I have continued to journal and reflect on the role of art within the concept of 'community engagement'. Thanks to the Woollahra Studio Residency Ive been able to not to make new work but push myself and my practice further into a space that is more open to collaboration and skills sharing. I'd previously taught in the Bachelor of Fine Art Textiles program at UNSW Art & Design and have facilitated various workshops, but I don't think I'd ever consciously considered the links between teaching in academia, my personal practice and skills sharing in the broader community. Maybe it should have been more obvious to me but it wasn't. As a society we are beginning to talk more about community and connection. These concepts have always existed but I think we are only now just beginning to challenge the concept of community and connection for who - who gets access, who gets heard, who gets the support to be heard? How do institutions that are based on colonial and patriarchal systems like schools, universities, councils and health centres evolve in the way they engage with and for communities? Awareness is great but its not enough, its in the doing that change happens. As I've become more vulnerable and more aware of my own position and how I have an impact on those around me I've felt a push to move out of my comfort zone. I feel clumsy and uncomfortable because I'm having to confront the past (things I should have done, ways I should have been) as well as the fact that I'm going to continue to make mistakes. As confronting and uncomfortable as this vulnerable place is right now, a layer of the veil has lifted and I'm moving forward.
The reality is I like not having to be anywhere in particular or having something specific to do. I like quiet productivity and organising my own day. I like big gaps between 'events' or situations where I need to be very visible/interactive. And so October was none of that. October was kids workshops at Woollahra and Paddington Libraries. It was winning a prize as part of the inaugural Seed Stitch Collective Contemporary Art Award hosted by the Australian Design Centre. It was being curated into an exhibition at Peacock Gallery by the wonderful Talia Smith. It was running a community art project at the Viva America Latina Festival at Lyne Park and running an intergenerational workshop as part of the Woollahra Small Sculpture Prize. Don't get me wrong, I love the interaction and meeting new people. I especially enjoy the feedback on people's interaction with my work or my ideas about process and making - especially kids.
But the flip side is that it is draining. It takes a mental and emotional toll because there's a lot of preparation that goes behind these events - scheduling delivery of artwork, organising child care, sending artwork details, installation, preparing materials, preparing workshop plans, the anticipation of how it will go: will people enjoy the workshop? Were there enough materials? Will they think it worthwhile? How could I do better? and so on. It is an art form in itself to balance the desire to earn a living from what you love to do and also care for yourself in what can often feel like that constant hustle to create opportunities, to say yes to everything or else you'll miss out or worse you'll become invisible.
I am thinking a lot about anger and what to do with all of it. At the same time that my world is expanding and opening through listening and reading I am feeling overwhelmed by the sense of injustice. An Australian cartoonist creates a horrible image referring to Serena Williams that is going viral all around the world and the vast majority of people can't see what's wrong with it. A hurtful and racist joke by a black South African comedian emerges made about Australian Aboriginal Women and many come to his defence and make excuses, because comedy. I am reading The Hate Race by Maxine Baneba Clarke and a few pages in I am already in tears because I know exactly what she felt. I am reading Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates and I recognise that threat of violence on the black body - its in my DNA. What to do with all the anger? How to honour the complex feelings? How to go through the sense of futility?
All I can do is to keep going. To keep making...stitch after stitch. I pour these feelings and thoughts into the work. I make the anger soft and pliable. I make the futility colourful and bright. I make the complexity a beautiful web of interconnected threads.
I've fallen behind in blog posts and referring back to my journal to remind me of the whirlwind that has been the last few months. My joint exhibition "Playdate" with my son Tomas opened on the 3rd of August at AIRspace Projects and it was a truly wonderful experience to share with Tom and my partner Anthony. They came along to the opening and so did a bunch of amazing supportive friends. It was great to have that support because I hate openings if I am the one showing! It always turns out to be a good experience but I don't enjoy the lead up and the stress and anxiety that comes from putting yourself and your work out there. In this instance it was more stressful than usual because I also had Tomas to consider and I didn't want my anxieties affecting him. But Tomas was great, he loved it! Towards the end of the exhibition we also did an artist talk together and Tomas spoke about his work. Together with my friend and fellow artist Alex Falkiner we also ran an experimental workshop called "Making Time". The workshop explored the concepts of play, collaboration and building mutual respect through creative exchange. It was specifically designed for parents/carers and their children to spend time making together. We had a great time at the workshop and created a temporary installation which remained up for the duration of the exhibition period. I somehow also managed to get myself organised enough to begin entering work into prizes...and...was lucky enough to have two works accepted in the Little Things Art Prize developed by Marnie Ross and hosted by St Cloche Gallery in Paddington. Pushing myself to do many of these events has been hard work, not just in terms of the investment of time and resources but the emotional toll that comes with it. Happily a momentum has been building, and as I take more risks and give, I have also been receptive and receiving.
