Today, on the 20th anniversary of the attack on the Twin Towers, I looked back at the photos I took at the 9/11 Memorial in September 2019.
The urban beauty of the skyscrapers reaching towards the blue sky surprised me. It was a sunny day with soft white clouds drifting across the sky, their reflections patterning the glass facades of the buildings. I consciously photographed reflections – reflections of the clouds, of the buildings and on the water.
Around the edge of the reflective ponds, the names of those who died and red carnations, remembrance and reflection so simply conveyed.
Here I started taking photos of red lights and signs. Red signifies danger and mayhem: fire engines, the red lights of ambulances and police cars flashing; exit signs – there was no escape; the fire of the underworld – some might say Hell. It did feel an underworld in the Ground Zero Museum.
I ask myself what have we learned, how have we reacted, how have we changed? They are big questions on the world stage. Sometimes I find comfort in small things, like the fact that each day someone puts a white rose next to the name of a person who died on 9/11 to commemorate their birth.
In Queensland, Australia we are fortunate to be in a COVID-19 free bubble. Within the state we can travel freely, taking COVIDSafe measures such as recording our visits to public places, and being more thorough in our infection prevention measures. So, Queenslanders are, like me, taking to the open roads.
Queensland is a vast state, Australia’s second largest state, two and a half times the size of Texas with a population of 5.11 million people, 3.6 of whom live in Brisbane or the south eastern corner. Sometimes it’s a long way between ‘places of interest’ when you leave the coast. These places are not the bucket list, big ticket items like the Grand Canyon or the Tower of London or the ‘big five’ on African Safari.
There is natural beauty, but not of the grand kind; there is ‘white man’s’ history which is by definition short; and there is extraordinary wildlife, but not of the variety that turns the tourists into surrogate game hunters aiming their cameras for the best shot of the beast.
Rather there are small friendly towns, often with evident civic pride and a willingness to share their history with passers by. Such places lend themselves to slowing down after a long drive, having a yarn and a beer with a fellow traveler or a local – whoever is at the bar or more likely on the veranda – at the local pub.
Aussie bush is a bit scrubby and untidy for sure, monotonous even. But when you really start to look, it’s wondrous. Sleepy little towns are easy to pass through without a pause. Each one has a story if you take time to discover it. All that’s needed is willingness to slow down, notice and appreciate the little things, and to start to feel a connection to the amazing land that others knew so well before any Europeans realised it existed.
Today I took some paintings of Bhutan out of storage. I would have been travelling right now, but instead I am preparing for Noosa Open Studios. If it wasn’t for Covid-19, I wouldn’t be opening my studio space up for people to visit. If wasn’t for the border closures between Queensland and the southern states, I probably wouldn’t be opening up the studio either. Our Covid world seems more uncertain and less predictable, even for the lucky ones like Queenslanders who are in an state with virtually no transmission and where contact tracing is swift and effective.
Every day the relentless statistics that are a shorthand way of describing death, grief and distress flash up on my screen. We all need uplifting diversions at the moment, so it was wonderful to remember those amazing wanderings in the verdent mountains. How lucky I have been. Every experience seems all the more precious. We can all travel visually, through art and photograghy.
What do we, as artists do, for the common good of our fellow artists, using social media? The wonderful team at Amanda Woods Design the design company doing an amazing job of promoting Noosa Open Studios got us all together to explain how it’s done. By promoting ourselves and other artists via the Noosa Open Studios social media pages and through our own pages, we are growing both our individual audience and the Noosa Open Studios ‘brand’, thereby making what is already a very popular event in Noosa even bigger. Sounded reasonable to me.
So, even though I struggle to regularly blog and post, or look at other people’s posts and like and comment, I’m making a special effort for the next month – for the common good and for myself. It’s hard. The photos and art sites on my instagram account grow exponentially. Being flooded with so much stuff makes me feel overwhelmed rather than inspired. I probably missed the one that I really would have enjoyed or wanted to look into a little further. Maybe I’ve failed to see something special from a dear friend because I’m always scrolling so furiously to catch up.
But there’s another difficulty for me. If I’m going to be effective, I need to make myself into a name that people want to be associated with. I have to be memorable, I need to let my audience know what I do, and make it sound absolutely fascinating. Given all this, it goes without saying that my artwork will be highly prized, coverted and very much in demand.
