Watch the stars – we navigate points of light in the dark

My incredible friend Tawhanga wrote a beautiful piece here that I highly recommend reading. Tawhanga and I went to art school together, Waiariki Insitute of Technology in Aotearoa and Tawhanga is one of the people dearest to my heart and art. Here’s a quote that I almost gave a standing ovation, despite reading it alone in my pyjamas.

Although the transformative potential of art is understood within Western cultures, the often used scientific modes to practice and consider art overlook simple ways to engage life, making and thinking. There’s nothing wrong with science, but thinking details without feeling their impact blurs realities. With science and empiricism comes a barrier to emotion, and stasis cannot support the life of a womb-like space. For art to have potential then we need to do away with restrictive measures. Indigenous communities have knowledge that can free art and its power from institutional confines … art needs to release its ability to heal!

Do yourself a favour and read the entire article here. 

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My Website

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Hey guess what? Over the last couple of months, I’ve been able to slowly update my website, after it lying dormant since 2012, as I slowly get somewhat more able-bodied post-surgery. I’m not finished yet, there’s a couple of things yet to come but it’s mostly there! I’ve tried to combine many facets of myself there and this includes the overlaps between art, comedy and smut. So it’s VERY much not safe for work, there’s a LOT of nudity and sexually themed art, you have been warned.

It is such a damn good feeling to be improving enough that I can actually start building my profile as an artist again. I have to work very slowly but I’m able to do it and so putting together this website has been so good for my goddamn heart.

Anyway, blah blah blah, check out my stuff at jngaio.com if you’re so inclined and you can also follow me on Instagram. Viewable on phones but significantly better on a desktop.

Shame is Boring

Recently I started making my own little youtube videos and though I’m still feeling awkward as I learn to navigate a new medium, I am finding it to be a very exciting, raw and direct means of communication and self expression. I feel tremendously excited but also incredibly vulnerable, as I allow my imperfections and awkwardness to be seen.

But I am proud of this video particularly.

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The rules state that pain must be internal. Like blood, milk, shit, piss, cum, tears, farts, ugly laughs, dirty sex, pubic hair… We are horrified by anything that highlights the truth of us as vulnerable, organic, meaty, stinking flesh. We love fruit when it is ripe and are revolted when it rots. We are tormented by taps that leak.

Those who expose the truth of us too freely are labelled impolite or scary or dangerous or insane. They are shunned, they are punished. If we don’t stone them to death, we laugh, we gossip or slowly, cautiously back away.

There are so many things we have all silently agreed not to talk about. Don’t talk about the things you want the most. Don’t talk about the things that really hurt. Don’t tell us how you really like to fuck. Don’t tell us how scared you really are. Don’t be too angry. Don’t be too much. Don’t.

The veneer of civilisation is thin and tenuous. We guard it out of necessity, it’s a useful structure, it’s a good thing that we’re not always raping and murdering each other. But within our constructed comfort, we become so fearful and feeble. We forget the flexible pragmatism of social structures and mistake them for inviolable law. We make Gods and use too much antibacterial hand wash and have too many four-wheel-drives in the city.

It’s claustrophobic. It’s suffocating. It makes deviants of us all and when we don’t fit in for our sex, our skin colour, our poor health, our pain… the feeling of isolation is devastating because we are social creatures who long to be loved. We fear that if we show the things we truly are, we will be shunned. But then we are alone and our loneliness accelerates our rot.

I hate it. I hate the artificial walls we thoughtlessly and religiously maintain. I grow all the more determined to smash them and this involves a process of directly observing myself and then attempting to communicate those observations. I try to catch myself when I engage in the act of self-censorship, I ask myself to be less fearful.

So tonight I’m going to attack a personal taboo that I never talk about publicly. Today I received a blow I’m struggling to cope with. The specificities of it don’t matter in this particular piece of writing, what matters is that tonight I was screaming at somebody who probably loves me more than anybody in the world because I was furious at the world and furious at him because sometimes he has been my only reason for living and today I hated him for that. For keeping me alive. For not letting me give up. For being my fucking hero.

I am not proud. I am whatever is the opposite. Ah, ashamed. I am ashamed. As I should be. My pain is not his fault. He tried to help me and I bit him.

He went to bed and I didn’t know what to do with myself. I wanted to paint but could not. I wanted to leave the house but my arms were throbbing in too much pain to drive. And though I was feeling self-destructive, I wasn’t up for going walking in the night-time and inviting other people to do the job for me.

