ECH Residency – Day 4

Today is Friday and I am not going up to Emerald. I needed to go buy a whole bunch more fabric and get a few things organised befor the weekend. Saturday and Sunday are both going to be super busy! On Saturday the community is taking over the airwaves in a localised pirate radio protest to keep the old local radio station in community hands, everyone is dressing as pirates! Plus, I’m going to be interviewed on the airwaves about this project. Sunday is the day of the monthly local markets which are held at the hall where I have been working. I am going to have a little stall and do some ‘performance sewing’ and continue my conversations with locals about what being resilient means to them.
Awesome
^_^

Yesterday, which was day 4 of the residency was a busy day. I had lots of people come in and have a yarn with me.
It started with a visit from Graeme, who is on the Cockatoo Neighbourhood Centre committee and a long-time local to the region. Mary and Non joined us and the four of us had an hour long conversation about a wide range of issues affecting them on a local, state, national and global level. Graeme is the full time carer of his adult son who lives with a disability and needs constant care. I identified strongly with the challenges that Graeme faces as a sole carer as my older brother also lives with a disability and requires full time care. Currently my brother Guy lives with my parents, our long term plan as a family is that I will take over as his carer when my parent can no longer manage. Luckily for us we don’t live in a high-fire danger area and do not have to worry too much about what we would need to do if we had to evacuate the house on a high-risk day. Graeme does, and he told us that there is nowhere he and his son can really that he can go on a high-risk day; Frustratingly for him the nearby respite centres all close on high-risk days… So he got a car that they can sleep in.

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It’s stories like Graeme’s, or like the story Non shared about another young (25year old) local man who has taken on a carer role for his brother after he was in a serious accident, that really strike home how important it is for us to operate as communities that look after one-another. That is the kind of society that I want to live in at least – one where we can rely on each other for help. They also reminded us that it is not only women taking on carer roles and that men also struggle with the same challenges of isolation, inability to get work that allows them the flexibility they meet to meet their responsibilities and the worry of what will happen to their loved ones when they are no longer able to care for them.

Later in the afternoon Suzanne, the ECH cleaner came over to have a yarn. We talked about some craft projects she has done in the past and then Suzanne shared a deeply personal story about what resilience means to her and what has helped her to overcome the challenges she has faced in life. She told me that what has helped her to live with the effects of trauma was learning how to get a critical distance from what happened. Adding that ‘fear might be all you get – we have to learn to listen to our intuition more’. Whether its on a high-risk day when you have to decide whether to leave, or whether you are feeling uneasy about being alone in a dark ally or in a domestic situation, sometimes fear is a red flag that we must listen to in order to save ourselves.

While Suzanne and I were talking another lady came in, she is a local artist that works in leadlight and glass. She wanted to know a bit about my practice and my process, and whether I was getting paid and fining a way to make a living off my practice. She said that despite the fact she has been living off her own practice for over 30 years people (mostly men apparently) still treat her like she is a hobbyist – not a real artist. we talked about the unfortunate statistics around how much less women are represented by professional galleries, exhibited in solo shows and how much less money they get for their art. She told me not to listen to people’s bullshit and to keep going with my art – generous advice. She also talked about how much Emerald has changed since she when she was a child growing up here; about how lots of building that should have been heritage listed have disappeared and how the culture of the area has changed. She’s going to be there on Sunday for the markets and I look forward to talking some more and having a look at her work. Finally another lady who makes bags to sell at the markets walked through and had a quick chat – we mostly talked sewing techniques, I’ll see her again on Sunday too.

Meanwhile Lee, who visited me on Tuesday and whom I wrote about in my previous post shared this on her FB page which was nice of her.

2015/01/img_2577.png I am definitely going to make sure the possum ends up on the finished work – the leadbeater’s possum is the cutest!!

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From all the conversations I had today the two main points that stuck with are issues that I’ve been exploring in my work in community/ non-profit sector for several years:
1) How can we address the crucial difference between equal opportunity and equal outcomes – so that everyone in society, even if the are somewhat disadvantaged/margionalised (whether that is because of class, race, gender, beliefs or ability) are able to achieve the same outcomes as everyone else?
2) How do we move from the -I- to the -WE-. From an isolated collection of individuals to a globalised community without loosing our hard-won individuality and the things that make us unique at a local level?

