Thursday, August 9, 2012

Writing Holidays That Inspire.

Writing holidays that inspire

By Jan Cornall ArtsHub | Wednesday, September 14, 2011
We all know writing can be a lonely business. I spent years wondering - was I was really depressed or did I just need to speak to another human being every once in a while. A decade ago when I began teaching writing, my motivation was purely selfish. I needed a workshop to find out if other writers were going through the same torture and thought perhaps I could offer a thing or too about my writing process that might be helpful. 
After leading workshops around Sydney, I began running weekends at a friend’s B&B in Braidwood and in 2004 I took a group to Bali in conjunction with the first Ubud Writers and Readers Festival, which I was also helping out with. I’d been a student of meditation for many years and so it was second nature for me to develop a meditative writing method which I still use, to take writers deep into sense memory. It began producing startling results. People couldn’t get enough of it and so I was back and forth to Bali every three months working with local writers, expats and Aussie travellers who weren’t about to let the threat of terrorism ruin their writing holiday.

Around the same time I was approached by Raymond Hawkins, a walking guide who runs trips to the Central Desert and Tasmania’s old growth rainforests. I jumped at the chance to work closely with writers in these vastly contrasting landscapes and have just completed my tenth ‘walk and write’ with his company Into The Blue.

I decided to call my company Writers Journey because that’s essentially what I do – support writers on their journey in the most inspiring places I can find. At the moment I have four annual trips going out but I’m always on the lookout for more.

The Writers Journey year starts in March with Breakthrough Writing in Fiji. The first thing you notice when you get off the plane is the way Fijians walk. It’s the slow relaxed gait of people from a tropical clime. There’s no point in hurrying and besides it’s just too darned hot. The rush, rush of our city-folk ways seems suddenly ludicrous and as you begin slowing it down and remembering this is the pace human beings are supposed amble along at.

It is just the kind of advice writers need. We think we have to push, push, push, to get our work out there, but first we need to slow it down to below the beat of our heart. Daku Resort in Savusavu Bay on the second island Vanua Levu, is just the place to do it. This sleepy little backwater with only one main street doesn’t know the meaning of traffic jam or deadline. It’s all ‘rubber time’ here and so it should be in a writer’s world. That doesn’t mean we slack off or don’t turn up to the morning workshop, but in a week of breakthrough writing, we let time stretch out so there’s room for everything.

By the end of the week these writers can’t understand why they still feel so relaxed when they have all been working so hard. We pack our bags, sorry to leave, resolving to keep the slow Savusavu roll in our step when we arrive back in the land of the busy.’ Finish what you start’ is my parting advice and ‘remember, when it all gets too hard, just come back to the writing, that’s all you have to do’.

Next up at the end of June, is Desert Writers. Timed to coincide with the Alice Springs Beanie Festival we buy our outrageous fashion beanies to keep our heads warm on the cold desert nights ahead. By day we have sun hats and sun block out but for sleeping in swags under the spectacular Milky Way, nothing can surpass wearing a tea cosy to bed. Each day we walk (3-4 hours) and each day we write (as much as we want to) with workshops in camp and on track. Our first camp is below Mt Sonder, a women’s dreaming place, with day walks to Ochre Pits, Ormiston Gorge and along the wide riverbed of Davenport Creek. Then we swing around past Gosses Bluff to our Tjilpa camp, kindly provided by Traditional Landowners Mavis and Herman Malbunka, who join us for dinner to tell the stories of their country and take us off next morning for secret men’s and women’s business.

All week we work not only with the senses but the elements; earth water, wind, fire, space; noticing their action on the landscape we walk through, using them as prompts for revising writers craft and asking what our writing needs more of – the fluidity of water, the grounding of earth, the freedom of air or wind, the intensity of fire or the openness of endless space? We arrive back in Alice like journeyers who have been out back for a long time, hungry for the mod con’s of life, while already missing the sense of having connected so deeply with earth and sky and the camaraderie of fellow writers.

Backstage Bali, is a different version of my old Ubud writer’s retreat follows in July. Since the phenomena of Eat, Pray, Love turned this serene hill town into a grid lock of busloads of newly arrived western women (hoping the same thing that happened to Elizabeth Gilbert will happen to them), I knew I needed to find a new venue. It just so happened that my Bali publishers had taken over the running of their family hotel in Kintamani, high up on the ridge looking over the lake of Mt Batur, a majestic volcano rising up from its shores.

In her early twenties New Zealander Sarita Newson married into a Kintamani family whose ancestry can be traced to the earliest ‘tribe’ who arrived here. It is into the bosom of this extended family we land for our six day journey following the compass of Balinese cosmology around this magnificent lake. Each day after morning workshops we head out with tasty lunches wrapped in banana leaf, on excursions corresponding to the elements, senses and directions: to a temple of writing in the north, a forest hermitage in the east, the hearth of a traditional Bali Aga house in the south, the holy springs of Sebatu in the west, and finally into the centre of the caldera itself.

