Artist in residence [November 2 – 30, 2016 at MIM, Museum of Innocence Mildura].
In this post I wanted to give the background to my residency at MIM.
So much occurred over the month that I may just include a couple of stories from this time as well.
In wanting to construct performative opportunities within a broader social (and even unfamiliar) context, I submitted proposals for an artist-in-residence in northern Thailand and Hanoi (both of which were accepted). I had been arguing about this in my mind for many months before deciding to act, finally thinking there is only one way to know if this adventure would be worthwhile.
Sometime and somewhere along the process of thinking through the activities I would be undertaking in Asia, a thought entered my head about a residency instead, in Mildura.
Almost a year ago I had a conversation with Domenico de Clario regarding his proposal to set up his Museum of Innocence in Mildura (to where he was about to relocate). There was an idea that I may consider attending as an artist-in-residence there when the museum was finally set up and under way.
During a recent visit there (June 2016) and over dinner, Domenico had suggested the idea of proposing to the Mildura Art Gallery a retrospective exhibition of my deceased fathers work (he was born in Mildura, the gallery already had some of his work). I thought this a commendable thought, but I had 6 months earlier offered to gift some of my fathers work to the gallery and was met with relative disinterest. So I doubted there would be any interest and I was not willing to expend energy in the attempt to gain it.
The morning after this idea had been raised, Domenico called and said there was an appointment with the creative director of the gallery in the afternoon asking if I could make it. Juana and I went along expecting indifference but instead we found genuine enthusiasm with the assistant director suggesting Domenico be curator of a major survey of Wes’s work in 2018 taking the whole gallery, and including performances. She was so instantly embracing of any ideas we put forward it was simply overwhelming.
Also on this visit to Mildura, Juana and I joined Domenico at his ‘ritual burial site’ (on a property at Irymple) in an event that celebrated a rare celestial occurrence, his invitation described our pending performance as an “all night vigil”, “presenting a series of improvised sounds and actions to a gathering of friends, in response to the conjunction of solstice, full moon and burial.” This was a potent and powerful occurrence, deepening my sense of relation to place.
Toward the end of 2015, THIS Ensemble travelled through the Wimmera performing. It was a very special experience that continues to resonate, the right action at the right time. A month or so later, I ventured to the same area and continuing beyond Mildura to areas I had been with my father as a young boy on camping trips. I selected some locations that felt appropriate and conducted a ritual for myself in spreading my father’s ashes.
I continued this activity over the next few days with two friends, Clinton and Michael. Again feeling and creating a bond with place that has had a deep and lasting effect on my being and my creativity.
So my relation and connection with Mildura is clear (there are still relatives living in the area) as it is with Ballarat where my father grew up and my sister now lives. The ‘pathway’ through Ballarat, Wimmera, Mallee, Mildura is beginning to feel like my own (and shared with close friends) version of a ‘songline’.
I was attempting to organize another trip to the region with THIS Ensemble in November 2016 before going to Asia for the residency and was communicating with Domenico about including Mildura in the itinerary, when it occurred to me to instead do an AIR in Mildura. The idea was based around offering Free Play type sessions to the public and the thought of trying to offer that in Mildura started me thinking about an AIR there. So I threw the idea to Domenico in a phone call, which prompted him to revisit the neglected proposal he had put to Helen Vivian in November 2015 for establishing a Museum of Innocence in Mildura (in particular at the ADFA building headquarters for the Palimpsest Festival).
Domenico’s original proposal including an update and my AIR proposal to Domenico were sent to Helen who responded favourably to the whole package. I will now visit Mildura for a month in November 2016 as an artist-in-residence.
Wednesday, November 2, 2016 (AIR, day 1)
A late night encounter on my first evening in the space was perhaps the most poignant experience of the residency. The woman, a deep feeling, melancholic character stumbled upon this unlikely space that welcomed her without wanting to sell, to demand, to convince, she was just able to be herself in the space.
I invited her in after she had been reading the info posted in the window for some time. ‘What is this?’ she asks, I say it’s a beginning and proceed to tell her a short story about GAIP and how this gallery came to be. She said this place and you are what the world needs more of. She said this is a good place for the elderly and the lonely – like me. Her name is Cathy, she had just gambled away $400 on the pokies after arriving just now on the bus from Melbourne. She still struggled to believe that this was a place to just be in, to be creative or to sit without a purpose. “Can I give you a hug?” she said, “you’ve made my night, I think you must come from up there!” I said come back tomorrow as she went off with tears in her eyes.
