IT was the most challenging part of the selection process. Newcastle artist Lottie Consalvo was invited late last year to submit an application for the ambitious 30th Kaldor Public Art Project featuring acclaimed New York-based performance artist Marina Abramovic.
The project will occupy Pier 2/3 in Sydney's Walsh Bay for 11 days this winter,and Abramovic and 12 Australian artists will take up residency at the waterfront venue.
Consalvo was one of 65 candidates asked to prepare a video for Abramovic, who then selected the artists she wanted to mentor.
"I emailed Emma [Pike, KPAP curator] and said, 'Am I supposed to talk to her directly?' When someone is so large in your mind, you don't actually imagine talking to them one on one."
Consalvo was up until 3am "pulling my hair out" to film her message for Abramovic in which she introduced herself and her work, and talked about how the residency would benefit her practice. "Hi Marina," she laughs, re-creating the awkward moment.
It may have been tough, but it worked.
Consalvo joins an eclectic group of artists, including George Khut, a professor at University of NSW Art and Design (formerly College of Fine Arts) who explores biofeedback, and London-based Australian photographic and performance artist Christian Thompson.
"When I got contacted, I couldn't believe it," says Consalvo.
"I felt really honoured. I've felt like in the last six months I'm finally understanding what I am doing; I feel like something is working. This is validation that I'm on the right track."
While visitors to Marina Abramovic: In Residence move through various meditative experiences, the 12 artists will hold workshops, talks and develop their projects. They will work privately with Abramovic each morning in their home and work spaces, which will be designed by Harry Seidler & Associates.
It is going to be a busy year for the Merewether artist who is travelling to Europe for six months immediately after the Kaldor project. Her husband, Newcastle-born artist James Drinkwater, was last year awarded the Brett Whiteley Travelling Art Scholarship, which includes a three-month residency at Cite Internationale des Arts in Paris. They will extend their stay in Europe before heading to New York for a joint exhibition in January at Chasm Gallery in Brooklyn.
The couple met in Melbourne - Consalvo was born in East Gippsland - and moved to Newcastle three years ago after working and studying in Germany and Kenya. They have a toddler son, Vincenzo.
A self-taught artist, Consalvo's first performance was held in Berlin in 2011 at the urging of a musician/singer friend. She had been painting and making jewellery but became interested in French artist Niki de Saint Phalle, who produced assemblages in the 1960s that involved shooting concealed paint containers with a rifle or pistol. Consalvo visited Hanover where 400 works by de Saint Phalle were donated by the artist to the Sprengel Museum's permanent collection.
"She made physical works but there was a strong performative element," says Consalvo. "In Hanover, I saw her shooting outfit and I knew that I wanted to do something performative."
The 29-year-old remembers vividly the experience of her first performance. "It was so amazing. It felt euphoric." The next day, she began a three-month residency with the Leipzig International Arts program where she created a performance a month.
Consalvo's work is deeply personal. During her 2012 performance Steer a Steady Ship she laid on a bed with a row boat suspended above her dripping black ink on to her face. It was conceived after the death of her sister and was an attempt to convey her anxiety and fear of falling asleep at night.
In her 2014 performance, It's Too Early to Love You, she listened to a recording of her mother singing the Sesame Street theme song for nine hours. "This idea developed during a difficult time in my own parenting and finding myself behaving similarly to my mother, which I had sworn I wouldn't," she told an interviewer. "This performance was about the complexities within family relations."
Last August she completed a year-long work, Compartmentalise, which involved divesting herself of everything other than the barest of essentials. Her once colourful wardrobe was reduced to the basics, a dreary itemised list limited to one dress and skirt, two tops, two jumpers, three pairs of shoes and sets of underwear.
She kept a blog and her emotions varied dramatically throughout the year - from smug satisfaction to misery. At one point she resorts to wearing Drinkwater's underwear and fashions her skirt into a dress to wear to friend's wedding.
The work sprang from a search for clarity amid the fog of first-time motherhood and the clutter of domesticity. "There was a short period where I tried to disguise the personal with the political," she says.
"I thought I needed to justify my work with something outside of myself, but not realising that there is a way of dealing with it. I'm making a lot of work now about memory and presence, and desire for the future and this futile anticipation of contentedness in the future.
"I want to find out what I feel about certain things and I like to articulate that through a work. I'm not wanting to expose too much, but I want to talk about something that does reach a collective audience. Hopefully someone walks into the space and feels something."
Motherhood has shaped her practice in ways she could not have predicted. Where she used to spend six days in the studio, she is limited to three or four - and then there are still interruptions, which she accepts as part of her practice. "These interruptions mean I constantly step back and reassess what I am making so in turn I make - what I hope to be - better work.
"I have become less concerned with quantity and more focused on making strong work. I used to make more physical work, but since Vincenzo arrived I have made more conceptual and performative works because I can make them in my head whenever, wherever."
There have been times when both Consalvo and Drinkwater have struggled - financially and creatively. Her father, Newcastle artist Dino Consalvo, has always urged the couple to persevere and is "bursting" since news of the Kaldor residency was received in April.
"He has been our biggest supporter," beams Consalvo. "We've had times that have been really tough. When Vincenzo was due to be born, it was scary. I never thought I would be having a baby and be financially struggling so much and now we look back . . . if we didn't stick to it our lives wouldn't be as good as they are now.
"That's what happens. As an artist you have to be prepared for those tougher times and my dad has always been the one to say, 'Keep going, don't buy into the other way of living'."
Marina Abramovic: In Residence is at Pier 2/3, Walsh Bay, from June 24 to July 10. Entry is free and restricted to ages 12 and up.