Archives for posts with tag: Heather Jennings

Darren Hanlon

Musician and globe trotter Darren Hanlon speaks with arts interview this week on couch surfing, writing every day and how to maintain creative inspiration on the road. Hanlon’s interview is the first of our last set of interviews for the year, focusing on the way we work.

Interview by Heather Jennings

Do you currently have a permanent base to call home? How would you compare the way you work when you have a permanent base to when you are touring?

I don’t have a base and in fact the closest I’ve had to anything solid in three years is a space for a couple of months out the back of a Melbourne bookshop. Being a musician, there’s two sides to your working life: introverted and extroverted.

When I’m on tour and out and about there’s no real stability apart from the network of friends and their houses throughout the world where I stay after the shows. It’s a wonderful thing to have this global community. But more and more I’m missing the comfort of just having a neighbourhood and group of people I see every day and grow with.

As for writing, as it requires solitude and silence, it’s difficult to do on the road with any great success. Although if you try hard enough, you can train your mind to switch off and find its own cave to retreat into. You get really good at sitting down in a cafe with a laptop/notebook and looking up again to find its gotten dark outside.

How do you incorporate the diverse scenarios you come across in day-to-day life into your song writing and creative projects?

They always make their own way in. I find that when I’m in writing mode I’m more sensitive and open and observant to things happening around me. I tune into dialogue more. Songs on the radio etc… I always carry a notebook.

Are you conscious of delivering a certain amount of daily creative output when you are on the road, or do you go with the flow?

I try to go with the flow but will inevitably feel a bit low if there’s been no output for a few days. I combat this by writing a daily diary – I have been doing it religiously for years now, plus more polished longhand stories that are easier than songs to accomplish. That way, at least the pen is still moving.

What have you done to work more effectively in changing environments?

As always I seek out places to go (that are cheap) to be alone, to sit in a room and wait (hopefully!) for the good thoughts and ideas to arrive. Outback pubs, caravan parks, Eastern European cities etc. I think another huge reason for low-productivity is internet addiction. I try to stay away from that as much as possible.

Darren Hanlon is currently touring through Europe, find dates here.


Gerald McMaster with co-artistic director Catherine de Zegher

This year’s 18th Biennale of Sydney: all our relations, is all about collaboration and conversation. Its co-artistic director, Gerald McMaster, speaks with arts interview about how he helped bring together more than 100 artists from around the world to exhibit across five iconic Sydney venues.

Interview by Heather Jennings

What are the challenges in working with artists and other stakeholders from around the world for a major arts event?

Communication is the most complex issue, though it’s partly solved by the latest generation of computer connectivity, something old-school curators had to live without from the 1970s to the 1990s.

We worked with over 100 artists from all parts of the world, each with challenges unique to their project: whether it was trying to raise additional monies to realize a large-scale idea; managing the complexity of shipping works from across the globe; or finding enough volunteers to help install the works in Sydney.

What sort of cultural differences have arisen in developing and implementing the event and how have you overcome these?

Cultural difference has been particularly interesting, especially in addressing contemporary art from different regions around the world. We visited at least 44 countries, so you can imagine the cultural differences we encountered. What helped along the way was talking with local curators, who often provided not only logistical assistance, but also conversational support to explore ideas and intellectual connections.

We assume today that cultural diversity is much more accepted worldwide. John McDonald of The Sydney Morning Herald recently said this is the “least Eurocentric Biennale”, which speaks to the fact we wanted to show great work from unusual sources. Australia prides itself on being a multicultural society, but this isn’t the reason we made the selections we made. The world is changing rapidly so it is counter intuitive to stick to old paradigms.

What time management methods have you employed to successfully travel and work in different countries in the lead up to the 18th Biennale of Sydney: all our relations?

I would have to say that recent trends in social media usage have reified our notion of collaboration and conversation. Without it we would not have been able to do an exhibition of this scale. Time has shrunk so much of what we do that many more details can be handled at once.

The Biennale staff were exceptional. They were organised in all aspects of creating a large and complex exhibition, so that helped to take away much of the worry from the artistic directors.

How does spending time in different countries inform your curatorial practices and ideas for future projects?

