On Wednesday November 5 2014 there were three shared a ha moments that started the ball rolling for this wonderful wondrous Epicormia Collective artist-run project.
I had recently interviewed artist curator Julie Barratt about her new inspirational arts and diffability collaborative curatorial project Twelve + 3 for the NRCG Ballina and who, kindly, in turn encouraged me; emboldened me no less, to apply for project development funding to an upcoming deadline for LTCSA NSW & Arts NSW to create an arts and disability project and build on the amazing arts and culture infrastructural work being produced collectively in the Northern Rivers over recent years.
At first I baulked at the idea, while I had worked in the disability sector for many years, I had never worked on an arts and disability collaboration, my role was always one of administration.
Everything changed that evening.
Thanks Julie for the immeasurable inspiration and encouragement over the years that followed, this inspiration was key, was transformational for me.
Your kind and heartfelt words that day not only helped me to begin to form a new artist-run project, they also helped me to begin to engage with my own difficult experience of bodily and psychological trauma, loss, complex PTSD that followed after two unrelated acts of homophobic violence.
One brutal hate crime attack to my right frontal orbit in Bondi in Sydney where I lived in 1998 and another hate crime attack to my left frontal orbit in Melbourne in 2002 and the resultant cranio-facial, orthodontic and related psychological traumas I experienced in the following period.
An affect, that in turn thanks to this artist-run collaborative I have, finally, begun to engage with in a deeper, contemplative, more positive, more considered, more imaginative, more nuanced and creative way.
Today as I am writing dear reader I feel like my past is not a prison any longer and that this feeling I held for almost 14 years is eclipsed by a feeling of impassioned bliss, renewed agency, that added more mindful alert and aware feeling, that palpable and life affirming Friedrich Nietzsche “That which does not kill us, makes us stronger” impulse.
In November 2014 my long-term community media activist artist colleague Marion Conrow and I had recently reconnected, serendipitous in so many ways.
Marion who I had had the good fortune to meet during all the critical mass activism around the HIV AIDs pandemic in inner city Sydney in the early 1990s and who I had collaborated with in narrowcasting media and socially engaged art at the time – including Queer TV, CAT TV and the collective vigil for a city wide antennae dish for UHF 31 as it was known then, to enhance and optimise independent media and act-up activisim unfolding at the time (pre-internet) and actively contesting mainstream television media.
Marion and I had reconnected after a long hiatus ( the two assaults had me feel many negative things for a long while, bouts of self pity and the misguided idea that I was unworthy, powerless and invisible and over time I had disconnected from many friends, colleagues, family and proteges from my past) and in Spring 2014 Marion and I picked up the conversation, it was as if time was irrelevant, and we found ourselves passionately immersed in deep discussions about the future of community-led media archives, so much of which is lost, neglected or forgotten.
That afternoon we were discussing the idea of editing and re-authoring some of my own lost and recently retrieved archival super eight documentary archives ( and by the way thanks Marion for the revamped digital skills development that followed) , and it was over a cup of tea in Lismore when Marion complained and cried about the lack of arts and disability funding for artists living in the Northern Rivers region, tearily yearning, for equality for artists living and working in regional areas and especially for artists living with ABIs, complaining that so much arts funding is city centric, Sydney centric.
It was that evening over an Indian curry meal that Julie too acknowledged this gap, something that Julie has been working to address and to actively remedy for many years , tirelessly, and often without acknowledgement.
Co-incidentally I was midway in the throes of almost two years of another artist-run project, and a good deal of challenging work researching and developing a large scale living digital archive collaboration about the neglected histories of the vibrant 1980-2000 Queensland artist-run scene.
It was a heritage that I had been actively involved with for many years during the oppressive Bjelke-Petersen “Police State” regime years with so many “vigilantes” yearning, seeking, generating, making social justice.
By way of interest you can see the tip of this iceberg of this Australian artist-run heritage research so far located here:
ARI Remix Project: Living Archives, Artist-Runs – Stage One – The Queensland Remix 1980-1990
Writing this brief reflection now, during the storms, deluge, flooding, loss and trauma affecting so many Queensland and Northern NSW communities in the aftermath of Cyclone Debbie that sunny Wednesday 5 November 2014 seems like a long time ago now when this cluster of motivations merged with the idea of epicormic growth I had been flirting with for a while following recent bushfires in Byron and Lennox and the ocean of red green springing forth throughout 2013 and 2014.
Since bushfires wrecked havoc in the street of my childhood home in Arana Hills in the then newer outer northern suburbs of Brisbane, I have had a long term fascination with the entanglements of new growth, re-growth that emerges after fire in Australian habitats – and as a metaphor, it had recently seized my curatorial imagination, the idea that growth can spring and unfurl from the strangest places, from odd sections of stems, limbs and trunks, on trees, and it seemed to me at the time, on, along, through and beyond the body too.
Some of the many nuances of this shared artist-run work produced by the Epicormia Collective are documented, diarised and mapped on this website during the last two years.
From my point of view it has been an immensely rewarding experience for me in so many diverse ways, and the personal growth I have experienced during this time, immeasurable, ennobling, empowering, enriching.
Despite my initial hesitation, I am so happy, and thanks to so many, to have made another mid-life quantum leap into the unknown, plunging into the unlived, plunging into the direct un-experienced.
