Jessica Raschke / Artist/Writer
A text-based installation artist and writer, Jessica explores how people generate a sense of meaning and purpose
Jessica seeks to remind people of their own (sometimes or oftentimes) overlooked yearnings and depths.
BY ARTSFILE EDITOR
Jessica Raschke lives in Bundanoon with her husband and two children, but she’s originally from Melbourne.
Born to a migrant family (her Mum is Italian and her Dad is German), she grew up in the western suburbs of Melbourne during the early incarnations of Australia’s multiculturalism policies. The benefits and beauties of cultural diversity were instilled in her from the very beginning. After brief stints working as an editorial assistant at a couple of publishing houses, she ended up doing a PhD about the culture of whiteness in Australian publishing and literature.
In her own words:
My childhood among working class, culturally diverse communities has imbued me with a strong devotion to social justice principles and values. I try to stay true to these values every step of the way, whether it’s in my creative, personal or professional life. In the past I have worked across a range of fields, mostly writing, editing, teaching and research at several universities down in Melbourne, and these days at Western Sydney University. I’ve worked for several NGOs, including Oxfam Australia, along the way. These experiences shaped my love for ideas, philosophy and difference, and what it means to be a human being interacting with ever-changing social, cultural and political forces.
I don’t think I ever knew that I was going to be an artist, although I was a classically introverted, introspective child with my head in a book or neck craned over pieces of paper, writing and drawing and dreaming. I was a quintessential Romantic, although I didn’t know it back then. I once tried to piece together a makeshift studio for myself under the house! It turned out that my bedroom was much more comfortable to work in.
I was very competent at English and Art throughout primary and secondary school and I found it hard to choose one love over the other. So, I spent a lot of time exploring how text and images could go together: comic books, cartooning, writing and illustrating my own stories. I had no idea that these mediums could be brought together to form something like the text-based installation art I do these days. When I went to the University of Melbourne, I was introduced to Barbara Kruger’s work: that was an instrumental turning point. I love how she combines clever plays on words with politics, activism, feminism in among powerful imagery. Then came Jenny Holzer and other conceptual artists who sometimes work with text. Certainly, many of them work with the construction of culture and meaning, they offer provocations that challenge the status quo. The challenge is to develop your own voice, your own style and perspective, so that your work isn’t just derivative of those you admire.
Truth be told, over the past 10 years I’ve focused on parenting my children, which positioned my creative practice in the sidelines. It’s a common story, I know. Being an ‘artist’ seemed to have happened incidentally: one day I realised that I’d built up a substantial body of work over the years for both my writing and visual art. I wrestled with imposter syndrome a lot – am I really an artist? Still do. I’ve just had to accept the description, if only to help others make sense of me. I take my practice a lot more seriously now. I feel driven to properly pay my respects to the muses given they’ve been hanging in there with me for so long!
I’ve learned the importance of working hard and being disciplined: that is advice I have heard from many creatives. In my case, because a lot of my work is conceptual and text-based, ‘working hard’ can mean hanging up the washing while contemplating the differences between existentialism and nihilism, their relevance to 21st century culture (or not!), and what that could look like as an installation or a poem. I can spend days ruminating on a question until I’ve found the ‘right’ answer or I’ve exhausted myself. So, it’s also about allowing for lots of reverie, so that strong visions, poems, or turns of phrase can come along. My most useful creative tools are: pen, paper, mind, heart, sensitivity, vulnerability, reflection.
Creativity is central to my life – I think it’s central in most people’s lives, whether they recognise it or not. I’m so gripped by questions of what makes life meaningful, and how people bring meaning to their everyday lives, that I’m often engrossed in deep wonder (sometimes bewilderment) about how humans cannot help but create. We are unique in our capacity to not only visualise something innovative, but we have magical opposable thumbs and problem-solving powers that allow us to create what we visualise. It’s extraordinary! (Having said that, human ingenuity does get us into a lot of trouble.) I’ve certainly come to realise how crucial imagination, creativity, community and connection are to me, these things nourish the spirit. I do suffer when I don’t have enough of these elements in my life.
I think artists are reliably challenged by conservative cultures, by the demands of consumer cultures, it can be difficult to hold true to your own vision, to persist with a practice when there is no guarantee of so-called rewards (mostly in the form of recognition, adulation, financial earnings). It does take courage and determination to keep going. They key is to find like-minded souls who understand the importance of creative engagement with themselves and the world. A community of other mavericks, no matter how small, is the ideal tonic.
Jessica Raschke: Wisdom Weaving
Jessica Raschke: Mental/Window Words