Take me to your money

Posts, Selected Posts

Being an artist in Australia feels a lot like that time I was a tourist in Pompeii: none of the fucking maps look alike. Seriously, there’s a road marked here on this one, but it’s not on any of the others. And I’m standing in a courtyard that eight out of the ten maps claim does not exist. Where the hell am I? How do I get back to the food court? (I swear I remember a food court in Pompeii. In Pompeii. Under the shadow of Mount Vesuvius, among one of the most remarkable archeological finds ever, I ate a dodgy parma.)

ABOVE: Pompeii postcard, made thanks to art

Pompeii postcard, made thanks to art

Aside from the fact that I rarely get heckled in Italian during tech rehearsal, the Pompeii metaphor stands up pretty well. I entered the creative industries the same way I entered that ancient Roman city: in awe, seeking culture and history and something bigger than myself. Then two street dogs started fighting near my leg and I got scared. But this is not a rant against life as an artist, or Pompeii (one of the coolest historical sites ever). This is more of a generalised puzzling. I’m that lost idiot wearing a bathers top as clothes because my campsite doesn’t include a laundromat, gesturing emphatically at my street map and saying “HELP? WHERE GO?”

Basically, in artist, all of this translates to: my project didn’t get funded.

Bummer.

OK, so, if you’ve seen my bio, you may know that I am one of the three Hack Residents at The Edge, State Library of Queensland. I started my residency in January and I have to say, The Edge is awesome. One of Brisbane’s better kept secrets. I actually resent telling people about my residency because then I’ll have to tell them about The Edge, and I want to keep all of its wonderful resources for MYSELF, ME, JUST MEEEE HAHAHAARR. Other Brisbane artists I’ve spoken to have expressed a similar annoyance that people are starting to know where that cave-like corridor between the Art Gallery and SLQ leads. It’s like Fight Club: it’s an open secret now. We used to just find each other by chanting “His name is Daniel Flood”* until someone else knew what you were talking about. (*That is a very specific Fight Club reference that only makes sense if you’re familiar with The Edge’s programming staff, so sorry to everyone except the three people who laughed at that.)

ABOVE: Yes, this is that concrete hallway you’ve been avoiding because you weren’t sure if you were allowed down there. YOU ARE. DON’T TELL ANYONE.

My residency project is a live event where people can interact with stories from marginalised communities. At the moment, I’m recording interviews with women who work in male-dominated industries – people who have ‘hacked’ (eh?) into workplaces where they would traditionally be excluded. It is fascinating work. I am a nerd for analysing work practices and gender studies and storytelling, so this is pretty great. But I have a problem: not enough funding.

The Edge is supporting my project with in-kind support, for which I am grateful and stoked. One of the wonderful things about the team there is their understanding that creative practice needs space and time for experimentation. The thing is, it also needs money. I was counting on additional streams of funding to make this project go. When two grant applications came back ‘negatory’, it was a blow. I’m not proud of how sad I got. Failing doesn’t come easy to me, as I’m sure it doesn’t to most. Plus, I had no idea what to do next. No map. Without funding, the project was stalled.

I am continuing anyway, because I love this project and I’m crazy-passionate about it, but I cannot afford all the hours of work, the resources, or the fees for additional artists without being paid for them. I will keep applying for further grants and funding avenues, but sometimes it seems like most of my life as an artist is spent writing applications rather than working on my art. And those applications need me to have already spent a lot of time figuring out the art part and getting really good at it and justifying why I should get the money to work on it further. I had hoped that this was just a symptom of me not managing my time properly, but from reading Justin Heazlewood‘s memoir/self-help book Funemployed: Life as an Artist in Australia, I gather that it’s not just me:

“Being an artist means running a business; a tiny one, sure, but as valid and high-maintenance as any other. Only when you are a few years into your practice does this dry reality begin to dawn. Like an extended practical joke, you look around from your desk to see if the cameras are rolling. All this time you’ve been a contestant on Admin Idol, duped into your own temping job by the faceless men at Officeworks.”
— From Funemployed (2014), p. 75. Seriously, buy it, read it, it’s good.

If I’m sounding a bit strident and self-justifying, it’s because I’m fighting against a lifelong conditioning that the arts are inessential. You don’t think about artists doing piles of admin for their art, because you don’t think of art as a job. Like, that sounds fun, but what do you really do?

