NiTRO + Creative Matters

Perspectives on creative arts in higher education

The Portal Is Closing

The portal is closing, and the artists in Australia have managed to seize control of their sector. The career ladder has broken down into snakes and slithered away. The old models of making and presenting have shed their skin, to reveal new ways.

By Loren Kronemyer

This was written on June 15th 2020 in response to some of the conversations I’ve had with my Australian arts peers in a number of digital sector gatherings throughout the pandemic. At a certain point for many of us in the creative arts, we realised that while the pandemic had impacted our careers horribly, it also created new forms of equity that left us feeling empowered in unexpected ways. What follows is my attempt to hold onto some of the utopian potential and speculations of hope I drew from those conversations with peers.

The portal is closing, and the artists in Australia have managed to seize control of their sector. The career ladder has broken down into snakes and slithered away. The old models of making and presenting have shed their skin, to reveal new ways. CV lines read like a forgotten language.

Where the artist once gently mounted multi-year campaigns to extract cash and keys from The Venue, now the artist knows that there is no cash and there are no keys, keys no longer go in doors, doors are shut tight, what is a door and why did we ever need them?

The artists, more than before at least, have a living wage for the first time. Security, or lack thereof, on par with the salaried. Newly liberated, the artists assemble creatively in all kinds of incongruous ways. They practice on their own terms, or not at all. They busy themselves with previously forgotten forms of survival or self-indulgence.

Where the artist used to pitch to The Institution, now The Institution pitches to the artist. Where the artist used to have to pay you to access The Platform, now The Platform pays the artist to access their making.  Where the artist once gently mounted multi-year campaigns to extract cash and keys from The Venue, now the artist knows that there is no cash and there are no keys, keys no longer go in doors, doors are shut tight, what is a door and why did we ever need them?

Some organisations have risen to the challenge of supporting makers in the wake of COVID-19. Some have not. But that is neither here nor there, as artists were ready for these challenges. They had been growing the tough skin long before this.

Some artists are slipping under the waves. Some have to help their loved ones before they can help themselves. Some have sustained insult after insult, and will never make art again because the struggle is too unfair.

Where the artist used to be summoned to the office for a meeting that should have been an email, now the meeting is an email and you’re both equals. Where the artist used to have to figure out where to put their children, now the children are omnipresent and we are learning how to deal with it together. Access is now for everyone. Where the artist once learned to make home out of sublet, home-stay, residency, awkward billet, floor, couch, a friend of a friend, Jetstar, tiger, luggage-scale, carry-on, my kingdom for a cab charge, now the artist learns to make a home out of their actual homes. We can still do what we do here.“As-per-my-last-email” is now “how-can-we-help”; “don’t-call-us-we’ll-call you” is now “we’re-in-this-together”; unfunded excellence is now universal, as in universal basic income, as in solidarity with all workers because as a practicing artist, we are also practicing laborers, academic workers, hospitality workers, care workers, retail workers, service workers, sex workers, and yes, administrators.

For the artists, the terms of negotiation have never been easier or more transparent. Now that time doesn’t exist, the artist’s time is valuable. The artists are using their time how they like; learning how to say no; learning who has their back. Artists are remembering how to grow their food, how to fix their homes, how to practice new forms of movement in synchrony across the world with fewer paywalls. Artists make stuff for each other, for themselves, for the internet, for no one at all.
 
But not all the artists are here. Some artists are slipping under the waves. Some have to help their loved ones before they can help themselves. Some have sustained insult after insult, and will never make art again because the struggle is too unfair. When those artists are gone, the structures and the people and the burdens that exploited them will go too. The artists have no desire to hold onto those burdens again.  We are busy with holding onto each other.


Loren Kronemyer is an artist living and working in remote lutruwita Tasmania, Australia. Her works span interactive and live performance, experimental media art, and large-scale worldbuilding projects aimed at exploring ecological futures and survival skills. She collaborates frequently with laboratories, and received one of the first Masters of Biological Arts Degree from SymbioticA Lab at the University of Western Australia. She is currently a PhD candidate at the University of Tasmania. Her work can be found at www.helloponyexpress.com, www.rubicana.info, and www.preppers.gallery

More from this issue

More from this issue

COVID-19 has had a profound impact on how music is taught and practised, not least because the reliance of so many musical activities on physical proximity has been turned on its head. With virtual lessons and ensembles becoming the norm, the move to online has challenged music educators to consider how we might do things differently in the future.

How has it been for the students, as we slowly and carefully manage the return to campuses across the country? There is no doubt that the impacts and challenges will be ongoing particularly for students entering the workforce and coping with extended study after deferrals, which some have indicated will come.

As we find our way to a ‘new normal’ this is a good time to upgrade remote learning resources to support students who do not need to be on campus all the time, or even any of the time.

In the years leading up to 2020, the experience of studying my postgraduate degree had been highly anticipated. Having heard so many wonderful anecdotes from plenty of alumni students, I was thrilled to finally ‘have my turn’ and accept my position as a producing student at the WA Screen Academy in 2020.

COVID-19 has been a pivotal moment in my creative practice, pushing it in an unexpected direction. It has both challenged and inspired me in evolving my work … throughout this period of time my studio set up has altered drastically in not having access to the machinery that ultimately defines my work, a potter’s wheel.

It’s taken me a few days to start writing. My reactions are slow at the moment. I find it difficult to focus. I’m distracted; often glancing between my work, the Guardian live blog and commentary on Twitter. I think often of home – Aotearoa – and trust I won’t find myself in a position where I need to return on compassionate grounds.

By March 2020, after months of planning and organising, I was poised to enter the recruitment and data collection phases of my PhD research projects … studio practice had been identified as the key methodology through which I would test research questions and generate creative works.

Virtually all students have been affected by COVID-19 in one way or another. From the restriction of social distancing arose the transition towards online teaching, some courses were ready for this change while others weren’t.

Art for me has always been a process to make sense as I am a performance artist that utilises endurance to challenge the contingencies of space, time, and the body. The focus of my PhD research is precisely this.

Continuing to study the arts in isolation required self-motivation, perseverance and the ability to think, even further, outside the box. The sudden shift from practical exercises to the confines of a screen was … frustrating for professors and students alike.

As I began the journey of my PhD candidature, my main drive to proceed was a social conundrum. I wanted to explore and if I could, rationalise, the visceral empathy which at times many are affected by, when witnessing upheaval in the lives of those around us.

To describe this semester as anti-climactic would be an understatement. For my cohort and I, this would have been our final year of music school. As the new semester approached, our anticipation to collaborate, create, and learn together for what would have been the last time at Monash was almost unbearable. We were excited to perform, explore, and to succumb to our collective desires to make art and music.

It begins with me buying two 10kg bags of bread mix. I think we might have to bunker down for a while even though my husband’s words “Don’t worry it will all blow over in a day or two” continually float around the house.