Note: This is intended to be the ‘final’ post of the European leg of my fellowship. In an ideal world my writing reflecting on my experiences would be done, and I would summing things up so very neatly with this. Given that this particular post needed found it’s way out of my brain and onto a screen last night, and considering my writing is still in progress and will be for some time, I have decided to post this now anyway. Once the rest of my writing is finished I will adjust the publish date so it will sit in a linear order. The end.
There is an enormous value in looking outward. Out towards the other. Out towards things, people and places that you would not otherwise encounter. Looking in places where you ordinarily would not have the opportunity to be, and looking for a duration which guarantees experiences that refresh to the unknown and the unexpected. That is what this fellowship has been to me, a process of external investigation that continues to stimulate internal impulses and ideas.
I chose to carry out a program of activities that consisted of many short experiences, because that’s the way my brain works. I thrive on brief but dense bursts of inspiration. My brain refreshes regularly as I seek new stimulus. This may be a product of my environment that is typical to my generation, a generation for whom consuming on multiple platforms at any time of the day or night has become the norm. But this does not mean to say I am unable to deal with experiences of a more extended duration. I do read dense works of fiction and non-fiction when I feel the need or interest, I can and do spend extended periods of time researching specific subject matter, but in general my practice seems to revolve around small and profound impulses triggered by information that spiral into bigger dreams and ideas.
12 weeks of travel consisting of short residencies, festivals and perhaps hundreds of hours of conversation about making art and directing collaborative processes might seem like a lot. It was a lot. I am pretty sure I saw 86 shows in that time, most of which have been buried in my mind to the deepest files of my subconscious, and about 5 of which I will never forget. By the time I was two thirds of the way through my trip, I thought I was utterly full. I had taken in so much, I had looked outwards for so long, that I was fatigued and felt unable to cope with any more input. Despite this, as planned, I continued and was remarkably able to take in what I needed to, leaving out the rest. I became excellent at filtering what was useful from what wasn’t. I tried to be open to all experiences without completely committing to any of them, unless of course I felt that there was something vital that would add to what I had already learnt. And what I have learnt is the sort of thing that cannot be anticipated when writing a funding application for a fellowship program.
With an experience like this, there is a big preconceived expectation placed on the project, a result of the process by which you gain the support in the first place. I was asked to write an application featuring a list of confirmed activities and respond to criteria as to how those activities would benefit my practice. I was asked to explain in detail how this artistic development will actualise, how the work I made in response would benefit my community. To write a good application I had to think big picture, believe in my potential enough to make significant claims on paper that not only will my fellowship activities deliver great things for me personally, but that I will then deliver great things back as a return on investment. Then there were the expectations from those around me. Being such an incredible opportunity, peers were understandably excited about the fellowship and quick to confirm for me that this journey was going to be an amazing experience. ‘You will come back a different person’ was one comment that someone (I cannot actually remember who) made. Of course I agreed, but what I didn’t realise before I left was that my own expectations for the fellowship, formed by my application goals and the encouragement of those around me, could potentially be a barrier. The thing is, at the end of the day, my application was nothing more than words on a page, and positive preconceptions are beneficial but not reality. These things were a record of intent and a guide for my journey, but actually isolated from of the experience itself. That part was yet to come.
The experience, in all its joys and challenges, required a different approach. Not one that sought to tick items from outcome lists, but simply let things be. The things that I said I was going to do, for all I knew, actually might not exist. Once I realised that and was able to look at the opportunities before me for what they were, I was able to see their actual value. This became clear about half way through the trip, and things became easier. I needed to work hard to chase all the opportunities that were before me in the fellowship. I needed to be vigilant, to ask questions, to write, to think. I needed to put myself in positions that I thought would allow me to capitalise on potential learning. But then, on the other hand, I also needed to be honest and happy with myself in regards to what was manageable for me to take in. I had to find a balance between immersing myself in learning, and leaving for myself time and space for emotional and mental well-being. For instance, some days the best option available was to ride my bike through the city streets, or into the countryside to photograph the sunset. Experiences like these gave me time to process the situation I found myself in and appreciate the world around me in those moments. Often, making the most of my situation meant less stimulus and more space, leaving room for dreaming.
The thing is, that the value of looking outwards is only useful to me if it is balanced by an equal value of looking inwards. I have realised that outward stimulus can never be a muse greater than myself. I need to be my own greatest muse first and foremost. Perhaps consuming amazing art can be potentially destructive unless I myself know that inside you have I have the potential, the power and the ability to create something great and profound. I don’t want to let other people art disempower me from my own mission and my own journey. I will continue to be honest with myself, to challenge myself to do better and to be rigorous about my process and the work I make. I feel as if this fellowship process is now ongoing, and that looking inward and working hard to find what I am capable will be a lifetime quest. I also know that the point I have arrived at thus far is only part way in comprehending this whole experience. There is much more processing that needs to happen, and this will only happen with time.
What I do know at this time is that I am desperate to keep actualising the ideas that float in my head. I have had time and space to refine several ideas to the point where I am now ready to share them with others and begin the process of resourcing them into being. The time that it takes for me to see my ideas actualised is frustrating, but I am hoping that in the next few years this will slowly change.
In the meantime, watch this space to see what my next move might be. I don’t even know, so it will surely be a surprise for both of us, and that’s the way it should be.