Q. Tell me about your visual arts background Marion, arts education, and when, how, why you decided to become a professional visual artist and what continues to inspire you with photography, video and/or installation work?
Since I was five I always knew I wanted to be an artist, I was an outsider at school so I had a lot of time alone and that’s where it was easier as a shy person to express through drawing mostly. I was a good student and loved to write stories and I excelled in science and maths. My high school and my father were most disappointed that I left my final year to study art at TAFE.
But I knew that’s what I had to do, if your an artist what ever that means there is no real choice its something you are compelled to do.
And I was fortunate enough to gain entry to the internationally acclaimed Chisholm Institute Ceramic degree. We did eight units a semester it was very technical, however not creative as I needed. I traveled the world, went to countless galleries, I always analysed what moved me, which works lingered.. film and music seemed to encompass me, so in the 80’s I started playing with projection and with water, I studied as many different mediums as I could including dance and video.
In 1989 I started in Visual Arts at what is now Southern Cross University in Lismore NSW, our school was mixed with the Music School which had a Music Video course, I just sat in on classes ( as you needed to be a Musician to do it), finally the Music School allowed me to be accredited and that course was subsequently opened up to all creative schools. During my degree I cross pollinated with sculpture, film, video and projection.
This is a combined, interdisciplinary practice I still continue, creating with light is a passion of mine, I also created soundscapes, installation, all in the late 1980’s.
During this time I was also introduced to Community Television which at the time was a well needed platform to experience diversity of viewpoints, as an artist my passion included setting up LINC TV, the first regional community television station. Creating LINC TV was part of my creative practice, a huge installation of people, media, broadcast and administration. However at the time that was not seen as being “ ART”.
In my arts practice I am regularly examining “what is it I want to express”, and what is the best way to do this, I am not bound by medium but do have a true love of seeing the projected image, creating illusion, the ethereal, trying to en-capture some thing words cant describe. A long and impractical path I have.
Q. And you have a long history in the community sector too, from broadcasting to narrowcasting to events, tell me about this work and how it inspires you as an artist and the ways it informs your work as an artist for the Epicormia project?
My interest in community broadcast was inspired by being part of test broadcasts with CAT TV in Sydney in the late 1980’s while I was studying art and music video in Lismore’s NRCAE (Now Southern Cross University). Also after working at the United Nations Verbatim Unit in New York in the early 80’s, I was exposed to what was really being said and how wrongly that was represented in mainstream media.
LINC TV was born and with over 500 volunteers and over the years managed to secure a permanent Licence, this involved being part of the HRSCoTCI inquiry into possible uses of the Sixth Channel. And miraculously community television secured the channel for 5 years against huge odds.
At the time it seemed to be an ideal platform to communicate different ideas and viewpoints during a time where television was owned commercially and by the state, huge national corporations driven on a profit and politically biased basis.
My arts practice can be political, I have my own sense of personal justice and Community Television seemed the best way of addressing that huge imbalance.. and now, today we have the internet, however I still believe that in any broadcast medium there should always be a place for the true and inclusive community voice, not a selected community voice.
After 5 years of setting up LINC TV, and it was safe in the hands of Southern Cross University, I left to Sydney to find work where I was fortunate to have some time as technical crew at METRO SCREEN ( now tragically defunct), and amazingly I secured the position as National Community Television Coordinator at the Community Broadcasting Association of Australia (CBAA) during the roll out of cable and the fiesty early years of CTV. I still have a love of community media and broadcast as an arts medium.
Q. Tell me about your family background Marion, something of your family heritage/immigration story, and are there other artists in your family perhaps, if so tell me a wee bit about them? Did you grow up with arts and culture in your family, art on the walls/primary or secondary schooling etc, tell me about these things too?
My family story.. well my mums side is all German who migrated from near Berlin and Prussia in the 1800’s. I read the story of their migration, it became an inquiry way back then as the treatment of the people was so bad that two thirds died. What stuck in my mind was that the outraged cleric spoke of how my relatives never said a word, never caused any trouble, they just died. I suspect they must have been suppressed peasants.
My forepersons started farming in Rosewood and Marburg in Queensland. The family farm is still there and it is said only the Germans could handle cutting down the dense thicket. I recently found out that my grandmothers side the Schiefelbeins were very entertainment orientated being musical and performing. My grandfather Vic Krause was on Ipswich city council for years and he loved to play music, sing and generally was a bit of a performer as well.
My dads side were Americans of wealth, the Conrows came from Wales to east coast of United States they were foundry workers, My grandfather and his father came to Australia from Texas and set up the Commonwealth Steel Roll mills at Port Kembla. Grandpa was like out of the Great Gatsby a larikin he drove his car up the steps of Melbourne’s parliament house.