Between all these chats I did manage to get some sewing done. I’ve based the design of this quilt off a piece my grandmother made which is in her book “Folk Art Appliqué Quilts” (pictured below). I’ve been working for like a day and a half on the patchwork border and spent the afternoon trying to do the leaf border panels she has in her quilt but I failed miserably… I’ve got a bit of work to do before I can sew so many random curves together in such a way that they lie flat. Unfortunately her book isn’t very instructive when it comes to the finer details – Dawn was self taught and I get the feeling she just made things up as she went along.

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So for now this is where I’m at,

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I’m yet to build in the panels with the local animals/birds/plants that will bring this quilt together. I have a lot of work to do in the coming week!!

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ECH Residency – Day 3

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.

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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:

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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.

This is the Helmeted Honeyeater:
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and this is the Helmeted Honeyeater I made today:

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This is the Orange Bellied Parrot, I made a patch of him too but I wasn’t happy with it so I’m going to try again tomorrow.

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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:

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Until then,

ECH Residency – Day 2

Today was a quiet drizelly day in emerald.

I spent the morning working quietly on my own, finishing the first panel of the Cockatoo kindergarden and then getting started on the second panel featuring Emerald Community House hall – here is a work in progress shot:

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In the afternoon there was a small workshop in the second space of the hall, 5 local ladies where in there making really beautiful mosaic pots (see image below). At afternoon tea time they came over and introduced themselves and we had a chat about my work. They really loved what I have finished so far and one of the ladies, Donna, happened to be on the people who originally came up with the idea of transforming the derelict kindergarden into a memorial/museum of Ash Wednesday! She has been on the committee driving the project for ten years and was of course a part of the protests that prevented the building from being demolished.

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Donna told me some of the history and details of the project and how it they finally managed to get support and funding to get it to happen. Having spent four years speaking to community leaders in disaster affected areas around the country the story she told me is a familiar one: Its a story of local people identifying a need or gap in their community and coming up with their own solution to address it – but then having to fight a long and drawn out battle to win political and monetary support to realise their ideas; Its a story of local women at the forefront of grassroots leadership – doing amazing, innovative things – but still having to struggle with how our society perceived women who show leadership (‘bossy’, ‘pushy’ and ‘a bit too in your face); Its a story about the struggle to get local emergency services to recognise the importance of community resilience building activities that address the phycological issues that arise from disaster events (but don’t have anything to do with ‘putting out the fires’). Its a story about how grassroots leaders adapt and learn to lead from behind (placing ‘important, white, men’ as the spokesmen for their ideas). The good news is that Donna spoke about how much things have changed, and that the Cockatoo kindergarden is now heritage listed and about to be rebuilt.

She also shared some snippets from different stories about the building, such as: During the fire while the 300 people were sheltering in the building there were three firemen on the roof protecting it, and that the building continued to act as a refuge after the fire, at least for one girl who used to break in there at night to get away from domestic issues in her family. She said she has a lot more photos to show me and that she will hopefully pop in to see me again.

Here is the finished panel of the cockatoo kindergarden building soon to be an Ash Wednesday memorial/museum. Complete with Dot standing on the roof protesting the proposed demolition of the building.

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ECH Residency- Day 1

I just got home after day one of my Emerald Community House (ECH) residency in the Dandenong ranges.

The hall is a beautiful old church that has been lovingly restored by the community, its bright with white walls, high ceilings and wooden floors. A marvellous space to work out of. Especially on such a beautiful day.

