Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Galloping, Falling

"Look I probably should have told you this before, but you see.. well.. insanity runs in my family. It practically gallops."
Cary Grant as Mortimer Brewster, Arsenic and Old Lace
I had expected to be well by now. I am no longer depressed. The mood stabiliser they prescribed while I was hospitalised has stilled the chaos and rage of mania without leaving me numb. Yet my mind is still not functioning properly. And it's making it almost impossible for me to live, let alone make a living.
Last week, during a regular consultation, my psychiatrist took a typed form from his desk drawer. Reading from it, he asked me several long, detailed questions relating to anxieties, fears, phobias, family history, irrational beliefs, physical ailments, obsessions, dreams and nightmares, and responses to various types of social interactions.
They were questions I'd never been asked before. And yet they interrogated experiences I've had daily – and intensely – since my mid teens. I had assumed they were symptoms of my bipolar disorder. Or, more simply, flaws in my personality. It turns out that they're something more than that.


Co-morbidities – additional psychiatric or medical disorders – are not uncommon among those diagnosed with bipolar disorder. But I've felt for a while that, when it came to my head, something else was wrong. I just couldn't figure out what it was. My psychiatrist now believes it's a type of severe anxiety disorder, if not a cluster of several. It is probably inherited, genetic, just as my bipolar is.
Frankly, I don't care what it is. I am desperate to get well.
Cognitive behavioural therapy is a basic treatment strategy. But my psychiatrist believes that medication will have the most significant effect for me. The drug he has prescribed has potent side effects. As I write this , I feel like shit: nauseous, indolent, unable to think straight. It will take several weeks for any positive effects to become apparent.
At first, the prognosis of a slow, unreliable recovery depressed me so much I was immobilised. But I refuse to let madness overwhelm my life any more than it has. I want to get back to work.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Wrapping Fish






















A brief Q&A, published last year in Brisbane's
Courier Mail weekend magazine, QWeekend.

Friday, May 18, 2012

About Face(book)

"Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself."
Leo Tolstoy
This week, I read an article by Sean Bonner, titled On Leaving Facebook. Bonner was an active user of the social networking site for close to five years but recently, he decided to 'delete' his presence there when a friend, Peter Rojas, co-founder of several technology blogs and the website site gdgt, wrote on Twitter, “Most people disagree, but I think it’s important to not use services that you have issues with, even if they are free.”
I've always been open about my dislike and distrust of FaceBook. But I persisted with a presence there since 2010. After all, it was a good way to connect with new people. I never thought of myself as 'supporting' FaceBook.
Then I began to see a darker side to it. My first account was removed without warning after I posted a photograph of myself embracing another female artist. We were both naked but the image wasn't particularly explicit. I figured that if Playboy was allowed to post photos of non-explicit nudity, so was I. I didn't realise that the company enforced a 'code of conduct' without warning and without a process of appeal. (Later I learned that partial nudity was fine, as long as it wasn't between members of the same sex.) I re-registered using a different email address and begrudgingly self-censored the words and photographs I posted. I couldn't help but despise myself for being so compliant.
The company's ethics have been called into question several times in the wider public arena. They were never a company that held much truck with trust or privacy. FaceBook not only gathers users' private information but also tracks their internet usage after they leave the site. Unsurprisingly, the company also publicly supports CISPA, a bill which threatens individual privacy and freedom online. Bonner notes the company's other dubious actions in his blog entry, with links that substantiate the claims. On a personal, visceral level, everything I've ever read about the company's CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, makes my flesh crawl.
After reading Bonner's article, I realised I couldn't ignore the uncomfortable fact that I walk my talk in every area of my life, except when it comes to Facebook. I no longer wanted anything to do with a corporation – which, today, made an Initial Public Offering to investors, valuing its 500-million-strong user base at more than $US100 billion – that represents (and imposes) ideas I believe are elementally anti-social, oppressive, philistine and unethical.
So, like Bonner, I have abandoned FaceBook. I made my last post there last night. It contained an explanation and a link to Bonner's blog post. In 48 hours, my Facebook account will be deactivated and go 'dark'. It will be deleted. I will continue to update my website, as well as post to Twitter, Tumblr, and this blog. I will look forward to remaining in contact with everyone I've met on FaceBook. Just not via FaceBook. Not anymore.
I'm reassessing how I want to use social media. I'm also re-examining the way I manage my independent career online. The internet has changed radically since my website went live in 2004. I started blogging here six years ago and a couple of years after that I became the first artist in Australia (and one of the very few in the world) to walk away from representation by major galleries to manage my own marketing and sales via the net.
Doing the same thing for a long time gets old and these days, other artists – thousands, in fact – do much of what I pioneered (and a lot more). I still maintain a website and I blog, Tweet, network (on LinkedIn), and archive video on Youtube. I just want to do things – maybe more things – differently.
I began a visual diary, In The Studio, last year to document my work and rather more intimately, the life from which it derives. It was an ambitious, open-ended project that has now accumulated nearly 400 images. This year, I expanded my use of the platform to include art projects that people could watch as they evolved. The first of these was Venus In Hell, a series of 100 photographs taken using an iPhone 3G and $1.99 app'. More recently, I've published The Sex Cantos, a book-like mixture of drawing and sexually explicit prose (with a forward by the famed No Wave film-maker, Amos Poe).
The web has evolved in a way that supports my wildest dreams.There are countless platforms – all more ethical and liberal than Facebook – in which to evolve and communicate new ideas, share information, tell stories, sell work and raise funds for new projects. In other words, there are newer and more exciting ways an artist can fuck with the old ways of making, promoting and selling art – and that's something that never gets old.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Auction Update

