Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Stepping back (so far)

I live in a new house now and have somewhat of a shiny new life. It’s taken me some getting used to - I’m still letting the sheen wash over me if it’s overwhelming, still watching the same things on TV to chase an old sense of familiarity. The novelty of running around inner city ovals and walking to and from work, studio, home has not lessened in these past months, neither has the novelty of company, or lack thereof.

I find myself reflecting on this year prematurely, as I try to collate and box up most things retrospectively before they’re even over. A common thread was the opinion of select individuals who frustratingly seemed to construe that I’d “stepped back” this year. Recently a women I did not know at the Spring 1883 Art Fair asked me: “Why did you choose to take the year off?” when in fact I merely took my first 11 day holiday in five years, and, merely faced some of the biggest personal challenges and changes of my short but full life.

This perception of an apparent “stepping back” has much to do with I think the unavoidable fact that I will never again be the effervescent new kid on the block, and nor will I be as young as I was when I first, how do you say “burst on the scene”, not as fresh faced as I was last week or even yesterday. I can see how my work can easily be taken for granted due to my somewhat prolific nature and generosity with it on social media. It’s understandable that the opportunities I had when I was younger seem (in the eyes of others) to dwarf those I’m given (and work hard for) now.

A part of me wants to list the things I’ve done this year to prove to myself and whomever will listen that I have not in fact slowed down or lost some momentum in my practice as so many people seem to think. To remain on the high road I will not write that list, however present you with my argument that the perception is merely an unfair illusion of retrospective comparisons coupled with the problematic attitude wherein women are forced to outdo themselves in youth and achievements. We are not only supposed to be in competition with other women, but in competition with ourselves. In other words, your next selfie should exceed your previous in hotness and on-point self-depreciating caption irony.

At what I am told is the ripe old age of 25, I feel like I am in the midst of some sort of skewed new beginning of my so-called art career. Like anti-aging impossibilities the standards your audience can place on you for being an artist (particularly a young female artist), and the standards you place on yourself, are infinitely unachievable. Perhaps I will never again make enough, or exhibit the ‘right type’ of work to satiate the taste of those who believe an artist is a disposable entity who, if they don’t make work solely to outdo or one-up oneself and share it regularly with the world, it is as irrelevant and useless as if they literally “took time off” and made nothing.

I won’t fully broach the other side of this argument, which concerns the notion that retreating however briefly or slightly from social media and/or the “public eye”, or that stopping making artwork to move house, or to take a holiday with your partner is the equivalent to entirely disappearing. There’s something so sinister about that idea of being completely reliant for your existence and life’s work to be valued not only on the amount you make, but of what you display. While I don’t think that I have actually retreated from my practice at all this past year, not allowing an artist the right to do so without immediately being deemed irrelevant is really dangerous.

I’m moving out of my freshman studio at Gertrude Contemporary in December, which was awarded to me on a wing and a prayer two years ago. The reality of this feels like a step further out into this post-honeymoon art world and subsequent new beginning that I’m just realising exists. You can be criticised for making, you can be criticised for not making, and you can be criticised for not making even when you have been making. Sheesh.

It recently was a pleasure to reflect on the beginnings of my art practice by compiling over 70 of my collages from the past 5 years into a book published by Canadian publishers Bywater Bros Editions, which launched at the 2016 New York Art Book Fair. The works together are so idyllic, a snapshot of a time when I was that effervescent new kid on the block, and my work shone not unlike my new house shines to me now ‘cause stepping through that door was so unlike anything before it. The book is an intimately curated collection of presumptions of innocence, presumptions that youth and whatever associated beauty that comes with youth are forever, and presumptions that art will always come as easy as it first did due to having absolutely no prior expectations of ones work, not to mention no one else having them, either.

I wanted to write this to assure you that I have not in fact ‘stepped back’, and that if I do, it will be for justified personal reasons, and only ever (hopefully) for short periods of time. If there is something I have learnt about being an artist in the mere 3.5 years post-graduating, it’s that my practice changes every single day. I step in and out of showing, in and out of inspiration, in and out of making, and it’s hard. Neither I nor any other creative person should be criticised for that.

