We were thrilled to be invited by Perth International Arts Festival (PIAF) to review Small Voices Louder by BIG Alex Desebrock.
Small Voices Louder PIAF 2017
Friday 17th February
By Jo Pollitt with Nadia age 7, Lucia, age 7, Austin age 8, Humphrey age 12, Aria age 7
“The world needs to hear more music” Nadia, age 7
“The world needs to hear other people” Humphrey, age 12
“The world needs to hear more animals” Lucia, age 7
“The world needs to hear the sun” Austin, age 8
“The world needs to hear its ears” Aria, age 8
These are some of the decisive cries of young participants in “Small Voices Louder” the work created by artist and visionary Alex Desebrock. Holding a bright yellow megaphone, they stand in turn and shout to the city street audience. More an experience than a show, the work is completely interactive and child-driven in terms of dialogue, time and response; and the verdict – they absolutely loved it! While the kids are whisked away up the grand staircase of the State Theatre Centre (it is a lock out for grown-ups), we enjoy the momentary quiet to peruse the conversation card we had been giving with such questions as “What’s the difference between adults and children” and “What is hope?”.
I write with a bit of secret inside information having been generously allowed in to view the installation with the BIG kids. Lead into each of the magical tent-like constructions, I had to Alice-in-wonderland myself to fit in each of the child size worlds. According to my posse of five animated kids, they were asked to choose a track and then to respond to ideas along the way “I chose the heart path because it lead to love and a real live heart that’s inside your body that you looked at through a microscope” (Aria). A dimly lit expanse of yellow structures were connected through red fabric lines on the floor and each field of exploration put the children in charge – their voices and opinions recorded to be played throughout the city during the Festival.
Unanimously voted the number one portal on the track was the fish that they were asked to talk up to while lying underneath it’s suspended watery home “This fish has a three second memory. Lie on your back and tell her what is important to remember” was the question posed. Why the favourite I asked them? “Because you could lie down and rest; because it was actually alive and you could talk to it”. A close second was the warm and cosy of a luminous egg in a nest of soft velvet folds, then came the “future” with mirrors above and below “where you could fall down in” and then the “alien” “because the moon was cool and soft”, and the “cloud” that you could touch. Each portal was a sensory home and tactile springboard for thinking. Truly a world of calm excitement– following the lead of these small voices resulted in an, irreverent, honest and thoughtful dialogue between kids which continued after the show with Aria and her mum musing that “Maybe all the ears are blocked at the moment and people need to listen more with their hearts”. Particularly recommended for 7-10year olds, but if you can get your pre-teen along it is a rare opportunity to think creatively in ways far from screen or observation. Small Voices Louder is an immersion into a place where imagination meets real life – and certainly the world needs to hear more of it.
How many stars out of 5 would you rate your experience: Eight billion, three hundred thousand, three hundred and thirty two! (Aria, age 7)
Here is it: With almost 9 lives used to make it…ISSUE 9 – COLLECTIONS.
Tell your friends, and purchase a copy here to support the BIG work – Thank you :)
With ‘artist in residence’ programs traditionally sustaining many a practice for artists across disciplines, we asked director and choreographer Sarah Neville about her experience of the relatively new model of ‘Family in Residence':
Over the last two years I have been sustaining my arts practice through a ‘family in residence’ model. Having young children has changed my perception of work and life. I realised that this was not just a phase of life I needed to manage but that my life can positively inform my creative practice. I work in contemporary performance and my husband in music and visual arts but primarily in Human Factors. Together with Miranda 6 and Florence 2 we have pursued research on the theme of Weather Lore / Speculative Culture over a series of family focussed residencies.
‘Changing the world will always require action and participation in the public realm, but in our time that will no longer be sufficient. We’ll have to change the way we live, too. What that means is that the sites of our everyday engagement with nature – our kitchens, gardens, houses, cars – matter to the fate of the world in a way they never have before.’ – Michael Pollan, Cooked
Our first residency was facilitated by Foam in Brussels. As the quote above mentions, how we live matters to the fate of the world, and as a cultural operator Foam see it as their role to explore ways of living and working as creative processes. At Foam they prefer to put the artwork, the artists and all the elements that make up the arts organisation itself into the same pressure-cooker of daily life, and see what comes out. For more on Foam’s commitment to ‘family in residence,’ see http://fo.am/family_in_residence/ and http://fo.am/blog/2013/08/30/generous-generalists/.
