Day 195 : 365 | work 285 | liminality, temporality . © Anna Trembath
Today’s Artful Mama is Anna Trembath – artist, writer, gender specialist, mother, friend and so much more! Anna chats with Shan about her year-long Ephemeral Art project curated on Instagram @annatrembathart. After reading this, you’ll be outside, playing in the dirt and feeling like Picasso!
Hi Anna, thanks for taking the time to chat to us at Motherhood Unmasked. I have been following your Instagram account @AnnaTrembathArt, I’m intrigued by your artwork. Tell us, what exactly is ephemeral art? How did you come across it?
Thanks Shan for your interest and this honour!
Ephemeral art is an act of creation with the intention of impermanency in form. It is art that will decay, disappear, scatter, dissolve, shift, return. It can take many different forms, using various materials. There are ancient ephemeral art ritualised practices which hold deep meaning in terms of birth, death, life cycles, loss and return. It is little wonder that ephemeral art is often connected with the natural world, though some contemporary forms don’t have an association with nature.
Much of my art is intensely transitory in its peak form, lasting perhaps only seconds or minutes. I favour light, fragile materials, especially fallen leaves and twigs. The component materials themselves have begun their journey of return, and the composition is often quickly scattered and re-gifted to the earth by the wind or by other interference.
I was led to ephemeral art by a strange series of events. I am writing a novel about a community of female artists who live in the wilder outskirts of North-East Melbourne. I envisaged my protagonist making a similar form of art, without necessarily having the language to describe or the knowledge to place it within contemporary visual art. I’d also been exploring my own creativity, and wanting a return to a visual arts practice after a drought of many years. But I felt time- and money-constrained.
Then earlier in the year I stumbled across NSW artist Leonie Barton’s year-long daily ephemeral art project, which had in turn been inspired by Shona Wilson’s Collaborations with Nature project. It was as if I was looking at what I’d been trying to write about. My instinct told me that I should set myself a similar challenge.
So it’s been life imitating art – I put it in writing before I practised it myself.
I was also attracted to this form for more practical reasons. I can do it anywhere, including on my work commute, on the go with the kids, when I travel for work, on my wanders in the beautiful local environment. While it is certainly a commitment, it doesn’t require long tracts of time. It encourages a natural world connection and is an active meditation, costs nothing and produces no waste. It slows down time and allows me a really important grounding in myself amidst the hurly-burly of work, parenthood and life.
What made you decide to post an “outdoor ephemeral composition a day” for a year? How is it going? Are you finding it manageable to post every day?
I was pretty much a newbie to Instagram but I’ve found it a really great platform for this project, primarily for personal accountability and reciprocal support. In setting myself a year-long, daily challenge, I am basically echoing what Leonie Barton has done, and before her Shona Wilson. Now a small but growing community of people around the world are engaged in similar projects on Instagram. It’s quite fun to witness others’ simultaneous ephemeral art projects – everyone creates in different environments and contrasting seasons, and people’s individual styles really begin to emerge a few months in, as I think mine is now I’ve been doing this for half a year. We all encourage each other.
The “rules” – daily practice, outdoors, what I find on the day – basically act as disciplinary touchstones or parameters. They anchor me in some decisions I’ve already made, and from that place I can create. I’ve learnt that creativity isn’t a one-off event, but sustained practice. I’m not just waiting around for the days where I feel ‘inspired’ or have time. I have plenty of days where I think, that was rubbish, or periods – like now, even – when I feel like I’m repeating myself or not really producing anything particularly satisfying. But I have learnt that if I keep turning up in small daily doses, every so often I have moments of real satisfaction and a feeling of the creative sublime. I’ve also learned that those days of rubbish are as important to creative mastery as anything else, and that creative expression shouldn’t or needn’t wait around til you feel you have time. I never have ‘enough time’ now. In addition, it’s the practice of discipline and seeing something through. I am quite good at starting things with specific output expectations; not so great at finishing them. I wanted to show myself another way, with no expectations of the output, but expectations of the discipline and sustained process.
I had a perfect track record of daily creation until recently. It’s not been too hard because it’s my non-intellectual play-time – it’s often what’s gotten me out of bed on days where I feel a bit sad in the soul or exhausted (okay, coffee too!). In the last couple of months, I’ve missed a few days here and there. This has corresponded with an intense period of work, including lots of travel, where I’ve been off my usual routine. I’m trying not to beat myself up about it. I just pick up the next day where I left off and as long as I make it to 365 days of practice of almost-daily practice, then I’ll consider that a success. I think that’s the nature of committing to something. You won’t always be perfect but the trick is to get back on track as soon as possible.
So, are there any tricks to “doing” ephemeral art?
Seriously, not really! I would encourage just giving it a go, and if you like it, try to keep at it for a little while to see if you can find your own groove. Don’t be discouraged by first attempts, or overthink it. It’s as easy as going for a wander, keeping an eye out for interesting natural and found materials, finding a quiet space to compose with what you find, and looking carefully at how you frame your composition. Now that I’ve found a style that I’m into at the moment, I’ve got certain conditions that I favour – I like a dark background, either rich earth or black tar, and creating out of direct sunlight. And I’ve found ways of editing my photos (all currently taken in iPhone, though I hope to get a ‘proper camera’ soon) which I prefer. I like giving my works titles which reflect what has surfaced for me emotionally or in my thoughts while I have been creating. But that’s all quite particular to me. Everyone finds her own way in time. The conditions, especially wind and light, can be challenging – but that’s just part of the fun!
