Within this issue of , there are murmurs of leaving, disappearing from the art world with all its frustrations and fluctuating climate of competitiveness. Alex Cuffe tells us they are not an artist anymore, well ‘at least for now’, while Anastasia Klose draws comparisons between herself and Bridgette Bardot, both of whom retreated from their jobs in the arts to work with stray dogs. Maybe we should all follow suit? Exhaustion and mental fatigue seem to work hand in hand in the arts. Keith Wong’s pages capture an over-worked, snoozing contributor to un Magazine. Nat Randall recounts feelings of lethargy and weariness when unexpectedly joined by her father at the tail-end of a self-induced 24-hour performance, The Second Woman.
Preparation towards Issue 11.1 commenced before Trump’s presidency. A sense of foreboding gradually swelled amongst ’s contributors. Ivan Ruhle, living in New York, felt generally stuck: ‘It’s a little wearing waking up each morning to a fresh bowl of awful news’. Erica Englert, on our front cover, seems to capture the feeling of the present. When the presidential announcement was made, I was on holiday trying my best to adhere to a schedule of sightseeing. I have memories being on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and Paris Disneyland replying to emails that collectively expressed serious anxiety, all the while trying to manage my own fears for the future. Will being an artist become increasingly harder?
— David Capra
* * *
- Amelia, what articles have resonated with you?
- Daniel Mudie Cunningham’s article about Wart was so poignant. Mental health continues to be stigmatised in Australia — though we are slowly getting better. I feel as though artists with mental health conditions are automatically considered to be producing ‘outsider’ art, which is far from the truth. I also really loved Nat and Allan Randall’s article about Nat’s performance, It’s hard not to impress your own experiences on to this piece. The notion of Nat’s father coming to her performance, after not having seen her for some time, struck a chord because it reminded me of how many of my friends in the arts industry feel that their parents are removed from what they do for a living. I think my father was prouder of me when I got a job at the council than when I was first published or when I was accepted into various programs!
- Yes, that is very true. My mother no longer asks when will I start making nice paintings again like I was at art school, or when I will become a high school art teacher. When all the contributions started to flood in, Erica’s photographs struck me, not only because I found them incredibly funny, it seemed to ask the questions many of my peers were raising: ‘Where does my art practice fit within the larger world?’ ‘Can you see me?’ ‘Does what I have to offer even matter to you?’
I have enjoyed getting a glimpse of the things influencing artists and their work, what they are looking at or experiencing in their lives. Learning more about the Niuean weaver, Sionemaletau Falemaka, the artist behind Keren Ruki’s extraordinary hat, has been a pleasure. Keren, a weaver herself, tells me she has appreciated taking a moment to reflect on Sionemaletau’s work, and feels it’s very important. Amelia, I’ve been meaning to ask, have you made art?
- I haven’t made art since high school. Back then I was the best at it. But technically, not conceptually. I could draw from life. In prep, I drew a picture of Picasso’s which my art teacher pinned up next to a copy of the original to show how accurate it was. But then I started reading art history and things flipped. I developed the anxiety typical of my generation and I realised that being critiqued was not for me. So I decided to become the critic. I feel pretty guilty about it often. Because it is a lot easier to pick art apart than it is to make it — that’s what I imagine anyway. Even then, I understood Anastasia Klose’s dismay in her article because, for many practising in the art sphere, there is always such competition that you end up thinking ‘why them and not me?’
How do you feel about this, David? And, how do you handle criticism?
- It depends where it is coming from and how vulnerable I am feeling. Last year I was on a morning television program the show with my dog Teena spruiking our Eau de Wet Dogge perfume. The show put a little segment on their Facebook page, there were hundreds of comments. After reading five, I decided that it might be best I don’t continue reading through them — it would be too damaging. I do seek out the criticism of those that I feel understand my work, when I am feeling up to it.
- I saw that segment, I loved it: I watched it repeatedly! As a writer and non-artist it has been challenging for me coming into this process. I’m often anxious that curators, directors and art writers speak for artists and that, perhaps, that is out of line. How do you feel about this statement? Do you ever feel misrepresented?
- Yes, I have in the past. It doesn’t bother me too much. This question brings to mind a visit to John Spiteri’s home and studio in Sydney’s Granville. It’s filled with mismatched furniture finds from the 1950s: pinball machines in repair, vegetable gardens and pebbled roads cemented in place leading to nowhere in particular. After spending time there it made me think it would be great if more people could see this, particularly those who write about his work. It would give them a better grasp of John as a maker of idiosyncratic work, as well as a better understanding of him as a person. Truth is, writers don’t usually gain such access and have to rely on things like perception when discussing work, which is interesting in itself for the artist. Amelia, what is it like writing about artists and their work?
- It’s pretty great. It is probably the wannabee artist in me that loves this line of work so much — I still get star struck when I get to meet artists that I have been following for years. Sometimes I get to visit their studios and that is the greatest because it offers insight into their practices and what happens in their lives. Is that creepy? But, also, I am really adamant about writing from a critical point of view. I won’t write advocacy if I don’t like a work, even if I like the artist, I have to be honest. Oh, but once, I published an article about an artist who I adore but my reaction to his exhibition was, I thought, quite critical. But it turns out he loved it! As a writer, it is impossible to know. I just have to block thoughts of possible reactions out when I’m producing a piece.
Final question: I’m thinking about the notion of burning out, as you have touched on in the opening paragraphs. I think half the conversations I have with friends who are art workers are around strategies to deal with stress and anxiety. How do you deal with feelings of burning out?
- I guess my strategies often fail. I think retreating away from work is helpful. I often go and visit my Aunty Anna and Uncle John, they love to have heated discussions, usually around what’s happening in the lives of Australian celebrities. They present a whole new array of anxieties associated with being alive, which without fail, always gets my mind off art. I think Campbelltown Arts Centre’s Director Michael Dagostino’s contribution to is worth talking about here. A series of photographs show Michael compulsively re-arranging himself, introducing dance-like physical interjections into a routine of replying to never-ending emails, meetings and lunches. I work at the art centre two days a week and often bump into Michael at work, where he likes to talk about what he finds exciting, like contemporary dance. I’ve enjoyed seeing him apply what he is hugely passionate about to a demanding routine, which could easily otherwise lead to burn out.
* * *
It is easy to talk about the anxiety of the arts industry and the incessant competition for little reward. But people continue to create and that certainly has to stand for something. I think about Matthew P. Hopkin’s and his beautiful attempt to soothe a rehomed cat, and how that process served just as much as an exploration of the origin and path of the artist’s voice as much as it helped the cat. For the record, Marbles is now well adjusted to inner north living. There is also a plethora of political issues which artists are considering on a really poetic level, which find new forms of expression through art. The ongoing denial of Indigenous rights and heritage in Australia, as well as the fetishisation and tokenistic behaviour towards people of non-Western backgrounds, are touched upon in Vicki Van Hout and Marian Abboud’s discussion which, despite its light banter format, reveals some interesting points about race and culture. I found Vicki’s lines: ‘It’s cool to be the first Aboriginal tennis player. It’s cool to be the first Aboriginal lawyer…’ painful to read, though structurally Vicki phrased it in a comical way. Pushing up against another politically fraught area, Heidi Holmes’ work around her failed IVF attempts are poignant insofar as she discusses another side of female reproduction which does not fit into a common feminist narrative. The gains seem to be worth the struggles.
— Amelia Winata
Table of contents
un contributors page 2017