Esther Renita – Arapiles Selected Climbs
As I went through art school my aesthetic journey became more and more abstract; from figurative to landscape, to dream interpretations, memories and metaphors, textures and spatial concepts of self and self-in-landscape. After finishing honours, working away at the Australian Print Workshop, practicing in my Fitzroy studios and exhibiting each year, I felt the desire for the abstraction to shift further. How could I take my process outside the object? And why did my artistic process even need to end in an object? Increasingly I questioned the nature of fine art and the role of the gallery. My need to express and document and explore continued so off I went to Tokyo to see what was happening in contemporary printmaking and abstraction. The land of Wabi-sabi, minimalism, the tea ceremony and Zen concepts of the aesthetic in the everyday was calling. It was my first experience of being abroad and all of a sudden I felt unable to respond to what I was observing – a culture and context of which I had no understanding. So I dove completely into documentation. I became the silent observer I had been in my childhood, collecting data for a future time when I might feel ready to react and respond. This ‘objectless’ art felt so free. After years of carting around my old artwork that I had no desire to look at, I was finally able to enjoy the process free of the heavy weight of bringing yet more useless objects into this already overly cluttered world.
When I came back to Australia I wondered what would come next. Would I finally respond and ‘make something’ or find a new way of engaging in ephemeral art? And then I discovered rock climbing.
I had truly found my objectless artistic process: a performance for no one, a happening of understanding and transgressing and transforming self. As I got to know climbers (particularly trad climbers) and observed their processes it seemed that they were also living as artists. They were obsessed with process, devoted to their practice, some playing with the sensation of being on their own edge, some challenging themselves and learning about the world around them, some clearly trying through experiential learning to interpret the point to all this life. Like dancers, they were expressing themselves through movement and being at one with mind, body and landscape. Each performer meticulously choosing their moment, their once-in-a-lifetime onsight act. Some hid behind this process and fed their ego with it. There were times of brutal honesty, failure and truthful acknowledgement of who they really were and not just who they wanted to show the world. Sometimes they were shut down and they would have to come back to the blank canvas again the next day. And other times they found the sublime.
What I was most surprised by – and impressed with – was the open unavoidability of vulnerability. Through my eyes this wasn’t a sport for ‘strong men’. This was a process of engaging with self, fear and relationships in a vastly more raw way than anything I had witnessed in The Art Scene. Anyone can pour their heart into an artwork safe in their own studio and present it only when it is polished and they are ready and happy with it. But going out at Arapiles and attempting to onsight at your limit in front of your contemporaries, that was a whole other level of exposing yourself.
I was given my first guidebook by Simey (Mentz), the co-author of Arapiles Selected Climbs. It was his old editing copy, complete with a few tweaks and changes that needed to be made for the next edition. I began the process of documenting my climbing life. Dates, onsights, flashes, seconds, belayers, falls, all noted in code. As I think of this guidebook I think of my first summer at Arapiles. Irrespective of my polyamorous tendencies, my love for Arapiles seems to be beyond that of other crags. After devoting the last 17 years to climbing, travelling the world and tasting as many cliffs as I could, nothing compares. As I think of my first Arapiles guidebook, I remember mostly that first summer of love: onsighting Tannin topless, my first trad lead fall on Comic Relief, beer and bouldering in the early evenings, the relationships that developed, the sense that the Mount was endless and that I was able to discover mystery every time I went out, quite like exploring a complex and never-ending city with laneways and alleys, intimidating spaces and beautiful architecture. But mostly I was exploring sides of myself that I wanted to show and open. I was allowed to be vulnerable and show my fears.
Unlike my visual fine art objects, I love looking back at my ephemeral climbing art; each fight, failure and success, but mostly looking back to access those moments of being at one with everything. I recall the experiences of moving meditation and of being completely and utterly in the moment. That sensation that there is nothing missing, that I am not preparing myself or bettering myself for something in the future, but this is it. I am.
As Fred Maddison states in David Lynch’s cult classic Lost Highway, ‘I like to remember things my own way, how I remembered them not necessarily the way they happened.’ I haven’t looked at that guidebook for a while now. It’s been collecting dust in various sheds in Natimuk while I’ve been out collecting more memories. But it is for sure my most precious climbing object and it suits me fine that it might not even still exist.
This piece originally appeared in Vertical Life #21, which you can get here.