Simone Alesich & Michael Rigby

Although confined to home and restricted in their palette of media, Simone and Michael continue to celebrate and practice their love of the arts – and the Smurfs!

You both are working – in what ways has that changed?

Simone (S): I work as a policy advisor to the Victorian Government and since late April I’ve been working on the Working for Victoria initiative, which is part of the COVID response. So looking for ways to make a difference has been motivating.

Michael (M): I’m working at the University of Melbourne on a Federally funded research infrastructure project on urban planning.

M & S: We’ve both been working from our bedrooms since March and not having that clear separation between home and work life has been challenging. It also means there’s no physical interaction, so you don’t have the body language cues to aid communication – before we’d just walk across the floor to talk with someone. You have to make more effort to maintain the connection with colleagues.

What about in terms of your relationship?

S: We have separate residences in adjoining suburbs, about 10 minutes drive apart, with the Moonee Ponds Creek in common.

M: The curfew was quite hard for us. Sometimes we’d hardly get any time together after work, so we had to do things smarter. We’d meet up on the bike path for our regular bike ride in the morning and in the evening we’d get around to the other person’s house to do what we could  within the curfew period.

We’re both under different types of pressure at the moment so caring for each other has been important: being patient and compassionate with one another. One of us might have had a late night or a hard day, plus, of course, the other person is going through stuff as well. So compassion and understanding is very important.

S: And finding opportunities to do fun things, to break out and remind yourself of the fun stuff. Like it was Mike’s birthday a couple of weeks ago and we had a bit of a party out the back with one of his housemates. That was nice, just to relax and have some fun.

What has brought you joy or happiness during this time?

M: Our art expressions have been big things for both of us. We both have studio space but with this second wave we can’t use them at all. So with all of your materials etc at the studio and not wanting to mess up your home with paint and so on, it’s been really difficult.

S: During the first lockdown I was doing quite a bit of machine knitting for an exhibition, quite large pieces that would go on display. But I haven’t been able to pursue that really. The knitting machine is at the studio and I don’t have space to use it at home. I’m still working on pieces for other themed exhibitions, but I’ve been a bit limited in what I’ve been able to do. I’ve actually been making masks as a creative activity.

M: Up to July I was doing a lot of print making to enter into a show, but now, being confined to home, I’ve been doing macro photography of flowers around my garden. Spending time in the garden taking these photos has brought me joy..

S: We have a lovely garden here ( at Michael’s).

M: We both work part-time, with one day off for art, so when that one day off can’t really be used for art (in the studio), the temptation to fall back into working 5 days a week is pretty real. So you’ve got to direct it into something else. But you’ve got to be in the right ‘head-space’ and it’s been pretty hard for us to get into that space. For me it’s been a bit easier – I just go outside with a camera and ‘switch off’.

S: I’ve found it more challenging at this time as you have more anxiety and that doesn’t go very well with creativity. So I try not to push myself and just make things that I feel like making, a little more informal in my approach.

What have you learned from this time?

S: I was thinking the other day that I’m always amazed by my resilience. Like when we get these new restrictions, which I find really challenging, I just think ‘I can do this beyond the end of this week or the next week’ and then I get through it. I guess it’s reassuring to know that I can get through difficult times.

M: In terms of faith, being in the headspace for prayer has been quite challenging. Everybody is going through the same things and everybody has got issues. Trying to find the headspace within it all and be centred and contemplative has been challenging. Through my photographs I can just sort of step outside and open up to the things that I wouldn’t normally see. Like when you’re a kid and you look through a microscope and you think ‘what’s in here?’. Then little bugs and stuff crawl into your lens and you’re like ‘oh, look at that’. So I guess I’m more experiential themed and open to nature rather than reliant on the outcome in terms of the photos.

S: I’m on ‘Prayers of the People’, which has been sort of a blessing and curse, in a way. It’s nice to be able to do prayers like that, but it’s also really hard to write them.

M: The other big thing for me has been observing how much waste I’m creating at the moment. I’ve become more conscious of my environmental footprint and it’s challenged me to bring more cost-benefit and sustainability into how I live my life.

What are you most looking forward to? 

M: I’m looking forward to see what shifts in society as a result of all this. I was really taken by the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement and how that flowed on to the Australian indigenous stuff during lockdown. So for society as a whole, whilst not pandemic related, I’m hoping that we can actually move forward stronger in this direction. And the environment getting better, of course.

S: Some of the simple pleasures of life we took for granted: being able to go to the beach, see our families, go to an Op. Shop – the little experiences that make life interesting. It’s also been nice to see everyone spending so much time going for walks – families, people being in parks together – and it would be nice to see people continue to do that rather than revert to watching Netflix and ignoring each other again.

M: When you’re out you can have chance encounters with people and things, but when you’re at home there’s less opportunity for ‘chance’. Simone and I actually have a little flower installation in front of our house to engage with the community somehow.

S: Yes, we’ll get some flowers from our local fruit and vegetable place and create a display with different themes. At the moment the theme is ‘The Smurfs’ and the next one is ‘exotic birds’. It’s kind of a fun way for people going past to stop and have a look. It’s a way of sharing joy with the community.

Peter McKinnon, 8/10/2020

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