So… I have no idea why, but I filled the bathtub with my UHT, lactose free milk that for some reason I always feel a mild and undefined embarrassment for drinking. Then I sat in the bath, singlet and underpants still on and gently pressed my surgical knife into my thighs to make the most slender red lines. It wasn’t a violent act, it required barely any pressure whatsoever.

It calmed me. Just like it calmed me when I used to engage in the same activity (minus the milk) as a chronically ill teenager. It gave me that same sense of control and quiet and I was in awe of the beauty of red blood on white milk. The bathroom was perfumed by the odor of milk. I have never experienced a room full of the smell of milk before. That comforted me. I swirled the creamy liquid around and watched the water turn pink. My mind became empty, the way it used to do when I would paint. The way it did when I smashed those glasses. 

Even as I write this I am so aware of how it could scare and anger people. I am not keen to be perceived of as crazy because I do not truly believe I am. What I think I am is someone who, like many people, is experiencing a lot of pain and sadness and is trying to find a way to effectively express, communicate and manage it. I’m not advocating for self-harm but… Fuck, maybe I am. Maybe tonight I can’t think of anything wrong with the pretty and harmless marks I made on myself.

I took photos on my phone. I think that they are beautiful and I love the raw immediacy of cell phone photography. I want to post them here and am going to. Even as I know that this thing which I think of as beautiful and vulnerable will be seen as… ugly, stupid, childish, scary. Even as I fear being feared and thought of as crazy and no longer taken seriously.

That’s ok. I have to be ok with that. I want to be brave. I want to be a person who isn’t afraid of the things that most people are.

The marks on my leg sting a little but a lot less than my arms hurt every day. I guess I am a mess. I guess maybe I need help but I also feel like… this isn’t a cry for help. This is… I don’t know what this is. I’m just tired of feeling trapped. My body is a cage I cannot escape because it is a tangible, physical thing but those invisible walls we construct, I just want to burn them to the ground and then stand in the ash and embers, screaming like Xena Warrior Princess. This is how I obtain a sense of power and that’s no small thing.

 

Taste

The taste of arousal in my mouth is the same as inspiration. Will that even make sense to anyone? I get a taste in my mouth when I have an exciting idea for a painting and I get the same taste when I want to be fucked. Well, taste is the closest way I can describe it. It’s like a feeling of warm air inside my mouth that gets registered by my taste buds.

Another commonality in my experiences of art and sex is that they are both best when uninhibited. The best fucking happens when you are so immersed in the sensations and emotions of the experience that you don’t care about the ugly sounds of squelching and screaming, the comical faces, the abject imperfection of the body and the immense vulnerability of exposure. The best sex happens when you don’t try to tame it or make it presentable. Don’t pretend that the porn you like best is pretty.

It’s the same with art. My favourite sort of art is… the beautiful grotesque. The ugly honest. The awkward vulnerable. The spectacular perverse. I love when art tells me things I don’t want to hear but does so in magical ways. I love art that excites and confronts and challenges.

I love being slapped in the face. Literally and metaphorically. I love one hand around my throat and the other violating my cunt. That one I mean literally but I’m open to creative interpretation.

Right now, I’m way better at fucking. My art is still far too mannered. I’ll work on that.

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Old selfie taken in 2013 for a fetish website.

Suicide

There have been a couple of times in my life where I have felt suicidal and though I’ve briefly mentioned it before, I don’t want to talk about it in detail so I am going to. When I was a teenager, I observed that my favourite artists were so often brutal, awkward and unattractive in their honesty which had the effect of making me feel more comfortable in my own skin and less alone, so I challenged myself to be the same. I still try to. Enough stalling, here goes.

I don’t know what it takes to be part of the Totes Legit Suicidal Club because I never swallowed any pills or jumped off any bridges. Though, at about the age of 12, I became very fascinated by the warning message on my aerosol deodorants “Intentional misuse by deliberate concentration and inhalation can be harmful or fatal.” I only tried to misuse my Vanilla Kisses body spray a handful of times and don’t remember much more than dizziness and once, a slightly uncomfortable headache. I remember the emotions though, I remember the shame.

The shame wasn’t about my flirtation with mortality, the shame was about my inability to commit to my demise. At that point, I had been chronically ill for some time and felt myself to be a burden on my family and to have no purpose or future. I felt that I was nothing but a shadow of a person, heavy and stagnant and the gesture of self-destruction felt like it would at least be… something.

