Sara Khamkoed on Anxiety and Creativity at the Byron Bay Writers Festival with Mia Freedman, Andrew Knight and Ramona Koval

Ramona Koval , Andrew Knight and Mia Freedman (left to right) discuss Anxiety and Creativity at the 2015 Byron Bay Writers Festival. Photograh Sara Khamkoed

Ramona Koval , Andrew Knight and Mia Freedman (left to right) discuss Anxiety and Creativity with Chris Flynn at the 2015 Byron Bay Writers Festival. Photograh Sara Khamkoed

How do anxiety and creativity relate to each other? As an artist and writer I was particularly interested in this discussion at Byron Bay Writers Festival. I often feel great pressure and anxiety when a deadline looms for my creative work. Yet is this anxiety a help or hindrance to creativity?

Mia Freedman, Andrew Knight and Ramona Koval discussed the highs and lows of creative life with Chris Flynn as they reflected on how anxiety affects them.

Mia Freedman gets anxiety if she doesn’t keep busy. That is why she ended up having a panic attack at a health retreat, of all places.

Creative people may be more open to talk about how they are feeling. As a writer Freedman knew she should write about her anxiety, but needed perspective and to be honest about the fact that she needed medication before she was ready to. It’s only in the last four months that Freedman was finally able to discuss this on her blog Debrief Daily. She said that when you are open and honest people give it back to you.

Ramona Koval said she has been obsessed with reading all she could read and knowing all she could know. This was driven by anxiety and the worry that she wouldn’t be accepted in the literary world. However, there is something to be said for surviving anxiety and growing from it as a writer and human.

The process of writing as agony, said Andrew Knight, you have to go slightly mad to do it.

Most of Knight’s writing has come from being an anxious youth. He spent a lot of time in his own head. When Knight struggles to get an idea he finds it sheer living agony.

Koval had a different view, insisting that writers are lucky. ‘It’s really not that hard! If I can’t work it out I go for a walk or have a nap.’ she said.

‘Try sitting and thinking for hours, it absolutely hurts your brain,’ replied Knight, ‘especially if there is nothing there!’

There is a difference between anxiety and stress, according to Freedman. Stress is helpful, while anxiety is not indexed to anything.

Other people’s opinions used to matter a lot to Knight. He believes it was a matter of ego. Now Knight has reached a level he describes as ‘sexual implausibility’ where it really is about the craft. The craft is all you have left in your senior years”.

Freedman suggests learning what self-soothes you and using that. Freedman likes exercise and a big cup of tea, so she travels with a big mug. Obama only has two suits so it frees his mind for other decisions. By locking the foundations in place, Freedman believes she can be more creative in her life.

So is anxiety associated with creativity? It certainly seems to be the case for these writers, as it is for many creative people. Yet how we deal with this anxiety appears to be the important part. Therefore, I’m off to make myself a nice big cup of tea.

 – Sara Khamkoed

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Sara Khamkoed is an artist and writer based in The Northern Rivers. She is currently completing a Bachelor Degree in Visual Arts/Secondary Education with a second major in English at Southern Cross University. Sara covered the 2015 Byron Bay Writers Festival for Rochford Street Review.

For further information on the Byron bay Writers Festival go to  http://www.byronbaywritersfestival.com.au/

The Juxtaposition of Beauty and Ugliness: Sara Khamkoed Discusses John Dahlsen’s Session at the Byron Bay Writers Festival

John Dahlsen speaking  with Jeni Caffin o at the Bryon Bay Writers Festival. Photograph - Sara Khamkoed

John Dahlsen speaking with Jeni Caffin at the Byron Bay Writers Festival. Photograph – Sara Khamkoed

Protecting our environment is of vital importance in contemporary society. Artists and writers have the ability to highlight environmental issues in a way that is accessible, thought-provoking, and at times beautiful.

John Dahlsen is a contemporary environmental artist and author of three books; An Accidental Environmental Artist  (Alpha Academic Press 2014), An Artist’s Guide to a Successful Career (Common Ground Publishing 2013) and Art Insights (One Creation 2009). Dahlsen uses recycled materials to examine how time affects the landscape and the place of humankind within this.

Dahlsen said he originally went to the beach to clean up rubbish. As he filled garbage bags full of debris he became intrigued. ‘I was so excited finding all this plastic on the beach; I got my pallet and I left the beach clean’ said Dahlsen. It was this moment that inspired Dahlsen to use rubbish in his work, eventually becoming known as a leader in the field of environmental art.

Dahlsen finds some unusual objects while scouring the beach. Once he found half a pair of plastic broken dentures. About half an hour later he found the other half, both of which he has incorporated into his work.

Environmental ethics are important in Dahlsen’s work. Not many people want to know about garbage patches. Dahlsen said the government needs to find a solution. He suggested that fishermen who overfish the ocean and create much of the rubbish should go and clean it up, being paid by weight for what they collect. ‘The only issue is who is going to pay?’

Making something beautiful with a sense of aesthetics is important to Dahlsen. He feels it’s a tightrope of working with something ugly and creating something beautiful.

The Absolut Dahlsen. Sculpture by the Sea, Bondi, Sydney 2004

The Absolut Dahlsen. Sculpture by the Sea, Bondi, Sydney 2004 – Photograph from artists website

Dahlsen  described how he once spent many hours in his studio sorting rubbish into piles like yellow, red, thongs and bottle tops. Yet whenever he found brown plastic he would always throw it into a corner. When he decided to document his piles of rubbish by standing on a ladder and photographing them he became aware of the brown rubbish. He realised ‘Oh my god, this is so beautiful. Who am I to judge brown?’ This was a profound moment for him.

In the juxtaposition of beauty and ugliness sometimes things can be viewed as neither- they just are. By shining a spotlight on the rubbish that is washed up on beaches, John Dahlsen not only creates amazing works of art to be enjoyed, but will hopefully help to generate change in the way we respond to waste and care for our environment.

-Sara Khamkoed

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Sara Khamkoed is an artist and writer based in The Northern Rivers. She is currently completing a Bachelor Degree in Visual Arts/Secondary Education with a second major in English at Southern Cross University. Sara covered the 2015 Byron Bay Writers Festival for Rochford Street Review.

For further information the Byron bay Writers Festival go to http://www.byronbaywritersfestival.com.au/

John Dahlsen’s website can be found at http://www.johndahlsen.com/

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The Byron Bay Writers Festival on the Road: Sara Khamkoed Encounters 5 Writers in Alstonville

Rochford Street Review at the Byron Bay Writers Festival

BBWF2015_5Writers5Days5Towns_A3 Poster 2Byron Bay Writers Festival has been on the road with The Five Writers Road Trip. This adventure involves five writers visiting five towns in five days.

I was lucky enough to see the five writers at their fourth stop in the little town of Alstonville. The audience was entertained with book readings, insights into the writing process and a discussion on how readers have responded to their work. The writers included Zohab Zee Kahn, Mark Dapin, Chris Flynn, Lian Hearn and Ellen Van Neervan, with Zachary Jane as MC and chair.

Zachary Jane asked the writers about how they researched for their books. Ellen Van Neervan said the research for her book Heat and Light was 20 percent personal experiences, 20 percent observations and 70 percent imagination (with a total of 110 percent, which is what it took to write her book!). Zohab Zee Khan- whose book I Write is a collection of his slam poetry- said that his research comes from living life; what he reads in the paper, hears in conversations and sees on the news.

When discussing how the writers felt when their books were published, Lian Hearn said that when her very first book was published many years ago she experienced a strange feeling she described as shame. Her book, which had come from herself, was now outside herself. Mark Dapin and Chris Flynn agreed about this feeling of shame. Dapin said that it’s a cycle of shame and aspiration. He gets good and bad reviews but the bad reviews affect him more and he remembers them. Flynn agreed, saying ‘I used to be suspicious of people who said they liked my book’. Hearn then added that after shame comes affirmation. ‘It’s wonderful to write something that reaches people all over the world. It’s a see-saw, you’re either extremely elated or in the depths of despair’.

Ellen Van Neerven’s book Heat and Light reaches young people sometimes. She said ‘I hope this helps them know they aren’t alone, that their difference can also be a strength’.

Zohan Zee Kahn also described how he reached people though his love of poetry, motivational speaking and telling stories. He described a moment after performing some poetry, when a woman came and told him ‘I really needed that’. The woman went on to explain that she had been planning on killing herself that weekend, but that hearing Khan had changed her mind. Khan said he went to his car and cried. He explained we are all just people and concluded: ‘There are power in words’.

For those in the Northern Rivers you can still see The Five Writers Road Trip at their final stop on 6th August from 7.00-8.30pm at The Hot Wok Restaurant, Murwillumbah Golf Club, 233 Byangum Rd. For bookings call The Hot Wok Restaurant on 6672 4041.

You can also see all five writers at The Byron Bay Writers Festival from the 7th – 9th August. For more information and bookings see http://www.byronbaywritersfestival.com.au/

– Sara Khamkoed

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Sara Khamkoed is an artist and writer based in The Northern Rivers. She is currently completing a Bachelor Degree in Visual Arts/Secondary Education with a second major in English at Southern Cross University.

For further details on the Byron Bay Writers Festival go to  http://www.byronbaywritersfestival.com.au/

The program for the festival can be found at  http://issuu.com/nrwc/docs/bbwritersfestival2015-program-v7

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Connections: Sara Khamkoed reviews ‘Interchange: A Printmaking Dialogue between Australia and Thailand’ at the Mosman Art Gallery

Interchange: A Printmaking Dialogue between Australia and Thailand at the Mosman Art Gallery (Sydney) until 12 July 2015

I recently made a twelve hour journey all the way from my rural village of Koonorigan (inland from Byron Bay), to the Mosman Art Gallery in Sydney. This adventure by car, train, bus and foot was to see the exhibition Interchange: A Printmaking Dialogue between Australia and Thailand, an exhibition that I simply couldn’t miss.

This exhibition examines the printmaking history and relationships between Australia and Thailand. It features prominent artists from both countries who use a variety of traditional and contemporary printmaking techniques.

Twenty Australian artists are involved in Interchange, including ten from The Australian National University School of Art in Canberra and ten from The University of New South Wales Art & Design in Sydney. This selection of works by Australian printmakers explore political, social, historical and geographic themes.

Michael Kempson’s etching East and West may at first appear cute; with rows of soft, cuddly creatures looking wide-eyed at the viewer. Yet these little animals represent their nations of origin, symbolising global conflict and battles for power. The American eagle and Chinese panda are notable in their numbers and placement, while the Australian koala and New Zealand kiwi are two single animals in the bottom right corner, appearing rather minor in this play for global domination.

Michael Kempson East and West, 2014 Etching and aquatint 68 x 101cm

Michael Kempson East and West, 2014 Etching and aquatint 68 x 101cm

Rew Hank’s linocut Stop there’s no need to shoot the natives is an impressive work, and one that I highly recommend you see in person if possible. The scale of this work is the first aspect that confronts the viewer, measuring 75 x 100 cm. Within this large print is an amazing attention to detail and a highly skilled, subtle use of tone and line. The imagery is slowly revealed through close examination by the viewer. White, colonial settlers appear to land in Botany Bay, bringing along a host of foreign species including a pig, cat, fox and treasure chest of toads. This could imply that the settlers are also an introduced species. In the distance we see two kangaroos, and as the title pompously proclaims ‘Stop there’s no need to shoot the natives’, we may ponder their true intentions.