July felt like it went painfully slowly and then suddenly it was over. Despite it being the school holidays and planning activities to keep my active 5yr old son busy, I had a fairly productive month. My new ritual of borrowing books from the library has continued and I've also kept journalling. Although most of the actual making this month did not occur in the studio, I was able to keep working on starting new small pieces. I did have a few days where I was able to do a few consecutive hours work in the studio and these were wonderful opportunities to just put my head down and make. The time away from the studio was spent in nature which is a constant source of inspiration. I don't consider myself to draw from nature directly, its more the feeling of fullness and peace that I take from spending time meandering, listening to the birds or sitting in the sun absorbing the warmth. Towards the end of the month the focus turned to an upcoming exhibition and workshops I am developing to be shown at AIRspace Projects in Marrickville. I have been part of the AIRspace committee since the start of the year and love the community feel of the exhibition space and team. The exhibition is titled "Playdate" and includes the work of my son Tomas as well as mine. Being a parent has added a layer of experience which I bring to my art practice. Tomas sees himself as an artist too and I felt it important to have an exhibition that encouraged dialogue around being a parent and an artist and the dynamics of sharing your art space/practice/materials with your child and how they in turn impact on how you view and approach making. Together with friend and fellow artist Alex Falkiner we will be offering a workshop for parents/carers and their child to create together. To read more information on the exhibition click here and for workshops here
I am looking back through my journal as a write this post about June. I had felt frustrated at my slow progress last month and this month was more of the same. I had been equating slowing down and progressing at a slower pace as something negative, unproductive and to be "fixed". I felt like I needed to have something more substantial to show for the time I had spent in the studio. There were lots of "interruptions"...life kept interfering and when you equate art making to "me" time I felt like I was forced to leave myself till last. I started to get myself some books from the library whilst my son was in once of his classes. Reading and reflecting started to turn things around. I realised slowing down was necessary and actually very important for the work that I make. Some of the things I wrote in my journal were:
1. Working from intuition requires deep listening
2. Allowing myself to be vulnerable
3. The importance of observing and absorbing
I spent most of this month starting multiple new works, and not feeling like I had to finish anything before I went on the something new. Towards the end of the month I had a couple of wonderful things happen. Firstly I was invited to take part in a new project run by Sophie from Curatorial & Co which involved working with amazing videographer Flore Vallery-Radot, I hope to share more details on this very soon. The other wonderful experience was running two workshops as part of Kafe as Poume run by Eleni Christou. I ran a crochet workshop and one on soft sculpture at the Community and Refugee Welcome Centre in Lilyfield as part of Inner West Festival 2018. I love the magical space for exchange and connection created through workshops. This time of self reflection and working with amazing women who are driven, kind and generous has deepened my understanding of what it can mean to be engaged with community as an artist and individual. I have come to embrace that slowness as an essential part of what it means to grow. I'm very much looking forward to continuing to develop my work alongside concepts of community, exchange and connection.
I had assumed/expected that May would be productive like last month. I was excited because the school holidays were over and I could return to the studio most days during the week...some kind of routine would return. But no. May was a month of having to pause, to make work in the edges of an hour or two in the studio. It was frustrating, there was admin (tax) to deal with, framing and deadlines for a couple of exhibitions, the disappointment of a couple of projects falling through and feeling like I wasn't doing enough, fast enough. I felt like I was starting all over again, having made some large works last month I now had to make smaller pieces that could later be joined to create new works. On reflection it wasn't an unproductive month. The time I spent making in the studio I had also spent reading books and articles as well as listening to some new podcasts which have literally given me new life in terms of mindset and strategies for approaching art/life balance. I had to be kinder to myself and take the pressure off trying to achieve unrealistic goals. I spent time at Centennial Park with my son, we love exploring together and noticing the change of seasons. We had some wonderful warm sunny days before cold snaps reminded us that winter was approaching slowly but surely. And little by little things got better even though I couldn't get to the studio as consistently as I would have liked. I packed a little "portable studio" in a tote bag and would do a little work whenever I could in between studio time. Work began to accumulate once more, new works have begun to emerge and I even managed to have two successful group exhibitions. The first exhibition was Invisible Bridges curated by Cassia Bundock in the Northern Beaches and the second was a wonderfully refreshing informal show by Backyart titled Origins and curated by Aisha Phillips and Zoe Edema. I have also been reflecting on the amazing women that I have connected and met with over these past few months, a few of whom funnily enough are part of the local community. I am feeling excited for all that is to come as I continue to refine and develop the workshops and opportunities for dialogue and exchange as part of Heartstrings. At this stage these will mostly be scheduled for the spring season over the months of September, October and November. What I do hope to do beforehand is hold one or two open studio days so stay tuned!
April in the studio (and life) was intense and productive. I had my birthday, the Easter long weekend and lots of meetings and organising to do for upcoming events. On top of all that I had set myself a deadline to finish 6 large hybrid form artworks by the second week of April...and somehow I did. The Document Photography team of Sarah and Pat did an amazing job of professionally photographing my work in the small studio. Although the 6 pieces were "finished" and I was happy with how the work looked, I had been so busy making I hadn't stopped to reflect on the work. And so the rest of April was spent sitting with the work, reflecting on the connections and dialogue between the series so far but also with past work. The importance of having a dedicated place and space both mental and physical to make hit me profoundly. I felt/feel that I am in the right place at the right time doing what I am meant to be doing. So many feels. This month I also had my first studio visitors, I met one on one with dear friends who are also creatives as well as some curators and gallery directors. I finally made it to Paddington Library to see the Pop Up Posters exhibition by the Artist in Residence artists and fell a little bit in love with the library space. It was also wonderful to deliver a collaborative making workshop to Woollahra Council Staff and meet with the Councillors together with the other 3 artists in residence. Towards the end of the month I had the opportunity to use The Australian Design Centre as a temporary studio space and discuss my work in progress and materials.
To see the finished artworks I have created so far click here
March marked the beginning of the residency. All four artists were given keys and allocated studios. I instantly felt a sense that all was in alignment when I was shown my space downstairs that has a window looking out onto the street. This is the first time I've had a studio space to myself. I had been so used to working from home, having to unpack and pack away my "studio" each day from the dining room table, working amongst the chaos that can be family life with a young child. I anticipated having this studio would be life changing, not only because it would provide much needed making space but mind/thinking space. Successfully gaining the residency was also a huge affirmation and confidence boost. With my son happy in preschool during the week I have been able to develop a consistent daily practice. I am so looking forward to what is to come: workshops, open studio days and opportunities to connect creatively!
Read more about the Woollahra Artist in Residence program and about the 2018 artists here