And of course it would be an escape. Perhaps the worst thing about chronic illness, worse than the humiliation, the pain, the isolation… the worst thing I remember is the boredom. The days that melted into each other, stretching endless and tedious behind and in front. Sometimes I fish about in my head for memories of those years and only get feelings that make me uncomfortable and vague memories of bedsheets and shitty TV shows. I know that this wasn’t the entire truth of those times because as an adult, I see the privileges from my childhood but I believe that being ill for so long made me perceive everything through a very deep depression.

Bored and caged animals will pluck their feathers out or chew at their flesh. I have an intimate familiarity with that impulse and for some years I was the cliché of teenage angst, late at night when the frustration, self-loathing or tedium became unbearable, I would take to my arms and legs with a kitchen knife, slowly slicing shallow red lines into my flesh. It is not in accord with popular opinion for me to say this, but it truly felt as if that behaviour curbed my violent impulses and I recall the ringing in my ears and the nauseous calm I felt as I watched bloody lines appear. It was like white noise, it blocked things out and focused my attention. Cutting is seen as an unhealthy behaviour and certainly mine was a symptom of a great unhappiness, however I think that channelling the violent emotions I was feeling into something that had no long term negative effects on my physicality was actually… helpful. I am not necessarily defending the behaviour, though I do believe it kept me from something more drastic.

I haven’t cut myself in years, having learnt more “constructive” and “adult” ways of dealing with my emotions. However, in 2014, when I turned 30, I was thinking a lot about how I wanted to be dead. My (then undiagnosed) Thoracic Outlet Syndrome was at its worst, I was in constant pain, unable to sleep, dependent on my partner financially and unable to do any of the things that made me feel valuable, excited, alive. It had been over four years since I first had problems with my arms and it seemed to only be getting worse. My future and prospects felt bleak, once again I felt like a burden, once again I was the thing I had been working so hard not to be, once again I was nothing.

It felt like a Chinese finger trap, the harder I struggled, the tighter the grip it had around me. I was bored, frustrated and just so sick of trying. And now I had access to the Internet, I thought about how easy it might be to just research the most painless, simple methods of self-annihilation. I was an adult now, maybe this time I had the willpower to follow through and…

And I thought of Wes. And I knew how I might ruin his life if I did this. And so, though it was incredibly hard to do so, I told him how I was feeling and he implored me to keep trying, he promised he would help. In honesty, I half hated him for it at the time, half hated him for the way his love meant I had to keep trying when it felt so hard and I was so tired. So completely spent.

But I kept trying. In honesty it was for Wes at first and not for me, but slowly things started to improve during 2015. I found mindfulness meditation which has helped me be gentler with myself and better tolerate the things I hadn’t control over, I found my cat, I did some volunteer work, I started working on a web series, I started learning to sing. I got a diagnosis. I fell even more deeply in love with Wes and back in love with someone else who I never thought I’d see again.

So this year, 2016, has been kind of incredible so far. The diagnosis of TOS has transformed my self-perceptions and given me a sense that my future is no longer hopeless. I have an abundance of love. And for the first two weeks of this month, we were filming the web series that I first conceived of in 2014 when I was thinking about how I would like to be dead. Filming was the most scary, exhausting, stressful thing I have possibly ever done and I was so ecstatically happy. I rediscovered a self that in 2014, I thought I had permanently lost and I felt like the poster child for an “It Gets Better” type project. I am struggling to express what those two weeks meant to me but there were so many times when I was thinking to myself “Remember this. Remember that if you had given up, you would not have gotten to do this.” While feeling, truly feeling, that it was all going to be better from here.

Two days after we finished filming, my body seized up with pain from computer work and I was blindsided by the sudden onset of old, morbid thoughts. I was devastated, my body felt like a trap again and the joy I’d been feeling felt like a sick lie. For just a little while, I resented how amazing I had been feeling for how hard I was now crashing. But the people I love helped pull my head out of that ugly place and though I am now feeling a little shook up, vulnerable and prone to moments of sorrow, I do believe things are improving.

It’s just… it’s not a straight line pointing upwards for the rest of my life. My body will always cause issues, horrible things will inevitably happen and there will probably always be many things I am unable to do. I may always be taunted, in my vulnerable moments, by the self I could have been if only my body hasn’t failed me so many times and I’ve now had to face the unpleasant reality that suicidal thoughts may not be something a person can permanently escape. This might be something I have to battle again because that is what life has to do, life has to fight.