Raw Hanks Stop there’s no need to shoot the natives, 2013 Linocut 75 x 100cm

Raw Hanks Stop there’s no need to shoot the natives, 2013 Linocut 75 x 100cm

Ingeborg Hansen’s screenprint Statistics depicts rows of doll-like silhouettes in red and black. This may be a familiar image to many, as it adopts the info-graphic model that is often used to provide broad statistics about society. Yet Hansen’s work provokes us to question how reliable the data created and used by contemporary authorities really is. What’s more, could a graph ever truly convey the complexities of individual human experiences and lives?

The ten Thai artists who contributed to Interchange are predominantly from Bangkok and Chiang Mai. Their work responds to life experiences and cultural backgrounds, memories and imagination, as well as social, political and ecological matters.

Ammarin Kuntawong’s etching Bush Town is a dream-like image of his birthplace in Lanna. Within this detailed work are houses, trees, temples, mountains and pagodas that depict Kuntawong’s life and culture. The variety of tones and fine line work creates beautiful, flowing patterns across the image that deserve close examination.

Ammarin Kuntawong Bush Town, 2014 Etching 70 x 100cm

Ammarin Kuntawong Bush Town, 2014 Etching 70 x 100cm

Vimonmarn Khanthachavana uses woodblock, offset and stamping in her work Pincushion in hand. This bronze, black and white image has a luminous, metallic shine when viewed in person. Khanthachavana uses photographic imagery to convey her life experiences, pain and suffering. In Pincushion in hand, Khanthachavana uses her hands to represent her state of mind. In her left hand is a pincushion made from the artist’s hair, with each pin representing a year of her life. Khanthachavana’s right hand remains open, symbolising freedom from pain and suffering. This image gives the viewer an insight into a personal narrative that many people may relate to.

Vimonmarn Khanthachavana Pincushion in hand 2006, 2013 Woodblock, offset and stamping 70 x 100 cm

Vimonmarn Khanthachavana Pincushion in hand 2006, 2013 Woodblock, offset and stamping
70 x 100 cm

Wittamon Niwattichai used hard ground line drawing on cotton vintage handkerchiefs in her work Jasmine. Three young schoolgirls are shown at play, precariously balanced on top of one another. Depicted around them are objects of domestic life and floral patterns within the crotchet borders of the handkerchiefs. Niwattichai’s work describes her experience as an artist and housewife during the political conflicts and violence of mass demonstrations against the former Thai government in 2014. Here, she expresses feelings of vulnerability, uncertainty and insecurity, but also of feminine defiance.

Wittamon Niwattichai Jasmin, 2014 Hard ground on handkerchiefs 40 x 40 cm

Wittamon Niwattichai Jasmin, 2014 Hard ground on handkerchiefs 40 x 40 cm

Interchange is installed so that the works by Australian and Thai artists are intermingled, focusing on the work’s subject matter rather than their country of origin. Here, the works create a dialogue between each other; outback landscapes sit across from Lanna villages, an image of Tony Abbot with a young refugee girl is near a reversed map of Thailand, vessels float across dark water while in another image turtles scurry along a beach. Throughout Interchange we can observe how Australia and Thailand are connected, and what makes each country unique. Viewers are able to gain insight into Australian and Thai culture, creating new ties and understanding.

This exhibition was certainly well worth my long journey. I highly recommend you go and see it for yourself.

– Sara Khamkoed

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Sara Khamkoed is an artist and writer based in The Northern Rivers. She is currently completing a Bachelor Degree in Visual Arts/Secondary Education with a second major in English at Southern Cross University.

Interchange: A Printmaking Dialogue between Australia and Thailand  is at the Mosman Art Gallery, Corner Art Gallery Way and Myahgah Road, Mosman, NSW Australia until 12 July 2015. details http://mosmanartgallery.org.au/

Images of artworks courtesy of the Mosman Art Gallery and Michael Kempson

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