Martyn says: ‘It is all go go go with many artists finishing up and the last few having a panic’

I’m quite sure this is true, and one of the frustrations of looking on at this process from afar is not really experiencing that sense of urgency and building excitement and anticipation. I’m sharing the exhaustion though. Living in two time zones when they are so far apart has left me drained and finding it increasingly difficult to manage. We are enjoying a final week of real summer here – quite rarely so for the penultimate week of August. So yesterday exhaustion won and I finally gave up and went to the (packed) beach.

That gave me – finally – the opportunity to finish reading James Brady’s ‘Elemental: an arts and ecology reader’, of which I am supposed to have written a review some weeks ago. Finally now I can sit down and write that review!

For the past few mornings I have been speaking with some of the artists gathered for the Biennale. Those conversations are posted here in their raw form. In the coming days and weeks I will edit these down to more focussed chats. But they have been enjoyable and in come cases revelatory talks. One of the things that makes the Yatoo Biennale somewhat unusual is the preponderance of older artists. All too often this is a young person’s game, but here there is a real spread of ages with many artists in their 60s and beyond. That brings with it a real sense of assurance, of quite confidence – not perhaps in the work, but in the process of making. Few artists that I met or worked with feel confident about the work they are making – nor should they – but the making process is a skill and a craft honed over the years and decades which becomes almost a muscle memory.

So many of the artists here have continued to challenge themselves with some extraordinary shifts in practice. Many are artists who have consciously rejected the life of the jobbing studio artist, actively dislike the white cube and the art world mentality. It is hardly surprising to find, within this context, that the majority seem to feel this way. This chosen way of life was best summed up by Olga Ziemska when I spoke with her a couple of days ago. Our conversation is worth a listen. She still looks on her life as a full-time artist as a privilege, which is a humbled and an ecological position. So many of the artists here are utterly immersed in the world around them and are dedicated to making it a better place. So many care deeply about how their art speaks – through its materials, through its ideas, through its relationships with the land and with the people who come to see it. Some speak overtly about the spiritual aspects of this work – not in any evangelical way, but often as a measure of seeking, of quietude, of a giving-back.

I don’t find this attitude in the art world in general where the cult of me is still very much in evidence. The vacuity I encountered at last year’s Venice Biennale contrasts so strongly with the groundedness of so much of the work I see here. Artists here rarely talk of themselves but only of their place or their concern for the planet.