I spent most of yesterday with Alan Ma, the trustee assigned to my case at the Insolvency and Trustee Service Australia (or ITSA), a government agency "responsible for the administration and regulation of the personal insolvency system". We had agreed to meet at my storage facility in a beachside suburb north of Sydney, which ITSA had sealed a month ago, so that he could assess my artworks and other material assets with a view to selling them. He arrived with a small cadre of people: Caroline Jones, Senior Art Specialist for Menzies Art Brands, another woman who was also one of the firm's art specialists, and a videographer whose role was to document the process. I was told that I had to remain with them for however long it took to inspect every box, file, and art work. The trustee's demeanour was unfailingly polite, cordial but firm. It compelled me to take the process seriously.As it turned out, it wasn't as painful as I'd anticipated. It took five hours. They removed about 40 art works – several watercolours, including one from my 2006 exhibition, Venus In Hell, a large triptych of Lin With My Lover, But Not Alone, a dozen framed photographs that were tests for my 2008 exhibition, PORNO, rough, unsigned sketches for a print, IKu For You, and a very poor acrylic study for Dangerous Career Babe: The Cat Burglar – along with several boxes of a book I'd been involved in, Wililam Creek and Beyond, bought in bulk to give to collectors. They also took works that had been given to me – many by artists who follow this blog – including a lithograph from Billy Childish, along with other, more personal mementoes. All were to be consigned to a weekly auction held at Menzies' Melbourne gallery.
There were odd instances of stomach-clenching discomfort, like when the art assessors pored over several proof sheets of 35mm photographs of me having sex, the raw material for works such as PORNO, Sex Tourist, and the Kelly and Lin series of mixed media works on paper.When I first met Alan and Caroline, I was already embarrassed. I had worked hard to build my career and achieve an unprecedented level of independence for a young, female artist. I had achieved a high degree of fame and an enviable income. Now I was bankrupt and facing the brisk disposal of everything I had. It was particularly galling to meet Caroline, who, as Head of Art for Menzie's Sydney operation, had recently been involved in several profitable sales of my works at high profile auctions: "I need a minute to compose myself," I told her, before we even had a chance to shake hands. I fled to a bathroom, where I squatted on the tiled floor and wept.
Later, , Caroline, who was noticeably pregnant, her colleague and I sat together on a cement ledge in the loading bay to eat a take-away lunch. We traded war stories about being women in a predominantly male art world – clashes of egos, office politics, sexual harassment. We shared perspectives on the future of commercial galleries and agreed that pre-auction exhibitions were "very cool", because they provided a glimpse of works that are rarely seen outside private homes. They reassured me that what I was going through was just a small 'bump' in what was going to be a long and productive career.We finished in the middle of the afternoon. The trustee wheeled large trolleys piled with my goods down the steel-lined corridors of the warehouse to the elevator. Outside, as he waited for an art transporter to arrive, he discussed with Caroline the levels of commission Menzies Art Brands would earn on the auction of my works. The cruel symmetry of it made me smile: the auction house that had profited from my success would now also profit from my first big failure.There's nothing quite like losing everything to draw a line between one stage of your life and the next – in my case, youth and adulthood. The trick is to do it only once. And not look back.