Finally posted this mind blurt. I took up residency - artistically, not quite squatting - at the Australian Tapestry Workshop from February to middling March this year. Having completed a weave internship there last winter as a part of my final years studies, they kindly welcomed me back. It's my first experience as an artist in residence and it's been quite an eye-opener.
Having spent the last however many years of my life always having some sort of formal education or work going on, transitioning into this odd limbo of being a "professional artist" is interesting. It can be unnerving at times. Unlike other professions, you're not given a contract with a start date, hours of work, job specifications and a regular income. And until now, I never realised how much those little structures incidentally contribute to the validity of what you do on a daily basis. That seems like an obvious statement - that routine and regular pay contribute to your sense of value in society - but when you experience the opposite by choice, it hits you all at once.
I guess it'd be a similar experience to being self-employed, and it's a little like freelance work - but even that comes with a contract. What I'm really getting at isn't the lack of pay or routine hours, but instead my residency at the Workshop is the first time I've properly called myself an "artist". Despite having produced works before even knowing what an artwork is, I never liked calling myself an artist. As wrapped in that ball of artistic expression are all these doubts and this overwhelming feeling of inadequacy. "How dare I call this art, or what I’m doing some kind of define practice!" A ridiculous thought really, when every second twenty-something Melbourne hipster finds themself as an artist or crafter these days…
But this feeling of inadequacy goes to the core of what my practice is about and how I approached my residency. My practice has always been about process, and most importantly the learning that encourages it. The Workshop is one of the most nurturing studio environments I have ever worked in. The combined knowledge of the weavers - Sue Batten, Chris Cochius, Pamela Joyce and Milena Paplinska – adds up to one hungred plus years of experience. But experience counts for little if there’s an unwillingness to share. What makes them truly great is how giving they are of their time and what they know, each of them have taught me more about weaving, art and life than I could have asked for. Calling myself an artist surrounded by such knowledge and skills feels a little precocious. But it’s that feeling that drives me to learn more and do more. There is nothing more creatively inspiring than frustration at imperfection!
The weavers alone - though a significant part – do not make the Australian Tapestry Workshop so special. The Administrative staff keep the Workshop ticking over and particularly, Adriane Hayward, has been an invaluable person to have around. Through her and the workshop, they’ve promoted and encouraged my work, leading to opportunities and discoveries that I previously had little contact with. It’s hard to put into genuine words what the Workshop means to me. In not just an artistic sense, it’s contributed to my sense of Melbourne, the artistic community - and without being too philosophical – my perspective on life. It’s a place where time and dedication are valued. Though this doesn't mean it’s immune to the realities of a modern organisation – expenses, money, staying contemporary etc. - instead it is what makes it so intriguing. The Workshop is actively working through the mêlée of the current world while keeping what it is important and unique to them in focus. And this more than anything else, is what I hope to absorb into my practice. Maintaining a sense of integrity but also surviving. Cross-fingers it works…
A big thank-you to Australian Tapestry Workshop for letting me into your space, I won’t forget it x