It was a gentle encounter not to do with “art” but to do with listening, space, time and human presence. The space and the time provided a momentary sanctuary to counterbalance the brutality of the pokie venue, and perhaps also to allow Cathy to feel what had transpired in her day more acutely.
To meet Cathy in this way at the beginning of the residency seemed auspicious, as my practice particularly in terms of my PhD research, is becoming more open to a broader social setting and engagement and this residency was always going to be an opportunity to, in some way, investigate that. As an artist-in-residence with a connection to traditional art forms, I foresaw a tension and a curiosity in the space between working within traditional mediums and working with a social, non-object oriented engagement, understood as an intersection of performance and everyday human sharing.
Before I had an opportunity to consider the paintbrush or guitar, I was negotiating a dynamic human encounter with an outsider, uncovering a value in each other and the space within which we were without premeditation, just moving with the unfolding of the moment.
As she left I had felt the space and our sharing was a salve to our spirits and that my painting, music and soundplay workshop were also opportunities to salve the spirit for me (and, it was hoped, for others who participated). I do often think of work, whether it be sweeping, painting, practicing or conversing as an opportunity to ‘heal’ through a quality of energetic application to the activity. The healing can be understood as the realization of a potential and that realization can be triggered from within or without. It may be the manifestation of an object. It may be an undertaking of a process. It may be through the incidental, the accidental, or the purposeful and all stages of the realization of this potential can be conscious, subconscious or unconscious.
Through experience, I have understood that this idea of the creation of a condition of healing through a realization of potential can include the non-work of just being. Just being with oneself and being with/in the prevailing conditions of a given situation.
Tuesday, November 29, 2016 (AIR, day 28)
In the late afternoon Juana, Clinton, Carmen and I had set out to a location on the Darling Anabranch River north of Wentworth, NSW. This was the place where a year earlier I had taken my father’s ashes and performed a spontaneous ritual. Now I was taking some of my mother’s ashes to repeat the process, this time with friends.
The river was very high as there had been much rain over the preceding months and the actual site of my father’s ashes was underwater. The following activity unfolded in a way that I have come to expect from those I work with, that is, organically, without much said, feeling our way and with much care and respect. It is not necessary to try and describe what happened but the effect of our improvised ritual was indeed moving and powerful. Another dimension to the experience was created when we discovered that Carmen was pregnant. The convergence of birth and death cycles made for a poignant synchronicity that I can never forget.
Wednesday 23 November, 2016 (AIR, day 22)
There had been occasional rewarding conversational encounters with locals but it seemed from today on there was a noticeable increase in fruitful meetings. One such meeting was with a fellow named Booza who was a most enthusiastic and motivated man in connecting people. He was a local identity, ran a men’s group called Circle of Trust in Patchewollock and was a wheat farmer amongst many other things. He immediately put me in touch with Maurice Conway from Hopetoun whom he thought I shared some similar perspectives. Maurice and I chatted and arranged to meet at MIM in a couple of days. We ended up performing together and had some inspiring conversations particularly about place and doing creative things in the rural environment. From this point on and during the last few days of the residency, I met a number of interesting and motivated people including psychologist Derek, sand sculptor Bob, performance artist Rachel and Graham a local aboriginal guy. Perhaps it was that people, knowing something was going on in this building, finally got around to visiting the space. This was true in some cases, but in others such as Booza, Bob (sand sculptor), and Lucky (the Afghan immigrant) it was simply by chance.
Graham said he had been passing by MIM and checking it/me out (which I had noticed) and finally decided it was ok to come in. He was a lucid, energized and animated fellow who had much insight and local knowledge much of which he was prepared to share. We invited him to the performance later that night but he did not come.
He made a traditional hand painting by blowing white paint from his mouth over his had on the paper, making a silhouette. Graham’s energy was infectious, I felt a connection with him and was disappointed that I could not follow up on what I thought was an invitation to go out into the bush with him.
Here were the towns people busy buzzing around with their lives in Mildura and some minutes away was the vast expanse of arid country where any of us if left without transport, shelter, food or water would likely perish. The contrast of these facts made a vivid impression on me. It seemed like two realities operating side by side, although the town is really imposed upon the land and has reinforced another dimension, notably dependent upon the river.
The MIM residency was invaluable to my PhD research and to my life. I thank all the visitors who made it so and I hope that there is another opportunity to renew the process of discovery, waiting for me.