On Being an Artist: Putting Yourself Out There – ACCA panel discussion

On Being an Artist: Putting Yourself Out There – ACCA panel discussion


Kiera Brew Kurec 00:00
Hi everyone, and thanks for listening to Pro Prac. We have a special live recording to share with you this week. This recording

Nick Breedon 00:04
This recording was made at ACCA on the 17th of July 2019. For the panel discussion On Being An Artist: Putting Yourself Out There in conjunction with the exhibition On Vulnerability and Doubt. Our panelists were Kevin Chin, Jesse Scott and Charlie Sofo.

Kiera Brew Kurec 00:19
We would like to thank the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art for providing this platform for us to discuss issues artist face.

Nick Breedon 00:26
We hope you enjoy.

Kiera Brew Kurec 00:43
Hi, everyone. Thank you for coming tonight. So welcome to the Australian Center of Contemporary Art and to our panel discussion On Being an Artist Putting Yourself Out There, which will examine self-doubt, imposter syndrome and the complexities artists face around putting themselves and their work on display, as well as maintaining a creative practice in the face of these vulnerabilities.

Nick Breedon 01:06
Before we begin, we would like to acknowledge the Boon wurrung, the traditional owners and sovereign custodians of the land upon which we meet along with the Wurundjeri and all members of the Kulin nation, and we extend our respects to elder’s past and present and to all First Nations people who join us this evening. I’m Nick Breedon and I’m joined by Kiera Brew Kurec, and we are artists and the creators of the podcast Pro Prac, which explores the professional practice of artists. Tonight, we’re joined by artist Charlie Sofo, whose work is featured in the current show here at ACCA On Vulnerability and Doubt, and artists Kevin Chin and Jesse Scott. Kiera is an artist working in the field of performance and he’s concerned with performance as a means for transformation. Her practice is also concerned with current modes of the presentation and archiving of performance art.

Kiera Brew Kurec 01:51
Nick Breedons practice that uses traditional art making processes and materials to examine nostalgia, queerness, mental illness and neuro diversity, Alongside woo woo, manifestation and aspirational living culture. Nick works as a freelance fine art and audio visual installer. We create Pro Prac together and we created at the beginning of this year because we perceived a gap in the discourse in our community, about how artists live and work and how we can sustain our practices. So tonight’s proceedings, the discussion will run for an hour, we’ll be discussing a range of subjects on the theme on vulnerability and doubt. We’ll have about 15 minutes at the end for questions and for more informal discussion. So we’d like to also introduce our panelists. Charlie Sofo is a Melbourne based artist who works across video, installation, drawing and text Charlie has exhibited nationally in various solo and group projects. He is a doctoral candidate at Monash University’s School of Art and Design, where he also currently teaches and he’s also on the board of Artery a studio cooperative in Northcote.

Nick Breedon 02:54
Kevin Chin‘s paintings assemble fragments from across continents to test how unprecedented transnational flows shape our place in the world. He examines post nationalism, advocating for social inclusiveness. Chin has exhibited widely around Australia as well as solo exhibitions in Japan, Singapore and the USA. Kevin Chin is represented by This Is No Fantasy in Melbourne, and Martin Browne Contemporary in Sydney.

Kiera Brew Kurec 03:18
Jesse Scott is a practicing video artist writer and producer who works across the spectrum of screen culture in Melbourne. She’s currently completing a practice led PhD with the support of the Vice Chancellor scholarship at RMIT. She has two daughters aged four and one and recently presented the report Culture of Silence, Arts Parents Accepting, Rejecting or Adapting to an Unfriendly Workplace along with Nina Ross and Lizzie Samson at the Women Art and Feminism in Australia since 1970 Conference in Melbourne.

Nick Breedon 03:51
Alright, um, we just wanted to start tonight by doing a little experiment in the room. Who here tonight is an artist Put your hand up? Okay, who in the room is an arts worker? Who is both? Okay, who is neither? All right, cool. Now Can everyone please close your eyes and put your hand up in the air, If you have ever experienced imposter syndrome, put your hand down. Alright, for those with your hands in the air, keep them up. If you’ve ever been asked to work for free at your own personal expense and for the benefit of another organization, put your hand down. Alright, keep them up if they’re up. And if you ever felt you couldn’t say no or voiced your opinion on something you thought was wrong in a project you were involved in with the fear of being blacklisted put your hand down.

Kiera Brew Kurec 04:53
If you still have your hands up, you can pop your hands down now.

Nick Breedon 04:56
All right. I think there was one person left with their hand up, which is pretty, pretty extraordinary. So, to all of our panelists, this feeling of imposter syndrome or feeling as if you are not valid or you don’t have permission to occupy space, or put your work out there, it seems to be a feeling that many people identify with across most artistic practices. Along with Australia’s culture of playing down success and tall poppy syndrome, does anybody on the panel have any strategies that they’ve used to overcome the sense of imposter syndrome?

Kevin Chin 05:31
Yes, shortly after I graduated, I did a string of four solo exhibitions at artists run and public spaces over three years. And one of my peers and classmates asked me, gee Kevin, how did you get all these shows? And I was like, well, I applied for them, like, What do you mean? And then they later did, I realized that what she was really saying to me was, Kevin, you don’t deserve to get all these shows. So in terms of, I do think it’s a very Australian thing. In terms of strategies. Well, first of all, I think that that imposter syndrome can be very internalized, but it can come from external sources as well. So in terms of strategies to deal with it, I’ve what I found for myself is that spending some time overseas actually made me realise that it is quite an Australian kind of cultural aspect. And so I would recommend if you can do a residency overseas, or even if you don’t have the resources to do that, if you can speak to people to artist who are coming from a different experience when they are doing residency is here, then it just sort of helps broaden your context and I think that helps.

Kiera Brew Kurec 06:48
Kevin was actually in our first season of Pro Prac. And you kind of spoke at that time about coming to VCA and kind of finding your people and but at the same time, having come from a culturally and linguistically diverse background, you couldn’t really see any role models within the community, Well, a lot of role models within the community, you’ve already kind of addressed some of these things. But if you don’t mind touching on this kind of duality of at one time, coming into a community that’s accepting but at the same time, not seeing yourself represented.

Kevin Chin 07:21
Sure. Yeah definitely at the time when I came through art school, there was a real shortage of people of color that were first or second generation migrants that were established artists, that I felt I could sort of emulate their trajectory. So thematically, the things that I was interested in, in my work were really daggy, like, I was interested in issues of like how you make a home for yourself, and how you create a sense of belonging. And that just, you know, I think that were connected to my migrant experience. And that just was, I mean, at the time, people were more interested in things like surface and infolding architecture. And so it just wasn’t cool. And I think, more so what I really struggled with was that not knowing how, where to put my ethnicity. How do I address it? Like, should it be addressed in the work? Should I put it in other statements, you know, in applications, because really, that was the first thing that everyone wanted to know about me was like, Where are you from, like how long you’ve been here. So I didn’t really feel like I had any mentor figures to really help me navigate that. So I had to kind of figure that out on my own. And in terms of well, vulnerability, and doubt, I think that’s really was a big source of where that came from for me. I think in terms of the community, I think, Well, actually, initially, I, the way I dealt with it was just I didn’t address it at all, I just sort of pretended like I was like everybody else. Because I was kind of embarrassed because most of my classmates were mostly white, most of my teachers were mostly white, I didn’t want to feel like I was different to anyone else. And then the further I went along, the more I realized that I actually had a responsibility to speak about race related issues, because there’s not many of us working in the, you know, art scene in Australia that really can. So and especially with the socio political context that we find ourselves in at the moment with really divisive politics, I’ve really felt a responsibility to not only address it in my work, but also speak about these issues a bit more, which has been quite difficult for me because I don’t feel like there’s been really any precedent in Australia. So I feel like I’m constantly trying to work it out for myself. I do feel like there is a younger, a newer generation of artists now a groundswell who are addressing these themes like I really loved Eugenia Lim’s work in the national at the MCA this year. I really love what Kay Abude is doing at the moment. So I feel like there is in talking about community there’s there is a, you know, a new community forming within the broader arts community. And we might not be besties. Like, we may not know each other super well, but you can at least support each other, even if it’s from a distance.

Kiera Brew Kurec 10:14
Thank you Kevin. Charlie in a discussion that we’re having before tonight, you talked about the complexities and contradictions of living and working within a settler colonial state, and how to navigate your artistic practice whilst living within this context. Maybe just following on from Kevin’s How have you kind of navigated your practice in this state that we’re in currently?

Charlie Sofo 10:39
Thank you. Um, I think, in terms of that conversation, what I was sort of trying to describe was maybe the kind of envelope or the context for not just me my practice, but actually this talk, you know, ACCA, this show. And sometimes it’s quite important to name the thing that you are kind of grappling with, or that we’re grappling with. And so the settler colonial and I think capitalism is probably the third word that should come into that, I think, is the is a useful way to describe it. Um, I think, you know, Kevin pointed out pretty accurately exactly where imposter syndrome sort of fits within that it’s a structural issue, it’s has a lot to do with people who don’t feel included in in the system, entering that system, and trying to navigate their way through it. But I suppose like, you know, the way I think about it is that it’s like, if you think about the kind of the current situation is, it’s like, it’s sort of, you know, about this sort of distribution of precarity. And how that kind of affects people in different ways. It’s not sort of this kind of perfectly symmetrical effect, where everyone is sort of affected by it in the same way. So I would say that, like, you know, as we talk tonight, we can maybe anchor some of the things that we’re saying about our personal experiences, to other kinds of ways of thinking through things politically, to so we can kind of enrich it with a kind of meta discourse about it. Yeah, so that was pretty much my rationale for that.

Kiera Brew Kurec 12:36
I’m gonna move on to our next subject, which is overcoming personal challenges in the public sphere, there are many challenges that we must overcome as artists to continue practicing. And many of these lies within the threshold between personal and the public realm. There are personal issues like physical and mental health and the understanding and navigating our identities, which we must reconcile in the public realm in order to be practicing artists, and many issues in the public realm in which we must personally reconcile in our personal spheres, such as financial and employment inequality and discrimination. I’m just wondering if anyone would like to speak to this, about having personal matters on display within your artwork, and the sense of vulnerability that comes with that.

Jessie Scott 13:22
I can speak to that a little bit, because for the first time ever, I, after I had my first daughter, I made work about myself. And when I was doing my undergrad, when I was doing art school, it was really encouraged not to do that in all kinds of implicit and explicit ways, which I look back on now and I read that as a very, you know, sexist, actually, tendency in the arts to kind of sort of imply that personal work is too sentimental, or it’s too, you’re too close to it or something, which of course, cuts out the narratives of a whole lot of people who are not part of the central paradigm. But yeah, so I still feel really weird about that work that I made, I made some works after I had my daughter Genevieve, that were about the first year after I had her and I kept a diary of every situation where I experienced some kind of frustration or difficulty or embarrassment or awkwardness, or, you know, anguish over this pull between parenting and making art. And then I kind of condensed it and turned it into a PDF artwork, essentially. And when I look back on it now, I have this real sense of ambivalence and almost embarrassment that maybe my struggle is not important or my experience is not important enough to warrant putting it out there in the public realm. And maybe That is that, you know, I’ve now got two kids and the things that I was worried about then seem so, you know, I’m really battle hardened now. Down the track babies just seem like really easy compared to toddlers. But I also think there is like that little voice in the back of my head that, you know, says this is not important. And I just kind of push through it, you know, and I have pushed through it. And I keep putting that work out there. It’s not the main part of my practice, but I keep I keep doing it, because I think, you know, maybe it will encourage other people we need that story in as part of, you know, our collective narrative.

Kiera Brew Kurec 15:39
I’m just wondering as well, this came up in a previous conversation, it was also something that Pip Wallace pointed out at West Space talk two weeks ago. As we were kind of coming up in our careers we were making work about feminism, there were shows about feminism, but no one was labeling it feminism or you weren’t allowed to use the word feminism. I’m just wondering, having come through the Melbourne art world at that time, where that was kind of not cool, if that has like affected the way that you now feel about them creating this work that is highly political and personal at the same time.

Jessie Scott 16:14
Yeah, I mean, I yeah, this is something I teach as well. So I mean, still, even now I students tell me that they’ve been told not to talk about themselves in their work and not to talk about feminism, you’ll get pigeonholed. You know, that all the things that I was told, you know, nearly over 10 years ago now. And I always tell them, no, of course, you absolutely have an absolute right to put yourself in your work to talk about your experience. It’s a political right, it’s a human right, the art should be about whatever the hell you want it to be about, you know, it doesn’t mean you can’t be critical of what you make doesn’t mean you can’t refine it and distill it and, you know, step back from it. But yeah, I think that’s a it’s a, we were all hoodwinked. You know, and I feel really resentful of that now, actually.

Nick Breedon 16:59
Beyonce didn’t get pigeonholed

Kevin Chin 17:03
Yeah, I think it’s, I think it’s interesting that that feeling that it’s not somehow that you’re not important enough or something to have that personal aspect in your work, it seems kind of crazy. Like when it’s kind of critical, really. I’m thinking for myself, having almost like coming from a opposite direction, where I’m almost not given a choice that people always read, because of my appearance. And because of my surname, people always read the personal into my work, like people are always reading, everything I do is, this is a Chinese painting. This is a Chinese painting, I’m like, I’ve never actually put directly Chinese subject matter into any of my work before, but people are always Oh, look at that Chinese bucket. I’m like, it’s a bucket. How is this the Chinese bucket? (Laughter) But I think more recently, I’ve I guess I’ve struggled with like, how do you like if denial is on one end of the spectrum, and owning it is on the other end of the spectrum- Yeah, sort of struggle with working out where, you know, I can sit, but I guess in the last few years, I’ve made a conscious effort to include people of color as the figures in my paintings. And that’s largely because I think, in the context of Australian and just painting historically, there’s been really under representation of people of color. And so I think, you know, it’s, it’s a matter of how you want, you know, using it using the personnel as a strategy to actually achieve something in your work.

Nick Breedon 18:36
As your practices sort of matured, and that you’ve kind of come to this, you know, really great place in your practice, do you feel like there is a difference for both of you, feeling that space now more is like as somebody who’s like maybe more mid-career or like more established as an artist than before, when you were maybe more emerging that you feel more comfortable, kind of like occupying that space, that you’re being that person that you wished you had as a role model? You know, when you were just sort of starting out?

Jessie Scott 19:03
Definitely, I mean, I was Yeah, I was gonna say about imposter syndrome that to a certain extent, over time, the more experience you have, the more confident you become an the less, the more focused, you become on the things you actually care about, and the things that don’t really matter. And tenfold in terms of having children, you just suddenly have no time. And so you just really focus on the things that matter. And a lot of noise just disappears, yeah for sure.

Kevin Chin 19:28
For myself, it’s actually been it’s not about confidence at all, but just feeling the responsibility like that. I’m one of the few people that can address some of these issues. So I sort of feel like I kind of have to.

Charlie Sofo 19:45
I mean, on a personal level, I guess, anecdotal. You know, doing art is pretty much humiliating (laughter), like it’s sort of the whole enterprise is just like one continuous embarrassment. And it’s not that, like, I think that that’s a bad thing, it’s sort of means it’s maybe something might be at stake at certain times. And others sort of, it’s sort of not. But someone told me that like, the kind of the only ways through to humility is through humiliation in some sort of way. So maybe there can be some something salvaged from that experience. And maybe in terms of imposter syndrome, as well. And I’m only saying this to offer additional point, to these kind of structural issues is that maybe being an imposter is, is better, you know, like, this idea of being authentic is kind of a bit bankrupt. You know, what does it mean to be authentic? Because if you feel entitled to something, some role or something, you know, I mean, it, it feels as if that maybe there might be more opportunity, more avenues towards wriggling, you know, through things as someone who is an imposter who doesn’t, who isn’t already signed up and really believes that they’re the real thing. So, yeah,

Jessie Scott 21:12
Can I just say that that thing about humiliation is so true. And that one of the things I think, that I’ve developed is unembarrassedability, that you know, to kick off from the Beyonce reference, I, my motto is a Jay Z, lyric, treat shame, with shamelessness that you just kind of have to accept that vulnerability in your life. And that and, you know, jump into it, basically.

Nick Breedon 21:41
Given that the vast majority of artists are sole traders and have limited support from an employer to learn required skills of a practicing artist, such as public speaking, what techniques or skills have, you had to learn to build the resilience required to overcome the doubt and vulnerability of constantly putting yourself up for critique discrimination and possible failure?

Jessie Scott 22:03
My main one is kind of a political position on this, like, I refuse the label of professional, I use the word practice, but I refuse the idea that what I am is a practitioner, I am unavowed, you know, absolutely, shamelessly a dilettante. I think that the idea that we are professionals is like a neoliberal construct that we have been encouraged to buy into. But the reality is, is that the industry that we work in all the pressure is on us to be professionals, the industry that we work in is so unprofessional, so unregulated, so exploitative, it’s the Wild West, so I, you know, especially I’m only able to practice really, really, really part time at this point in my life. And I’m not going to pretend that I’m a professional. So I don’t put that pressure on myself, I don’t pretend that I can live up to that. And that has been the best thing for my mental health.

Kevin Chin 23:01
I Think just some advice with regards to dealing the resilience with dealing with all the rejection that you get, like, inevitably, with applying for things and not getting them. I think it’s helpful to think because I think as artists, we’re used to seeing our development process as a series of experiments that don’t often work out the way that you want them to. And I think you can see your administrative side of your practice similarly, that, you know, think of the, for example, for the grant application, think of any unsuccessful grant applications as a learning process or experiment that didn’t quite work out at that time. But you always have another chance in your next application to, you know, address to fix what went wrong and, and to make it better. Because you always have, that’s the thing as well as that you always have another chance. Like, it’s never like the end of the road like this, or if you kind of didn’t do a great job that time that’s fine, there’s always another chance to redeem yourself.

Charlie Sofo 24:07
Um, yeah, I mean, like, this is a lot of focus on how things are done, like, you know, we want artists to be professionals and speak very well publicly and not be awkward and arrive on time and, and whatever. But I think, you know, something gets lost is that seems like something that’s important in all this is developing something to say as well like, and letting that being the driver like, behind your, your presentation, because I quite like unprofessional presentations. You know, I don’t think and I think a lot of people sort of like that too. So maybe there’s a bit of like, it’s slightly, I think maybe like that expectation might be bit kind of on some level about an overperformance. So this necessity to always be doing too much all the time. Yeah.

Kiera Brew Kurec 25:11
I wanted to address family vulnerabilities. Jessie, I might go to you first, because you’ve already brought this up, that you have two young daughters age four and one. And you recently completed a report Cultural of Silence, Arts Parents Accepting, rejecting or adapting to an unfriendly workplace along with Nina Ross and Lizzie Sampson. Could you please expand for us upon some of the issues that were identified within the report? rigor regarding working in the arts once becoming a parent? And if this kind of decision to do this report was from direct, firsthand experience, or was it something that was observational, and then, as you became a parent, then started to experience yourself?

Jessie Scott 25:56
Yeah, I mean, I was terrified when I got pregnant about what was going to happen to my career. And I think that’s like a really common thing for people who are artists and want to have kids that it takes a long time to decide or to even consider it an option, because you know, how hard it is to maintain a practice, let alone to add a kid into the mix. And, and my greatest fear actually was that I wasn’t going to think art was important anymore. And it was the opposite. As soon as I had my baby, I, it was like, almost instant, this sense of like, No, of course, it’s still important, then, of course, I still want to make work. And of course, I still have ideas. And I was, there was I was really lucky that there was a group of friends who were artists who were all kind of doing the same thing at the same time. And we formed a little bit of a kind of a loose collective slash mums group, and started doing some collaborations together. And that’s it was through that group that the idea for this survey came about, in terms of what the findings of the survey were, some of it was completely unsurprising. It just validated what we knew anecdotally, from our experience, and conversations with other artists, parents, but so yeah, you have less time that goes without saying, you’re less flexible. You can’t attend events as much studio practice becomes really difficult. But what was really interesting was drilling down into the flow on effects of this. And that was where the really surprising or interesting stuff came out in that gallery openings and events and the studio were identified almost universally is like these really important sites for artists of informal and sometimes formal networking. A lot of opportunities came up from casual social engagement. And when you can’t attend those events, or when it’s made difficult for you, all of a sudden, a lot of those opportunities are just removed, curators forget you exist, they don’t, you know, keep asking you, you know about your work. You’re not out there telling people about your work as well. You’re not having those kinds of conversations, that classic conversation like what are you working on now, you know, and also residencies are also another another site where, you know, children are not accommodated or welcome. And then what happens is, people eventually drop out, you know, they might, you know, have a practice, they might modify their practice, make it smaller scale or different venues for it. But in for many people, it becomes too hard to maintain what is expected of an artist to be totally available all the time to be working, you know, overworking all the time to be out there being this kind of sole trader who’s like a PR machine and, you know, every, you know, admin person and a grant writer and an art maker all at once. And, yeah, I think that. For me, what it really revealed was, was that model like what is that model of ideal practice? And where does that come from? And, like, really importantly, who does it actually serve? Because even if you’re not a parent, even if you have no interest in having kids, your life will change over time, things will happen. You might have to look after a sick parent, you might, you know, a partner might be ill or you know that your financial situation might change. You might get sick, life changes, and it is very wrong, that we are living with a model that doesn’t that presupposes that you will always be this perfect worker bee that’s totally available all the time. So yeah, that was what was kind of interesting for me.

Kiera Brew Kurec 29:40
Thank you. I want to extend this discussion about family and vulnerabilities to everyone on the panel. So Nick, You’re the only one This doesn’t really apply to you, but the rest of us on the panel are either migrants are children of migrants. And I’m wondering if anyone would like to share any experiences about their family reaction to their decision of becoming an artist or if this was something that was encouraged or discouraged within the family, when you were younger.

Charlie Sofo 30:14
My parents, a first generation Italians, I think what was good is that they kind of had some culture growing up. So there’s a sense that there was this thing. Food was good. But you know, and you know, going back to my earlier point, like, you know, if you’re, if you’re not Aboriginal, in this country, you sort of an uninvited guests here, essentially, a settler, you know. So in some way, kind of having some direct link and tangible link to what it is, what cultural context you come out of is, is is really beneficial kind of anchors you into things. And my, my family’s really generous in that way. I don’t feel that it’s that significant, sort of, personally, around coming to be an artist isn’t like the fifth child and a big family and I sort of you just kind of get left alone. And so I don’t really, there was no kind of mass sort of disciplinary thing coming down on me, I think, for my oldest brother had that.

