It has been almost three weeks since arriving home from my journey of the Nordic lands. Time has really flown and although I often find myself yearning to be back in that space of contemplation and discovery, there have been plenty of interesting things happening at home to keep me busy.
This is another post that jumps around a bit, so I apologise in advance for my tangential thoughts.
I have mentioned in many other posts about the time it takes to process and unpack an experience, whether of a place or of an event or of a relationship. Sometimes it is never fully unpacked.
What I have come to realise is that for me, being an artist-in-residence is a critical element of my creative process. Perhaps the reason is because I have no expectations of how the residency may play out – I try to live in the moment. Many years ago, I made the mistake of being focused on some very defined goals from a residency. It was problematic because leading up to the residency, I had made a whole lot of assumptions about the community, the environment and my ability to be active in that space. Nevertheless, it was a valuable lesson and one that I have carried with me since.
When you have expectations of yourself and of others, often you will be disappointed. That is a fact of life. Now this is not to say to do away with goals and wanting to achieve, quite the opposite. What I think is important is to value the process and not be so tied to the outcome, as it may not be what you think. In other words, just enjoy the journey. A very dear friend and artist Jo Tito only reminded me of that today, when she said in a post on her Facebook page:
As an artist who has many strings to my guitar (or ukelele haha), I’ve always struggled with how to define what it is I do. And how to express that in a website, or in one sentence or whatever. Should I call myself this or give myself another name? Should I have a separate website for this or put it all under one?
Now I’m quite happy to just let it go, keep creating, keep people guessing and let it all sort itself out.
Her words really resonated for me, especially now I am home and in ‘doing’ mode. When I am in residency mode, I allow myself the opportunity to freeform ideas, to respond to my immediate environment and just enjoy the process. I am much more ‘in the moment’, in tune with my body and my surroundings.
When I return home and it is time to go back to work and to start to consolidate those experiences into forms – exhibitions, books and proposals – my head space is completely different. My list of daily tasks measures my productivity; my ability to tick off on those tasks equates with how I efficiently manage my time. It is a juggling act which requires balance and flexibility.
People who know me well, know that I love meditation and have maintained a daily practice for many years. As a young woman whose dream it was to go to art school, Shakti Gawain’s Creative Visualization was a doorway to manifesting those dreams. Her book combined with an interest in martial arts unlocked something in me, offering a way to find inner peace as well as providing a place to allow for rich imagination. When I am in residency mode I encourage that deep well of creative and dream like thinking. When I get home, my meditation practice helps me to find balance in my busy and active life.
Many artists focus heavily on the output; the number of shows, works in collections, media articles and critical accolades, which I think is mistake. As an artist it is just as, if not more, important to allow oneself to ponder, to think and imagine without binding oneself to a defined outcome or output. We are not machines.
For me there has been a lack of desire to create ‘product’ for the art elite, which is why my work is not really commercial. I am also disinterested in ‘playing the game’ if you know what I mean. Today when I was at a presentation by Mike Parr he talked about how he was ‘asocial and a non-conformist’ – I really get that. Over the past twenty years I have seen the positives and negatives of the art world. For me the positives are about learning and sharing, building deep and long-lasting connections and nurturing those relationships. I think that is why collaboration has become more central to the way I work. I won’t go into the negatives as that is boring.
In addition to these concerns, the more I seek to create art that uses materials thoughtfully and considers the environment, the more I need to think through the process and outputs. This takes time and often a residency is the best opportunity to think through complex issues at play.
So while I am now back in production mode, I still need to find time to slip into that space of contemplation and daydreaming to plan for the future. The wise Malala Yousafzai sums it up beautifully: Let us make our future now, and let us make our dreams tomorrow’s reality.