My Grandmother, played piano did needlework and trained in artistic ways of the time. None of my family are established artists my mum can paint and she taught me how to see things in things, a talent I still have and my father also supported that creative way of thinking. I was their “weird” child but they liked how I turned out. Both my parents are political, they loved books and music.
Dad played a mouth organ. We never really sang around a piano like they did in the old days, I wish we had though. And Dad was very good at showing me how to look at the world, analysis have compassion, an engineer who loved maths I was very lucky to be trained in the world of atoms, science and maths from a very early age.
Maths and science were easy for me, I often topped my exams and class with very little study. That all seems like another world away now. I was very lucky with my parents and their very different backgrounds yet similar libertarian good values.
Q. Tell me about your experience of illness and disability, what happened, when, where, how, why and how – what happened next? What are two or three experiences unfolding now/ happening now with some measure of reflection, about your own experiences of “epicormic” regrowth, what has this direct lived experience over time provided you, is providing now?
Ha, answering these multiple questions in questions with words is very hard for me as an example. I am exhausted after answering two and need to sleep.
That is my life now, even nine years on while I am so much better, frontal lobe damage renders somethings incredibly difficult. I think Julianne was smart to have used video, but the thought of being on camera while this way is also off putting !! Words are exhausting! Back soon.
OK I think I have a block on this one. I will send it separately. Its a huge important question.
May 23 2007 I was returning from Brisbane where I was exhibiting at QUT”S Figuratively Speaking, I was the newbie artist alongside the likes of Judith Wright and Daniel Crooks, I had just moved back to Lismore and was working on NORPA’s Bloody Bride as the projection artist.
I was in a good mood and in a hire car, a ford station wagon. I was near environ bridge (GoldCoast) on the M1 highway, I went to eject a CD ( ironically This Is It – The Stokes), but had hit gravel on the side of the road, not used to power steering I over-steered, I hit wire railings in the middle of the highway, it all happened so fast, I skated along the top taking out three poles, I had closed my eyes but wish I hadn’t as it would have looked amazing.
When I opened I didn’t know what side of the highway I was on, but the wooden fence sound barrier was ahead I went through it bounced back only to hit into it again. I got out of the car, it was totally a mess.
Ambulances appeared almost immediately I was lucky, they braced my neck , I was worried about getting to work but they said i was lucky to be alive and that people don’t walk out of accidents like that… the back of my head was burning really badly. I was taken for xrays and I was cleared. The policeman said it was like a crash in the movies, airbourne for a moment.
However soon after it became quiet apparent to others( not myself), that I was not the same. I do remember walking and half my body just collapsing a few times. Finally someone directed me to counseling and they in turn sent me to NCBIS (North Coast Brain Injury Service).
I can not thank that crew enough, they really really helped me see what I was dealing with and gave me rehab, most importantly I had to do a series of complex tests, it took two sessions to complete and I was quiet shocked that my very good memory was now limited to remembering the first and last thing and not much in the middle.. I still have that. That was just one symptom. They gave me a report, it took me a year to take it all on board, but it pretty much became my template for living, it was INVALUABLE. So two years on I started to know what I was dealing with. I didn’t get an MRI scan for another 3 years when I was well enough to demand I see a neurologist. That confirmed I had frontal lobe damage amongst other bits and pieces.
During this first two years I became a lot less capable of coping or dealing with things, there were so many different parts of my brain that just didn’t work anymore, talking on the phone became impossible, I couldn’t understand what people were saying, it just was a mass of noise. Simple conversation left me exhausted, concerntartion and memory was non existent, most scary for me was I could explode without any warning to myself. I was incredibly sensitive sound, just couldn’t block it out, thats getting better but still is difficult.
So many simple things and more that make life very difficult.
While I was so broken it was a sad reality that many friends took things personally, didn’t believe me and walked away. I also discovered that now I was broken and alone that the bullies set in. I look back and now I know I could stand up to them but while I was so unwell that was an added stress and detriment I really didn’t need.
Luckily I met new people who respected my boundaries and didn’t take me personally, I still get emotional when I think how beautiful those people were and still are to me. I wouldn’t be here without them, my cat companion Oscar, NCBIS and also counseling I received in regards to violence towards me and setting boundaries.
So I learnt a lot. Luckily I had facebook. That meant I had windows where I could communicate and especially with other head injury people, our stories all so similar. Many head injury people are high achievers, but to see the paths of others unable to leave the house, losing friends, becoming suicidal, making it through, not making it through, being off the planet, lost, this change so hard on our loved ones that cant really get it. Its even hard for us, on our good days we are as right as rain but mostly we are crumbling surviving, and we are not permitted to express that.. the amount of times we are silenced or told we are lucky really is quiet boring.
