Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Mind Fucked

At the moment, I'm reading a number of books at the same time:
Navigation, A Newcomer's Guide by Sara Hopkinson
Story of O
by Pauline Réage

Edie, An American Biography
, by Jean Stein with George Plimpton

Multihull Voyaging
, by Thomas Firth Jones

, published by the Guggenheim Museum, N.Y.
I've been finding it hard to focus on just one. I get restless and impatient. I want to consume all that each book contains, all at once. I feel a weird frustration at not being able to do so. I read a few chapters, then move onto something else. Later, I might come back to it. It's unusual for me, and a little irritating, but it's better than reading nothing.
My jittery sense of urgency comes from realising how wide the gaps in my knowledge are. I once read a magazine interview with Vivienne Westwood, who pointed out that everyone is so concerned about what they put in their bodies but they don't give a thought to all the junk they allow to seep into their consciousness.
The last thing I want is an accidental mind.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Outside In Boxed

Over the last few months, several younger artists have sent me emails about their forthcoming exhibitions. I didn't know them, nor had I heard of them, before they contacted me. They didn't write a personal note. They just sent an invitation, a link to the gallery site, and a blurb about their work. All their emails are similar in format, even when they're from different countries.
I like getting these unsolicited mails. I'm curious about what other people are doing. I like that the senders don't ask or expect anything of me – even a reply – athough occasionally, I do write back. I always read the text and look at the images. It's a vicarious experience, to observe without participating. I suspect that only makes me like it more.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Show Busy

I've been refining ideas for my installation, Sex Tourist, at Art Melbourne '07. I'm still adapting to the mindset shift required for conceptual work, even at a very basic level. I'm so used to working alone in two dimensions that I have to remind myself constantly that the drawings I make of the installation are just maps – nothing more than technical diagrams of logistical problems – and not artworks.
I am completely unfamiliar with almost all of the materials and technology that I need to realise the concept. I don't know the names of some of the things I want to use and I don't know if they even exist. It's a new experience to be pulling together disparate strands of elements beyond my usual expertise while undergoing a steep learning curve about how things work and how I might make them work for me. I have researched new materials before, but only in a conventional, even old fashioned, sense. I have certainly never worked at this speed.
My days involve a flurry of emails and calls which are outside what I once thought of as the norm for a working artist: for example, contacting a major chemical company to find out about a light conducting plastic film, or talking with an audio expert about 24-bit digital recording, or buying equipment from a rather spooky electronic surveillance specialist (don't ask!). Some elements of the installation will be manufactured for me, some installed by specialists. For a control freak like me, trusting the expertise and advice of other people is probably the most difficult part. Sometimes I feel like I am mounting a film production or directing some circus-like event rather than creating an artwork - although I guess, in some ways, I am doing all of those.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Self-Love Tokens

I had my ears pierced when I was five years old. I begged for them to be done. I had a French crop my mother gave me and a restless demeanor so I was always being mistaken for a boy. Everyone thought my brother was a girl. He was smaller and cherubic, with blue eyes and white blonde curls. I wore earrings – and girlish necklaces – from then until I began painting in my late teens.
From the start, my paintings had an ultra smooth, pristine surface. A small scratch or splatter meant an entire section - and sometimes more - had to be redone. Over a few months, I adjusted everything about myself to avoid marking the surface of my work. I removed rings, necklaces, my watch, and even earrings. I swapped shirts for soft cotton T-shirts and singlets, eliminating buttons that might scratch if my clothing grazed the paint. I had never worn t-shirts until then. I grew my hair long and tied it back, so no strands could fall on the paint.
A few years ago, I was given an African beaded bracelet. Though I adored it, I've only recently started to feel at ease enough to wear it - or wearing anything inessential. I have begun to collect 'ethnic' jewellery. They're mostly beaded, or made of bone, shell, wood, silver, imported from Africa, Southern Asia and South America. Having eschewed such things for so long, it feels decadent to wear them and yet they feel a little like talismans. I chose each because it reminds me of something I love: sunlight shining through drops of rain, the sea, tropical jungles, the desert, pomegranate seeds. When I wear the jewellery I feel as though I am taking what I love with me, everywhere I go.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Damaged Goods