I find it almost obligatory to be in the country where the artists have lived most of their lives. In some instances, artists now live elsewhere, which made it difficult for me to visit, but on the whole it was important to visit the many countries if only to acquaint myself with the art and culture of the region.

“How much did I learn from others about their regional artistic practices?” and “What is it that I’ll take away from all this?” are questions that have guided me along the way, that will have a profound effect on how I see artists living and working in various parts of the world. I saw a lot that made me take notice.

The thing I take away from each of my visits is the many stories that were exchanged. Storytelling is such a beautiful human quality, and this is an idea that formed the basis for the exhibition.

The Biennale of Sydney: all our relations runs until September 16.


Nadine von Cohen is a Sydney-based lifestyle and pop culture writer, who regularly contributes to the Fairfax Digital online sources; The Vine for the arts and entertainment industry, and Daily Life for busy Australian women. She has also read short stories at Erotic Fan Fiction events and provides freelance services as a digital communications specialist. Nadine speaks with arts interview about the hurdles of being a freelance writer and how she copes with and manages stress.

Interview by Heather Jennings

What are the stresses of being a freelance writer?

 The most stressful aspect of being a freelancer is the uncertainty of income. There are times when a lot of work will be coming in with a decent amount of money, and other times when things are slower. For this reason I rarely say “No” to work, which can cause further stress if I have several deadlines on the same day or week, but I have to make it work.

I think one of the least obvious things about being a freelancer is that the job never ends. If I’m not writing then I am pitching new stories and ideas, and trying to make new contacts to ensure there will be enough work in the future. I rarely have sick days, because if I don’t work then I don’t get paid. Being a freelancer may seem as a more relaxed way of working in that you can sit at home watching TV and get out of bed at midday. However, this is far from the case for me, but having said that I chose this path myself and wouldn’t have it any other way.

Do you find that writing reduces or increases your stress levels?

Mostly, I found that my stress levels have been reduced since I’ve started writing full time. I worked in the corporate world – in advertising and marketing – for many years, and the pressure and pace were extremely stressful. So for me writing is a much calmer career, except of course, when I have multiple deadlines within a short period of time, or when I’m suffering from a writer’s block or a lack of inspiration.

What are some of your favourite procrastination methods?

Since I’ve started working from home my house has never been so clean! I have a rule about turning on the television or reading for pleasure before 6pm – so cleaning, going to the gym and online shopping are my main sources of procrastination.

What are the three things you would typically do to relax?

I wish my answers to this question were more original, but these are my top three things:

1. One of the great things about working from home is the ability to have a bath in the middle of the day. If I have anything to read for research I will often do so in the bathtub. It’s indulgent but cheaper than a massage.

2. I am also a big advocate of gentle exercise, such as yoga, pilates, or a long walk as a form of relaxation. However, if I am particularly stressed then a spin class or a run will help me unwind.

3. And the third thing is to spend some time with my nieces and my nephew. They’re all under seven years old, so it’s not exactly relaxing, but it’s hard to think about work when playing with them.

What advice do you give others when they are stressed?

I used to give too much of my energy to the “little things” and let the stress of work really get to me causing extreme anguish. But then some things happened in my life to make me realise that it’s not worth it. I want to be successful and respected for my work, and known as someone reliable and pleasant to work with, but I no longer wish to do this at the expense of my health or sanity. So my advice to people about stress is to step back and think about how important whatever they’re stressing over really is. If you’re saving lives then stress of course is a lot harder to cope with – but if not then try to keep calm and get through it all with grace.!/nadinevoncohen


Photo: Sergey Konstantinov 

 After dancing with The Australian Ballet for ten years and achieving the rank of leading soloist, Lucinda Sharp went on to study psychology and became the school’s first full-time psychologist in 1991. Sharp has devised a performance psychology curriculum for students, many of whom travel from interstate or internationally and leave the security of family and friends to join the elite Melbourne-based school. Sharp spoke with arts interview about how the program prepares students for life as a professional dancer.

Interview by Heather Jennings

What is the psychology programme provided at the Australian Ballet School?

The psychology curriculum is delivered from level 3 up to graduate year. The programme incorporates performance psychology, VCE psychology and a programme called Connecting to School Community which focuses on building a respectful school community based on positive regard, a sense of security and authentic communication.  We also run programmes covering cyber safety and drug and alcohol education. While there is background theory for each topic, the programme focuses mostly on experiential learning, personal reflection and the practical application of psychological skills.

