SALA Podcast Archive
The SALA Podcast aims to engage South Australian visual artists and arts industry professionals in interviews about their arts practice and creative lives, and in discussion about topics relevant to the arts. The SALA Podcast is available wherever you get your podcasts (Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, PlayerFM, Podbean, Amazon Music/Audible, iHeartRadio, Listen Notes).
See below for archived episodes and accompanying show notes, images, and transcripts. Newer episodes can be found here.
Episode 20 / Shane Kooka
In this episode, Steph catches up with Shane Kooka, whose art takes many forms, including painting, drawing, murals, and tattoos. Shane’s interest in art started at an early age and became an important way for him to connect with culture. Today, Shane works at small and large scale, making his mark on bodies, garments, buildings, and more. In this interview we hear about the role of collaboration and variety in sustaining his practice, and some of his work in Tarnanthi.
- Cherbourg Mission
Missions, reserves and stations were reserves of land to which Aboriginal people were forcibly located – aiatsis.gov.au
- Stolen Gen / Stolen Generation
Who are the Stolen Generations? (healingfoundation.org.au)
- Jack Buckskin (Instagram)
- Uncle Stevie
ABC memorial article (please note that this article contains images of people who have died)
- Jamie Goldsmith
Honored with mural by Jimmy C and Elizabeth Close in the East End of Adelaide.
- Tarnanthi 2021
- LT3 at Hahndorf Academy, 9 Oct – 28 Nov 2021, 10am-5pm daily, free.
- LT3 artist talk 12-1pm, 20 November at Hahndorf Academy
- Elizabeth Close (website) (Instagram)
- Thomas Readett (website) (Instagram)
- Mirdilyayanthi – to Shine Bright at Women’s and Children’s hospital (Blue Heart Gallery, Ground Floor). 15 Oct 2021 – 31 Jan 2022. 9am-5pm daily, free.
- Black Diamond Tattoo
- De Castella’s Indigenous mission in New York Marathon (SMH article, 2019)
- The fight to ‘free’ the Aboriginal flag – BBC article
- Adelaide Crows Football Club 2020 Indigenous Guernsey designed by Eddie Hocking working with Shane Kooka
- UFC Adelaide: Tai Tuivasa’s entrance music honours his Aboriginal heritage (sportingnews article)
- Cold Krush
- Anthony Mundine wearing Shane’s art
Hello and welcome to the SALA podcast. My name is Steph and today I’ll be catching up with Shane Kooka, who is an artist working across paint, murals, and tattooing, and who is currently exhibiting as part of Tarnanthi. Before we get started, I’ll just thank Post Office Projects for giving us a space to catch up and have a chat, and also acknowledge that we are meeting on the traditional lands of the Kaurna People and pay my respects to Elders past, present, and emerging.
Shane, thanks for having time to catch up today. I know you’re very busy.
No problem. Thanks for having me.
Maybe we’ll start from the beginning, and get you to tell us a bit about how you got into the visual arts.
So I started pretty young. I remember my mom always doing like, pottery and always kind of creating something around the house. It was more so just kind of just like drawing and just kind of any type of art that she kind of felt like doing at the time. But it wasn’t until probably about 13, 12-13 years old that I started really taking an interest in art. Yeah.
And what kind of mediums did you start with? Did you try a bit of everything that she was doing? Or?
Yeah, so I was I was always kind of into drawing quite a lot. My dad had tattoos. So like, that was something I noticed kind of early on, that he had pictures on his skin, which was pretty interesting to me at the time. And then kind of being in hospital and spending a lot of time with my mom. So actually, yeah, after kind of like growing up, just drawing in the household with my mom, I guess, I ended up getting in a incident where I received third degree burns to like 30% of my body. So I was done at a park and there’s an incident with another young young guy around the same age as me and which resulted in me being burnt. So I spent about nine months in hospital recovering from from burns, serious burns, and was in an induced coma and had like, you know, fair few skin grafts done. And yeah, it’s pretty, pretty traumatic thing to go through as a young kid at the time. And then, but you know, the result of that was, I got to ask a lot of questions about my mum and her family and my Nana. My Nana’s was born in on an Aboriginal mission called Cherbourg in Queensland. So she was born there. Her parents were Stolen Gen from Central Queensland and a place near Winton. So my Nana kind of grew up there and moved off. And then my mum was born in Dampier, Western Australia, and I didn’t know where that was at the time, it’s actually on the other side of the country. So having these conversations with a mum really interested me about wanting to learn more about my Nana’s cultural heritage, and I just seen these drawings of, you know, Aboriginal artworks and these these Aboriginal men painted up in their traditional, you know, painting like the ochre in that and it just really intrigued me to want to learn more about this art. And that’s kind of that kind of sparked my, my interest as a young person as took me on my journey as like, you know what it is to be a young Aboriginal man. And so the result of you know, being burnt was the kind of hard part but the good stuff that come out of that was yeah, really getting to learn more about my culture.
Yeah. An unexpected catalyst, I guess, isn’t it? Yeah. Wow. And did you begin drawing sort of on that journey to healing? Or did you spend a bit more time learning before you sort of got into making?
I think I was always just kind of into drawing and like coloring in, and graffiti, obviously, as a young man, as young fellow was always really interesting to me by this graffiti tags and had
Mark-making from the beginning!
yeah, it was kind of like, yeah, the original markmaking
On skin or a fence
Yeah, whatever, whatever we can find at the time. And then yeah, so I think it just kind of went from back from drawing into graffiti, and then learning about culture and doing a bit Aboriginal dancing and just kind of going back and forth into all those different kind of art mediums I guess, yeah.
So it was multifaceted. So it wasn’t just visual arts so dance as well see, really throw yourself into that.
Yeah dancing for me was kind of like one of the -obviously besides just like drawing- but dance for me, it was the the first kind of opportunity I had to really connect with other Aboriginal people and learn about culture. So I had a local young man at the time called Jack Buckskin, who was my mentor at school, and my mom become very sick after I got out of hospital, she needed a kidney transplant. So as my mom got sick, I kind of really disengaged from school, but it was good to have him because he said to my mom, Shane’s not going to go to school and learn that way, we’re going to go teach him some culture. So I got the opportunity to go and dance with him and, you know, Uncle Stevie, and Jamie Goldsmith as well. And so that I really those are the kind of the memories are hold real close to my heart. This is the first time, you know, connecting with my culture. So
yeah, and to be embraced like that by a community.
what a journey and then maybe get coming to the present: can you tell us a bit about if you had to describe what your work is about in the present day? How would you.. how would you put that into words?
Yeah, it’s kind of crazy, because my art kind of… I’ve got a good friend Tom. And he says that my –Tom Readett– and he kind of says that my art kind of has no boundaries, again, that goes on anything like skin to murals, large scale murals to digital artwork to, you know, fashion and clothing, I’m really interested in as well. But I think what I think it’s kind of my arts kind of gone for kind of circle back to that kind of back to dancing, like how I kind of really learn about culture. So I’m at the moment, I’m really, really loving what I’m doing in and it’s um, I’m taking kind of the mark making that we make on our skin with paint and digitalizing that and then blowing it up to large scale. So taking the marks that I put on my body, something that I look at as a form of identity and then placing that on onto buildings into different pieces of, you know, different materials. Yeah.
And that’s so interesting, because it’s not necessarily obvious that that’s the level of process that you’ve gone to to make that work.
So yeah, I’d actually like I’ll make the marks with my hands as I would like on my own body when we’re painting each other up. And then, yeah, I’d like digitalize that and then and then blow it up and try and recreate it is a little tricky sometimes, on a large scale. Yeah,
Well the best things are always a challenge! And you are exhibiting in multiple places as part of Tarnanthi this year, which is the statewide festival of visual art. Can you tell us about where people can see your work and what you’ve got on display?
So I’ve got a collaboration, collaboration exhibition with Elizabeth Close and Tom Readett and that’s the Hahndorf Academy up in Hahndorf. And that’s called LT3. So ‘L’ for Liz, ‘T’ for Tom, and then ‘3’ for Third, which is my graffiti like lettering
Like an alias; it’s kind of well known now. But yeah, so that’s how that name came about. But so that’s one and then the other one’s ‘Shine Bright‘ at the Women’s and Children’s Hospital, which is where I spent quite a lot of time recovering from those burns. So that’s quite special to be exhibiting there.
So there’s a real tangible connection for you there.
Yeah absolutely. So I spent a lot of time in there. And that’s kind of where the interest for wanting to be an artist started I guess.
And again, another full circle, you know, putting work in there for other people that are at hospital to, you know, stroll -because it’s a nice, long corridor, I’ve just come from the hospital- and yeah, you got center stage on that wall.
Yeah that’s nice.
And they, you know, you’ve got sort of canvas works in the hospital, or is it was it on board?
Yeah, so in the in the hospital it’s just some canvas artwork that, yeah, I think I’ve got two or three pieces there, I believe. And then at Hahndorf me and Tom and Liz have put together an exhibition, Liz’s got a few wooden shapes that she has cut out and painted and me and Tom had worked on two little murals. One was like a calligraphy piece with the photorealism eye, and the other piece was a piece that I’m pretty proud of, so we actually got to paint Jamie, who I got to dance with when I was younger, Tom painted him as part of the mural. And we you know, we asked him if we could use this portrait of him and he was pretty stoked for us to do that. And in the background, it’s kind of like this, like dotwork lettering, style stuff that I’ve been using with like woodburning but also with tattooing. So I’m trying to link what I’m doing in with the, with the tattooing in with, like the wood burning stuff, and then also into the mural as well. And then I’ve also done some markmaking of those, like body paint kind of images, or different kind of laid in amongst each other. But yeah, that that by far probably be one of my favorite pieces that I’ve done. We also Liz was actually in hospital the week that we were painting that so we we took some of these wooden shapes that she had created, and we use them as a stencil to put some artwork in the background.
Oh that’s a great way to incorporate that. Yeah.
Yeah, so that was nice. That was probably one of my favorite murals I’ve done in recent years, I think.
Yeah yeah. And it sounds like you do a fair bit of collaborating. How did you, you know, sort of get to be doing that and is it largely because of the camaraderie between you guys anyway or ?
Yeah, I don’t know. I think we just kind of, I’ve always kind of found that it’s I really like my art more when I’m working with other people. It kind of pushes me to… pushes me in a different direction sometimes and I just think it’s like a lot more fun working with people that are enjoy working with us rather than working on myself on large stuff. So it’s always nice to have someone to chat to while you’re spending long long days painting big murals. But also, I think it’s just, I think that, kind of, for me, I’ve always kind of painted with other people. You know, doing graffiti when you’re young, you go out with your mates and that’s what you do. So I’ve always kind of spent time with either my mom or with my friends painting. So for me collaborating, is not really something that’s kind of new to my practice.
No you wouldn’t even question it
Yeah, even till now, I didn’t even really think of it three like that. Like,
yeah, like oh yeah it’s got a name.
Yeah. So I think I think with my I’ve obviously do my own stuff – tattooing is a lot like that. But in a way, you’re still collaborating with who you’re tattooing, so.
Yeah that’s true. That’s quite cool. Well, it keeps it interesting doesn’t it
Yeah, for sure.
And then, speaking about your tattoo practice, how does your visual arts practice intersect with that? Do you sort of think of them as all together? Or distinct?
yeah, I’ve definitely tried now to link what I’m doing with my other projects in with my tattooing, just so I’m not jumping from one completely different medium to another, doing completely different styles. So I tried to link him in with, over the pattern work that I’ve used throughout all my other work. But that’s kind of been tricky when working with some people, some people obviously have set ideas on what they want. So I think my studio that I’m working with at Black Diamond, they’ve been really awesome with supporting me to work with clients and how to negotiate that so. But uh, definitely now going full circle with the mark making and all that other stuff. I’m thinking that yeah, I just try to, I think, for me to be able to create, you know, evolve this style. So no matter what I’m painting at all still represents me is something I’m really trying to dive into
Yeah, that’s really cool. So then it’s one hat at a time.
Yeah. Yeah, for sure.
That’s cool. And another feather in your bow [cap] – I hope I’ve got that saying right- would be, like you said, working in fashion and doing all these other little cool things. Have you got a favorite little project that you’ve done -or not necessarily little?
Yeah, like, I think it’s, I think, I don’t know. Like, it’s, it’s pretty crazy. I obviously love, I love when I get the chance to do some lettering as far as like doing graffiti pieces. I think lettering is always something that I really enjoy doing. I painted in New York when I went over to run the New York Marathon. So I painted I went to the South Bronx, and for me, that was pretty exciting to go back to like, you know, where graffiti started and, and do something.
and leave a mark.
Yeah leave a mark. Especially we, at the time when we went to New York, it was it was at a time when the flag rights have kind of been up in the air as far as like, Aboriginal people being able to use the Aboriginal flag. So you know, graffiti lettering, a lot of people kind of leave their message when they do their pieces. And for me, that piece I wrote above it like ‘free the flag’. And for me, that was pretty awesome to be able to go overseas and do a graffiti piece and share that message on kind of like a national level because I was getting a lot of I was kind of in the spotlight a lot for doing the running. But it was awesome to be able to take people back and show them that no matter where I go, I try to always take some time out to do some art where I go. So that was pretty special for me to be able to do that, I think that’s one I’ll look back on in time and be really proud of. I’ve also, you know doing the Adelaide Crows football guernsey with Eddie Hocking. That was that was pretty amazing experience to like, spend some time with him and help him share his story. So that’s something I really enjoyed doing as well and also getting to do the Aboriginal dance in a walkout for Tai Tuivasa in the UFC when it came to Adelaide. That was pretty special to be able to do the dance for him, but then also to be able to paint him a pair of UFC gloves and send them over to him for him to keep, which was something that I shared recently that I don’t think a lot of people hadn’t seen that back then. So to be able to reshare that sparked quite a lot of interest as well.
Yeah. And again, it’s all these connections, isn’t it? That’s what it comes back down to I think.
Yeah. It’s just special to being able to take my art and then put it into sport. Because that sports obviously… saying that’s been a big part of my life as well. But yeah,
so, but not something that people often see a connection between the Visual Arts and Sport and nice to be strengthening that.
Yeah for sure.
Yeah, I feel like I was just gonna say with the navigating commission work with personal work for me sometimes hard because I’m finding that I really have to kind of take time out to like, do my own personal work. And that’s why instead of trying to take time away from commission work to do personal work, I’m trying to really evolve my style. So it really is stuff that I enjoy doing. So I think I’m trying to get back to that mark making and, and sort of that identity, I think, even if you’re not, you know, Aboriginal person, we all have our own identity. So I think that’s something that’s very relatable for everyone. So that’s kind of that’s kind of the main way I’m kind of pushing my art at the moment is to try to really dive into identity. And yeah, that’s
and if you’re doing that through those commissions, I guess you’re not having to go, ‘oh I need a cut time out of this to do what makes me feel good’ because you’re actually pushing them in blending them together. Sure. I
feel like I’m in a pretty, pretty amazing or pretty great spot to be able to have people so trusting me to, to do my own stlye. So they kind of give me the creative freedom to dive into that. And it still reflect what they want, but them giving me the freedom to create the stuff that I’m really happy and proud of.
yeah, it’s a lot of trust.
Yeah, for sure.
So you work from skin to canvas to buildings; do you have a favorite scale to work out? Or just having a variety is good?
Yeah, I like the being able to spend some time into one and then kind of go back to something else. I think, if I was to do just one art form, like just paint canvas, or just to be tattooing, I feel like I would be limiting myself. And I feel like I just don’t want to ever get bored. So I think it’s like good to be able to jump from one to the next thing and kind of go where I feel I need to be. But in saying that I swear it’d be pretty frustrating for people trying to work with me if they’re wanting digital work and I’m like, oh, sorry, I’m tattooing at the moment. And then I’m constantly being asked like when I’m going to be back in the tattoo studio and I’m painting these large murals, so I think sometimes it’s hard for people to kind of keep up where I’m at at the moment.
That’s alright, you’re an enigma
yeah, I just don’t like frustrating people people too much.
Nah that’s good. Go with it. Go where you gotta go. Do you have a favorite memory of someone either engaging with or like, you know how sometimes you can watch people react to your work without them knowing? Do you have like a favorite memory of that happening? Yeah,
there’s probably like a few. I remember me and Tom painted portraits of our mums. So it was like the first time I kind of had done a portrait and it was one of the first times me and Tom had collaborated on a on a larger mural using aerosol than that don’t know Tom, generally an oil painter, but he’s also now pretty established in aerosol as well. But it was one of our first ones and we painted our mums for Mother’s Day.
oh that’s lovely
And I just remember like, yeah, bringing my mum there and we turned this corner and I was like, just have a look at this wall. And she’s like, she had to look at it for a second then she’s like, just started freaking out. And then me and Tom were just like cracking up laughing together. And then like, just to see her reaction was like, pretty special. And there was another one where I had a really… One of my best friends, his mom has been so supportive of me for for a long, long time, with my artistic career and always asking when the next exhibition is, so she can come and I had one, probably a few years ago at Cold Krush, in Unley at a graffiti art studio and store / gallery. And she come there and my friend said ‘oh just letting you know, my mom’s going to want to buy up a painting tonight’ and I was like, ‘Yeah, that’s cool. Let me know which one she likes. And I’ll and I’ll gift her a painting’ because I know that she you know, she always supports me. So I want to be able to give something back and it’d be nice to have something hanging in her house. Yeah. And then he came up to me, he’s like, he’s like, ‘Bro, like, I’m really sorry about this, but she like loves the most expensive painting in this place hey’.
She’s got good taste!
Yeah, and I was just like, ‘she can have it’. And then and he’s like, ‘are you serious?’ Because like, I think it was like worth, like, you know, a fair few thousand dollars. And I was like, yeah, if she loves it, I want to give it to her. And then so we went up and put like a red sticker on the painting and then she come back over, like two minutes later. And she’s like, ‘Oh my god, I love that painting. I can’t believe someone bought it. They’re so lucky.’ And she was like, freaking out because like someone had bought this painting, and she was like, just pretty much saying how lucky they are that they get to keep this stuff and just turned around and I was like, ‘you know who bought that?’ And then she’s like, who? And I was like, ‘you bought it. And then she’s like, I didn’t buy it. And I was like, Nah, you didn’t buy it, but I’m giving it to you. And then she just like started like crying and then it was like it’s made me pretty emotional. But I think you know, art’s a gift. And if you can’t give it then, you know, sometimes it’s good to do it for yourself, but I think like times like that, you know that means more to me than selling a painting.
Yeah, yeah. Especially if you’ve been there supporting that whole journey. That’s really lovely. And then what about looking forward? Like do you have any future goals or do you feel like you’ve hit most of the big ones?
Oh it’s just been crazy. Like I like growing up I used to love like Anthony Mundine and then I got the chance to like design his boxing shorts. And I was like, that was just ridiculous. And I look at those things now, it’s like sometimes I just put so much pressure on myself because I’ve done so many had so many great opportunities and I put a lot of pressure on myself and what I’m going to do next, but I think I’m just really like loving getting back to doing some work for myself and going back to canvas and taking some of that stuff from the tattooing and the large scale murals and then refining it right back to do some high quality artwork for the gallery space. So I’m really enjoying that. And I think that yeah, I’ve maybe being able to put on a few more exhibitions and collaborate with a few of my really good interstate friends that are artists as well, I think would be awesome. Once, once the board has everything open back up and we can move around a little bit more freely. So I think, yeah, collaborating with some of my friends interstate and getting to go visit their country, and even going back to my country. So I’ve never been back there yet. It’s something that I’ve been meaning to do for a while. I was meant to do it last year but then because of COVID… I actually trained up to run the Gold Coast marathon, just so I could get over there. So I trained up for like three months, and then three days before the race, it got canceled so I was kind of shattered that I had been running every weekend and didn’t get to go back to the country.
But not in vain
Yeah. So I think going back there and really connecting back to country and seeing how that inspires me and pushes my art in another direction. I’m sure it will take me in another direction. And that’s just saying I’m looking forward to doing as well.
Yeah. I’m sure it’ll give you heaps to keep you inspired. Yeah, when you finally get there. And then maybe we will round out the interview with: what is the most important thing that you get out of being an artist like personally?
I think. I think for myself, it’s just nice to be able to connect with with other people. And it’s a way of, for me, me being an artist, my mom’s still her health hasn’t been good over recent years, so she can’t work. So think, for me to be able to continue to being an artist, in a way helps me, you know, get to have her involved in art, like she can’t go out and do art herself so much. And you know, she can’t probably do as many things as maybe she would like to do but, in a way, art pushes me to go do those things and then bring it back to her and to be able to bring her with me when I do workshops at schools and do stuff like that. I think it’s pretty awesome to be able to give her the opportunity because if I maybe if I wasn’t doing these things, and maybe she would have a, you know, maybe a different outlook on life. But I think being able to bring her out and still get her involved in in try to inspire her to keep her creating. I think that’s something for me that I really take a lot of pride in is making sure that my mom’s right and she’s getting to fulfill herself.
Yeah art’s kind of interesting in that it is a journey that you can come along without having to sort of physically come along on that journey.
Yeah, so I think she’s always the first one to ring me up if I post something on social media and I haven’t sent it to her first. She always brings me up and goes, ‘your sister told me that you posted this picture, what is she talking about?’
No you’ve always got to tell mum first! Oh, that’s good advice to round out on, I think. Yeah, thanks so much, Shane, for having a chat and we’ll all be eager to see what you do next.
Thank you very much.
Episode 19 / Artist Interview: Gemma Rose Brook
In this episode, Steph catches up with artist Gemma Rose Brook.
Gemma is an emerging artist who paints from life, so it was only appropriate that the interview take place cross-legged on the spring grass of Brownhill Creek Recreation Park. Tune in to hear about the mindfulness of Gemma’s practice, the stories behind some of her works, and her first solo exhibition coming up in November.
- Brownhill Creek (Wirraparinga) Recreation Park
- Tom Carment
- Adelaide Central School of Art
- Melanie Brown
- Plein air painting
- Still life
- Ernabella Arts
- Greta Laundy
- T’keyah Ware
- Hills Hoist
- ‘What was it like for Heysen as he saw the light kiss these gums and painted this shady pool‘, 2019, 20.5 x 25.5, oil on board
- ‘Did Sauerbier and Trenerry feel like they were on the moon when they sat and painted these same cliffs‘, 2019, 20.5 x 25, oil on board
- Horace Trenerry
- Kathleen Sauerbier
- Sauerbier House, Port Noarlunga
- Dorrit Black
- Hans Heysen
- The Cedars, Heysen’s property
- Heysen Prize for Landscape 2020
- RSASA Youthscape Art Prize 2020
- Lois Dodd
- Gull Rock
- Floating Goose Studios
- Gemma’s website
- Gemma’s Instagram
- Red Earth, Blue Skies and Anangu Smiles by Gemma Rose Brook at Floating Goose Studios [eventbrite ticket link for opening night Friday 5 November]
Hello and welcome to the SALA Podcast. My name is Steph and today I’m catching up with Gemma Rose Brook who is an emerging artist who paints from life. We are actually sitting in the middle of a park, this is Brownhill Creek isn’t it?
Yeah, it’s the Brownhill Creek National Park.
And we’ve got the creek -audibly, I hope- splashing around in the background. There’s like bugs everywhere and butterflies and lots of spring flowers. So yeah, it’s a shame it’s a podcast, not a video.
I digress. And yeah, actually, as we’re enjoying this lovely scenery, I will just acknowledge that the Kaurna People are the traditional owners of this land. Sovereignty was never ceded, and I want to pay respects to Elders past, present, and emerging. Gemma, thank you so much for making time to come and chat today.
Honestly, it’s my pleasure Steph.
Yeah, nice to be able to catch up out in nature, because this is, this is where you’re most at home, isn’t it? You know, this is where you’re… have you painted from this specific spot before actually?
um, I yeah, for my graduate show, I did a lot of paintings up and down Brownhill Creek
Perfect. Well this is very appropriate then. That’s awesome. Well, maybe we’ll take a chronological bent on this and start with how you came to be an artist; where you found your beginnings.
Yeah for sure. I mean, everybody has, you know, foundations in their life that then grow into them studying art school, or then becoming a practicing artist. And I was really lucky that I had a family that was very outdoorsy, and took me out into nature as a way to connect and to shape who I am. And, you know, it wasn’t always pleasant -you know, sometimes they would take me on hikes that weren’t, you know, we’re climbing a mountain for three days with backpacks on my back; or other times, yeah, it was coming to where we are today and having picnics with the family and connecting in that way…
So really outdoorsy
yeah, really outdoorsy. Canoeing, surfing, and yeah, hiking, and all that sort of stuff. So yeah, for me, being in nature, and painting this way is, yeah, in essence, a part of who I am. And we also had this really special relationship with a plein air painter called Tom Carment. And he is a family friend of ours, and a very well known painter in Sydney. And he’s now my mentor, like I did get a fellowship, through Carclew and to work with him, which has been really special. But obviously, we’ve certainly built a really nice relationship around painting and life. And we still chat often about those things. But yeah, I also studied nutrition and dropped out to go to art school.
I didn’t know that!
Yeah, so did nutrition because I thought, you know, that was like a proper career path, whatever that means. But yeah, I, I couldn’t really do it. And I ended up going to art school and actually doing a short course at Adelaide Central School of Art with Melanie Brown, who is a family friend of ours, as well as a really amazing painter. And then, you know, three weeks into the short course I enrolled in the, in the degree course. And I enrolled in knowing that this is exactly what I wanted to do with my life. And yeah, from that, I’ve, you know, worked at the Art Gallery of South Australia and did an internship there and sort of learned a bit more about the art world as well as what it means to develop your practice. But yeah, all throughout art school, particularly with Tom and the outdoorsy stuff. It sort of leant towards plein air painting and connecting to my experiences and yeah, I guess fresh out of art school. I got the fellowship working with Tom and then I also got the studio space at Carclew, and so yeah, there’s a lot of foundations there that that really made me into the artist I am now.
Yeah. And when you say, you know, ‘when I finished art school,’ that was only, what?
Yeah, so we’re only talking a few years!
Yeah. Really, really recently. Yeah all the Carclew support happened last year predominantly. So yeah, I’m so fresh, but I’ve been to, um, yeah, just keep going. And I’m so grateful for all the support in different aspects of my life, then that helped me sustain that.
Yeah. No that momentum is great. That’s fantastic. And just to cover our ground: what do we mean by ‘plein air painting’ or ‘painting from life’?
Yeah, for sure. So, plein air painting is, you know, ‘in the open air’, it’s a French term that comes out of Impressionism predominantly. And so yeah, open air or painting outdoors is kinda like that. And I, yeah, mostly paint outdoors, but I also do paint interiors and, and still laughs as well. So um, I would call myself a plein air painter, but I’m also a painter that paints from life and who paints their experiences.
Cool alright, so take that with that context of… painting from life is nice, that’s a great catch-all for what you do. And, and on that note, I’ve really enjoyed reading about the way that those different aspects of your work shape your practice. So yeah, like I think of plein air painting as, you know, finding a nice group of trees, and plonking yourself down in front of them -and obviously, they’re not going to move away- Yeah. So that’s quite a really basic, you know, thought
Yeah, but yeah, drawing from life; you are drawing much more roundly than that. You know, considering, I think the choice of words was thinking of your work as like a painted journey, or like a diary of your lived experiences?
Yeah for sure
That’s such a lovely sentiment, and I guess what I’m getting at is like, you know, is it fair to say that painting is more than something that you’re just skilled at and enjoy and that it’s actually forms a bit more of a mindfulness practice as well?
Yeah, for sure. I mean, I’ve got a really ‘Yogi’ family as well and outdoor family. And in a way, like, the theory around yoga of like, you know, you’re still, but there’s still things going on inside you. And there’s things going on around you. So yeah, painting has a similar theory around spirituality or self for me, and yet, it’s not just plonking down in front of trees like you said, it’s it’s taking that time to create a dialogue between yourself and the environment around you. And so that’s why for me, it’s not just plein air outdoors, it’s also can be your interiors, or, you know, objects and still lifes that you find around in your life and, and what not. But yeah -does that sort of answer the question?
It does, yeah. And that, yeah, unites that it’s not just about ‘outside-ness’ that are choosing to respond to, you know, not from a photograph, but from that moment in time.
Exactly. Yeah. That moment in time of how you’re feeling, and also how you’re seeing
Yeah, that’s really nice.
Yeah. The other thing I could also add is that, you know, it is a mindfulness meditation, the whole unpacking my paints from the car, and like going and setting up, and putting the paint tubes out. And yeah, like the grounding and a way to connect to where I am at that moment in time.
Yeah, there’s a bit of ritual in that isn’t there
Yeah, it’s definitely a ritual and I guess that’s mindfulness too hey
yeah, absolutely. Yeah. And process. That’s really nice. And now while we’re, we are talking about outdoor scenes, anyone who follows you on Instagram will see that you are quite adept at finding the odd vista or really picturesque landscape. How do you always seem to be finding these every weekend?
Yeah for sure. Well, I go hiking a lot and I’ve got lots of family members who are into hiking and my partner’s really into hiking and rock climbing and that’s what we just do with our spare time
so super outdoorsy, really.
Yeah, like we went canyoning in the Blue Mountains last year and was just a really intense thing to do and somehow I managed to find myself in the middle of the canyon, but then you know, like, the next day, we already happened to be there and you know, I always just bring my paints in the back of our campervans, and then when I see the spot that I want to paint or I have the urge to connect like we were talking, before I just go for it, and I just spend the time doing that. And I guess I’m always looking for those opportunities outside of the city to, to reconnect, and part of living in Australia is that we do have really beautiful places close to Adelaide that maybe some people don’t, like, seek, and I just make the time to reconnect and visit those places. Yeah. And I’m also chasing light and yeah.
Yeah. As evidenced by the fact that I have never been to this spot.
Yeah. And it’s only like, 10/20 minutes from the city, right?
Yeah, yeah, max. There you go. And I guess if you’re making a practice of, you know, always bringing your paint kit, and you’ve got a pretty tried-and-true little setup, then then really, you’re actually also opening yourself up to, if you see something, you’re not going, ‘Oh, but I left my paints at home’, you know.
Exactly. It’s always in the back of the car. Yeah. Like I always have them. And you know, like, half the time I’m living in Adelaide Hills, which is always helpful. And yeah, and like, you know, I was just living in Ernabella for work
Plenty of beautiful land up there.
Exactly. Living on on Anangu land and painting on Anangu land alongside the wonderful community who was there really encouraging of my practice outside of helping them in the art center, and you know, the red earth and the blue sky is such a contrast to the Adelaide Hills, and I’m always looking for different experiences to influence me and part of Yeah, having a campaign is a gateway to to find those vistas that you see, but I don’t always live in you know. Nine to five, I’m, you know, working in a community art space or doing my laundry, and then, you know, one day of the week I get to go and connect out in nature, and that’s how I live my life. Yeah, it’s not all Instagram vistas.
but the outcomes are pretty sweet.
And actually, question, talking about the sort of practicality and or sort of functional way that you have to approach you know, being so mobile with your work: How do you feel about like, the scale and size of your work? Like, is it just, you know, dictated by functionality? Or do you think that it’s really appropriate in how it communicates your intention?
For sure. I mean, there’s definitely two sides of that. Being an oil painter who’s a plein air painter is crazy. Honestly, it would be easier if I just stuck to watercolors or acrylics, but you know, oil just seems to be the challenge that I need in my life. And so that’s what I go for. Yeah, I mean, mostly, I paint small. And I think that’s what you’re referring to. And there is some practicality, but also some beautiful meaning behind that. But yeah, I have been painting, teaching myself how to paint big as a challenge as well.
So I have got like larger canvases. Which are insane, because most of my paintings no matter what size they are, have to be finished within an hour before the light changes too quickly. So yeah, but I do like the idea of like, what you’re alluding to that each picture is like a little, journey or moment. And that is definitely true. And I feel like yeah, practically it’s easier to transport small paintings, but also yeah, they allude to those moments
and it aligns with what you’re sort of saying
Yeah, what I’m saying so yeah, I guess to sum that up, it’s practicality, but it’s also what works for what I’m trying to say about telling a moment in time of how I’m feeling and my experience.
Yeah, and I think also when you see them installed in those, like, you know, seeing some in a group, and they become… you become more aware when you see it installed that way that they are these little vignettes; these little moments, and they I think that’s the whole continuing the vision is you know, down to the install and how it’s presented. And I think that’s what really drove it home for me and I started to really go ‘okay I think I really get what Gemma’s saying in her work’, which I is really cool.
Thanks! That’s so nice to hear and I really appreciate that.
And also I didn’t actually realize what kind of scale you’re working with until I saw an install, because they just look so big because of the detail.
Exactly they’re really detailed because I, I sit on the ground, and they’re really close to me. Even though at art school, they always told you to move back to look at your work. I sit really close, like on the ground without an easel and I’m really like hurrying to like, get all the detail in within the hour, but yeah, I think there’s something super cool about having, you know that salon hang that hopefully can tell a story.
Yeah, it definitely does. Yeah.
Another thing I wanted to talk about is, this year, we saw a new partnership between SALA Festival and Foodland, which brought an opportunity for three SA artists to have their work featured on a reusable shopping bag. These were available from Foodland stores throughout the festival. And I think they were quite the collector’s item because I’m told that they’ve quite hard to come by now. So had to be quick.
Yeah, I’ve been getting people emailing me saying, ‘do you know where I can get one?’ ‘Which Foodland has it in stock?’ and I just say I’ve got no idea!
