‘Burnout’: Confronting Transition through Creative Practice

Dr Lydia Trethewey (Curtin University)
2018 Conference

In the months following the completion of my PhD, I was at a loss; 2018 marked the first time I would no longer be in full time study, a transitional period in which I found myself confronting instability. This paper examines the creative works I made in response to this uncertainty and accompanying listlessness, which were exhibited in April 2018 as a solo show titled Burnout. In adjusting to new realities, I utilised creative practice as a way to understand post-PhD life and reflect upon the role of compulsive busyness in my PhD experience. Creative practice thus became a strategy for dealing with what social psychologist Robert Levine describes as the ‘awkwardness and terror of having nothing to do’ (1997, 41). Utilising imagery of flat suburban landscapes in conjunction with semi-diaristic text, I attempted to address this unanticipated feeling of loss with both irony and honesty, negotiating complicated feelings of relief and absence. I simultaneously enjoyed my unfettering from the stress of the PhD, and found myself listless, forced to contend with my own need to be constantly busy. In this situation, creative practice became a way to endure transition but also a symptom of my inability to stop working. This paper situates such a response in relation to the pressures of working in the neoliberal university, the problems of self-help rhetoric, and the associated issues of creativity as productivity. In probing the artworks in Burnout, this paper analyses creative practice not simply as a means to comment on or cope with transition, but as an instinctive response which is difficultly knotted into experiences of loss, change and work-identity. In doing so, it seeks to critique some of the alienating structures of academia and post-PhD experience.

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About the author

Lydia Trethewey is an artist living and working in Perth, WA. She completed her PhD in 2018 at Curtin University and works as an online tutor in the School of Media, Creative Arts and Social Inquiry. Her research focuses on everyday travel and suburban landscapes, and experiences of daydream, habit and “quotidian-sublimity”. She has presented papers previously at the ACUADS (2016), AAANZ (2015, 2016, 2017) and Impact 9 (2015) conferences. Selected exhibitions include Here & Now: New Photography at Lawrence Wilson Gallery (2017), The Paths Themselves Become Unstable at Paper Mountain (2017) and Slippages at Free Range (2016).