Friday, 27 June 2014

a guilty pleasure

I have just signed up for a 2 year (4 years part-time) on-line Diploma of Graphic Design. It will add another $20000 to my HECS debt but what the HEC? Am I waking in fright at the thought of another round of study? Not yet - I'm still in the honeymoon phase and I haven't started the work yet.

I am having an identity crisis of sorts - who I thought I was, who I am now, who I might be. Me and images - the complex relationship goes on. At the end of my PhD I had come to the conclusion that images were not an 'end in themselves' as I thought they were. I still respect the images that emerge from my unconscious but they have lost some of their hold on me. They used to possess me completely but now......maybe I am just tired and it's too soon to say. But my relationship with them has certainly changed because I have changed irrevocably.

That in itself is a good thing, except I am wandering in a new land without the co-ordinates that served me in the past. It's good to question identity, in the end it is not who we really are anyway. Except life goes on and I can't walk naked through the landscape as my 'avatar' does here. I need to find my place, and find some clothes so other people know who I am and what I am about, and they want to know.

A conversation I had yesterday rattled me a bit. This person had just finished reading my thesis and gave me some very positive feedback, asking questions like: 'well, what's next? Are you going to try and publish, deliver papers at conferences?' This person thought I had written well, and liked my journal entries the best of all. My plan had been to keep writing, try and get a paper published, but somewhere in the gruelling struggle to the finish line that idea got sidelined and all but thrown out of the box. 

I have fallen into another kind of void, but this one is brightly coloured and seductive, shimmering with the formal aspects of image-making - colour, shape and design. I admit there is a guilty pleasure in playing around with software and its chicanery. The guilt comes from an unnecessary but well entrenched attachment to traditional forms of art and a lifelong habit of making images out of suffering rather than joy. But there was this dream, right at the end of my study, where I am surfing in crystal light-filled waters, diving under to find a white shrine with nothing inside it. That should have told me something, but what?

The doll in the image above is me of course, walking through a strange new world. It occurred to me yesterday, when this person asked if I was still recording my numinous dream images, that I had forgotten about them. But when I think about it - maybe I am still recording them in different ways - like this image above.

After 8 years of study, with a grinding agenda unsympathetically driving me on, I feel I still need a framework. And maybe that's why I signed up for the graphic design course. This will be different, in that the focus will be on certain types of images and certain ways of conveying a message, but it doesn't mean I have abandoned who I am. My unique sensibility will prevail as it does for everyone, so maybe there is no need to fear losing my identity at all. We are always in a state of flux. As the retirement age moves further into the distance, the other practical reality is that my new skills just may allow me to work into old age if other streams of income dry up.

All I can think of to sort this out is to go back to the core of what I do - keep drawing, and keep writing. And that is what I am doing here.

image: Frantom, original digital image compiled from a traditional drawing and a manipulated, collaged landscape.

Friday, 13 June 2014


For months I have been having epic surfing dreams in which I am unafraid, in harmony with the sea. Sometimes I am even jubilant and triumphant, hurtling down the face of a large wave. I have been meditating for 25 minutes, every day for 7 weeks now, and it seems to help me remember my dreams more clearly.

But in my waking life I am in a 'no-woman's' land. It is to be expected I guess. I am officially a 'Doctor', my thesis is being bound and the digital version is online at Curtin and on my website - there is nothing more to do. I have loaned out a couple of hard copies to interested readers but there has been no flurry of activity and I didn't expect one. In my work-life things are unstable as usual - I have picked up an extra copyright class and may teach PhotoShop in term 4 - things continue to limp along. 

But there is a split, a disjuncture. Once my art and my spiritual life were aligned. Now that I want to study graphic design, I wonder if I can reconcile it with future spiritual study. Or even if I need to. In meditation recently a voice said to me: you are that which you seek. I know this is true. So I am wondering what is next. Is anything at all next? After encountering the Void - is there anything else? Or am I just marking time? Is there still a role for images in the spiritual journey of my life? Apart from their more commercial application that is. Is that going to be enough? Or should I instead devote all of my attentions to psychic evolution? If I do that, how do I make a living? Or is just living my life mindfully enough, no matter what sort of images I produce?

I don't know the answers to any of these questions right now. It is probably not a good time to be making any decisions. I am not comfortable with this state of inertia - but I know how this goes. I will just have to wait for knowing to come.

image: my © - digital drawing of a wound added to a digitally enhanced photo.

Sunday, 8 June 2014

the burden of memory

Last year I took a couple of copies of a book about the Carrolup artists into the prison to give to one of my university students. As a Noongar Elder I figured it would be appropriate to entrust him with their care so he could loan them out to others, which is what Charlie (not his real name) dutifully did by locking them in his cupboard. Prisoners in maximum security aren't usually allowed locked cupboards because they can hide contraband, but Charlie was a 'lifer' and after many years of good behaviour, had been granted some privileges.

When I went back 2 weeks later, Charlie was very excited because he had found an old sepia photograph of his parents in the book. He didn't have a photo of his mum and dad so he asked me if I would scan and print one out for him, which of course I did - on my best glossy photographic paper. It was a wedding photo - husband and wife were dressed in wadjela clothes and made a very handsome couple.

In my job as Aboriginal art lecturer a few years ago I was keen to give my students information about their past - many knew little of their Aboriginal culture so I took every opportunity to educate them. I felt uncomfortable doing it, because a white woman shouldn't really be giving these people back their heritage - but so much had been lost already and I thought it was really important. I tried not to be patronising but maybe it seemed that way to them - I really don't know.

Just recently I passed on some information about an exhibition of the Carrolup artists that Curtin University has curated for the Town Hall. There were some photos from those days at the old Marribank Mission and the Curtin staff were trying to identify the kids. Some had already been identified and I recognised many familiar names. One of the curators was quite excited about this yet although I know her intentions were honourable, like mine had been when I tried to reconnect these people with their past, I saw myself reflected in her and it got me thinking. Was I just perpetuating the same patriarchal culture where the 'whites' tell the 'blacks' what's good for them? It occurred to me that maybe Aboriginal people are just plain tired of being reminded. When I talk to my Aboriginal colleagues at work I get the feeling they don't want to keep dragging up the past, they want to talk about their pets or how one of their kids has just completed a degree in anthropology. It seems many of us wadjelas have only just caught up with what's been happening for the past 200 years and it's we who need to talk about it. But Aboriginal people have been dealing with it for generations and maybe they just want to move on.

This stuff happens in families - at least in mine. It wasn't that long ago my aunties were reminding me of my 'bad' behaviour as a teenager - this was when I was in my forties. For f***k's sake - aren't people allowed to change and move on? My guess is that it's easier to file people away in boxes and tape them up - in that context memory is just a convenient way to keep everything neat and tidy. 

Recently something else got me thinking about memory. For the past 7 weeks I have been a participant in a research study into the emotional benefits of spending 25 minutes a day in 'mindfulness meditation'. Many memories have surfaced during my meditation sessions - random things I had completely forgotten about. Some have been good memories, but there are some unpleasant things I now have to deal with dammit - things I had unknowingly shoved into the darkest recesses of my psyche. It's got me wondering - when is too much remembering a burden?

image: Randy Mora/YCN,