Challenging and changing the way we think about our art practices
By Kim V. Goldsmith, lead artist and Inhalare project coordinator
When the idea for Inhalare/ breathe upon was first floated, I never imagined it would be as challenging and intriguing as it has become.
The challenge has been to learn quickly about accessibility and what that means when producing not only artworks but an exhibition. The intrigue has been to see how artists in both stages of the project have responded to their prompts.
The brief sounds simple enough at first — Stage 1: produce a soundscape of more than 5 minutes duration and write 150 words about an environment in your backyard you came to know well during COVID lockdowns or periods of restricted movement. Then in Stage 2: produce a visual response to the soundscape and/or text provided about that environment without being able to visit it.
The more poetic version is six artists explore a natural environment close to home, developing soundscapes and writings to prompt the creation of visual works by six other artists, capturing deep connections and hidden layers, and allowing imaginations to explore these environments — making the familiar, unfamiliar.
The brief that challenged
“…there’s that level of blind trust that you have to go forward with.” – Andrew Hull
The project brief was unsettling for some Stage 1 artists, who expressed concerns about the word limitations or the prescriptive nature of the exercise. As the writer of the brief well used to writing social media captions and short-form journalistic editorials, I must admit the 150-word count challenged me too.
Andrew Hull expressed his concerns in a video interview at the end of the first stage of the project in November 2021.
I don’t know in producing this piece and assembling these words, how much I’m prescribing to my collaborative artist — who I don’t know, I don’t know what they know and will they understand my experience of being in that landscape?
So, I’m anxious that I’m overprescribing, and I’m anxious that they won’t get it all, that they won’t see the place that I know…but that is what is and they’ll experience something from what I’ve given them.
But my terror is that I’ve tried to describe this rocky gorge, with a creek and atmosphere and it turns out looking like a beach or something else. So, there’s that level of blind trust that you have to go forward with.
Stage 1 artist, Jason Richardson of Leeton said, The best remote collaborations I’ve been involved with have strict guidelines and this project offered good directions to develop my contribution.
The field recording was straightforward and the word limit for the written component was useful, both for my process and, I expect, also for the audience.
Extending our thinking about art
…we look to lead galleries to move past passive visual consumption of contemporary art and other art forms. – Allison Reynolds
What if you’re unable to hear or see the resulting works? What if the idea of entering a gallery creates a sense of great anxiety, excluding you from any of it? How do you provide access to the works for anyone who wants to experience the exquisite sounds recorded in the rainforests of the South Coast or the eerie tension of a rocky gorge in a remote western NSW National Park? Does a 150-word piece of prose or poetry adequately describe that environment?
How do you describe a visual artwork so someone with sight impairment can experience or understand what hangs before them, or what it is they might hold in their hand? How descriptive should an Audio Description (AD) be to achieve that?
These are all questions the artists in Inhalare had to grapple with during the development of their work as they prepared for an exhibition designed to be accessible by everyone. That exhibition is now showing at SPACE in Coonabarabran, along with a range of accessibility supports.
SPACE is the only disability-run gallery in regional NSW, headed by accessible arts advocate, disabled artist and gallery director, Allison Reynolds, who is generous with her knowledge, time and passion for making the experience of art accessible to everyone.
Art is an experience, and it is so important to me personally and to SPACE and its mission, to ensure all facets of the experience are available to everyone by designing the exhibition with that in mind from day dot.
As the only disabled-run gallery in regional, rural, and remote New South Wales, we look to lead galleries to move past passive visual consumption of contemporary art and other art forms.
For most of the 12 artists involved in the Inhalare project, the art forms they worked with — be it sound, writing, printmaking, painting, photography/bookmaking, textiles or mark making on glass, were familiar processes. But each artist was tasked with the challenge of working beyond their comfort zone in considering access by audiences who may have never been able to experience their work before.
“I love the inclusiveness of this project.” – Carol Archer
To meet the brief, soundscape producers/writers were required to provide an audio recording of the text works. The visual artists were required to provide audio description scripts and recordings for their visual art responses.
As the lead artist and project coordinator, making this happen cohesively required regular, sometimes lengthy communication with the project group. There were many timeline updates and some detailed ‘how-to’ information to ensure the content details were consistent and the audio recordings of a high standard.
Often, I had to find out how to do something before sharing it with the others — like how to write a good Audio Description. Overseeing these efforts was Allison Reynolds, who would be the one pulling it together as curator of the Inhalare exhibition.
Visual artist Carol Archer from Bulahdelah produced a print in response to the fire-impacted landscape at the heart of the soundscape and text of Danja Derkenne from Little Forest (near Milton/Ulladulla). Carol replies to my emails: I love the inclusiveness of this project. I worked quite hard on the audio script to fulfil the brief and do justice to the work/concept— an interesting challenge, which I quite enjoyed.
My wish is for audiences of Inhalare to find surprises and joy amongst the works, just as the artists have as they listened, read or visualised the works created through this remote collaboration.
Wagga Wagga artist, Greg Pritchard provided what he described as a ‘turbulent’ sound recording of the Marrambidya Bila (Murrumbidgee River) to emerging Gilgandra artist Clementine Belle McIntosh, resulting in a surprising response.
The work Clementine made, inspired by my soundscape, is so beautiful and I was not expecting that given the turbulence of the river I recorded.
I felt the Inhalare project reached out through the darkness of the once in our lifetime pandemic with opportunity, hope and companionship. – Vicki Luke
It’s humbling to take a step back and look at the impact this six-month project has had on the practices of the artists involved — some of whom have been in practice for decades and others, like Clementine Belle McIntosh, for only a few years.
This project has been a great experience as an emerging regional artist — to be able to collaborate with an artist from a different place and material background was beneficial in enabling me to broaden my own perspective of regional NSW, but also the similarities that string its large geography together.
For established Albury artist Vicki Luke the project offered a lifeline at the end of what had been an incredibly difficult time for many artists.
I felt the Inhalare project reached out through the darkness of the once in our lifetime pandemic with opportunity, hope and companionship. I am a great believer in collaboration, so the thought of sharing like minds across NSW was very refreshing.
Covid has made us feel very remote here on the border of NSW and Victoria, after over 200 days of border restrictions. The divided community hunkered down to make the best of things but it was very tough especially as there was little support or sympathy politically.
That feeling of powerlessness has been mitigated by remote collaboration. I have gained confidence from the Inhalare project as I see my colleagues successfully navigate through these difficult times, and it gives me the impetus to keep going.
It’s going to be hard to top that.
The official opening of Inhalare/breathe upon at SPACE is on Saturday, 11 June (invitation only) with a special message from Accessible Arts CEO, Liz Martin, officiated by Orana Arts Executive Director, Alicia Leggett.
Linked posts – Hear me, feel me, taste me
Inhalare/breathe upon has been funded in stages from a COVID Development Grant through Create NSW (Stage 1), crowdfunding through the Australian Cultural Fund and private funding (Stage 2), and a CTA Experience Marketing Campaign Grant provided by Regional Arts NSW through the Regional Arts Fund, an Australian Government initiative (Stage 3 marketing). The project has also had support from Orana Arts and SPACE.