I am, in general, opposed to travel. Holidays, work trips, trans-hemisphere-immigration, family visits, international conferences, sight-seeing... I've done it all, all my life long, and enjoyed very little of it.
I am obsessed with the idea of staying in one place, planting trees, making a home and never going anywhere ever again. But despite my strong desire to stay put, I continue to live an unusually transient lifestyle.*
So when it came to thinking about my first solo exhibition, it is not surprising that I could find in my work a common thread: the tension between my desire to stay home and my semi-homeless reality. This theme resonated with the quirky shape of the Yvonne Rust Gallery (YRG) which directs visitors up steps, around a hairpin bend, down a ramp around another corner and into the wedge of the main space, which ends in tight, almost claustrophobic, corner - a relatively complex path within a single, small, open space.
It seems to me, from my prejudiced position, that at least some of what people crave from travel results from a heightened awareness engendered by immersion in the unfamiliar. I believe mundane, familiar places and activities can be just as rewarding when that kind of heightened awareness is activated at home. Thus I wanted to offer Domestic Pilgrimage as a kind of armchair traveller experience in which the viewer could be inspired to see themselves and their surroundings with the fresh eyes of contemplative attention.
My vision for installing Domestic Pilgrimage was a literal and linear path as outlined in my Artist's Statement. I wanted that metaphorical journey from mass delusion to inner truths to be experienced as a physical journey through the YRG. Each piece had been chosen to represent a place of learning along the route of the Pilgrimage, each carefully considered in relation to the other pieces to generate a coherent narrative.
O what hubris! My painstakingly planned itinerary came unstuck in the installation, that intense three day personal growth workshop undertaken with my darling E, who as a real life pilgrim, knows all about letting go of control. E has numerous qualities that made me eagerly accept her offer to come up from Wellington to help install the exhibition. Aside from being intelligent, generous, clear seeing, direct and honest, hardworking, and unfazed by emotional expression, she's undertaken Shikoku's 88 Temple Pilgrimage in Japan, worked as a curator for four years, and is incredibly stylish to boot (certainly turning heads in Whangarei last weekend!).
I couldn't have wished for a better person to be installing Domestic Pilgrimage with. She followed my curatorial lead until I couldn't think straight anymore and then she gracefully stepped in and curated the show through that impasse and to completion. She also, during that busy weekend, managed to totally re-style my studio from a chaotic work room into a beautiful welcoming area (not to mention feeding and clothing me when even those simple decisions seemed beyond my abilities).
The enlightenment part of the Domestic Pilgrimage went in mostly according to my plan. We started at the end of the journey, with the biggest and heaviest piece. You are Beautiful didn't fit exactly how I had originally hoped when I designed it for the wedge corner of YRG. But I had realised that a while ago, so it wasn't a shock when confirmed on Friday morning. It did fit in another, even better way, with the three mirrored pages at acute angles reflecting multiples of each other and us and eventually the distant gallery through the mist of the Membranes. Membranes also went in smoothly, if slowly, and benefitting from some careful editing over the next couple of days.
Sky in the City, the lantern book, was my Slough of Despair, my real challenge of the installation and occasion for a major tantrum releasing my fear and frustration, my exhaustion and overwhelmedness, my confusion and disappointment: feelings a lot like travelling in a foreign country! At the time it reminded me of the transition stage of being in labour: that bit before the pushing where you curse a lot and no one else can do anything right (though in this case I tried not to blame anyone else for my struggles) . Hard as the lanterns were to install (and I was still tutu-ing with them on the day after the opening!), they at least ended up on the wall where I had wanted them.
When I eventually couldn't continue to ignore my inability to figure out how to install the first piece of Pilgrimage: Addicted to Capitalism, I began to negotiate with E for her to take over that work. She wasn't prepared to take sole responsibility for that piece in isolation, but rather had a broader vision for it and several other pieces. Our negotiation was lengthy and challenging but I was, and am, incredibly proud of how we did it.
Where my plan simply followed my pilgrimage narrative around the room, E's approach paid more attention to how the individual pieces looked in their places. Articulating our different perspectives and coming to appreciate each others', led to a compromise in which three of the first four works in Domestic Pilgrimage ended up different parts of the gallery than I had originally planned. By Sunday afternoon the exhibition looked much better than it would have if I had clung rigidly to my structure. I'm very grateful for the opportunity to let go of my preconceptions.
The Pilgrimage, as a journey of spiritual devotion, was enacted in the soul work of installing. Each person takes their own path through Domestic Pilgrimage. I might be a tour guide, but I am not the only one, and I abandoned my flag on the stick last weekend.
* Transient for various reasons, most of which I accept responsibility for as the result of my own choices. However I do harbour some considerable resentment towards the state of the economy which, despite my best efforts to be a force for positive change, continues operate not only as though the laws of physics don't apply, but also as though an inflated housing market which excludes and/or impoverishes so many people is a Good Thing. Not!