This just in: if you see one, snap it up! And so these bags, we featured the work of Greta Laundy, T’keyah Ware, and yourself. Now, your work was a really lovely rendering of a Hills Hoist, titled ‘I was stuck in the dystopia of home’. Can you tell us a bit more about this work?
Yeah for sure. So I painted this work on my partner’s family property in the hills in Verdun. And it’s a very iconic hills hoist. And I really wanted the viewer to connect with the familiarity of the hills hoist and of home, and all of that iconography of that as a way to draw them in, but then I was also connecting with myself and what was happening at that time and you know, it was during the second lockdown in South Australia. And you know, that’s why the title is a bit more like morbid, potentially. Or maybe morbid isn’t the word maybe more like,
It reflects the time though.
yeah just reflecting on how I was feeling and the time and you know, it’s not just happy positive. I was looking at light changing or anything like that. Yeah. So that, that beautiful duality between familiarity and yeah, isolation and feeling stuck. And so it’s a perfect example of, you know, what we’re talking about before, something that’s in front of me, and that conversation between what’s going on in front of me, around me, and inside me.
I think we had that conversation off air, so to speak. So I’ll just rehash that a bit. So yeah, we’re talking about the -this is a great segue, actually- So I really enjoy the way that your quite lengthy titles of your work, give a lot of extra context to the work. So I think my favorite one is, or the longest one that I’ve seen yet, is a lovely sort of lush, green, scene have like a tree-lined gravel road that disappears over a hill, which is very, you know, picturesque. And the title is, ‘I like the sound of the gravel as I drive down this road, just as much as I like to watch the shadows, colors and light change. But mostly, I like that it leads to figs, to morning coffee, and to you’. That’s just so beautiful.
And you know, without reading that there’s a whole lot of context that you wouldn’t have got, so what was that work about?
Yeah, so again, yeah, you’re right, it adds more context. And for that one, it’s a love story work that I painted potentially, like three months after meeting my partner that I’m still with now and, again, it’s the road behind that property. And yeah, it’s just a complete love story of meeting him and what it felt like to be in love at that time. And yeah, and I’m so grateful. And so yeah, it leads back into what I was saying about the hills hoist that painting, for me, is just as much about what I’m feeling like in the moment, and that dialogue between me in the environment and so yeah, for this one, I was just totally in love and so happy in that environment in the Adelaide Hills.
Yeah. And I think Yeah, all that other sort of favorites that I pulled out. One of them was, ‘What was it like for Heysen as he saw the light kiss these gums and painted this shady pool‘ or, you know, ‘Did Sauerbier and Trenerry feel like they were on the moon when they sat and painted these same cliffs‘ It’s like there’s, you know, obviously a painting of a landscape is a moment in time but yeah, the titles that you’re providing are giving past and present and future and questioning, and just another context, which yeah, I just particularly enjoy.
Thank you. Yeah, and connecting to art history. I’m always looking at painters throughout history who, who saw the same space as me, you know, 100 years ago or, you know, because ultimately they’re just painting their experience and how they see the world. So, you know, Horace Trenerry and Kathleen Sauerbier were South Australian painters who went out and painted Willunga and that coast and that’s why there’s that Sauerbier House, in Port Noarlunga and that residency. And yeah they used to go and paint that together, and so I’ve visited sites and read that they’ve been and also Dorrit Black‘s places that she’s painted and, and tried to connect to those histories and… Because I’m just a human, seeing the world and painting and connecting. And Heysen too you know, he’s got that property around the corner from the family property in Verdun, and I’m sitting there and connecting and seeing that same light he did all those years ago and yeah. Actually I was really lucky that that work got into the Heysen Prize, I feel really blessed that that was selected last year. And then also that that work, the love story work with Michael my partner was in Youthscape and that allowed me to buy a van
oh with the winnings?
yeah and that is now my mobile studio.
So that’s very serendipitous.
Yeah, I feel really blessed that this is how it’s, it’s all gone in such a short period of time. And yeah, I hope people have listened to this podcast and like now they can see my works with the titles and read them and give a bit more context. They’re not just pretty landscapes and vistas and stuff; they’re also yeah, diary notes into my life or into art history and, and painting.
Yeah. And we should note: what was the name for your van?
Yeah, so I named my van Dorrit, after Dorrit Black.
I think that’s a beautiful tribute.
Yeah. And I also named my past car Lois after Lois Dodd who’s a really amazing American plein air painter.
I love the connection to everyone that came before you. I think that’s so lovely. And it must be like a ‘pinch me’ moment if you know that you’re looking at the same cliffs or the same features of landscape; it’s a timelessness isn’t it?
For sure, yeah. Like the Willunga cliffs at Gull Rock. I like painting there often because of there’s so many painters from South Australia who, who painted that coast land and connecting to that history makes me, yeah, feel like human; like, you know, they were just human people painting there.
Yeah, you can almost jump across space and time. Yeah. Amazing.
A little birdy told me that you have a show coming up. Can you tell us about that?
Yeah, I do. Believe it or not. I have my first solo show, opening in November, at Floating Goose Studios. Hopefully, if nothing goes topsy turvy, it should open on the fifth of November
Touch wood. And it’s completely paintings from the desert in Ernabella. And I’m not sure I’m still trying to form what to say about the worklike in an artist’s bio and whatnot. But I finished painting the work and I think I’m gonna call the show ‘Red Earth, blue skies, and Anangu smiles’.
Because Yeah, it’s just about my experience of living and working in the desert and that environment and but also living in that community and the generosity of the people the Anangu community and Ernabella Arts.
Yeah, are beautiful. And have you have you titled all the works? Yeah.
Um, no, I keep a journal and I actually pull lots of my titles out of my journal as a way to sort of remember those moments in time and yeah, I’ve started thinking about that previously, but I haven’t fully put the titles together. I think I might do that this weekend. Yeah. I hope.
It’s actually quite nice to know that even though the work’s been painted that that isn’t actually the end of the process in the sense that you… I mean I come from this from a photographic lens so you know, you take the photo, but you might need to have a break from it. Yeah. And look at it with fresh eyes and and get a reading on it. So knowing that the titles aren’t necessarily conjured up in the moment is quite nice.
Yeah, I mean, some of them are like I often am either, referring directly to a moment and what was happening in that moment. But yeah, then I am connecting in hindsight as well, because I want to really tell the story of the experience in a way that’s most authentic to myself. And then hopefully, people pick up on that and can understand more fully what it’s all about.
And when you were up, you know, with that red dirt and that blue sky, and it’s a different color palette to the Adelaide Hills. Yeah,
What was it like having, you know, facing a new landscape and having a different context? And perhaps different way of tapping into it? Was it you know, working with the community? Was that different?
Yeah, definitely. Um, you know, I really took the time to ease into that environment and that space and, you know, through my work, I got to know people well, and you know, asking for permissions about where that was, okay to paint. But then also learning a different cultural perspective of how to respect the land and be sort of, at one with the land in the sense that a Western perspective doesn’t necessarily have like we have for more conquering kind of attitude.
Yeah, for sure.
Yeah. I can’t see the world the same anymore. I am completely different in the way that I see landscape. And, and, yeah, I really owe that to being in Ernabella and the generosity of everybody there.
That’s gorgeous, yeah. It’s hard to follow that. But um, maybe we’ll bring it back down. And, and maybe, what would people want to know? Do you have any tips for anyone who is thinking about venturing into painting or drawing from life? And and I don’t know, how do you tackle that?
Well, drawing from life, or painting from life is pretty hard. I make a lot of bad paintings, like, you know, like, even though I’ve been doing it for a long time now, like, I’m not, not every painting I make is perfect. And that’s just part of being an artist. And I think that often we present this perfect front. And it’s not the reality, like I make just as many bad paintings as I do good paintings. And, you know, you just get to see the ones that I like. But yeah, to get to the point where I was now I, I really used to just sit on the bus and draw or sit at the cafe and just get a felt tip pen out and draw different things like the lights in the cafe or the grumpy man on the bus or anything like that. And you know, just just do it and try and be confident about it and know that if I make a bad one, I can just make another one -and that I might like that one better. And so yeah, just get a felt tip pen out and start, just start drawing really
Good advice! You heard it here first, folks. All right. I think we’ve had a good chinwag. A we’ll finish it off there and yeah, looking forward to your exhibition. I’m hoping it all goes ahead as planned. And yeah, and then maybe a little rest.
Yeah I think, you know, I’m working full time and painting three exhibitions in six months is, is a good time to have a bit of a rest. But yeah, hope to see people at my show. I’d really be happy for you guys to come up and approach me and ask me anything. I’m always an open book. So yeah, thanks so much Steph, you’ve been so lovely and it’s so lovely to do this out in nature.
Yeah, I hope it sounds as good as we think it did. All right, that’s us, over and out.
2021 Audio Tour: Adelaide’s Public Art
Check out the new do-it-yourself audio tour of public art in the City of Adelaide! Join Steph in this meander around the CBD and find out more about the murals, sculptures and installations that decorate our city. You can listen from the comfort of home or listen along while you walk the route yourself.
Stop 4: 14 Pieces by Hossein and Angela Valamanesh
[location: outside the South Australian Museum, North Terrace]
Stop 5: City of Music mural by Dave Court
[location: East of the Morphett St Bridge]
Stop 6: She imaged buttons by Jasmine Crisp
[location: East wall of the Rockford Hotel, cnr Hindley St and Morphett St]
Stop 7: Parking Pole by Michelle Nikou
[location: Hindley St / Leigh St]
Stop 8: Roy Rene by Robert Hannaford
[location: Hindley St, opposite McDonalds]
Stop 9: The Beatles by Algo Mas Marketing
[location: Adelaide Town Hall balcony]
Hello and welcome to a special episode of the SALA Podcast, our Do-it-yourself audio tour of public art in the city of Adelaide. My name is Steph and I’ll be dotting around the city to various murals and sculptures that you can see any time of day or night. You can listen to this anywhere, but if you would like to walk the tour while you listen, I’ll be sure to give you enough time to press pause as you walk to the next stop. Before we get started, I’d like to acknowledge that I’m walking upon Kaurna land. Please join me in taking a moment to consider sites of significance to the Kaurna people that weren’t afforded the same reverence and preservation as the artworks that we’re about to visit. I pay my respects to Elders past, present and emerging.
We are starting our tour on the east end of the city of Adelaide on the corner of East Terrace and Grenfell Street. Here on the eastern wall of Tandanya, the National Aboriginal Cultural Institute, the face of a screen legend looks out over the parklands. David Gulpilil is a Yolŋu actor, dancer, singer and painter. He is known for films such as Walkabout, Storm Boy and 10 Canoes to name a few, but has a lifetime of projects that he’s been involved in. This massive black and white mural was designed and painted by a South Australian artist and Ngarrindjeri man Thomas Readett working with Laura Paige. It was commissioned in 2021 by ABCG Film in collaboration with Tandanya. Now, Tom’s art practice -I hope he doesn’t mind me calling him Tom- is based in emotive portraiture. So it’s really wonderful that he was able to bring that experience and also that reverence for Gulpilil’s legacy to this project. And what an outcome, it’s sort of a three-part mural, or I guess you could say it has three vignettes. On the left, we have a bright image of a young Gulpilil; in the middle, there is a subtle silhouette of him walking through an open landscape, and on the right is a low-key or sort of dark-toned portrait of him in his older years. Each face holds a gaze that sort of peers out across the parklands and presumably watches the sun rise each morning. There’s something really interesting about the contrast between the really hurried commuters that sort of bank up momentarily at the intersection just across from it, and this lifetime that has been quietly but undeniably rendered in paint beside them. I’ll put some links together for anyone who wants to learn more about this larger-than-life personality. Next, I’m going to make my way to Rundle mall at the juncture of Gawler Place.
