Bundanon

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Standing There Productions residency at Arthur and Yvonne Boyd's property called Bundanon

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.

Wombats and politics

Welcome back to the Standing There website, which has been up the back of the dance hall looking at its feet for too long while everybody else drinks punch and slides across the floor in their socks while singing the piano solo at the start of Old Time Rock n Roll.

 

Well. Enough of that.

 

Standing There Productions has been having some fun of our own in the past month.

 

For starters, we're artists in residence in one of the most beautiful and inspiring places in Australia at the moment. Once upon a time, Australian artists Arthur and Yvonne Boyd lived and worked on a farm on the Shoalhaven river in New South Wales. The property is called Bundanon, and they left it on trust with the Australian government so artists and members of the public could access the same space they found so inspiring. And it really is. 

 

We've been getting a lot of work done here. Working together, too, with the time and space to think through every element of what we're planning but with the projects as our motivator rather than one of us having to be somewhere or all of us having to make a decision while doing twelve other things.  We've been getting the giggles, disagreeing, floating stupid ideas, having them ridiculed and then riding that ridicule through to a healthy kernel of what might become an idea.

 

And then there's the other stuff.

 

It's funny what happens to you here. You start to see connections across networks of things that you wouldn't have noticed before. You notice that nature mimics itself. The river mimics the sky and the clouds mimic the tidal patterns of the water. The plants mimic the animals and the animals mimic each other. A wombat is a kind of sideways koala but its bent back elbows are like the strong, sequined arms of a fat blue tongue lizard in the sun. Wombats have an impressive family history, too, going back to prehistoric times and you can tell that, looking at them, and once again you feel like everything's part of everything else and looking a rock wallaby in the eye is as much a conversation as small talk in the post office.

 

You don't only see connections in nature though. You see connections in what you read and what you see and what you think. You read an article about evolution and an article about the internet and an article about, I don't know, how to cook a muffin and it's like cells pairing up and multiplying under a microscope - fragments from one idea float over towards another and then they slip as though by accident into each other and suddenly they're something new and tiny and if you give it time they might turn into something else.

 

Arthur Boyd did paintings of the rocks that surround us here, and the river, and the bush, and he felt that landscape was very important. His paintings weren't just about the bush and the river though. They were about religion and politics and power and fairness and barbarism. At the moment, in Australia, this is an interesting place to be, because the whole circle-of-life we-are-each-other business is a day-to-day reality, while our political lives are being shaped in an agonising tight-rope walk performed by people who - whatever else they might be - are treating our political system with the kind of respect that makes democracy, to paraphrase Winston Churchill, the worst system in the world except for all the others. 

 

And so while the political machinations of the election seem, in many ways, a thousand miles from here (would a wombat have a preference for a particular system? Would a rock wallaby care what happened to the seat of Hasluck?)... it also feels like it really is the right place to consider the stimulating questions that are being raised by what's going on in Canberra. 

 

Bundanon feels like a place where you can be wrong. You can have someone explain something and you can say "oh I get it, I was wrong" more easily than you can when you're in the city and you're half way through something and the phone rings and it's someone to tell you they think you're wrong. 

 

I like challenging myself and being challenged here and it's interesting to see the same thing happen to the political status quo. I hope, in this ongoing political drama, that people can admit to doubt and ask the right questions and not hedge their answers and so far that's been enjoyable to watch.

 

Today, we went into a bookshop in a tiny town called Kangaroo Valley. The bookshelf was fantastic and was run by a man in a knitted jumper reading a book and holding a long piece of wood in his hand. The piece of wood was so that he could move a door stop back into place after someone came into the shop without having to get out of his chair. It was a dual-use stick, actually. It was also so he could change the dial on the music player without having to get up and do that either. 

 

In the bookshop, there was a collection of old photographs. Not in a book. Just personal photographs someone had bought in an auction of a deceased estate. They were black and white. Loads of them. I found one - it was a photo of what looked like what used to be a town. Sparse, burnt trees and a flat landscape that went on forever, with melted-looking buildings and clusters of people wandering through it. Standing in the kangaroo valley bookshop full of hot coffee from the cafe down the road, I didn't know what it was. I turned it over. On the back, in pencil, someone had written "atom bomb". How this apparently original slightly-cracked photo of an utterly destroyed town (Nagasaki? Hiroshima?) ended up here, with those two horrific words on the back of it, I can't tell you.

 

I think what Bundanon is best at is perspective. When you have perspective, and peace and quiet and time and space, you can think constructively and imaginatively and you can stand in a bookshop with your hand over your mouth and have all afternoon to think about why.

 

Wombat Fact

So Rita and Stewart and I are united again.

 

Our two hour meeting turned into a three hour meeting and Stew and I left Rita - slightly overcaffinated - in a cafe in North Fitzroy, whereupon she began another meeting with someone else. Stew had two massive mochas in quick succession and is now speaking in tongues. I have a brain ache, a stomach ache, a back ache, and, thanks to a late night, a condition I have diagnosed as "droop eye".

 

Standing There united will never be defeated * except for maybe sometimes.

 

In other news...

 

We have many alert readers here at the Standing There Diary. One particularly alert reader deserves a specific mention, however, not merely because she managed to spend a day in the Olympic village disguised as an albino Tongan (seriously) but also because she has emailed me a wombat-related-fact of the utmost importance. Given my time at Bundanon and obsession with all things wombat-related, I am particularly grateful to know this fact, and I share it with you now as a service to the public.

 

Wombats are the only creatures who poo squares.

 

Have a nice weekend. xxx

Reunion Time!

This weekend, there's a Standing There reunion.

 

That means Rita and Stew and I will be hitting various coffee shops in inner urban Melbourne and discussing everything from scripts to videos to the now rather cliched question of whether or not turning up to Bundanon uninvited and setting up camp would, after a time, constitute adverse posession thereby enabling us to live there forever by law.

 

Looking forward to it, especially the nice chai and seeing Rita again.

Bundanon Memories

Having spent a month at Bundanon doing an artists' residency, returning to be what can only be described as a daily slogger in residence, there are certain things I really miss about Bundanon:

 

1. Silence.

2. Wombats.

3. The fact that when you turn the hot tap on, the lights dip.

4. My new friends.

5. Arthur.

 

Being a Daily Slogger In Residence is sadly not quite as rewarding, although financially it has a little more to say for itself, and I have traded in the above for ready access to good coffee.

 

 

Reality

 

I've been putting this off. I sort of thought if I didn't update this page then nobody would know I'd left Bundanon and maybe neither would I.

 

Sadly, I have outsmarted myself.

 

I have been thrown back into the thick of things and am currently in Melbourne on my lunch break from work.

 

Here are some observations about the country versus the city that I've made over the past month:

 

- Country people don't use plastic bags in shops. Some country towns have a NO PLASTIC BAG POLICY. People in the city do not. Why is this?

 

- People in the city are angry drivers.

 

- Someone in the city is always unwell and coughing on public transport and looking miserable. This reminds me of John Brack, which reminds me of Bundanon and Julia and the Nolans and Arthur and cups of tea and wombats and fresh air and outrageously coloured birds.

 

- Work, while useful, is not as stimulating as it might be, if, say, it were near the Shoalhaven River.

 

- The coffee in the city is nice. I am unconvinced this makes everything else worthwhile.

 

So is this guy: