Mosses and Marshes is now 10 days out from opening its first showing at Qube Gallery, Oswestery UK on 1 October. Since July, there’s been a growing intensity around the development of words, sounds, and images around this project, that’s had my UK collaborator Andrew Howe and me in daily communication. It’s the time for details.
Self-made man-about-everything, Seth Godin is often quoted for his views on the creative process. He writes in The Practice: Shipping Creative Work (2020) there is no magic in the creative process, you simply “Start where you are.” If we’re quoting authors with a profile and looking to counter this view, Elizabeth Gilbert is the go-to. She wrote a book called Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear (2016). For the record, I tend to agree with Godin but I do like this line from Gilbert: Art is a crushing chore and a wonderful privilege.
For the past six weeks, four days out of every seven has been spent working on the Mosses and Marshes book layout, pouring over essay drafts and edits to the book with our sharp-eyed editor, Dr Liz Charpleix, as well as trying to get a body of artwork completed that pays tribute to the time we’ve spent researching and being in the field, and to the people who have contributed to our understanding of these special environments. On many days in recent weeks, it has felt like a chore (which is no reflection on my project collaborators).
I’ve been documenting the process of bringing the Mosses and Marshes research and fieldwork closer to being artworks each month in Cadence (the ecoPULSE blog) since my April post, The necessity of ‘awkward silence’, where I wrote:
The process of enquiring, documenting, recording, dissecting, exploring, and creating is a messy one, there are many tensions, but like the practice of any craft, it takes time to reach a point of satisfying resolution. The stories given up to me by the Marshes will reveal themselves in good time, no doubt with a good dose of ‘awkward silence’.
While creativity might not be magic, it does require a few mind games, trickery, and deals with myself along the way.
There has been much awkward silence since April, as I’ve sat with the work in its many versions. Eventually a familiar feeling takes over, the wave of anxiety fuelled not just by rapidly approaching deadlines and competition for my time from other commitments, but the chafe of COVID restrictions as we adjusted to life in lockdown.
Carving out time shouldn’t be an issue when you can’t go anywhere — at least that’s what I told myself. While creativity might not be magic, it does require a few mind games, trickery, and deals with myself along the way. There’s a discipline to creativity that Godin references when he says: “You simply start where you are.”
My days on Mosses and Marshes have been carved up each week into two days on the book and two days fine-tuning videos and soundscapes. I work for clients in a creative capacity the remaining three days of the week. There have been weekly to-do lists, pages of notes, whiteboard scribblings, and post-it notes adding additional layers of information to this process that allows me to start wherever I am that week or day. It feels anything but creative. Then there are the public events to organise around the exhibition and book launch, a different way of thinking to that required when I’m lost between the layers of my video and sound editing software.
The countdown to opening an exhibition on the other side of the globe is now days not weeks away. At the end of this physically and mentally exhausting process is the privilege of not just having a voice on issues I believe in but giving a voice to those who are not often heard on these issues — in this case it’s Maliyanga Ngurra*, the Macquarie Marshes. The creativity comes from years of practising my craft and refining my skills from project to project while reminding myself to experiment and play when I can. I rely on that for times like this when the pressure to get things right feels like a growing lump in my chest that won’t be exorcised until the works stand alone in public.
At this point, I wish to thank those who have helped get the Australian arm of Mosses and Marshes to this point. Firstly, Andrew Howe and Gudrun Filipska of (Arts) Territory Exchange — without you, this project wouldn’t have happened. David Duncan and the team behind Burrima and the Macquarie Wetlands Association made much of my work in the Marshes possible by facilitating year-long access to the Northern Marsh from the end of the drought to the return of the water. There have been others who have prompted, poked, questioned, and guided me along the way in official and unofficial capacities, whose advice and published research I have greatly appreciated — including but not limited to Dave Pritchard, Tim Hosking, Shona Whitfield, Darren Shelly, Dr Tim Ralph, and Dr Heather McGinness. Creative and cultural advise has been greatly appreciated from Jamie-Lea Trindall, Alicia Leggett, Jessica Moore, Lydia Halcrow, Sooty Welsh, Fleur and Locky Magick Dennis. To those from the Marshes communities who shared their knowledge and stories with me, thank you. You have illustrated how important human connections to this special landscape are to its future. You can hear these stories for yourself in the Macquarie Marshes Story Map. Finally, a big thanks to our generous crowdfunding supporters and the government bodies who believed in our project.
EXHIBITION + BOOK: Mosses and Marshes opens at Qube Gallery, Oswestery UK on 1 October. The Mosses and Marshes book will be available for sale in October (date to be confirmed), A$25/￡15.
ARTIST TALK: A Mosses and Marshes artist talk will be held via Zoom on 14 October. REGISTER HERE.
PANEL EVENT: The Mosses and Marshes International Panel Discussion is being held on 11 November via Zoom. This is an ecoPULSE event in partnership with Dubbo Regional Council. Registrations open on 30 September.
*Maliyanga Ngurra is the name for the Macquarie Marshes Traditional Custodians of the Wayilwan Nation wish to see adopted. The use of this name for the Marshes in the project has resulted from discussions with Wayilwan cultural educators and practitioners, Fleur and Laurance Magick Dennis of Milan Dhiiyaan.