Making Art on Foreign Soil
Creating your Art in a new environment is a big challenge. We all hear about how amazing and life changing residency programs are (I can attest to this statement in the affirmative) but rarely do we hear of the not-so-lovely side.
Six months ago, lying on the couch in my adorable one bedroom apartment in Melbourne, I had forgotten who I was. Everything that made me happy, everything I was passionate about, and every single last thing I had ever done to cheer myself up…had failed.
Six months ago, if you had told me that I would be in a small Argentinean city on an artist residency program, I would have probably laughed nervously, then cried, very, very loudly.
Six months ago, my mother passed away from what I perceived to be a lifelong battle with addiction and sadness. Here’s a hot tip friends:
Alcoholism + Emphysema + A lack of Nutrition = Well, you can connect the dots…
In a foreign country, daily living requires careful negotiation at the best of times. Basic necessities, such as money, laundry, food and directions, to name just a few, must be relearned. Colliding with the language barrier doesn’t generally hurt that much because you can point at things, use gestures to explain what you need, or at a pinch, you can use Google Translate.
Enter the ‘artist-in-residence’ program. This is where things get interesting.
Trying to explain to your hosts that you’re crying because it’s Mother’s Day and your sinus is congested, plus you’re simply exhausted from adjusting to a new diet is all well and good if you have the words. I didn’t have the words. I could only *just* muster eye contact. Yet they understood. Somehow, in the middle-ground between English and Spanish, between my loose hold of their language and their empathy we connected.
My current PhD project aims to artfully represent a journey of posttraumatic growth in and through creative arts pedagogies in the context of adolescence. It explores the role of the mother/daughter dyad on personal development.
On Mother’s Day, at an ‘asado’ (an Argentinean BBQ), a restaurant in the nearby town of City Bell, the wife of the residency coordinator raises her glass, announcing: “This is for those who cannot be with us today”. The tears could not be held in any longer.
In that moment I understood why I was there, in Argentina, on the residency and the purpose of my PhD project: connection. The difficult connections we share, the fraught relationships we carry with us throughout our lives need to be shared, aired out and accepted.
After gorging myself on the most wonderfully BBQ’d slab of cheese and smoky meat, I began to feel like making Art again. If not for me, for her, my mum, who in her own messy way taught me the value of honouring your story.
So, friends, honour your story and don’t be afraid to burst into tears in a restaurant. They’ll probably be moved because you think their food is THAT good.