I’ve reverted to writing about writing. And fair warning, I have nothing conclusive to say.
Almost a year ago now I left Wellington. I bummed off my parents for a bit, went travelling and eventually moved to Australia. Up until that point I was writing regularly, for #500words, Design Assembly, the Wellington City Council, and a few other smaller artsy publications. I had been working at Enjoy Public Art Gallery for almost two years, and was in my fourth year (on and off) tutoring in the design programme at Victoria University. Without really appreciating it I was constantly surrounded by extremely talented creative people. Curators, artists, writers, photographers, designers, illustrators; world-view-altering over-coffee musings were weekly (I lie, sometimes we drank beer).
Working for Enjoy was — to put it simply — a very cool experience. I met amazing people, people who I still look up to and work with, and wish happy birthday on Facebook. I hope I appreciated it at the time, but I certainly appreciate it now. The most remarkable thing about Enjoy is how much people love it and are prepared to give for it. The energy of good-will that surrounds that tiny wee upstairs gallery on Cuba St still astounds me, and I feel like she deserves every vibe.
I remember one afternoon sitting on beanbags on the gallery floor (it must have been during Emil McAvoy’s PRISMISM because its the only show I can remember that had beanbags) and feverishly arguing with one of our Interns; I can’t actually recall what about, but I remember her hands waving through the air at me, and at the work, and her face turning pink and her sinking further and further into the beanbag trap as she bounced up and down with every sentence. Gallery visitors came and went as we rattled at each other. We were completely at home in that wonderful space, safe enough to raise our voices and fight it out; and raw enough not to feel like our words, thoughts and feelings were just being sucked into a vacuum. Enjoy was a space of consequence, and everyone believed it.
Interviewing was often my writing tactic of choice. I would find people doing something interesting and ask them for some of their time, rope in a photographer friend, and we would all sit around and talk. There was a natural sense of curiosity, not just surrounding the interviewee, but about everything that brought the three of us to be in the same place, yabbering away like we were. No one was in a hurry, no one felt under pressure.
Moving to Melbourne has been fantastic in so many ways, but I didn’t realise what a gem of a social and professional circle I had in Wellington and how hard it was going to be to try and build something similar on the other side of the Tasman. The people I spent time with in Wellington gave me my writing voice. Without them, I’m not sure what I want to say. I didn’t realise how much I benefited from their creative and critical energies and what a privilege it was to feel a part of it.
Now, I work in a creative studio and I absolutely, completely love it. We are busy, bustling, and we work with specialists and experts, people at the top of their creative and strategic game; professionals. I have unequivocal respect for our director who is bold ambitious, charismatic and masterful. It is a very different space to the very un-professional figure-it-out, see where it takes you ethos that was at play with students at Vic, and to an extent, at Enjoy, where risk taking and serendipity was a large and valued part of how we achieved anything. It was a given in the learning process that both organisations used to support and stretch their young talent. Working in a studio for clients, there simply isn’t the same room to celebrate failure.
It feels like by leaving the Wellington bubble my whole life has taken a shift towards the for-profit space. I receive regular letters from the New Zealand IRD informing me of just how much interest my student loan is incurring. Several times I have calculated my Australian salary vs. my potential New Zealand salary to see if I offset the interest by living here. Invoices come in and go out of our studio for freelance photographers and illustrators and they are worth every penny. But it has changed how I would feel about asking a friend, or ex-student to come with me to interview an artist or creative business owner when I know full well that no one is paying any one. I absolutely, 100% believe that the value of something can not, and should not be measured by its excel spreadsheet line, but now that I’m playing in the private company space I don’t feel the same about reaching out and asking people to take part in something just ‘because’. Now, that would make me feel extremely arrogant, thinking that my half formed brainchild is worth other peoples time.
For that matter, I have no one to ask. I quite unceremoniously ripped myself out of my very connected, very good-willed Wellington network, and I don’t yet actually know anyone who I would even think about asking over here. Those connections take time, and I haven’t yet spent it.
The irony of all of this is that I still willingly offer my time to my creative friends who need an ear, or a pen, or an amateur photographer, writer, editor; anything. But a combination of the for-profit shift, and physically distancing myself from my connected, inspirational, bubbling and boiling Wellington hot-pot has meant that I’m not sure what to say. Not sure that I have anything to say, or that it has any value, or that anyone should care.
I still haven’t really written anything.
Meredith Leigh Crowe