12 May 2020
The arts industry is decimated. When the media talks of the arts it usually refers to the performing arts which receive box office returns. That loss is measurable. Not so much has changed for me personally. As a visual artist I’m used to being on the edge in so many ways, paying to be an artist rather than being valued in monetary terms, despite being valued in cultural and critical terms.
To continue producing art I have supplemented my practice by teaching and now, as a casual tertiary lecturer, my casual employment will likely be first in line within the university to be discontinued. I’m not in poverty. I live modestly. But I am again on the edge, dispensable as an educator and ineligible for government support. It’s a given in the system: the arts are not essential.
On Sunday 26 April, a month into Victoria’s Stage 3 restrictions, a howling took place in the hills north east of Melbourne. It was a spontaneous Happening, a collective Performance Art. I live in the bush, north east of Melbourne, an area that became a magnet for artists and environmentalists from the time Clifton Pugh set up an artistic community in the 1950s. The particular pocket I live in is made up of about 30 homes on properties averaging 20 acres.
In the evening of that Sunday a number of us performed a collective though separated howling lasting around five minutes, to thank people who care for us. Others clap, cheer, sing opera – we in the bush howl. The idea was suggested by a woman living on her own for many years amongst us, eccentric though not an artist. So many of us embraced her gesture. We had time to be playful. Isolation was on our side to express a little madness. My partner and I howled at the corner of our balcony over the valleys below as we heard other distant howls around us. It was magical. I could hear the echo of my voice returning to vibrate in my ear. I could simultaneously howl with cathartic freedom and connect to other howls wafting in the air, 150 degrees around me and up to a kilometre away. My people. I felt alive again.
What does an artistic community mean in days of Coronavirus?
Living with the resonance, the legacy of past artists and happenings and provocations. To howl – how appropriate!
Some of our community members work in healthcare and were genuinely moved by the act. Metaphors and symbolism aside, it was a magical experience I’ll never forget. Looks like art is essential after all. Doing art is essential.
I acknowledge the Wurundjeri clan of the Woiwurrung nation, one of the five nations of the Kulin Nations of central Victoria, as the original and traditional owners of this unceded land on which I live and work. I pay respect to their people and their elders past, present and emerging and those who have left us now in the Dreamtime.
Gali Weiss teaches Creative Practice (Visual Arts) at Deakin University and La Trobe University. Gali is an IPCS member and a Visiting Fellow for 2020.