The following year we trialled the Foam model at the art lab Adhocracy, at Vitalstatistix in Port Adelaide. Here I found that my creative drive was by necessity directed into being active in daily life; cooking, playing with the children, caring for our plants and talking to our visitors. I am still finding my feet in this new methodology and realise that trying something different is part of the growth for me as an artist: http://www.sarahneville.com/view/Speculative+Culture+Weather+Lore+2/93/
It is somewhat reassuring to see that the model of the artist as family doesn’t exist in isolation here in Australia, there is also a current blog – theartistasfamily blog, that defines family travels on bikes around Australia and sustainable living as performance art. Similarly, we are also interested in sustainable living and concerned about Climate Change. Our next reiteration of ‘family in residence’ is at Oratunga Sheep Station in the Flinders Rangers, facilitated through Open-Space.
Peta Morris is a deep thinking artist, educator and founder of The Kid Creative – a small art school that engages & nurtures students, encouraging them to explore & investigate the world around them through a creative process.
*Join us to hear Peta Morris and photo-media artist Anne Zahalka talk about their experience of creative practice and motherhood at our next Mother Artist Forum this Thursday September 24th at 6pm at Manly Art Gallery.
Being a Mother Artist is not all or nothing. If you are unable to create work for 6 months you haven’t stopped being an artist. Throw out the guidebooks, they are process inhibitors.
I feel my creative practice is stronger than its ever been, but ironically I am not creating work at the moment and that’s ok. My disruptions were in the first 2 years of edie’s life. I had post natal depression which I think stemmed from Edie’s inability to sleep well and that was an incredibly tough time, physically and emotionally. I went into a creative sink hole which I think made the depression worse. After this I began creating again and exhibiting at a pace that suited me. I have a very supportive husband and without him, I know It would have been impossible for me to achieve the things I have creatively, since we had Edie.
I am always trying to create ways around how to make it work and that in itself becomes part of the creative process. The day to day mundane stuff gets in the way. I’d rather be in the studio than folding this washing right now and I have to be careful not to fall into resenting it at times. But I learned from my father who was a single carer dad, working full time with two girls, (age 14 and 6), that organisation is key, if I don’t have a plan the wheels are likely to fall off. That said if I could have 30 hours in the day, I would be happy and when I get extra time I grab it and run with it as fast as I can.
This morning edie and I were working on a little art piece for her piano teacher. We were enthusiastically getting into the process when my husband reminds us that school starts in five minutes! (we live next door luckily).
Edie is 7, when she was younger I was really aware of allowing her to find her own way with creative learning. I would supply the materials and let her explore. I was really aware that I did not want to interfere with this process because she may not like it or have an interest and it’s important that we allow our children to find their own interests even if we may not share them. As it turns out she loves both art and the sciences and the older she has become, the more we work alongside one another. I am a teacher and Edie attends my classes, that dynamic however is more challenging than us spending time working alongside each other creating.
I catch myself out at times when I start entertaining thoughts that because I haven’t shown any work in a while that somehow my identity as an artist is lacking or not credible. I then try to laugh out because really who wrote the rule book on “what makes you an artist”?
Ilona Nelson is a new media artist working predominately with photography but also incorporating performance, film and installation. She is passionate about supporting and promoting Australian women artists and has created This Wild Song which is a series of portraits and interviews with artists who have a unique voice, and onefourfour which is a year long project featuring twelve different artists every year.
Bravery is Honesty
Imagination is Imperative
Generosity is Heart
As a Mother Artist i’m much more inspired with a lot less time.
When my first son was born I didn’t have any new ideas for about 6 months which was terrifying! But ever since that phase passed I’m feeling more inspired than ever with so many ideas. I have about 5 series worth of work written in my journal but then that brings a different pressure, that feeling of sitting on my hands. I have ideas that have been waiting for years and others just dissipate which I sometimes grieve for. Funnily enough I have a series about grief that I’ve been sitting on…..
I’ve definitely grown as an artist, I work more efficiently, and have a stronger belief in myself since becoming a mother.
My work is created on instinct and often my photographs pop into my head as finished pieces, and now I spend time nutting out the details in my head as I do domestics. If I’m making a costume I’ll get the kids involved or if I’m location scouting I’ll take the kids so we can explore together. By the time I’m ready to shoot I’m prepared as I have the costume, location, and know what time of day I want to shoot. Of course not everything always goes to plan, my work is a response to the environment I’m in so I may have a completely different idea on the day or maybe it’s just not coming together and I can’t create what I have in my head.