Our guides are Sarita’s son Kadek (environmental engineer) and her daughter Trisna (architect) although it seems everyone working with us from drivers to musicians to cooks are somehow related. We have also sponsored some local writers to take part, something I am committed to doing wherever possible. A young writer from Java, West Papuan poet John Waromi, Balinese artist Made Suryadharma, Bali poet Ketut Yuliarsa and local expat writers join us, adding an infinite depth to our workshops and insights into the country we are visiting for just a short time.

The week is over too quickly but for me it’s time to get busy with my November trips - two weeks by the Mekong River in the charming heritage listed town of Luang Prabang, Laos. Taken individually or rolled into one, the first week we will write all day and read by night while the second has morning workshops with afternoon excursions to source materials and inspiration for making small artist books and zines. Meanwhile temples, night markets, local restaurants and riverside cafes, perfect for writing in, are all within walking distance.

 If two weeks seems too short who’s saying you have to leave? There’s a clever publicity slogan being used by sustainable tourism operators all over Laos – ‘Stay Another Day’ This time when I wave my writers goodbye I will stay more than another day, for my own writing time, because in the midst of all this journeying, the idea of being a lonely writer again has somehow turned into a delicious fantasy.


Friday, April 6, 2012

Art Is Today - Gang Festival, 2008

Art Is Today - An Oz/Indo Celebration of Art and Urban Life

By Jan Cornall  published in artsHub | Wednesday, January 16, 2008
If you are lucky enough to have gotten a $150 ticket to see Bjork perform on the Opera House steps in this year’s Sydney Festival you might well be pinching yourself with excitement. You might also pause for a moment to muse on Bjork’s beginnings as an artist. Chances are it was in a rundown artist warehouse that has since been converted into million dollar apartments, the fate of most artist run spaces in Sydney in recent years.
But if you think today’s generation of young artists have gone to ground or moved to the suburbs, think again. They may get turfed out of their low rent, prime real estate spots and squats, but they are expert at sniffing out new properties lying fallow right under our noses. Such artist run collectives (isn’t it nice to see that word so in use again) are also expert at running all sorts of events and festivals on the smell of an oily rag, which is how ‘successful’ big fat festivals like Sydney’s own, get their start.

It seems odd in our abundance (compared to countries that have none) of arts funding and corporate sponsorship, that this would be so, but we all know there is only so much arts mulla to go around and there can be a certain freedom in not spending months filling out endless applications full of’ flavour of the month artspeak’ only to be knocked back because you don’t quite fit the latest criteria. You could use that time to MAKE ART for example, or just go ahead anyway, with contingency plans in place - Plan B - if we don’t get all the funding or a Plan C - if we hardly get any, or Plan Z/F – zilch! fuck it! we’re gonna do it anyway!

Gang Festival, taking place this Saturday in the laneways of Chippendale, Sydney is a great example of contingency strategies in action. When a substantial funding portion for their festival didn’t come through they were not short of alternate ideas, and resorting to Plan B, C or Z/F doesn’t mean their festival is diminished in any way. In fact it could well be more vibrant and exciting, as they call in the help of local artist communities and become super creative in finding the resources they need to get the show on the road.

This is a skill well practiced in Indonesia where the Gang team have spent many years as arts workers collaborating with arts communities there who receive little financial support for their festivals and street art events.

Their time in Indo inspired the first Sydney Gang festival in 2005/06 - an ambitious exchange project between Gang and the Yogja street art collective, Taring Pady. Twenty Australian artists travelled to Yogykarta as arts residents and ten Indonesian artists came to Sydney to take part in a number of exhibitions and events including the first Gang laneway festival in Chippendale.

This year Gang is hosting a number of events and exhibitions over Sydney’s summer period. Sisa - an excellent exhibition of Indonesian art with the theme - Reuse Collaboration and Cultural Activism, at UTS gallery has been and gone. Currently showing, another inspirational exhibition at Pine St Creative Arts Centre, Chippendale, is TUK – Works for the Environment .

The Gang festival day, centred around the Pine St Peace Park and laneways or gang (in Indonesian gang means alleyway), is called 'Art Is Today' in honour of the West Sumatran festival Gang participated in last year.

Gang’s partner community this year is 'Tanam Untuk Kehidupan, or TUK (Planting for Life) a dynamic environmental arts collective from Salatiga, Java, Indonesia. Gang took part in their Mata Air festival in December last year - an eight day environment based event centred around a natural spring in Salatiga village.

'Art Day is Today' will feature a sound stage and live sites with a line up of Indonesian artists, performers,and Sydney artists including Gypsy Dub Sound System, CuzCo (WireMC + Choo Choo), and the Uberlingua djays. Along with visiting artists from TUK - Ayok and Rudy Ardinato, the festival is bringing out Nova, who is one half of the rap duo TwinSista from East Java as well as accomplished author and poet Triyanto Triwikromo, and two artists from the environment arts collective Anakseribupulau, Djuadi Suami and Exi Wijaya, plus the breathtaking four-piece percussion ensemble Kuno Kini from Jakarta. There will be a makers market, zine fair, lane way art, writer’s alley, free screen printing (BYO shirt), rubbish workshops, and picnicing in Peace Park.

