September 2010

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Saying Goodbye

Arthur Boyd's paints. Lovely.

 

 Tomorrow morning, we're saying goodbye to Bundanon, the beautiful property we've been staying in for a month now as artists in residence. I'll miss the easy rhythm of the day - awoken from a solid sleep to birds singing outside, going for a run through the sunlit forest, working in the studio to the sound of the roof cracking under the morning sun, and talking and eating home-cooked food and writing and reading and watching and talking some more before bed. Even as I was experiencing it I was already feeling tiny droplets of the ocean of retrospective seething jealousy I know I'll be feeling for my current self when I return home. It's magical here. You miss it before you're even gone.

 

Bundanon skies

 

As with most goodbyes though, we're also saying goodbye to much ore than just a place. Here are some things we've learned at Bundanon:

 

1. Wombats poo on shelves. Anywhere you can find a slightly raised platform at about wombat-bum-height, you can be pretty sure there is a precariously balanced poo on it. Fact.

wombat poo

 

 2. Sunsets here can be lovely.

Sunset%20at%20Bunders

 

3. The neighbours are nice. 

Wombats and Kangas at Bunders

 

4. Reading is almost always worth it. The oldest typewriter repairman in New Haven exists, for instance, and we like him. He says business has bounced back since hipsters discovered typewriters were cool. You may have heard of him actually - he singlehandedly won the war. He also says: "It used to be when you were walking down the street and someone said "hello", he was being friendly. Today he's just answering a phone".

 

5. There's a horse in the apple store! A tiny pony!

 

6. So you know morals? Those things upon which the entirety of society is allegedly based? Well I don't want to worry you but there are people making all sorts of claims that morals have less to do with fine upstanding belief systems and more to do with rotting meat

 

7. Which means we may have been wrong. Which is okay. In fact, it's good. Being wrong is good for society

 

8. Virginia Woolf really was right when she said the thing about having a room of one's own. She should also have mentioned that cheese helps.

 

9. Arthur and Yvonne Boyd, and the entire extended Boyd family, really have left an amazing legacy to this country. It has been a privilege and a pleasure working here and we thank the Bundanon board and staff for their support. You really should come and visit. Or, if you have nine billion dollars you don't know what to do with, give them a call. They do some amazing things.

 

10. The neighbours really are awesome.

 

Hello little one

 

The cuckoo clock and the industrial revolution: what's the value of art?

 

At our artists' residency, we've been talking together a lot about our work (the content of it - what it is and what we'd like it to be and how to make it better) and we've been talking about our processes.

 

There are creative people in film and television and theatre who work towards the content while ignoring the fact that the process is, in some cases literally, killing them. They work too hard, they're stressed, they're competitive, they're jaded, they've forgotten why they wanted to do whatever it is they're doing in the first place. And who can blame them. More than half of Australia's professional artists earn less than $10,000 a year from their work. The least well-paid? Dancers and writers.

 

On a film set or in a theatre, there are quite often people who aren't being paid at all. Costs are cut, "internships" are created and young people enter the workforce believing it's a privilege that they're there at all. I subscribe to the ArtsHub newsletter. I subscribed because it claimed to be able to provide me with information on jobs in the arts industry. Distressingly, the field depicting "wage" is often left blank. There are endless entries boasting of "great opportunies for hardworking dedicated professional people" etc but there are some actual paid jobs. Most of them are full-time grant writing positions for struggling arts organisations.

 

The question of why we devalue the arts so much has been addressed by people more equipped than I. Personally, I think it has something to do with this idea that art exists on a sliding scale of importance with "saving people from famine" up one end and "having fun with costumes" down the other. People think artists are doing a fun job that they love. Why would I pay someone to dance? People who dance well look like they're really enjoying themselves. Why would I pay someone to DJ at my opening night event? Hell, it's free to push "genius" on your iTunes playlist and hook it up to some speakers.

 

Here's the thing: some of the best art looks easy. Uttering the words "foregone conclusion" or "one fell swoop" or referring to something vanishing "into thin air" is easy. It feels natural. I don't mean to project too much but I'm sure that when Shakespeare invented these phrases they felt new and different and he thought about them rather more than we might when we mention them in staff meetings or emails or when we haven't slept a wink, we're up in arms, we're on a wild goosechase or we're eating a meal fit for the gods. It looks easy because it's good. That doesn't mean Shakespeare didn't enjoy writing, I'm sure he did, but a lot of people enjoy their jobs. That doesn't mean they'd do them for nothing.

 

Also, on the sliding scale of "saving people from famine" to "having fun with costumes", it's pretty difficult to position the arts. Does it help people? Does it provoke people into thinking constructively about society? Does it entertain us? Is it one step away from a self-important cringeworthy school play? When you think about it though, this instinct to place jobs on a sliding scale isn't so stringent when it comes to other professions. Where do we position a swimming pool cleaner? A motivational speaker? Is it easier, perhaps, to see that those positions have a function?

 

There are studies that prove that the impact of the arts on society is profound, and all you have to do is be moved or challenged or provoked by an artwork or a piece of theatre or television to suspect that. Our industry doesn't reflect that. We're stuck in a pattern of self-abuse. And no, not the fun kind. We cut corners and make sacrifices and get stressed because in the narrative of "saving people from famine" versus "having fun with costumes" there's room for upward mobility in the form of martyrdom. We made this film on the smell of an oily rag and nobody got paid and everybody got sick and nobody's rights at work were respected and none of us are friends anymore but it might just become a big hit and our rags-to-riches story will be our own "saving people from famine" story because we saved ourselves and each other and believed in our own ideas.

 

The trouble is: did you? If you got the end result you wanted (a great film, a sublime painting) by disrespecting yourself and your friends and your own artistic processes, did you really get the result you were after? Perhaps you did. To paraphrase The Third Man, Switzerland had brotherly love, five hundred years of democracy and peace – and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.

 

Whether it's an exploitative process or an inclusive and engaged one, nobody wants to earnestly construct a cuckoo clock when some wanker down the road is in post-production on the industrial revolution. Picking your way through all of this while under pressure and facing deadlines is difficult.

 

So we're enjoing a chance to think about these things without those pressures. It's difficult. Meanwhile, I'm very aware that our artists' residency at Bundanon is being shared by dancers. Who look like they're enjoying themselves. Like Shakespeare did.