As a part of an Arts Territory Exchange (ATE), I am creating work along with Catherine Reinhart (www.catherinereinhart.com) of Iowa USA, with whom ATE has paired me. The brief from ATE is to consider place and ideas of remoteness. Artists are invited to interpret these themes in very broad ways.
Through this residency I am thinking about remoteness in two senses. The first is remoteness from my “self” that I have experienced, and how making time for art brings me close to myself, while the minutia of daily “tending” keeps me distant, from my core self. The second is a remoteness I believe we inadvertently create in the way we tend to think about our “place” on planet earth.
Writer Virginia Woolf in a 1929 essay decried the lack of creative spaces experienced by women, arguing that a woman needed “a room of one’s own” in order to enjoy the same privilege that men of her time enjoyed. More recently Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Brigid Schulte, penned an essay arguing that in fact little has changed and that women still struggle to free themselves from the daily tasks of tending to others. She cites a study indicating the length of unbroken free time a woman might experience in a day averages 10 minutes. As I sit here typing, I have a to-do list with items pending: i) call father about ailing mother ii) clean brother-in-law’s unit iii) bring in washing, fold and store iv) grocery shop v) accept quote vi) fill in medical form vii) complete financial form viii) and it goes on. My repeated thought: how long can I spend at my blog? In 2014 Brigid Schulte noted a similar list plus many unanticipated tasks had delayed her production of this very essay.
This is not to say that the many tasks we undertake are not important or valued. Of course we care for our loved people, of course we need to eat, and there is satisfaction to be found here. The issue is the relentlessness and ever-present nature of women’s work, measured against the luxury of the clearly defined dedicated time and space allowed to men who undertake creative lives.
In my writings and visual works for our joint project, both Catherine and I are thinking about the labour involved in creating a place for ourselves and our family, and at the same time about the labour involved in knowing our larger space i.e. mapping geography and topography.
In thinking about the implications of “knowing” our place on the Earth, I consider first “my place”, a regional farming area sometimes considered a remote place, and examine how we might frame this “knowing” in terms of our ecological footprint.
Australian Environmental philosopher Val Plumwood (1939 – 2008) in her 2008 essay Shadow Places and the Politics of Dwelling made the case for a broader view of what we refer to as “my place”. She argued that traditional individualistic ways of thinking about our “place” in which we honour it “…in its singular idealised place consciously identified with self…” is a dematerialised version of place.She points out that it does not take into account what she terms refers to as “the shadow places”, the “…multiple, complex network of places that support our lives.” It ignores the varying degrees of privilege through which our “place” becomes ours, attractive, comfortable, and more. It has these characteristics often entirely because another place, or many places, do not.
So as I work on this I am conscious of my ambivalence about my own sense of place. It locates itself on several farms, and on a half-acre in a small town. The farms were carved from larger “settler” holdings, land already stolen from the First Australians. My current home is located only a few kilometres from the site of a massacre that killed all but one of the local Narrungderah clan. I am perhaps more conscious than most of this quite recent history as I am married to a descendant of that survivor. It doesn’t end there. I benefit from the goods and chattels that fill my home, many purchased online or from large warehouse-style stores, made where? They are made in the shadow places, by people most of which do not have the privileges I enjoy.
Ironically today these places I relate to in southern Australia are in-turn “shadow places” for many city dwellers who may not think about the privations caused by remote living, and the labour of farming, the dust the heat the risk, to produce their food and textiles, and possibly think of “my place” as the one that gives them the harbour view.
In my work for this Arts Territory Exchange I try to communicate some of this.