I had been waiting on a delivery of frames from interstate. They were meant to arrive three days ago and each day since, I've had to reschedule a planned flight to Asia so I could be here to receive them. The frames are custom-made for me by a well-known craftsman in Brisbane, and are of archival standard. They are also rather delicate. If they're not perfectly constructed, with a pristine surface, I can't use them.
I'd booked the freight with the South Brisbane franchise of Pack & Send, on the clear understanding that they'd deliver them quickly to me in Sydney. I use a local franchise a lot and I have found their service impeccable. My mistake was assuming an interstate version would be as good.
They totally sucked. When the frames arrived, finally, the driver was alone. He expected me to unload them with him. He took little care - I only just stopped him from balancing one large frame on it's fragile corner - and he admitted having no experience in moving art. He had not even been instructed by the company that the frames were fragile. After several near disasters, I lost my temper, and began yelling and swearing. Only then did he begin to carry them more carefully.
I unwrapped them and of course, one was damaged. It will be time consuming to repair. Worse, it's the one I wanted to use straight away. I wrote to Pack & Send, whose grammatically challenged representative denied all responsibility: "I appreciatte [sic] that your [sic] feeling let down... Although I take your criticisms onboard I feel that you are holding me unfairly responsible. I gave passed [sic] on your criticisms of me to our Store owner for his consideration, thanks for your feedback."
Some days, all I want to do is beat the crap out of a punching bag. It works better for me than Valium.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

The Bed I Made For Myself

Yesterday, a small matter depressed me so much that for an instant, I craved a hit of cocaine.
I don't use drugs anymore – I don't even drink – but years ago, I consumed just about everything. It isn't unusual among my peers, especially
in art.
When I first had a little success, a friend joked that to be a really serious artist I needed a beret and a drug or alcohol dependency. At least, I think it was a joke. I never bought into the myth of drugs enabling creativity. Drugs provoke specific, transitory reactions in the mind and body which give the illusion of an expanded consciousness. The trouble is, their effect is corrosive. They undermine our ability to recognise, let alone exercise, deeper levels of imagination and intellect.
Lots of famous artists have been alcoholics or drug addicts – too many even for an abbreviated list. Somehow, their self-abuse, emotional anguish and early deaths are romanticised so much that they become inextricable from their work. I never understood this. Maybe it's tied into the myth of creativity having more to do with magic and chaos than mortal dedication. Then again, every artist I knew – me included – had some story they told themselves in order to live (to paraphrase Joan Didion). Mine was that I needed drugs to stay awake, that I could work more hours than I could without them. The truth? It was all bullshit. I just liked the buzz.
I've been straight for a long time now. I barely recognise the young, fucked-up woman I was so often back then. I'm hoping that, one day, nobody else will either.

Monday, February 19, 2007

One Track Mind

Until a couple of years ago, I only ever did two things well and even then, only one at a time. I painted for ten months a year and spent the other two doing publicity and preparing for the opening of the exhibition. It was fulfilling – isn't that the point of making art? – but after a decade, it became tedious and routine.
These days I work on about half a dozen projects in as many different media simultaneously. I am booked eighteen months in advance for commissions and solo shows. I am working on three large-scale installations. I have a commission to write a 3,000-word essay for the Griffith REVIEW. I'm about to begin a short course on digital video at NIDA.
Every night I print out a detailed schedule of chores, appointments and correspondence I have to get through during the next 24 hours. This is in addition to a long list of phone calls I have to make. I have to organise myself this way. On the days I don't, I'm lost.
I used to think that it saved time to do only one thing at a time. I've discovered, instead, that the more I do, the more varied the stimuli, the quicker I work. It's a little unnerving for a natural mono-tasker like me.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

False Positives

"The horror of that moment," the King went on, "I shall never never forget!"
"You will, though," the Queen said, "if you don't make a memorandum of it."
– from Through the Looking Glass, by Lewis Carroll
For most of my life, I've avoided keeping any diaries, personal photographs or mementoes. I had this idea about living in the moment, instead of wasting any time recording it. I vaguely remember thinking that the most important moments would remain with me. I wasn't mature enough to recognise the way they might change and become distorted over time – I couldn't imagine that what I recalled would be heavily revised or redacted rather than reliable fact.
Some of my memories were already not particularly true to begin with. They were stories that I had been told, over and over, about myself, usually by my parents. After a while, I created visual images to go along with them. Much later, when I examined them, closely, I remembered nothing of the events themselves.
I don't want to live like this anymore. I want to be able to look back at my own experience of my life, not other people's perspectives of it.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Plotting A Position

I've been working on a proposal for a large, outdoor installation in Europe. The concepts revolve around navigation, identity, and memory, as well as the idea of intersections – or 'nodes' – of physical and metaphysical experience: those rare moments when incident, coincidence, inspiration and realisation collide or coalesce to become a larger, lasting experience, something burned into the psyche.
I'm done with just offering individual artworks to be viewed as an ‘exhibition’. I want to blur the demarcation between viewer and artwork.
My ideas are free-flowing and constantly evolving. I have a large pile of books to read - all of which are on what are still, to me, arcane subjects, including ancient Greek and Phoenician exploration and traditional Polynesian navigation. I've also been studying information architecture and the way it is translated into graphic design. I am trying to figure out how to translate abstract ideas into specific sensations and impressions.
As always, I’m impatient but
I am gradually learning a skill that is older than art itself - the art of finding one's way.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

