Arts Writing Hot House participants publish responses to art in their region

At the end of 2018, four writers from regional South Australia at different career levels took part in Country Arts SA’s inaugural Arts Writing Hot House in partnership with Flinders University Art Museum.

The Arts Writing Hot House was presented in three stages and included a public forum, a two day workshop intensive held at Flinders University, and a mentorship component. The participants explored the intricacies of arts writing across all disciplines and worked towards strengthening their writing style, learning from arts industry professionals.

Following the three days intensive in Adelaide, the participants spent six months working with a mentor to develop a piece of writing which responded to an arts experience in their region.

The Arts Writing Hot House participants are Kerry Rochford of Normanville (mentor Mel Rankin, Director of FABRIK in Lobethal), Alex Cleland of Brinkworth (mentor Gerry Wedd, artist in Port Elliot), Fleur Peters of Kingscote (mentor John Neylon, Adelaide based writer) and Gina Raisin of Mount Gambier (mentor Debbie Pryor, Artistic Programs Manager, Guildhouse).

Gina Raisin was drawn to respond to an Ann Newmarch artwork. Her response was borne from “a strong personal memory enhanced by a powerful image, intertwined with popular culture of then and now”.

“It was serendipitous that the work John Lennon and My Two Sons was included in an exhibition curated by Serena Wong of the Riddoch Art Gallery in November 2018,” she said. “I hadn’t seen the work since its first showing at the gallery; the work has held a place in my cerebral art catalogue.” Gina’s piece on the emotions of the then and now of John Lennon’s assassination reflects on a time in world history, her place in it, and her memories.

“I found writing the piece pleasurable as I spent a lot of time thinking about and discussing the idea with others before heading to the keyboard,” she said.  “Having a fellow storyteller and practising artist as a mentor was fortuitous. Debbie and I enjoyed some lively and sometimes deeply personal conversations.

“I also learnt a great deal from the other Hotties. Everyone was generous and brave enough to share their fears and uncertainties as writers. The sense of solidarity in the group was heart-warming and encouraging.”

Though writing about different subjects, the Hot House participants connected through their love of words, and supported and encouraged each other to strengthen their writing. The Arts Writing Hot House brought together people physically distanced by landscape to find a connection through their love of writing and compassion in helping others reach their creative potential.

Gallery operator and curator Fleur Peters lives on Kangaroo Island, literally an island separated from the mainland.

“I value positive peer support and encouragement greatly, especially living as a relatively isolated country resident,” she said. “I was awed by the combined talents amongst all of us and reminded of the powerful learning experiences to be gained from participating in group work. I can recall conversations, and ‘penny dropping’ moments that will stay with me a very long time.”

Fleur’s topic was her late friend and fellow KI artist Cath Cantlon.

“I am proud to have resolved my writing piece with the assistance of a knowledgeable, supportive and encouraging mentor. Initially it was a challenge to delve into my chosen subject – three decades of an artist’s practice – to find a starting point and focus. The final published piece is the mere tip of the mammoth iceberg that is all the words I have written over more than three months, with many weeks of editing and refining the piece, and discarding much of the material I was attached to, to achieve a cogent final draft.

“I do like my final draft when I read it for what it is and not focus on what else I wished to include. I am uncertain what I expected being new to arts writing, but have enjoyed the learning process, and am already contemplating other pieces I wish to write. I knew I could be slow to form words, but even I didn’t know I could sit for whole afternoons and craft a single three sentence paragraph, that I would ultimately scrap!”

Each participant was had a 500 word limit to explore their chosen topic – a proposition that challenged each of them to hone writing style.

Kerry Rochford wrote about Deborah Twining exhibition When tales are long and often turn corners… at the Hahndorf Academy. The exhibition explored the 100th anniversary of Nurse Bertha Schmidtke opening the Ambleside Hospital (now the Hahndorf Academy) and the lives of those that used the space.

“I felt a great sense of pride when I had finished my writing,” she said. “I was initially frustrated with the word limit as I felt there was more I wanted to say, but the art of keeping sentences succinct and to the point was a valuable skill to learn. I expected I would be able to achieve the goal set as I have been writing for some time and have received sufficient feedback over the years to know that I am a capable writer.

“The learning I received from the Hot House was quite overwhelming. The whole four days were filled with information, talks, a mini conference and writing exercises. All were carefully designed to lead to the point where the participants felt they had been armed with tools and skills to complete an arts piece of writing. In hindsight, I believe my biggest learning was the skill of editing a piece of writing a number of times. In the past I have tended to read things over and tweak a few lines. Since the Hot House I have certainly endeavoured to keep editing until the writing is as tight as I can make it.”

“Being with a group of likeminded writers was such an energising experience. All the other participants were generous in their feedback and support. I felt that valuable connections were made and different styles of writing were appreciated and shared willingly.”

Alex Cleland wanted to explore the artist profile as a format and did so through a relaxed and intimate tone.  She didn’t think she would be able to meet local painters Robert Hannaford and Alison Mitchell but after sending an email to Alison, was surprised to hear back so quickly.

“I had a privileged insight into the daily working life of two of our region’s finest artists and so I wanted to convey something a bit special but without being gushy,” she said.

“I was struck by the companionable way Alison and Alfie worked together. They seemed very content at home out there in the middle of nowhere. I also live in the Mid North and could relate to their connection to the landscape. I feel that I conveyed that in my writing. They were very generous with their time, showing me around their home and studio and chatting candidly about their work and lives together. From the outset I wanted this to be a personal story and am happy that it was.”

Confessing that her style in art is “prosaic”, Alex said she wanted to think outside of her comfort zone. When the connection with Hannaford and Mitchell was made she couldn’t believe her luck – she had been given “a key into a new realm”.

“The Hot House has given me confidence and kudos to take the next step… I know that the resources are there and I need to dedicate time to finding some direction.”

With thousands of kilometres between their homes, the Hot House participants found common ground in shared experiences and a positive outlook for future writing opportunities and careers.

“The other hotties were fabulous women with such rich experiences and wonderful outlooks,” Alex said. “I hope that we will all remain friends.  I felt encouraged and excited about the future.”

Interested in reading their short stories? You can read them here.

Bottom Left Image by Marcus Jones