I’m here in Rundle Mall, facing south down Gawler Place and before me stands a pigeon. There are pigeons all around me in fact, but this one in particular is two meters tall. This sculpture, aptly titled ‘Pigeon‘ was created by nationally and internationally recognized South Australian artist Paul Sloane, and it was crafted out of stainless steel by local manufacturer Iguana Creative. Sloan’s vision here was to raise the status of the humble pigeon from an overlooked creature to the realm of awe and wonder. He says he sees pigeons as proud foreigners promenading through our leisure and retail precincts. They are the quiet witnesses of our day-to-day activities and our observers from day through to night. It’s definitely a choice, isn’t it, to make such a large sculpture of a creature that people often regard as common and dirty. Pigeons are so funny to watch – I mean, that’s much like people watching in the mall, I guess. It’s got these sweet golden feet, and a leg band on its right foot. Christina actually laughed at me the other day for calling it a bracelet, but it’s definitely shiny enough to be one. I wonder if that’s meant to encourage endearment. I mean, pigeons with a band around their leg usually boast some level of importance, whether it’s as a racing bird or part of a scientific study. I’ll give you this much Paul Sloan: it’s worked on me. I think it’s a very endearing part of our mall.
Our next stop isn’t far away at all. Just turn around 180 degrees, and head north on Galwer Place.
Head towards the leafy Arbor and you’ll notice an undulating band of gold, almost like a semi-submerged mobius strip. We are of course talking about ‘Flow‘ created by local artists Laura Wills and Will Cheeseman and fabricated by Exhibition Studios. I encourage you to get up close to appreciate the fine details of this work where you’ll find animals, constellations, trees, textures and other organic forms. I really love the way that this work navigates the other structure, it reminds me a little bit of how you have to duck and weave the foot traffic in Rundle mall on a busy day. The fluidity of the shape is a really nice relief from the functionality of the building surrounding it. And I think that hints to how flow is evident in nature and the seasons as well. So from the seamless transition from day to night, the pull of a river, the upward growth of a tree or indeed the flow of people through the city. Now we’re going to keep heading north up Gawler Place and across North Terrace towards the SA Museum.
Here we are outside the South Australian Museum, with the installation ‘14 Pieces‘ by established South Australian artists Hossein and Angela Valamanesh. Now I didn’t know this until recently, but the inspiration for the work was the opalized vertebral column of an Ichthyosaur which is part of the South Australian Museum Collection. This whole time I had no idea that this water feature was based on dinosaur bones. Very much extinct, the Ichthyosaur was a marine reptile found in the former inland sea, which covered the interior of Australia more than 100 million years ago. What a great way to bring the museum’s collection out into public space and invite passers by to consider the notions of excavation, reconstruction and conservation. To get to my next stop, I’m going to hop on the tram from the Art Gallery Tram Stop and head west down North Terrace to the City West tram stop, all within the free tram zone.
When you get off the tram, you want to head southeast towards the Morphett Street Bridge. As you get closer, you’ll notice a massive pastel mural rising high above a carpark to the east. This is the City of Music Mural by artist Dave Court. So in 2015, Adelaide was designated a UNESCO city of music, and in 2019 Dave Court was asked to depict this on a wall. Now there’s a lot going on here: A) it’s a mammoth wall, and B) how on earth do you represent music or the Adelaide music industry visually? Dave set about this project by interviewing people who work in the SA music industry; people who support, present, and play SA music. Dave looked carefully at the intersection of the visual in this industry, drawing inspiration and elements from gig posters, the WOMAD flags, features of live music venues (like the stripes on the Exeter or the ornamentation of the Thebarton Theater), and plenty more. There’s a fantastic documentary video that I’ll link you to on the process but yeah, the stats I think were that it was about 1000 square meters of wall and they used about 300 litres of paint in 10 days to make it happen.
Next stop is conveniently close by – just sort of shuffle yourself towards the corner of Morphett Street and Hindley Street and you’ll see a larger than life figure swathed in color on the eastern wall of the Rockford Hotel. This work is ‘She imagined buttons‘ by local artist Jasmine Crisp. This was the first public art commission celebrating the City of Music laneway project in the West End precinct, with the mural drawing inspiration from the namesake of its adjoining Sia Furler Lane. Jasmine Crisp says that Sia was the first act she saw perform at the Adelaide Big Day Out in 2011. It was one of her first concerts, she was newly 16 and felt nervous in the large and unfamiliar crowd, yet Sia’s presence and warmth on stage put the young artists at ease. Jasmine recalls the performer’s theatrical costume and bright crochet, which are elements that are echoed in the mural. You can walk right under this piece so go and get up close and personal and check out the detail of this work. Our next stop is to the east, part-way up Hindley St.
When you get close to the Leigh St set of traffic lights on Hindley, start looking around and see if you notice anything amiss. I have walked past this artwork countless times but didn’t realize it, which I think is a thrill in a sort of hidden-in-plain-sight kind of way. You’re looking for a parking sign. I can’t tell you what it says because it doesn’t say anything. ‘Parking Pole‘ by Michel Nikou is part of the Adelaide Bike Art Trail and aims to mirror what exists beside, it but perform a ‘softening of the rules’. So I guess Nikou is playing on the notion that bronze, which the sculpture is made of, sort of announces itself as art, but by virtue of having a sign showing nothing, this is met with a bit of humor as well. I love that this sculpture has ground in the artist’s actual experience of parking in the spaces around here, and realizing that they really do require a bit of purposeful inspection if you want to avoid getting a fine. I feel like adding a blank parking pole to this mix is a great way to comment on how tedious this experience can be. Let’s carry on a little further up the street towards another bronze sculpture – this one is a little easier to spot.
Opposite the McDonald’s is a tribute to Roy ‘Mo’ Rene, who in the early 1900s became a larger than life stage and radio comedian. The Australian entertainment industry’s annual ‘Mo Award’ for Excellence in performance is named after him. His likeness stands, hands in pockets, looking towards his birthplace, honoring his position as a true icon of Australian culture. Artist Robert Hannaford spent weeks researching the pose and dress of Rene as his famous stage character Mo McCackie. The statue was unveiled during the 2010 Adelaide Festival and I’m told truly captures the stance and temperament of this Australian legend.
Let’s carry onwards to King William Street. From here you can catch the free tram from Rundle Mall to Pirie Street, or you can walk towards the Adelaide Town Hall.
As you get closer to Town Hall, you’ll see why I had to mention this one, a very simple effect but one that I love nevertheless. If you look up to the balcony, you’ll see none other than The Beatles. This glass artwork is to commemorate The Beatles’ visit in 1964 and the 150th year of Adelaide Town Hall. On the 12th of June 1964 more than 300,000 people lined ANZAC Highway and King William Street to welcome The Beatles. The band greeted the crowd from this very balcony and it was the largest gathering they had attracted anywhere in the world. The photorealistic artwork was created using multiple reference images from the band’s time and Adelaide fired onto a sheet of 15mm thick toughened glass. Now we’ll keep on our way towards Grote street for the finale of this tour.
Now it shouldn’t be hard to spot this feature opposite Her Majesty’s Theatre. Jason Sims is the Adelaide artist behind this incredible luminous work, known for exploring the potential of light and reflection to create illusions of space and form. This sculpture ‘Golden Rhombohedron (Obtuse)‘, was commissioned as part of illuminate Adelaide 2021 and is designed to reflect and respond to its surroundings. I encourage you to admire it both from afar, and from up close, because the closer that you get, the more that object seems to reveal a space of infinite intersections within. If this new feature looks familiar to you, you’re definitely not imagining things. This piece has a companion on Bank Street, which is ‘Golden Rhombohedron (Acute)‘, and together they kind of bookend the city’s market to riverbank link. There’s actually a deeper poetic justice here as well -or perhaps, I should say, a geometric justice, I’ll just explain: So a rhombohedron, like a cube has six faces made from the same shape. In this case, the shape of those faces, is a golden rhombus, which gets its name because its diagonals are in the golden ratio. Stay with me. There are two distinct golden rhombohedra: an acute and an obtuse. When brought together, these two forms can be configured to build infinitely upon each other with no void space, which I think is a really lovely way to imbue a sense of fullness and complementary growth between the two sculptures as they stand in our city. These are incredible when viewed by night, and I’ll have you know that they are powered by a 100% renewable electricity, so stay a while and enjoy the spectacle.
This concludes our public art audio tour. I hope that you’ve enjoyed it as much as I did, putting it together. This was barely scratching the surface in terms of how much public art we are lucky enough to have in our city. The city of Adelaide has a great public art resource on its website, complete with a map that you can use to check out all the bits that I couldn’t squeeze into this episode. I’ll pop all of the links I’ve referred to in our show notes and I’ll leave you to it. Happy wandering!
Episode 17 / Artist Interview: Bridget Currie
In this episode, Steph caught up with multidisciplinary artist Bridget Currie.
Bridget was the inaugural recipient of ACE Open’s newly formed Porter St Commission, and her resulting exhibition, Message from the Meadow, is at ACE Open for this year’s SALA Festival. Tune in to this gentle discussion of Bridget’s practice of giving form to invisible things, the importance of artwork that ‘resists’ logical understanding, and a hint as to Bridget’s preferred corner of the rabbit hole that is ASMR videos.
- John Barber
- George Popperwell
- Ian North
- Experimental Art Foundation
- Viv Miller
- Sera Waters
- Louise Flaherty
- Chris Flannagan
- Andrew Best
- Downtown Art Space
- Downtown [TV commercial]
- Alison Currie
- Message from the meadow
- Porter St Commission
- ACE Open
- Riso print
- Person Books
- Tyrone Ormsby
- Meridian Sculpture (Melbourne)
- Arts in Health at FMC
- Message from the meadow
- Koan – Buddhist principle
- The sound of one hand clapping
- ASMR / Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response
- Meditation in the gallery
- Keg de Souza and Lucien Alperstein’s salt banquet
- Rupert (Vilnius, Lithuania)
- Dean Toepfer
- Mixed Goods Studios [Instagram]
Music: Nothing will grow here, Komiko, free music archive
Image: Sam Roberts, courtesy of ACE Open
Hello and welcome to the SALA Podcast. My name is Steph and today I’ll be speaking with Bridget Currie who is a South Australian artist working in sculpture, performance drawing, writing, public art, and installation. We found a quiet corner upstairs of the ACE Open gallery, and I want to acknowledge that we made on the traditional lands of the Kaurna People and pay respects to Elders past, present, and emerging.
Bridget, thank you for finding time to come and chat with me today in your busy, busy August that you’re having.
Bridget Currie 00:44
Before we dive into your recent projects, I’m just wondering if we can go back a bit and have a bit of a background on how you came to be an artist.