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In the week leading up to this project I was growing nervous about going into the space without a pre-conceived idea of what I was going to make. However, that was a conscious decision because I wanted to create a piece that responds to the site and to my experience in it. As well as to create something that links thematically to the community workshop/research project I will be leading at ECH in the 8 weeks following my residency. Happily, this all came together today quite naturally…

As I was setting up Mary Farrow (ECH co-ordinator) and another community member who came along to see the project and get involved both brought me the same book to look at – “Baked Apples on the Tree” edited by Icia Molloy is a collection of first hand accounts, stories, poems, photos and artwork from the local community put together following Ash Wednesday. As well as this book Mary also had a folder for me to look through. It was the application ECH put forward to have the Cockatoo kindergarden listed as a site of significance (and in doing so spared demolition). The story goes that during the Ash Wednesday fire over 300 people sheltered in the kindergarden and were saved. Thankfully the application was successful and in a few months the kindergarden, long neglected, will be re-opening as a memorial to Ash Wednesday. Of course, this is an amazing and important story to commit to cloth and so I am going to spend the next two weeks making a cloth-art piece about this story. It will feature both the kindergarden and ECH on it in acknowledgment that ECH helped to save the kindergarden which saved so many lives. Mary suggested it could even end up in the new Cockatoo kindergarden – that would be something wouldn’t it?

The community member who joined me this morning (I won’t name her) was a local. She had built her house with her own two hands after purchasing the block at the age of 19. She said that she was there during Ash Wednesday – still living in a shed at the time and spoke a little of how frightening the event was. A few years ago she was in a terrible traffic incident and now lives with an acquired brain injury. We spoke a lot about how miraculous her recovery was and about how she is still struggling and unable to find suitable work. A reminder that fires are not the only thing we need to have resilience for and only one of the many hardships that we overcome.

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Above is a photo of the section of the cloth-artwork coming together – I started with the Cockatoo kindergarden. I will finish it tomorrow, complete with a protester standing on the roof – a nod to one of the locally famous images from the fight to save the building, (see below) and then start on the ECH hall. The theme of protest is an important one in my personal practice and once again, quite naturally I have been able to translate that to my site-specific work.

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The design of the cloth artwork I’m making is based roughly on a quilt my grandmother made which is in her book “Folk Art Appliqué Quilts” (1990). I have been in conversation with her over the past month (she’s 93 years old!) and we are going to start collaborate through the process of me remaking some of her cloth artwork as well as making new cloth artworks based on drawings she is sending me. Keeping in mind that I am learning how to quilt and appliqué on the fly – by remaking my grandmothers work and by working from her book I become her pupil, her assistant. In effect I am inhereting her practice and her style just as I have inherited her genes and have been imprinted on by her aesthetics. This process of remaking and reimagining is an important part of the auto-biographical aspect of my research and is part of the heuristic development of my practice. Like my grandmother before me I am exploring this medium through trial and error, developing my own aesthetic language as I go.

Emerald, like many of the disaster affected communities which I have visited in my role as coordinator for Volunteering Qld’s Natural Disaster Resilience Leadership project is full of stories of survival, overcoming great odds and of slow but meaningful recovery. Already, Mary is talking about other nearby disaster affected communities that I could take this ‘Cloth-art Stories of Resilience’ project to. It’s funny how my work in this field is bleeding into the work and research I am doing for my PhD at VCA. I am genuinely passionate about community resilience and I find myself intrigued about how this will all unfold going forward.

Until tomorrow,

Tal

ECH Residency

Today I start my residency at Emerald Community House (ECH) in the Dandenong Ranges, VIC. I will be spending the next two weeks working at the old church which has been converted into a community hall to create a textile wall hanging that speaks of this site and of the Emerald community.

I would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land upon which I will be working the Bunurong people and the Woiworung people from the Kulin nation, and pay my respects to their elders past and present.

I am leaving the doors open for anyone from the Emerald community to come in and check out what I’m doing and even get involved. If you are in the area pop in and say hi! If not, stay tuned here as I will be posting regularly with updates on my progress and on the experieance of this unique residency which I worked with ECH to design.

As you can see below, this residency will also involve an 8 week community workshop series where I will be working with local community members on a collaborative textile wall hanging project. All this is linked and a part of my PhD practice led research into Cloth-Art as a Socially Engaged Practice. So look forward to updates about that phase of the project also.

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