Thursday, March 30, 2017

Round Trip

A few weeks ago I decided it was time to go back into the world – specifically, my world. I booked a one-way train ticket to Sydney for $66, made three cotton jersey dresses to wear, packed a backpack, arranged to stay with an old friend of my mother's, J., and left a couple of days later. I haven't travelled on such a tight budget since I was a student.

In Sydney I had coffee with Patrick Gallagher, chairman of Allen & Unwin. I hung out with J. for the next day before catching a night train to Melbourne. There, I stayed with another friend of my mothers, N., for around a week. I had lunch (and, on another day, coffee) with Lord Mayor of Melbourne, Robert Doyle – together, we created my first public artwork, Ten Dicta For Young Women Who Are Artists. I also met two collectors of my work in person for the first time; had lunch with my old friend, gallerist Andy Dinan (and saw her purpose-built space MARS – which I think of as a new model for the bricks-and-mortar commercial gallery); visited Cameron Menzies at the South Yarra office of Menzies Art Brands; briefly met Menzies' Head of Art, Tim Abdullah, in person for the first time; had coffee with journalist Chris Johnston (who has previously written major features on my work – and me – for The Age); went to the opening of a new gallery space for emerging artists; had tea with a print-maker; and so on. In between appointments I wandered through The National Gallery of Victoria's Ian Potter Centre and Australian Centre for Moving Image.

I was surprised by how easily I fit back into the life I had before. It feels good. I'm also thankful to be welcomed back with such warmth and interest. I didn't want to leave – there are many more people in both cities with whom I want to reconnect. But I had art to make and new plans for the future to figure out.

: The only graffiti on
Ten Dicta For Young Women Who Are Artists, 2013 – a love heart scratched around the word 'woman'.

: Self in (home-made) blue dress, reflected in artwork by Jason Sims.

Thursday, March 23, 2017


Long ago I wrote a blog entry, Solitude, about becoming anti-social and hermitic. Back then I often quoted Jean-Paul Sartre: Hell is other people. It's a line from his existentialist play, No Exit, which I revisited recently. The characters are damned souls locked in a room together in hell. There are no instruments of torture. Their hell is each other – their grating personalities and complicated histories.

Life can be like that. The hell of other people's company. We're not locked in a room together for eternity. But we are alive at the same time as each other, which is almost the same thing. A life-sentence of sorts.

I like connecting remotely by making art and writing. When I die, I hope others find some connection with what I leave behind. It's less complicated than dealing with other people. In the end, though, it's a lesser experience of life. Now that managing my mind doesn't take up most of my tolerance, I want to reconnect in person again.

It has been strange to return to the world while having a public archive of my complicated past. For a long time I wanted to start over with a clean slate. I thought about erasing all my writing – words are more specifically revealing than art. But I couldn't bring myself to destroy any more of my work. Besides, it wouldn't change my temperament or history. Eventually I thought, fuck it, this is who I am. We all have varying degrees of temperamental flaws and complicated pasts. And if we didn't start out that way we earn both through the experience of living.

The only solution I could find is the same conclusion as Sartre's characters in No Exit. To accept the complications of the human condition and get on with it. The final line of the play is
Eh bien, continuons – eh well, let's continue.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

The Constant Gardener

I sit across from my psychiatrist in his office, staring at the painting of the Indian garden. It hangs behind him, above his head. Long ago I asked if he placed it there for patients to look at and he said yes. I often wonder if it is special to him, or of importance in South India. But I don't question him further.

We have been talking like old friends but only about me: about my career; new art; my recent trip to Sydney and Melbourne to begin re-connecting with the world (my world) again. I am not here because anything is wrong. I am checking that my approach is sound and sustainable. Telling him about my plans. Asking for his opinion. We talk about my personal life and being open to connecting with others. About letting it happen instead of always blocking. I tell him I am quietly confident and a little scared. He says some anxiety is natural, he would be concerned by its absence. But he expects my confidence and happiness to grow. 

My attention returns to the garden. The painting has been a sanctuary for my mind over the last five years. It feels real to me. As if I have walked underneath the delicate golden arches, inhaled the scent of roses and jasmine, studied unfamiliar orchids. This is where I have been all that time I was away – in this exquisitely beautiful garden where it is always early summer. It is the place where my psychiatrist and I delved into and then reconstructed my damaged psyche. We walked through it together, confronting my troubled past. I sobbed into the grass as my broken heart healed. While I was lost in the painting, my mind was tended diligently by psychiatric nurses and staff at the private psychiatric hospital. Now, I know how to care for it myself.

I try to explain to my psychiatrist what the world is like to me now. Without the constant, exhausting struggle of inner turmoil and intense suicidal longing that came in my mid teens and stayed until a year or two ago. Everything is better than I thought. I keep staring at the painting and it occurs to me that the way I feel when I am in the world now is the same way I used to feel when I was inside the painting. Like I belong. Like everything is going to be ok.

He tells me we don't need to have these appointments anymore. If I ever want to rest for a couple of days I can return to the hospital. He doesn't expect it to happen, but it's always there for me. He does not have to say that he is there for me if I need him. I know.

I look at my psychiatrist's face and into his dark brown eyes. I realise he must have worked to a vision, with an understanding of how it would all come together: making a space for me to heal; re-planting the garden of my mind without destroying its wilderness, showing me how to tend it, how to both live inside my mind and in the world again. I think I finally get the companionable bond between us that is unrelated to our roles of doctor and patient. What we have done together – under his guidance – is similar to creating a major artwork. The process was a complex combination of experience, intuition, experiment, re-arranging, crafting and constantly refining. Except the result is not a garden or an artwork or an objet de art. It is me. Put back together again so I can live happily – and enjoy using the instrument I care about most: my mind.

Thank you, Dr. Chinna Samy. And thank you to all the staff (past and present) at Pine Rivers Private Hospital.

This is my last entry about my mental health. From now on I will maintain it in private – the public chapter is closed.