By Alaska Young, South Australia
1.relating to a transitional or initial stage of a process.
2.occupying a position at, or on both sides of, a boundary or threshold.’
I participate in secret painting residences, the most significant of which saw me lost in the vast backcountry of the Midwest American nowheres. As I wandered away from my workplace, family, community and phone contract, I intended to immerse myself deeply in a foreign land, to forge an artistic rebirth, through the experiences and paintings I created. It seems true that no significant change can occur without the pain of destroying the familiar, and in this way, international art residencies have the potential to spawn significant evolution.
Self-directed, unfunded, unpublicised adventures undertaken by tentative creatives make up an interesting part of our culture. As we become disenchanted by our worker bee existence, many of us design some grand gesture as the admission price for change. Travel and Art remain a popular incubation tank for such transformation.
I had been working as a high school teacher and counsellor, completely frustrated with the daily restrictions that drained my life force and emitted nothing. Combined with a history of un-medicated depression and anxiety, I found I could get through the day by painting small watercolours at my desk. I had never put any of my artistic desires into action, but there, trapped in an office, I had started painting deserts. Grand sprawling plains, shadowy mesas, deep canyons and friendly cacti covered my pages. Amidst the drudgery of alarm clocks and coffee pods, I started to pay attention to this soothing imagery, and wondering if it offered a way out. In my head it went like this: start painting more, quit job and leave in search of these landscapes.
I tried it. I created my own art residency in an attempt to change my life.
Exploring the United States of America with a $20 a day budget, regularly sleeping in parking lots, and a brandishing a national park pass, proved a solid recipe for transformation through adventure. More excitingly, there were others out there. Avid rock climbers living in four-wheel drives, ex-military writers crashing on transportable floors, shamanic massage therapists working out of coffee shops. People were shifting their narratives, but doing it quietly, unattached to any program or organised movement.
As I drove across the beautiful, heart wrenching landscape, parts of my soul unravelled and painfully rebuilt themselves. I returned with the confidence to join a group studio and produce a series of paintings in response to the trip. I exhibited and sold most of the work and then…it was over.
I find myself in a rather insignificant position in the Australian Art Scene. As a graduate of nowhere noteworthy, I am not included in supportive postgraduate programs and I am unaware of most professional circles. I paint, exhibit and think deeply about my work, however am left with a vague position in society, and with questions. Does an unpublicised life affect others? Do our choices have a political inclination? However, I have no interest in returning to a traditional workplace. I am not afraid of financial insecurity, not owning a home and not knowing where this path will lead. What matters, is that I made it myself.
An individual can have an inner adventure, that completely transforms their world and return a changed person. If we follow Joseph Campbell’s ‘Hero’s journey’ we can say that they return with knowledge that enriches their society, that they are never the same, we are all changed. I propose that these small, brave ventures, for individuals across a number of fields, are the basis of greater movement. They can be the launching pad for reworking our roles in society. By traveling to a different culture, with the intention of creating art, we open a liminal space in which transformation can occur. When we make these decisions, to change the way we spend our days, what we contribute to society is a small, incremental shift in consciousness. And just perhaps, they are the single units of change that overtime can shift big beliefs about what it means to be a human in this world.