While the big city festivals trundle on over weeks or a month Gang gives us a short sharp shot of art. You have to be quick or you might miss it - it lasts only five hours, from 3- 8 pm. But as a cross-cultural happy hour fest where families can bring the kids and a picnic, make their own recycled art, taste new tastes, write on the story wall in Gang Tulis, sit down lesehan style and meet Oz/Indo writers and artists, listen and dance to an eclectic mix of sound, noise, music, Indo rap, and percussion and witness underground urban performers trying out their moves, surely it must take the prize for being the most interesting and innovative of Sydney’s festivals.

Spontaneous, alive, new, fresh, inclusive, engaged –the Oz/Indo art mix is alive and irresistible. Not slick and corporate like big festivals that become too big, nor predictably the same as very other suburban festival you have ever been to, neither can it ever be equated with bad art. The new aesthetic being created by artists who exhibit their work in Gang related events in Indonesia and Oz is thrilling and exciting.

Co - directors Rebecca Conroy and Ali Crosby, both passionate art makers, are committed to a process of creating places where people can make and experience art. Any one who has traveled or worked in arts communities in Indonesia will recognizes this special flavour and spirit present in the Gang festival and events. It is a raw, grass roots, people inclusive, engaged art vibe, that has been missing from our lives for too long.

Bjork I am sure would feel right at home in Gang. In fact I think an invitation is being dispatched as we speak - only I won’t tell anyone if you don’t.

Storm of Words Reach out Across Seas - The New Anthology Terra.
Jakarta Post 06/11/2007

Jan Cornall, Contributor, Sydney
A new storm is brewing across the small stretch of sea separating northern Australia from its neighbors. One of its by-products is a bilingual anthology from WordStorm, the Northern Territory Writers Festival, held in Darwin.

Some of the best writers and poets from Indonesia, Timor Leste, Singapore and Australia are represented in a new book titled Terra, launched June 2 at the Sydney Writers Festival.

All the writers have one thing in common: They have all been guests of the WordStorm festival since its conception in 2004.

This impressive volume of 65 short stories and poetry by 45 authors -- including Indonesian writers Ayu Utami, Nukila Amal, Linda Christanty, Triyanto Triwikromo, Iswadi Pratama and Dorothea Rosa Herliany -- is edited by Sandra Thibodeaux in Darwin and Sitok Srengenge in Jakarta, with most pieces translated by Kadek Krishna Adidharma in Bali.

Funded by the Australia-Indonesia Institute and ArtsNT, Terra is published jointly by Indonesia's Kata Kita and the NT Writers Centre.

Hot off the press only days before, it sold like hotcakes at the launch venue overlooking Sydney Harbour, where a crowd had gathered to hear select readings from Terra.

Editor Thibodeaux explained the history behind the book and its title, then the audience were treated to some moving readings.

Readings featured a short story by Aboriginal elder Alec Kruger was read by co-author Gerard Waterford, as well as a play excerpt about Indonesian and Malaysian students in Melbourne by Alana Valentine, a sad yet funny Martini story from Frank Moorhouse and an ode to Sydney by Mike Merrill titled Night Knows.

Indigenous Australian poet Romaine Moreton read her poems, Beside the River and Freedom Now, followed by their Bahasa Indonesia translations read by Jarrah Sastrawan, a high school student.
The power of this moment was not lost on those in the audience -- Indigenous Australian writing read by a young man who carried more than a hint of Indonesian poetic tradition in his voice as his father, Balinese poet and musician Ketut Yuliarsa, looked on.

It is also fitting that the Utan Kayu International Literary Biennale, based in Jakarta, and the Ubud Writers & Readers Festival (UWRF) in Bali, would be launching Terra this year. The movement of writers and their work traveling between new festivals in the region has nurtured the latest cross-cultural literary wave just starting to break on our shores.

The triad of WordStorm, the Utan Kayu biennale and the UWRF has nurtured a strong flow of communication between writers, publishers, translators and the reading public.

A series of readings at various cultural centers across the archipelago are planned for the Indonesia launch of Terra at the two international literary events. Supported by the Indonesia-Australia Language Foundation (IALF), readings will also be held at all IALF English teaching centers.

Terra, like Utan Kayu's bilingual festival publications, provides a great model for other festivals to follow. Funding for translators is key to turning this wave into a significant movement.

The benefit to the literary community goes without saying: When some the best writers from each featured nation are compiled in a single volume, readers who wouldn't normally travel so far afield are able to partake of a literary feast without leaving home.

No travel warnings or visa problems here. Instead, a bunch of neighbors have reached across terra firma and written up a storm.