So Far can be purchased via my Big Cartel here:

Monday, June 6, 2016

Stay Nervous

Excited thoughts of writing a blog post tonight were met equally with grandly anxious thoughts regarding how long it's been since I last wrote a blog post. This blog is far more sporadic these days, I don't keep the routine I used to tucked up in bed clacking away on the keys religiously each night. Now, it is maybe every third night, fourth night, week or month. It doesn't matter. My physical being continues to writhe with thoughts and sentences, they are just consumed by a lesser in numbers audience. When I have something to share farther or wider I do so and I move on. There's not so much rambling anymore, aimless points or shoots.

Instagram lately has even slightly lost its sheen for me, I don't know what it is - I think it too got too entwined in my routine, it became a task, bordering on an obligation. In light of this I need to make things more interesting for myself and my audience, whether the latter be dwindling or not. 'Lately' has been a patch of obligations and necessaries, mostly working part-time, making big decisions, very slowly venturing into adult territory. I think this patch has contributed to my lack of things to share or say online.

For the past 12 weeks I've been teaching two classes at Monash University. On top of that, working three days a week at my part-time job. I felt like I was working full time, and it drained a lot of my usual life out of me. I've done maybe one drawing and one collage over this time, and it hasn't been enough to satisfy me. My mind wanders at these points, to destructive and useless thought patterns. That I'm too old now to enjoy success, that I might not have anything more to offer creatively, what's the point, et al. I know these statements are blatantly untrue, but in a specific bubble they can appear clear and scathing.

To escape this bubble I convinced myself and subsequently my boyfriend that we should take a trip somewhere, Japan, maybe, as soon as humanly possible. I can spend some of my hard earned teaching cash and in the meantime have something other than my non-creativeness to fixate on. It's worked a treat and I wish I'd done it 1, 2, or 3 years ago. My last overseas trip was in 2012, which seems an enormous amount of time ago given that air travel and the rest is almost as accessible as a bus fare. I just always had an excuse not to. I didn't want to go alone, I had this project, or that, or an exhibition, or maybe something might come up, or maybe something might go wrong? I am a worrier. I digress. I've done it now. Booked the flights and accommodation that is. Bought a phrase book and wrote a list of all the places I want to go and see and take pictures and buy souvenirs. I can't wait to be a tourist again. To view everything in awe rather than in bore(dom), to come back feeling inspired and refreshed. That's the plan, anyway.

Last week I had a really nasty virus which caused me to have to spend a few successive days in bed. On the evening of one of those days I was required to go to an opening of an art prize I had been shortlisted for. Feeling massively under the weather I went with my Mum and boyfriend and I ended up winning the $5000 first prize. It felt like a dream, you know when they start talking about who has won before they tell you the name, and so they're describing my work and I realised it was me and walked in like slow motion, sniffing, onto the stage? I just felt like oh wow, winning something feels great - I've never actually won an art competition/prize before and it was really satisfying. So, I can't remember why else I bought this up other than to mention that it happened... but maybe as a little beacon amongst a rather stagnant phase of my creative existence detailed above.

Last night I was getting over my virus feeling a little sorry for myself still and my boyfriend came over and we watched Lost in Translation and it was great, you know, I forgot what it was like to get excited about something, like a place, and immerse yourself thoroughly in this thing until you get so excited you can hardly sit still. With excitement for me invariably comes nervousness, but I credit a degree of nervousness to getting me "where I am today" (Clearly I don't really know where that is exactly). Anyway, Penny Modra from The Good Copy had a T-shirt made of her mantra which is "Stay Nervous" and I love it and she's right.

I stay nervous quite easily as people are always asking me "What's next for you?" as if I have to say something really exciting, as if I have to one up myself again and again. Something is next but I've decided it's not going to come out in an inhumanly slight amount of time as my other projects have tended to. I'm going to work, and breathe in between. I shouldn't be staying nervous about running out of time to work, but staying nervous about running out of time to breathe. I'll always keep a reasonable balance of both, I just do the former automatically and the latter I need a few reminders and a little bit of encouragement. Baby steps. Baby steps 8,254 kilometres across the ocean. :)

Collage by me commissioned for the cover of the Winter issue of Imprint magazine.

Monday, March 28, 2016

March 2016

It's exhilarating to anticipate the words coming out of someone's mouth so much that you're almost mouthing them yourself as an attempt to coax the phrase into reality. To be in sync with someone so fully that the same things come to mind, gradually moving closer and closer each other in the same sphere, finding humour in the same things, sharing space physically and metaphorically. I've never fully experienced this before and its a strange new world, but tingly and exciting.

I have a new part-time job teaching drawing at Monash University, one day a week for first semester. I'm enjoying the challenge - applying my skills to a completely different discipline. I'm also finding it challenging to project that confidence you need to maintain the respect and admiration of your students - clumsily moving the drawing props, being mistaken for a student by the administration staff, wearing colourful and fun clothes that may not be helping me in the long run. Some of the students want to be there, some don't, and I need to figure out how to fully turn that around.

I've also opened two exhibitions since we last spoke, my solo exhibition at Daine Singer 'Let Love Shine' and 'Dancing Umbrellas' at Heide Museum of Modern Art, a group exhibition that I have an installation within. I'm proud of everything I've done over the past month, but also exhausted, and wanting to focus elsewhere for the next few weeks. Things are changing, as usual, but I'm encouraging them to change gradually. This is important for me to maintain some sort of strangle hold on where my life is going, but sometimes delays any real progress.

I had a lovely family day yesterday on Easter Sunday, lunch with my boyfriend's family and then dinner with my family - wonderful, soul affirming and laced with laughter. We planned an elaborate easter egg hunt for my twin cousins, we ran around in the fading light of my family garden and the air was still and cooler than it has been in months. I'm buying turtlenecks, long sleeves, preparing for impending winter that I don't dread with the same darkness as I used to - now the lacking light and warmth are just a mild inconvenience because of the wonderful company I'm lucky to keep.

Some pictures from recently in no semblance of order

Card by Alice Oehr

Jess Johnson at the National Gallery of Victoria 

In SISTER Studios jumpsuit

Dale Frank reflection during install at Dancing Umbrellas 

At the Collingwood Children's farm

Don't bother going to the Jurassic World exhibition at the Melbourne Museum. Seriously.

Play school or Art school?

Rainbow wardrobe in the sun 

Chicken by Alice Oehr
Decorations by my Mum 

At the Dancing Umbrellas opening wearing Alpha60

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Let Love Shine - A Review of Madonna's Rebel Heart Concert in Melbourne, 12/03/16

It seems appropriate to give some context to my Madonna fandom before beginning this review. Since I was 14 I’ve liked her sincerely and wholeheartedly with fervor to rival a modern-day One Direction fan. In 2005 I lay on my stomach of our carpeted floor in front of the television and watched her perform Like A Prayer as a part of the Live 8 Concert. This was the first time I’d seen Madonna perform, indeed not the first time I’d heard a song of hers; but the first time I’d taken notice. I felt an excitement, a tingling – at the same time that I wanted to be her I equally had a crush on her. It began here, not the usual trajectory for a Madonna fan that may have grown up with her in the 80s, dancing joltingly to her tracks at clubs – but one nevertheless.

I was alone in this fandom. It was a time when CDs were still a relevant currency and records were not yet cool again. I spent all my money at JB HI FI, a new album each week, Ray of Light to You Can Dance. Confessions on a Dancefloor had just come out, Madonna’s ode to disco - and I was alone in thinking it was brilliant. Friends mocked the pink leotard she wore in the Hung Up film clip saying she was too old to wear such a thing – I fashioned the same costume and wore it to a fancy dress sweet sixteenth.

