I recently published a book called From This Place (in collaboration with photographer Angela Rivas) and had the pleasure of interviewing fourteen diverse women artists from a range of genres including painting, mixed media, ceramics and, of course, writing.

As we dived deeper and deeper into this work, I couldn’t help but notice one key difference between the visual artists and the writers.

The visual artists, especially those who had exhibited at some point, had all prepared artist statements. And it occurred to me that writing such a statement is not something writers typically do. I had never written one so I set myself the task.

And I found it illuminating.

Without a real process to follow, I instinctually went to the page and started to write.

I wrote about what I enjoyed writing about.

I wrote about what message I wanted to leave with people.

I wrote about what was important to me and I wrote about the kind of language I liked to play with.

I wrote about what value I gave to my writing and what I wrote.

I dug deep and I wrote honestly about the writing I do. Sometimes what came out surprised me, but in those 2-3 pages of journaling I started to find those steady places where the moment of truth emerges.

I let those pages wash over me and circled the words that carried energy for me. These words then danced into prose-like sentences, and something came alive. I felt known.

An artist statement is not a formulaic ‘fill the gaps’ type paragraph or two but rather an emanation of the soul purpose and why we create. Of real value was the exploration into those values – my statement is a living breathing metaphor for a life lived from the deepest part of me.

The process clarified me, burned away all the things I thought sounded good or would make me a living and left me with the truth of my writing practice.

In 99 words, I managed to speak up about my writing and claim my writers’ heart. That is what, I think,  a true artist statement is – a piece of the heart that brings others into your work and takes you beyond your boundaries of if, should and if only.

Here I am:

I am interested in revealing the untold tales of women and their souls.

 In freeing a woman’s voice.

In elevating the feminine.

To craft and be wholly of the feminine in way and word. To ride on the back of instinct and to write.

 

I look for the spaces in which we may seek our rest.

Where words provide pause.

Where beauty cracks us open.

This is what my own heart seeks most – to be broken by beauty and for words to become the imperfect veins of gold that allow us to weep and let us truly be. 

 

What is your’s?

Photo credit Angela Rivas

One of the most powerful and challenging aspects of our From This Place project was the Essence shoot where we asked each artist to work with us to curate their own unique portrait for the book and exhibition.

As we explored what From This Place was actually about, it became clear that ‘being seen’ and ‘being heard’ were key themes. At times this was an uncomfortable prickly space for all of us and I am so humbled by the bravery these women showed as they supported our vision.

The Essence photo was born from the feeling that there was something more, something unseen, something held in the inner life as a secret ambition or vulnerability. In the sharing  of that inner and most soulful place, the artists of From This Place have shown us their ‘essence’ the thing that makes them who they truly are.

And from that place, we view these portraits as expressions of magnificence and beauty. These are not glamour portraits, touched up to make people look impossibly appealing, these are real and honest, and they are portraits that have the power to move you.

What we didn’t realise when we started these shoots was how much the artist would bring themselves to the shoot, how much their individual creativity would shine through – the ceramicist painted her body in slip clay, we had golden water nymphs, magical goddesses, women of the forest and cups of tea.  In each portrait, their art was truly present.

It wasn’t easy for many of them. Most of us are uncomfortable in front of a camera and being the sole subject matter only amplifies the discomfort.  There were reservations, and transformations around body image and the impossible pressures of the standards of beauty in our world. There were slow intricate steps from wanting to hide behind to being seen and for many of the women this represented a profound shift in how they felt about themselves. Who are you without special effects, makeup, Photoshop, a carefully mediated image? The answer is you are you, and there is no place to hide.

We couldn’t ask others to do what we weren’t prepared to do ourselves so both Angela and I also had an Essence portrait. Angela’s truest self created a ritual around shaving her head and all that represented for her in moving forward in life. I put my portrait off again and again while I tried to figure out how I wanted to reveal myself. Every time it started to feel too complex, too many props (I didn’t really need my antique typewriter surely), too much posturing (I want to be seen like this but not this, left not right, from behind not in front), in these clothes, or maybe these or these, I had to capture myself and strip it all right back. In the end it was a rainy 10 degree day and my only desire was to be outside in nature with my horse. I ended up in the dam in the paddock where my horse lives (she wasn’t having anything to do with the light reflector) covered in mud. A kind of primal birthing out of the waters, at one with the earth, the water, the sky. It carried the same feeling as when I first walked out of the desert near Alice Springs having spent 5 days alone vision questing. Dirty but wanting for absolutely nothing, so full and happy and alive in my skin.