Jessie Scott 31:24
Yeah, um, so my family are of migrant extraction, but probably a few generations further back, than these guys, and they were people who valued education and culture. So Greek on my dad’s side, Irish Catholic on the other. And so I feel like that was a huge privilege, actually, even though you know, we weren’t, we certainly weren’t rich, and I, you know, didn’t come from affluent background, that has been probably much more of a privilege than anything else, just the the idea that like, you know art is valuable and, and something worth pursuing. Although, my grandparents did want me to pursue science instead, and always used to say, you can do that art a hobby. And so, Doris, and George, I just want to say I am, that’s what I’m doing. I’m doing it as a hobby, you should so proud of me (Laughter)

Kevin Chin 32:22
Yeah, I think my parents would have probably preferred if I’d been a drug smuggler, because then at least you’re making some proper money (laughter). I definitely had a tricky experience with my migrant background, and it’s something that I’d been quite a little embarrassed about at times and grow, you know, kind of, especially going to art school with everyone else had this perfect white teeth and I was kind of just feeling a bit, I don’t know, less than or something. But um, what I would say to that is that no matter what your family background is, I think with no matter what, for any negative you associate with it, I think there’s a positive that you can kind of think of it in a different way. Like, for me, like my Mum, it’s a typical migrant story, I guess that my Mum could, if you give her 50 cents, she’ll turn it into $5 by the end of the week. So even though we may, they may not have been able to help me that much financially. They gave me the skills, the life skills that I needed to be able to really function as an artist, because as we know, being able to survive on very little money is actually a really important skill as an artist. So yeah, I think, yeah, no matter what, whatever, whatever it is, that your family background is, I think you can find the focus on how it’s actually helping you.

Kiera Brew Kurec 33:47
Yeah, I can definitely identify with what you’re saying there Kevin, I think my family’s experience, I have had conversations with my Mum questioning about why she’s one of six and that creativity is such a strong part of their family. And when I think it’s like holding on to culture when you’re being forced to leave your home. And to it’s like about being practical and that like practical skills, often lead to creativity, because you are working with your hands and you have to do something, you have to fix something, you learn those skills, and that’s kind of what gets passed down as well, is kind of a making and doing.

Nick Breedon 34:24
So following on from talking about the financial aspect of that question. We use Pro Prac as a place to share knowledge and ideas with the intention to support each other and build stronger community within the arts. We wanted to ask you all if you have any advice or hot tips, hard lessons learned or general advice on how to be less financially vulnerable in your arts practice.

Kevin Chin 34:48
I think when I graduated, a lot of my classmates went on the NEIS scheme or the Centre Link scheme where basically if you started your own business, which arts is then you could basically get Centrelink for a year without needing to apply for jobs. So at that time, straight out of school, everyone did had amazing this one amazing year where they had outcomes everywhere. And then you never heard anything from them after that one year. So I would suggest that if Centrelink is part of your financial plan, you need to, you need another financial plan, because it’s just putting yourself into a vulnerable position. So I’d recommend if you have any other way to upskill in something other than the arts, that you can support yourself with part time, that’s really useful. I mean, for myself, when I graduated, I did a four week course called CELTA, which allowed which qualified me to teach English as a second language in private colleges. And that was a job that I managed that I kept for a few years. I think before that I had been working in retail, like I was a checkout chick at office works. And I’d also worked at Myer. And what I found with that supporting my practice was that it was very hard for me to maintain a morale like and to maintain my sense of self confidence. So when I managed to transition to this teaching job, I found that not only was the income better, like a part time income, that was better, that really helped a lot. But just feeling like, not all, not all my eggs were in the artists basket like that I had something else going part time, just helpful in terms of resilience. Like when I did get those rejections as an artist, it wasn’t so much like the whole, my whole world was gonna fall apart because I had this other part time job, as well

Jessie Scott 36:45
get a job that has super, get a job that has leave, get a job that has sick leave and annual leave. Yeah, I worked in retail as well. And I actually really loved working in retail, but you just didn’t earn enough per hour, like you had to work so much. And it was so vulnerable, that I ended up doing worked a little bit in arts admin, for a little while. And then I realized I could earn so much more doing essentially the same work in a different industry. And so that’s what I did, I ended up working in research admin. And that’s what I’ve done for the last 10 years, essentially, at a university. And it’s not the highest paying job in the world. But in terms of conditions, it’s supported my practice, basically, I have self-financed most of my work,

Nick Breedon 37:31
Kind of in contrary to what you’re saying, When I became a freelance art installer or AV installer, it actually gave me a lot of the the skills to negotiate my practice a lot better, and pushing back in trying to get you know, paid more for things or just, you know, understanding when an opportunity isn’t actually very good for you financially. So yeah, freelancing can sometimes be a good opportunity.

Kiera Brew Kurec 37:57
Charlie, I’m wondering if you could speak for a moment about what your experience of navigating spaces between the university sector and showing in institutions, as well as kind of on the other end of the spectrum, having a studio artery, which is a co op.

