Saturday, December 31, 2011

Happy New Year

The beginnings and endings of all human undertakings are untidy.
– John Galsworthy

Friday, December 02, 2011

Broken

For nearly a decade, my art has been concerned with aspects of female identity and sexuality and the way both are shaped by the expectations of a society drip-fed images of male-idealised female roles through pervasive, unrelenting advertising and entertainment 'programming'. My images are troublesome, in every sense of the word, because at times they appear to pander to those expectations, which is to say the critical irony that's intrinsic to them is sometimes mistaken for prurience.
I first began making art as a way to process my hard-to-articulate emotions and experiences. However, in recent years, I have been uncomfortably aware that art has also been a convenient way to avoid them. My early life was troubled and unhappy. My parents separated when I was very young. The disruption and hurt this caused set me on a path that within a very short period – and for the next decade or so – would lead me into violence, addiction, self-harm and sexual abuse. It continued to haunt me as an adult, so much so that, for a time, I abandoned art completely.
My recent years of success as an artist have brought me enough money to afford regular, expert psychiatric therapy and enough confidence (and public acclaim) for me to fool myself into thinking I don't care about my past. However, I have never really been able to express adequately what happened to me – and what it did to my head – and it is discomfortingly absent from all but my most expressive watercolours and drawings. While I have been candid in my public writings and documentary photographs, almost to a fault, about my life as it is now, I've been utterly unable to confront the narrative of my life before I was 20 directly or honestly. I write around it. I hint at it in elements of my more expressive drawings and watercolours, but mostly the real story has been left to moulder in the shadows. And I can't quite rid myself of the stench of it.
I've been in Brisbane for over a year now. I left here a decade ago, vowing never to return. And for a very long time I didn't, not even for my brother's wedding. I hate the place not for what it is – alhtough that's reason enough to shun the place – but because scattered everywhere around the city and its environs are physical reminders of experiences that I've spent half my life trying to forget.
My father's illness brought me back. And my grief following his death kept me here. And the longer I stayed, the harder it was to block out the memories that caused me to leave in the first place.
I was 11 or 12 when my parents separated. We were living in rural New South Wales, not quite the outback, but on a smallholding on a wide expanse of flat, dry, sparse scrub country that suited snakes and kangaroos a lot better than it did people. I stayed with my father for the first years but I moved in with my mother, in Brisbane, when I was 14 because I'd been bullied for two and a half years at high school and was desperate to escape. Like most teenage girls, the bullies were also my 'friends'
Every day, I was told I was ugly. Everything I did was greeted with snide remarks and callous chants, from the colour of my bicycle to my straight-A grades. One kid spat in my face. Another used the heel of his palm to hit my nose so hard that the back of my head banged the wall behind me. A 'friend' told me that a guy who lived at the end of my street wanted to rape me. I couldn't take it anymore. Isolated, unconsoled, I became sullen, depressed and robbed of all confidence.
From my mother's Brisbane home, I went to a local girl's school for six months. I didn't fit in there either. Then my mother enrolled me in an alternative high school with no uniforms and a university-style timetable. It had additional courses in drama and photography and it was supposed to be 'progressive'. Teachers were addressed by their first names. The other students were troubled kids who didn't fit anywhere else.
The photo above shows the kid I was then. Look closely at it. Remember it as you read the rest of this post. She could be anyone's sister or daughter – but she is me, at 16, a bright and studious girl with bobbed hair and sensible clothes in year 11, the second last year of high school. The photo was taken in my bedroom, at the desk where I studied. Atop is my leather school case and the antiquated typewriter I used for my essays. A picture of my grandmother, a manic depressive who killed herself before I was born, hangs on the wall behind me. Out of the picture is my single bed, with its white antique lace duvet cover, on top of which is a huge, white stuffed teddy bear.At school, I was in P.'s English class. He was 29 and considered a 'cool' teacher (how easy it is to impress a bunch of insecure kids). He rode an unremarkable motorbike and played seductively to our ambitions to be regarded as rebels, He taught us how to hand roll cigarettes and organised (through his brother) for a punk-satire trio, the Doug Anthony All Stars to play for us when they were at the height of their brief national success. His classes loved him.I couldn't figure out whether I thought he was cool or repulsive. English had always been my favourite subject and back then, I wanted to be a writer not an artist. He set us a couple of essays about love and sex, made off-colour jokes about erections and asked who in the class wasn't a virgin. He said it was a joke only after half the students raised their hands. I wasn't one of them. I was curious about sex but I was too shy to speak to anyone my age who seemed to like me. Besides, years of bullying had convinced me that noone could possibly find me attractive. And yet I felt that P. was always watching me. I didn't pay much attention to it at first; after all, he was my teacher. Then hestarted walking with as I made my way from one class to another, making small talk. Occasionally, he'd offer me a coffee when I handed in an assignment. I didn't think it unusual. Students often had a coffee or a cigarette with a teacher. Or, at least, that's what he told me. The following year, when I was 16, my best friend at the school went to Japan on an exchange program. I spent my lunch with other students but as usual, I didn't quite fit in with any of the well-established social groups. I wasn't in P.'s class anymore and yet we always ended walking and talking together between classes. He'd appear in the doorway whenever I gave a presentation in a class he didn't teach, or in the library when I was studying there. He'd offer me coffee in the breaks between classes and I'd accept. I didn't have anyone else to talk to: I was, even then, an intense, serious girl who read poetry – and, worse, read it out loud. P. loaned me books: Lawrence Durrell's Alexandria Quartet and Henry Miller's Tropic of Cancer. I told him I wanted to travel and he told me about Morocco and other places he'd claimed he'd been. He told me he'd written a play that had been performed at the La Boite Theatre and showed me evidence of his writing. He suggested we write each other a page on what we hated about our lives. I was a good student and I did what teachers told me. I didn't keep his letter but I still remember the last line: "All I want to do it get the fuck out of here, with a girl called Hazel."One day he drove me home from school. My mother was away for work. Standing together on the doorstep, he kissed me. My skin went red and I started to tremble uncontrollably. When he left, I had a cool shower to try to calm down. Before I'd even turned on the faucet, I lost control of my bladder and pissed all over myself. I don't remember much of what happened in the weeks after that. I saw him every day at school. He told me he couldn't stop thinking about me. Once, he told me he'd driven to my mother's house, drunk, in the middle of the night and had tried to climb up the lattice into my window on the second floor. He'd fallen and then run away. I told my mother about him one night when I was lying in bed. She asked me if I wanted to make love with him. I didn't know how to respond. I said, "I don't know". Then, because there was a pause and she was saying nothing and I wanted the moment to end, I added, "I think so". I didn't really want to. I wanted to have someone to talk to. My mistake was thinking it should be my mother.

P. and I started seeing each other on weekends or after school. He'd ply me with wine and kiss me. When I wasn't at school or with P., I'd cut myself with scissors under my pubic hair and bite my wrist until the skin broke. P. told me I had seduced him and that he was in love with me. We had sex for the first time on his 30th birthday, at the house he shared with his brother. P. had told me it would be the best present I could give him. I met his younger brother in the kitchen, inhaling hash from between a couple of heated up kitchen knives. They offered me some, but I said no.

A few weeks later, he took me to the sea, at night, where we drank wine and he blathered on about how it was the most romantic night he'd ever had. Then he told me he'd had a girlfriend for the last several years. I found out, later, that she was also 16 when he'd first met her; he had been in his early 20s.
I was a late developer. I was tall but my breasts were still growing and I looked pubescent. P. wanted me to read Lolita. When I refused, he gave me a copy of Death In Venice, about a writer who becomes obsessed with a beautiful young boy. One day, in the school library, he told me he wanted me to take off with him on a long road trip. As if, I thought. I wanted to get good grades and go to university. Later, when I did read Lolita, I realised there was a road trip in the novel. I recognised passages that P. had quoted or mimicked when he spoke to me and understood why he called me Haze, Haze, Dooney Haze. It echoed a poem by the paedophilic protagonist, Humbert Humbert, called Wanted. Years later, in a rage, I demanded that my mother tell me why the hell she didn't protect me, why she had blithely let let it all this happen to me. She'd always given me the impression that she condoned it. She told me that she thought that if she intervened, I would run away. But I suspect this was just the story she told in order to live with herself: I'd been a straight A student; I'd barely missed a class. But i had become increasingly depressed, remote, angry, and at times abusive. In hindsight, I suspect that the threat that I would leave had been implied to her by P. Still, I've never quite managed to forgive her or trust her judgement. I never quite got over her glib, self-justifying. faux-feminist observation that maybe it wouldn't have been quite so bad had I been a boy and the teacher a woman. When my father found out about my relationship with P., he told the head of the school. I was hauled out of class and taken to an office where I was subjected to an unsympathetic, accusatory interrogation. The principal, whom I hadn't met before, asked if I had slept with P. I didn't answer. Afterwards, P. told me that the school's administration thought I was obsessed with him. The incipient scandal was swept under the carpet. P. rented apartment at the beach and picked me up on weekends. Most of the time, when I was with him, I read. Or he paid me to mark my peers' English assignments in red pen. At some point he left the school; he told me it was his decision. He continued to take me to dinner. We would drink a lot and I'd let him have sex with me. If I refused, he got angry. He wasn't physically threatening – he was skinny and soft and I could have beat him in a fight – but back then, I avoided conflict. I never touched his genitals. I never sucked his cock. I disliked the texture of his skin, the lack of elasticity that was so markedly different from my own teenage body that it made me think of raw chicken skin. I faked orgasm so that the fucking would stop. He refused to use a condom and often came inside me. I thought that maybe he was trying to make me pregnant. I didn't know how to get a prescription for contraceptives and I was too embarrassed to ask. My periods stopped a few months after we got together anyway and didn't come back until more than a year after. A doctor said it was probably related to extreme stress. P. would tell me I was like a big doll, that I looked like a picture in a teenage magazine. Or he'd tell me I was fat because my thighs touched when I stood with my feet together. He'd tell me I was a selfish lover because I just lay there while he clumsily slobbered over my pussy or penetrated me. I did everything I could to avoid touching his cock. He told me that, one day, I'd have better lovers than him (well, yes, he was right about that). He always managed to be self-deprecating and yet insistent that we were equal in this insidious relationship – I had, according to him, "accidentally seduced" him. The implication was, of course, that this wasn't abuse or rape, that it was all at my own instigation. It was only years later that each of a handful of psychiatrists I saw would describe it as borderline paedophilia – and it was only in the context of sexual abuse that the relationship started to make sense to me. The worst thing about the situation was that a lot of other adults knew about it – and said nothing. My art teacher told me she thought my relationship with P. was "romantic". The parents of my peers were distant, disapproving. If other kids at school said anything it was usually along the lines of, "Well, at least it's the cool teacher". Noone reached out to me. Noone tried to put a stop to it.I don't know why, but I was afraid of what might happen if I broke it off. I was convinced it would become public – I pictured humiliating headlines in the local newspaper that paint me as an obsessive, slutty schoolgirl. P. and I argued often, but mostly he won. I was precocious, aware that I was intelligent yet naive and without a clue how to either extract myself from this destructive situation. I felt powerless, frustrated and utterly alone. I think that was part of P.'s modus operandi. He wanted everything that was mine, especially things that I liked or had been given. If I was given a gift by a member of my family, he'd ask me to give it to him (I always refused). I did let him take my drawings. He covered the walls of his apartment with my charcoal sketches of nude life studies. He told me that he told his girlfriend he'd found them at the markets. One time, he took me to meet a friend of his at a cafe. The friend showed us all these sketches he'd done of pre-pubsecent girls at the beach. He tried to impress me: "So, P.'s introduced you to cafe society," he said. I just scowled at him and the condescending conversation ground to a halt.Sometimes, I liked the times we spent together. We read and ate chocolate or swam in the sea or he'd brush my hair. I didn't like him to hold my hand, so I walked with our arms linked, like I sometimes did with my platonic friends at school. I thought that I must have loved him but if that was love then I hated it. I didn't know how to end it. He was just always there. I think I already had a glimmer of just how much this relationship was fucking me up.When school stopped, I saw him less. I started doing drugs and working to save money. I liked LSD because it was distracting and I was too tired and wrecked from the comedown to think of much at all. I got into university, but my score wasn't high enough to do the course I wanted so I deferred. I was furious with P. for distracting me during my final year. Apart from the drama of his obsession, he interrupted me constantly at school when I was studying or doing assignments, mouthing that he loved me and demanding my attention. When I had saved enough money, I booked a one-way ticket to London via Japan because I felt it was the only way to stop everything, to get away. I met him in a cafe and told him I was leaving. He said that he'd left his girlfriend so that we could be together. I said I didn't believe him, and I didn't want to be with him anyway. I flew to Osaka, then London. I spoke to him once more when I called him, drunk, a few months later. I don't remember what I said but I was angry and crying.I wanted never to return to Brisbane. But in London I was broke and my once-robust health deteriorated badly. I ended up in hospital for a week with an illness that made my face swell hideously. I shaved my head with a razor blade. I called my mother and she paid for a plane ticket for me to go home. She looked after me while I recovered. I applied for a degree at a university two states away and planned to leave again as soon as the next semester began. In all, my relationship with P. lasted nine months. I thought that once it was over, it would just be gone. But the effects of it have stayed with me for half a lifetime, distorting the way I feel about sex, men, family and even expressing myself. I wasn't raped but I had vivid nightmares of it happening for several years afterwards. In each, I would be going through the routines of my day and P. would be having sex with me: I wasn't able to stop him so I just continued whatever I was doing until he had finished. I always woke up crying. I grew more depressed and started eating less, often throwing up what I did eat. I didn't want anything inside me. I wanted to wear the same sized clothing I did as a child. I took harder drugs. I stopped reading and developed a phobia of writing anything other than what was necessary for university assignments. It was many years before I wrote anything personal. I didn't like to be touched. After P., I didn't date anyone else for two or three years. I moved back to Brisbane to study art and be closer to my family. I was happier but I still had problems. I got into brief, unwanted sexual entanglements with older men. Each time, I'd let it happen because I felt it was too late to say no. I ended the few 'good' relationships I did have suddenly and without any particular cause. It made me feel in control. I developed the habit of keeping my distance from both men and women.I only heard from P. once more. He sent flowers to my first exhibition, with a note signed 'P', underscored with a kiss. I gave the flowers away and tossed the note. I was angry: everything he'd done was fucked up and I was still recovering from the damage he'd wrought. But he felt no shame, no responsibility. I hated him for my own shame and my sense of powerlessness. Many of my first paintings were of young women with guns. They held them wrongly, without a sense of threat. The guns symbolised my sexuality: a weapon I didn't how to wield, and which, too early in my life, had been turned against me.

In my early twenties, after a few solo exhibitions, I dated a guy who, it turned out, knew P. I told him about my experiences with and his response was, "Well, I understand why he wanted you all to himself." I told him I hoped that, for his 8 year old daughter's sake, he'd see the situation differently by the time she was a teenager. "Look," he told me, "you weren't the only one." As if that somehow made it all better.
I might have been a callow, naïve kid but I wasn't stupid.I'd figured out that P. had slept with other students before me and, perhaps, at the same time. He even told me about one who was, co-incidentally, the daughter of a family friend. "She was obsessed with me," he'd said. "She used to bring a Cherry Ripe every week and tell me about how her boyfriend didn't satisfy her. I slept with her once. Then she got upset that I wouldn't see her again. But you're different. I'm in love with you." It bothered me that all of P.'s friends had known of his 'thing' for young girls. His brothers knew as well. P. had introduced me to them, with a kind of sleazy, callous pride. They had also met other female students of his, and P.'s long-term girlfriend. But they said and did nothing. This is the first time I've told this story in its entirety. For a decade and a half, I have been too ashamed too. I just wanted to forget it ever happened. But being back in Brisbane has reminded me of it again and again. I recognise now that a lot of who I have become has been moulded by what happened with this man. And not any of it was good. The story is not an uncommon one. It's probably not dissimilar to many other women's coming-of-age stories. We don't just talk about them much because they exist in a grey area that, even if it's not illegal, is morally corrosive, as well as manipulative and exploitative of us. But maybe if we were willing to acknowledge this more openly – if we spilled the beans on the bastards who took advantage of us in the most malleable years of our youth – others might be better prepared when they find themselves being groomed. And maybe those of us who've gone through the experience might not feel so personally responsible and ashamed. I never wanted to acknowledge that P. had been in my life because I felt that it gave him some kind of ownership of me, in the same way that the sick fuck bragged he 'owned' my virginity. So why am I writing about this now? I never thought that I would. But then I came across the photo above in an old album my mother has. When I looked at it, all I wanted was to reach back into the past to protect her, to keep her safe from the slimy, opportunistic bastard who robbed her not just of her innocence but her sense of hope. My silence has protected him: he has never had to face the consequences of others finding out about his serial, predatory behaviour. He probably still gets away with it.

I'm not looking for pity or understanding. I loathe the idea of being a victim (think Tracey Emin, wallowing in her tales of sexual mistreatment). I can't help but regard the experiences I've described as an embarrassing cliché. But I had, at last, to get this story out of me, to thrust it into the light so it might finally wither and die. It has constrained my psyche and driven me to try to erase my memories, my self, for too long.
None of us can really escape who we are, what we've done or what we've been through. I've tried to use my work to do so but as I get older, I realise that it diminishes the strength of the work: it is so much more powerful to use art to confront the worst of others, the worst of us. If looking at an experience in the context of art enables us to see it differently and at a remove, then we can transform even the darkest nightmares into something that, ultimately, has value.

Postscript, 2013

My mother and I have reconciled. We now share a close, private relationship. I have been asked why my parents – and why I, later – did not prosecute the teacher. In Australia, the age of consent is 16. In most Australian states, it is an offence to have sexual intercourse with a person under the age of 18 if that person is under the care of the offender (guardian, teacher etc.). However this second law does not exist in Queensland, where the events I wrote about took place. I believe the teacher knew this and exploited a legal loophole.

Below is a photograph of me aged 17, at the airport with my father – he didn't know I was running away but I can see now that he was deeply concerned about me. The last photograph is of me aged 18. Click images to enlarge.


Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Number One Daughter, Redux

Yesterday, I caught up by 'phone with the woman who has been my accountant and a valued advisor for the past five years.
We hadn't talked in a long while. Semi-retired from a high profile corporate career, she had been traveling through Europe for a few months. Our conversations are never simply about money or numbers: once we've dispensed with her review of my parlous finances, we move on to art, love, travel and mental illness – the stuff I don't talk about much with anyone else, at least not with such candour.
In many ways, she's the woman I wish I was: controlled, calm, smart, savvy and really tough. Nothing rattles her. She has also been a relentless supporter of my work – and of me. She has steered me through bankruptcy, visited me when I was committed to a psychiatric clinic, and loaned me money to buy materials when I had to start my career from scratch. Her belief in me is unshakeable but she can be ruthless in her criticism, pulling no punches.
She asked me about my blog. She told me she had missed reading it and enjoyed dropping by every few weeks to catch up a bulk of entries. She also told me that she had enjoyed the way my moods fluctuated markedly through the various posts. That one passing observation jabbed me and got me to thinking about why I had stopped writing here.
I stopped because I no longer wanted to be the person depicted in these passages. Suddenly I was embarrassed by my own honesty and lability, with its weird spikes of intensity, sexual frankness and anger. I wanted to appear sane, stable and grown up. I realise now that this had something to do with my father's awful decline and death, from cancer, the threads of which are woven throughout all my posts at the end of last year.
I wanted to my father to see me as a capable, assured adult before he died. Although he loved me most for the things about me that make me different, they were still the things that he found the most difficult to accept and they caused persistent tension between us. So I started shutting them down. I wanted to be the prodigal daughter made good. I wanted to make him happy. I wanted his approval.
As with nearly everything I do, I went too far. Even after my father died, I tried for a long time to be unfailingly 'nice' and likeable: less selfish, less abrasive, more diligently respectable, reliable and community-oriented. I stifled those parts of me that might contradict my carefully scripted performance as a conventional member of society. It didn't leave me with much, and what there was bored the hell out of me. I ended up conforming to all the strictures others had tried to impose on me all my life. An abject, inglorious surrender, I did it all by myself.
And I was left with nothing to write about.
Now I've come full circle. I am sick of pretending to be someone I'm not. I'll always be clinically insane, hyper-sensitive, unreasonably ambitious, vain, intolerant, obsessive and sexually-driven. I am not a people person. I want to spread ideas I care about but I have no interest in being a mentor or role model or even being encouraging of others. Small talk makes me angry because I think it's a waste of my time. Sure, there are issues I care about but what I care most about – almost to the exclusion of everything else, including love – is my art. I send cheques in private to causes I believe in and on occasion, spread awareness of them via social medial. But my humanity is, at best, remote and on my terms. This does not endear me to many and more and more, I accept that.
My art is better when I am not trying to be someone I am not. The theme of one of my favourite novels, The Vivisector, by Patrick White, is whether it's possible to be a humane person and an artist at the same time. I'm not sure it is. But then, my perspective is entirely egocentric: I care only about being an artist.
I've resolved to stop worrying about what makes me a better or worse person. I've also stopped worrying what other women my age are doing – becoming wives and mothers, and buying their own homes. I don't want to become yet another woman artist who was wild in her youth then spends the second act of their life rehabilitating the public's perception of them: look at Tracey Emin, sadly desperate for approval, whining about being childless and positioning herself as an establishment figure, supporting the Conservative Party and angling for a royal honour. And I am not going to be one of those who retreat to the suburbs once they hit 35, marry for financial stability
"Every female artist should find a rich husband," a female art dealer once told me – raise kids and reprove those who don't.
I am an artist. I measure the value of my life by what I create. I have wanted to be an artist since I was a kid because to me it means the freedom to pursue whatever interests or provokes me – or in plain language, to do whatever the hell I want. My only responsibility to others is in making art and being ethical in my business dealings. My only responsibility to myself is to live life on my own terms. I've returned to the acceptance that deep down, my sincere belief is that everything – and everyone – else can go get fucked.
This blog is back to 'business as usual'.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Slow Fade

The images began as a 'correspondence' with a dear friend of mine: a monochrome digital photograph emailed every couple of days, like a postcard, shot with the same 'film' and 'lens' combination within iPhone's popular Hipstamatic app'.
Later, we agreed to post them on Tumblr. A kind of narrative emerged, as if each frame was an excerpt from a storyboard for a film we had yet to shoot. There were unplanned, unsettling hints of sex, self-abuse, solitude and decay. The characters remained obscure. The
narrative shifted a little, if not towards clarity, whenever a new image was added.
Thirty-seven have been posted so far. We'll stop when there are 100.

Monday, October 24, 2011

At TEDx Brisbane

The following was the text of my address at TEDx Brisbane, on Saturday 15th October, titled Art and an undistracted conversation - and the dealer is doomed:
When I look up at the screen behind me and see my name associated with the word ‘artist’, I suddenly feel a little self-conscious. These days, everyone calls themselves an artist. In fact, I don’t think there’s an occupational description that has been more misused or, frankly, abused – except maybe ‘visionary’ or ‘whore’.
And yet, unarguably, an artist is what I am. I paint, I draw, I make photographs and videos. And for the past decade, I have made my living from exhibiting and selling this work.It is, in so many ways, a traditional occupation, as old as, maybe even older than, well, being a visionary or a whore. And over several thousand years the meaning and function of art within society – and with it, the cultural, intellectual, spiritual and economic relevance of the artist – has ebbed and flowed.
Right now, no-one would dispute the ascendancy of the visual in our culture.
Popular interest in art has risen to such an extent that tickets for those public gallery shows starring art’s most bankable box-office names – Da Vinci, Caravaggio, Picasso, Warhol – are restricted or meted as sparingly as lottery winnings. Despite hard times, auction houses are reporting record prices for the works of contemporary artists. The half a dozen or so best-known living artists in both the USA and UK have annual incomes that exceed the gross revenues of Australia’s most successful trade book publishers and record companies.
Of course, this ascendancy has paralleled the expansion of the web and the rapid evolution of technology that not only makes the creation and distribution of imagery easier but through various forms of social media, encourages its discovery, collection and sharing by more people than at any other time in human history. It also enables quite small groups of people with an interest in the obscure or arcane to discover and share with each other, giving presence, appreciation and influence to work that might, in an earlier, pre-internet time, have been entirely overlooked.
All this is fertile material for discussion at a forum such as this but it’s not why I am here today. Instead, I want to offer an intensely personal perspective of just one aspect of this visual culture: the murky business that exploits what is loosely defined as ‘fine art’. I want to argue for a new sense of freedom, of possibility, for a younger generation of artists with the nerve and – not to put too fine a point on it – the inclination to kick a bunch of old farts in the balls.
So let me begin with this simple statement: The art world as we know it is doomed. And it is a good thing.
I was one of those fortunate artists who enjoyed some success at a relatively young age. At first, it was entirely down to my own efforts. I mounted my own shows and improvised the marketing of them sufficiently well to paint full-time from what I earned from them.
Of course, the whiff of money drew the interest of commercial art dealers, first in Brisbane, then in Melbourne and Sydney, and it didn’t take long before I found myself being courted like a football player or a one-hit Hollywood starlet – with sly promises of personal attention, fame, money, and even drugs – well, better drugs than I was taking then – if only I’d sign over all rights to my output, along with 50 percent of whatever might be earned on it.
Some of the things said to me during this period were downright odd. “The last thing you want is everyone interested in your work,” one gallery owner told me – as if ubiquity and accessibility should be anathema to an up and coming young artist. Another promised, “You’ll never have to deal with collectors – such a distraction. I’ll take care of everything for you.” How silly and girlishly naive of me to think I might want to develop a closer relationship with the very people who were interested enough in my work to want to fork over hard-earned cash for it?
Of course, the only real guarantees anyone gets out of a dealer is one show every second year, maybe a book for which the artist underwrites most of the production costs, and few positive reviews bought from a tame critic or two for a bottle of claret and a bistro lunch. But for a time, too long, I bought into it. And whatever qualms I felt I suppressed, reassuring myself that this is what being a ‘real’ artist was all about. It left a bad taste in my mouth.
Fatefully, my career as an artist began in the same year the first Mozilla web browser found its way onto personal computers. Suddenly everyone had access to the world wide web and we were all caught up in the evolutionary speed and excitement of this new medium and the shape-shifting new social and economic paradigms it inspired.
I tried to absorb as much as I could of the real ideas that emerged. It wasn’t easy given the ambient white noise of bullshit, tech’ jargon, and vaporous free-thinking that defined the ’90s. But I learned that attention is currency: the more you have, the more you can leverage; And I learned that ubiquity not rarity defines value. The dealer who told me, “The last thing you want is everyone interested in your work,” didn’t have a clue.
There was also a third idea, a little less well-defined then. It was this: if a truly networked society, culture or economy was to be successful, access to it and the flow of information across it had to be open and unrestricted. In recent years, I’ve applied this openness to nearly every aspect of my public life as an artist.
The interesting thing about all three of these ideas was that they were not really new in the art world. They were well understood by Andy Warhol and informed the way he operated in New York’s downtown art scene back in the late 1950s and early ’60s.
Andy might have begun his career within the conventions of the commercial gallery scene but it didn’t take long for him to grow beyond it. By the time he was telling us, with an eery pre-social media prescience, that we all had a chance to be famous for 15 minutes, he was mass producing his art, appropriating the universally familiar – from Campbell soup cans to Elvis movie posters – and removing himself almost completely from the art-making process to focus on commoditising his own fame through mainstream mass media, rather than the parochial art press.
Make no mistake, Andy leveraged this attention into revenue, from portrait commissions to product endorsements, as well as increased prices for his diversified output. The respect his art received – and it took a while – was encouraged, no question, by an urbane and skilled dealer, Leo Castelli, but the wider strategies were Andy’s alone.
When I was first preparing my notes for this talk, a few days ago, I thought I might honor the tech’ heritage of TED by comparing the attitudes of the traditional art world and of artists, such as me, who thrive quite independently of it to the differences between closed and open computing technologies. But there’s nothing remotely contemporary about the art business. It depends on and almost medieval, feudal confinement and control not of its own intellectual property – after all, because it has none – but that of its artists, who are its indentured servants, its oppressed serfs.
Galleries go out of their way to limit the degree to which their artists interact not only with collectors but everyone who might establish some stake in their future, from auction houses to corporate and institutional curators. This control is vital, because at its heart, the system is devoid of imagination, innovation or real value to those from whom it levies egregious tolls. From a gallery’s perspective, there’s nothing to be gained from transparency, let alone open-ness.
Not so long ago, one of Australia’s most eminent dealers bellowed at me, “I get to decide who gets to see art.
The sad thing is that a new and younger generation of dealers is just as blinkered. It’s as if the internet never even happened. It’s as if they’re clinging to denial while their whole fucking world is torn away from them in a radical, irreversible change.
A couple of days ago, I read this comment from one in
The Art Newspaper: “Obviously, finding new clients is crucial for galleries: You have to go to fairs, as clients don’t live around the block any more – they’re global.”Yeah, well, doh! So why not turn on your damn laptop or iPad? Or pick up your phone? Re-adjust your working your hours so you’re available to clients in Asia, the Middle East or Russia. Reach out for thousands, not just a few hundred that might pass your stand at a fair.
In 2006, a year after I left the two highly respected galleries that represented me in Sydney and Melbourne, I decided to break away completely from the commercial gallery system. I decided to use the web to promote my art and develop a direct relationship with those who were interested in it.
Later, I learned to use technology to manage every aspect of my art-related business, from communicating regularly with collectors and effecting transactions with them to managing my archives and even my art supplies. I was the first artist in this country, one of the first anywhere, to walk away from what others saw as compelling opportunities within the traditional art world, and to assume responsibility for my career myself. For the first time in nearly a decade, I felt like I could breath again.
The effect on my reputation and my earnings was almost immediate: my income rose from around $A30,000 in a good year to more than $300,000. My web site traffic increased by several thousand a week, and generated enough of a buzz that it provoked the curiosity of mainstream media. I ended up in a double page spread in
Vogue.These days, nearly nine and half thousand individuals subscribe to my monthly email newsletter, while more than 4,500 follow my Twitter feeds and 2,500 others have connected with me on Facebook. And although I haven’t exhibited in a gallery or art fair for nearly three years now, the
Australian Art Auction Record lists me among the top 50 most traded artists by value across Australian and New Zealand auctions this year. I’m one of very few women – and one of very few artists under 35 – included.
For the past three years, every one of my works has been sold long before it’s even been completed. And from a collector base of no more than a dozen, all of them located in either Melbourne or Sydney and corralled by the dealers who used to represent my work, buyers of my work now number in the hundreds, spread across a dozen countries.

I have not sought to confine my work in any way. Ubiquity, not rarity, is value. Attention is currency. I release my work into the public space under a flexible Creative Commons license and providing you don’t alter the work or try to claim it as your own and you ask my permission to use it for a commercial or promotional purpose, then you can reproduce it anywhere and in any way you want. As a result my work is widely distributed and recognised and this adds value to my new works and whatever else I do as an artist.
Of course, even now, few dealers, curators, critics and even artists really get it.
A couple of years ago, I turned down an offer of the most stifling kind of representation from a well-known art dealer. I wrote about our meeting in my blog (a word the dealer had never heard before – he told me, without embarrassment, that he couldn’t figure out what my ‘blood’ had to do with anything). The next day I received an SMS from him with just one word. Thanks to the LA-based sculptor, David Buckingham, we are able to bring that word to you all today.
Yeah, he called me a wanker.
So professional, Howie.In the end, what provoked this puerile response was a loss of control. The dealer wasn’t mad because I had written about him unkindly – I hadn’t. He was mad that I had written anything at all. Time was, not so long ago, artists had to be wary of crossing swords with art dealers, even those with modest reputations. But the art world post-web is different. I don’t fear these pompous, impotent, late-middle-aged anachronisms. The world as they know it is coming to an end and they haven’t a clue about how or why it’s happening.
I suppose I’ve become more fearless as I’ve gained confidence in my own independence. I have few qualms about exposing every aspect of my creative and personal life. For four years, I maintained a candid and at times discomfortingly intimate blog and when I discontinued it, at the beginning of this year, I took to documenting every aspect of my creative and personal life in photographs with the same degree of unabashed open-ness. You can see how I create my large enamel paintings and you can see me fuck. I don’t care.
As an artist, I see this as a logical extension of my commitment to the open-ness of the web. I am not just exposing myself physically, I am inserting myself directly and visibly into the ideas I’m interrogating in my art in order to understand them – and to help my collectors and audience understand them – more directly. I’m also creating a narrative derived from real rather than imagined experience and if the responses I get are anything to go by, the narrative is important to peoples’ personal engagement with the art.
As I’ve said, nothing is hidden, even if, at times, it provides grist for the gossip mill of the old-school art world, because it conveys a sense of reality, of truth, of flawed human-ness that encourages a more direct relationship with my work.
Which brings me to one more of the ideas that were first mooted in the ’90s, one that I see as increasingly operative in all the arts: the gradual but inexorable shift in the locus of value from the individual creative product – the artwork, book, musical composition, or performance – to the producer. In other words, whether we like it or not, the public perception of the individual, the persona they concoct for us, is worth more than any individual work they create.
We all understand these days that awareness is a form of currency but the art world still clings to the idea that it is the artwork that is the most powerful attractor of that awareness: this encourages critics and curators to continue to argue for their role as the ultimate arbiters of what most deserves our attention, what can be called ‘great’ art.
But in what is now a deeply networked, deeply informed culture, the resources are everywhere to enable us to decide for ourselves. Increasingly impotent, the arbiters wail about the death of a higher culture but in the end, what they’re really mourning is their loss of power. They envy bitterly the artists’ reclamation of a respect that owes nothing to their approval or imprimatur.
Fortunately, the visual artist is probably better positioned to exploit this than others such as writers, composers and performers who rely on the eroded protection of copyright and the collection of royalties and license fees to make a living. Over time, I suspect we can test a new range of possibilities and come up with innovations and initiatives that might illuminate a different path. And who knows, maybe we might, at last, remove the intermediary, the middle man, from between the artist and the audience and begin to work out – directly, collaboratively – just how each might get what they want or need from the encounter.
Thank you for listening.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Loading Out

"All changes are more or less tinged with melancholy, for what we are leaving behind is part of ourselves."
Amelia Barr, novelist

Monday, May 23, 2011

The Final Curtain

After almost five years and 830 posts, this will be the last post to Self Vs. Self.
I began writing this blog with the simple intent of documenting my daily life as an artist. It quickly evolved into something a little more complicated: a forensic examination of my mental illness, a workbook for creative ideas, an extended polemic (incited by the iniquities of the commercial gallery system), a sporadic dialogue with others interested in the creative process, and yes, a marketing and communications tool (one which effected a number of significant 'firsts' for an Australian artist).
Inevitably, it has also documented a series of transformative events in my life, not just the exhibitions, media controversies and auctions that markedly increased my reputation (and prices for my work) but also emotional and financial crises, from prolonged bouts of depression, confinement in a mental hospital and bankruptcy to the sudden, agonising decline and death of my father. Never less than completely candid, even the darker intimacies of my uncertain sexual identity have been exposed.
The trouble is, I feel that this blog now presses me too tightly to a past – and, as it were, a self – from which the time has come to move on.
Of course, this is not the end of my writing online. Think of it as the end of a chapter, the conclusion of a first act. While I figure out what comes next, I will post daily to Facebook and Twitter, as well as, less often, to my archival web site. My monthly newsletter, Studio Notes, will also continue. However, this blog will soon be removed from public view.
To everyone who has joined me for all or part of this unusual story, thank you. Even those of you who made plain their distaste for it – and me – have contributed to its unlikely achievements.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Get It While It's Hot

As prices for my work have risen sharply over the past decade, I have tried to ensure that a small portion of my output was affordable to as many people as possible.
Every year, for the past five years, I have offered free, downloadable, unlimited edition prints based on pastel, watercolour, or ink drawings, which can be printed out at home and which I've been happy to sign if they're sent to my studio. I have also sold smaller, one-off watercolors and drawings at prices between $A250 and $1,000.
More recently, I have released three photographic prints, including a 'miniature' version of one of my Lake Eyre studies – a signed and numbered edition of 500 was offered free to readers of this blog – and Banned, an image
of another female artist and me in a sexual clinch that provoked Facebook to remove my original presence there. Banned was printed 4" x 2.66" on 6" x 4" matt paper, and each of the edition of 750 was sold for just $A20, including postage. At the end of 2010, friends, collectors, press and fellow artists were sent New Year, another free edition of 1,000 signed but numberless prints of similar dimensions to Banned.
I am offering one more edition of small photographic prints, this time in monochrome. Cocksure will be limited to just 100 matt, digital R-prints, 4" x 2.66" on 6" x 4". Each will be signed and numbered and because of the relatively small edition, will be priced at $A100, including postage. Payment will be accepted via PayPal or bank transfer.
To order, simply email your name and address, and quantity to my studio and an assistant will respond with an invoice and payment instructions:
dooneystudio@gol.com

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Don't Burst My Bubble

On May 19th, one of my earliest large paintings, Rave Doll with Bubble Gun, in high gloss enamel on canvas, 150cm x 300cm, is to to go under the hammer at Lawson-Menzies' fine art auction in Sydney. The work was first sold at my first solo exhibition in a commercial gallery, Hazed, at Agent 029 Gallery, in Brisbane, 14 years ago – for less than a tenth of Lawson-Menzies' current pre-sale estimate of $A15,000 to $A20,000.
An image of the work appears in the auction catalogue alongside works by some of Australia's most highly regarded masters, including William Dobell, Lloyd Rees, Charles Blackman and Albert Tucker. There is also a brief essay on the work itself:
"Dooney has made several clever transformations with
Rave Doll with Bubble Gun, 1997. Many of the known conventions associated with billboard advertising, pop art and street graffiti have been distilled into this one work. With the stock in trade of street art being enamel paint and strongly outlined figures, Dooney appropriates their ‘baggage’ in creating her distinctive images. An image that we might be expected to see on an abandoned wall or in a comic strip has been elevated from ‘low’ art into ‘high’ art, to use terms which are antiquated, since artists like Dooney made their mark in commercial gallery settings.
"Without doubt, Dooney has adopted some of the visual strategies of artists like Roy Lichtenstein (1923-1997), who in turn, mimicked the inventions of comic strip artists in the 1960s. While standing on the shoulders of giants, Dooney’s work is nevertheless immediately identifiable as her own. A fiercely independent artist, Dooney appears to epitomise solitary, powerful and sometimes weapon-wielding females who hold their ground firmly against some perceived threat. Dooney’s characteristic high-keyed colours underpin the physical strength and sense of drama exuding from the work."

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Pausing For Breath

"I sleep completely naked to make me believe you are here, but when I wake up it is not the same thing."
Camille Claudel

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Pictures In Space

My new studio was created from adjoining units in a large industrial storage facility on the outskirts of Brisbane. Sparse but functional – plain, corrugated steel walls, concrete floors and and shadeless overhead lights – it suits the sterile assembly line process that working on several high-gloss enamel paintings at once requires.
The photographs below were taken at random over the past few months but they could have all been taken in the same hour: there's a tedium, a sameness, about my days here that I find reassuring.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

I Want To Spend The Rest Of My Life Everywhere, With Everyone, One To One, Always, Forever, Now.

These days everyone is at ease with the ideas of conceptual and post-modern art. This is not necessarily a good thing.
The argument that art is whatever the artist decides it is – which parallels the much-vaunted 'death of the author' (in which which art is whatever the viewer decides it is) – has been manipulated to suit even the basest talent. The actor James Franco and porn star Sasha Grey now blithely position their perfomances in soap operas and porn' movies as 'performance art' and themselves as 'serious' artists. The rest of us feel free to refer to anything we consider 'creative' or special (from a kitchen herb garden to a figurine collection) as a work of art. Buying vintage clothing and clinging to childhood toys have been re-classified as 'curating' a personal collection.
The once rigorous interpretation of art has been reduced to mere reflection, the art a mirror for the viewer's psyche. The viewer's own experiences, fears, biases, expectations, neuroses, morality, guilt or yearning for a deeper meaning ovewhelm the artist's intentions.
Lady GaGa (Stephanie Germanotta), currently listed by Forbes magazine as a singer/performance artist and the seventh most powerful woman in the world , is the ultimate example of post modernism. She intentionally references, creates homages to and reconfigures not just previous music but also previous performances and performers, including their interviews, on-stage personas and ideas. Product placement and marketing are embraced and integrated without irony into her music videos (which provides a further mash up of popular culture). Her first two albums and tour were titled, respectively, The Fame, The Fame Monster and The Fame Monster Ball. Their singular creative concept was simultaneously the objective as the products were used to both explore and build fame.
Germanotta's stage persona insinuates itself into her off-stage (but rarely off-media) presence, inferring that her entire life is a work of performance art. Instead of only producing and promoting a product which can be consumed, Germanotta has become a ubiquitous piece of pop culture. In the same way that art interpretation is now based on individual interpretation, her audience and fans are encouraged to mimic and reinterpret her persona, as expressed in her products, in their quest to find (and then reinvent) themselves. Which is to say, the ideas of post modernism have been embraced by the mass audience – or the "million-fold audience of just one," as one writer put it – and even if they don't really understand them, they've become a means of self-empowerment, enabling individuals to re-invent aspects of their own lives as works of art and become, themselves, artists.
What does all this really mean? I'm not entirely sure. But clearly, it's important that those of us who have dedicated our lives to a deeper idea of art push boundaries beyond post modernism and post-post-modernism and [gasp] try to come up with work that's more than just another, reference-littered mash-up.
Photo above: The artist at the beginning of her self-invention? Me, finishing works for my first solo exhibition, Hazed, in Brisbane, 1997.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

I As Another

When I was a patient in a psychiatric clinic, a year ago, I knew an elderly woman who was having electro-shock therapy. She had experienced temporary memory loss, one of its common side effects, and couldn't recall anything.
One night, we sat facing each other over dinner in the large dining room. Around us, addicts, manic depressives, schizophrenics and anorexics were talking about their experiences, about what had brought them to this place (and what they hoped would get them out of it).
Suddenly, in an urgent whisper, the elderly woman asked me, "Who am I if I do not have my memories? How will I know who I am?"
We define ourselves by what we remember. Although we experience a vast amount, most of it is forgotten. It's what we hold onto – or what is burned involuntarily in our psyches – that defines how we see ourselves and who and what we believe we are. We repeat these memories as stories to ourselves and each other.
Change is threatening because it replaces the past with something new. New experiences also change the context of the memories we've retained. We perceive them differently because we have something else to compare them to. For a while, we don't know who we are anymore. Other people don't know us either. We no longer match up with the old stories that connected us not just to our past (and our sense of identity) but to the people in it.
Maybe that's why it's easier to change in a new environment. There are no old stories, old personas, to compete – or cope – with as we try to become someone new.
When my father died, I wanted to make my life stand still so I could pretend it wasn't going on without him. I didn't want my memories of him or our time together to be lost or replaced. More significantly, his existence had played such a huge part in my life – even when we were, for a while, estranged – that I defined most of my self by whom I was in relation to him. With him gone, there was no-one else whom I wanted to impress, intrigue, surprise – or defy – in quite the same way.
My father's death has given me the opportunity to reinvent myself in a way that would have been much harder if he were alive. There is an end to the stories of who I was – if only because he, as the person with whom I'd spent most of my life, right up until my early twenties, was the keeper of those stories, those memories. I still wish he wasn't gone but I'm not sad his stories are. It's been a long time since I recognised the person I was in any of them.
Now I get to start the second act of my life. I also get to re-define and re-invent myself in earnest.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Dreaming Later

The opening date of Dreaming Hazel Dooney, a group exhibition of works inspired by my persona as it's perceived in my art and online, has changed – from the 6th May to 10th September, this year.
Organised by Latrobe Contemporary Gallery, in Victoria (Australia), the event has attracted a large number of local and international artists. However, the logistics of coordinating the delivery of so many works, in media ranging from works on paper and photographs to large paintings and video installations, have proved more challenging than expected, as have regular communications with artists – and media outlets – in different parts of the world.
I have agreed to lend my own studio team to assist the gallery. The additional manpower and time will ensure that the event is rewarding – in every sense of the word – for all the participating artists.
Dreaming Hazel Dooney
will still run for two weeks, but from the 10th to the 24th September (with an opening night party planned for Saturday, the 10th), at Latrobe Contemporary Gallery, 209 Commercial Road, Morwell, Victoria 3840.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Keep It Simple (Not Stupid)

"We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them."
– Albert Einstein
A couple of months ago, I realised that I was stunting my development – as an artist and as a woman – by not embracing change. I was clinging to the familiar, persisting with ways of thinking, working and being that I'd evolved when I was in my early twenties. None of them was working for me anymore.
My father's long illness and death were a wake-up call. I was forced to accept that nothing remains the same – nor is it supposed to. Change is inevitable. To live fully, it has to be embraced. I decided to approach everything I did differently.
I started with my art.
I've been using the same techniques for my hard-edged enamel paintings for more than a decade: the same paint, the same types of brushes and the same, long, physically tedious process. The work on each has always been excruciatingly slow. So, over the past few months, I deconstructed and analysed how I do them. Then I researched new techniques and tools.
I bought specialist brushes traditionally used by pinstripers for fine linework in enamel on motorbikes, hotrods and trucks. They're referred to as swords (after their shape) and are made of extremely soft squirrel hair. I taught myself how to use them by watching instructional videos on YouTube. I didn't practise, just observed. The first time I used them was on a new painting, a week ago. The linework took a few days rather than a couple of weeks. More importantly, it was enjoyable – not a muscle-wracking grind – and because I spent less time with the enamel fumes, it didn't make me sick.
Maybe because I'm largely self-taught as an artist, I've often discounted my skills. I've always worked slowly and painstakingly but byy persisting for so long with outmoded techniques, I undermined my own confidence. It turns out I'm better at learning new things than I'd thought.
I've also changed how I run the business of my art. My
income has grown 1,000 per cent in just four years. However, the more successful I've become, the more complicated it has been for me to keep track of everything.
At the beginning of this year, I found a book-keeper who specialises in accounting for artists and musicians. She agreed to work with my very wise tax accountant in Sydney to
over-haul the bankrupt mess I refer to as my personal finances – on one condition: I had to spend several days filing several hundred receipts and matching them to bank and credit card account statements. Mind-numbingly dull, it forced me to confront how deeply the lack of a few, simple disciplines had impacted my time, earnings and efficiency.
Albert Einstein once said, "Any intelligent fool can make things bigger and more complex... It takes a touch of genius – and a lot of courage – to move in the opposite direction."
In every aspect of my working life, I thought I needed more: more space, more staff, more equipment, more time. But what I really needed was less. Unencumbered by outmoded, inefficient ways of doing things, I've begun to enjoy both my art and my life again. It doesn't take genius to understand that's a good thing.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Standing In The Shadows

