Q. Reflecting on the work you have been doing as project coordinator and curator since November 2014 tell me something about the networking, relationship building and strengthening that has been unfolding during this time from your point of view?
It’s very much an entangled recent and not so recent past. On reflection from where we are right now, the tumult of putting together the final touches on new works for the exhibition due to open next week, I remember artist curator collague and mentor Julie Barratt alerting me to the Own Voice Creating Connections social media group in 2014. A wonderful initiative over a few years that artist Jacqueline King describes best here in this short intro to the Own Voice group feed:
Own Voice is a self-managed group run by and for artists with disability across the North Coast & surrounds of NSW.
Originally formed in response to feedback from artists assisted via Creating Connections, the North Coast project of Accessible Arts NSW, Own Voice started in September 2013 for interested artists seeking social inclusion, artistic networking, skills development and a place to share and exchange ideas and opportunities.
The guiding principle is that of self-empowerment via collective participation.
Julie kindly introduced me to the group at a time in my life when I was passionate about having a deeper engagement with my own direct lived experience of diffability, disability, mental illness and complex PTSD.
This fecund region we live in, an ecosystem of volcanic calderas, soils and habitats seems to produce this sort of affect, or affective insight.
And one of the things I loved about participating online with the Own Voice group when I joined was the information sharing about professional development opportunities for artists in the region.
And looking back now it was absolutely instrumental for me in getting motivated to begin a contemporary artist-run collective, one that was designed for an achievable and sustainable two-year period and that might in turn build on this good artist infrastructural building work in the North Coast, and help grow, nuance, nurture and expand the legacy model.
Q. And some of the other entanglements?
Engaging with ideas around “affect” on a deeper level, the way the body makes sense of things and experiences, in a non-language way.
For me personally relocating to and living the Northern Rivers region full time in 2014, and with a long association with the region since childhood has had a positive impact on my body and the way I make sense of the world, swimming, walking, immersion in nature, the multitude of rocky shoreline habitats became a metaphor for me, walking, wading and rock-hopping in these places I began to see my life as delightfully rocky, one filled with ecodiversity, extraordinary forms of life, being and living, wondrous minutiae, sublime interrelatedness, cosmological.
I started thinking about how so many creatives relocate here to the North Coast for a better quality of life for their body, mind, soul and in my experience so often for enlivening their capacity for imagination, wonder, for joi de vivre, for conslation, for contentment.
It was seeing the Twelve x 3 exhibition that curator artist Julie Barratt curated in October 2014 at the Northern Rivers Community Gallery in Ballina that; in similar ways, helped expand my view of artists working professionally here,and indeed arts and culture in the region, for me it was such a vibrant and vivid group exhibition experience that gave me goosebumps on goosebumps. It was an exhibition of artists living and working with a range of disabilities who have the capacity to be fully present, fully alert aware to and mindful of the now.
And at the time I had been developing a living archives digital research project during the preceding two years, The ARI Remix Project , an archive documenting neglected histories and examining the impact of the diverse, lively and performative 1980s artist-run scene I had been involved with at the outset of my career.
Sharing forgotten memories, accounts, images, ephemera and resources, working, recollecting and collaborating with over 300 artists in a fairly intensive, locally and globally, tends to shake up your cellular body and your neural pathways in the most delightful ways.
Long story short the past present future methodology we are using for this living archives project has had an impact on the development of the Epicormia Collective artist-run, for example, the idea to not simply reflect on and recollect local and global artist-run heritage but in turn to act, to initiate and to perform a contemporary/digital artist-run, and so the Epicormia Collective began to merge in concept in November 2014, with Julie’s considered mentoring and networking help by early to mid January 2015 it was all systems go.
Q. The Epicormia Collective comprises six artists, are there others involved/collaborating to?
True the key members are artists Julie Barratt, Julianne Zoviar Clunne, Marion Conrow, Jeremy Hawkes, Scott Trevelyan and yours truly.I am truly blessed to be working with such a kind and talented group of artists, the last two years, an amazing journey.