Charlie Sofo 38:17
Yeah, so I suppose my passage into art has been through kind of navigating difficult institutions, but partly also trying to, in a sense, and in a really critical way, but and I don’t like saying this, but it’s like, almost trying to believe in the ideal of like a public institution, you go through a public university, or you, you know, you show in these public spaces, I used to work in a library. And I suppose, earlier on in my 20s, I think, the kind of ideology, the thing I was thinking about was, how can these spaces be kind of inclusive spaces that allow, you know, people to dwell and, and, and whatnot, but, you know, we’ve seen that they’re not they don’t, institutions don’t really act in the interests of like, public and people who are vulnerable. They’re also mechanisms of, you know, power and whatever. So, you know, you kind of have to carry contradictory sort of commitments. With you, when you kind of navigate these, these spaces. I mean, you know, the, the kind of tips around trying to make it as an artist is really, really important tips. But if the conditions which, which are kind of austerity, if kind of politically if this just continues to deepen, then precarity is only going to increase as well. So we always have to kind of survive every day and learn how to support each other but also think about bigger issues. It’s around what we want the kind of what we want our political system to be, and who we want it to support a co-op. So just, you know, they’re part of the other formulations of organizing people, which are nonprofits and individuals have voting rights, there’s no sort of in it. It’s a kind of democratic kind of organization. It’s just one of the many models of organizing things. That doesn’t put the profit motive at the top of the of the equation. So yeah, I think I’m into it. I think it’s good. I mean, it’s hard. But you know,

Jessie Scott 40:38
it’s really interesting, the first 10 years of my practice was working in cooperative collectives. So I was part of a group called 123 TV, and then Tape projects for seven years. And then we made my friend Eugenia Lim, who you mentioned before we started a video art festival and thought of that, I think, and probably I, no doubt, it’s the same for you, Charlie, that part of that instinct is that when you see an art world that you don’t fit into, or doesn’t make space for you, there’s this kind of instinct to, like, make the art world you want to exist in. And I think that’s really important. And that’s something that I would, you know, encourage, I mean, I think young people are doing that anyway, I think that they’re coming into, you know, an environment that has been experiencing increasing austerity for the last 15 years, like every year, it gets harder every year, it gets tighter. Every year, they take away more funding, it gets more competitive. And I think young people are actually not falling into the trap of being sort of, you know, isolated, and just looking after themselves, or just in that survival mode and thinking more collectively, which is really encouraging.

Kiera Brew Kurec 41:46
Yeah, well, I think you’ve kind of already given an answer to this final question that I’m going to ask before we hand it over to the floor. But does anyone have any suggestions or thoughts how artists can support each other to ensure that we’re thriving in all areas financially, physically, mentally, and keeping ourselves out of such extreme vulnerability so that we are working more collectively?

Jessie Scott 42:13
I think, like the Pro Prac, the podcast like transparency, being honest with each other, not being afraid to like, talk to each other about these things. And be honest about your financial situation, it used to be terribly gauche to talk about, you know, like, you just be looking at people and thinking, how do they, how do they get by? How do they do that? Like, you know, so yeah, I think that, yeah, this kind of transparency is like opening up those private spaces and talking about what we’re all going through is really important to build solidarity.

Kiera Brew Kurec 42:48
Thank you. Maybe we’ll hand that over to the floor. Does anyone have any questions?

Question From the Audience 42:56
I just wanted to follow immediately from that, and ask how often do you find yourself talking about money with other artists?

Jessie Scott 43:04
pretty often now I gotta say.

Nick Breedon 43:07
I think when I was a lot younger, it was the kind of thing that would only open up after a couple of drinks at a bar. And I think part of our motivation with making Pro Prac was actually to bring a lot of those conversations that people were having, you know, when they’ve maybe relaxed a little bit, and they’re, you know, telling each other the truth out into the opening so we tried to, you know, open that up.

Jessie Scott 43:32
There’s really excellent website project by Nina Ross and Gabrielle De Vietri called arts log. And it’s where people can submit anonymous, or identified stories of their financial difficulties, experiences of exploitation, different positive experiences they’ve had in the arts as well. And that, I think, is a really, I mean, you read, it’s just like, Oh, my God, you know, like, it’s a fantastic read. But it’s also just a fantastic initiative to demystify those things.

Question From the Audience 44:05
I actually had more of a comment, really than a question, but around the same point of solidarity and openness. I think that we actually need to support each other in much more visceral ways than simply saying we act in solidarity. So for instance, an Arts Festival I was working on working with working for a few years ago, I realized that they weren’t planning to pay me and kicked up a public stink about it since being blacklisted, which is fine. But I’ve just found out in the last couple of years, there’s a number of artists who were not paid for their work, who were told at the beginning that they would be. So if people had actually stood up at that point and said, Hey, you know what, it’s not cool that you’re not paying one or two people. None of us are going to work for you. Then there wouldn’t have been an arts festival. There wouldn’t have been a whole lot of money going into someone’s hand and a bunch of other people unpaid at the end of that. So actually being brave enough to stand up in solidarity, I think is really important.

Kiera Brew Kurec 45:13
I totally agree. And creating space and support for people to be able to stand up and feel like that they, if they stand up, that they’re not going to, like, be blacklisted, and fall off the face of the earth because of it, that they have a community behind them. And that it’s so scary to speak up. It’s also really scary when you’re dealing with arts organizations that for funding or whatever, and all you’ve got is one person at the end of the phone to talk to and you don’t know who’s on those boards and who’s, it’s really hard. So I think, I don’t know if there’s one way, but I think making sure that you can create a support network for yourself, whether that be close friends in the arts or outside of the arts to support you, but also, yeah, I think it’s everyone’s responsibility to make sure people are protected,

Jessie Scott 46:04
it would help if we had a union.

Kiera Brew Kurec 46:06
Yes, this is a constant conversation we have a union would be vital. Yeah,

Jessie Scott 46:13
there are people I mean, I know that there there is there are people who are looking into that and who want to do that. And it’s not they are butting up against a lot of resistance, from certain quarters, but it is you know, it, we’re unrepresented. We’re just having to like as individuals deal with these massively more powerful institutions than us and that is unfair.

