Early this month, I went as a visiting artist to my old art school for a week. In the first three days, I did an installation in a little hallway there (I had originally planned to use a gallery space but there were timing issues so I had to reconfigure my ideas to work in the hallway space instead). I basically had to create everything in the installation from scratch including the slime/landscapes, painted walls, painted soft sculptures etc. Check it out:
I consider the work "unresolved" but it was a good opportunity to play and experiment and there's things happening in it that I like. All things considered, not bad for three days of art making (and about four hours spent documenting the work as the size of the hallway made it really tricky to photograph) right?
Returning to my old art school after almost 7 years away was an amazing, inspiring, intense and emotional experience. The support I recieved was incredible, doing an artist's talk was terrifying but critiquing the final year student's work was an absolute blast, the students were a lovely bunch and hopefully I gave them some vaguely useful feedback. I also had a student journalist interview me for an article in the local paper, I'm pretty awkward in interviews but you can check it out here if you like.
I spent a large part of my time during the week with the talented, intelligent and amazing Rich Kereopa (AKA Huka Hori aka... uh, sorry, I can't remember all your names, Huka, you'll have to reresh my memory!) who I used to share a studio with during our art school days and who has gone on to become an incredible weaver, performance artist and all up inspiring person. He performed all through the week and has left me with a great deal to think about. I feel utterly blessed to have this friendship and to be able to witness Rich's growth as an artist and person.
On the final morning of my very brief visit, my wonderful, supportive and gorgeous friend Angela made us an incredible breakfast. It (and her, resplendent in jewels and pearls!) was a work of art in and of itself.
I am a very lucky person to have such wonderful people in my life.
Well, we just locked in a venue for our Melbourne Fringe Festival Performance in October, so that's really exciting.
Also, I'll be flying to New Zealand from the 4th until the 12th of May to do an artist residency at my old art school. I will be doing an installation, artist talk and critiquing the works of the final year students there - so pretending to have half a clue. It should be a blast, I've not been back there since I graduated in 2006.
So yeah, things are going pretty well, I suppose!
"Little Bits" was an exhibition of small artworks done in a month to fundraise for a Melbourne Fringe Festival show which I will be producing with Wes Gardner and Lucas Heil in late September, early October. I have just uploaded the art from the show to my gallery so go check it out.
The opening night was a great success, most of the artworks sold on the night and it was all thanks to the support of a fantastic group of people - my friends. The exhibition was held at Cafe Lua, the staff there were absolutely wonderful and Frankie curated the show with absolute style!
This will probably be my last small works exhibition for quite a long time, large works put less strain on my RSI so that will be the direction I'll be heading it.
This is going to be my first large journal entry written here using voice dictation software to spare my hands. I am used to expressing myself through typed word and find dictating to a piece of software awkward and difficult. I need to push through this though because in the past I used to find writing to be such a fantastic processing tool and since getting RSI I have missed it immensely. While I get the hang of the software, the tone of my writing will probably be strange, possibly incoherent and quite rambling. I am doing this for myself and so would not hold it against anyone who took one look at all this and decided not to read it.
In my mind there is a certain degree of shame I feel when complaining, I imagine a voice (mine, yours?) saying that my problems are self-created, that I have no fucking right to complain in a world of far more misery than I experience in my own silly little life. In a sense, it is true, my problems are minimal and I think it's important for us to always remember that about the things which trouble us because it keeps us humble and reminds us that the world is not ours alone. However, the shame I feel tends to send me spiralling into an ever deeper depression, one where I feel pathetic for not being stronger, better, whatever, so tonight I am going to practice the fine art of having a good old-fashioned whinge.
I have had RSI well over a year now. When I first started feeling the discomfort, while doing the video editing that was my day job, I suppose I tried to push through it for awhile… just like everybody does . I don't really remember trying to push through it for very long, what I do remember is being shocked by how quickly my hands, wrists, arms started feeling worse. The feeling like carbonated soft drink fizzing along my arm, the way my hands went numb and I panicked. What's the best thing to do when you panic about a physical ailment? Why research it on the Internet, of course! The horror stories about permanent nerve damage and ruined lives terrified me, I remember calling my partner while he was at work and bawling my eyes, terrified I had ruined my hands.
My partner, such a good man, calmed me down. I went to the doctor who diagnosed me with carpal tunnel and told me to get wrists splints and painkillers from the chemist. I took a few weeks off work, I figured that would be enough time for me to heal, after all the injury only seemed to be recent.
It wasn't carpal tunnel. My doctor was an idiot, one of those people who would not admit their ignorance even when it effects other people’s lives, instead they bluff their way through things to the point where she would have had me undergo expensive surgery that would probably not have even helped my type of injuries and in fact may have exacerbated them. I won’t waffle on with boring details, long story short I found a hand therapist who diagnosed me with tendinitis, I saw her for about four months. Then I saw an osteo and now I am seeing a different hand therapist. I am also about to embark on an eight week course with a student in the Alexander technique. I have damage to my radial nerve, ulnar nerve… ugh, boring details.