In the design of this North Coast artist-run; it has been a tendency of mine over a long period of arts and culture co-ordination and collaborations, for employing methods and models engaging with an expanded view and for expanded inclusivity, I was mindful that six artists was my curatorial focus, but that somehow we might also include and engage with other artists working professionally in the region.
I liked this “expanded view” quality of both Own Voice and the Twelve x 3 exhibition, both very expansive in aim, tenor and view.
In early 2015 when more artists in the area found out about what we were doing and planning with epicormia; perhaps excited about anything representing added arts and culture infrastructure in a region with poor and limited infrastructure they too wanted to be passionately involved.
We needed to keep the project manageable as a group of six given there are so many varied and wonderful nuances to working with artists living and working with ABIs, lots of shared and one-on-one contact, active listening, slow communication, re-iterating, long lead times, lock downs and problem solving, uncertainty, delays and more uncertainty.
The budget we planned – and indeed we have been so blessed to receive from Arts NSW in early May 2015- catered for six artists for R & D over a sixteen to nineteen-month period and I knew that it was best practice to keep it simple, so we can all do our best while sharing the path.
That said at the time of grant writing in December 2014 and throughout early 2015, I started thinking more deeply about how the artist-run might be more participatory, expanded and inclusive in design, I was thinking about Australian Biennale curator Nick Waterlow at the time, and in particular, Nick’s “last will and testament” his sage words about curatorial thought, about passion and about contemporaneity, being an empty vessel and a fervent belief in the necessity of art and artists and so on.
I was thinking about the vast and impersonal scale of these types of exhibitions and about how small-scale events have an added potency and immediacy, perhaps this is the intimacy that a small group or small scale event or exhibition affords. Spectacle doesn’t need to be grand.
And challenged by many artists in the North Coast feeling they were “excluded” or “neglected” I came up with the idea of a Ballinale, a portmanteau word blend of Ballina and Biennale, an expanded exhibition within an exhibition concept that we could include in the project that would allow us to include and to curate other artists, other co-creative collaborations, emergent artists for example, or older colleagues in an integrated way.
There are so many creatives living and working the region who also need to benefit from added professional development and arts infrastructural visual arts opportunities.
Q. Did this idea morph in turn into the Willowbank Studios Exhibition Decade of Catharsis, six artists who have been working with artist Scott Trevelyan since 2006?
Indirectly, yes, as I mentioned there was always the element of participatory design for the Epicormia Collective, and as the Epicormia project developed during 2015, gained momentum and as the simultaneous collaboration for the ARI Remix Project also gained momentum, and indeed as the needs for each of the six of us engaged in Epicormia grew in scale it became very clear to me that curating and co-curating an expanded and inclusive exhibition within an exhibition would not be achievable or sustainable.
At this time in March last year I was working directly with colleague Caroline Wales who has a long background in arts, curatorial and gallery management and Caroline was helping me get the ARI Remix Project artist database into order and we got chatting. I suggested that maybe Caroline work on this Ballinale arts and diffability motivated idea for the Epicormia Collective project and lead it with her keen curatorial perspective, Caroline had experience working with Accessible Arts in the region back in the day when there was a regional focus by Accessible Arts, and I was becoming more and more time challenged as both projects were growing and expanding.
And after more development and the motivation that perhaps this Ballinale idea was a darling that needed its own identity, in turn we happily shared the inclusive Ballinale idea to Caroline in May 2015 to make her own, and to grow the concept and from a curatorial perspective back then in handing over the concept, it was best that we and so many others like us continue this shared activist project of building and generating added arts and culture infrastructure in the region, and in a way that is not monocultural.
We at Epicormia are so chuffed that the Ballinale project built by Caroline and her team will coincide with the opening week of our exhibition The Re-authoring Impulse, adding a festive quality to the end of year arts and culture calendar in the region. Some of us are included in the project.
Jumpcut to June this year when artist Scott Trevelyan received funding for a ten-year anniversary exhibition of the many artists involved in workshops, education and training programs at Willowbank Studio in Alstonvale since Scott established the share studio in 2006 following the motor cycle injury that changed his life.
Willowbank Studio, is an artist-run dedicated to people living and working with ABI and has in many ways helped Scott to re-author his life and his sense of community engagement, and this funding acknowledgment in June this year was so truly timely and appropriate to what we are doing at the Epicormia Collective.
In turn Scott’s research and development has expanded somewhat into a curatorial role, and Scott is producing the amazing Decade of Catharsis anniversary exhibition including six additional artists. This exhibition also helps realise the project an expanded exhibition model which we love and imagined at the very outset of development in early 2015.
Q In fact artist Scott having a more formal role as a curator is an integral part of the Epicormia collective artist-run design, skills development and growth?
Yes, for Scott it’s the curatorial skills he is developing, refining and growing now, that is both challenging and transformative.
All of us in fact are indeed working with new forms, new media, techniques and developing new skills, for Scott it’s curatorial engagement and working in more sculptural installation-based ways for example. Jeremy is working with photo media, and also with wall-based installation, a set of news skills for his practice.
Marion is altering her long term public/events big video project works into an intimate museum-quality gallery exhibition and curatorial format, and is also working with large scale photo media, another example of new skills.
Julie is deftly hand embroidering ephemera, nuancing, growing and “elevating” the role of ephemera and the quality of affect in her artist book and print making practice.
Julianne has a long “career” and over 25 exhibitions throughout Asia and is now actively collaborating with an artist-run group, this is a new skill in itself and rather different to the so called “interiority” that has largely been at the centre of her practice for a long while now, and from all reports so far from Julianne this newfound shared approach is one that Julianne is loving.
During the last few months Julianne has been collaborating with artist colleague and Own Voice member Jacqueline King with various glass making skills and techniques, so yes a cornucopia of new skills and regrowing unused or forgotten skills, its been challenging, exciting and from reports back from the collective so far, transformational.
And I am slowly developing and growing my lo-fi digital video editing skills. IN the early 1990s I taught myself Umatic analogue editing at Metro TV in Paddington in Sydney, a long time ago. In November 2014 Marion and I began collaborating on digital editing of my super eight archives; what I like to term my non-finito video art works, analogue works I can re-collect, re-author and re-imagine today with lo fi digital desktop editing. And for me the impact of this intensive collaboration with Marion almost two years down the track is both that I am editing my super eight videos independently through the skills development that Marion has helped me learn and revive and a feeling of rapture.
Q. And the Northern Rivers Community Gallery Ballina as the exhibition “site”, that is also a collaboration in other ways from my understanding?
Yes, I love this gallery and have been going along for many years, I particularly like the contemporaneity that Director Lee Mathers has produced over the last three years, it was this direct and unapologetic engagement with contemporaneity that attracted us to NRCG Ballina, a more diverse engagement with the depth and breadth of media, methods and contemporary thinking that is the art world today.
We have been truly grateful to be able to engage with Lee and Lauren, indeed all the team and installation crew at the gallery to help us hone and develop what are really a series of immersive wall based installations.
This sixteen months of development so far, while clear at the outset was about imagining new works around the concepts of epicormic growth and re-authoring, this development journey also began with a good measure of uncertainty, with feelings of emptiness, and this new skills development, relationship building and strengthening and what I like to call performative collaborativity over the last year has allowed each of us to develop in leaps and bounds, and together a two year artist-run project.
And this type of “community” gallery, curatorial, artist-run relationship is founded on a combination of organic and conceptual ways and means that I feel is producing new ways of seeing and being, and is helping all of us engage with an expanded view of arts practice, of artist-run culture today, of arts and diff-ability/disability and of what expanded exhibitionary practice might be in both a local and global context.
