Despite a lengthy time traveling around Australia in a bus and a childhood filled with camping holidays in the drizzerling British countryside, I still don’t cope very well in the outdoors. Even in the comparatively tamed outdoors of a city landscape I find myself ill prepared to deal with the elements, I never carry an umbrella and I can get scorched by the sun just crossing a street. Give me a warm dark cafe, bar, gallery or bookshop and I know how to ‘be’, but in the face of weather I am feeble, and yet there I was making a large work from mud and ash underneath a grey Melbourne sky on a late May weekend.
On Friday night I was optimistic, twitching to get going and in reasonably high spirits about the work and the weekend. Lisa and I trundled down Swanston street with our nana trolley’s full of gear and folios full of stencils and the untainted possibility that this might be fun. The plan was to get one layer of stencils finished, so that on Saturday we’d be under less pressure. We had tested out the materials against the rain during the previous few weeks and knew that once the ash and mud were dry they were pretty resilient. What we hadn’t tested was my resilience.
The night sky grew dark and as we worked the street lamps cast our shadows across the damp steps making black pools over the black stencils and black ash. In the blackness, bleakness arose – we couldn’t see, but were compelled to continue trusting instinct and knowing that we really couldn’t afford to stop cause the work wouldn’t get done in time. Then it rained, at first just a little, so we kept going. As it got heavier, we couldn’t see if the ash was getting washed away or not but we kept going - on hands and knees, on cold wet concrete, with hair dripping and hands blackened with ash, the stencils getting soggy and deteriorating quickly and a welling dread swelling in my stomach, rising in my chest, clamping itself in my throat.
Eventually we stopped and took shelter under a near by tree. From the depths of the trolley I managed to locate 3 beers and like sad drunks we stood in the shadows of wet darkness and laughed a mildly hysterical laugh at what a bad situation this was. From our position up on the hill we looked down to the river and watch other artists – prepared outdoorsy artists, installing their work under the shelter of customer made white marquees, beside vans that were smoking pot-bellied stoves.
We needed a better plan.