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Alex Desebrock Reflects On The Artstart Process

Dec 16, 2013

ArtStart recipient Alex Desebrock presented the following speech at the opening of the Australia Council’s exhibition Figures: The Shape of Early Artist Careers on Thursday 12 December 2013.  The exhibition, based on a longitudinal study commissioned by the Australia Council, explores the impact that the ArtStart grant has had on the progress of recipients’ careers.

It’s December. And it’s a time when we all get a bit reflective.

I just drove up from Melbourne yesterday so had this long car drive to think.

And I was thinking about having work in this exhibition.

And how 18 months ago – I would not have predicted it at all.

How 18 months ago I actually was reading a letter from the Australia Council saying “unfortunately, you have been unsuccessful in your application to ArtStart.”

Thankfully, I got a different letter six months later.

The work that’s here in this exhibition is part of an installation I did in Brunswick.

The chalkboards were around the plinth structure and then there was a megaphone on top.

I like to create moments of big thinking. Of empowering an audience.

I think the question:

What does the world need to hear? Does.

It’s become a core question in my practice.

What does the world need to hear, see, do, be?

I  first asked it to children in a workshop  and they answered it quite eloquently and beautifully. From “the world needs more kindness!” to “pick up your rubbish”.

To simply, Hellooooooo You!

The chalkboard responses in Brunswick were varied, funny, beautiful, serious, ironic, inspiring, drawings, quotes, in other languages and we even saw conversations begin…

Things from YOLO to I love you.

Refugees are welcome.

Give animals voices.

Give people voices.

More singing!

Fix Upfield bike path!

Listen to Nelson Mandela or your mother.

Don’t forget it’s the anniversary of Jill Meagher’s death this Friday.

Drawings of trees. Of scratches by children.

And portraits of hipsters.

And post the election in this safe Labor seat:

“why? Tony, Why?”

And the simple “we tried.”

It will be quite different here I imagine &

I look forward to seeing what’s written.

I’d say in the last 18 months my practice hasn’t changed significantly.

But the support and opportunities\ around it have.

And a key part of this has been ArtStart.

I get audience to write in my work a lot at the moment.

And because it is Christmas, I thought I’d embrace the ghost of the future and write to the “me” 18 months ago.


Dear Alex/any emerging artist.

It’s ok. At least, it will be.

I know, it’s a little rough at the moment.

Working in the café. Trying to keep on top of things.

It’s not really the ideal balance is it?

And I know you didn’t get ArtStart this round.

Or Next Wave.

Or Arts Vic.

Or that residency.

Things are pretty frustrating. It feels like you have this all this energy to make things – and that people are wanting you to – it’s just not quite all coming together.

There are a lot of walls.

And you’re feeling pretty alone.

I’m not writing to you from 20 years ahead. Or even five.

Just 18 months. And just in that teensy amount of time – things get better.

You NEED to apply to ArtStart again.

You’ll get it this time. And it will give you the confidence you need to make other things happen.

It will lead to expected and unexpected doors opening.

The first and best thing that will happen is that ArtStart will enable you to take that studio.

It will allow you to take yourself seriously and you’ll meet some pretty great artists who will open up some of those doors I was telling you about.

The other big investment from ArtStart is going to be interstate travel.

You’ll be spending time in Brisbane, Sydney, Canberra and Perth.

I know it’s hard to believe but within two years you’ll have presented work in each of these cities.

You’re going to have to make some changes.

And start backing yourself.

Take a few gambles.

You’re going to quit that café job and work full time on your practice.

Look out for that cheap share house – it’s worth it.

Sometimes it’ll be difficult trying to make ends meet.

It’ll be scary. But you’ll get better at dealing with it.

You’re going to make mistakes.

And get overwhelmed.

And I’m sure this is going to continue. Beyond this “emerging” stage.

Just remember you’re very lucky.

Lucky that things fall into place.

You get supported. Both with funding, connections or just time.

Presenters want your work.

And that you live in a place where you can live off what you do.

It might not last long.

So make the most of it.

Make work that is insightful, resonate and connects people.

And you’ll be ok.

Amazingly, you will be ok.

Alex. 12th December 2013.