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Art Chemist - A Prescription For Aotearoa

18 Oct 2022
Performance artist Audrey Baldwin has taken to dishing out artistic endeavours as cures for what ails us - she shares her creative tonics with The Big Idea.

Written by

Audrey Baldwin

How are you doing? It’s been a time, eh? 


There’s a lot going on; we’re living in a late stage capitalist hellscape, the cost of living is through the roof, and climate change is breathing down our necks. Vodafone is rebranding to One New Zealand, which is also the name of white supremacist group —yikes— and local elections around the country have been infiltrated by conspiracy theorists. 


It’s also hayfever season, so at least if you cry in public, you’ve got an extra excuse.


It’s important to remember that we continue to live through ‘unprecedented’ times. If you’re not OK, or you’re struggling; that’s a thoroughly human response to where we are right now. 


The Arts are an essential yet underappreciated (read: wildly under funded) balm for individuals and a glue for communities. In a time where Aotearoa’s mental health system is overwhelmed, we need a holistic approach that draws on multiple ways to wellbeing.


I devised Art Chemist as a response to a growing sense of isolation post 2020. It’s an interactive performance installation which allows me (and other performers) to earnestly deliver art recommendations in an environment that is both soothing and satirical of the wellbeing industry. Incidentally, I already owned a lot of salt lamps.


Art Chemist invites you to share a moment with a stranger in a pastel lab coat. Take a pause. Smell the lavender chamomile scented oil blend and have a think about what’s ailing you. You can choose to gripe about your knotted shoulders and aching knees, or your existential dread and failed work/life balance.


Audey Baldwin, the Art Chemist. Photo: Janneth Gil.


In the glow of the aforementioned salt lamps, your Art Chemist will respond with a unique prescription of local artworks or creative endeavors that will soothe, help process or alleviate your symptoms.


As Art Chemist gets ready to head to the Nelson Arts Festival, I was invited to share a prescription with the nation.


Because I’m not sure where you are reading this from, I’m sticking with some general ailments that feature often in our consultations. These prescriptions feature simple actions that require no preparation or materials and can be done anywhere in the country.


So, tell me you symptoms...Photo: Janneth Gil.


Are you frazzled, tired, stressed?


Seek balance, remember to breathe and take pause.


Find a local sculpture - an abstract one; no colonial figures! If you can’t find a sculpture, find an interesting building. Look at it and find elements to mirror with your body - stretch up, lengthen your spine. Flex your body to feel the shapes in it - is it taut and angular? Reaching tall? Is it curved and introspective? Expressive and rhythmic?


Reconnect with your body in a way that is not about punishment or reward; not exercise, just inhabiting it. Borrow some stillness (or movement if you find a kinetic sculpture!) from a well grounded piece.


Art chemist, mid-prescription. Photo: Janneth Gil. 


Are you sad, frustrated, overwhelmed?


Let it out through expression and movement, with a focus on process.


Head to the beach. Find a stick - ideally one long enough that you can drag it along beside you.  Use this instrument to draw lines and squiggles on the beach close to the water’s edge. Don’t think too much about the outcome, this is about process and mark-making. 


If you have time, watch your drawing get washed away. 


Practice letting go.


Are you bored, feeling stuck or filled with apathy?


Switch things up - embrace small changes.


Challenge yourself to find something new or take a second look at something that you usually rush past - slow down and see the brush strokes.


Photo: Janneth Gil.


What’s your usual route to work or study? Take notice of what’s on the periphery - find a mural, piece of graffiti or artwork that you haven’t noticed before. Think about what motivated the artist, learn about the work.


This is even better if you dislike it; question why that is and learn something about yourself.


Are you tense, anxious, overworked?


Repeat after me: “ I am a mote of dust dancing on the winds of the universe; I am not my job, I am not my worries.  Life is absurd and pointless and that is great.”


Seek out faces in nature, buildings and objects. Inject some whimsy into the day, take a picture and share the lol. Become your own meme dealer! This is a reminder to play and to notice little moments of lightness.


Take your prescription once a week or as needed; preferably after your morning coffee. If symptoms persist, take a frolic in the blossoms (remember to take your hayfever meds beforehand). If all else fails, take a nap. 


Audrey Baldwin. Photo: Roseanne Jones Photography.


Art Chemist performed by Audrey Baldwin plays Thursday October 20 – Sunday 23 October at Kiss Me (By Kismet). Free and suitable for all ages as part of the Nelson Arts Festival