My enamel on canvas painting, Fashion Targets Breasts, sold tonight at Lawson-Menzies' Quarterly Fine Art Auction for $A12,810, including the buyer's premium. This was above the auctioneer's pre-sale estimate of $A8,000 to $A12,000.
The 105cm x 148cm work was created as the 'headline' piece for the Fashion Targets Breast Cancer auction in Queensland, way back in 1998. It originally sold for $A1,500, a record for my work at the time. I donated the entire proceeds to the charity. You can see the painting and the original invitation for the event (featuring the image) here.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Released

I was discharged from from the psychiatric clinic this morning. Thirty-two days of continuous, intense treatment – including Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS), mood stabilising drugs and various types of psycho-therapy – are at an end.
Has it made any difference? Yes.
For a time, I didn't think it had. I had only glimpses of sanity that quickly receded. Then, during the last week, there was a consistent mood, a stability, that I eventually recognised as 'being well'. It's a state I've not known since my teens.
The huge dark void within me has filled. I'm no longer overwhelmed with sadness. My experience of the world isn't filtered through anger and self-loathing. When I look in the mirror I see the reflection of a woman, not a damaged monster. I don't hear ugly voices in my head.
I am cheerful and pleasant. To me, this is profound. And no, I am not simply numbed by medication. I still experience a range of emotions. I am not yet at ease with the new ways I've learned to handle them but I feel much more in control. If I am upset, the feeling dissipates. It doesn't fester within me.
If I am not quite 'well', I feel confident that I can be. I am tired from the drugs and the TMS treatment and I am still adjusting to a different way of seeing the world and myself. I'm cautious about how my mind processes experiences but everything looks and feels slightly different now – familiar, yet unfamiliar, like a William Gibson-esque 'mirror-world'.
I recognise that my sanity is new-found and tenuous. It makes me nervous. Madness might return. I keep expecting it – like a player of Russian Roullette always expects the bullet. My psychiatrist tells me this is reasonable but he predicts that my residual anxiety will disappear within a few weeks. If it doesn't, the symptom will be noted in my treatment plan.
This plan is designed to flag and treat any symptoms as soon as they begin to appear – instead of after they've ground my life to a halt or created a trail of wreckage. Every day, I fill in a mood chart. Every week I will show it to my psychiatrist. If I am travelling, my appointment with him will be via Skype instead of in person. I'll see a psychologist as well, so I continue to learn more coping skills. If (or, rather, when) depression returns, I will return to hospital for a short, 'maintenance' course of TMS.
With luck, this time I might cling to sanity. Even in the worst moments. I'm determined it won't get away from me.