I thank my friends who listened and got it, sometimes we just need to be heard.
This path has been horrendous and mostly silent and with little to no help after rehab. But for all the harshness you do learn to live with it, I live a planned, structured life to cope. Most people would have no idea and I am sure many think I am just selfish, but really its how I have to live so that I am not a danger to myself or to society.
At year 9 I can cope with so much more and have made some major accomplishments, but in between I have to return to collapse, hide & hibernate, get my house and life back in order. I still need to sleep and rest enormous amounts so it means I have very limited functional times, now I have about 5 days I have functional windows, but in the beginning it was about 20 minutes for three days.
For anyone living with someone with a head injury you just have to be very patient, don’t take things personally, and yes in early days our behavior can be quiet out there. It best communicating after we have rested and are ready. Im lucky as I had my “management plan and tools “ and I actually still use them til this day.
I sort of enjoy the fact I can only do one thing at a time, each task has to be broken down to little steps and daily life consists of lists and lists apoun lists. New things overwhelm me easily. But overall I feel like I am in a blessed position to see the world through new eyes, I can take what I knew before.. that experience and as I re- enter the big wide world again, I do and have the responsibility to question what I would not have been able to see before. We have a beautiful planet and I believe most humans do want to do the right thing, but what we see is “right” is just a construct, and so many of those things do not benefit the planet, animals and plants, our own species.
Our races have so much unaddressed trauma, it is something we do really need to look at, we need to welcome other cultural ways.. not just ones we think are “right” which are usually formed from white patriarchal privilege. I use the word patriarchy as it is not limited to men, the systems are not gender specific though they do favor certain types of males.
Our way of living has changed so much over the past forty years, now we have houses with multiple computers, Tv’s, cars, most of what we buy new wont last longer than two years.
We live comfortably, while the old reliable is discarded our rubbish piles grow exponentially, the planet is mined and formed into purchasables in KMART, EBAY etc, and we are all and myself part of it. In the end a financial collapse maybe the only thing that saves us, but inevitably those strongest will instigate wars and the poorest will die and suffer. Its so easy to get caught up in the day to day, we all get busier and busier, more and more stressed.
There are ways to how we live now that could be seen as improvements, but so much may not be so. A balance is needed.. and I am not sure of the answers but i do hope that future generations do manage to make change.
Q. And your involvement in the Epicormia Collective, sixteen months of professional development so far and a new exhibition opportunity at NRCG Ballina this November 23, 2016. How has this shared journey helped you change and grow and think, and how has it hindered you? Tapping into the curatorial idea/metaphor of the “re-authoring impulse”, re-authoring from an artist’s perspective rather than a therapeutic perspective, or both perhaps?
Ok I will answer the first part of the question, questions. It would take me pages to describe how I have changed grown over this time. I have really enjoyed and felt quiet blessed to be in this collective. I am really grateful to Paul Andrew who has helped me see the forest for the trees when I’ve been overwhelmed, which is often.
I think all the artists in the collective are amazing people as well as artists, we’ve had our ups and downs but now it feel really strong and I am so excited about the exhibition..nervous too !!
Also coming back into a formalized practice, exhibitions, websites, etc has not been easy.
It is a lot of work and decision making which with my limited executive function has been hard to navigate. Having someone point the path has been incredibly helpful I really couldn’t have done it on my own.
I really feel so lucky to have had that support and some funding to be able to make my own work. I’ve found some things difficult but definitely never a hinderance. This process has been crucial in reforming my personal arts practice, has given me a new landing pad to which take flight !!
Q. Having a shared and independent care support network in place is so necessary and crucial for artists living and working with disability? What are your thoughts about this for artists needing added professional development opportunities; exhibitions, studios, funding investment, networking and so on, particularly artists living in regional areas like the Northern Rivers?
It would be great to have grant writer for individual artists, I have no one to assist me write grants, so while there are specialised grants for people with head injury from motor accidents for example, I don’t have the resources to apply.. so organisations that can represent people can get funding for persons, which is great, but for those with (MTBI) we really need help and unless someone donates that time its not really an option for me at present.
Also so much of my limited functional time is spent on surviving. In early days I couldn’t even leave the house and shop, I didn’t’ do my tax, lots of little things that slip by the wayside while I was incapable, but in NNSW a regional area there is no assistance ( besides NCBIS who are amazing !!), and people think I talk look normal why does she need help??