Question From the Audience 46:40
Thanks. So just interested in what in like what you think a union structure would look like in the current terrain that you’re working in terms of it not being a sector that has sort of regular standards of, of pay or conditions or there’s so much irregularity across it.

Jessie Scott 47:01
And look, I really appreciate the work that NAVA has done in terms of setting fees, and standards, but they have no way of enforcing them. And part of the problem is that, you know, they’re kind of a fake union, and you can’t represent the bosses and the workers at the same time. So I think we need and you also can’t do it, when you just have an office, you know, on sandwich Wharf in Woolloomooloo. Like you need an office in every state in every city. And I think it possibly needs to be more artists representing themselves and our interests and our needs. Like it needs to be driven by our by collective action, basically. But we’re all used to working as in silos, you know, like, and that’s why these sharing platforms are really important, because they break the tension, they break the stigma of talking about these things. And that’s where you can start to build consensus.

Question From the Audience 47:56
Thanks. I was just wondering if, I mean, this could be directed at any of you, but maybe you first Charlie, on the idea of doubt, and making anything at all, I guess, you know, having doubts about even being an artist, or contributing or making, you know, an additional thing, something else that goes in the world? Why even bother doing that at all?

Charlie Sofo 48:29
Yeah, this, I think, you know, there’s a lot of doubt about contemporary art. Like, what is, what does it mean? And what does it mean? Who, who does it belong to and who belongs to it sort of thing. So it’s already, like, wracked with doubt doesn’t have any, the whole space of it is kind of, you know, up for debate, really, people aren’t even sure if it means anything. Like, I’m so that’s the environment already, so like, doubt permeates. How do you make something is that does that guess

Question From the Audience 49:07
what I’m asking is, you know, like, what, why? You know, you have that doubt about like making something or being an artist or feeling guilty even being an artist, like why spend the time in the studio as opposed to working at a charity or something?

Charlie Sofo 49:22
A lot of artists do, I was gonna say in terms of supplement, but the comment about unions, artists don’t just make art, they work in other areas, and they’re part of other unions. So any artists union, and there have been attempts at different stages. And yeah, they do fall down because this kind of art community is not this cohesive sort of thing. But if there is to be one, it needs to work out other unions work, which is by interfacing with other sorts of creating the solidarity that you talked about. So the answer is do do everything. Do both. I mean, we want art to work hard, like we want it to do lots of things. And, you know, it’s really Right, if we can just do one thing, like sometimes sometimes it doesn’t feel like it does anything to So, you know, like, we don’t have to pack everything into it. We don’t have to show everything in, you know, there’s a lot of work to be done kind of, you know, politically and socially and whatever. So I would say I don’t I don’t see those things in conflict. I don’t think they need to be at odds with each other. Working in an organization being asked, Does anyone else have any thoughts about that?

Nick Breedon 50:27
Just don’t go down that hole, don’t. (laughter)

Jessie Scott 50:32
I think it’s been like a central conflict of my practice. But the whole time I’ve been practicing as an artist that I have never felt like I’m really good at it. And that almost drives me to do it. And I feel like I have a friend who has asked me numerous times over the years, like, if you were like on a desert island, and you were the last person alive, would you still make art? Like if there was no one to see it and no audience? And my answer has always been like, Yeah, because you don’t really like you driven somewhere inside you to do it. Like there is something ineffable about that. And that’s not rational. And even, you know, being an artist for 15 years and thinking I’m not very good at it, and not having much objective success at it either. I’m still doing it like What’s wrong with me? I don’t know. Is this something just essentially not rational about it.

Kiera Brew Kurec 51:30
I think that question of like, putting something out there making something like why are you putting something in a space like it has actually been something that has dictated the materials that I use within and the fact that I work within performance to create immaterial work so that I’m not contributing more stuff into the world. So it’s been like a core question for me to ask about, who am I to put something else create something else? Another product into the world, essentially. So yeah, I think it’s important to ask that question. But it’s also I think it’s important to not get to distracted by it too

Kevin Chin 52:16
In terms of doubt while I genuinely wholeheartedly believe in the ability of art to affect social change. And that’s enough for me.

Kiera Brew Kurec 52:25
Do we have any other questions?

Question From the Audience 52:27
Hi, um, I was just reflecting on like Hannah Gatsby’s Nanette screening, and she makes a comment that you know, the reason Vincent Van Gogh wasn’t successful was because he had mental illness and was shit at networking. And and I think it’s like, I work with Arts Access, Victoria and Victorian Mental Illness Awareness, counseling, and support students with disabilities that types and stuff to complete their studies. And yeah, that there’s, like vulnerability and doubt is definitely on a spectrum. You know, and there’s like, a lot of practitioners in in the arts field, that, yeah, like, definitely don’t have a lot of self-confidence don’t have a lot of sense of not having net worth and value as an arts maker recognize, depending on circumstance, and marginalization and stuff, and what responsibility I guess the kind of mainstream economically viable arts community has, in kind of, like, creating pathways for those people that are, yeah, maybe got diagnosed with a severe mental illness and found it hard to do a tertiary study in fine arts or something. And, and yeah, what what mechanisms are in place to include those practitioners in, in the Australian arts scene?

Jessie Scott 54:08
I think that research that I did around parenting in the arts and made me very aware of like, Okay, so, you know, it was about, essentially, the experience I could relate to of being a parent, but it revealed so many things like, I mean, so many galleries are in spaces that are inaccessible, just to begin with, so many events are you know, at the really like rigid times, opening hours are really rigid times, install protocols are really rigid. They really presuppose like a particular norm, and anyone who falls outside of that norm is just invisible. You know, like, that’s what, that’s what it really brought home to me. And I feel incredibly grateful for all the work that artists of color artists with disabilities, artists from, you know, the queer community, LGBTIQ community who have created a dialogue around these things that enabled me to talk about my experience. Like I feel like that no one would be listening to what I have to say if that if that work hadn’t been, those activists and artists hadn’t already been kind of like pushing for years and years to to be heard. And there is a lot there is a lot of work that galleries need to do to to make their spaces and processes and opportunities more accessible. That’s all I can say for that.

