RAW | Regional Arts Words – A Discussion at the 2018 Melbourne Art Book Fair
On Friday 16 March, in the National Gallery of Victoria Great Hall as part of the Melbourne Art Book Fair, artist Deborah Klein, writer Lindy Schneider and photographer Angela Rivas chatted with Regional Arts Fund Manager Mary Jane Warfield.
The conversation, summarised below, was a rich discussion about the artistic practice, process and publications of Deborah, Lindy and Angela, as well as their connection to place, women’s’ stories, and collaboration.
Artistic Process and Planning
Lindy and Angela collaborated together on the publication From this Place – Inspiring Women Artists of the Upper Yarra Valley which brings to life the stories and arts practice of fourteen local women artists who choose to locate their work in Warburton, Victoria and surrounds, in direct relationship with the Yarra River and the natural environment.
The publication stemmed from a thought that Lindy had as to why there is such a high concentration of female artists in Warburton. At the same time, Angela was wanting to work on a project to expand her creativity and had the idea to make a coffee table book about inspiring women.
The project took around two years from the idea being formulated to publication – including applying for grant applications and working with the artists, interviews and around 60 photo shoots (and 5000 images). Both Angela and Lindy took great joy from the work, emphasising that it didn’t feel like work.
For Deborah, she has recently finished a project, Fallen Women – researching and making work about the historic connection with the Chinese and local people on the Victorian Goldfields. At the height of the gold rush there were approximately 40,000 Chinese men and only 11 Chinese women on the Goldfields. Deborah’s work looks at the absence of women, the women who stayed behind in China, and what happened to them. There is little known about these women which is why in her work, the images are silhouettes of these women.
For Deborah, Lindy and Angela, women’s stories are a strong theme that runs through their work. For Lindy and Angela, they wanted their book to be an inspiration for women, intending to show diversity and possibility for early, mid- and late-career artists.
For Lindy, the publication was a “real breath of fresh air. It was the first time I have been able to write exactly how I want to write. I like to elevate the feminine and, like Deborah, I like to elevate the untold women’s stories”. The stories in the publication are real stories, stories of hope and life and love, stories of making lives and living happen.
The book inspired Lindy to make a lot of changes in her life more broadly, including saying no to work that did not truly align with her core values, and ensuring that she was writing more and prioritising writing. It enabled her to refocus and make sure that writing was at the fore, instead of allowing other things to take over her life.
For Angela, working on this publication continued her creative process. Angela had always loved photographing friends in their teenage years – showcasing their beauty and showing them that they were beautiful. This publication opened the door for Angela to do more creative projects by herself.
Place | working and living regionally
In 2011, Deborah gave up her Melbourne studio and resigned herself to the fact that she could never afford a studio in Melbourne. On the spur of the moment, the day before visiting Ballarat to see an exhibition, Deborah looked online and saw a property that she loved. She bought the first house she looked at.
On finding focus, Deborah says,
“I definitely find that I focus differently on my work in different locations. In Melbourne, I have a lovely old architects table and I am lucky to have that but it is in the centre of our living room and dining room so there is no privacy. It is very hard to concentrate because I am open to all distractions. Whereas in Ballarat, from the day the studio was finished I found I could go in there and shut myself off from the outside world. It is so easy to get in the zone when I arrive there. Because of the location of the studio in the garden, I have this sense of isolation which I need”.
Angela had lived a fast paced life until she was in her early 30s. She was born in Chile and at the age of 8, moved to Sydney. In her early 30s, she moved to Mittagong in the Southern Highlands and came to the realisation that she was always more of a country person.
“Arriving there I was able to breathe out for the first time. The energy was so much lighter. It was a pretty cosmopolitan area but it was still wide and expansive enough for me to breathe out. I felt like I got more creative once I moved there. Six years ago I moved to Victoria, to Warburton, and I could breathe out even more then – the mountains, the river. I thought I’d found paradise and I still feel like that. And I was able to be even more creative.
Just because it is the mountains that you’re looking it, it doesn’t mean that it is landscapes that you will be painting, or working on, it is something that will bring out other creativity in you because you have that space. I feel like this is my place. It has been an amazing shift going from the city to the country.”