Angela rang me late that night after she had previewed the photos. As we chatted she sent me image after image until there was one that both of us fell silent on.

That’s the one.

We knew it instinctively. This portrait we chose for the exhibition makes me think of conjuring water. It feels right on the edge of uncomfortable for me but that is what makes it real. Later that night I revisited a short piece of prose I had written about ‘the water writing my hand’. I’d written it months before the first artist interview for the book after taking a walk beside the Yarra River in Warburton. I’d had no intention of including it in the book but suddenly I saw those words and this image in perfect harmony. Something had worked magic under the surface and I couldn’t deny it. That prose became the preface of our book From This Place and it gives me pause every time I read it.

How deeply our stories run beneath the surface, not just for my portrait but for every Essence portrait in our book. Angela has a profoundly beautiful way of capturing women in their fullness so that the world can bask in the knowing that we are all amazing, gifted, powerful creatures of life. I stand in awe of her and all the women who said yes to sharing their most essential self with us.

I attended my first ever writers retreat on the weekend (I know!) and this is one of the pieces that came out. The prompt was ‘home’. We had ten minutes. Here it is exactly as it came out.

I am most at home when I am in beauty.

This is not about walls or décor or even the people I share my space with but instead a sense of pause. Home is the place within where I find the nothing part of me that is simply content to breathe out and feel no urgency or regret.

Home is in a blade of grass outside under a random sky – where I am not molded to fit a chair or required to place my cup just so.

Home is a freedom that puts aside expectation and removes the boundary of my body.

At home I have no skin. My bones are the rivers of the earth and my flesh is food – the degenerating leaf litter than nourishes the forest floor so that tiny fronds of fern can unfurl from their homes.

My home is as vast as I am, not anchored to location, not repeatable or able to be captured in a painting. At this home I am the invitation, not a guest, not a place but an idea, an expression, a gathering of those things close my soul.

I cannot leave my home and the winds blow the curtains at my window even when I am absent. Outside, my place of worship–of writing, I look to a horizon the curves across the contours of my skin. Home believes in herself, and as I close my eyes I can feel the embrace of a thousand trees. I have travelled in ever smaller circles to find this home and in this desire to stop moving, home has covered my eyes, touched my forehead as a mother does and said ‘enough’.

 

 

 

 

Know thyself.

I don’t think there is a single place in our lives where this isn’t relevant.

I am often asked to write PR releases or web content and, for me, the client’s self-awareness of who and what they are about is far more important than their latest SWOT analysis, or KPI (in fact I avoid this jargon on purpose).

Writing great copy requires emotional integrity and honesty. That’s the key to connecting with purpose to the people you are communicating with. You could say it’s part psychology, part writing and part marketing. The questions I ask of clients are the same ones I have muddled over in my own working and personal life. The answers shift over time as I evolve and respond to new opportunities but the ‘work’ in having strong and thoughtful responses to these questions makes everything else that you do flow.

Contemplate your responses to these questions and the writing – whether you engage a professional or want to prepare something yourself­–will be richer, easier and real– touching people where it needs to. Sometimes it’s just a few words that make all the difference.

Here are 10 provocations that can inspire deeper thought (and always more questions!)

  1. My work matters because…
  2. I am passionate about this because…
  3. My authority in this lies in my…
  4. Without this (your service/product etc) the world will…
  5. The three things you will learn/gain from my service/product are…
  6. This is unique because…
  7. How I want you to benefit from this is to…
  8. I stand for (3-5 defining words about who you are)…
  9. What is or where is my edge? Where will it grow…
  10. What do I yearn for?

The more you know your Self, the easier the answers will be, and your brilliance will flow naturally from this source.

