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Finding the sweet spot for writing, in Bali

Updated 23 February 2016, 11:35 AEDT

Australian writer Natalie Spite loves the way art is part of daily, ordinary life in Bali.  She says being in Bali makes her want to write, which is perfect for this recent recipient of an artist residency grant.

Natalie Sprite says she feels both deeply at home and an outsider when she is in Bali and that’s what she want to write about.

Short-listed for the 2002 Australia/Vogel Literary Award for her novel ‘Gracenotes’ and a recipient of a number of literary prizes, including the ABC Open Short Fiction Prize and the 2013 and 2014 NT Literary Awards. Her stories have been widely published in literary journals and anthologies including Meanjin, Bruno’s Song and Australian Award Winning Writing. In 2014 she was awarded a Literature Board grant to write her novel, ‘Ripe’.

Australian writer Natalie Sprite. (Photo: Supplied/Catriona Mitchell)
Australian writer Natalie Sprite. (Photo: Supplied/Catriona Mitchell)

This year Natalie is doing the University of Melbourne Asialink’s Arts Residency Program at Saritaksu Editions in Bali, where she will write a collection of stories exploring the tension between belonging and dislocation in Bali.

How do you describe yourself?

A mother, a writer. Like all of us, I’m shaped by the things I love. My daughter. My work.

As a writer and arts manager for 20 years, what’s been your best moment?

It’s always about the process, the moment when I’m deep in the writing, carried on story. When the work itself is leading me. That’s where the joy is.

You have quoted Picasso about the purpose of Art being to wash the dust of daily life off our souls. Do you believe that art has power to transform lives? 

For a long time, I felt apologetic for being an artist. I felt art wasn’t important in the way that saving lives is important. But when I found this quote, I remembered the times that books had pulled me out of darkness. Given me community when I was lonely. Shown me a different way of being when I needed wider vision. I thought about how impoverished life would be without art.

Working in community arts, too, changed the way I saw art. A lot of the projects I worked on I was collaborating with people at the margins and people recovering from trauma. Art gives a space for large emotions. Huge grief. Explosive love. Terror. Things that don’t fit into a small talk context. And then there is the simple act of creating as a group. Creating in this way provides community and connection in a gentle but genuinely powerful way.

As you’re from Darwin, you will have been exposed to Indonesian arts and culture there. What’s been your reaction to it?

The closeness of Indonesia is one of the things that makes Darwin vibrant. The collaborations between Darwin and Indonesian artists are producing some really stunning work. Monster Art, for example (a recent exhibition of Indonesian and Darwin artists, at the Museum and Art Gallery, curated by Andy Ewing and Fiona Carter) was extraordinary. Just amazing.

“The view from the desk, today. I forgot how deeply beautiful Bali is.” (Photo: Natalie Sprite)

You have chosen Bali for your arts residence, why?

I feel both deeply at home and very much an outsider when I’m in Bali. It’s this tension I want to write about. There is a long and not always easy history between Bali and Australia. I find the stories around this compelling. There are acts of love and cruelty and foolishness and generosity. On both sides. And across all of this, there are moments of genuine connection and intimacy.

This is I want to write about – these moments, and how to touch this place I love with lightness.

Have you been to and lived in Bali before, if so what changes have you seen in this ‘Island of Gods’ ?

I have visited Bali every year for the last seven years. I find the increase in development disturbing, but I’m aware, too, that the development is happening because of people like me. Sometimes it seems that Bali is being almost loved to death. A friend said to me the other day, “If you love Bali, maybe the best thing you can do is to stay away.” I’m not sure this is true. But I’m aware that tourism is a double edged sword.

What is your perspective on Balinese arts and how they are connected to your own passion as an artist?

It’s the Balinese approach to beauty that fascinates me. In Bali, beauty has a spiritual note running through it. It is not empty decoration. In Australia, it seems like we’ve grown distrustful of beauty in art. But I love beauty. I find it necessary and deeply connected to hope and possibility.

I also love the way that almost everybody is an artist in Bali. Art is not separate from the rest of life. It is daily and ordinary, yet carries with it a deep soulfulness.

What will you be doing in Bali during your residency?

My host for the residence is Saritaksu Editions, a publishing house based in Sanur. Sarita Newson is the managing director and has offered to connect me to the Indonesian writing community, for which I’m so grateful. I need community. The chance to meet and talk to other artists is one of the great strengths of the Asialink fellowships.

I’ll also work with Saritaksu as a reader and am looking forward to learning more about the process of publishing.

At the end of the day, the focus of the residency is writing. Bali makes me want to write. There is something about the contrasts of the place that take my practice up a level.

I want to write about all that I love and all that I find confronting. To feel it sink into my skin and my work and see what comes out.

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Read this story in Indonesian on the Australia Plus Indonesian language site. 

2016 Asialink Arts Residencies