This isn’t a hobby; this isn’t hanging out after work on the weekends. This is my career and I need to be paid at some point. It’s no coincidence that this period of reflection on my career path comes immediately after I filed my latest tax return. I’m barely treading water here. As a society, we can’t expect to benefit from everything that art brings to our culture and make artists pay for it all out of their own pockets. I was extremely gratified by Charlie Pickering getting shouty on The Project tonight, half-jokingly telling news outlets to stop covering art. Because, Pickering said, the news covers art and they talk about how much it will cost and then people get all “What’s the point of it” and – he yelled – “It’s ART! What’s the point of it? IT’S ART!” Cheering studio applause, echoed by my spraying of nachos at the TV: “Go Charlie!”

So, I’ve had my sulk, nailed my rejection letters to the wall and pulled myself up by my bootstraps. This project has hit a speed-bump but we’re still going to get there eventually. I don’t have a reliable map but I have the same things I had in Pompeii all those years ago: blind optimism and an unshakeable belief that I look awesome in this tankini swim top, no I don’t care that we’re standing in a museum, gimme another parma per favore.

Advertisements

'Do you like art?'

Transports of Delight

I thought I had the Fremantle train line all worked out.

Out of all Perth’s metropolitan train lines, the Fremantle line seems to be the one with the most … interesting people. Or, as a Transperth security guy once described it to me, “free housing for the crazies”. (His words, not mine.) The “crazies” are usually flamboyantly weird, but benign. Nevertheless, sometimes it is nice to get through your commute without any Transports of Delight. (Dare I say it? Sometimes a boring train ride is preferable.) So, I usually do my best to avoid attention.

I’ve gathered a few pertinent strategies, and I will elaborate on them in later posts. But one crucial strategy is location, location, location. Where you sit can determine how likely you are to have someone yell at you about their ex-wife for forty minutes.

My main strategy for riding the Fremantle line is to find a seat with an empty seat opposite, so I’m not staring directly into the face of another person. Then I employ a technique I call “going catatonic”, where I remain in the same attitude, without looking around or moving, for the rest of the journey. Public People usually seem to interpret movement, or any sign of life whatsoever, as an invitation to engage. Therefore: play dead.

As you walk through the doors of a Fremantle train carriage, you are faced with two options: you can either sit in the small cul-de-sac at the end of the carriage, which is slightly separate to the main carriage; or you can turn the other way and sit in the main, cattle-class seating area.

I walked onto a Fremantle train carriage and performed my usual quick scan for locations. The main seating area was quite crowded and had few empty seats. I turned to my left. The carriage cul-de-sac was completely empty, except for one regular-looking guy sitting in the corner. I went that way, thinking the nearly-empty cul-de-sac would make for a nice, quiet ride.

I hadn’t even sat down when Regular-Looking Guy started shouting non-sequiters at me. “THAT’S A NICE DRESS. DO YOU LIKE ART?” My heart sank. I had chosen the wrong location.

When I didn’t respond to his questioning, Regular-Looking-Guy-Who-Was-Actually-Crazy continued to shout. “I DON’T REALLY LIKE ART. LOOK, THIS IS ART.” He motioned to the large canvas he had propped on the seat next to him.

“THIS IS AN ORIGINAL PRINT OF A JACKSON POLLOCK.” Pause. “LOOK, HIS NAME’S ON IT, THERE. LOOK THERE!”

I did not look there. I was not even remotely in the mood for this. But I knew if I stayed in his cul-de-sac, with no one else to draw his attention, he would keep on at me like this. The volume at which he spoke told me that he was not someone who would respond to, or even notice social cues. So, I stood up and moved to a better location, down the train.

I find it really difficult to be this openly rude to someone, by the way. It doesn’t come naturally; I’ve had to school myself in the art of rebuffing people. I still feel bad about it, but when you’re a young female journeying alone, it becomes a matter of personal safety. American author Gavin de Becker wrote an excellent book called The Gift of Fear, in which he points out that people, women especially, often remain in dangerous situations to avoid ‘being rude’ to a stranger. If a strange man tries to strike up a conversation with you (the single female), you’ll probably feel obligated to respond, even if the guy gives you the creeps. According to de Becker, this is because

explicitness applied by women in this culture has a terrible reputation. A woman who is clear and precise is viewed as cold, or a bitch, or both. A woman is expected, first and foremost, to respond to every communication from a man. And the response is expected to be one of willingness and attentiveness. (de Becker, 1997)

Well, I didn’t respond with willingness or attentiveness to Regular-Looking-Guy-Who-Was-Actually-Crazy, and to my knowledge, society has not imploded. The guy didn’t even seem that fazed – this must happen to him a lot. While RLGWWAC was not necessarily a threat to my safety, he made me feel uncomfortable. He was a stranger, a man who made unsolicited approaches to a woman sitting alone. A regular guy (who was actually regular) would have just left me alone.

At the next stop, a tidal wave of teenagers flowed into the train, and they immediately filled up RLGWWAC’s cul-de-sac. Nothing, not even hundreds of lorikeets screeching in the pine trees over Cottesloe – not even they could be louder than a group of teens on a train. But amidst the din, I could hear RLGWWAC’s voice rising from the middle of the crowd. He was in his element. “DO YOU LIKE ART? HOW ‘BOUT YOU? HAVE YOU HEARD OF JACKSON POLLOCK?”

A few stops later, I noticed Regular-Looking-Guy-Who-Was-Actually-Crazy trying to push his way out of the throng, his Pollock print flapping at his side. The teenagers sullenly moved aside for him. (I’m not just stereotyping here, this lot looked genuinely sullen.) RLGWWAC turned around and hollered at them, “GOODBYE! HUGS AND KISSES FOR MUMS!” He departed, adding, “HUGS AND KISSES FOR DADS TOO!”

Since this experience, I have learned two things about the carriage cul-de-sac. Firstly, it is not a good location for single journeyers, mainly because it is usually commandeered by large groups of friends who want to chat loudly to each other about “what Mark said”.

Secondly, if it’s empty except for one man, even though the rest of the train is crowded, that guy is probably animal crackers crazy.

Voiceworks #87 Launch: WA knows how to play

Posts

Last night we launched Voiceworks #87 PLAY in Western Australia, and holy moly it was awesome.

Comedian Libby Klysz was our host for the launch, a perfect host for the PLAY issue as she joked around with the audience, played up performers’ introductions, and promised everyone “games … with prizes!”

First cab off the rank was sweet singer-songwriter Caroline J Dale, whose quirky lyrics and gorgeous voice never fail to win over an audience.

Next we had a poem by emerging artist Alex Wolman, who led us on a dark journey through relationships and suicide. Sj Finch came in with the lighter side; the dotdotdash editor and Voiceworks contributor performed a clever and entertaining piece that had the crowd chuckling.

Everyone was pretty engrossed by the performances, but in between-times they had a chance to wander around: looking at the Perth Zine Collective‘s amazing array of hand-made zines; buying copies of the latest Voiceworks issues; and admiring artwork by Western Australian artists Sam Pash and Mel Pearce, whose works have been respectively published in Voiceworks ‘V’ and ‘Play’.

Zinester and Voiceworks contributor Anna Dunnill opened the second bracket of performances with a reading of an intelligently written piece. She was followed up by hip hop poet David Vincent Smith (dvs) who slammed us with a barrage of clever wordplay. Holy shit that guy can poem. dvs was supported by his friend DJ Silence, who mixed sound effects and hip hop beats behind dvs’s poems, adding yet another dimension to the words.

Last, but certainly not least, we were blessed with a performance by the beautiful ‘Ofa Benness. Best known around Perth for fronting her band Odette Mercy & The Soul Atomics, last night ‘Ofa had ditched the band and played a solo set. Performing a mix of singing and spoken word, between songs she chatted with the audience, relating the theme ‘Play’ back to her life and her music. Then ‘Ofa brought the whole venue to a standstill with her breathtaking vocals and wryly beautiful lyrics. I totally have a girl-crush on her.

We wrapped up the night with a pretty raucous game of Heads and Tails, and two happy and highly competitive audience members went home with book prizes kindly donated by Express Media.

Many, many thanks to Mojo’s Bar for being such a welcoming venue, to Libby Klysz for being an entertaining host, and to all the performers for kicking ass. I can’t wait for the next launch.