Sunday, May 06, 2012

Skinless

I have just published, via Tumblr, an online version of The Sex Cantos, a limited edition book project I began working on more than a year ago. To quote the Artist's Note accompanying the images and texts:
"At the end of January, 2011, I took to my bedroom with a sketchbook, several dip pens and a bottle of black ink. For two weeks, I did nothing else but draw fragments of my sexual history. What I couldn’t draw accurately enough, I wrote, in a spidery cursive script on the backs of discarded pages. I had no references, no photographs, no preliminary sketches. I wanted to work from memory, from the residue of sensation imbedded in my skin.
"I didn’t want to think at all. My father had just died after a short but dreadful illness. I was prepared for his loss but not for the ragged chasm of sorrow that opened up within me. Always solitary, I found no comfort among my remaining family. Over the ensuing days, I was overwhelmed by an insidious, numbing grief.

"I don’t remember what prompted me to pick up a pen and begin to draw except that I wanted feel something again. I didn’t want any sex in my life then but it emerged as a raw impetus in the first few marks I made. Within a couple of hours, I had finished half a dozen drawings. I lay on the bare timber floor of my room, amid torn or crumpled paper and broken nibs, and masturbated for the first time in a few months.
"The thirty or more drawings that make up
The Flesh Eaters, the original title I gave the drawings, describe experiences with just one man, whom I shared with several women for nearly a decade. Needless to say, I love this man. Despite long periods apart from each other, I have remained faithful to him. And yet, from the outset of our relationship, I was able to admit and act upon a sexuality – and a sexual curiosity – that I had long suppressed. As I wrote, three years ago, in a post on this blog, 'When I asked him how he might feel if I wanted to have sex with a woman, it didn’t faze him. He’d lived enough that little surprised or shocked him… '
"Inevitably, this unbound intimacy insinuated itself into my art but never with quite the same urgency or explicitness as in
The Flesh Eaters. These intricate, close-ups of sex, which are everything but lubricious, might have been drawn from a futile impulse to deny death but they are unquestionably also an insistent affirmation of life.
"As for the words, the
Cantos, they fill in the gaps between the drawings. The fifteen twisted prose-poems (I am no writer) convey a little of the context and intense sensuality of the best-remembered moments. And, it has to be said, the uncertainty."
The talented writer and director, Amos Poe, once a leading light of New York's short-lived but influential No Wave movement, has contributed a wonderful foreword that offers an alternative but no less imaginative perspective of both the drawings and the texts.

Saturday, May 05, 2012

Nothing To Say

“The new punk is about raw skill and having something powerful to say.”
– Hazel Dooney, from the essay Life Study, 2006.
I’ve stopped and restarted this blog a few times since the middle of 2011. This year, I stopped updating my all my online presences, including Facebook and Twitter. I felt I had nothing to say. My deteriorating mental health and backlog of commissions didn't help. Even offline, I didn't have much to say to anyone.

I tried to ignore it for a while. I kept posting online. I felt I had to articulate ideas and points of view, even if I felt empty of them. After all, it's part of what an artist does. I wanted to sustain some of the connections – personal and professional – that I’d made but more, I needed to retain
the attention of my online audience. As anyone who earns (or wants to earn) a living through the internet knows, if you don't update your presence regularly with meaningful ‘content’, you risk being subsumed by the vastness of the internet itself. When that happens, you lose your tenuous hold on the fleeting attention of all who connect to it.
In the absence of anything to say, I rehashed my own and others' content. I posted links to other people’s posts and made benign comments about other people's ideas. I answered dumb questions. Worst of all, I started to make small-talk.
It was vapid, pointless and faintly embarassing: after all, wasn't the whole point of my being online to evolve and share ideas (well, that and not devolve control of my work to middle men). It certainly wasn't to entertain or distract myself – and others – with meaningless updates, to fill the emptier moments of my everyday. I never wanted to be another fucking 'content distributor'.
But I kept writing. And over time, I became everything about the internet I despised. So I stopped.
In ‘net-speak', artists are among the great hordes of "content makers, who distribute content independently". Oh and note, that's different to being a consumer, content distributor or an entertainer. People who like art (or anything else), consume, curate and distribute their preferred selections online. It’s a great way to express individuality and connect with others. But it doesn’t make anyone who does so an artist, even within the parameters of the loosest post-modern definition.
If artists don’t have anything to contribute other than rehashed content or bids for attention, we should shut the fuck up and go offline – and only post when we have something to say. And I mean something real to say, not just an update about what we’re making. I have over 300 images on my tumblr, In The Studio, but they're intended as an impressionistic and not chronologically precise visual documentary, recording for myself my own output – which is to say, it's there to remind me of what I get done when I begin to doubt my own talent or productivity. It is also a simple record of my life (including, unashamedly, sex and illness).There are no words, because there’s nothing to say that isn't already described in the images
.
When I search the internet for original content, I find a lot of people with little to say. But they're saying it anyway. Everyone’s so consumed with gaining each others' attention (the only currency that counts online) that the internet has become little else other than intensely personalised sales and marketing tool, the new medium of narcissistic supply (attention or validation from others that we seek out in order to feel alright about ourselves). The only good news is that the internet is an organic, infinitely mutable thing, so this can change – but only if more of the people whose role it is to generate original ideas step up. Or step back when they can’t.
Whenever I’ve think about this, the song Nothing To Say, by the Australian band Regurgitator, is the soundtrack playing in my head. It was written in pre-internet years (it was recorded in the mid '90s), when both the band and I were starting out in Brisbane. At the time, the lyrics – quoted, in part, below – were a commentary on feel-good pulp-pop music that was designed to sell but said nothing. Now it's become an unintentional but biting critique of the way many artists (including musicians) use the internet. It reminds us that the medium is not the message and that the message is not just about selling something. We must have something original to say.
have you any requests my fine feathered guests?