There is something profoundly satisfying about having the earth ground into my skin. A primal feeling, a recognition of where I came from and where I am going.  Dirt is realness, an unmediated, unedited offering from under our feet, without which we would die. When I imagine being born, I feel the body emerging from deep crevices in the earth. Dying is a scattering that returns to the same place. In between is life, and it is dirt that makes me feel equally humble and powerful.

When photographer Angela Rivas and I were conceptualising our From This Place project we asked each of the artists to cultivate their own ‘Essence’ photoshoot, to be seen the way they wanted to be seen. And we also realised we could not ask this of others without being prepared to do it ourselves. It actually took me many months to gather the courage to do my Essence photoshoot. I had many ideas, but as soon as an idea started growing in complexity, I realised I was trying too much and wasn’t finding my Essence. The question ‘who was I without anything else?’ lingered, and I recalled a time years ago when I had come walking out of the desert near Alice Springs after a 5 day Vision Quest. The was the closest I felt to me, covered in red dust, unwashed, unkempt and feeling expanded beyond myself. I was wild.

I was home.

Yet even on the day of my photo shoot, knowing I needed this ancient wild, dirt covered woman to emerge, I had ideas – ideas to involve my horse somehow as my wild companion. Of course, my horse had other ideas, the light reflector being way too scary for her to stay in the frame. And the day loomed ominously. The weather rainy and struggling to reach 10 degrees.  So I took a deep breath, stripped away my preconceptions and walked into the dam in the paddock my horse lives in, covered myself in mud and faced the camera.

There she was.

These photos can be seen on this website and as part of our book and exhibition. They aren’t publicity shots, they are the barest part of me, the part that writes and lives and does shit in the world.

There is one image in particular that Angela shot that day. At the start of our book project I wrote a piece of poetry that is now the foreword. It speaks of the water writing my hand. One photo, a ‘happy accident’ where I appear to be conjuring water up into my hands takes both our breath away. It is as if the camera has perfectly captured the poetry without us even realising it. This is the photo that shows me in our exhibition. It’s unmediated, unedited, wild, me.

With dirt on my face.

As I scrolled through what must have been hundreds of posts this morning offering resolutions and advice for your ‘best 2018’ I couldn’t help but come to one conclusion.
There is just one word that pretty much provides a solution to most of life’s laments.
So in the spirit of sharing and stimulated conversation, I’m going to share my one word today (knowing full well that we suggest to others what we most need to hear ourselves!)

So my one word is this…

OUTSIDE

Yes that’s it – seven letters
O.U.T S.I.D.E.

Try this…

Feeling sad? – go outside
Lacking creative inspiration? – go outside
Kids spending too much time on screens? – go outside
Carrying a few extra kgs? – go outside
Electricity bills too big? – go outside
Lacking motivation? – go outside
Seeking community?- go outside
Feeling stressed about something? – go outside
Lacking appetite? – go outside
Can’t sleep? – go outside
Cranky children? – go outside

(you get it, right?)

Cooking, eating, living, sleeping – do more outside-even meetings (cos let’s face it any time we can get out of the white wall boxes we confine ourselves to has got to be good right?)

So there it is, one word I am going to steer my compass for 2018 by. Enjoy!
Feeling gratitude outside.
(Pic: @wedgetailrides)
#liveoutside

Something powerful is activated when women seek to hold each other up in reverence and joy. This is what we found as we sat with each of the women who gave their stories to the From This Place project and this is what we saw released in our own lives as again and again the wise words these women had to share found their way into our hearts.

Every woman, no matter who she was or what she did had a moment in their interview where the words they dared to utter bought us to tears.

Not because they were sad stories but because they were truth – beautiful deep expressions that came from the source of who they are.

And as truth they cannot be forgotten.

These words, quotes if you wish, hung in the air like perfect droplets of water, waiting to infuse into all our lives. Sometimes the women didn’t even realise the beauty of what they had shared. But we held out our hands and let the wisdom fall onto our parched hearts and from there the book was written, not word by word, but drop by drop.

For this reason, their stories are an infusion into the deepest parts of us. We hear at the level we can receive and we are touched in places that most need to hear. As the writer, I have felt to be more a midwife, a conduit for story, a messenger between the holy and the earthly self. I have borne witness to creation, to creativity, to cathartic, captivating realness and every page of the book resonates with something much larger and more evocative than anything we could imagine.

This is the beauty of sharing stories. Of allowing the stories to be as they are, not asking them to bend to some agenda or theme. Letting the story speak and then taking the blessings as they come. No story could be planned, instead it shaped itself and emerged on the page in a kind of ritual. A conscious state of stepping out of all I have been taught to receive a deeper kind of wisdom. Of inhabiting the words, of capturing brief glimpses of the essence of a person and then being open to the nuances of each story as it came through as colour, shape and symbol. People have commented about how each woman sounds so unique in their own story. I think this is why. It was not a conscious act but rather an authentic one.

For these stores to inspire you, they have first inspired us. As I sent each draft to Angela to read, she would reply ‘I have goosies’ and we would know we had captured something.

I felt these stories.

Time was irrelevant as I wrote them. I would gather myself at the final sentence and feel such a rush of joy – of disbelief, of absolute fulfilment that I was writing in a deeply resonant way with my soul’s purpose.

And I have gained so much more than I have given in this process.

Sometimes it was hard.

I faced a period of debilitating anxiety for several months as I struggled with my own lack of faith in my artistry, until finally I leapt from the edge of comfort and found new wings.

This is the inspiration that lives in the pages for you, too.

Last week I was planning a trip into the city alone and would be returning late at night. Chatting to my man about my options for travel, it occurred to us that it was safety not ease, or cost or efficiency that was my only concern. My man commented he had never had to think about it for himself. So i wrote this…

IT’S THERE

There it is…
Those small ways
Every day
That I am aware
Aware of my safety, aware of my body, aware I cannot let myself be truly free
Hidden in tiny gestures
Mine and others
The moment that flickers though my mind when I choose a car park that is visible to others,
The way I put my window up if a stranger approaches my car
The tiny moments where I have learned I need to be alert

This is not normal for everyone
Just most women, most of the time, in most circumstances through the world they live in
When I carry my keys instead of putting them in my bag
Hell when I put my bag across my body instead of on my shoulder
All tiny moment in which I know somehow, have learnt somehow, I might not be safe
And it seems it is my role to be a step ahead of those who might seek to harm me

This is not the story of a women in trauma, although we all are somehow.
This is ordinary
This is life
Be alert, you are vulnerable.
The choices you make every moment will contribute to your assault, your rape, your own abuse.
I tried to explain this to my beautiful man, the father of our daughter.
He could not believe the tiny moments a woman felt, that it seems most men, most of the time, don’t need to think about.
But I do, like a reflex, We do. Don’t we?
An unconscious reaction to a world where being female is a risk factor.

Behind the choice of flat shoe versus heel, the twenty dollar note I tuck in my bra just in case, the finger I have on the button that locks my car doors – it’s there.

Before I’ve considered what I wear, or how outspoken I will be, before I have stepped from my home I have made a cascade of choices.

Take the car, don’t walk.
Text my partner my ‘last known location’ just in case.
Stand near the call button in a lift with a stranger.

Not free.
Deeply embedded, enculturated, ground in.
Choices I think, I hope, will preserve me, at the very least make me less of a target.
This is the world we live in. Vulnerable. Always.
Because tiny acts of violence are normal…
Unless we say it’s there.

Lindy Schneider October 2017

We have fourteen incredible artists in our book and we’d like to share with you a little about the process of how this came to be.

When we set out two years ago to develop this project we thought we would focus on 8-10 artists – such was the talent of the women we were meeting we expanded our aim, and yet there were still many wonderful women that could have been included that we just didn’t have the time or ability to extend our resources to cover.

When we started, we did a lot of research to develop a list of potential artists. We posted extensively on Facebook asking for people to let us know if they were interested in completing and an Expression of Interest form, or to let us know of women artists they thought might be interested. We scoured through several years of Open Studio brochures, worked through the list of women interviewed on local radio arts program, the list of exhibitors at the Waterwheel Gallery – you name it we unearthed it and from that place we encouraged women to step up. We received about 40 Expressions of Interest (and many people we contacted never respond at all) and it became apparent as we sifted through all the incredible stories that there was a theme we couldn’t ignore.

We needed to focus our attention on a much smaller geographic area than we originally thought in order to make it manageable but also because many stories spoke of specific community dynamics that were part of the Warburton and surrounds, and included the Yarra River.

We set about, from a holistic perspective, finding stories that represented a broad range of women – from a range of age groups, across a variety of mediums, and at different stages of their art careers because we felt that created the most ‘inspiring’ read where there would be something for everyone.

We also had as one of our selection points that chosen artists had taken that step out into the world in some way, and that they were mostly sustaining themselves through their art.

There was also an organic thread in the process where we trusted that those that needed to be in the book would come forward – we recognised it was a big thing and people needed to trust us with their hearts. For that reason, we always understood that many artists we may have reached out to who didn’t know us, may have chosen not to reply.

When you read the stories, you will come to know of their remarkable achievements.  Each one has opened up their lives for us to peer into. This is not always comfortable and we are incredibly grateful. We didn’t know every woman in the book, and neither did many of them know each other. Now we all do and we are proud of the way we have supported each other.

From This Place represents universal stories and while we know it is a wonderful representation of the artists involved, it also does much to elevate the profile of artists in the Yarra Valley generally and from this place, every artist is present and can benefit.

It’s been a huge project – more than 400 hours each devoted by both Angela and Lindy, over 60 photoshoots with more than 5,000 images to choose from, plus the hours provided by the artists themselves to interviews and shoots – and we are so very grateful for your support. Have we learnt something? Yes of course, Would we do it differently next time? – possibly but there has also been a divinely feminine hand in the process that we have trusted implicitly to bring the right women together at the right time. This divine guidance, dear readers, was a bigger influence that any of us could reckon. We could have filled an encyclopaedia with artists of the Yarra Ranges, but that would have required more than 2 years, a huge budget and mountains of energy!

There are so many inspiring stories in our community, in our world.  This is the beginning…

Only five per cent of artists hanging in permanent galleries worldwide are women.
That’s a statistic that was too challenging to ignore, and which in fact, was inspirational for Warburton writer Lindy Schneider and photographer Angela Rivas.
On 1 June, Lindy and Angela launched a Pozible crowd funding campaign to create a book in words and pictures of 14 unique women artists.
‘From This Place – Inspiring Women Artists of The Upper Yarra Valley’ is a project started more than two years ago in what Lindy describes as a moment of shared inspiration.
“Both of us had an idea; we were curious as to why we lived among so many talented women artists and we wanted to find out why,” she explained.
“We wanted to elevate our fellow artists, to raise their profiles in a world where it is often hard to cut through.”
That was where the five per cent statistic came to light – one of the most telling moments of their research.
They took the fact and decided to do something about it, starting in their own beautiful part of the world.
Their 14 women include painters and poets, potters and scenographers, sculptors and authors. Artists that have so many layers, that Lindy and Angela say it’s difficult to hold them to any one definition.
“These women are important, and their work matters,” Lindy said.
The names of many of the featured artists will be familiar to Yarra Valley residents – Belinda Rogers, Sioux Dollman, Marlee Nebauer, Jena Bedson, Maya Ward, Adrienne Kneebone, Kate Baker, Shlomit Moria, Indigo Perry, Gillian Farrow, Lucy Pierce, Jo Rothwell, Jenny Davis and Jeminah Alli Reidy.
The project which will launch in September is twofold comprising the hardcover From This Place Book of around 128 pages in full colour, and the From This Place Exhibition – The Essence Portraits, featuring 14 large-scale portraits from the ‘essence’ shoot.
The exhibition will run for five weeks at the Upper Yarra Arts Centre in Warburton and at the Yarra Valley Regional Museum in Lilydale in December and January.
The women are pre-selling copies of the book, and seeking support via the Pozible campaign to create a book that matches the quality of the photographs and the stories.
Lindy said with generous support from Yarra Ranges Council and the Warburton and Yarra Junction Community Bank Branches the project had grown beyond their wildest dreams and that they were now reaching out to the wider community.
Visit www.fromthisplace.net for more information on the authors and artists, and https://pozible.com/project/from-this-place-book-exhibition-1 to support the project.

 Source Upper Yarra Mail June 2017