THE EPICORMIA EPICORMIC EXPERIENCE
The Epicormia Collective gave me a place with other regional artists who have and who
get my invisible disability.
Having an artist material’s resources budget of $7000 from Arts NSW as a part of a collective professional development budget, enabled us each to create museum-quality work over a two year period and for each of us to create a website, both essential and immense stepping stones, and for me personally, to actively navigate my work in the outside world.
Having funding is not only about resources, its also validation that we are artists and have a place in the Australian contemporary arts ecology.
Epicormia Collective was in place thanks to the idea created by artist , curator and the Epicormia Collective artist-run project co-ordinator Paul Andrew.
In 2014 I ran into Paul in Lismore at an Indian Restaurant, NSW. It had been close on 20 years since I had seen Paul, we had met during arts activism with community television test broadcasts in Sydney during the early 90’s,and various arts and media events including narrowcasting with UHF 31 on networks including Cat TV and Queer TV. So many artists and creatives led these dissenting and antaganostic media collaborations.
Those were active, creative, political and exciting times, that were a huge influence in my life and in Paul’s too as it turns out, a gay man also passionate and interested in social and cultural change, that, in turn, for me personally, led me to collaborate as a media activist once again and to set up LINC TV in Lismore (1991) and to create multimedia sculptures.
We caught up after that meeting and had lengthy conversations, I was curious as to where Paul had been during the 20 years and his story made it clear to me that he had suffered from long-term complex PTSD, from a range of experiences including phone related trauma and from an undiagnosed MTBI; including two violent unrelated homophobic assaults, (Mild Traumatic Brain Injury), all those years ago, and here we were, twenty years later and still living as active artists.
During this meeting with Paul I vented my frustration with my current situation, still passionate and creative with in the arts, but unable to engage in the outside world. I could not go to the supermarket nor
exhibition openings, they were too overwhelming along with many day to day activities
making the groundwork necessary to be an artist not possible, life was purely about
healing and surviving.
Looking back now I can’t believe how far I’ve come in these past two years.
Paul’s infectious enthusiasm at my venting that day , took action, he applied to ART NSW at the suggestion of Julie Milner Barratt, who at the time in November 2014 also suggested artists like Scott Trevelyan who is a great artist and a long term advocate of ABI at Willowbank Studios and artist Julianne Zoviar Clunne, equally so, and I suggested we might also include my close friend and peer artist Jeremy Hawkes, an artist living and working with Parkinson’s, in the then emerging and inclusive Epicormia Collective, I was mindful of Jeremy’s bravery, arts working advice, wit and encouragement and felt Jeremy would contribute volumes to the collective.
Julianne Zoviar Clunne who at the time, I’d met briefly and I fondly recall Julianne’s unending warmth and understanding of MTBI, it was such a relief for me having Julianne in the collective, as I feel that only other TBIers can really get it, her advice and positivity help me more than she knows.
Artist Julie Milner Barratt I knew as an
acquaintance, but her arts professionalism, arts worker knowledge and integrity for justice
have given me great respect.
In January 2015 in time for the Arts NSW application Paul had been drafting that summer, the two year project, The Epicormia Collective was born.
I remember the excitement we all had at the first meeting, in Astonville in July 2016 having received the grant, which for me was validation from the outside world and after a lengthy application process that followed this meeting, later in 2015 with the actual exhibition application that was accepted at North Rivers Community Gallery, (NRCG).
It was the start of an exciting momentous journey with resources, time and a professional artist support network which made the next stage of our professional arts practice take place.
The timing was crucial in my healing process, I had sustained my brain injury (MTBI) in
2007, I went from being very active social person engaged in the arts world to being
confined to home. Ironically my motor vehicle accident occurred returning to Lismore NSW
from my first major break “Figuratively Speaking” curated by Simone Jones at Queensland
University of Technology Arts Precinct.
At that time, I was the newbie alongside the likes of the great artists such as Judith Wright and Daniel Crooks, who I have a huge respect for.
During the initial few months of the project I went from barely being able to attend our first meeting in a cafe in Alstonville to being at the
exhibition opening at NRCG Ballina in November 2016 with confidence, my healing seemed exponential over the last ten years, we might never be the same but we can get closer to functionality.
The Epicormia Collective project gave me the support network of peers, an anchor where I feel like I had been floating in a void for years. I’d lost work, income, friends and confidence, it happens to nearly all TBIers I know, many don’t make it, suicide level are high.
It’s hard enough living and working as an artist but with an invisible mental disability made for an even harder journey. During the project’s term I had an external structure as a part of the project’s design to do what I wanted, which was to really dig down and explore my disability, create a new body of work.
This was a professional development grant so I had free reign to really explore many tangents, and that I did.
My passion over the years is working with the projected light image in sculptural form, I
create with projectors, lens, mirrors, liquids, sculptural and media mediums, imagery and
materials, and I am continually experimenting.
Content wise, asking myself what is the real truth I have to express here, not what galleries or contemporary art wants, but what is it I need to
create/say; in a way unlearn my research to get to the core, I gave myself a timeline to purely experiment and develop new work from June 2015 until November 2016 just before the show opened.
Having substantial time is important for me, short deadlines, while great end up overtaking in focus rather than the creative process. From July I focussed on making the body of work for our collective exhibition.
Experimentation from scratch I developed the start of a few bodies of work, with a few recurring themes that I continue with today that I can work into contemporary arts practice.
Jeremy Hawkes and I would catch up and discuss our ideas, discuss what Epicormia meant. While walking a river bed together we noticed there was a tree fallen down with new branches
sprouting skywards out of its side, epicormic growth, truly beautiful.
We had met at Southern Cross University during our arts degrees and have been close ever since (1989).
During the development journey I had had few ideas I really liked on the go, but I did need to narrow it down for the exhibition. I went with the “bandage head” idea I was developing as one it was resonating with my frustration with spoken
language, and Jeremy thought it was a great idea.
Paul’s advice also was invaluable, Paul had a lovely enthusiastic way of really summing up where I was up-to in my process. In the end I melded a few themes, the egg, bandage-head “unravelling” and that feeling where I have to retreat into a silent ball to recover from the outside world.
That is the “me” that people don’t see, it’s where I can’t cope with anymore information and need downtime and sleep for days, no people, no TV, just me and Oscar Wilde my cat who has got me
through all of these hard times, me in my egg .
Over the the last two years or so I have taken maybe, over 10,000 photos, many videos, experiments and marquettes. A new turn during this development phase was to engage myself in “self-portraiture”, this was very difficult in initial stages.
Jeremy was also starting with self-portraiture and we could egg each other on.(pardon the pun).
Paul was always very encouraging, I needed his support to take the leap, for years I’ve been filming performers, now I had to brave up.
Technically it was also difficult.
The photo series “Unravelling” involved me taking photos whilst wrapping my head with bandages and writing e.g. “too many words, brain is “full”.
This was exhausting and frustrating to be honest as, during the process of documenting my “performance” I would continually wrap or write the wrong way, I made the same mistake about 500 times, even whilst pre-planning the next move I would get it wrong. I ended up in tears.
They are the photos I used for the works produced for the final exhibition as it was me at my most vulnerable and yet, my most defiant.
The process was raw and there is the element of
performativity in place.
Filming for the “Egg” sculpture was also difficult, and on reflection now after the exhibition finished in December last year, and whilst I would like to re-do the video for my egg I am overall happy with the body of work.
Having a materials budget was great it meant I could employ others such as Attards Metal who made the stainless steel frame, (armature), of the egg so I could form the stainless mesh and have it secured. I enjoyed being there looking back now, at Attards, the owner and staff are friendly and joked I should dock on, they liked my work too and it was good to be working with them again as I did prior to accident. I felt like a practising artist again.
I am really happy with the egg projection
sculpture, my first egg prototype.
Artists need a website and Paul designed this into the artist-run project, inspired in part by Julie’s 12 x 3 influential 2014 exhibition at NRCG, and what a huge undertaking it was for me.
Artist Jules Ober, who I collaborated with; on the website aspect of the Re-authoring project designed by Paul and also inspired by Julie’s 12 x 3 exhibition and Paul’s collaborative ARI Remix Project ( remix.org.au) , I had meet while I was working as community engagement for Arts Northern Rivers “If These Halls Could Talk” project at Bonalbo Hall in 2016.
I have to say being in the Epicormia artist-run initiative, it was both Julie Milner Barratt and Paul’s encouragement that gave me the confidence to be part of that local project.
Jules, who is based in Victoria, was often in NSW and we had met 20 years prior. She was incredibly patient and walked me through the process and taught me a skills along the way and now I have my chocolate box
website. I love it.
Check it out marionconrow.com
Working in a professional gallery situation again after ten years was challenging, exciting and rewarding.
The Re-authoring Impulse exhibition at NRCG was great, such a good turnout on opening night and during the exhibition’s run and many of my peers and friends came. We were especially lucky to have Lee Mathers (NRCG director), Lee’s vast
experience of contemporary art, and clear communication of what was needed, they were
A highlight and encouraging for me was that Lee said my work was beautiful and clever.
In an often unforgiving art world Lee’s words gave me hope. I also have a much better idea
of how the gallery system operates and how I can adapt and improve to meet that.
I received fantastic feedback on my work. All the artists artwork was great and inspiring. I learnt that I could consider exhibitions similar to my event work, which is and has been my bread and butter work and a practice I have maintained miraculously.
Since the exhibition closed last year I have been applying for grants, exhibitions and competitions. I have just completed an event at Casula Powerhouse in Western Sydney, what a wonderful venue and my work was a success.
In March this year, my studio and workshop at my home in South Lismore were annihilated by Cyclone Debbie’s deluge which, soon, I will be exploring as a key artist for a project for Arts State in Lismore later this year.
Finally I was accepted into BOAA , Biennale of Australian Art next year 2018. How exciting.
I would not have been able to do any of this without the framework provided by the Epicormia Collective artist-run and the professional funding by Arts NSW and auspicing of the project by Accessible Arts.
This epicormic opportunity has been invaluable for me, it’s helped me grow from a hermit to re-engaging in the outside world and arts culture at timely part of my healing.
I have had the courage to contact some of my past arts colleagues and mentors prior to my accident and opportunities for my art will continue. It has been crucial to my arts practice and has given me confidence to re-believe in myself and my work.
Thank you Arts NSW and Accessible Arts. Thanks Lee Mathers for your professionalism and advice,
Ben Wyeth for great documentation. I would like to thank the amazing Paul Greenway, I am very grateful for his advice on my work. Thanks Epicormies.
Jeremy, Julie, Julianne, Scott, hugs to you all and a huge hug to the project’s concept designer and the artist-run co-ordinator, curator artist Paul Andrew, I am truly grateful, you are a bigger support than you know .
The Epicormia Collective has changed my life.
My “unravelling” during this project has been golden, epicormic no less, my disability has been my initiation into adulthood. I no longer question if I have a place in the arts, I know I do.
I believe that this is the new beginning of my place in Australian Contemporary Arts as a regional woman artist.
Keep an eye on my artist website here for more epicormic documentation images, accounts and stories, my new work, and thanks again Arts NSW and Accessible Arts: