Today was another rainy but all around lovely day at Emerald. After a long chat with Mary in the morning about the ‘bushfire lifestyle’ I started working on the panel of the Emerald Community House hall again. I’m not sure about these trees yet. I have to think about it.
Other than Mary, I had several people come into the hall today and have a chat to me today. First was a mother and her 10 year old son. They poked around at looked through what I’ve been doing, touching everything and moving it about. She seemed interested in the making process and asked about the workshop but unfortunately she works at the times they are scheduled. She told me that her mother used to quilt, but that she is currently in hospital. Her son and I talked about the Cockatoo kindergarden and I was able to fill him in on the latest of what’s happening with the rebuilt – he knew about the building and was happy that it is being turned into a museum. He looks forward to the project being finished already – time goes so slow when you are young, a couple of months can feel like forever.
Separately, two older gentlemen meandered in over the course of the day. The first, a local, who heard about the residency thought the promotional work that Emerald Community House has been doing about the project. He was expecting some kind of exhibition and was a bit disappointed but we had a nice chat anyway. He commented that he was always surprised by how much these ‘little old ladies’ charge for the quilts they make, but recognised they involved a lot of work. He said that he would come back and say hello on Sunday during the markets where I will have a stall. He goes to the markets every month to buy flowers. The second gentleman was a tourist from the UK, he and his family were in town as a stop on their trip on the Puffin’ Billy, a century old steam train that still operates through town. He wanted know if the hall was still a chapel, I informed him that it was not but that couples do hire it out to have their wedding there. He didn’t have much more to say.
My favourite visitor today was Lee, a member of the Emerald Sustainability Committee. Lee bought in a quilt she had made to show me, telling me how she sometimes makes them to raise money at local charities. Featured on the quilt was a flower, which she proceeded to explain is known as the Emerald Star Bush. A very local, and highly endangered bush with tiny white flowers “about the size of my fingernail”. This is it:
Lee and I spoke for about 20min about her work on the sustainability committee and about her experiences of living locally. Like Donna had yesterday Lee also talked about the struggles of trying to take on a leadership role in the community as a women. Its becoming a theme here it seems… so many talented, driven, experienced and capable ladies – so much resistance to women in leadership positions. *sigh*. I’ll have to find a way to address this somehow.
Anyway… Alongside many other projects, like helping out the local bee population and working to save two local bird species from extinction: the Helmeted Honeyeater and the Orange Bellied Parrot, the Emerald Sustainability Committee are working hard to ensure that this unassuming but precious little plant isn’t decimated. I was very inspired by our conversation about the local environmental issues and think that Lee made a really good point when she said that although the two building I have chosen to represent are important, the natural environment around them is equally important to people in the region. I promised to incorporate some of what we talked about into the piece I make during the residency.
With all these people taking time to have a conversation with me about their local community today I realised something, or rather put into words: often, communities feel like their stories aren’t told, which makes them feel unimportant and unappreciated. By simply being there, to listen and learn about the local community, I – as the artist in residence- am validating these stories. By being there to listen I am creating an opportunity to share and celebrate what it is that’s important to people locally. This act of validation may be small and simple but potentially it is very meaningful for those concerned.
I am always surprised when I go in and work with communities at how much I get out of the experience. I am not really a ‘people person’ and I don’t often talk to strangers – but through my practice (whether that is workshop facilitation or my arts practice) I am able to engage with people in a very open, honest, meaningful way. People tell me their stories, even though I am a stranger – precisely because through my practice I am positioning myself as an active listener. Its a performance. My practice acts as a catalyst that invites strangers to engaged and be vulnerable. Yet it’s not me performing… the practice – the act of making or facilitating – performs this function of creating a safe space for sharing (with me as the artist as just one part of that material and social process). That is what I want my textile work to do – not to tell a story per say, but to act as a catalyst – to prompt people into sharing a thought, an anecdote, an interpretation or a story with the person next to them.
This is what awaits me when I return tomorrow: