What are you up to at the moment?

I am currently preparing for two big projects: Grr Nights, and Taberna Lifecraft. Grr Nights is the final big thing that I am doing for the Grr project, where I live nomadically in a yurt (grr) for a year, collaborating with other artists and meditating on the near term human extinction and the place of art in a post-apocalyptic world. For Fringe World 2016, I am going to be living inside The Blue Room Theatre and collaborating on thirteen unique shows that will take place in the grr. I’m working with some pretty amazing artists and companies: Loren Kronemyer, Choo Choo Troupe, Ships in the NightEmma Fishwick, Only the Human, Rachael Woodward and Chloe Evangelisti, David Maney, Jospia Draisma, Chloe Flockart, Magnolia’s Late Night Live and Menagerie Indie Pop Choir. There will be eco-caberet, lovelorn clowns, indie-pop choirs, spoken word, dance, community debates, and vegan dinners. Part of Grr Nights will also involve Illuminations – an exhibition of off-grid electric art works hand-powered by a homemade electric generator. Illuminations is curated by Bridget Bathgate and features the artists Emma Buswell, Loren Kronemyer, Kieron Broadhurst, Bonnie Boogard, Alex Tate, and Lyndon Blue.

The Grr project is a poetic response to our world’s ecological collapse. It incorporates the work of living with the act of creating art. It is not just about living off the grid or being self-sustainable; it is about working with the grid to make it kinder: to sustain other selves. Grr Nights is the most complete expression of the project, and is something I am really looking forward to.

I have also been working with the artist Janet Carter on building a raft sculpture for Sculpture by the Sea. Entitled Taberna Lifecraft, the project is a sculptural performance. I am going to live on the raft during Sculpture by the Sea (March 4 – 20) while reading out poetry and hosting performances and demonstrations that address anxieties surrounding Australian identity on issues of race and migration. The hope is to – through parody, poetry and sculpture – create a semiotic dreamscape where latent feelings about ecological collapse, the deflated mining boom, increasing refugee demand, and Australia’s racial and racist heritage float against each other.

Earlier this year you started living in a Yurt. What motivated this?

I am a writer who is interested in the place of religion, spirituality and art in a world that I would describe as post-apocalyptic. I ran out of my PhD scholarship monies in early 2013 and lived in a backyard in a yurt while I studied. I loved this because I have a lifelong slightly-masochistic fascination with ascetism. In my teenage years I described myself as a Nietzschean in what I thought was a similar sense that Foucault described himself. A few years after that I read Kierkegaard, and I now sometimes describe myself as Christian. I disagree with almost everything that most Christians believe, but I still think the experience of a faith or spiritual connection to be an important experience for individuals. I guess I worship at the ashes of Christianity, because I feel like that’s what makes up our world. The challenge for me is to have a religious experience in a way that includes and loves all beings, that allows you to orient yourself towards the ills of the present (ecological destruction, the inequalities inherent in patriarchal and neo-colonialist structures, war, terrorism, and prejudices) and stand strong. This doesn’t exactly explain why I decided that living in a traveling yurt was the way to go, but these are the undercurrents that shift me towards certain projects. The yurt is a way of imagining a world outside of these current systems. The demonstrations that I do – like packing up the yurt on a handcart that I have also built myself, and walking from Fremantle to Perth hauling the yurt on foot through the dead of night – are ways of poetically sublimating the act of existence. The motivation behind the Grr project was always about combining my writing practice and living practice in a way that reimagines how to be useful as a writer/artist in our current dying world.

What have you found downsized living to be like?

Stressful. Uncomfortable. Mostly really shitty. I had a suspicion that most of the getting rid of my material possessions would not really result in any sort of enlightenment or peace, but that this idea of asceticism was a way of fetishising poverty. Like, it can be part of the capitalist narrative – that letting go of material possessions helps one find oneself or similar fantasies. Like many things I am in many minds about this. I do believe in the idea that analysis paralyses; where you are given so many options for action that ultimately you choose none of them, can hinder your ability to do good things. But I also believe that downsized living only really brings you inner peace when it is backed with privilege. Poverty or a loss of material goods is usually an unfair and immoral inequity inherent in society/culture, but is made to seem a natural expression of people’s inherent identities in a capitalist system. I spent a lot of very cold nights this last winter thinking about how it feels like where there once was a political left, there is now an absence. I don’t actually know that much about politics. I just feel like there has been a rise of religious fundamentalism and absolutely racist nationhood nostalgia that has gone unanswered, almost as if the types of people who share my views on equality, on advocating for refugee rights, on advancing the cause of feminism have abandoned the centre stage. It’s a tough negotiation between buying items that contribute to environmental degradation, slavery and oppression, and buying items that will help you fight against these things. But I think after my experience living in a traveling yurt, I am ready to acquire whatever is necessary to loudly and strongly fight against that which I consider hateful and inconsiderate.

A couple of months ago you collaborated on the exhibition “Anthologia”. Do you feel the distinction between writers and artists is less concrete nowadays?

I think when you talk about a “writer” or “artist” there is a spectrum of different practices that have various types of viability. I think certain types of writers are still producing novels that are still economically and creatively viable. Visual artists can be quite traditional too. So the distinction is still quite healthy. I am interested in the third space between the two terms. I feel like this is less the blurring of boundaries than the creation of a new distinction, a new space. Probably the most interesting thing is how creative value is shifting, and how our use of written language is shifting too. We celebrate language more than ever, and we read more than ever. We all read constantly, from when waking. We value the work less. We are increasingly using pictures/emoji/stickers/gifs to communicate, which I really love. But I feel like it means that literature must change if it is to adapt to these novel uses of language. But I don’t know. Most of what I do is by feeling and necessity. I am doing performative and artistic projects for fairly mercenary reasons. I see there being less space to be a viable writer of literary fiction. And I doubt my abilities to write as well or as quickly as is necessary for a writer of genre fiction. I feel like what I have to offer is this desire to make the word real and lived, to stage literary fantasies in the everyday life.

It kind of depends what you’re talking about when talking about with what a writer is.

You collaborated with Alina Tang for “Anthologia”. How have you found working with her and other collaborators?

Sometimes I work with collaborators because I know there are things that I am simply not capable of. Alina is an incredibly effective and practical artist who wanted absolutely nothing to do with theory, who worked with this complex and intricate aesthetic sense, and who made Anthologia beautiful. I was happy to support her, provide occasional guidance, define some project boundaries, and otherwise generally just let her do her thing. Working with collaborators is a mixed bag. There is something so peaceful and fulfilling about working quietly by myself on a fictional world. But every step of that is also filled with anxiety. There is so much possibility and it is so hard to correctly express the specific dream that suits the narrative. Collaborating means giving up some of that freedom and power, but it also means that I have less anxiety about the finished product. It can be really beautiful, if had to control.

You’ve said in the past that living in portable housing was partly a response to what you expected to earn as a writer. What impact do you think ever-decreasing incomes will have on the work of artists and writers?

I guess except for some particularly buoyant times, income for creative work has usually been pretty hard to come by for most people. Heaps of writers of the classics struggled too, and usually had to work other jobs in order to support themselves. I guess it just means that creative production for almost everyone becomes a part-time activity, which is kind of where it is now. Things just get harder. Perhaps there’s less incentive too, to make the kind of work that while harder to access, can be more rewarding. I’m referring to specific literary works, like giant dense avant garde stuff like Ulysses – no wait, Joyce wrote that when he was super poor, and borrowed heaps of money off his brother. I guess the decreasing income thing is a way that creative and artistic production dries out right? Until all that is left is bloodless. Like a way of removing opposition to tyranny or oppression is to stretch the populace so thin that their only thought is their own survival.

Your most recent venture has been Meowvember. What motivated doing so much work for SAFE (Saving Animals From Euthanasia) and how did it go?

I was motivated by the passing of a dear friend. Kate-Anna St Valentine, who I have described before as a mega-talented, tattooed, vegan, animal-loving, supremo babe with a huge heart and a life-force you’d never forget. She was vegan before I became vegan. She loved harder than I have ever loved. Our admiration was mutual, and we expressed it to each other as often as we saw each other. I also did it to sort out my confused and tangled feelings towards cats. I earnestly believe that it is a love of cats and not a hate of cats that will lead towards a more beautiful and safe environment for our native wildlife. And I think the ultimate good is maintaining cultures of love and biodiversity. The concept for Meowvember is relatively simple: celebrate cats with poetry and cat related clothes and goodies every day for a month to raise money for SAFE Perth. SAFE is staffed entirely by volunteers, and they help all kinds of rescue animals, not just cats. They are of the opinion that all lives are precious.

The fundraising campaign was a pretty big success. The event was lovely, and we raised $2,081.55. My Meowvember partner, Miko Katze, loves cats so so much, and did Meowvember previously with Kate-Anna back in 2012.

For someone with such a nomadic and reactive existence, do you still have plans far into the future?

I think about the far future a lot. I’m pretty certain we are headed towards a loss of human life on a scale unlike any before. We are already mired in a mass extinction event unlike any that Earth has ever seen. I think part of acknowledging that, for me, will involve working towards owning a property and using that property to establish a tiny eco-village with the aim of supporting artists and writers that are geared towards sustainable art/literature. This will mean that I will take up whatever occupation will guarantee me enough money to acquire this. I am very much invested in starting this in Perth, and in doing what I can to support positive loving creative cultures here too. A lot of people I’ve spoken with hope to establish very similar things, so I have no doubt that at least one artistic eco-village will exist. And when it does, I hope to be involved.

Interview by Hayden Dalziel

Image by Kristinn Hermanniusson

Find out more about SJ Finch and his work on his Facebook page here, his Paper Mountain profile here, or his Tumblr page here