My name is Jessie Pangas. I am a 35 year old artist/cultural creative based on the North West Coast of Tassie where I live on my Grandfather’s farm with my husband Benjamin and two children Noah and Audrey.
I was born in Tasmania and spent the first five years of my life living in the very house where I am now raising my own children. Those five years are the longest I have spent anywhere. I gave up counting the number of houses we lived in after 20. My parents were adventurers and took me and my three siblings along for the ride. I can still recall vividly the mundane dinner table scene that preceded the casual enquiry, “How would you like to move to India?” So from a small town of 800 people in rural Victoria we moved to the Himalayas of Northern India when I was 14 and where I spent the next four years gaining a truly global education. Despite the many challenges, I am forever grateful to my parents for bringing me up in the world and this experience profoundly shaped who I am. By the time I finished high school I had completely dissociated from my Australian identity and embraced my international citizen status with accent to boot. But I did return to Australia more by default than anything else, to study Anthropology at the University of Melbourne, and really spent the next 10 years looking for my place and hoping that was in India.
Though I prided myself on my lack of connection to place I somehow kept landing back in Tasmania despite my best efforts. It wasn’t really until I met my now husband that I was challenged to open my eyes and look around me. My gaze had always been focused out but along with him and a bunch of young idealists, we moved into an intentional community in Rocherlea on the outskirts of Launceston. This was my next great education. I learnt what it meant to be a member of a community there, I learnt to confront prejudice in society and in myself, I learnt to see beauty in the bleakest of circumstances, and I learnt to love and be loved by my neighbours.
I had still not fully let go of the idea of moving to a slum in India so Ben and I went back together for three months and while we were there I met an Indigenous Elder from the Torres Strait who was part of our team, and she said “Why are you looking in India? You need to look in your own country”. This time when we returned to Australia it was with a commitment to visit remote Indigenous Australia within the next two years and it wasn’t long after that that we were moving to Galiwin’ku, Elcho island with our two year old and another one on the way.
This was my next education. This was an Australia that I didn’t even know existed and I was shocked by that. Our three years in that community were some of the most profound of my life. I learnt something of what it really means to be Australian, I learnt about power and the lack of it, I learnt about family, I learnt about the land. We wanted to stay and work there for the remainder or our careers but, without realising it, this continual focus on others began to take its toll and before we could help ourselves, our health and well-being had deteriorated to the point of burn out.
Returning to Tasmania was our emergency intervention, without plan or intention - we just had to go somewhere. Here it was and here we have remained for almost four years now with no plan to move on, (I am very keen to break that 5 year mark!). This is my latest education - I am learning to value myself as much as I value the other, and to remember who I am as a Tasmanian, as an artist, as a woman, and as a mother. I am reconnecting to this place, to the land and the family that I come from. I am growing roots. I am self-remembering.
Alongside my love of culture, I also am a creative, and a pivotal part of returning to Tasmania has been to create space for this. For the first time in my life I have really allowed myself to embrace what it is that I love doing. My studio practice has focused on printmaking and painting with a shift towards more experimental projects. Outside the studio I am facilitating meaning making, creativity and connection through art and cultural workshops, events, writing, and community engagement.
Ulverstone is not somewhere you chose to live to pursue a career in anything but this sleepy little village by the sea, perfect for the rest and recuperation that we so desperately needed and to establish some family stability. I like to joke that it is the rehabilitation centre that we couldn’t afford to check ourselves into, and my life in the margins had prepared me well for this. Through it all life has continued to ask me to stand in liminal spaces. Whether living in a tent, broad acre housing commission suburb or rural India and it is this orientation to the margins that encapsulates my stance both as an anthropologist and artist.
I have come to believe (but still have to remind myself on a regular basis) that everything you need is where you are. Living regionally has also sheltered me from my tendency to lose myself in the agenda of others and provided a cocoon to develop myself, not in relation to anyone else but rather from within.
It also asks me to be proactive, going out and making connections that it would not be in my normal disposition to pursue.
Now I have come to the point where I think being marginal can even be an advantage. It gives you an outside perspective that I have always found insightful, a quietness that can allow you to notice things, and space for things to quietly grow where they might be lost or swept up in the busyness and clamour of the centre.
I am increasingly drawn to slow, simple living and I can’t think of anywhere I would rather be than on the North West Coast of Tassie. I walk barefoot on the beach every morning after I drop my kids off at school, to transition from the bustle of family to my work day. Any food that we don’t grow ourselves we can source from the local community. We cut our own wood on the farm. We are connected to the land that sustains us. Our costs of living are low enough that we are able to do what it is we want to do here. So many people do not have that luxury and I am forever grateful for that.
In my art practise I am interested in exploring the ordinary - I am an aesthetic, a lover of beauty and adventure but my life experience has asked me to see this in the most unusual places. In a line from her poem “Nowhere” Marie Howe says "This is how things happen, cup by cup, familiar gesture after familiar gesture. What else can we know of safety or fruitfulness?” In my work I am interested in exploring this space. To draw attention to the ordinary, to discover the beauty within it and to hold that space, the space of unknowing.
In almost all my work there is the element of break down and decay, the undoing of what is and the creation of space for what we do not know. This is where I choose to dwell more and more as a person and as an artist.
As I continue on my journey of self-remembering, I suspect that the time has come to integrate these separate parts of my identity - my inner anthropologist and my inner artist. What that will look like is still a mystery but I suspect it will be less representational and more experiential and site specific.
Pico Iyer, the writer and philosopher, has this wonderful idea of ‘adventures in going nowhere’. By this he is referring to the adventure of understanding yourself and the world of the interior. Having spent my early years out there in awe of the world in all its glorious complexity I now find myself in a quiet backwater, and for very good reasons, for the health and happiness of myself and my family this is where I need to stay, and so I turn my attention to this interior journey which brings me to here.
I am currently on a one week residency at Cradle Mountain Wilderness Gallery where I have brought no art making supplies and am in silence for the duration of my stay. I am here to be present to myself and the world - to ask - what does it look like to be an artist who doesn’t make things? What is the next step for me?
I am interested in the unknown, the process and in just keeping on taking the next step.
Photography by Amy Brown.