What role do you think art and creativity play in your role as a mother? As a woman?
I have quite a negative gut reaction to identifying primarily as a “mum”, “mama” or “creative mum”. Yes I am a parent, a mother, and my children and my responsibility to them is super important, clearly. But I am also a whole person, a whole woman. Art and creativity is to me about bringing my whole self to the table, about entering into deep connection with what it is that makes us human, the richness and complexity of our lives and relationships with one another and our world. It rounds out my other contributions to the world beyond parenting, which are sometimes quite political and feminist, sometimes quite office worker cog-in-the-machine mundane, always pretty left-brain-heavy, in their orientation.
The need to feel wholly human, creative, loving of self, others and world, wild even, became increasingly acute to me after I had kids. I realised that I couldn’t just faff around with my time and my dreams anymore. I couldn’t let those big dreams dissolve away in the name of being a ‘mum’. But I had very real time constraints and immense responsibilities far extending beyond me. I had to make creativity work in my daily existence, including with full-time work. Beyond working toward creative dreams, I also felt this massive imperative to hold on to the experience of human wildness and depth, even in the most prosaic of conditions of being a ‘suburban working mum’. That’s really important to me. I’ve got to feel and honour that wild woman in me, to feel connection with the profound and profane, to be actively contributing to that conversation about meaning, wonder and the human experience. I refuse to be emptied out of human depth by being pigeonholed as a ‘mum’, with all that is implied with that boxing us in. I hate that we do that to women; it’s just another expression of misogyny.
But art does serve my parenting, too. If I start the day with this deep meditation and grounding in myself, and a sense of power from actively creating, then I am far less frazzled, exhausted and likely to feel beset upon, calmer, and more generous. I am also my full self rather than feeling like I’m giving my family nothing but a mum-shaped shadow. I’m a natural introvert, so solitude and quiet time to integrate everything is fundamental to my wellbeing. Also in the process of quiet reflection, I get to reflect on the joy of parenthood and the amazingness of children, rather than just feeling swept along by routines and demands.
My kids really get into ephemeral art-making too, and it’s nice to share with them something they can grasp. My writing and my career is a bit beyond them right now. I love seeing my kids create. They both love art and my seven-year-old draws obsessively and wonderfully. My two-year-old tells me that he “loves my art” and he insists on stopping on walks and making his own spontaneous creations with leaves, flowers, sticks and feathers. It’s so sweet.
What would you say the benefits of reflective, artistic expression is for mums? Or for anyone?
I feel quite transformed by my creative practice. I became a parent to two children about two-and-a-half years ago. Since then I have struggled with integrating this new reality of small children and a career that was simultaneously becoming more demanding. I also experienced a long period of post-natal mental health challenges, and resultant huge confidence issues. Additionally, I manage Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, which includes semi-regular cycles of flare-ups. Art and writing keeps me relatively even and has been a way of slowly and gently rebuilding myself. I needed not to re-find my old self, because we don’t remain stagnant, but to work out who this new woman is and to like her, rather than beating up on her constantly. I’ve come a long way with that through creativity and quiet reflection. I feel much more solid, strong and clear. Of course, it’s always a process of becoming.
For those mums who wish to find creative ways of expressing themselves but don’t know where to start, what would you suggest?
I would say that anyone can do it. It takes a bit of discipline and habit-forming, but I reckon if anyone sets themselves the challenge of just 10 minutes of quiet creativity most days, they will experience massive benefits. Experiencing others’ art is lovely, but don’t think you are only capable of consuming – anyone and everyone can and should create. Let go of expectations of the result; focus on the practice.
In terms of where to start, I guess I’ve been lucky to have forms of creative expression that I’ve been strongly drawn to – first writing, then this. I think if you don’t know where to start, the thing to do is play with different forms, I reckon. Give yourself permission and indeed require yourself to play for a certain period of time each day. Women and especially mothers aren’t always very good at giving themselves that permission because we’re conditioned and structured into massive demands of labour, care, martyrdom, one-dimensional roles, creativity as cute and ultimately dispensable hobby. But it can just be ten minutes a day. Some parameters helped me, as with this project. But have a go at different things – music, different kinds of art, craft, writing, journaling. Maybe choose a few different things to have a go at, as long as you commit to that for a period of time. Plenty of people are quite into 100-day projects. But even a month. Then assess at the end of that – do you like how you feel when you’re doing it? Is that an artform you’re interested in continuing with? Or has it led you to be interested in other forms of expression? Right now I’m certainly desiring a big return to my writing, after a period of time of not writing. My novel is practically screaming at me to finish it. And that’s okay. I think we can create in seasons. And once I’ve seen out this year-long project, I reckon there are other visual forms I’d love to try, like collage, maybe back to oil paints. Just by doing something regularly, you will find the modes of expression that suit you best at that point in time.