The thing people don't understand is that there is no exact cure for RSI, in fact it's still not understood entirely. So the healing process is kind of a trial and error type thing… An expensive exercise in trying many different options, trying to decide which things are worth investing time and money in, both of which tend to be precious and scarce resources.
The thing people don't understand is when they look at other people's lives and think they know the solutions to their problems is that outside perspective is different to lived experience. The thing people don't understand is that their well-meaning suggestions often unintentionally feel like accusations, the unspoken message being “the solution to your problem is simple” the implication being that I am either stupid, lazy, useless or a combination of all three.
During this whole time, I have not been working. Finding work where I don't use my hands too much is tricky, depressing and can feel overwhelming. I can't even drive for long periods of time, even short periods can be difficult or impossible on an especially bad days. Probably, maybe there is a job out there for me but finding it has been tricky especially when I have a panic attack while navigating the catacombs of seek.com.au, my hands twinging all the while.
So I am financially dependent on my partner for the time being because no I do not qualify for the dole or anything, I would have to become a permanent resident and to do so we would have to pay a lot of money and wait two years. I repay my partner for this support by doing the things I can do - cooking, cleaning, domestic duties that mean he doesn't have to stress when he gets home and because he just had a stressful year at work, I am told that this help has been much appreciated and he does not resent my financial dependence upon him.
But nobody likes being dependent on another person, it's an incredibly vulnerable feeling, and one that deeply affects your sense of self-worth.
And it means our freedom is limited, it means I haven’t the money to spare for art supplies. See, the thing is, if I want to continue to have a sustainable art practice, I can no longer do little drawings and paintings, I need to work big but big is expensive… so I have to wait, wait until I have a job, wait until we have the money to spare…
And we have been waiting for me to heal. But I'm not sure I have healed at all. People tell me I should take a break, stopped going online, stop making art. Just stop. It is easy for them to say that and it should be simple but here is the thing…
I grew up on the Internet. This is the place I would go to in my darkest hours, this is the place where I can hide away yet reach out to people at the same time, this is the place where I have constructed my identity. And art? Well, without art, to be perfectly honest and lucid… I don't feel as if I exist, I don't feel as if I have a point, a meaning, a reason. Without art, I truly feel as if I am nothing. I guess you could call that passion, perhaps dependency, perhaps sickness. I hate to be melodramatic but sometimes when people suggest I give up my art, it feels as if they are suggesting that I should shrivel up and fade away to grey, beige, empty, nothing.
But ok, a break is not giving up these things… Simply leaving them behind for a while or practising moderation. But how does that work? And what do I do during the breaks? And how long do they last? The breaks are empty periods for me, unable to do the things I love, to channel my energy and passion into these things, I find myself falling into a frustrated, resentful sort of depression.
And then people make more practical suggestions… Get a job, exercise more, take Prozac, you'll feel better! You know you will! Because we live in a world where weaknesses is not tolerated, sadness is not allowed, man the fuck up already.
But you know what? I'm in mourning. When I was deeply depressed teenager, the thing that helped me pull myself out some very dark places was the dream of being able to spend a lifetime making art… And of really, truly achieving personal greatness with my art. Over the past ten odd years I have worked my butt off on that dream, I moved away from the country and to a big city for the dream, I worked so fucking hard for that dream.
And the sick irony is that my hard work might be what has damaged my arms and hands so badly.
So yeah, I'm in mourning, mourning for dreams I might have to let go of to some degree, mourning that I may not be able to shoot for the stars. Is it wrong, is it egotistical that I truly wanted to achieve incredible things? Is it pathetic, spoilt, snivelling, stupid of me that I feel so deeply depressed at the prospect of having to readjust my goals?
It probably is but it's also how I feel. I am working on readjusting my goals, learning new management strategies, realigning my passions… Trying to find a way forward, to learn to cope with this in a healthy, functional manner.
But for awhile, I really truly feel like shit. I really do. Maybe this makes me pathetic but aren't we all kind of weak and pathetic in some way? For awhile, I need to have times where I cry almost all day and feel incredibly, immensely hopeless, frustrated and useless . I don't know when I will heal, I don't know if I will heal, what I do know is that I will probably never be able to create art for nine hour stretches of immersive, passionate loss of self ever again. If I am to be healthy, to some degree I might have to let go of one of the biggest loves of my life.
That is not going to happen overnight so please excuse the melodrama in the meantime. Thankfully, I confine the excesses of my depression primarily to spaces such as this. Those who know me in real life are always shocked to hear I often struggle with depression as apparently that does not translate in “real life”.