Working on a two year arts and diffability artist-run project, engaging with the shared possibility of regrowth and its necessary challenges, growing pains, growth spurts, has been an immense privilege and consolation.
Collaborating with talented artists Julie Barratt, Julianne Zoviar Clunne, Marion Conrow, Scott Trevelyan, Jeremy Hawkes and so many of the visionary artists, “non-artists” and creatives at both the Willowbank Studios in Alstonvale and so many co-creatives living in the Northern Rivers “precinct”, an amazing journey no less.
Arts NSW & LTCSA ( NSW Lifetime Care and Support Authority) funding allowed us each to develop the artist-run infrastructure and allowed each of us a 7000 dollar resources budget to produce a new artist web site and to make new work.
Being the resourceful skillshare artists we are, living with and or working with arts and diffability, through our networks we were all able to make this subsidy go far, and we were able to produce new museum-quality works with these funds for the final exhibition project held at the NRCG Ballina throughout November December 2016.
I remember feeling at the outset of this project while writing the Arts NSW LCTSA funding application that the project needed to be for a longer term than the usual 12 month timeline. And that a 16 month professional development opportunity was a way more appropriate period for an artist-run collective like ours. Motivated by the idea that life being as uncertain as it is, was best practice for us and as it so happened we needed every moment of that 16 months to be ready to install the new works into a major gallery last year. Time flies when you’re having raptures and major life events unfold at the same time.
As Doris Day sings, Que Sera Sera….some how together, and during this time the Epicormia Collective managed to bend like the grass.
There were many life challenges along the way, and from my own personal point of view I wouldn’t have been able to get through some of the most difficult months of my adult life were it not for the love, care, compassion, support, active listening, forgiveness, shared creativity and boundless good humour of my collaborators.
It was priceless for me to have this collaboration and to keep me going to get through the hard times, two years of helping my aging ailing Dad and in turn, January 2016 the complex sleep deprived five month full-time palliative care role that ensued, that I shared with my beautiful sister Amanda, for our beloved father John who passed away peacefully in May 2016, incredible.
Looking back now as the grief, loss and sadness is slowly shifting and waning, in those difficult months to follow to appreciate with an added mindfulness perhaps, the great privilege of the tumult of life and living, that affect, care, support, friendship and kinship affords us, and a better understanding, that being alive and being human is not a right, it is perhaps the most profound of privileges, and in equal parts, for me at least, to learn new skills and humility from my talented co-creative friends, to challenge, question, broaden and enrich my practice through these artistic collaborations.
I like to imagine, hopefully, that together during this most vivid time together we have produced something of a “legacy model” for other artists who may need a wee bit of encouragement and emboldening to initiate their own artist-run projects and to reactivate, reignite and reauthor their own sense of agency.
Epicormic growth, for me has been a way to grow and transform the narrative of both my art practice, to understand that archives – a recurring theme in my life’s work – are a living organism and performative, they are shared testimonials, not nostalgic, sentimental, singular, isolated, ossified, dusty and mausoleum-like and that collaboration, challenging one another , making links and building bridges, making the impossible possible together is at the heart of making enthralling socially engaged art, past, present, future.
In one of my archival installations ( in the photo above) I was able to re-iterate an earlier artist-run project in a small way following the death of five friends and family members last year; in the AXIS Art Project (1987-1989) we imagined ourselves as global citizens ( rather than disenfranchised locals) and for me to engage with my collaborative practice, perhaps more mindfully with age, to begin to understand my own practice on a deeper level, to re-author and to celebrate themes and subjects I hold dear, that are one of many vibrant threads of continuity in this weaving of a life.
And perhaps most significantly of all with this Wunderkammer work was the opportunity for vigil, to clearly and most fondly remember my dear artist friend and AXIS Art Projects comrade Lehan Ramsay who passed away in June 2016 and who, very much like my present day artist-run aficionados Julie, Marion, Julianne, Scott and Jeremy inspired my art making, enhanced my knowledge and helped me grow and improve as an artist and as a human being. I am truly deeply grateful beautiful Lehan for ten thousand brilliant memories 🙂
You can read the interview I mentioned with artist and curator Julie Barratt that got me moving and shaking here:
Twelve + 3 – Interview with Julie Barratt NRCG Ballina
And for more reading around recent and current research into post-traumatic growth, re-authoring and mindfulness, in particular the easy to read book by writer Dr Stephen Joseph that look at creative and artistic responses to post-traumatic growth :
What doesn’t kill us : the new psychology of postraumatic growth / Stephen Joseph.
Author: Joseph, Stephen Dr
Imprint: London : Piatkus, 2012.
Collation: xviii, 317 p. ; 24 cm.
Notes: Originally published: New York : Basic Books, 2011.
Includes bibliographical references (p. -306) and index.
Contents: Everything changes — The flipside of trauma — The emotional toll of trauma — The biology of trauma — Growth following adversity — Transformation — The theory of the shattered vase — Paths to posttraumatic growth — Putting the growth mindset to work — Nurturing growth — Conclusion.
Summary: This is a groundbreaking new book that challenges popular conceptions about trauma and its aftermath by showing that far from ruining lives, trauma can in fact act as a catalyst for positive change.
ISBN: 9780349400013 (pbk)
Dewey Class: 616.8521
Added Title: What does not kill us
Subject: Post-traumatic stress disorder