Reader Reflections: Looking Ahead – Part I

Hindsight is 20/20. So, we asked artists and people working in the arts how this year has fractured or evolved their approach to creative life and what they would like to see change for the better in the arts.

Reflecting on the year that is, brings us into the present to plan for the future.

Agus Wijaya – Artist

Agus Wijaya, Procession, 2020

I was working on this artwork for a show in Indonesia that was planned to happen sometime this year. It was to be my first in my home country, so already I was feeling contemplative. But, like many, it’s now postponed ‘indefinitely’.

As things unfolded, the changes were perplexing and the uncertainty was disenabling. I paused making art to ensure I could keep my job for my young family. And when I continued, I cautiously changed it from a tricky installation to a digital image. It was a tense period, but it did give plenty of time to rest and digest.

It allowed me to cherish the beauty of a slower pace and step into a liminal state. To appreciate what resides once everyday noise recedes into the background; to embrace the continual reconfiguration as we try to make sense of those that don’t; to keep going, one step at a time or even pause if we have to, but more slowly.

I hope art will have more time to take better care of all its community members, especially the younglings and less observed ones; that it will bravely go slower and beyond snapping back to the old ways.

Anni Hagberg – Artist

Anni Hagberg, Uncertainty, 2020

2020 has broken my practice and reassembled it as something I had never thought it would be. Researching material agency and the dynamic interactions between glass, clay and steel during a ceramic firing for my honours project while hiding away from a pandemic without a kiln or studio has been tricky, to say the least.

But somehow, the constant existential crises and unrelenting hard lockdowns in Melbourne have pushed me and my work to evolve into something totally new and unforeseen. Not every cloud has a silver lining, and this year has been particularly tough, but art always seems to find a way to evolve and survive. These awful months in lockdown have taught me to look everywhere for inspiration and to constantly reimagine my own practice. I have now built myself a very sketchy little kiln and am exploring processes of uncertainty and learning to relinquish control over the final product.

I would love to see some more funding and support for the arts, but the budget has once again proven that is of no importance to our current government. I am hoping these turbulent times will bring change, allowing artists and communities around the world to come together to realise and rethink the importance of art and creative thinking – especially in times of crisis.

Rose Vickers – Art writer and curator

Rose Vickers, Photograph: Elizabeth Waterman

I’m curating a new exhibition, which looks at digital technology and the image, and in a current twist of events, we’ll be showing most of it… digitally. When you’re standing in a gallery looking at a piece of art, you’re primed to ‘see’ it in a certain way. On a screen, it’s hard to differentiate that experience from other online images. So while the Internet is lowering the barrier to entry for artists of different backgrounds, it’s become more of a challenge to offer an immersive experience – the gallery temple, if you will.

The shift to digital has opened up new channels for access to the arts. We can see and show work in different ways; ways that might be more connected as everything goes online. I’m thinking of, for instance, art fairs becoming online viewing rooms, which has prompted greater transparency and equality of access. It comes on the heels of an existing direction towards inclusivity, particularly for women artists and artists of colour. The challenge will be how to create truly transformative encounters in a digital space.

Shari Davies – Artist

Shari Davies and Nada Poljski, Chambers 1 (work in progress), 2020, lino and ink, 15 x 15cm. Courtesy the artists

Of course 2020 was devastating, but one strangely great thing accidentally happened. Due to the Stage 4 Lockdown Restrictions in Melbourne, I got to know my neighbour Nada Poljski and found out that she’s an artist and teacher with her own studio. When she found out that I paint, she gave me some of her lino offcuts and tools to try something new.

With nowhere to go and nothing else to do (but a lot of nervous energy), I cut into pieces of lino in repetitive patterns, over and over again. I couldn’t do anything else; I was creatively blocked, consumed with worry and unrest. Nada (also finding it hard to access her creative energy) took the lino cuts I made to her studio and experimented with inks, paper stock and printing forms.

So my view looking ahead is to remember the enormous value of meeting and working with others, and the benefit of experimenting with materials and tools, even if all you can do is just make line after line.

Guy Morgan – Writer, Artist, Curator

Guy Morgan, Self-portrait at the age of 63. From time-to-time, everyone needs to take a good look at themselves, 2019-2020, oil on canvas, 76 x 51cm

At the start of the year, I had a plan for 2020. March arrived and I began altering my practice radically to better fit the future. With COVID, it’s not just that we all have to look outwards, we have to look at ourselves, re-examine what we do, research the opportunities there are (and will be), and examine the practice we wish to embark upon.

For me, that meant I started writing and illustrating my first book ‘The Empire Sells Out’ and looking for opportunities that those activities might provide. They have so far proved to be varied and career expanding. I am also planning activities around the book launch, which will occur in 2021, including an exhibition of the original illustrations, which will make my work more accessible and a series of limited-edition posters.