what will you pay to hear me say?
that it's alright that it's all wrong
that the sun's come up and it's a beautiful dawn
that i'm just a hypocrite
with another brand of shit
what the fuck as long as it rhymes
i'll shut the fuck up and sing in time sing in time
cos i have nothing to say (nothing to say)

i have nothing to say (nothing to say)
except did you come to get down?

did you come to fuck up?
did you come to fill your ears up with this muck?
did you come to speak shit just for the taste of it?
i came to speak shit and i'm up the loudest
so thanks for your lives
and thanks for your time
and thanks for your shite
you'll thank me for mine
cos i have nothing to say

i have nothing to say
i have nothing to say
‘cos there is nothing to say

Thursday, May 03, 2012

Emergency In Slow Motion

"A man's mind will very gradually refuse to make itself up until it is driven and compelled by emergency."Anthony Trollope
In addition to undergoing further TMS treatments, I am now taking a mood stabiliser. It takes the form of a thin wafer that I place under my tongue each night. It floods my mouth with foul chemicals, before making it numb.
I have taken mood stabilisers before. They work, but the side effects are often intolerable. They range from rashes all over my body to organ damage, zombie-like sedation, rapid weight gain, and uncontrollable trembling.
What I've been prescribed this time is a new, fast-acting anti-psychotic. Supposedly, the bitter taste is the worst side effect. I’ll see how it goes. But if it doesn’t work, I will try another and another.
My madness and the interior turmoil it generates have dissolved too much of my exterior life, driving me to destroy much of what I've achieved over the past decade. Now, after living in denial of my irrationality's worst effects, I have to do whatever is necessary to manage it, even if stability and 'wellness' continue to elude me.

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Flashing For Cash

Another of my early works is going under the hammer.
Fashion Targets Breasts
, in high gloss enamel on canvas, 105cms x 148cms, was created specially as the 'headline' piece for the Fashion Targets Breast Cancer charity auction, in Queensland, way back in 1998. The cheeky, breats-bared image was widely publicised at the time, appearing (with my permission) in all advertising and editorials about the event, as well as on the invitation. It's one of my earliest works, so it's signed and dated HAZED 98, rather than the usually DOONEY.
The original buyer is selling the work at auction at Lawson-Menzies, in Sydney (sadly, the lousy catalogue image of the work doesn't give it the best chance of appealing to buyers) on Thursday, 17th May, at 6.30pm. It can be viewed beforehand at their gallery at 12 Todman Ave, Kensignton, from 10th May to 17th May. The pre-sale estimate is $A8,000 to $A12,000.

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

No Release

I've come to the end of my course of Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation. I've had a couple of fleeting glimpses of its efficacy but little more. The treatment has been extended, my medication changed. I am not being discharged from the clinic for another two weeks.
I spend the morning summarising the last two weeks for my psychiatrist. I use the notes to draw a mood chart tracing my various, sometimes simultaneous, states of mind. The middle line is stability. The parallel lines on either side are the 'functional zone' – which allow for ups and downs that are not debilitating. I need to exist within them. The almost straight line with small x's mark my depression. The jagged line is my agitation and rage. If my madness has a map, this is it.