I ran a Madonna fan site that I set up and coded myself. I would just crowd it with pictures of Madonna sourced from Google images, and quotes that I felt were the most brilliantly inspiring phrases ever to grace mankind. Her pictures populated my bedroom walls, and even as I grew older going through phase after phase, my love lust for Madonna remained constant to this day over a decade later.

Last night, I saw Madonna in concert for the first time. I went alone. Not only was I lacking in anyone to convince to attend alongside me, but it seemed appropriate that my fandom culminate in what I hoped would be a sublime experience, alone alongside 15,000 people.

I arrived right on time and her presence filled the stage just as I took my seat. A rogue grin literally took over my face as I followed her tiny frame with my eyes, making the connection between this woman and the one I’ve thought about sort of existing somewhere up in the sky for over ten years. She was real and in front of me and that reality was intoxicating.

I was unlucky to be seated next to the only three straight men in attendance who delighted in the fact that I had gone to the concert alone. They informed me through chugs of beer that they were here after the football on a bet of which they were the losers. I angled my body towards the man on my other side, mouthing the words with me to Burning Up. He seemed more my speed.

As I further settled into the show, Madonna did also. Or maybe it was the other way around. She was loosely following a format of playing a couple of new songs from Rebel Heart bookended with classics – Vogue, True Blue, Deeper and Deeper. I had given her new album some time when it came out, but not much time. It appeared that those around me hadn’t either. It’s not necessarily a comment on the quality of the album, but perhaps a symptom of having a back catalog of such overarchingly popular pop music equipped with the advantage of nostalgia and retrospect. Those around me would rise for a classic and sit back down for a newer song. I did too.

As the show went on, Madonna’s banter increased. Initially we were greeted only with a larger than life “Hello MelBURN!”, but as she underwent costume change after costume change she would come back out, elaborate entrance after elaborate entrance, talking more and more. It was her banter that I found confusing, and bordering on off-putting. She interacted with dancers, jokingly implying sexual innuendo, talked openly about their bodies, in a very oddly concocted southern accent. She was crass, and I thought I knew that and loved that, but in this context it seemed so insincere and rehearsed, performed only as a crowd pleaser, but it was over-performed and exaggerated to a point of exhaustion at the expense of the audience.

Halfway through, Madonna came out on stage riding a tiny clown bike, talking about how her stage design resembled a penis. She threw nuts out to the audience, offered herself up for marriage, slapped bums, asked us to fuck her, played with prop bananas, referred to the microphone as a dick, suggested jokingly that one of her dancers tried to molest her. People laughed, or cheered, dully. It felt overplayed and tired, bordering on unpleasant. It felt like she was performing as a parody of herself. It made me feel sad.

I did not feel sad because of her age. I have and will continue to vehemently defend Madonna to anyone who suggests she should simply “shut up” and stop making records, or dress modestly, or not talk about sex, just because she’s an older woman. Because of Madonna’s age she is continually told to disappear, and because she won’t, and she adamantly won’t, she is crucified for it.

I used to feel empowered by her sexuality, but last night I think I felt a little saddened by it for a number of reasons. Not because she’s “too old” and equally not because she’s a fit, conventionally attractive woman, but because it seemed to me like she thought that this tired and insincere crass banter was all she had to offer to us. I know that this particular irreverent attitude towards sex was what put her in the radical forefront of popular culture in the 80s and 90s, however in 2016 it doesn’t have the same impact. Most of us are exposed to this level of overt sexuality in day to day life, if not embracing it ourselves. We don’t necessarily need to be subjected to Year 8 level sexual innuendo jokes to get pumped up or enthused for a performance by someone that I myself and 15,000 others consider to be some sort of inspiration or idol-type figure.

The most powerful moments of the show came when she was performing. She is an exceptional dancer, exceptional at strutting and exceptional at holding stage presence. While she was off stage for costume changes, high production value videos played as her dancers performed elaborate choreography – none of which most of us were taking in. I craned my neck for where she would appear next.

I enjoyed her French rendition of La Vie Ein Rose, alone on stage with her microphone and ukulele. She commented on how she loved when people held up their flashlights, as the sparkling lights were “so pretty”. She was right. I enjoyed Like A Virgin, earlier on. Body Shop from Rebel Heart was fun, as was Candy Shop from Hard Candy (2008). My favourite was surprisingly True Blue, a slowed down and pared back rendition again on ukulele. There were moments of lightness, of that joyous, pop optimism and sincerity that I grew to love in Madonna and her music. For these moments I was up dancing, smiling at the drag queen in front of me and obnoxiously elbowing the guy on the post-footy bender bet to my left.

She played for a solid two hours. I felt like she really gave a lot in those two hours because it really appeared she was very obviously and deliberately performing. Exaggeratingly, and for me – frustratingly - playing out this irreverent crassness that played a large role in initially forging her reputation as cutting edge. I know in my heart that the crass faux-southern-accented Madonna from the stage last night is not the Madonna I thought I knew, but I am reminded that maybe to her fans Madonna is a performer before person with roles and characters she has written for herself over a career that’s spanned nearly 40 years. They’re collaged together from parts of her, and maybe it’s been so long that she’s starting to collage these collages, forgetting the original source material or their claim to relevance.

There’s no denying her talents as an entertainer and, while this claim is disputed – as a musician. Her most powerful tool, however, is that almost visible fire inside of her that I immediately loved and recognized, even through my television screen in 2005. Looking past the deliberate bad taste repetitive banter of her show, past her seriously incredible body and athletic ability, past the costume, makeup, hair – is that fire. She can’t obscure it with characters or boring parodies of herself she believes will please her fans. It’s a sparkling glint in the eye, not unlike the sparkling phone flashlights she liked so much last night – except that glint will never fade, and that glint is what plastered that smile on my face when I first set eyes on her last night, it’s conveyed in the lightness of being I felt when she sung the line “Let love shine” in her perfect encore of Holiday. It’s contagious; it’s filled me with my own fire that I now am able to fuel myself. For that I will always be a Madonna fan.

My outfit for the night - I was going for a La Isla Bonita vibe

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Set my heart on fire

I'm preparing for two exhibitions at once whilst also working part-time and doing a bunch of regular things, too. I'm so pleased at the amount of fun things I've been able to squeeze in while still getting my work done. I don't feel particularly run down, just conscious that I'm working a lot - I think the key to doing it all is making sure to do those fun activities at the same time. So it's like, even though you're doing MORE, it's more fulfilling cause it's double sided. Anyhow I think I'm happy with the work I'm making, it's so hard to tell any more, or it's so hard to tell when you're in the midst of it.

I have an exhibition coming up at Daine Singer on the 9th of March - it's called Let Love Shine (a Madonna lyric, incase you were wondering) and will include new paintings on fabric and canvas, and fabric prints. I'm also super excited to be included in an exhibition at Heide Museum of Modern Art titled Dancing Umbrellas. I am going to be exhibiting a large scale installation including collages and gifs. Dancing Umbrellas opens on the 5th of March.

This coming Saturday the 20th of February is White Night in Melbourne, and I'm taking a Drop by Drawing session at the National Gallery of Victoria, from 8pm - 10pm. Personally, I find White Night to be a complete assault on my senses, so to escape the ridiculousness of the outside world you could drop in and hang out with me and do some drawing. The information is here.

Aside from these endeavours I've been hanging out doing fun things, usually, particularly last weekend where I took some time off and went to the beach for a couple of days with a group of friends. It was perfect, really, and again I felt rejuvenated upon my return on Tuesday. I saw Majical Cloudz at the Toff on Friday, and was taken out for a lovely Valentine's meal on Sunday. I've been eating a bunch of easter eggs, have started going running and for the first time in my life have really been feeling the benefit of endorphins after exercising. It's addictive.

There's a few changes afoot, perhaps, and the possibility of these excite me. I continue to document everything with my phone so here are some snippets of the past month.

Photograph by Simon Walsh