When Bellingen residents Bruce Jacups and Nicole Hind connected to explore creative ways to celebrate the elderly community members of the Bellingen Shire, they knew that collaboration & flexibility was key. The result is their upcoming exhibition around ‘growing (in)visible’. On the eve of Seniors Festival (13th – 24th February), we to spoke with them to understand how this journey evolved, what they have learned along the way, and what shape the exhibition will take.
Can you give us a frame of reference for this collaboration?
Nicole: “A mutual connection put us in touch, although I had never met her! One of the beautiful things about living in a small creative town like Bellingen is that people know what you’re up to even if they don’t know you. And they’re willing to reach out. I reckon it’s a ‘yes’ town, as in most people say ‘yes’ before they say ‘no’ and are open to possibilities (quite a different experience from the busy-ness of the big city which can sometimes get in the way of creativity).”
Bruce: “Both Nic and I have been dreaming up different versions of this exhibition in the past – mine came from watching these photographic stereotypical portraits of elders and not hearing a story behind the crinkled faces. I’m 50 this year and surely joining the ranks of the elderly. And I suppose I also feel, like many have, that growing older puts you at risk of slipping outside of the community’s radar. So I asked some friends if they knew any storytellers. A friend, Lilly Isobella, mentioned Nicole. So we met and formulated ‘growing (in)visible’. I’ve been living here for 22 years and have seen and met many oldies and heard some stories too.”
How was the seed of this idea sewn?
Nicole got on board having had conversations with older friends about how they experienced being less ‘visible’ over a ‘certain age’. Literally being bumped into all of a sudden, not considered as important or worthy of respect. We also noticed that there can be a tendency to infantilise elderly folks, not considering their stories and knowledge to be of much value. We wanted to address that notion by collecting interesting tales of our locals in the 75+ age-group, and sharing them. The stories we’ve heard so far lend real weight to the saying that life begins at 30… or 50… or 70!
What form will your exhibition take?
It’s an exhibition that will be at a location central to Bellingen town. We plan on sharing portraits where permitted; images from the life and passions of each individual; vocal soundscapes of the stories we’ve captured from 1-2 hour long conversations; and plaques of some of the more surprising anecdotes. If we’re really lucky, we may even do a live interview at the opening night.
Does each of you have a defined role in this creative process?
Bruce takes photos and Nic does conversation. But in the room it’s more like facilitation: we want people to feel safe sharing their stories with us, and we want to ‘go with the flow’, which is when you capture those candid special moments. Sometimes those moments arise when one of us has been caught up in the yarn. At the outset we just hung out a lot, talked about the ‘whys’ of this project, and brainstormed ideas before we decided to proceed and apply for a grant (thanks to Bello Council). Doing any kind of artistic project involves positive relationships and a helluva lot of trust – in the other person and the process, but also in how they’ll handle our subjects and their stories.
How many interviews/stories do you think the final exhibition will filter to?
There will only be 8 to 10 subjects, so the idea is to be able to really engage with each person and their story on a deeper level. Perhaps though, as different themes emerge in this project, it may grow into something else after the initial exhibition. Watch this space!
What are you learning along the way?
That it really doesn’t matter what other people think of you: the folks we’ve approached and connected with don’t say yes or no or do just anything for the sake of it in order to please us or to be polite. They take a lot of care in deciding if they’d like to be a part of our project and how. They carefully consider how they contribute.
What would you like the audience to take away from their visit to your exhibition?
That older people have awesome stories, ideas, passions and advice. That we can form genuine friendships with people across all generations. That getting old doesn’t have to be scary or sucky. That life is for living: what’s important at different ages may change, and to pay attention to what is important when you get to the age of 75 coz you can’t really go back and change any of it (and what we’re seeing so far is that most people don’t wish they’d done anything differently – but that could be a reflection of our Shire). That our elders are so bloody valuable and that what they have to share with us matters. Perhaps it will inspire people to gather stories from their own family or members of our community. An emerging theme in our interviews is the importance of friendship, a relationship that is often under-represented but vital for happiness and good health. That we are all connected even though some of us may not often hear from or see our elderly in our day-to-day life. And that they have hugely fascinating stories to tell… think drugs sex n rock n roll!
Bruce & Nicole are hoping their exhibition will take place around the end of March/early April. We will keep you posted on this.
NSW Seniors Festival ‘Love Your Life’ 2019 is being celebrated between February 13 and 24. Bellingen Shire Council is hosting an event – free to seniors – at North Beach Bowling Club, Mylestom on Thursday 21st February. CLICK HERE for the details.
Photo credit: Liam Conway