Ultimately… yeah, it's just RSI, everyone gets RSI. Most days I cope, my partner tells me he's impressed by how well I cope so I guess I'm actually doing okay. However, there are days when it does feel like the end of the world, it really does and I'm a bit sick of feeling ashamed for feeling that way. It's 2AM, my eyes are puffy from crying and fuck it, I'm going to just post this because I'm entitled to my fucking vulnerabilities. Hell, I think I’ll go watch this TED Talk for the seventh time and feel better about myself:
Yeah. That helped. I think. I think I should probably sleep.
So getting this website updated is a slow process with my RSI but I am making progress. I just got a gallery up of art from a group exhibition I took part in in 2010 "Don't Quit Your Day Job", go check it out: http://www.jngaio.com/gallery/day-job-2010/
It's been a long time. This website desperately needs a redesign and there is so much art that needs to be uploaded here. A friend is actually redesigning my site for me but I cannot say when it will be done. In the meantime, if the lack of my art is leaving a terrible void in your life, then come along to my latest exhbition! Here are the details grabbed from Facebook:
Opening night: Friday 9th of March, 6-9pm and the show will run for approximately 5 weeks, though that is yet to be confirmed for certain.
Where: Cafe Lua, 169 Elgin St, Cartlton VIC
Ok, so here's the deal.
I am currently working on a performance for the Melbourne Fringe Festival with the very talented Wes Gardner and Lucas Heil. So far, the show looks like it will be delightfully demented, hilarious and deeply disturbing. It should be good - if by "good" you mean "creepy" and by "creepy" you mean "I feel violated." I will be playing the part of a monster with approximately seven boobs and a giant phallus.
However, producing such an affront to the senses is going to be an expensive venture and after a year of struggling with repetitive strain injury in both my hands and the subsequent unemployment, I'm kind of in need of some moolah to kick this venture into gear.
So when I was offered a show at the most excellent Café Lua, I seized the opportunity and then instantly thought to myself "Oh shit! I only have just over a month to make art for this" then "Oh shit my hands are still in pain most days!" then "Oh shit, I have no money for art supplies!" I proceeded to raid my studio and came across a small stockpile of little canvases in various sizes... jackpot!
I am now busy painting my proverbial buttocks off in my spare time/when my hands allow it and am really enjoying myself. These little paintings are fun, colourful and sometimes moronic little fragments flowing directly from my brain, through my sore hands, my dilapidated paintbrush and onto various little canvases. But here's the best bit – they're all for sale and they're all dirt cheap! Hell, they're cheaper than dirt! These paintings are poo cheap!
Prices will start at as little as $20 and go no higher than $250. If you have a desire to put often brightly coloured, weird original artworks on your wall or to gift them to people you hate, then this is your big chance to do it at a price that you simply can't refuse! And think of the incredible good you'd be doing by helping out a struggling artist! You'll be a true Australian hero! WOW!
So come along to the opening night, have a drink and mingle amongst a most excellent group of people. There will be a raffle, a performance or two including Modular Synthesizer Experiments by the most excellent CV Slime 800 and a game of "Pass the Parcel" which will blow your mother loving socks off! A raffle! CV Slime 800! Pass the Parcel! How can you refuse?!
Most importantly... this art is 'poo cheap' to miss!
Things have been pretty quiet around here. I promise that I'll get this site updated with some of my 2010 work soon. However, 2011 has not seen a lot of productivity from me in the "fine art" department. I've been struggling with RSI, a lack of funds and have been channelling some of my creative energy into sighfive.com. Making comics has been a lot of fun but is also an entirely different way of thinking and learning process for me, I very much feel like a beginner and know I have a long way to go before I can even come close to what the masters can do. That's ok.
The RSI struggles won't go on perpetually and I have been making plans for my artistic career over the next couple of years. I've come to the realisation that I really need to start being more professional about my practice and really start aiming higher. I'd like to reach 30 (only a few years away now!) and feel I've achieved something I can really be proud of. I believe I can do that. I think. Maybe.
I'm still loving my new tablet and improve with it constantly. Here's a drawing I did the other day to practice my linework and in the process, came up with a character I kind of like. Click on the thumbnail for a larger version.
Sometimes, when Wes is needing some inspiration, I'll draw him a character and he'll write a story to it (that's how Gentleman Bird came to be, for example) I'm hoping maybe he can find a story for this one. I like the idea of using semi-conventional styles and characters but then writing stories for them which go into entirely unexpected places. Though our comics are currently short, fun little things we have long term goals for them to become reallly relevant and hopefully go into places others have not.
I've actually been trying my hand at writing on and off as there are a lot of issues I'd like to tackle with our comics - my feminism, gender stuff, atheism and so forth. However, I'm finding it challenging and am developing an increasing admiration for people with the talent to write stories... I feel like I have a lot of ideas but haven't quite figured out how to pull them off. We'll see how things go.