But if/when these morbid thoughts reawaken in my head, here is what I will tell myself: Despite how seductive it can be, suicide is not the opposite of stagnation. Fight and be proud of yourself for doing so because life fights. And remember, when you wanted to die, you could never have known how amazing you’d feel when you moved to Melbourne, produced and starred in a stupid musical theatre comedy that would receive rave reviews, married your best friend in a pantomime unicorn outfit, roamed the streets of Berlin with a wonderful lover, lay on the side of the planet and stared into the stars with a man who makes you feel alive, spent two weeks in a studio filming the most ambitious project you’ve worked on up to this point, danced all night, played with your cat, painted for an hour without pain, baked a cake, learned to rap, laughed with your idiot friends… the list of good things far outweighs the negative. These things, these moments of joy and triumph are always worth it.

Always.

On an almost daily basis, I struggle with the feeling that I am nothing and it’s true. I am. We all are. Ultimately, we will all be helpless in the face of our own mortality, it’s just that people who have their body fail when they are young have to face that reality earlier than some. In the smallest fraction of time, everything we know will cease to exist. In the interim, I am taking the resources I have and making some fucking spectacular moments with them, like fireworks exploding in the cold and dark night sky.

Discovery

“Slow the fuck down you raging dickhead!” a red-faced, bald man screeches angrily at his bull terrier as it drags him towards the water. The water in question is Edwardes Lake, a brown, soupy, polluted puddle in a pretty little park in Reservoir. I’m here by accident.

Today has been one of the days that are so common in my life right now, when my arms are too sore to do much of anything and I find myself at a loose end. I drift through these days feeling listless and without direction. I’m bored and feel boring. There was a time, pre-injury, when I felt inspiration to be endless and I channelled all that through my arms but the last five years, this has led to physical pain. So I’ve learnt to suppress inspiration when I feel it and mostly I’ve avoided going to galleries because the first wave of excitement I feel is always quickly followed by anguish and a desire to just… not exist.

It used to be that I channelled all my existential angst, dread and joy into making. It used to be that my arms served as a conduit for the intensity of how I seemed to feel pretty much everything. Now this quiet depression, this gentle fog, this numbing of emotion has been a survival strategy.

But it’s so tedious. So I try to find something to pass my time and often end up exploring the surrounding suburbia on foot. I think it takes a slight edge off my desire to travel and I get a thrill from making discoveries such as the house that has a cat tree in every window, old crumbling chimneys, or the time I found an abandoned Bunnings Warehouse full of incredible street art that was demolished by the time I came back to photograph it a few weeks later.

Today, as I walk around the lake, my first discovery is the inflamed man with the enthusiastic dog. My second discovery is a turtle. It is sunbathing on a log with its long neck stretched out as if it is attempting to get a tan and there is something about this image that causes the fog to vanish in burst of happiness. Mood dramatically altered, I continue my walk, often stopping to watch the varied bird life and to think.

I think about how I have spent the last five years mostly just passing my time, waiting for my arms to get better so I can go back to being the self I once was. I realise that I have let a lot of time slip past as I’ve waited to get better. I think about my hopes that I will someday be able to paint prolifically again but how I can’t let the present go to waste while I wait for a utopian future. I think about how in this protective fog the colours are less spectacular and I feel like a dusty old book that nobody wants to read. I think about the people around me who laugh and cry and glow with their passions and I want to glow again. I am becoming increasingly determined to find a way glow again, not sporadically as I currently do but with a more sustainable regularity.

I reach a point of the park where very tall trees stand and sway in the hot, dry wind that is suddenly central in my awareness because of the enormous roaring sound the trees are making. I stop to listen and watch the water ripple while dramatic, dark grey clouds swirl slowly in the sky above. After a while, I sit down and start to collect tiny little pinecone things which I have decided I will form into a word. It’s hardly an original idea but I decide it will be a fun creative exercise and that I am going to start challenging myself to find more constructive ways to channel inspiration without hurting my arms. Little things, humble things, things that might help me to find myself again.

While I am collecting the little pinecones, Wes calls me on the phone and we have a discussion about what word I’ll write. Wes suggests “graffiti”, I ponder over “mistake” but eventually I decide I will write a small sentence documenting a moment that meant something to me today.

I try to assemble the pinecones into letters but the wind is so fierce that they keep blowing away. An old man wanders over, eyeing me suspiciously and asking if I need help, I thank him, no, and decide I need to find a more sheltered spot. Eventually, I find a place that is safe from the wind and I write my message, albeit awkwardly, due to the curved and slippery surface I am working on. I wonder who might see my message and what it might mean to them. I think about the ephemeral nature of site-specific works and how it relates to art and the search for meaning in defiance of mortality. I think about how important context is and how the necessary choice of installation space will surely effect a viewer’s reading of my message.

Then I take a photo with my phone and go home to share it.

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