Moving forward, I’d like to see more diversity and accessibility, less elitism, ageism and wider inclusion in the arts.

Art should be made by, and for everyone.

Georgie Cyrillo – Membership and Programs Administrator, NAVA

Georgie Cyrillo, ‘In a period of time that was touted for self-reflection and creative breakthrough, this arts worker did none of those things.’

A friend once told me that I should make a regular practice of sitting with my bullshit – the stuff made of ego and fear and justifications. The idea is not to engage and be in it, but to watch and know that it is separate to the self, that it isn’t you.

I haven’t done that at all. Like a pig in mud, my BS is encrusted on my haunches as I trot around snorting agreeably in my safe space. Instead of taking time to be observant and gentle I have devolved into self-scrutiny, which has somehow nourished my predilection for self-sabotage.

I work in administration and membership at NAVA (the National Association for the Visual Arts), before that I worked in exhibition management and also occasionally took photos. Over the course of this year, I have spent hundreds of hours talking to and reading about artists going through a fucking terrible time. This is not just a result of the pandemic and ensuing economic struggle, but because of the devastation the bushfires and floods left behind, because 2020 has manifested itself into newly developed and increasingly potent mental health issues, because the Australian government has largely ignored the pleas of our sector.

I am still employed, I can pay rent and childcare fees, burnout doesn’t feel like it’s around the next corner. So then, this fight isn’t mine.

That’s what my bullshit says.

My bullshit would have me convinced that what’s happening isn’t my problem, that I shouldn’t push harder, be bigger, that I shouldn’t speak through art because I can’t solve it all. Then it calls me weak.

When we’re healthy, the thing that artists and arts workers do really well is ask questions of the status quo. Through practice we create separation between society’s communal version of the self and the detritus of our shared ego. I can’t see that happening right now, not in my own mind and not around me.

That’s not to say that important work isn’t being made, the toughness and malleability of our sector is showing up as it always does, but it feels as though the weight of personal and shared disaster is almost too heavy this time. Maybe exhaustion over trying to convince others of our worth is taking a toll. Maybe the system we have built for ourselves is fundamentally flawed. Maybe we’re still too deep in our grief, in our scrutiny. Maybe we just need more time.

My practice still feels out of reach. Characteristically I would look to hope, but in these catastrophic moments that feels like giving up self-determination. It looks like sitting back and waiting. The change that needs to happen won’t be nestled in optimism. We need to let go of the bullshit and rebuild from who we are.

Cally Lotz – Artist

Cally Lotz, Hope, 2020, oil on linen, 41 x 31cm

My exhibition at fortyfivedownstairs in Melbourne ironically titled ‘Stiff Upper Lip’ was cancelled the morning of the opening on the 17th of March. I was awarded a studio residency for a year that I have been unable to get to for seven months. 2020 has further seen the postponement or cancellation of three exhibitions scheduled for November, and every grant application has been knocked back.

In his Human Search for Meaning, Victor Frankl wrote, ‘… everything can be taken from man but one thing, the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances.’ Looking ahead, I choose a stiff upper lip, self-determined discipline and the odd whisky to see me through. My approach to creative life will not change; I will always be a painter, whatever the circumstances. Dory in Finding Nemo has given me my motto – just keep swimming.

Angela Walker – Artist

Angela Walker, Storm in a Teacup 1, Unbroken, 2020, oil on canvas, 80 x 60cm

Compelling and compelled. This is not only how the COVID situation has made me feel but has also been the direction change my art practice has evolved into. It seemed a natural progression to paint how I felt about being under Victorian COVID restrictions, so I started a series of works I called Dancing in the Doll’s House. Another artist saw one of my works saying it evoked emotions of her own domestic situation and suggested that I could create a series based around that.

Domestic violence is not anything new, but it has certainly become more prevalent and in the public eye during these times. Lockdown has exacerbated and increased the likelihood for this to occur. People are compelled to remain in close quarters, have restricted social interactions and face further uncertainty around employment and monetary status.

The question for me was did I have the right to address something in my artworks that didn’t really affect me? But then I thought and researched what domestic abuse actually involved. It came as some surprise to me that I had been a victim of this myself when I was a child and also when in a relationship as a young woman. It is something that I had closed off in my memories preferring not to think about or voice. Under the surface though, the emotions articulated in my artworks must be visible to others, and I now acknowledge that.

It is much easier to paint about the internal than to talk, so my compelling series ‘Storm in a Teacup’ has been created to give all those affected by domestic violence a voice. Art practice has the power to make a change and I would like to see this going forward.

Sarah Louise Kinsella – Artist & Photographer

Sarah Louise Kinsella, Orange Samuel Profile, 2020

Evolving as an artist comes with fractures. Artists have a knack for turning the bad (and good) into forms of art expressions. But is it our duty to respond to the current climate or manoeuvre the narrative to suit the direction we desire? This is the question I began to ask myself in 2020.

With time on my side during COVID, I sank myself deep into contained thoughts then emptied them into my art. I switched off. I’ve become less influenced and more self-involved. I reverted to exploring nature and found ways to incorporate visual techniques and theoretical concepts into my art. I’ve never been more available to my creativity than in 2020.

I would like to see; Recognition. Artists inspire people, challenge stereotypes, debate in the political realm, and work to remodel the world and people’s opinions.

John Bennett – Photographer and Musician

John Bennett, Bumagin, a young Gumbaynggirr man, facing a forestry worker at a demonstration, Nambucca State Forest, May 2020

Crisis, which crisis?

I have been documenting crises since the bushfires that raged here on the Mid-North Coast of NSW. My daily journal is visual and textual and these last 11 months has not yet become onerous but quite the reverse, a stimulant. I have been uploading material every few days to my blog. A friend and I made a video of last November’s bushfire crisis, and have we have just launched an album of music with journal extracts called VIRUS 2020.

The lockdown has given those of us, not yet directly affected by the disease, time out to re-align daily living. It was time we changed how things work, how we work (and artists often find new ideas, techniques and inspiration, at times of struggle). I had a fever but no cough and no loss of taste. A different virus, Ross River, has been playing games with me. My partner hand-stitched masks from an old silk shirt in the early days of the pandemic. Our village chemist had run out of stock months ago, since the bushfires.

We have been so distracted by our daily routines that we have left the natural behind. Paying attention to the natural environment repays you with reduced anxiety, new experiences and renewed engagement with wonder. Everyone is responsible to some degree, little or large, for degrading the environment, and we all have a responsibility to respond through our everyday actions and our creativity.

Looking ahead, the environmental crisis, in all its facets, is ongoing and will last much, much longer then COVID-19.

Rachel Rovay – Artist and Gallery Director

Rachel Rovay, The Window Gallery, 2020

Suddenly… COVID-19 pandemic arrives, and we see a significant impact on the arts and other businesses. My immediate response as a painter to the closure of all our beloved galleries was to provide my local community with a humble alternative. I realised I had the capacity, the artworks and location, two large corner shop windows at 310 Richardson Street, Middle Park, Victoria, to exhibit art to my local neighbourhood. With a ‘through the looking glass’ exhibition, the general public could continue to view art. I hung several works in the large square window in Richardson Street with a note of hope and an email address in case anyone wished to contact me.

Families were passing by on their way to Armstrong Street shopping centre, and to my surprise, the response was overwhelming and emotional to the point of tears. I knew then that the Window Gallery had something positive to offer to others on their way to essential duties. A re-negotiation of the relationship between an unexpected venue and a ‘mission’; a new way of being open to the public, but also at the appropriate distance and still maintaining a ‘live’ physical experience.

Because of this unexpected connection with the community, I decided to formally launch the Rovay Window Gallery, a space that will continue to stimulate a positive and artistic experience. The Window Gallery has been such an outstanding success that I believe the future should be populated with many Vitrine (a glass showcase) Galleries amongst the shopping centres and streetscapes throughout our local areas.

Grace Partridge – Artistic Director and Founder of Antidote Projects

Stanislava Pinchuk, The Red Carpet (4-6), 2020, installation view ‘Dancing with the Dead’ exhibition, 2020, The Lock Up Newcastle, curated by Grace Partridge, oil pigment, gouache & fine mesh press on paper, 103 x 153cm each

We need a better understanding of how art can affect real change. What direction should the art world take? In short: Democratising, de-colonising, interdisciplinary and itinerant.

My hope is for ‘best practice’ to be more rigorously adhered to – with policies surrounding inclusivity to have broad critical engagement, rather than just representation. I see the role of curators and leaders in the Arts to facilitate spaces for collaborations across artforms, to better share resources and expand reach – which in turn allows larger Art Bodies/Institutions to keep up with and better serve the political focus of contemporary artists and practitioners.

I have found, in my own experience, that working on a project by project basis with a smaller suite of artists and collaborators has allowed for closer relationships and more meaningful engagements – and has allowed for much deeper learning on my part as well as higher quality outputs. There has also been an identifiable push towards working outside predetermined models – for logistical reasons such as lack of funding/opportunity and for conceptual ones – allowing questions of power to be raised and the giving agency to ‘ordinary’ people, theoretically allowing anyone the ability to create meaningful dialogues and address these structures directly.

I do still, at its core, consider art to be something that can and often does refuse to adhere to the definitions we try to ascribe to it; whether that’s social, aesthetic, political or economic. Let’s embrace this unprecedented time of change with radical acceptance and roll with it.

 


Thank you very much for all the thoughtful submissions we received for this special project. We will be posting them online and hope you enjoy the myriad voices that contribute to our vibrant arts community.

 

For mental health support, get in touch with Lifelife and Beyond Blue
Lifeline 13 11 14
Beyond Blue 1300 22 4636