The Inconstant Gardener

One of the joys our technological civilization has lost is the excitement with which seasonal flowers and fruits were welcomed; the first daffodil, strawberry or cherry are now things of the past, along with their precious moment of arrival. Even the tangerine – now a satsuma or clementine – appears de-pipped months before Christmas.
Derek Jarman, the late English film-maker, artist, set designer and diarist.
There's a long, rectangular patch of dirt in front of my open-air studio. The studio is on the side of a steep hill, and when there's a wind, dirt and dust are blown into it. Yesterday, I planted some shrubby, fast growing grevillea as a crude windbreak. They're a native plant and their flowers have a sweet nectar. Indigenous Australians shook it onto their hands to lick, or mixed it with water as a sweet drink. I used to do the same when I was a kid. Grevillea also attracts native birds. I prefer not to have people around while I'm working but it's comforting, at times, to have the birds visit. I also planted native ground cover, which should grow quickly over the bare, dry earth. I forget what it's called but it has small flowers. Orange butterflies have discovered them already, and landing lightly, feed on the tiny white stars.
I'll be painiting my last enamels in the studio as well as beginning some other, very large, mixed media works. I have never gardened before but when I needed to know about it to solve a problem related to art, I suddenly developed a keen interest. I expect it will be fleeting - the problem is solved now - but I like how plants and planting are inextricably bound to the rhythm of the seasons. As Jarman reminds us, it's too easy, nowadays, to live in the world as if nature didn't exist.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

A Map Of Me

I did a few, small, erotic watercolours today. I'm going to work on a larger scale with some of the ideas that emerged in them, this evening.
I've become intrigued by navigation and I've been reflecting on the value of surveying and documenting in order to discover how one arrives at a certain place, in a certain way, at a certain time. I have barely any documentation of my life to date, apart from my artwork, so I've begun retracing early memories in crude sketches. They form different sectors of a map linking all the places I've lived and my observations and experiences
during the years (or months or weeks) I was there.
The erotic pieces are my first attempts to map emotion. I wanted them to be cryptic – artefacts to be unraveled or deciphered, rather than read in a traditional sense by the viewer. I experience neither thoughts nor emotions in a simple narrative, and I wanted this new work to mimic the way I see, hear, and feel: which is to say, as fragments mostly and as colours and space – intense, if not always rational.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

The Voodoo I Do

I am fascinated by altars and fetishes. The spiritual powers attributed to them intrigue me. Recently, I watched a TV documentary about young America soldiers. Each carried a good luck charm. I began to notice that a lot of urban people carry around (or wear) items of intense personal, religious or superstitious significance.
At my voodoo-inspired exhibition, Venus In Hell, I created my first altar (pictured left). I assembled it with offerings of food, alcohol and tobacco, and a wide, but carefully selected combination of objects, each rich with symbolism. The effect it had on people was palpable. Most spent a long time lingering in front of it; many unconsciously gathered around or near it.
My boyfriend has given me many small, precious gifts. Some have travelled the world with him over many years. A few months ago, I created a tiny altar in my home. I keep them there, in view, along with a few other small, sentimental pieces I have collected or been given over the years, including a tiny buddha, carved from a single garnet, a fragile bird scull I found on a beach, a small, rare Radiant Baby badge by Keith Haring, a sinister-looking hat pin of a black crow, sewn all over with beads and feather shaped sequins and a glass eye, and a figure of Our Lady Of Lourdes in a clear tube of holy water from Lourdes itself. There are about a couple of dozen other small pieces, each full of meaning and history.
I walk by the altar several times a day. I find it comforting, reassuring, even peaceful. As someone with few personal possessions, and even fewer religious or or superstitious beliefs, its effect on me is a little perplexing. I want to explore it further in my work.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Thinking Again

I've been thinking a lot about thinking.
When I was a kid, I loved learning. I went to a number of small, rural schools and they all encouraged me to read a lot.
I was even allowed to read during class as long as I followd the lesson at the same time. When we moved to the city, I skipped a year and started high school early. Although I did well, with little effort, I soon realised that being interested in learning
and getting 'straight As' was a disadvantage.The school's faculty seemed irritated by anyone actually wanting an education.
I left after a couple of years, and went to a few more high schools
before graduating. The last was for students in Years 11 and 12 only, and included a technical college syllabus. The school had a university-style timetable, no uniform (uniforms are compulsory in most Australian schools), and you could smoke. Teachers were addressed by their first names. It was full of either kids who didn't fit in with the conventional education system or 'mature-age' students completing their education. I liked it no more nor less than the other schools I'd been to but many of the teachers were apathetic. My art teacher couldn't be bothered writing a recommendation for me to study art at university.
When I entered universiy, I had a naive ideal, probably from reading
too many books written in the '60s and '70s, that it would be full of people who wanted to be there. The campus would a place of lively discussion and debate, where independent thinking and autonomous learning were taught and encouraged.
Nothing could be further from the truth. I went to two
different institutions, both with relatively good reputations. Nevertheless, I was consistently marked lowest for essays that pursued independent thought – the more effort I put into researching them, the lower I scored – and marked highest for locating the most obvious, generally accepted references and regurgitating them.
After a while, I lost interest and dropped out.
Even as a teenager, my peers – hell, my own family! – took me to task me for thinking too much.
So I started to talk less. After a period of talking less, I avoided thinking as much too. I felt that if I couldn't make myself understood,I must be wrong. Anyway, life worked better when I dumbed myself down. I got along better with people even if I lost something that was integral to my happiness.
It wasn't until I met my boyfriend that I was again forced to think – in various, original ways. He encouraged me
to say what I thought. An eccentric, nomadic, gifted and solitary man, he has an exceptional IQ and an urbane if disconcertingly offhand conversational manner. For nearly three years, we have talked for hours, every day, on topics that might range from the inversion of traditional means of valuing art to the navigational techniques of desert-roaming Touaregs, or from the archaeology of mediaeval, Muslim Southern Spain to the novels of Delacorta. He has no respect for conventional learning. He forces me to tease out my own original ideas, to test them, and to question the ideas of others. He also questions me, stimulating my own analytic and investigative processes.
I've never felt more alive but more
, I've come to realise that without a vibrant interior life, it's too easy merely to go through the motions of living.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Better Than Buying A House

Last week, at the respected local auction house of Lawson-Menzies, one of my earliest enamel on canvas paintings, Death Angel, became the first of my works ever to go under the hammer. The final bid was $A12,000! Painted in 1998, Death Angel originally sold for $A1,200 at my first exhibition at a commercial gallery in Queensland.
Death Angel was one of my my first and simplest paintings. I was into graffiti then, and signed my paintings HAZED as a nod to what I regarded as my 'roots'. I'd also been reading texts on semiotics which I'd discovered at art school, particularly those by Roland Barthes. His best known essay, Death of the Author, written in 1967, was an essential postmodernist reference at art school. In all my paintings from this period, I tried to appropriate not just images but an entire visual language from popular culture and advertising and reconfigure it's content and meaning. I wasn't that good at it and Death Angel was probably one of my least meaningful works.
According to the catalogue published by Lawson-Menzies, the anticipated price range was very close to my current, much more sophisticated works – and 30 per cent more than the last enamel series I exhibited in 2004. That it achieved a price within this range was a huge surprise (at least, to me) and I am still absorbing the implications. My prices for new work have been rising as the demand for it continues to increase but I hadn't expected an increase of this much for my earliest, least accomplished work.
Ah well, it's good to know that it's turned out to be as solid an investment as beachfront real estate in Sydney.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Tall Stories, Small Minds – Even Smaller Dicks

During my four hour meeting with Andrea Candiani in Melbourne, yesterday, several people dropped by his gallery. I knew most of them, but even the ones I didn't knew of me before we were introduced.
I heard most of the gossip about the Melbourne art scene.
Inevitably, I also heard a number of rumors about me. A man I hadn't seen for years told me, "I'm so glad you didn't give up being an artist". I have never considered such a thing, but I know why he was under the impression I might have. An unscrupulous art consultant about whom I've written before had told several important collectors that I'd stopped making art; I guess he was trying to get around having to explain why he didn't represent me anymore. It amazes me that anyone believed him. I wouldn't have trusted him to tell me the right time.
A new rumor I heard was that I'm a 'kept' woman, somebody who's supported by one or (depending on whom you hear it from) more rich boyfriends. Of course, this is the predictable put-down of every smart, successful woman, usually by the impotent, misogynistic, middle-aged men – like the above-mentioned art consultant, the source of this pathetic, seamy little lie – who are intimidated by them. I don't even bother to defend myself against this sort of pencil-dicked shit.
Still, I 'm surprised that this particular fool is so ready to reveal his menopausal rage and blatant chauvinism to everyone in what is, after all, a very small world. The facts are easy to find. Maybe he didn't (can't?) read the reputable Melbourne newspaper, The Age, which published a profile of me on the front page of their Business section, last year. If he did, he might have discovered that I owe my success to no-one but myself – and a savvy accountant, who happens to be a highly accomplished woman who sits on a handful of corporate and institutional boards and advises several well-known figures in the arts, media and advertising.
In other words, I'm a self-made, financially independent woman. I contribute substantial amounts to the bottom lines of the galleries that represent me. My boyfriend (singular) has nothing to do with it.
Without wanting to boast – but, fuck it, I've been provoked – even The Age's claims about the level of my income and the demand for my work were, if anything, understated. But from here on in, that's between my accountant, the tax department, and me.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

