possibilities. 

Each slide I put up I felt had to speak to that question somehow, the idea of  art as catalyst... and the Transdisciplinary possibilities. I decided on telling my story to give the context of why I do this project and why it continues and why exactly I'm now working a book. 

In this post I have given context to the times and experiences that shape my present work and ongoing project ... and it will be in Part II of this story that I address the Homage to the seed project itself. This deals with the years till 2000 when I moved back to Newcastle.

So this is where I started...

I grew up in Grafton on the banks of the Clarence River in a small regional city in Northern NSW, Australia that was settled early on in terms of White Australian history. Cedar was intensively logged, so much so that the remains are mostly what was lost under silt in the river from what I've heard. The tree most honoured however was the Jacaranda, an introduced species planted in such numbers that the city celebrates it annually by nominating a Queen and Princess and running all kinds of civic celebrations. As a young child I looked forward to the mauve ice cream and festivities ... the royal family seemed very grand and all this fuss over a tree was to be admired.

Years later, late 2011 in fact, when ensconced at the KEW Millennium Seedbank in the UK  on Residency, the Jacaranda seed with its fine wing-like collar was the first seed I picked up and put under the microscope to draw. This is that seed above... used as the introductory image for my presentation.

Stories are often best located geographically...

in this case in a stream of consciousness drawing in the pages
 of a book during a history lesson in later high school years.

mapping has always helped make sense of the changes...

Newcastle, where I attended Art school was an industrial city
with the kind of history its people were made to feel embarrassed 
by. We still scapegoat our miners today when we disown our 
reliance on fossil fuels and distance ourselves from the people
 doing the dirty work we dont want to think about. My hope is 
that we will scale-up alternative energy production methods and 
diminish land degradation and all the corresponding ills that 
come with the fossil fuel industry... but the experience of living
 in Newcastle has shown me not to make the mistake of despising 
the people who toil over these 'dirty' industries on our behalf.

I talked of my preoccupation over years with finding my way...
searching for authenticity which seemed so illusive back then.
despite the 4 years at art school, and majoring in painting which I
adored, this small stitched work on linen about 25 x 25 cm square
... a piece I worked on at home for something to do during the end
of the first year break over summer... this really epitomises the truth
of my life at that time... all possibility, caught between anxiety and
excitement fro the future, yet with no idea how I could do what I
really wanted to be doing... like living a productive artist's life.
I'd trained to become a Secondary Art Teacher and nothing
on my landscape pointed towards any other means of getting on
other than teaching. There was no map or clues for the other path.

This instead became the map I needed during my first year
out of art school with my degree on a piece of paper. This
map of train lines was it... I had no car and the job I was doing
 was casual teaching... getting early morning phone calls to
come to some dot on this map and perform in front of a class
of strangers and act like I knew what I was doing. There was
in fact a lot of acting during this year after leaving a familiar
life in a smaller community for life in the suburbs of Sydney. 

This map seemed to predict the uncertain direction I was taking

With no money to travel Overseas I decided before the first year
in Sydney was out to spend time in Melbourne .. a wise decision
which gave me chance to think and explore other things for a while.

Five months in Melbourne didnt make it home so I came
back to Sydney to be closer to friends and the familiar.

That didn't work out. I lived in Newtown, close to the city,
but even the stimulation of inner city living could not fix 
the felling of being displaced and lost in a life that wasn't 
mine. What was this life I felt I should be living?  Where?

A car accident on a trip up north in winter halted everything
for a while. I stayed with relatives in Taree whilst my car was
fixed. 2 weeks later had a new job planned teaching music
at the local High School and returned to Sydney to pack.

Taree took me to stunning landscape, connecting with the divide
between old and new... tradition and alternative thinking coming
in with the arrival of hippies and alternate lifestyles. My own 
family heritage was in this landscape on my mothers side so this 
was an interesting period to observe.  was now an outsider for
quite different reasons than I had been down the highway in 
Sydney. The biggest divide in this country town was racial...
indigenous people on the outside and the white settlers central.

A Dept of Education telegram arrived a year after to go south 
to Eden near the border of NSW and Victoria. Eden was a 
 a stunning coastal town with a long and fascinating history of
whaling, fishing  and logging. This image from the southern 
side of Twofold Bay  looks north to Eden... the scar on the 
landscape is the Japanese owned Wood-chip Mill that was fed 
by the south east forests of Australia... still 30 odd years later 
 still a hotspot of debate. It was both a region of sublime beauty
and bitter debates. Fights broke out in the classroom here about 
forests being logged... and people talked of over-fishing in the 80's.

Journals are an all-important companion in a mobile life... travel
and moving around can certainly take their toll whilst simultaneously
providing a vast amount of information and experience that needs
processing to fully glean what is coming at one half the time.

London-based for two years I wenton sojourns to see ancient 
 Mediterranean sites, museums and the contrasting new. It was open 
ended exploration where one of the greatest surprises was the
 fact that just about every time I hooked up with a traveller to make 
a journey or pass the day I'd find they were artists of some kind
 and hearing tale after tale of why and how people gave their
lives to pursuing art. One day it hit me out of the blue that this
was happening as if by divine intervention. Certainly it was 
uncanny and began to challenge my thinking along the lines of
one cant be an artist without the funds, if not good enough etc etc 
and slowly I began to revise this thinking, one step at a time.

Orkney Islands in Scotland, Rome, Hundertwasser in Vienna, Turkey

Greece ... 4 months in Greece and wanting to stay longer if I'd 
had the chance to make something of the stay... I wavered and left.

I arrived in Melbourne in 1988... pretty skint after travels, starting
from scratch again... a big new chapter making it up as I went.

I found the perfect house for a life of creating... not far from the river
this time I was in a city but felt a kinship with the geography of the 
river and bushland which made for a very different sense of belonging
... that and Melbourne's kitchen table culture of conversation and 
shared meals, This was somewhere that felt so right for making stories.

Shopping at markets and large rambling gardens

the time in Greece filtered into my studio 

and sent me researching far and wide

I couldn't move on until I'd done with the past and made it fit the 
life I wanted to live somehow.

the ideas of my current project were germinated here

Photos of my time in Collingwood, the shopfront studio which
which was an early Artist-Run-Space named Themata Studio 
were left out. Over 4 years in this hub... it was incredibly lively
and at times plain exhausting. The material worked on at the 
studio came from the years in the quiet of the old Kew house.

Summing up these early years for the conference talk was an 
honest appraisal of this formative time which was really lived
so underground in many ways. Even when based at the shop-
front where I also lived I craved a certain anonymity at odds
with the public access and the kinds of dialogue it prompted.
After I left this project and people would say they had heard of
it I found myself feeling ill-at-ease, even horrified at times at
the exposure and braod audience it had brought my way.

I will leave off with the slides here... in part because it deals with the move to Newcastle as an individual maturing into a completely different life phase... and starts to tell an entirely different story at this point. One of those who attended my session Saturday is someone I know of from Brisbane... an artist Iv'e crossed paths with but sadly not had a chance to get to know at all. I appreciated her remarks re the telling of story going back in time as she said it allowed her to see the all-important context over years... putting a knew slant on the work... perhaps intimating things that hadn't come through before about my work or project. 

My niece had gone through the 150 slides with me a couple of nights before and had been surprised to learn of my life in this new telling. She loves art, is actually  very talented yet pursues music and song writing rather than the visual. She's followed my adventures over years yet was fascinated to discover the telling at this point of the journey.   

I included a lot of images of artworks through the years and also images of seeds and pods later in the talk... so it was not difficult to get through 150 slides in 30 mins with questions time. Many stories told themselves in the gallery of images.

This slideshow preparation and talk has been hugely helpful in the process of working on the book. Which is why it took so long to prepare this time. the more consciousness one brings to the unfolding story then the more tangents one may veer off on. The challenge was to be relevant... to encapsulate the key themes visually and in my elaborations where necessary.

There is much more to bring to the surface yet... plus the filtering process to condense content whilst also including material from other sources. I have also renewed my connection with a wonderful facilitator Bev Ryan who is working extensively with women in publishing networks... an able mentor and facilitator of the program I did last year that I am again working with to support the progress of the book. 

All the planning going on in the background for vacating our now sold home on June 26th ... and the subsequent month waiting to move to the next house has affected progress... so I am delighted to have gained a circle of others in the book realm to be touching base with every two weeks in Webinars,  a monthly meet and chat and such. 

No plans have been made yet for the 4 week period between houses... only yesterday we were shocked to learn the two week wait had gone to 4 weeks so I am now rethinking what is possible ... if travelling to stay outside Brisbane is perhaps a good idea. A working holiday... a writers residency ... a very humble, low cost writers residency that would need to be.

All ideas considered at this point!

best to all,

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About Me

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Blogging for me is an extension of keeping a journal which I have done in various forms over the decades. The difference being this is not a closed book! I like that it offers an opportunity to explore that which concerns me as an artist and as an individual about living and participating in this vastly complex, unquestionably exciting yet unnerving time in human history. Through the blog I hope to increase the possibilties for cross-pollination which I believe can strengthen the sense of being part of something both personal and universal that is vital, expansive and refreshing.