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Finding Meaning


(These are the words I wrote before I left for this experience. A little self-indulgent contemplation. More recent thoughts on the situation are currently under way!)

For the last decade I have enjoyed my existence in the quirky world of wearable art – not only participating in the international design show and competition of that name, but through exhibition work, fashion studies, and workshops. Designing around the human form always felt natural to me, but I have to admit that it has its limitations as far as public acceptance and understanding – not to mention shipping and storage!

My increasing discontent with the genre recently led me to look for ways to function in a more typical gallery setting – for an opportunity to shift the direction of my work away from the body – strangely opposite to the WOW (World of WearableArt) mantra of ‘art off the wall onto the body’! Using it as a starting point made me capable of creating sculpture – not something I would have attempted otherwise. Slowly I have begun to imagine stand-alone sculptures, richly embellished and textured low-relief wall-works, mixed media works utilising the many embellishing and texturing techniques acquired over the years.

Assisting in this transition is a five week artist residency on King Island – a time not only to study and be inspired by the unique environment, but the opportunity to re-define the way I work. My mental shift away from wearable art combined with a month of being almost bed-bound with back pain in late 2019 provided a real challenge to me as I took stock and assessed everything. Right down to ‘what is the purpose of making art?’, quickly followed by ‘what is the purpose of life?’ – but that’s a road I try not to travel down too often.

‘Everybody hurts. Everybody loves. Everybody hopes. And, everybody dies. Mainly, art is about our own sense of mortality’ - Lesley Birch, Artist. Perhaps this is why the element of decay is so alluring – I know other artists are inspired by it; 'I make fragments; unique abstract pieces aiming to capture the fragile transient beauty found in the inherent processes of ageing, and decay within the surrounding landscape, urban or rural. As in the Japanese aesthetic wabi-sabi, I treasure imperfections found in the natural changes that occur in such things as weathered wood, crumbling plaster and peeling paint.' Sue Hotchkiss, Artist.

I wonder if it is this awareness of mortality, and subsequent recognition of the fragility of beauty (or is that the beauty of fragility?) which makes the process of art a way of making sense of the transient nature of our lives? Edward O. Wilson proposes that humans have a deep affiliation with nature, and popularised the idea that the term biophilia describes "the connections that human beings subconsciously seek with the rest of life."(Philia, the opposite of phobia, describes the attraction to nature - essentially a love of life). Perhaps it helps, particularly those of us without any other established structure of meaning, position ourselves within the cycle of life – our way of seeing, reacting, creating – our act of biophilia - is as strong as any other tenet in sustaining us. By finding meaning in our reaction to nature, we also find that our artistic expression gives us; “…the capacity to find joy in creativity through the pleasure of invention and exploration” Cathy Malchiodi, Psychology Today.

Well now – I think I may have just reinvigorated myself with all this navel-gazing. Whilst the process of applying for the King Island (and other) residencies required me to re-imagine my practice on a practical level – what was I going to do, what was I going to make – my period of enforced inactivity perhaps arrived at the perfect time to make me look much deeper into what I was doing – why am I interested in doing this? And I arrive at this end – nature is endlessly fascinating and it makes me feel good to be in it, to think about it, to share it. Doing this through art gives me another level of joy and satisfaction. And I think perhaps, that is enough.

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