Imprint: creative in residence
Sitting down to reflect on my residency I am overwhelmed and in tears by how much I have gained from this experience. I have some of the answers to some of the questions I posed in my introduction, as well as answers to questions that didn’t exist, and many more questions.
The tangible quantifiable story of my residency is a short one: over three months I made thirty two pieces – twenty nine in clay and three in plaster. They were all made by hand. Most Friday’s I spent the day with Josie and Somchai and Dean in their studio, following their practical guidance to help my ideas take shape.
I began with my planned approach, which was to press various things into clay to find out what their impression would be. I used various things from around my house and Josie and Somchai’s garden, and kept going with the ones I liked.
Somewhere in the middle, however, my interest was captured by the possibilities and challenges of making copies of my original pieces. I started out one day making four different types of small containers to press things into, and ended up being much more interested in whether I could make the same containers again. This interest took over and accounts for half of the thirty two pieces.
The most important part for me though, that will stay with me forever, is realising three things. One of those is the incredible value in having the chance to be motivated by creating, rather than what you want to create. I think when I started this residency I was pissed off at the dishonesty of artists who talk about art making as a growth experience, when they clearly wouldn’t know a moment’s reflection if it bit them on the nose. And while my feeling about that hasn’t changed, what I have realised is that, focusing on the dishonesty misses the point just as much. And the point is that creating for its own sake will do you all kinds of good, whether you’re an “artist” or not. And that good will go far beyond the immediate project. I know with absolute certainty that, if I hadn’t done the residency, I wouldn’t’ve been finally open to the idea that I could start my own business. This is an idea that my partner Bruce has been gently persisting with for a long time, and that I now feel finally ready for.
Another thing I realised is the incredible value in regularly having some time where you’re focused on working with whatever you have and that’s all. I don’t just mean focusing on paths rather than obstacles. I mean using a different lens entirely, viewing the whole field as your playground and building on everything you encounter.
I’m painfully aware that “focus on whatever you have” sounds very similar to “focus on the ability, not the disability”, and that I work in the disability sector. So I first of all want to make clear that I find the phrase “focus on the ability, not the disability” deeply disrespectful; and I am no more comfortable with it than I would be if someone observed that I’m a woman and said that I or other people should focus on the man part of “woman” and forget the rest. I second of all want to emphasise that I don’t even mean that it’s important to see everything as an opportunity. I mean doing away with the barrier/opportunity binary entirely and seeing everything as a way to keep building which isn’t good or bad, but just is. There were many times when things just didn’t happen as we planned, and it was a great experience to cut the step of figuring out how I felt about the change out of the process entirely and skip straight to working with the current situation. It wasn’t a deliberate choice to approach the residency this way, I think it was just a natural consequence of focusing on creating. I experience this often as a trainer. So often I’ll arrive ready to do the training and the room is less than ideal, or the equipment doesn’t work, or we need to have a break earlier or later than I’d planned. And I think my ability to conduct useful training depends in part on my ability to go with what’s there rather than getting stuck in what my plans were. I haven’t found it easy to transfer this attitude to other parts of my life so far. However, having now experienced it outside of training, and that experience also being so positive, I am inspired to keep working on it.
The final thing I realised is the incredible value in having people in your life who do practical things to support your dreams. Saying encouraging things is wonderful and incredibly important. But encouragement is taken to a whole new level when those thoughts are translated in to practical things that keep you moving forward. I’m deeply grateful to Josie and Somchai who gave so freely of their time and space and knowledge, and coffee. I learned a whole lot, and am ready to do a whole lot more, and had all but one of my current curiosities about ceramics satisfied. We’ll work on the last one at the showing.
Introduction by Amanda Tink
If you did exactly what you wanted to do, asked all the questions that you wanted to ask, and focused completely on your learning rather than your results, what would happen? How much pressure would there be from within and without to create something? How would you respond to the pressure to create something? And would there be expectations about how complete and/or visually pleasing that something had to be?
Part of the popular culture around art making seems to me to be the idea that the process is more important than the outcome. Over many years I’ve talked with lots of artists from a range of art forms and, although almost all of them have said some version of this in relation to their work, only one of them sounded like they truly meant it. When Josie invited me to do this residency it was not long after someone important to me had died; so themes of appreciating every moment, valuing opportunities, and following my heart were foremost in my mind. And so I decided I would really try to do exactly what I wanted to do in the ways I wanted to do it, and see how it turned out.
What I wanted to do with ceramics came to me quickly. As a blind person going to primary school in Queensland in the 80s, I was part of the last group of us who had to have manual arts skills in case nothing else worked out. So even when I was “integrated” into a “mainstream” school in year three, I had to travel back to my former primary school every Friday afternoon to learn how to work with wood and metal and material. If one turned up wearing inappropriate footwear, one’s only option was to sit alone outside and work with clay. And it was because of this that I found myself pressing leaves and sticks and bark on to a flat piece of clay to make some kind of pretty tray. I had no interest in the process, and would’ve had no interest in the result either, except that I noticed that, on the finished product, I could feel a lot more of the detail of a leaf than I could on the leaf itself. I have been intrigued ever since by the interplay between the original and the imprint.
The way I wanted to do it came to me quickly too. I just wanted to experiment with pressing various objects into clay to see what the finished product felt like. That’s all. I didn’t want to create something pretty. I didn’t even want to create something. I just wanted to learn. And while what I want to do and how I want to do it is enough, I’m blessed with a brain that never stops being curious. So I’ve become interested too in the influence on this residency of time, and culture, and people including myself. Right now, a week before I start, I can honestly say all I care about is learning and creating; I do not care about producing. But since learning and creating necessitates producing, how much will my priorities change? How much will they change what I do and how I do it? And does the fact that this is called “art” mean the pressure of expectations will ultimately make me as outcome-focused as almost everyone else?