Lindy grew up in Geelong, Victoria and at the time focused her energies on moving to Melbourne. At the age of thirty she decided to make the move to a regional area and ended up in Warburton.
“Being out there helped me realise myself as a writer, and I don’t think that would have happened if I was still in the city. Being regional and living there now is a big part of my practice and informs the way I write. An undulating landscape gives you an undulating language. A spaciousness of having lots of things stripped away is a key part of staying in the work. Sometimes you find yourself in the most unexpected of places.”
Lindy and Angela also spoke about the importance of place for a lot of artists in the book, Many moved to the Yarra Valley for a sense of spaciousness and beauty, but it was also the practical element – houses were cheaper, land was larger and artists could have their studios set up at their home space.
For Deborah, her practice is primarily solitary – she knows she can rely upon herself and do things in her own time. However, a number of years ago she was approached by two artists, Carole Wilson and Louise Saxton, who had the idea of making an exhibition looking at artists’ collections. This idea formed an exhibition From the Bower – Patterns of Collecting. From the initial collaboration, four artists, including Loris Button, discovered overlaps in common interests and Deborah was overwhelmed by the supportive environment that she found collaborating with other artists. As Deborah said, “it is just lovely to be in a supportive environment where you can bounce ideas off one another and where you can trust the other person to not just say it’s lovely when it’s not”.
For Lindy and Angela, working together on the project, they both praised the community collaboration. As Lindy said, “Angela and I round out each other’s edges really well, our skills are really complementary. It happened because we did it together, it was joyful. We only wanted to do this project from a space of joy so if sometimes we weren’t feeling in the mood, we just didn’t do it and then would pick it up next time”.
As all three artists agreed, these collaborative projects created something that wasn’t there before, that lives on beyond the exhibitions and publications.
Speaking in a more practical sense, Lindy emphasised that artists need to be open-minded about what collaboration can be. “We received funding from local council, a local bank, a crowdfunding campaign and used some of our own money – so this also became part of our collaboration. I think it’s important for artists to look at alternatives and alternative forms of funding to enable artists to make the work they need to make. It is important who you choose to collaborate with. It needs to come from an honest space and you need to want to continue the relationship after you’ve finished the project, I think this really helps.”
Angela also spoke about flexibility when collaborating. “We were working with 16 women and we had to allow for things to change, it was very organic. Things flowed because we were able to be open to the things that the artists were going through and we could say ‘yes, we can postpone it 5 times, that’s okay. You’re not ready’.” Whilst you need to be flexible, Deborah, Angela and Lindy agreed that the incredible intimacy and the relationships formed when collaborating on work is priceless.
We’d like to express our sincere thanks to Lindy, Angela and Deborah for their time and enthusiasm for this presentation at NGV. Their passion for their own work, their interest in each other’s experiences and their devotion to regional arts practice was inspiring.
Deborah Klein was born in Melbourne, Australia and her art practice has been centred primarily in Ballarat since 2011. Deborah gained degree and post-degree qualifications from Chisholm Institute of Technology, Melbourne Gippsland School of Advanced Education and a Research MA from Monash University, Gippsland. She has held regular solo exhibitions and participated in group exhibitions in Australia and internationally. Although Klein’s reputation was initially founded on her relief prints, her practice gradually expanded to encompass painting, drawing and artist’s books. In 2009 she founded Moth Woman Press, through which she publishes her zines and limited edition books. Other activities have included teaching at RMIT University in the Printmaking Department (1999- 2001, 2003-2007) and the Drawing Department (2004-2008). Her work has received numerous awards and is represented in public anduniversity collections throughout Australia.
Lindy Schneider is a freelance writer. Her most recent book is Visionary Man, Visionary Medicine – The story of Professor Avni Sali and Integrative Medicine. She has a postgraduate qualification in writing, and is a qualified arts therapist. Her writing is devoted to ‘elevating the feminine’ and encouraging women to live wildly. She has a love for rescuing horses and human flourishing.
Angela Rivas is a Commercial freelance and Portrait photographer with AIPP standing. She has worked for lifestyle magazines and photographic studios and has a BA in Visual Arts. She did specialist teaching and runs workshops empowering people with their cameras. At the moment, she has a special interest in supporting women to shine, and loves life. Lindy and Angela are the publishers of From This Place.