Monday, June 06, 2016

Failure is...

part of Failure:Lab Vivid Ideas Festival 2016

Listen to recording:

So let’s just get this out there – I’m a failed Sound Artist. Actually, I’m a failed Sound Artist and a failed Producer. The story I’m going to tell you is about creative collaboration that spans two personal relationships; two collaborative partnerships. Two stories that – at least in my mind – have interwoven into one. One meta-failure.

To me, failure is about grief.

Many years ago I was deeply in love with and living with another artist. The connection we had (at least from my perspective) was beyond intense. I wanted absolutely to have it all, y’know – be one of those “arts power couples”. We lived in Japan together for a bit and then began working collaboratively on audiovisual projects. (But I was probably pushing my desires for creative collaboration onto him.)
A couple of years into our relationship we’d pulled off two significant funding opportunities – a major grant and a commission. Not bad for two twenty-somethings.

An Australian media arts organisation, called Experimenta, had commissioned us to produce an interactive audiovisual installation. It was about the sense of isolation in large cities – a work we called “alone/apart”. (Should’ve given that name a bit more thought.)

Things were a bit weird and one evening he came home and dumped my ass with a 20-minute leaving speech - telling me that he was seeing someone else we both knew. So, while I was packing up and moving out that very same night, he took her to his work Christmas party. You can’t fault him on his efficiency.

Despite this deeply traumatising situation, I was so wedded to our creative project, particularly the ideas in it – I refused to let it go.
Against everyone else’s better judgement – cause I clearly had no idea what I was thinking – I refused to ‘let go’ of the commission. I didn’t want him to take all the credit for the concept.

In order to for he and I to work together, the commissioning organisation had to meet with us to organise a mediator. One hot late summer’s afternoon, we met at the café with an Experimenta staff member, who had to mediate a meeting between us in order to organise a mediator. (Have a think about that for a minute…)

With the mediator, we spent several months meeting each fortnight to develop the project (again in a public space of course – as I supposedly know all the tricks about deescalating difficult situations). The process damaged me beyond belief.

Needless to say, the work wasn’t ‘excellent’. He wasn’t speaking to me (he’d only speak via the mediator) and I was on the verge of tears the whole time anyway. As a result alone/apart was never exhibited by Experimenta… or anyone else. They still chose to pay us (though god knows why). The project was an utter failure.

I never made audiovisual installations with anyone else ever again.

Somehow, the end of my relationship and creative partnership threw me into a place where I found my voice, my creative voice.

I even performed a sound art piece on April Fool’s Day (which incidentally would’ve been our 4-year anniversary) at a Sound Art event he and his new girlfriend were running. (They were both visual artists.)
My performance ended with “well fuck you, and fuck your art”. If he was no longer speaking to me, and I had things to say, then why not put them out there, in front of 100 others.

For a while he, his new girlfriend and I all lived in the same small city, and it was truly awful. I eventually threw myself into the world and moved to Berlin (something that he and I had been planning to do together; we’d even been going to German language evening classes).

Instead, I did it alone.

Berlin was both a personal and creative re-emergence for me. I had found my home; the place where I truly belonged. I made new friends there – who are now like family to me.

Two weeks before my visa ran out and I had to leave Berlin, I met my second personal/creative soulmate. It was a different connection, but as I found out years later – it was even more connected and intense. That’s another story, however, and Hindsight’s a real bitch.

I was even happier to connect with this new person because he wasn’t an artist. He was a technician (a sound engineer) - so I was pretty relieved, actually. We met working together on a Sound Art festival. He was the technical director, I was his tech assistant. It was the burgeoning of another collaborative partnership.

To me, this was my second chance.

As I’d lost so much in my first big breakup, it was a huge deal, a MASSIVE fucking DEAL for me to introduce this new guy to my friends and my creative networks. (And, I told him so.) Despite the risks, I took the leap and offered him connections, networks and opportunities here in Australia.

As I no longer had a visa that enabled me to live in Berlin, nor did he have one to live in Sydney, we straddled two countries, going backwards and forwards – working together when we were geographically co-located and even when we were apart.

Sometimes I was his tech assistant and, other times I ran the show, with him working to me. (He definitely didn’t like that as much.)

The day after Valentines Day (he knew I hated Hallmark occasions), he asked me to marry him… and started referring to me as his fiancé (something I’d never experienced before… and haven’t since). I sunk everything I had, my heart, my soul, my evenings and all my fucking finances into being together – working towards an “intent to marry” visa.
(A visa that – should you need to know – only lasts for 9 months. We started calling it the ‘knocked-up’ visa). In fact, this was a recommendation he’d been given by staff at the Australian embassy in Berlin, should we want to expedite the process.

Incidentally – I’d busted an ankle around this time, just after running a major festival. (My friends told me I needed a break – but that’s not kind they meant.) With a major injury, I wasn’t in a place to relocate back to Berlin until I’d sorted the ankle shit out. Hence asking him to move here for a bit…

I turned down invitations to play gigs so that I could ‘spend time with him’ when he was here in OZ. And – since I had to stay here for a bit – I’d even sacrificed a paid career that I really wanted, working as a part-time Producer at the ABC. In order to pull off his visa, I needed a full-time job (the whole “eligible sponsor” thing for the Australian Government). The only full-time job on offer was in the city I’d left behind (with all those memories of my previous big bad ex). It was also in a different field, outside of the arts. (So yeah, I didn’t want to go back there.)

I told him that going back there was my Joker. My post-Armageddon “Somaya is desperate for paid work to pay her rent (and in this case pay for a visa)”… The one last card up my sleeve.

But I loved him so damn much, I threw that card down on the table. Hard.

I thought I was tough. I thought that – even though I didn’t want to go back to that city (the one with the memories of the big bad ex) – I’d overcome difficult times alone overseas without income.

I had nothing to prepare me for what came next. Due to a workplace-bullying situation in the new job, I wasn’t coping. And in turn, he couldn’t cope with the depressive spiral I was rapidly sliding into. I was alone, in a city that I deeply disliked, without friends, and in a terrible workplace situation.

I awoke one morning to an email that read, “don’t ever call me…” To this day, we have never spoken again.

In case you need to know - it only takes 7 minutes to read an "I'm ending it" email… twice. Germans: guillotiningly efficient. 

Unlike the end of my first creative and personal partnership, when my ass was dumped via email, I didn’t find my creative voice. And I still haven’t.

Not only have I not built any creative working partnerships, I’ve not been able to be creative at all. It’s like a massive four-year-long constipation. The sacrifices I made for our relationship were immense and, as I’ve found out, not ones I’ve been able to reverse.

Not only did I lose him, I lost our creative working partnership (something I don’t really have words to express just how much I miss), and, no one has ever invited me to perform or exhibit ever again.

I also lost my beloved Berlin (because – no more visa), I lost friends (he made a grab for some of those), and I lost professional networks in the arts. I also lost the career I’d wanted as a Producer. To this day, I’ve never been able to land another producer or production manager role.

My failure – doing this damn shit twice. 

I’ve always said it’s not the end of relationship that does the damage – it’s how someone ends it and everything they do afterwards. I was lucky enough to have found my second chance in Berlin, but it seems, there are some losses that are too great to bear. The creative wind seems to have been completely knocked out of me this time.

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