Words by Bec Fleming, ACTWC Blogger in Residence
It is a kind of meditative state, spending time in a gallery with a notebook. I spent last Saturday afternoon with the Pulse exhibition at the Canberra Museum and Gallery in a workshop led by the delightful Sarah St Vincent Welch. I say with quite purposefully. When I first walked in I was consciously viewing the exhibition, but as the minutes drifted by and I chose three artworks to focus on, my awareness of being a viewer fell away. I settled in front of each of my chosen artworks and became a visitor. I listened to what they had to tell me.
We spent an hour in the gallery, examining the new exhibition Pulse: Reflections on the Body. Sarah explained that the approach was to spend half an hour viewing the exhibition and the second half reflecting on three chosen pieces. The remainder of the afternoon was spent discussing our reflections, sharing some pieces, and then reviewing the exhibition for about ten minutes to respond to another piece.
There were some pieces I was particularly drawn to, others I loved challenged me. I found Gary Stewart’s Proximity, a video piece created in collaboration with Australian Dance theatre, hypnotic but impossible to capture on the page. There was something about the beauty of the movement, I couldn’t translate. I decided maybe that’s okay, perhaps not all art should translate to the page? Jude Rae’s Interior series, a collection of portraits each subject with their eyes closed, intrigued me from the minute I saw it. Patsy Payne’s depiction of the body as “vascular system, skeletal structure and neural pathways” was one that captured my attention on second glance. On first viewing I missed how luminescent a piece it truly is. That was the value of the workshop, I gave each artwork more than an initial glance.
Spending an hour in the gallery reminded me of the power of time and space in writing. Space to reflect. Space away from the usual technological distractions. Space, not to think, but to let the thoughts come to me. Time is important too, I learned. Not the allocated time I give myself each night after work. Not the usual fleeting seconds I give to an artwork. Time without attention is a waste. In this workshop, I gave the artworks the same time and attention I would give a close friend. In return, they gave me that joyous feeling of creative immersion, the moment when your entire world is the thought you are trying to get on the page. Those moments are rare, but they are why I keep writing.
I walked out of the workshop with a couple of pieces of writing which might become something one day. I will spare you the raw drafts. More importantly, I left with a renewed belief in the value of galleries and museums as sources of inspiration. We are fortunate in Canberra to have so many galleries, historic houses and museums in such close proximity. Every free weekend is an opportunity to explore them. They have stories to tell, we need only to sit and listen.
Bec Fleming is a Canberra based writer, historian and poet. She graduated with a PhD in history from the University of New England in 2010. She has spoken at the National Portrait Gallery, the Australian War Memorial and for the ABC program Now Hear This. Her poem ‘An untimely death’ was shortlisted for the 2013 Michael Thwaites poetry award. She has loved words for as long as she can remember and thinks it is a little bit magic when they line themselves up in just the right order.