I’m an introvert like a lot of artists and sometimes I need to not talk, go into my head for a while and recharge. Not being able to have that need met when I really need it can be very challenging.
My eldest has been saying he wants to be an artist/inventor for a long time so he’s always up for helping me with my work and going to exhibitions. Often he’ll help me shoot a self portrait then we’ll photograph his ideas. I’ve been meaning to ask him to paint on some of my photos so I better pop that on the list too… They both love to press the shutter for me which is great, especially since one of them accidentally threw my remote in a creek!
I take the kids with me when I go to the bush so they can play while I shoot but lately that really hasn’t been working out. I’m spending all my energy on negotiating their arguments. someone gets something in their eye, they need the toilet etc. It was much easier when I could pop them in the pram with some food and they’d be happy!
I think it’s seen as a luxury for a mother artist to get studio time for her practice even though she needs it to breathe and feel whole, even though having her needs met always has a positive impact on the child. It does feel like it would be easier for a father artist to retreat to the studio but perhaps that’s a traditional view or our mother guilt talking.
I often ask mothers whose children are older than mine if parenting gets easier and the answer always is that it’s just different. I think the same can be said for being an artist mother. I have a certain way of working now but that will change again when my youngest starts school next year. There’s no such thing as balance, it’s one life and you just do your best every day.
And I now ignore the chaotic mess of the house until the weekends.
Cat Hope is an accomplished Perth based musician, composer, songwriter, sound and performance artist whose practice is an interdisciplinary one that crosses over into film, video, performance and installation. She works as a researcher at the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts and is a Feature Artist in the current issue of BIG Kids Magazine Art of falling. Mother to Luke (now 10) and Jazmine (now 23) Cat shares some thoughts about her experience of navigating motherhood together with her arts practice.
Being a mother artist is just being like any other mother who does what they love. You bring your children in when its right, you try to carve time out for the things you have to do alone. You have some flexibility and imagination that other mothers who work may not have. You have the fortune to be able to live creativity with your children, not just to show them.
Bravery is taking risks, without even thinking about it.
Imagination is leading ideas in
Generosity is not thinking about what happens to you when you give.
On one hand, you could say becoming a mother limits your practice, because you have to take time away to do the things your children or family want to do. Yet this also provides you will a space that you may not have taken otherwise. So, it disrupts, provides, enhances, limits but more than anything, it enables you to reflect, and gives you a special kind of empathy with other parents.
There are moments when you have an idea you can’t act on, because of some parenting responsibility….but you learn that being a mother is worth these kinds of small losses.
I am still a night person…there was a period where I was writing very quiet songs, when my oldest was little. I only had the evenings and the house was small….
I have included my children in my work in different ways. They have designed album covers for me, performed in my pieces or pieces I was organising to be performed. They have sung on my records.
The needs of children change all the time. So, my relationship to them and their needs also change. But one thing remains – unless you outlive them, they are always your children and you always feel that connection….Being a mother provides you with special challenges. My daughters father passed away 2 years ago, when she was 21. This was a very difficult time for our family and it was a situation where I felt very alone as a mother.
I think its important to involve your children in your life, not provide them with completely separate ‘children’s’ lives, or or cut them out of the core of your own. They want to see you happy, and doing what you love. This is a special gift, artists are very good at giving.
In the lead up to our next Mother Artist Forum at the MCA in Sydney we are posting our 5th series of interviews with Mother Artists exploring the balance of professional artistic practice with motherhood. We begin with the fabulous Elizabeth Marruffo who is also the Print Artist in our most recent edition of BIG Kids Magazine – Art of falling. If you don’t yet have a copy of Issue 9 – Art of falling you can purchase it HERE.
Sunday August 30th 2-3.30pm for the next in our Mother Artist Forum series
What do I as an artist make when I have no time to make anything given that I don’t stop being an artist even when I have no time to make anything?
Bravery is picking your self back up after a fall.
Imagination is inventing new worlds of possibilities
Generosity is putting your self in someone else’s shoes
If you could distil your experience as a mother artist into a single thought what would it be?
I am extremely fortunate to have found ways in which the challenging aspects of an arts practice like the tears, the extreme self-doubt and the guilt about not making enough money are balanced out by having a happy child around. I think it’s because what I do, despite the challenges, makes me happy, stimulated and fulfilled and it’s also flexible so I can be around for my child when needed.
How has becoming a mother enhanced, limited, provoked and/or disrupted your creative practice?
I think becoming a mother limited my ability to network and socialise and so possibly hindered that important aspect of my career and limited the chances of those small incidental meetings and moments that can lead to interesting creative collaborations. It has also provoked me into paying a lot more attention to female artists and how they manage their careers and families and also how they are more often than not made invisible through selective retellings of history.
Has mothering impacted your actual creative process and ways of making work? How?
I do things a lot quicker now! There’s no time for deliberating too much. Having less time to make work, has made me more patient with myself and with others, it has helped me realise my art career is about a long and deep journey and that these moments with children are so fleeting. It’s easy then to prioritise time with children when you see yourself working until you are 100 if possible. A lot of my artwork has happened in the evenings at home at our small unit when our son has gone to bed. Being in bed however doesn’t mean children are asleep or they don’t still need us or don’t call out with the most profound of questions needing immediate answers!
I did some postgraduate study at ECU when our son was 3 and had a studio space at University. I remember after the days work then dinner and bed I would leave to go to the gym which was also at uni, it might seem counterintuitive to “waste” time at the gym but it was almost as if it gave me another days worth of energy and productivity, I would then work until about 10.30pm. I was working towards a big solo show so this routine was necessary.
I have recently been making a large number of smaller paintings, with these works I was able to fit the ones I was working on into a box along with a small amount of all my materials and take it in the car with me for the day to my studio I had at the time, or back home with me for evening work or contemplation.
I have since moved my studio back home as we moved to a bigger house this year and this is working really well. My husband and I run a small children’s art school called Milktooth from the shopfront connected to our home and this whole enterprise was grown directly from our experiences of parenting.
Can you think of an anecdote/moment that epitomises the collisions and intersections in the worlds of mothering and making/thinking/creating?
I used to think it was an over simplification when analogies were made between the production of artwork and the creation of a new life but they are in fact, quite similar endeavours. There are not many more creative endeavours than parenting; constantly having to think on your feet, being able to problem solve on the fly, being an expert at logistics, time management, and prioritising, being able to anticipate changes of feelings and attitudes so that you are prepared to deal with multiple views. The same can be said about the production of artwork and the management of an arts practice, in both cases you are constantly responding to something that is both within and without you and completely alive. The aim of creating great artwork and great humans is for both to become independent and alive forces that can stand strong by themselves and contribute in constructive ways to the community and world in which they belong.
For my ‘pup pup is the boss of the stars’ exhibition the title was something my son said when he was 4 while I was brainstorming the idea. There are too many moments to list where what he has done or said has informed my work and my artistic choices. Actually, he also often has the best ideas for my husband who works during the day at the Perth Museum. We chat at dinnertime about my husband’s projects and activities for public engagement with the museum collection and our son invariably comes up with something incredibly useful and interesting. We often joke about how more companies should have advisory panels made up of children, definitely an undervalued human resource!
Do you ever collaborate with your child, respond to each other, or work side by side to create work?
If I tell or ask my son to do something creative with me there could be a positive or negative response. If I just start doing it he will almost always just want to join in. We do a lot of drawing and crafting together and he also makes a lot of books, comics and does calligraphy with his dad. For the BIG kids magazine collaborative work we had a lovely discussion in the car about the word ‘Falling’. I would have never linked it to Frank Lloyd Wrights Building called Falling Water but my son did. That set off a beautiful chain of association that led to him drawing a doghouse that Frank Lloyd Wright had designed. I then included one of the little dogs I paint next to his doghouse. He is also my biggest critic though and has said the harshest but also most hilarious things to me about my work.
What is different, if anything, about being a mother artist to being a father artist?
From my own experience I noticed an extreme heightening of instinctive thoughts and processes I believe are unique in the female parenting experience. These instincts and the subsequent hierarchy of thoughts that develop are helpful, but can be occasionally debilitating. It has at times taken a lot of effort for me to bring more rational and logical thinking processes to some of the decisions I make about my professional art career. I have even found myself directly sabotaging opportunities that come up, so I then force myself to go through with them even though it doesn’t “feel” right. For example I recently spent a month by myself in Florence as I received some grant money to do an academic painting workshop. This did not ‘feel’ right but was of course an incredible privilege to be able to go and do.
My husband is also an artist and we do a good job at communicating well and we support each other’s creative choices 100%. I think there are some big challenges for father artists when you look at the huge societal pressure on fathers to make money and provide well for a family, this can be detrimental to an arts practice as it is asking a lot for an arts practice in Perth to provide an income that a family can live on, I think WA is especially cruel in this regard, to all fathers really regardless of profession.
Has it become easier/changed over time?
I guess I hold instinctual thoughts and feelings in very high regard as they have served me well in my mothering journey, as my son gets older though I feel I have to be stronger in the ways that I temper these feelings. It has become easier over time as you learn what you are realistically capable of, you learn to notice stress triggers and you get better at saying no to things that don’t serve you practice and family. I have also realised that I got into the habit of not socialising as it was more important to work on my practice, all of a sudden with our son getting older it seems like I am able to get to openings and events and the energy and connections that these have brought have been very nurturing and inspiring. I did have to force myself out of my habit of being a hermit though!
We are so thrilled to let you know that Issue 8 – Art of falling is now in the world and available for pre-purchase HERE!
It is rare to walk into an activity space for children that feels more like a curious interactive living museum than a classroom. We are always looking on the look out for process based workshops that invite immediate open-ended response and support children to discover their own unique visual language within considered parameters. We were thrilled to have one of the BIG kids invited to a Drawn to Seeing Birds and Bugs workshop at Stirrup Gallery in Sydney today because it was all of these things and more! The facilitators (Robyn and Angela) are both artists, educators and mothers with a particular interest in science and nature. Their warmth, and passion for art and teaching were palpable and they engaged with the children as art students giving them and their work enormous respect. The rare balance of playfulness, rigour, experimentation and skill was clear and the children were able to explore process deeply as well as create unique works of art that were visually unusual and beautiful. There are still a few spots left in next weeks Drawn to Seeing Holiday Workshops!
We were so thrilled to launch Issue 7 – Tiny Worlds at Sydney Opera House early this year. Enormous thanks to Frank Newman, the brilliant mind behind Creative Play at Kids at the House, for having us. Take a peek at the BIG Child Artist Response Project and our Tiny Worlds dancing installation created on the day.
*You can still purchase copies of Tiny Worlds here but they are almost all gone so be quick!
We love the idea of falling unexpectedly into curious worlds and recently were lucky enough to have an actual shared experience of entering an extraordinary landscape of truly felt awe and delightful creative mayhem.
Over New Year we were thrilled to be invited to Woodford Folk Festival which was much like traveling to an exotic country where time was needed to adjust to the shift in rhythm, language and culture. We travelled there in pouring rain with our new gumboots and borrowed umbrella’s wondering on our drive if the whole place had been washed away, but arrived to friendly faces with wide smiles and realised quickly that weather was no deterrent to the magic of Woodford. After finding our tent and collecting correct wrist bands we walked the butterfly pathway towards the entrance reading all the way about each species and what they preferred to eat, not suspecting that once inside we would meet human sized butterflies and be able to help them find their way to their favourite plants.
We breathed our first gasped ‘WOW” as we entered through a bamboo cathedral with a mist of rain falling from the high arch, but this feeling was to be repeated many times over the days. On entering we were welcomed into a festival sized performance game of dare, which spanned days and led to many unusual encounters with bands of strange pirates and traveling minstrels. The Children’s Festival had a gigantic basket ball sculpture with whimsical entry and exit points for balls thrown at all kinds of angles and heights, plus face painting, a sculptural sand pit, stilt walkers blowing skies of giant bubbles, paper plane competitions, a kids cafe and tents for myriad workshops and performances, and this was just a tiny miniscule fraction of the larger festival! We realised quickly that there is a unique rhythm to Woodford, which invites a balance between making choices and surrendering to the serendipity of each moment. It was truly a side by side experience where children and adults can share the wonder through each others eyes. In a single day we did a hip hop workshop, saw a circus show, practiced with hula hoops and on a tight rope, learned to tie 4 different kinds of knots, ate tiny donuts, watched Mama Kin invite two tiny fans to join her on the stage, laughed till we ached with the Top Twins, sat in the shade of hill top trees with thousands of others watching Lior and danced with lantern sculptures under the stars.
An experience of true awe is not a small claim, and to sit next to your own child among thousands of others under a night sky and share an ageless, breathtaking and moving experience is unusual and deeply impacting. The wildness and wonder of Woodford belongs to all ages and doesn’t discriminate or prescribe who is qualified to see it, feel it, or contribute to the magic of it. Woodford Folk Festival was truly an experience of disrupted hierarchies and a wonderland for children and adults alike.
Enormous thanks to photographer © Gregory Lorenzutti for Woodford Folk Festival, 2014-15.