I've just finishing reading yet another biography of the late style icon and muse, Isabella Blow.
During her lifetime, Blow received little serious recognition or money. Now she's dead, three biographies have been published and there's talk of a feature film. Still, her real achievements are under-estimated, perhaps because the products of her imagination were largely realised by others and we were all too easily distracted by her short, intense life. Even she herself used to ask, "What is it that I do?"
She was a catalyst, whose indefinable occupation was not just that of muse but of of an impresario of ideas. She was often the first to recognise an individual's talent and help them find an outlet for it, usually by connecting it with like-minded others and nurturing it with her own inspired input. The reputations and relationships she helped create became fashion revolutions.
In much the same way as the influence of punk and the Sex Pistols would have been a lot less without the Situationist-like, media-savvy marketing of Malcolm McLaren, the upset caused by the induction of the late Alexander McQueen into the ranks Parisian haute couture designers would have been a deal more muted without Blow.
McQueen was well-rewarded. Blow wasn't. "The role of a muse is changing," she observed. "Traditionally, we haven't been paid, but as Bryan Ferry once said to me, one should be paid for ideas as well as the physical manifestation of them. If Alexander uses some of my ideas in his show, and he has, I don't get paid; he does."
Several years ago, I met someone who turned my life and my career upside down. Without their ideas, I would have had much less success and found none of the courage necessary to create it in the way I have outside the traditional commercial and institutional gallery system – a novel, even dangerous notion just half a decade ago. He, not I, was the architect who first devised (as far back as 1996) how an artist might achieve a serious reputation – and significant sales – using the web. His blueprint was intricate, somewhat mind-boggling and the product of unarguable genius.
I have always wanted to write about him but he has forbidden it. Maybe the time has come to do it anyway – and to beg his forgiveness afterwards. Apart from wanting to give credit where it's due, I think it's important to identify such truly gifted, original imaginations to a wider audience. Like Isabella Blow and possibly even the egotistical McLaren, they might not fully understand what it is they do, but whether muse, mentor, or manipulator (and they're often all of these, as well as being a little mad), they're responsible for re-conceiving and revolutionising societies and cultures in fundamental, irreversible ways.
The past year has taught me that a life, even when fully lived, is too short. It can also be too soon forgotten. Having lost our oral traditions, our culture's memories are keyed to material evidence, to things, and it can be difficult, if not impossible, to sustain recognition of those 'originals' whose greatest ideas reside in the accomplishments of others. Nevertheless, those of us who have been lucky enough to have been around them – and more, who have derived substantial benefit as a result – have an obligation to try. Especially while they're still alive.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Lost In Translation (Solo Un Po')

Today, Dagheisha, a self-described 'metal hardcore punk webzine', published an Italian translation of an interview with me conducted by a young writer (and one of my Facebook friends), Lorenzo Becciani. The translation is somewhat inexact so I thought I would re-publish the original English version here.
How did you become one of the Asia-Pacific region's most controversial female artists?
By rejecting the traditional gallery system and creating an independent, unconstrained career using the internet to distribute my art, ideas and opinons. The internet has also enabled people to gain a better understanding of what I am trying to achieve in my art and as a result, it is taken a great deal more seriously.
What's the most difficult aspect of being a photographer?
I don't really have a firm grasp of the technical aspects. Even when using 35mm film, I point and shoot on auto'. I don't regard my work in the medium as central to my art: it's primarily a means to explore ideas, to record, to document. I'm rarely conscious of formal composition. I just try to fit information within the frame.
What about painting?
Painting is an emotional process. I always reach a point where I want to destroy each work, but I've learned to put it aside so I don't. The ones I hate the most often turn out to be the best. That said, I am very confident of my technical skills, especially when it comes to enamel.
What's your relationship with censorship?
I think it's the role of the artist to question, test and challenge boundaries, to upset the status quo. Which means I am always at odds with censorship.
What do you aim to create with your images?
I aim to create images to which there is a duality, a conflict, in the viewer's response. They're accessible – and even, at first, reassuring or titillating – but they also cause one to question, to feel some discomfort.
What kind of role does religion play for you and for your art?
I am not religious at all but I'm fascinated by the way ritual is used – and abused – to create meaning and emotion. I am also fascinated by the way iconography is used a little like brand communication by various religions.
What is your definition of success as an artist?
Making art consistently and taking risks, while rigorously exploring ideas – and developing skills. That said, I'm happy to make very good money as an artist and I no longer have to struggle to gain attention for my work.
Please introduce the Flesh Eaters and PORNO projects for our readers.
The Flesh Eaters are a recent series of diaristic pen-and-ink drawings that describe, in pared-down but explicit line-work, intense sexual encounters wthin which 'normal' genderal roles are obscured or transgressed and a hunger for more sensation veers towards violence. I can't help but see the drawings as fragments of a horror story: sex as it might be for predatory, devouring zombies – sex as it has been for me.
PORNO was driven by a perspective that porn's creepy sensibility has insinuated itself into every aspect of popular culture, from the fashion photographs of Terry Richardson to the pop star, Rihanna's robotic S&M stage persona. Pamela Anderson, Paris Hilton and Kim Kardashian have proved that, these days, homespun porn can help rather than hinder a girl's career and if you have a celebrity partner, you can even profit from it. With the proliferation of more sophisticated home media and easy-to-use applications, many have experimented with producing it themselves.
PORNO was a series of photographs others and I took of themselves and me having sex. I 'curated' these images, refining and reprinting them, 'appropriating' them to form part of my own critical experience of the new porno’ aesthetic. The intention wasn't to pander to prurience but rather to explore contemporary socio-sexual impulses.
We're a music webzine and your attitude is really dark and punk. We're curious about your musical tastes.
My tastes are pretty broad but my favourites are industrial, hip hop and rap, Ali Farka Touré, some of the recent African collaborations of drummer Jack DeJohnette and, less predictably, the music of film director Vincent Gallo.
Who's your favourite model to work with?
Oh, me, by far. Everyone has a line they won't cross as I am photographing or drawing them. I don't. I'll do almost anything.
How would you introduce Australia to someone who has never visited it?
It's vast. The cities are mostly suburbs. Sport is valued highly, culture is not.
Australians are increasingly conservative. Our internet censorship laws are among the most restrictive in the Western world, but no-one's bothered to enforce them (yet). Australians are unreasonably suspicious of sex and sexual desire: pornographic photographs of women with an A breast cup size – even if they're in their late 20s – are banned for "encouraging pedophilia".
You've a simply lovely blog. How do you judge the obscure world of internet?
I think the internet is a way to reach people directly by bypassing traditional systems and power structures. However we have to strenuously guard and defend the freedoms it has given us artists.
What do you want to express with An Artist's Notebook on Tumblr?
I want to fuck with my online persona as well as the commonplace notions of who and what an artist is. I'm interested in the way we read images online and interpret our version of 'truth' from them. You can read more about the ideas behind it here.