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Art, risk and hope from the edges
Pass it on
Pass it on
I'm reading
Art, risk and hope from the edges
Pass it on
Pass it on
I'm reading
Art, risk and hope from the edges
Pass it on
Pass it on
Articles
19 July 2018

Art, risk and hope from the edges

The economic pressures placed on artists can be debilitating, but perhaps the hope lies on the peripheries.

Written by Paea Leach

Behind extraordinary ideas, there are extraordinary people. Dumbo Feather is a magazine about these people.

It is a gentle Sunday in the country and we are driving. My partner says, “Perhaps you should just quit and find something else. Re-position.” This in the face of my most recent funding rejection for The Difficult Comedown, a dance project I’d been developing with a fellow artist for more than a year. It is good work—about kinaesthetics, survival, motherhood and endurance—but difficult because it refuses to entertain. Instead, we invite the watcher to be present in an environment where two women (39 and 41 years old) heave, haul, carry, push, wrestle and sweat in the moment. The work feels like my most alive, complex and real to date.

The suggestion to re-position, as my dear partner says out of concern for my wellbeing, produces feelings of dizziness (perhaps it is liberation from the anguish!) and despair. Because, despite the conditions that press, demand, perplex and anger me as a dance artist—financial constraints, time constraints, unrealistic funding body expectations to name a few—I just cannot quit. It would be remiss of me to abandon my form, which has for so long been my way of being and relating in the world, because economic pressures make it feel too damn hard to keep going.

My practice is about embodiment, and the importance of being embodied in a world which places so much value on the mind. Dance artists, outside of commercial and popular forms, are interested in nurturing curiosity in the physical self and sitting in this space of not-knowing. In an economy that reduces the body to easily accessible forms of pleasure and entertainment, this is a tenuous place for us to occupy.

When it comes to funding applications, we are asked to be rigorous around intention, impact, rationale and outcomes. Unfunded, artists are called to produce dense evidence of potential partners, sponsors and co-producers. As someone who often applies for funding, I feel I need to be a savvy businessperson, required to speak in a language that is not conducive to my creative work: strategies, performance indicators, highly-detailed budgets. It is here that we are called to spend the most about of time and energy, rather than the actual process of making art. What happens to experimentation, not-knowing and the critically important time spent creating?

We need to reinvest in two of the most fundamental criteria for artistic innovation: trust and risk. Could we embrace work with intelligent rapture and a willingness to suspend outcomes for what might be? Without risk, there is no failure; without failure, no moments of wow.

I do not know how these shifts can occur systematically, but I do know talking about them helps. As a dear dancer friend and I have been saying for years: “Onward! Ever onward.” Not everyone lives like this, with this much integration and physical aliveness, and so our job is to keep working. If we attend to what we have immediately available—our own bodies and practice, and carry this ethos into public spaces, we can have an effect. This is where we must begin, daily.

So, as a 39-year-old woman, artist and mother, I am assessing what is important to me beyond money. I sat by my father as he died, and when he passed I realised that there are so few things that matter. Money was certainly not one of them. What is it that endures? I want my child to bear witness to his mother being supported to create art. Art that challenges, stimulates, inspires, bores, moves, awakens and most importantly, invites curiosity. And so, to reciprocate, I need to support a community of people engaged in shifting how we understand value outside of capitalism, and how we could all relate to and be fed by the work of a vast spectrum of artists, more often and more robustly.

Increasingly, artists are now operating on the periphery of economic realities, and perhaps this is where our hope lies. Perhaps it is in embracing our position and influence on the fringes that we are liberated to continue our work. Freed from the apparent centre, the best and only thing to do now is reclaim—myself, my work, my voice. I need to keep surviving artistically, as I am convinced the work of artists proposes diverse, unconventional ways of being in the world and relating to one another—which then gives rise to an unseen but felt and valuable potentialising energy.

We need money, but we need each other—fully embodied—more.

Paea Leach

Paea Leach is a dance artist based in Melbourne. After years on the road, she is now doing a Masters by Research in Dance at VCA, working as a Zenthai Shiatsu therapist and mothering a small human. 

Feature image by Gregory Lorenzutti

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