Kiera Brew Kurec 55:42
Yeah, I agree 100%, about creating spaces, openings that are more accessible. Also, the interface in terms of approaching a gallery in any way can be incredibly intimidating. And I think there’s a lot of caretaking that institutions should be aware of and that they have the responsibility to do to create a space for people to come to to do work, essentially, people are artists, and they work and why are they not being catered for? They’re there to work, they’re showing up? those spaces aren’t.

Question From the Audience 56:21
I just wanted to ask about community and you’ve both you’ve all touched on it at some with some relevance. online versus offline, you know, in real life, where have you found each of those aspects, in your artistic practices?

Kevin Chin 56:38
I have to say, because I’m a bit of a recluse, like, I’m not particularly outgoing. So for me, in terms of connecting to the community, I actually really hate social media, I have to say, because I feel like it’s just yet another administrative thing that I have to do. But in some ways, it is actually being quite useful in tapping into community what I was saying before about, you know, connecting with artists that you don’t necessarily know or might be regional or Interstate and, but actually being able to just say, Hey, I really love what you’re doing, you know, pat, on the back type of thing, I think it’s kind of really helpful and kind of really nice.

Nick Breedon 57:17
Yeah, I suppose those resources that Jessie was just talking about arts log, you know, things like that online, help us to create communities by having some level of anonymity and being able to discuss financial situations that we’ve been or vulnerabilities that, you know, institutions have put us in or, you know, whatever it is, being having a layer of, you know, anonymity is, is really helpful in those situations, because, you know, like, the person in the front there said before, it’s, it’s really challenging to speak up when you’re only representing yourself, and when a lot of other people can actually give a story about one particular bad, you know, institution or organization or person or whoever it is, if those start kind of like adding up people can start to, you know, know that that’s maybe not a great place to hang out.

Jessie Scott 58:15
It’s definitely been a lifeline for me, since having children and I, there’s like several friends in the art world who I basically only converse with through Instagram, you know, direct messages. But I’m so grateful to have that channel, you know, like, I’m so grateful to still be able to communicate. Yeah, I mean, it’s never the same as in real life. And things can be miscommunicated online or misrepresented. There’s a lot of kind of like lifestyle not bragging, but just kind of like people, you know, curating the their image online that can actually cause stress, you know, if you’re not able to participate in those things. But, yeah, pluses and minuses of the

Nick Breedon 59:01
ok last one.

Question From the Audience 59:03
They say that you’re your own worst critic. So I was wondering how you guys develop healthy process of self-critique, and how you guys like, face your own inadequacies, whether it goes with like the ideas you produce behind your work, or the actual abilities of like, making stuff and, like thinking about what you’ve made is of value or in a sense of value to yourself at least

Kiera Brew Kurec 59:31
Two things. One, I think I got to a stage where I just let my practice, be my practice and realise that isn’t me, and that my practice is going to keep evolving and changing and I can have input to it. But essentially, at the end of the day, my practice is not who I am, and my practice is not me. So once I could make that definition of a divide between us, I could trust my practice and know that I can show up to work each day in the studio, and it will come and meet me there. And I will then, you know, it will show up to. Once I trusted that, then there was so much anxiety lifted off me. But at the same time, when we created this podcast, I was freaking out, I’m still freaking out every time that we put out an episode like, that is another element of my practice that I haven’t yet formed that relationship to. So I think it’s, you know, time and understanding, and maybe one day, I will not be so scared of public speaking and putting out podcast, who knows,

Jessie Scott 1:00:37
think that anxiety about not being good enough, like stop me from making work a lot when I was younger. And now I would rather just make it and not question and then critique it later. But also, like, I think it’s okay to just come from an assumption that, like, it’s not going to be very good. And that or that you’re not going to be very good to begin with. And critique is an opportunity to learn and to get better and to improve, and you should embrace it and learn to disregard the things that you don’t really strongly don’t think apply and learn to embrace the things that are going to help you. And that’s just something that you learn over time, I think,

Nick Breedon 1:01:16
on a more practical note, my my practices is quite technically challenging at times. And I quite often find that, you know, once I finished the entire body of work, and I exhibited that it all looks terrible, because as you’re making something, you’re actually getting better, you’re learning how to make it as you’re making it. So by the time you’ve finished making it, the stuff that like when you started, it was worse than when you finished it. So quite often, everything that I make looks worse. So you just have to, for me, it’s like it’s sort of like, Okay, well, when I do it next time, it’ll be even better and kind of coming to terms with that process that like, you know, making the work is, is the practice, you know, you’re practicing making the work while you’re making the work.

Charlie Sofo 1:02:03
I mean, also just think it’s, you know, making art is trying to make something available to other people, like you’re trying to make something that’s kind of, of some use, in some, on some level not doesn’t have to have mass appeal or whatever, you know, or maybe people might be able to hang a feeling on what what you’re doing. So in that sense, it doesn’t have to be about being great. Or being shit, you know, like, can it just be something where like, some act of generosity to you know, like some sort of some sort of offering that you put out and sense out use as a tool to kind of sense whether it might might be of use to someone.

Nick Breedon 1:02:46
That’s really lovely. It’s a really nice note to end on. I think so. Thanks, everybody, for coming.

Kiera Brew Kurec 1:02:52
And thanks to all our panelists, and thank you to Adriane from ACCA for organizing tonight as well. So thanks