By Press Room Contributor Chloe Reeson
Friday – 2pm-3pm, The Gun Club
Omar Musa and Jessica O’Neill are two busy people. Omar is a rapper, poet, and novelist. Jessica O’Neill is a PhD student writing about energy security in Australia. She’s also a Latin dance instructor, performs stand up comedy and does some creative writing, too. It’s hard to think of two more qualified people for an conversation about being a multi-disciplinary artist. Together they endeavoured to demystify the challenging world of the ‘slashie’ at the Gun Club on Friday afternoon.
It was a difficult conversation to contain at times, having to address so many disparate approaches and ideas on their various forms of art practice. Having said that, Jess and Omar did a great job of integrating and contrasting their experiences, as well as passing to audience input frequently. In fact, working in harmony with audience members provided some of the most insightful moments of the conversation.
One audience member talked about their experience as a romance writer. They said they were often told to only write according to a singular ‘brand’ or style and if their work ever strayed from this style they would be told to release it under a new pseudonym, keeping their multi-disciplinary practices perpetually separate.
Jess and Omar agreed that presenting a marketable brand is an important part of success as an artist and it can be difficult to maintain this brand when pursuing different approaches to art. Having said that, Jess stressed that it was still important to experiment and see what happened when you toyed with those boundaries. She said, “show them what they need to see. Be the sin people are afraid to commit”.
Omar added simply, “fuck the rules” but conceded that creative impulses often come up against the market which can be reductive and false. He said, for example, that he’s often marketed as being ‘from the street’ despite having gone to a private school in Canberra. The market will try to push you in singular directions but its important to push back when you can.
Another audience member addressed the ‘insular’ nature of some creative communities and asked if our artists ever felt inadequate moving between their modes of practice, putting different communities in conversation with each other. Omar said it can be surprisingly easy to find common ground when you’re making art especially when you’re exploring universal themes (how did we get here, what does it all mean, where are we going?) but as with all art, finding this common ground is simply about trial and error.
One of the key challenges of being a multi-disciplinary artist was also raised by a third audience member: how do you finish things without being distracted by your other projects?
Jess’ advice was to set goals that were tangible, achievable tasks rather than vague, grandiose achievements (e.g. finish your essay rather than finish your PhD). Omar quoted writer Junot Diaz who said that taking a long time to finish a project and feeling lost is a good thing. Being lost just means you’re somewhere no one else has been before and that’s something that is vital to art.
In the end, being a multi-disciplinary artist is about experimentation and instinct. It’s about following your nose and making decisions for yourself. It’s one of the reasons the conversation was so difficult to steer at times—being a multi-disciplinary artist requires something that can’t easily be put into words. There are a multitude of possible and unique combinations of artistry, so finding yourself exactly represented in idols is difficult. You have to make yourself soft and fluid and open to experience. In this way your practice becomes unique and personal and your projects will inform each other.
At the outset of the discussion, Omar likened his practice as different branches of the same river and water analogies are pretty perfect because, despite the lame cliché, being a multi-disciplinary artist really does require you to just “go with the flow” (sorry).