The New Generation Me

I'm flying to Melbourne today to meet with the Director of Metro 5 Gallery , Andrea Candiani, one of my favorite gallerists (and people). He has asked me to exhibit under his gallery's auspices as part of New Generation Art , a component of Art Melbourne '07. Each New Generation artist has to be under 40, represented by a major commercial gallery, and "considered by the experts as the ones to watch in future years". I 'm always bemused by statements like that but I'm happy to be included nonetheless.
It's not really a group show. My work will be shown in a small, partitioned space of its own, about 4m x 3m. I'm planning to use every inch of it and include works done in various media, new and old. I want it to be a multi-dimensional experience, where people are surrounded by sensation rather than looking at individual works hung on the wall. There will be several individual works on sale, but I have complete freedom to make and present them in any way I want.
I'm relieved that I feel this way about showing in a venue sponsored by a commercial gallery. My first experiences with galleries were very much shaped by their predictable imperative to display 'product' for commercial gain. Although I've had a lot more freedom to do what I want in my relationship with Metro 5 over the past year or more, it's taken me a while to be at ease with it. Suddenly, now, it's as if all the restrictions I felt (or imposed upon myself) are finally, truly, falling away.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Sick Note

I have a virus. I have been sleeping for the past two days. At first, I tried to work through it but my boyfriend insisted that I shouldn't. He pointed out that not to rest now would only prolong it. I know he's right.
My immune system is still recovering from the damage I did to it painting with enamel. My skin, inflamed by the paints' fumes, has been slow to heal and there's blood in the tissue every time I blow my nose. The blood looks like paint sprayed clumsily through an airbrush. It reminds me of Howard Arkley's Printout Red/Blue, from 1980. Up close, his works always seem to consist of random splatters, instead of being auto-finish smooth.
When not asleep, I've been reading The Sheltering Sky by Paul Bowles. If I can't make art, at least I can let my mind become absorbed in another world. Of course, I also find myself identifying with it: "He did not think of himself as a tourist; he was a traveller. The difference is partly one of time, he would explain. Whereas the tourist generally hurries back home at the end of a few weeks or months, the traveller, belonging no more to one place than to the next, moves slowly, over periods of years, from one part of the earth to another. Indeed, he would have found it difficult to tell, among the many places he had lived, precisely where it was he had felt most at home."

Friday, February 02, 2007

In The Real

The only art I saw as a kid was reproduced in books, catalogues and prints. As an adult, I scan the web and the art pages of newspapers every day, searching for exhibitions I want to see "in the real". My boyfriend laughs when I talk about seeing art in the real. Having grown up in Europe, in a well-known creative family, both the concept and the grammar amuse him. Still, he understands better than I do that reproductions are, at best, rudimentary and nothing like the rich experience of real art.
This hit me for the first time when I walked into an exhibition of paintings by Jeffrey Smart. In reproduction, his works looked completely smooth and hard edged. When I saw them in a gallery, they were immediately familiar but with each step I took toward them, their surfaces began to come alive. I felt as if I could walk into the paint itself. The subtle changes were mesmerising. Tiny brushstrokes became apparent. Hues that at first looked solid were revealed to be delicate and unexpected combinations of different colours. Details that seemed clear and precise at a distance merged together close up. A hand became a tiny, abstracted pink claw. Facial features softened into painterly masks. Everything hummed with movement, yet was still contained by the strong shapes of the composition. It created a beautiful sense of tension – and slight unease.
I have difficulty remembering the works by Smart that I've only seen in reproduction. They blend in with the thousands of reproduced images I've absorbed in nearly 30 years. However, my memories of experiencing them at that exhibition are intense. I recall the different ways each painting unfolded to me but there are also fragmentary, almost physical sensations, as if I really had stood inside each world he had created on canvas.