What are the benefits of performance psychology for students?

Our students are often perfectionists and high achievers and progress is their main indicator of the likelihood of succeeding (success ultimately being a job as a professional dancer). Students work physically hard six days a week in the dance studio and any worrying, anxious thoughts about progress and performance can interfere with their natural bodily/kinaesthetic intelligence.
In the midst of dancing they may get caught up thinking about ‘getting it right’, ‘not getting it wrong’, ‘not falling over’ or ‘pleasing the teacher’. Performance psychology is geared toward developing a mindset for dance that focuses on the process of dancing and clarifies the mind/body connection for the most efficient neuromuscular patterning.

What are the key personal issues faced by dancers?

Many issues are similar to those of any person wanting to achieve at a high level. For some students, no matter how much effort they put in, there can still be doubts about whether they are performing up to standard or even working hard enough – typical perfectionist thinking.

Injury can cause major concerns for dance students. While it’s a normal part of being a dancer it can be particularly devastating if the student cannot participate in classes, rehearsals or performances. This comes back to progress and the sometimes-distressing realisation that injury means they may fall behind the class in terms of progress.

Body image and body shape can also be challenging issues for dancers. The school has a nutrition programme that educates dancers about healthy attitudes to food and promotes normal physical development in the adolescent years.

How do students learn about the mental aspects of high level performance?

All dance classes, rehearsals and performances contribute towards a student’s understanding of what it takes mentally and emotionally to perform at the highest level.
In terms of stage performance, all students perform at The Victorian Arts Centre and final-year students are employed to perform corps de ballet and soloist roles with The Australian Ballet’s regional touring group The Dancers Company. The latter group of students are on the road for five to six weeks, moving venues every few days and doing one or two night stands in theatres of varying standards. This opportunity is the definitive preparation for the profession.

How do dancers become aware of their own personal development during their time at the school?

Ballet students can be very single minded in their devotion to dance. While this can be beneficial to maintaining commitment, focus and work ethic, it can also lead some dancers to develop a narrow self-concept within which they define themselves almost entirely in terms of their dance performance.  If feelings of self-worth become strongly tied to dance performance, the dancer risks emotional turmoil when faced with the prospect of not being able to participate in classes, rehearsals or performance. There can also be great difficulty making a successful transition out of dance.

Staff promote student engagement and interest in areas other than dance and encourage students to place more value on who they are rather than what they do (dance). It is vital for healthy emotional development that young dancers are recognised and valued as people, not just as dancers.

Robin Eley

Photo: Simon Bills

Robin Eley is an Adelaide-based artist represented by Hill Smith Gallery. His painting, Bibliography, was a finalist in the 2012 Archibald Prize. Eley speaks with arts interview about the skills artists need in working with galleries and how to maintain artistic integrity in a commercial art market.

Interview by Heather Jennings

 What are the challenges in working with commercial galleries?

 There are practical and philosophical challenges. The first is finding a gallery that’s right for you – whose own strengths and ambitions are going to help you pursue yours. Establishing trust is one of the most important things, I have to trust the gallery I’m working with is going to provide more than just a wall to hang my work, I also have to trust their business practice is sound and my work and finances will be treated with respect. In return, I instill in them the trust that I will produce work on time and of a high standard. It’s similar to any business transaction in this respect.

One major challenge, especially in producing paintings for an exhibition, is bridging the financial gap between when you start painting for a show and when you eventually get paid. If selling work privately, you can financially move from painting to painting. But in most cases, working with a gallery means receiving chunks of money separated by long periods of nothing, which for obvious reasons is extremely stressful.

How do you balance personal relationships with business relationships?

 You don’t always have to like your gallery owner to have a successful working relationship. But if you get along with your gallery owner, which I do, there’s a very good chance you will become friends. While there’s no problem with that, the area I’m careful with is managing my relationships with people who buy my work. While it’s great to meet and talk to your collectors, I feel there’s a level of respect needed towards a gallery whose client list is the foundation of their business. If a collector contacts me, then I’m more than happy to talk with or meet them, but out of respect to my gallery I don’t actively seek them out. This approach isn’t for everyone, but because I expect the gallery to treat my paintings with care and respect, I do my best to return the consideration.

How do artists balance artistic direction with the expectations of gallery representatives?

 The ideal situation is finding a gallery that supports whatever direction you may wish to take your work. But it’s also important to keep in mind galleries are businesses and it’s not uncommon for a gallery to break ties when an artist’s change in direction causes a drop in sales. Personally, I would not want to be with a gallery that didn’t want my work to evolve over time. As an early career artist, it’s vital to show growth or movement in my work – although I do know that slow turns are, at this stage, more efficacious than wild swings.

Essentially it all boils down to individual choice. A gallery’s approach may work for one artist, but destroy another. The only thing you can do as an artist is always be aware of your situation. Have an eye on the future and be constantly assessing the best way to get there. If you have a plan, you are giving yourself time to change direction should you need to.


After the Australian Government established Artbank in 1980, the arts support program became self­funded by reinvesting its rental income back into artwork purchases. The collection now comprises over 10,000 artworks by 3,000 artists, with a focus on supporting emerging artists. arts interview spoke with Artbank client services and marketing manager, Ellen Lloyd Shepherd, about how the organisation balances its cultivation of emerging artists with the everyday reality of meeting companies’ different aesthetic expectations.

Interview by Heather Jennings

Why is Artbank important? What is the organisation’s cultural contribution to companies and the greater community?

For artists, we are often the first national collection to purchase their work. This validates their practice and provides an economic injection to continue their practice. For clients we provide a flexible, cost-effective and accessible means to enhance a workplace or home, while actively supporting contemporary Australian artists. For the people of Australia, we are acquiring a dynamic and culturally important collection that will be shared with future generations. The collection is extremely diverse and we pride ourselves on being able to offer clients the very latest, innovative works, often challenging preconceptions and taste.

How does Artbank maintain a cultural record? Does it factor in exposure and support of emerging artists when collecting new works?

Support of emerging artists through collection and subsequent exposure to their work is of paramount consideration when collecting. Artbank as a collection can take risks on work in a way state and national galleries cannot.
The collection’s quality is a testament to our acquisition policy, which is closely adhered to in order to maintain its integrity. Artbank only acquires work by living Australian artists and from the primary market – directly from artists, via commercial galleries, contemporary art spaces, artist-run organisations and Indigenous communities.
We always find a way to work with artists that could otherwise prove challenging for the collection when assessed against our acquisition policy. Recently, we have started commissioning some artists and working closely with them to explore ways of uniting their creative vision and Artbank’s collecting brief without compromising the integrity of their practice.

What are the curatorial challenges in working with and providing artworks to large corporations? 

Artbank’s curatorial challenges include not being able to acquire works that are inherently fragile, and which might be confronting or provocative in content.

What do clients want and how do you adjust to this?   

Artbank prides itself on being able to provide artwork to suit every taste, personality, location and budget. We rent artworks to many government departments, including Australian embassies and consulates around the world, corporate clients across different industries and private clients who rent work for their homes and small businesses.
Some clients are looking for artwork to freshen a ‘dull’ space, some want a feature for a meeting room or foyer, some like to change over their artworks each year to keep their staff and clients engaged and others are looking for striking pieces that help them sell real estate.
It’s important for us to be at the forefront of collecting, and we strive to purchase work that is reflective of current practice. We purchased our first video work in 2008 and launched our video collection in 2009.

What value does aesthetics have to a business? Will companies avoid artworks that could be considered controversial in a business setting?

Some clients will avoid certain artworks, but not necessarily because they might be considered controversial. A company may want to convey itself as progressive and innovative, informal and enterprising or respectable and established – all of which can be achieved with well selected artworks.

Aesthetics is incredibly important to a business. Each year companies invest substantial money, time and planning to ensure that their corporate identity is expressed in appropriate and relevant ways. Everything from staff demeanour, dress code and office location right down to the use of recycled paper and philanthropic activity, assists a company to build their brand and marketplace positioning. Brand development and aesthetics go hand in hand, and the styling and fit out of an office space can be as important as other more obvious corporate identity decisions.

Clients select artworks that reflect the principles they want to convey as a business, reinforcing messages that more traditional brand campaigns offer.