Fiona McGregor

Posted on July 10, 2010 by


Hi Fiona,

Welcome to lala.

The last time we spoke was when you were in Berlin and your were having issues with your artist residency, did that manage to resolve itself?

I had a fantastic, unofficial residency with Basso Art Collective. The rest of the time I rented rooms in apartments – most of my time in Berlin was spent writing.

How important is travel to your work?

Not very. I have gone for many years where I couldn’t even afford to fly from Sydney to Melbourne. I just happen to have traveled last year, and because I went away for so long, I took my work with me. However, I have taken advantage of travel in the sense that I’ve seen performance art that I couldn’t see here. We get to see almost everything in Australia in terms of theatre, literature and the visual arts, but performance art doesn’t travel here because it is quite marginal. In the context of literature, of writing a novel set in Sydney, it was really fortuitous to get some distance from my subject for the final drafts of the book.

I am fascinated with the variety of your practice, you are a novelist and also a durational performance artist, these things seem at odds in a way, without become too binary, the mind vs the body…

Yes, they are at odds. It’s just the way things have played out. It’s where I’ve evolved to. I began as a musician, then began writing in the short story mode, then novels, then performance … As a performance artist I began in a theatrical Dionysian context – queer dance party culture – the body and extreme use of it are central to this, and that is what led to the endurance work, which is what my focus has been now for some years and will be for a time to come.

How does one influence the other?

Hhmmm … Endurance, time, focus, discipline, patience, awareness, stillness … these are things the two have in common. Long stretches of time are required for both. In that sense I’ve realised that they are quite closely related. I’m attracted to that because I’m actually a rather hyperactive impatient person. So by doing this sort of work I learn a lot, and calm down. I think in a broader sense I’m attracted to working in this way, in these genres, as an antidote to a contemporary culture that is very sound-bite driven, gimmicky, and rewards quantity, speed and volume above all else.

I am interested in the work Tidal Walk where you walked the length of Bondi Beach from sun up til sundown, was this a performance piece or do you see it as research? Are you interested in the viewer of this work being a part of the process, or is this a work for you and your own body?

No, I don’t see it as research. I’m a little suspicious of the way that word has been co-opted in, I think, response to funding requirements. You could say, as an artist, that everything is research. The process is always more important than the product, and so on. Certainly it is as a novelist – we can never predict what we may end up using as we go through life observing and absorbing. I don’t like doing things publicly let alone showing them until they are as developed as I can possibly make them, which doesn’t mean things don’t sometimes go out in a raw state. They do. I feel the same way as a punter – I’m not terribly interested in works-in-progress. Tidal Walk was a very personal and ritualistic performance, one that didn’t require an ever present audience, although the companionship of a photographer and friends towards the end was very happily received. All performances I do are for me and my body, but all of them also – even Tidal Walk in a very oblique way – invite sharing and therefore necessarily include an audience. The way that work is shared varies enormously, (publication of a novel, show in a gallery, walk along the beach, or through documentation afterwards, etc) and within that sharing process all sorts of interesting chemistry occurs. It’s the final episode in the creation of a work, like cool air on the cake when you take it out of the oven. (But hey, maybe the cake continues its life in the journey through the body that eats and converts it to energy, help! We could go on about this forever … )

Do you feel like you are part of a community of performance artists/live artists in Australia? Or do you feel like the writing community is more where you feel like you belong?

It’s funny, in a way I don’t belong in either camp. I socialise outside of both. I have a lot of visual artist and musician friends, or people who don’t work in the arts (phew). But I have also naturally built up friendships with both writers and performers. The  literary community here is big whilst the live art community in Australia is miniscule. Performance here is mostly experimental theatre or dance or text or movement based …

You are visiting Melbourne on a book tour supporting a new novel, have you returned to Australia? How do you see Australia at the moment, both politically and artistically?

I came home end of April, as planned, for the publication of Indelible Ink. I’m living in Sydney, still looking for permanent accommodation, still catching up on how things are. I danced for Gillard for 24 hours for the momentous symbol of a woman leading the country for the first time, then I came back to the reality of opportunism and skullduggery – politics anywhere, anytime. All we can do is sit back and wait and see. I don’t agree with the compromises made on the mining tax, but some say Rudd would have made the same. (I wish they’d let him run his course). I’m disappointed with Gillard’s weakness with Isreal and her refugee policies. Me and my housemate fell asleep during The Great Debate – haha – maybe what is most disappointing so far is the woman is just so dull! Some say she’ll her lefty guts back when she wins .. who knows? I’ll keep voting green. l loathe the corrupt NSW Labor Party as much if not more than ever and think they should all be thrown into Albion St lock-up in perpetuity at their own expense. I’m disturbed by our mining wealth, I’m superstitious about what evil spirits we’re stirring from the underworld that will come back and haunt us, yet another chapter in our rape of the land …  we are obscenely rich: so much (land) fat must affect our brain cells, artists as much as anyone. Too many artists are timorous when it comes to creative endeavour and ruthless when it comes to careers and funding: it should be the other way around. I think there’s a big problem with the top heavy corporate model of artist organisations which pays CEOs at the Opera House, Carriageworks, and of theatre and dance companies six figure salaries. Considering the majority of artists and writers can’t earn a living from their trade, this is a Feudal system, patently unfair and also inefficient. I leads to cynicism and despair.
I also lament the diminution of the autodidact. People are often amazed I didn’t go to uni, but every creative writing teacher knows that reading is your best teacher. Peter Porter didn’t go to university and was one of the most erudite of 20th century Australian poets. Robert Gray ditto. Lots of writers used to train in cadet journalism – pretty much out amongst life. Now it is assumed that you have to go to uni or art school to ‘become’ a writer or artist. Once again, a corporate, careerist model prevails. In rock’n’roll thankfully you are still able to just pick up your instrument and begin …
We have some GREAT artists. Yeah, very inspiring. I see and read great art every year, from all over the world, and I love that. Last night I saw Annabel Lines perform a sizzling show at a tribute night at Red Rattler. She rocks.

Do you have an upcoming work that you will be making in Australia?

Yes, I’m currently writing a long essay about Paris – personal memoir style – that I hope to get published by the end of the year. And I’m itching to begin work again on a novel I started ten years ago then put aside. I have a show at MOP gallery next year in February and one in September at Artspace, for which I will be performing live and screening video works and an installation from my ongoing series of performances about Water.

Thanks Fiona!

Thanks to you.

Fiona McGregor’s website is here.

Posted in: Interviews