One time I was given a number and rang it, which at the time was really really hard, no one ever got back to me. People who work in these areas really need to be proactive. Another time I rang a place and they were so harsh it put me off. There is a huge road to go in educating people about MTBI and as for getting help in place, that’s not likely. I feel so much for new head injury people and in my journey I have seen so many give up on this world, there is a long long road to go in so many aspects. Just because we are intelligent, look normal, sound normal,(whatever that is), doesn’t mean we don’t need help. Maybe we should walk around with bandages on our head?
Q. And hobbies, tell me about your hobbies Marion, everyone needs hobbies, why so in your view? (etymology of hobby – late Middle English hobyn, hoby, from pet forms of the given name Robin . Originally in sense 2 (compare with dobbin), it later came to denote a toy horse or hobby horse, hence ‘an activity done for pleasure’.) Do these hobbies inform your art making?
I love to dance, its where I feel the happiest, it was very important in helping me climb out of depression and dark places. I love being in nature, bush walking, exploring abandoned buildings, rubbish tips and op shops..
I love to see beauty in the decayed, discarded, abandoned and organic. Also I like to day dream, all of these are part of making my art, good conversations with friends and peers helps too. I am lucky that my passion for creating with light, exploring and inventing are part of my arts practice and also my work which is creating projection installations and visuals for events and venues.
Q. Anything else you would like to add Marion?
It has been great to be part of the Epicormia Collective and to have an exhibition, support network and some funds to explore my MTBI,(Mild Traumatic Brain Injury).
I have explored many avenues as there are so many aspects to explore, this disability is multipronged and invisible. I have enough ground work for another 4 exhibitions at least !
In the end I had to chose what I felt was important in the time, that feeling of just having to curl up in a ball and hide from the outside world is a common experience for me that no one else witnesses. I was going to use other people to film but in the end using myself was a practical choice as I am always here (Ha well mostly), but also to direct someone with my experience is quiet tricky. It was a very confronting process, brave for me and difficult.
Words were one of the things I have most trouble with, simple conversation just not possible and limited to times I felt ok. Social events meant planning well ahead so I can be rested and ok. Now I find things a lot easier and i’ve got used to planning, and downtime is part of my life probably will be for a long time yet. It makes contact time with other humans quiet scheduled and again limited. So words as swords was the theme, too many words, brain is full. Yes I have a smart brain but my processor is clunky and my memory is not very good at all.
I’m not sure how many photos I have taken over the past 18 months but it would be in the 10000’s. In the end the photos I chose were ones that resonated and were just a test shoot. But during the process of trying to take the photos I got so frustrated as every single time I could not get the mirror image “thing” ..so holding position, the bandages, the writing was really hard. I ended up in tears and felt quiet raw and vulnerable but also empowered. It had the feeling I wanted to capture, they are not a beautiful images but they have my truth, a rawness which felt right to me. I also liked the lighting which was a strange combination of two Kodak SAV slide projectors, bounced light and a portaflood.
Ha metaphors, I had a few and some are quiet basic, the eggs reappeared it started in “Humpty Dumpty had a great fall”, I love gold, to photograph metallics, nature and intense colour really feature in my work. The egg, the golden egg of healing formation and regrowth(epicormic), stayed. So whilst the egg isn’t featured in these particular photos it does form part of my projection sculpture. That egg has been my home and healing place for 9 years, i am hatching slowly..)
I have a unique process of building image with sculpture, the video is not mapped but created with the form. The use of layering of light to create the ethereal. I have made countless temporary installations, now I enjoy using quality materials and more permanent objects. I am looking forward to exploring more and dream of making a huge piece to hang in a night sky.
OTHER THINGS TO ADD
I wasn’t going to add more but a crucial influence in who I am and my art work is leaving my home town Yallourn Victoria when i was a child. Yallourn was a purpose built beautifully designed and landscaped town with a death date, it was to be mined and now supplies electricity to Melbourne. I was five but and we moved to Morwell close by, my younger brother and I often stated Morwell was ugly while Yallourn was so pretty. I guess we had a connection from that early age. From then on I used to make houses and towns out of flowers and objects. Interestingly enough I still make installations out of similar building blocks, objects, flowers, the discarded,things I see beauty in that are usually small in scale. I also believed form an early age that the inanimate had feelings.
I think many kids do.
With all that I hate to see waste, I also have a mixed feeling about electricity. We all use it, but whenever my brother and I would complain about poor Yallourn, dad who was an engineer at the opencuts would say turn on the light and we would and he said there is a bit of Yallourn. My work relys on projectors which use power, I would love to use light without electricity.. ah ha the next step…
Marion Conrow’s Artist Website