Q. Yes in fact there is a strong digital community aspect to the artist-run collective?
Artist-runs today are necessarily innovative and problem solving in ambit and digital. And we are building on the fabulous “legacy-model” work of artist curators/ project leaders like Julie Barratt, and those involved in Twelve x 3, Own Voice with their artist web site/digital social media -led focus and mindfulness and so on.
In this day and age every artist and artist collective/group needs a visually rich web site, a place to extend, nuance and enliven the digital archive around the diversity of theirs and other’s arts practice as it unfolds.
And indeed this method is designed to help artists to work more mindfully and in self-directed ways with archiving both their own and their shared achievements into perpetuity.
From my curatorial perspective, it is this idea of archiving achievements that is an integral aspect to the re-authoring impulse, artist-led archiving allows the possibility for contemplation, reflection, memory, re-collection and the continuity of re-collecting, I believe this self-inquiry, self-reflexive and auditing engagement in the shared digital sphere is vital to a healthy and sustainable professional art practice in today’s attention economy.
Q. And to pick up on the curatorial ideas of “epicormic/epicormia” and re-authoring you just mentioned, tell me a little more detail about the inception of the curatorial context for this project?
During the past three years I have lived between Brisbane and Ballina, and I use the bus for travel, and throughout 2014 on these many commutes to visit my aging and ailing Dad, who coincidentally passed away peacefully on May 14 this year after a long period of full time palliative care from my sister and I and a terrific care agency in Brisbane. So lots of life and death matters unfolding in complex and beautiful ways in the past three years.
Throughout 2014 I was observing how the bush regenerated in the Broken Head to Lennox Heads stretch after a fire event caused by a lightning strike on December 29, 2013. For a while this landscape looked like a sea of char.
And I was reminded of so many bush fire events throughout my life in Brisbane, on Moreton Island, in the Gippsland, in Sydney and in the Blue Mountains and at this time I was busy writing a series of short stories, including one about a bushfire in Arana Hills where I grew up.
It was in the summer of 1975 and in the recent aftermath of the fire that destroyed the bush lands around us I was seized by the exquisite flushes of epicormic growth, how ten thousand sprays of redgreen shoots were springing forth from odd places on the tree trunks, these flushes of redgreen captured my nine year old imagination.
In 2014 I was also reading a lot about neuroplasticity and about complex post traumatic stress disorder, the pyschological impact of violence to the body, after being assaulted resulting in with cranio facial surgery, and many years of “recovery”.
It’s uncanny right now as we speak, there is a bush fire burning here in nearby South Ballina. So the idea of Epicormia came from this series of bus trips, observing the flushes of growth from dormant or adventitious buds in what appears like strange places on tree trunks, and the idea of re-authoring, an idea based on language use and the choice of metaphors we favour, but also an impulse that can also unfold from affect, from the non-linguistic. I’ll pick up on this in a moment.
The term Epicormia is itself a neologism and is the broader curatorial backdrop if you like , the framing concept or premise that we are each responding to or indeed contesting, literally, poetically, indirectly or interpretively with the current project, and it is a play on the term epicormic and the way bodies are narratively pathologised or impacted on by “the canon”.
One of the books I was reading at that time, What Doesn’t Kill Us, struck a chord and astonished me, author Professor Stephen Joseph and his idea that “re-authoring involves telling a new story about who you are, about the role of trauma in your life and about how what happened was part of your life journey. It is the story of how the event fits into your life. Life is complex.”
And so, in short, each of us are engaging with trauma, whether its a past, recent or ongoing one, and in a multitude of ways, negotiating and renegotiating the metaphor’s we select around trauma, and the impulse of engagement is one of poetic engagement, examining poetry as a verb, making or performing actions that shift, change, alter and transform us and the language, the metaphors we employ, and as a result of these actions, the aspiration for enthrivement.
Read more about North Coast community group dedicated to peace and non-violence Remembering and Healing: