After five weeks of photographing dogs for my Canines of Cairns project, I have reached my '100 dogs' milestone and then some. This week I met with Yaps and RSPCA dogs, rescue dogs, and dogs that were not expected to live, yet survived against great odds. I have met dogs who are the 'business cards' for their owners - Canine Training School and Cairns Dog Care and Training - and I have had the privilege of meeting greyhounds who have changed the racetrack for the backyard. I have met shy dogs, character dogs, wise dogs, fun dogs, ball-mad dogs, stick-mad dogs and cute-as-a-button dogs.
The one thing that all these different dogs have in common is that they are loved and give love in return. Over the last five weeks, I have come to observe and to recognise that the connection and bond between the two species is as strong and powerful as I had thought. Each dog’s story is as individual and interesting as the dog and their owner, but each is a reminder that there is something that supersedes logic and commonsense and takes the human/canine relationship into the realms of mystery and wonder.
Regardless of how this bond might be categorised or where it might be found, it is something that should not be taken for granted and should be celebrated. I am so grateful for all that have taken part in the process, who have let me peek into their special dog/human world for just a small time and capture that moment with a camera. I am changed from having met each and every one of you and your faithful, lovely companions.
A dear friend recently lost her mother and the task of clearing out a lifetime of memories from her mother's house was shared equally between herself and her sisters. In the process, my friend discovered and rescued a hand-typed notation on two very thin pages, yellowed with age and slightly eaten, entitled 'IN PRAISE OF THE DOG'. There is no indication of who painstakingly typed the words or who originally wrote them, but she kept the pages and passed them onto me.
Following are the precious words given to me ... the collector of dogs and all things canine ... and now shared with all.
"Gentlemen of the Jury, -- The best friend a man has in this world may turn against him and become his enemy. The son and daughter that he has reared with loving care may become ungrateful. Those nearest and dearest to us, those whom we trust with our happiness and our good name, may become traitors to their faith. The money a man has he may lose. It flies from him when he needs it most. Man's reputation may be sacrificed in a moment of ill-considered action. The people who are prone to fall upon their knees and do us honour when success is with us may be the first to throw the stone of malice when failure settles its cloud upon our heads.
"The one absolutely unselfish friend a man may have in this selfish world, the one that never deserts him, the one that never proves ungrateful or treacherous, is his dog.
"A man's dog stands by him in prosperity and poverty, in health and in sickness. He will sleep on the cold ground, when the wintery winds blow and the snow drives fiercely. He will kiss the hand that has no food to offer. He will lick the sores and wounds that come from the encounter with the roughness of the world.
"When all other friends desert, he remains. When riches take wings and reputation falls to pieces, he is as constant in his love as the sun in its journey through the heavens. If fortune drives the master forth, an outcast, in the world, friendless and homeless, the faithful dog asks no higher privilege than that of accompanying him to guard him against danger, to fight his enemies. And when the last scene of all comes, and death takes his master in its embrace, and his body is laid away in the cold ground, no matter if all other friends pursue their way, there by his graveside will the noble dog be found, his head between his paws, and his eyes open in alertness, faithful and true even to death."
After three weeks underway, (minus a much needed weeks holiday in Bowen), Canines of Cairns has reached a milestone of sixty (60) dogs! After a busy week of photographing the largest number of dogs to date, there has not been a dog that I have not been charmed by, had my heart melted by, or walked away from without being made to feel uplifted, renewed and happy. While I feel I could continue on forever, 60 dogs means I am more than half-way to reaching my original end target of one hundred (100) participating dogs and their humans.
Over the next week, I will be busy working with award-winning, Melbourne-based, photogravure specialist, Silvi Glattauer. During this time, the images taken of all the canines over the last three weeks will be turned into etching plates and printed in anticipation of the 2016 exhibition. It will be an exciting and challenging process as I learn from Silvi and develop a deeper understanding of this non-toxic printmaking technology.
By this time next week, I will be even closer to a finalised outcome for my Canines of Cairns project. The anticipation is sweet and yet slightly sad; with that approaching goal comes an end to the time spent with the dogs and their owners. And really, that is what this project has been about - the capturing and understanding of what it means to love deeply and without conditions - humans and their best friends together. That is the part of this project that I have enjoyed the most and will also miss most once the 100 dogs have been captured.
Perhaps there is room for some more canines into the future? Or perhaps there should be more than 100 dogs?
In week two, I have walked down the old street where my children played; I have rediscovered the beauty of the Cairns Esplanade; I have been to an amazingly beautiful area of Cairns that I have never seen before; I have met up with old friends and made new ones; I have seen pound-rescued dogs and specially bought ones which equally share a special place in their owner lives; I have laughed out loud at some dogs antics and I have had my heart melted by their stories.
I want to thank everyone who participated in the second week of Canines of Cairns and let me have a small glimpse into their lives and the bond that they share with their canine 'best friends'.
While not everyone agrees with dogs as pets and perhaps finds them to be an unnecessary burden on an already fragile environment, I think that dogs bring so much more to us as humans. Pure joy. Unconditional love. Emotional intelligence.
While I acknowledge the argument against having such 'environmentally damaging' pets, I think the world can cope with humans having dogs with us for a little while longer. I certainly hope so! Dogs definitely make us into better humans and therefore make the world a better place.
After just over a week of photographing dogs and their owners for my 'Canines of Cairns' project and I am excited by the outcomes of my encounters. Each dog is a star in their individual owner's lives. Each dog and owner have a unique and precious connection. And each owner and dog have been welcoming, as well as gracious and open about sharing their special relationship with me.
I feel that this is a great privileged for me to see each person at their best and maybe at their most vulnerable - loving unconditionally. I thank everyone who has been involved so far and I look forward to meeting those that will be part of the project in the future. Dogs definitely make us beautiful humans!
I have looked forward to a different future for some time and yet, there is something poignantly sad about this new stage in my life. It seems to have come faster than I had expected even though I have been in expectation of it for a long time. In just over a week, my youngest child, Johnny, turns eighteen and I have officially 'finished' parenting - whatever that means.
Spending the last sixteen years of my life as a single parent, I seem to have muddled my way through to this point with laughter, heartache, anguish and joy. Like most parents, I have many regrets but I desire to change nothing, grateful for the time that I have shared with all my three children. This time with them appears to have gone in a heartbeat and by some miraculous sanction, they have all survived to become the young adults that they should be.
Below is a poem written about a near drowning event at the Mossman Gorge in 2005 after heavy rain. At the time of the incident, Johnny was eight and his cousin, Rita, was 14. Reading over the words again has helped me appreciate the fragility of life and fills me now with a deep and abiding thankfulness for what I have experienced. I welcome the future and all that it might hold.
He was aiming for the rock,
He goes out too far,
He goes under.
Counting seconds - 1 1000, 2 1000.
She see him go,
She is so close,
Now they are both gone.
Counting seconds - 4 1000, 5 1000.
On the bank, no air,
Voice catching in my throat,
Then running and screaming.
Counting seconds - 9 1000, 10 1000.
Everyone is frozen, still,
As if in shock, unreal,
Except me, only me.
Counting seconds - 20 1000, 21 1000.
Scrambling over rocks,
Slipping, sliding, paying no heed,
'Catch them! Catch them!'
Counting seconds - 40 1000, 41 1000.
Chanting like a mantra,
'Remember your first aide,
Remember your first aide.'
Counting seconds - 60 1000, 61 1000.
My heart, my brain, my cells
Scream 'Help me! Help me!'
I know that I cannot catch them.
Counting seconds - 80 1000, 81 1000.
Like two corks held under water,
They explode through the surface,
And cling to the rock. Exhausted
Stop counting - 90 1000, 91 1000.
A frozen man melts,
We swim them from the middle,
He and I, the only two.
We walk back through rocks,
And silent, gawking, frozen people.
I shake his hand, the unfrozen man.
I thank him, but I am shaking.
Wrapped in towels, we walk back.
At the car, I ask 'How?'
'How did you find that rock?'
She says, 'Someone pushed us.'
'Who? Who pushed you?'
She says, 'Someone just pushed us.'
We drive home.
Everyone is silent.
Grant acquittals are a time of reflection and sometimes wonderment as to what has actually been accomplished over the allocated period. For me, the twelve months of ArtStart has been quite challenging in terms of time management but an infinitely rewarding experience. The Australia Council love statistics so here are a few from the last year - 3 SOLO exhibitions in the Cairns region, 7 GROUP exhibitions in the Cairns region, 5 GROUP exhibitions in the Brisbane region, 1 GROUP exhibition in the Melbourne region, 1 GROUP touring exhibition to locations within Australia and New Zealand, 1 residency interstate, I mentorship with West End Studio, Brisbane.
Part of the acquittal process was asking for advise to future potential ArtStart applicants. I found this question incredibly poignant and sad, as there are no longer such opportunities offered to emerging artists due to the current cutbacks. It also makes me realise how fortunate I have been to be able to undertake all of my ArtStart activities and how pivotal this whole experience has been to the longevity of my arts practice.
Perhaps the advise might be of help to other forms of grant writing? In anticipation of that, I have included four of the most important points below..
1. Try again and again. Don’t take it personally if you are not successful in the first instance, it is not a reflection on the quality or significance of your arts practice. Each time you are unsuccessful, gain feedback, refine your application and try again. Be tenacious! I was successful in my 5th application for an ArtStart grant. The process itself will help to clarify your career options, regardless of the outcome.
2. Be clear about your goals. Think about how many applications the assessing panel has to read and make sure every word of yours counts for something. Link your goals and your activities so that there is a defined line between where you are now and where you want to be. If you are unsuccessful, make sure you move forward with your own goals without an ArtStart grant. When I was unsuccessful the first time, I built my own website anyway; the second time, I exhibited my work in a metropolitan gallery anyway; the third time, I went to New York to study anyway. etc
3. Have a ‘non-artist’ read your application. Look at your current contacts for people that don’t know your art practice very well but have business or life experience and ask them to give you feedback on your application. This means completing the application early to allow time for others to read it and give you their response. The last time, I had a banking project manager, a university lecturer and a psychiatric nurse read mine. I listened to their feedback, then I refined, refined, refined.
4. Make your ArtStart goals count. ArtStart should be an amazing assistance to your chosen arts career, so make sure that you ask for things that will be of the most benefit to your longevity as an artist. Also make sure that the tasks are able to be accomplished within the 12 months time period. I found that I struggled at times to carry out some of the activities as well as accomplish my 'normal' life responsibilities, so make sure you have the time available to make the best of the opportunity.
Freezing Antarctic air recently brought sub-zero temperatures and snow to parts of Queensland's far south. The ABBE (Artist Book Brisbane Event 16-18 July at Griffith University Southbank Campus) coincided with this so-called 'Antarctic vortex'. Braving blustery winds, overcast skies and sporting a new super-warm jacket, I ventured south to attend this smorgasbord of book art delights and debates.
The program for ABBE included academic presentations from 19 leading critical thinkers in the Book Arts feld, as well as keynote addresses from Brad Freeman (American-based artist and founder of JAB), Dr Sarah Bodman (Senior Research Fellow at CFPR, UWE in Bristol UK) and Dr Lyn Ashby (Australian-based artist and founder of thistoopress). Attached to the event was the 'books by artists' exhibition, a comprehensive display of book-based artworks in the Webb Gallery, including two of my own pieces. Co-ordinated by Dr Tim Mosely, the exhibition included works by Victoria Cooper, Caroline McKenzie Craig, Fiona Dempster, Hesam Fetrati, Anniqu Goldenberg, Judy Macklin, Christine Mellor, Tim Mosely, Adele Outteridge, Geln Skien, Doug Spowart and Wim de Vos ... to name just a few.
I came away with a head overflowing with information and ideas for future projects. After time to reflect upon the experience, I can honestly say that the best part of my trip to Brisbane was connecting with the people. There are times as an artist working alone that you think there is no-one who shares your interests, passions, self-doubts and insecurities. It is part of our nature to want to belong and it is the associations and friendships that create the joy in life on whatever level they may be. I am very grateful for the new links made and the old ones re-established.
As part of my ONE DOG solo exhibition, I asked my two dog owners to describe their relationship with their canine best friend. I wanted to explore the notion of memory re-invention. This is the story of Floyd, as told by Kimberly Rigley.
“Once you have had a wonderful dog, a life without one, is a life diminished” – Dean Koontz
You always cherish your first dog. They’re the dog that teaches you what it really means to have another life depend on you and what it means to be loved unconditionally, even when you’re at your worst. They’re the dog that teaches you patience and understanding, and that if you leave things on the floor, they will get chewed. I had no idea just how much my life would change when I got my very first dog, Floyd.
From the day I brought him home, life suddenly became like a sitcom with Floyd becoming synonymous with a canine version of ‘Dennis the Menace’. He was extremely determined in every ‘task’ he undertook, whether it was the removal of our garden’s underground irrigation system, the delicate stripping of individual leaves off almost every tree and plant in the yard or the destruction of the front fence covering in order to gain a better view of the outside world.
Floyd was also extremely insecure and needy. His separation anxiety saw him scale 6 foot high fences and chase after the cars of his leaving family members. Driving away from the house required strategic planning and SAS-like skills of stealth and non-detection. Floyd was a force to be reckoned with and could proudly chase family cars for great distances and at top speed.
There were times I thought I couldn’t keep Floyd, that he would be better suited to someone else, someone better, someone with a larger yard and a higher fence. But no matter how bad things got or how much trouble he caused, when the commotion he caused had subsided, Floyd would always come and sit down beside me, look up at me with his big brown eyes, his unusually long tongue hanging out and smile. I loved him more in those moments. He looked at me in an almost knowing way, so certain that he would never be going anywhere. And he never did.
No one was ever going to love or be as patient or be as understanding of Floyd as I was and, putting all his flaws aside, he was a great dog. On walks I was always within his eyesight and he made sure I never wandered off or got lost. His favourite game was catching a ball and having you chase him around the yard trying to get it back off him. His manners were non-existent – he would stand on your feet and burp in your face as often as he felt like it. He wasn’t an overly affectionate dog either, but he would follow you into every room so he could lie at your feet and be near you.
You never forget the day you lose your first dog, especially if it’s sooner than it should be. For me it was Valentine’s Day, 2013. Floyd had been struggling with us recently moving house and was constantly escaping to go back to the old house. That morning after I’d left for work, Floyd jumped the fence and inadvertently hung himself. I came home that afternoon with no wagging tail to greet me ever again.
Floyd was never a perfect dog, but that’s what made him so special. He reminded me that you don’t have to be perfect to be worthy of love. Floyd was my best friend, my protector, my family. I wouldn’t have exchanged him for all the well-behaved dogs in the world. And all those moments where Floyd’s chaos and destruction made me want to pull my hair out… they are the memories that now make me laugh and appreciate what a great dog I had.
When my sister Sheryl Sandy opened my exhibition 'Letters to my Father' last year, there was no mention that she was my sister. Justin Bishop, Exhibitions Manager of the Cairns Regional Gallery at that time, had asked for her biography and I had given him her traditional family links and her current and past achievements. I had not added in the fact that we had shared the formative years of our lives together and that by chance or by design this woman, who looked nothing like me, was in fact my sister in all that this term could imply. I had thought that the 'reveal' of this information would add to the impact of her speech and form a link with mine.
If there is one thing that I would change, it is that moment when, in what I thought would be a 'funny surprise', I did not recognise my sister publically at that opening. I left it for her to claim me. Our parents and the colour of our skins are different but that was and is inconsequential. Our interests, passions and lives are now different but that is still inconsequential.
Sheryl is a woman of strength and courage, a woman with past memories that cause internal struggles. A woman of generosity and warmth, who has risen to the challenges within the realms of her indigenous culture and filled a need where she could, becoming CEO of many important organisations. This is a woman represented the state in athletics in her younger day and revels in her role as grandmother at the present time. This is a woman who has known emptiness and fullness, who has risen to be the best she can be as a human in spite of her circumstances.
When asked who my sister looks most like in the family, I simply say that she looks like herself. We are very different but she is still my big sister and I am still her little sister. Time does not change that.