OK where do I start?
Suggestion # 1 from the experts. A good catchy bio that grabs attention and summarises what you do. Who am I and what do I do? Blank. Total panic. I know not who I am. That phrase sends me down a rabbit hole looking at quotes from a seventeeth century Punjabi Sufi poet called Bulleh Shah. I’ve got distracted. That’s the whole problem I have with social media. But at least I know that WordPress has the algorithym thing in hand; a WordPress site comes up close to the top when I google “I know not who I am.’
Suggestion #2 from the experts. Check out social media influencers and other artists, see what they do and say about themselves. If you like their style adopt it but make it your own.
I’m sorry, the term social influencers conjures up tight dresses and too much make-up, cleavage and Botox. I know there’s more to it than that but like so many others (apparently) I can’t get past that image. So I start looking at what some of my fellow artists have to say about themselves. Here’s the list of key words:
Award winning Represented in National and International collections Represented by Gallery xxx Winner of xxx Works acquired by (big name, corporation) xxx solo exhibitions Renowned Internationally renowned (better still)
None of them apply to me.
Well, how about my style? (I hate it when people ask.) Oh for a suffix that neatly and precisely describes what I do. None of the “isms” fit – not Impressionism, Realism, Hyper-Realism, Epressionism, Abstract Expressionism, Cubism, Surrealism, to name a few..
The closest I can get to an “ism” is experimentalism. I have an idea or a feeling and look for a visual way to express it or communicate something about it. Sometimes I’m not even aware of exactly what it is that I’m communicating because it won’t go into words, that’s why it’s a painting or a collage or some other visual form. But sometimes words find their way into the visual field. Not sure that experimentalism is it either.
Now that I’ve concluded that there’s absolutely no point in creating some sort of snappy impressive artist persona or description, I’m not stressing about the social media imperative to say who I am or what I do. I’ll just do what I do, as I always have. And as for Noosa Open Studios, I will welcome anyone who comes, with no expectations whatsoever.
I love gathering bits and pieces to make small creative compositions. The act of gathering and arranging various objects is like a reverie that reminds me of people, places and moments.
A nature loving women who bought an artwork at my recent exhibition, gifted me this delicate little nest, found on the the ground in her beautiful tree-filled native garden.
The enterprising little nest maker had gathered polyester fibre, from who knows where, to fashion her nest. I decided to give it a new home in wood, as I imagined that the nest once belonged in a tree or twiggy shrub.
This little collection is a homage to up cycling and recycling. I made the small mosaic ball from an old plastic ball found on the beach, and the oblong wooden bowl was made by a Zimbabwean artisan from an old Rhodesian railway sleeper. Of course the nest in the centre is the the most innovative piece of up cycling.
Gathering and placing objects is a special way of remembering.
My mother has no gravestone. Gravestones, like funerals are for the living. Or for the dying, a re-assurance that somehow, once gone, we will be remembered by a physical marker, something solid and tangible. I really don’t know what mum would have thought about a memorial. When death calls, we forget to ask. I am sure though that she wanted to be remembered. That seems fundamental to being human, a consequence of loving and being loved, and our capacity to feel loss so profoundly.
She is remembered, not just by me and the immediate family, but by so many others whose lives she touched, in small, kind ways. I have come to understand how important small things are. Thank you mum.
Remembering: perhaps this is the best memorial of all.
Tomorrow I will be on the driveway at 6.00 am observing the makeshift Anzac Memorial that my neighbour will unveil on his wall. A news report tonight predicted that driveway memorials might draw a larger number of people than the traditional Anzac Day ceremonies. Such is the power of the idea of collective remembering.
War memorials, like other public memorials such as the Septemeber 11 Memorial in New York, commemorate events that are seared into the collective memory. They keep alive the memory of those who died, while telling a story of the place, the time and circumstance of their death. Generally they provide a collective meeting place for remembering on anniversaries, and at other times invite us to contemplate and make our own meanings.
In country towns all around Australia, the commemorative obilisks dedicated to those who died in the First World War are a familiar and somehow comforting feature. This year the steps or enclosures of these memorials to the fallen will be bereft of floral wreaths. Seeing dying wreaths around these stone pillars after Anzac Day, is a memory from my childhood.