Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Uncertain Future

"When you look into an abyss, the abyss also looks into you."
– Friedrich Nietzsche
Lately I've been finding elements of my life really fucking confronting.
Everything is in flux. Nothing is certain. Life is often like this but after all I've been through in the past year – the slow unravelling of my mind, the several weeks I spent in hospital, my inescapable bankruptcy the diagnosis of my father's cancer – I've been left with meagre emotional resources to be able to withstand much more.
Then again, there's nothing quite like watching the one person I thought might live forever confront their imminent mortality to shatter child-like notions of immutability. stability. I realise now how time is so easily lost or, worse, wasted.
I've spent the last year in some kind of fatalistic stupor. Fearful of a future in which my natural independence and solitude might isolate me, I tried in vain to jury-rig a safe, socialised structure to protect myself instead of just embracing the occupational risks – creative, emotional, financial – of making art for a living. It leached me of energy and daring. And when it failed, I fell into the role of a powerless, frightened victim.
I've spent the past several weeks caring for my father in a city that is one of art's stagnant backwaters. I stopped painting for a while. I even thought of stopping for good. All the determination I once had dissolved into self-pity.
It took a random image in my head of my half-paralysed, tumour-ridden father facing down death with grace and good humour to bring me to my senses.
Instead of stopping painting, I stopped hiding out. Yesterday, I finalised dates for the first of several solo exhibitions next year, both within Australia and elsewhere. The first will be at MARS Gallery in Port Melbourne, Victoria, from 10th to 20th November, featuring the first new enamels I have shown in public since 2004. The second, opening on 12th November at Latrobe Contemporary Gallery in Morwell, Victoria, will coincide with a number of local events and workshops focussing on my experiments with other media.
I'm working both forward and backwards from those dates to organise other exhibitions to bridge the second half of 2011 and the first half of 2012. I'm re-thinking my schedule to enable me to complete all my outstanding commissions by the end of 2010. Logistics are always a mind-fuck, especially when they involve shipping several dozen works to different locations, but I am already getting my head around the hassle – and the gob-smacking cost.
I'm determined to make a more space for the future by paring down what I've kept of the past. I've decided to rid myself of piles of sketches, studies, and works on paper done since I was discharged from hospital. In part, it will help to finance the space and material I need to make new work, It'll also unleash me from old ideas, old methodologies: even reference materials for past works have been catalogued and packed away in archive boxes at a storage facility in Sydney.
I've decided to live in much the same way as I work. When I make art, I start with an idea of what I would like to do. I know it won't turn out exactly as I imagined but if I worried too much about that at the outset, the idea wouldn't be realised at all. It isn't always sucessful. It doesn't always work. But sometimes it turns into something much more than I first imagined. The key is to keep moving – even if it isn't always forward – to avoid stasis.
Longing for certainty is common to all of us. I have never longed for it so hard or so often as I have during the past year or so – until it struck me that the absence of this longing is exactly what sets the artist apart from everyone else. It might be comforting but it offers no provocation, no challenge.
The truly creative not only adapt and evolve in response to uncertainty, they relish it. They might be disciplined in their work habits but inspiration is often unruly and unreliable. Attempts to control it, to corral it, make dull art. An ability to collaborate with uncertainty has always been the mark of a great artist.
As my father is teaching me, the only real certainty is death. Like him, I intend to spend every day of the rest of my life facing it down.

8 comments:

Three Owls said...

wow. I love the perspective of an artist being a person who is not in need of certainty.

rino said...

and one of Nietzsche's best, strongest, disturbing ideas.

Tom said...

Sorry to hear about your Dad, Hazel. He's a good bloke. Sending love and hippy vibes to him, you and your fam.
FWIW: The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying can be bloody helpful during times like the one you're going through.

Alec said...

'And love is an antisocial act, though not deliberately so...whenever it succeeds in realising itself, it breaks up a marriage and tranforms it into what society does not want it to be: a revelation of two solitary beings who create their own world, abolishes time and work, and declares itself to be self-sufficent. It is hardly strange, then, that society should punish love and its testimony - poetry -with equal malevolence, condemning them to the confused, clandestine world of the forbidden, the absurd, the abnormal. Nor is it strange that both love and poetry explode in strange, pure forms: a scandal, a crime, a poem'(Octavio Paz - 'The Labyrinth of Solitude')

Michael Radcliffe said...

This is a really good piece of writing Hazel, and you've struck a chord with me.

I think one of the things that helped me was the realisation that making art is my chance, my opportunity. When everything else is turning to crap, it gives me the ability to do, say and create something.

Penny said...

Great to hear that you are making something positive from a truly awful time in your life. Stay strong.

faunawolf said...

At the end of our life the only thing we take with us is our state of mind.

Matthew Peak said...

I sure hope mine gets better before the road ends