Bridget Currie 00:57
Ok, well I was just reflecting the other day that probably I was maybe one of the last class to go through the old Underdale campus of UniSA. So I had my art education there. And I guess, yeah, we had amazing lecturers like John Barber, George Popperwell, Ian North, we had fantastic lecturers who obviously have made a huge impact on me as an artist. So I did my undergraduate study there and finished in 1999, and I ended up doing honors in 2001, so it was a long time ago now. 20 years. And really soon after graduating, I was lucky to get a Carclew studio grant for actually had a studio here at the EAF at the time. So that was a really wonderful grants program that used to happen. I don’t think it happens anymore. That year, Viv Miller, myself, and Sera Waters all received those particular grants from Carclew for a studio, and Viv and I, together with a group of people that included Louise Flaherty, Chris Flanagan and Andrew Best, we started a artist-run space. So we were very, very young. It seems now looking back, but of course, at the time, we didn’t think that. We started a space called Downtown Artspace, which was in a dodgem car rink on Hindley Street, which was the old Downtown. So it was an amusement parlour… do you say parlour, is that right? Yeah, amusement arcade or something. And we got this space for free. At the time, there were no artist run spaces in Adelaide. So we were the only one. And we ended up moving to premises sort of opposite the Grace Emily, eventually. But the gallery ran for around six years. And we started with no funding whatsoever. And was all just very chaotic, and organic. But probably an amazing training for both sides of the equation being working in a gallery sector, but also being an artist. So I’d say that is really a formative influence on my practice, certainly, and, and my my ability to think of myself as an artist, I guess, and to kind of plan for those things. I also studied a Masters by research at UniSA as well. So when did I finish that? Maybe 2005?
We’ll be able to Google it I’m sure
Bridget Currie 03:55
Something like that. Yeah. So that’s my my educational background. And, yeah, I’ve always had a very multidisciplinary practice. So I do think of myself as making sculpture, but I’ve always particularly worked with printmaking as well, and drawing, writing, and through my sister who’s a choreographer, Alison Currie, we have done some collaborative work together. So I think I have a real appreciation for contemporary dance particular and this kind of… which I feel like is very sculptural as a medium, but some time-based mediums as well, that I work with. Yeah. I think that I get more and more drawn back to books and making prints and drawings actually, and that’s a really interesting return. So that’s been something that has been going on throughout my practice, but definitely not the majority of my work, but there is a very beautiful publication coming out for this show at ACE Open that, yeah, it’s gorgeous riso printed book. So we’re talking about as an artist book and that’s published through ACE and Person Books and designed by Tyrone Ormsby has done a fantastic job. But that process has been so fun, and I’ve just been really enjoying it. So yeah, it’s something that I’ve think might do more of in the future.
Yeah, absolutely, I’ll have to keep an eye out for that one, for sure. And that actually leads us really nicely into diving into Message from the meadow, which, so you were the recipient of ACE Open’s inaugural Porter Street Commission. So a fantastic opportunity to develop, work to exhibit in the ACE Open gallery. And as we speak, it’s installed downstairs and has had its opening and will run, it opened in late July and will run until Is it the fourth of September 2021? Yes. Wonderful. So maybe just thinking about, obviously, I’ve gone and seen the work and, and thinking about the show as it’s installed. But just to hark back a little bit to the development of that work: that work would have been developed in a health crisis during the pandemic. Did the did that have a play a role in the development or the approach that you took to making that work?
Bridget Currie 06:35
Yeah, I think in a couple of ways, obviously, there was obstacles, because of the situation. But definitely, I think my approach has been even more grounded in kind of bodily experience than it may normally have been. Because I have felt -probably as everyone has- the sort of craving to be in a physical space and craving to be in a space that isn’t Zoom. So I feel like everything got reduced to being within a screen. And it’s just obviously not enough, you know, and there has been this tendency to think, you know, beyond 2000 kind of mentality of being like, ‘yeah, in the future, everything will be online and all be on computers, and we won’t need physical stuff’ and it’s just sort of so bizarre that we could even think that about ourselves, because we’re so it’s such a social species of animal, and we need physical stuff, and we need… I heard a amazing musician talking about live performance and how he missed live performance. And I think it would be worse if you’re a performer than a visual artist, but he was saying he missed exchanging molecules in the room. And, you know, yeah, it’s so true, you just crave physical presence. and developing this work has definitely I think it’s kind of pushed me to go in a really into a really embodied space with the work. So it’s very tactile in the gallery, there are a lot of textures. There are a lot of things you can sit on or touch as well as sculptural elements, and, and some felt works with felt and printmaking. So there are lots of sound works in the show as well, which I feel like are also very embodied; there’s elements of yeah, ASMR sound, but also spoken word pieces that are very intimate. And this kind of physical presence and intimacy, I think has become even more pronounced in Message from the meadow. Yeah, so it’s almost a reaction to COVID times, I think. But it was definitely… yeah, some of the work has been cast by Meridian Sculpture in Melbourne, and the bronze works. And that was really difficult because Melbourne was in lockdown, and then stuff kept kept happening, like oh the freight’s on its way -oh, hang on the border’s shut. It was just yeah, there was. There was difficulties that were involved with that. But for me, mainly, I’m in my studio. So actually producing stuff. I’m like, yeah, you know, I’m beavering away in there, not really yeah, it doesn’t touch me in in such a profound way as someone who’s traveling a lot. But definitely, in terms of a kind of reaction to the environment. The show definitely responds to that by, yeah, I think exploring a very embodied physicality.
And I think it’s nice, having spent time in those spaces -all of us, you know, resisting the zoom space and all those things- that your show, it’s not just inviting people to witness something, the fact that you can, you know, lie on something and, get really close to these very… what would that feel like to touch and, and have the sounds in your ear, and I encourage everyone to go and ask for the headsets at the front desk and spend that time to be enveloped in those curtains to watch that work. That we’re not just asked to witness something; it’s like no, come and have this experience. And I think that’s just underscored in such a profound way post-lockdowns and pandemic. It’s Yeah, it’s so interesting, isn’t it? And I’d better just in case anyone’s listening that hasn’t been to the show or read about it; and your practice more generally: I like that it’s described as an effort to materialize things that are invisible. Which, yes, sounds really simple but it’s quite something to wrap your head around. And that can be beliefs, and life forces, and yeah, almost things that are almost hard to describe as well. My first experience with your work was actually the outcome of your SALA artist residency at Flinders Medical Center, which was that 2018? Yes, yeah, cool, good. My memory’s serving me well! And that was facilitated by the wonderful team at Arts in Health at FMC. And you – I hope I’ve got this right- you worked with the patients in the pain clinic to materialize their pain into these sort of objects. So, yeah, I’m kind of looking at, you know, yes, you’ve done this before, you know, you are working with the invisible across these different… in different ways. And yeah, I guess my question is, how do you approach that research of your work in becoming familiar with the invisible thing that you want to portray or materialize? Do you- Are you just a naturally very observant person? Or do you have to cultivate a sort of purposeful focus when you’re doing that kind of research?
Bridget Currie 12:16
I do think I am naturally pretty observant and pretty sensitive to both, yeah, physical objects and of emotional states. But the residency at Flinders Medical Center, I did a lot of listening. So I was trying to find people that would be willing to talk to me, because not everyone’s willing to talk about a very personal thing of pain. And the people that I did find to talk to me that were very generous in sharing what was going on for them. And the sort of seed of this research came from the fact that I get migraines and my mother gets very severe migraines. So we both have… migraines are very weird, because you get all kinds, we can get all kinds of visual vision disturbances and very individual to each person. But for me, I have this really clear picture of what the pain is like on my head. So it’s kind of like, if I was to describe it in words, I’d say it’s kind of like a stripe that goes from the back of my neck right over my head, and then covering my left eye. And it just feels almost like a physical thing. Just it’s so yeah, it almost feels like you could touch it. And my mum has a very similar experience. And she also experiences a lot of, well she kind of goes blind when she has a migraine.
Wow that’s really intense
Bridget Currie 13:56
Yeah, the very, very strange sensory things. So the the sort of seed of the research was that and then, yeah, speaking to people in hospital, some of the people that I ended up speaking to the most had chronic pain conditions, so they were just living their lives with fairly severe pain. And if you think about living with something, just day to day, it’s just such a massive presence in your life. Most people Yeah, can kind of describe it like it’s a real physical presence for them. But obviously invisible to someone else. And this overwhelming presence, I felt like to be able to convey that someone else through an object or a drawing would be a really interesting thing to do as an artist and the main Yeah, so The main research I did was just speaking to people and writing down their descriptions and then making drawings. I could definitely have more time. More and more and more time to didn’t have, in the end, I didn’t have so much time to make the work. I just spent the time researching with people. And yeah, there’s just incredible descriptions. One woman said, she just feels like her whole body’s covered in black smoke.
Wow, that’s such a vivid way of describing that. Yeah.
Bridget Currie 15:36
Yeah. And, you know, but other people have really ideas about color; of rippling movements, and they’re very vivid, very vivid descriptions. But it’s just such a amazing thought that one person’s internal reality is so profoundly impacted by something that cannot be seen by someone else. And yet, these are people that they don’t look physically different to you or I, you know, they’re just, it’s just kind of like, that’s hidden. It’s a hidden thing, and it that their world is so profoundly different to someone else’s experience that. Yeah, and you can I mean, of course, you can think about that more broadly and say, well of course, everyone’s experience all the time, is different to, to everyone else’s, and you never really know what’s going on inside.
That’s true. Well, I guess that’s what makes that role so interesting; that you can be that conduit between it becoming palpable to someone else, drawing on that inherent understanding of someone who’s lived that and yet can describe that pain is just… I remember feeling really struck by the role that you could play in that process and that communicating that with a visual language, as opposed to just having to describe it. And there’s something about coming up to an object that it exists in physical space, and it does kind of confront you and challenge you. So that’s my first encounter with your work so I did want to bring that up.
Bridget Currie 17:21
Oh, thanks Steph.
Now, coming back to Message from the meadow, I do actually find it really difficult to discuss the work in the sense that, yeah, it occupies a space that’s more about experience and, you know, grounding oneself through the different senses, than perhaps, I can find words to say. Although I have enjoyed reading about the work to find those words. So you know, the combined efforts of the different aspects of the show have been described as actually aiming to short-circuit the logical mind and, you know, the moving-image work described as being about pre-language encounters. Can you speak a little bit more to that?
Bridget Currie 18:26
Yeah. So there’s this idea in Buddhism of a ‘koan’. So a problem or a conundrum -I guess conundrum is a nice word for it- that doesn’t have an answer. So, you know, the one that everyone knows is ‘the sound of one hand clapping’, which is not a very good example, let’s just say that it might be just the idea of a question that doesn’t have an answer. So it’s an invitation to kind of confound your mind. And I often think of abstract sculptures or my sculptures as being ways that that might be a physical thing. So they resist interpretation in the same way. They don’t have an easy answer. They invite… I hope they invite contemplation. So they invite you to kind of stop and yeah, let your brain just kind of go ‘hmm I don’t know what that is, and that doesn’t matter’. Because I think at the moment, in our cultural moment, there’s a great tendency for things to be closed off more than being open. So things that don’t have an easy answer or a kind of soundbite or quickly understood meaning often are just like, left. I think it’s really, really important to go into that space. So go into spaces where you don’t know. Yeah, and people, you know, people like narratives, they like facts; they like a little story to tell them what to think. And I think it’s, in the case of visual art, like, that’s not an easy fit for visual art. And I think it’s really important that visual art doesn’t do that. And that visual art is open to interpretation. Visual Art is difficult and mute and resistant. I don’t mean difficult as in like,
challenging rather than soothing too much, I guess
Bridget Currie 21:05
Yeah. I don’t necessarily mean like, violent and disturbing or something, I guess…
but I think ‘resist’ is the is the nice word to, you know, it’s not easily categorized. And it’s not, you know, forgettably… yeah -again, we’re struggling with the words.
Bridget Currie 21:23
But we do have, you know, there’s so much spectacle in our society and, you know, exhibitions that are made for Instagram, essentially. And I really hate going into museums, when this this has happened, I find it kind of, if things are over-interpreted in a museum setting, I’m just like ‘just show me the object. I don’t want, I don’t care about your touchscreens. Just show me the thing’, you know, and I worry that now people are so acclimatized to all of that other stuff, that they can’t look at the object and find meaning in it. Which it’s a skill to be learned, I think. And, you know, some people are really sensitive to it. I’m very sensitive to it. Some people aren’t. But I think it’s… yeah, artists should definitely actively resist that urge, like that impulse to over-interpret things
to overly-lead or explain
Bridget Currie 22:23
Yeah, absolutely. And overly-produce a kind of experience where you’re kind of like ‘just step back, just let people be’.
Yeah. Give your audience a bit of credit, I guess.
Bridget Currie 22:36
Absolutely. Well, yeah, totally. I absolutely believe… you know, appreciation of art is so incredibly democratic. You might meet somebody who, they haven’t been to university, they might be a carpenter or something: they have an incredible physical spatial sense, like, so developed, and so nuanced, and a massive appreciation for sculpture. And or, like, really amazing things to say. You can you can always be blown away, I think. So. Yeah, there’s a there’s a great tendency to not challenge the audience, I think. And I think that just needs to be dialed back a bit. Yeah, but that’s Yeah, so definitely the aim of providing a space in the show where there’s, there’s just space and time for people to be there with those things in that space. But having said that, I also have tried to make… there’s a generosity in the exhibition. So you can lie down on the chaise longue; you can see it in the film space, and it’s warm, and it’s comfortable and it’s very inviting to be in there, there’s lots of different textures. And in a way the audio works, the intimacy of the audio works as well, it really allows a way in to the exhibition. So I haven’t, I feel like I’m trying to open up other avenues that are generous to people to spend time there and not feel threatened or, you know, find ways in that that don’t close off meaning.
And that’s a very delicate thing to do. And I do recommend that people get in there before the show closes and put time aside.
Bridget Currie 24:41
Yeah, I think you need around 50 minutes. The the audio pieces are 25 minutes, as a group and the film is 15. Yeah.
And I think that’s right, that that there are different entry points across the different materials that if for positions you can be, you know, horizontal, sitting, watching or walking around that. Yeah, I hope that there’s a different entry point for everybody. The other thing I wanted to ask was following on from my struggle to put this into words, are there any practices in your life that actually sit outside of the visual arts -and you know, the whole lexicon that comes with that, you know, we’re talking about the way that a carpenter might have that incredible spatial sense and appreciation for sculpture- is there anything outside of that visual arts world that has built on your ability to navigate your work, you know, such as a practice of mindfulness or meditation, or even, we’ve talked about ASMR, which is Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response, not everyone gets the physical, like neck tingling to that. Is there anything else in that realm that plays in?
Bridget Currie 26:00
I have been, I guess, doing yoga for a really long time. Also, I, you know, I’m not, I’m in no way guru-status but I do have a yoga practice. And I do have a meditation practice as well. Part of the public events for the show, on the 21st and 28th of August, we do have a guided meditation in the gallery. And I have been experimenting with writing in that space. So I think it’s really interesting that we all, nowadays, almost everyone goes to some kind of yoga or mindfulness thing, you know. And the, the language that’s used is its own world in a way. And it’s really interesting, it’s almost like a vernacular poetry that’s not really interrogated by writers. And I’ve been interested in writing in that space. So it’s a big experiment, the guided meditations that we will be sitting in the gallery space, we will be touching some of the objects. And then yeah, I’ve written this guided meditation that will, I’ll be speaking, and we’ll try and meditate in the gallery, which I think would be a fantastic way to experience art. So I really hope it works. It is an experiment. People have been pretty keen to come. So I’m not sure if there’s still spots, but you can have a look on the ACE website and try and book in. Yeah. The ASMR thing: I was at a public program at ACE for Keg De Souza and Lucien Alperstein’s salt banquet, and I was sitting next to Vivian, who used to work for ACE, and she was talking about this thing called ASMR. And I was like, What is that? You need to tell me more about that? Oh, my gosh. And then I went down this massive rabbit hole in the internet, which is, there are just millions of videos of people doing things like tapping a foam roller or folding towels or brushing their hair. And the entire goal of all these videos is to, yeah, induce a kind of strange sensory response in the viewer. And for me, that’s always like a sort of weird tingling on my head on my neck. That has always happened to me my whole life, and I don’t know if people remember at school, you had all sorts of funny games that you would do -particularly girls, I don’t think maybe not boys- but yeah, lots of like, squeezing the neck or touching certain spots on your back, and that that was the goal. So that was to induce the same response.
But we didn’t have a language or a name for it, then
Bridget Currie 29:03
No, but it was just kind of like this game you did. And I think one of them is the ‘concentrate game’, if you remember, I don’t know if you did that at school.
I didn’t do that one, what was that one?
Bridget Currie 29:12
So that was just you would say ‘concentrate, concentrate’, and then this whole sort of like, choreographed motions that people would do. Yeah
Yeah. Yeah, that’s absolutely, that’s what it is, the ASMR.
Bridget Currie 29:24
Yeah. And I feel like oh, yeah, school kids kind of naturally have this thing. They’re like, Oh, yeah, we can make this happen.
It’s a bit magic, then.
Bridget Currie 29:33
Yeah. But adults do it to through this bizarre corner of YouTube. So there are some sounds in the soundtrack to the film that play with those ideas. It’s 15 minutes. So that’s nothing in terms of an ASMR video, which sometimes go for 12 hours. And you know, that it’s sort of a different kind of meditation, I guess. But I am very interested in those noises and actually the whole desire to create this in the body, as a response in the body. Yes, it’s really interesting that it’s giant, and a weird subculture. But yeah, really curious.
Rabbit hole is definitely a good word for that. I’ll admit that I also, have experienced, I get neck tingles and got it all through school. And I, I actually found my way to ASMR because I was on hold to Optus once for a really long time and the person on the other side had a really calming phone voice and I youtubed ‘someone speaking quietly’, and that’s how I found the rabbit hole of ASMR.
Bridget Currie 30:49
I wonder if Optus knew?!
I never told anyone from Optus specifically, but
Bridget Currie 30:56
but maybe someone today was like, ‘do you know how we can calm down people on hold?’
For sure. She deserves a raise that’s for sure. So yes it’s it’s quite funny, and that whole… You know, I think that the term ‘ASMR’ is, people are starting to know what it is. And yeah, it was just a really lovely too, because I don’t know how much of that corner of, it’s mostly YouTube where I think people access it. And don’t know how many of those I mean, they call themselves ASMR artists. How many, you know, practicing visual artists in more gallery spaces are actually doting on that kind of knowledge?
Bridget Currie 31:34
Asbolutely no idea.
Yeah, I think it’s really interesting.
Bridget Currie 31:37
And isn’t it’s also really interesting, the gendered nature of ASMR. Because I feel like most of the people that make it are women, and there’s certainly something about a quiet female voice that is almost universal to the, you know, medium. And then yeah, this sort of people doing things like taking off their makeup, or brushing their hair. Yeah, like really? A personal care thing.
And that close personal attention when it’s role-played on someone else. Yeah, it’s, it’s really interesting.
Bridget Currie 32:17
And I think it is super gendered. And I’m just wondering, then, is the audience for this women or men or both? Or is it just it’s doesn’t matter? Like, it’s sort of the caring woman persona is just pan ASMR it’s just very curious.
and I wonder if it will change.
Bridget Currie 32:40
And yeah, absolutely. I mean, some of the, the, some of the really interesting ASMR people that there’s this fantastic guy that did the foam roller tapping, and he was just amazing. But yeah, he was kind of like a quite a burly man. And he struck me as being very unusual in you know, in that space. And that was interesting. Yeah, but it is it’s I sometimes I’m like, Oh, it’s sort of Yeah, it feels like very William Gibson or something.
Coming back to Message from the meadow: the Meadow is sort of presented as this concept, but I am wondering if you can speak a little bit more about what that represents.
Bridget Currie 34:07
Yeah, so I became very interested in meadows during a residency in Lithuania in 2016, at a really wonderful institution called Rupert. And it’s incredibly beautiful, timber, contemporary architecture building in the outskirts of Vilnius. So it’s got forest on one side and a river. And then as you kind of walk out of the building this beautiful Meadow space, so it’s quite wild, the landscape around there.
I’m just laughing because this sounds like a guided meditation, like ‘there’s a river and a stream, and a forest…’
Bridget Currie 34:43
Well, yeah, it’s a really magical place. And I became very interested in this Meadow space, and I’m just really interested in the democratic nature of it. So it’s, no one plant is dominating. And it’s this very symbiotic ecosystem and also very horizontal. So there’s no things that are like massively taller than other things. So it felt very, like a very beautiful metaphor for a structure that I might like to explore within my work. And I’ve always been very interested in multiple perspectives in my work. So I love the thought of having a macro perspective where the whole exhibition is one work, yet, it’s also lots of lots of tiny details. And so Message from the meadow, the show here, is very much like that. It’s one large installation, but within that there’s so many elements, and they’re all existing in some kind of symbiosis. I also think, the grasslands in Australia are, yeah, something that’s really influenced that and I’m very interested in the Adelaide Plains grass land ecology, which was incredibly rich before colonization. So we had upwards of 100 species of plants in all the grasslands. And most of which are, unfortunately, pretty endangered. So there was just hundreds and hundreds of different types of orchid, and lilies and, and various kind of, yeah, kind of tuberous roots that were eaten as well by the Kaurna People. So there is this kind of ghost landscape of that in Adelaide. And it’s, it’s really interesting to think about. So yeah, the meadow. Yeah. Someone said to me, ‘there’s no grass in the show’. No, no, there isn’t, but there is a kind of structure. And really, one of the problems that I set myself in making this show was, it’s a huge gallery. It’s massive. Every time you go in there, when you know, you have a show, you’re like, Oh, god, it’s so big, what am I gonna do!? And so it’s very daunting as an artist to have a solo show in there. But the problem was solved through the idea of making the kind of habitat for the small sculptures. So the furniture elements in the show, which are made by Dean Toepfer of Mixed Goods Studios. He collaborated with me to make this furniture that kind of exists to form an ecosystem for the smaller works to sit within, I guess, and yeah, that was that. In this instance, that was the solution to the problem of how to show these small sculptures in this massive space. Yeah. So they, they sort of have a structure that is akin to a meadow. Yeah.
That’s good. And you couldn’t have, you know, filled filled that gallery, because then you lose the openness of the meadow, so yeah, it all makes sense.
Bridget Currie 38:12
Yeah. And I also really wanted to have quite a lot of light in the gallery. So yeah, it’s it is quite as sparse… oh, sparse is the wrong word because there’s so many things in there.
There’s breathing room.
Bridget Currie 38:29
Yeah. Breathing room’s good. Yeah, definitely.
And if you’re asking people to, or allowing people to have, you know, these different entry points with these different items, you don’t want too much competing at once, because it is very sensory. So no, I think job well done. Well, I think I’m running out of words to reiterate the show, and I definitely encourage people to get in and see it, because that is the whole reason that we’re here. And you mentioned that there was a finissage event as well?
Bridget Currie 39:05
Yes, so on the fourth of September will be the last day of the show, and we’re also doing a launch of the publication on that date. I think we’ll start it might go from two to four that day, but yeah, that will be the final day of the show.
That’s excellent. And if anyone wants to follow along with your next steps, where’s the best places to?
Yeah. Great. Love it. Well, um, thank you so much for for divulging all of the context and backstory to your work and you know, work that represents a long lead up to that, I think as well. So, everyone get in there and soak it up. And yeah, looking forward to seeing what you do next.
Bridget Currie 39:57
Episode 16: Artist Interview: Henry Wolff
In this episode, Steph catches up with artist Henry Wolff at their studio in Post Office Projects, Port Adelaide. Tune in to hear about Henry’s path from design and fashion to visual art, and the way that empathy and care are explored in their image making – most notably in their new moving-image work ‘CARE’ commissioned by fine print magazine and presented online as part of SALA Festival 2021.
- Post Office Projects / POP
- Georges Antoni [Instagram]
- “The way we choose to share and claim space in relation to those closest to us becomes a way of knowing ourselves.” – Kate O’Boyle
- Presence at Praxis Artspace
- Henry Wolff, ‘CARE‘, 2021, single channel moving image with audio, 16 mins
- fine print magazine
- Arts South Australia / Department of Premier and Cabinet
- Lur Alghurabi
- Jai McGregor
- Henry Wolff, ‘Ourselves’, 2020. Single channel video with audio. 6:00 minutes. Feat. Jasmine Crisp and Jamilla Hujale. Videography by Jai McGregor. Production assistance Ingrid Wolff. Editing by Henry Wolff. Audio by Martin Davies and Henry Wolff.
- Bus Projects
- Henry Wolff, ‘Sibling’, 2020, Feat. Ingrid Wolff, single channel video, 7 minutes: 22 seconds. Videography Jai McGregor, Recal Media.
- Hoda Afshar
- Eugenia Lim
- Hayley Millar Baker
- Jesse Budel
- Henry Wolff, ‘Kin’, 2021, Feat. Ingrid Wolff, Two channel moving image, videography Jai McGregor, Editing and audio by Henry Wolff
- @Henry___Wolff [Instagram]
Hello and welcome to the SALA podcast. My name is Steph and I am here at Post Office Projects in Port Adelaide in Henry Wolff‘s studio, and we’re going to talk about their practice today. I think we both want to acknowledge whose land we’re on here as well, which is the land of the Kaurna People, and as we talk about the meaning of care in Henry’s work, I want to hold in my thoughts what care means and looks like in the relationship between traditional owners and Country, and also what it means to Elders past, present and emerging.
Alright, Henry, thank you for having me here.
Henry Wolff 01:08
I should acknowledge that we already know each other.
Henry Wolff 01:14
for a while!
So we have to be a bit serious, although maybe not too serious. All right, so let’s talk about your practice. Should we start with maybe the the media that you use?
Henry Wolff 01:29
Yeah. Because I guess it’s been kind of an organic process as to how I’ve ended up where I’m at. My background is actually in fashion design, where kind of my favorite part of the design process used to be like the photoshoots, because they represented like the realization of all the hard work that you do for a collection in design, and kind of they represented this, this realization of all that hard work. And it’s when that kind of storytelling and the ideas that you have around how we understand fashion, comes to life and materializes. And I think like, I was very fortunate that in like, the first time I ever was on a photo shoot was actually on set in Sydney with a, he was at the time Australian fashion photographer of the year, Georges Antoni. So I was thrust into this kind of world, certainly not pushing that, like I was happy to be thrown into that world…
A joyful throw!
Henry Wolff 02:34
Exactly. But like, I was like, I first started in a professional kind of design capacity, at the age of like, 20. And first shoot was over with these kind of heavy-hitting kind of superweights in the industry, and that kind of like, organically as the years went by, it kind of, through the continued exposure to images and image making and the process of image editing and selection, it kind of meant that I slowly started wanting to make my own images. They weren’t great to begin with. Some of them were pretty cringey that like, because I didn’t, I haven’t I didn’t start with kind of, like training as such. I started with, like, learning from essentially the people that I was exposed to, and asking questions of the photographers that were around me, and kind of learning by doing, which is a big thing with a lot of the stuff that I do in my life that experiencing stuff gives me so much of an understanding of what I do. But there’s always been this fascination when it comes to me with imaging people on how you can capture the interior landscapes of people through images, because I think particularly, fashion, doesn’t step into that zone that that was something that I found difficult with that industry is that you don’t have as broad a scope to explore those kind of interior kind of narratives of people. It does unfortunately, lean towards a more aestheticising of things, and which is something that kind of prompted me to move away from that industry and into a more kind of art-based practice and such. But from that kind of starting point I stuck at, like taking photos and stuff for a long time. And I’ve actually been capturing images and working with images now for over seven years, which is a long time in the scheme of things
It’s a long time to be you know, really getting comfortable with that language as well.
Henry Wolff 04:36
Absolutely. And like I think it was probably it wasn’t until like four years in that I actually went and undertook proper training. Where I like learned like film photography and stuff like that so that it kind of gave a backbone to the stuff, the understanding of images, putting a technical understanding with that. But the photography that I was doing And kind of just started to organically and naturally grow into moving image as well, which has become like a prominent part of my practice. Because I saw it moving image as the capacity to explore photographic moments in context, in the sense that photography has a capacity to kind of take moments out of their context. And moving image recognizes all that’s existing in a moment, if that makes sense?
It almost expands the border of that moment a bit into it, rather than take it out of that context.
Henry Wolff 05:36
And I think that like, I think that’s important for my practice is having that ability to both explore the context, but also take these split moments from it. So that’s where I find that kind of balance between photography and moving image in my work, but from there, performance grew to be an integral element in how I actually define what’s happening for these images in these images. And my knowledge and use of performance allows me to navigate that intersection between authentic intuitive acts and constructed worlds. Yeah.
we got deep there.
Henry Wolff 06:15
we did we did we did! But I guess that’s my practice, as such across photography, moving image and performance.
Yeah, I was wondering how it all fit together. Because two of those are using that, you know, pre made …no one can see what my hands are doing here, they’re making a frame… using that frame and looking through, whereas performance is, yeah, a different beast. So nice to see how that all interplays.
And what kind of themes are you most driven to explore in your work?
Henry Wolff 07:14
I think for me, the most important part of my practice is its consideration of empathy, particularly in context to image making. Capturing a person’s image can be quite an objective practice, particularly when we look at the field of documentary image making. So to navigate this, I employ socially responsive models or modes of research and development to ensure that empathy is really built into all the layers of how a project progresses and how that project is actually realized. I also have a very strong fascination for how people build relationships and connect with one another, which relates strongly back to that emphasis on empathy. Connection, in particular, shows up a lot in my work. And generally, it is positioned as an intuitive knowledge that is kind of articulated through gestural language, and pronounced then through the editing techniques that I use, either in how I kind of bring images together with a photographic in a series, or by the actual literal juxtaposition of images within a moving image piece. For me, connection is a gateway to understanding ourselves in the face of the other, and is essential in the construction of identity.
There was a really nice quote, and excuse my shuffling of papers here, that perhaps speaks to that, from Kate O’Boyle talking about Presence at Praxis Artspace. I’ll just read a few lines: “The way we choose to share and claim space in relation to those closest to us becomes a way of knowing ourselves.” Is that what you’re speaking to?
Henry Wolff 08:57
Absolutely, and it is one of those beautiful things with Kate like because now she’s written on two of my works, that it feels like it’s really nice whenever I get to see her and talk about works because it’s like, she’s lived inside my head at some point. And like it just intuitively makes sense; whatever the craziness I’m actually bringing. But it’s funny that you should pick out that piece as well because that was the exact same section that Gill Brown -when she did the opening for that show- pulled down because it was opened kind of… well, we still are living in the kind of post-COVID lockdowns or still living in that kind of reality. That kind of asking that question of how do we take space with other people is so relevant at this point. And I think that even though my practice isn’t intentionally riffing off those kind of ideas, because it’s something that’s present, that idea of connection and support and those kind of things are just something that I find and feel is important and integral anyway, that it just is highlighted by the current kind of social, political climate that we’re in at the moment because of COVID. But yeah. Yeah, like, I think, as a result of that kind of examination that I have of connection, it really kind of gives me this ability using that empathetic lens to find, within my work, notes around things like visibility, trust, vulnerability, and I guess support. So it really does tie back to that idea of how how we take space with one another how we consider that space, and how, how that impacts us and the others that we share that with.
Now, you’ve got an exciting project in SALA Festival 2021, can you just tell me everything about that? Sorry, I didn’t guide you much there.
Henry Wolff 11:14
So I’m sharing a new moving image work called ‘CARE’. It’s work that has been commissioned by fine print magazine for ‘pause ~ play’, and will be available to view on their website across August. And I would also like to start by acknowledging that the project was and has been supported by the South Australian Government through Arts South Australia. The project actually started with a conversation with my mum. And as a lifelong nurse, we’ve been recently talking about what actually happens when you transition from being the person who distributes care to being the person who needs that care. And where does the responsibility to care actually flow as a result of those kind of transitions in life. This prompted me to look at what defines my own values of care, and how these are inherited through her lived experience. Yeah, and it started looking at care from a much more institutional point of view, in the sense of that, I was exploring how nurses and like medical equipment could be used as like, metaphors or symbols for an outsourcing of our responsibility to others. However, this kind of approach focused too much on an absence of care, rather than where I think and still feel that the work needed to be. So it asked for a kind of shift into a different kind of… a different perspective on what care actually is and how I articulate that in a work. So to reposition that discussion on care, I reached out to my community, and brought together a group of diverse people to delve into what care actually means. And this manifested in a numerous kind of different ways through like informal conversations, when people would like come to the studio and stuff like that, because I’d have like stuff like I do right now, I’d have images and kind of stuff up on the walls, and we’d have these kind of conversations around what each person’s kind of ideas were. But it was primarily a group workshop that I held here at Post Office Projects, that kind of really repositioned my understanding and the trajectory of this work.
That’s quite an interesting way of researching, I mean, obviously, you know, conversations informing, but yeah, to really be active and, and bring people together to, you know, delve into that subject, that is a fantastic way to really go deep into what it means.
Henry Wolff 13:54
Absolutely and I think like, because one of the big kind of things that influences how I research and develop works is looking towards, even though I’m not a big fan of the impact of anthropology, but some of the processes that you can look at, that they use for understanding people; in particular, there’s, there’s a term that that exists within the field called ‘deeply hanging out’, which is something that I’m going is actually also a title of a project that will be undertaking with ADHOCRACY this year, which will look at the same kind of processes. But it’s this idea that rather than just a surface-level kind of understanding of people, that if you expose yourself deeply to other people’s values, way of doing things, and systems of being, that you can understand them from an empathetic lens; that you can come to know them better than what a cursory look would give you, or an assumption on what their life is. So those kinds of processes really drive how I develop the research or how I research and develop the works. So like as a studio tenant here at POP, we’re actually encouraged to host kind of different sessions to further the development of a work and practice.
That’s really good to have that encouraged at that level.
Henry Wolff 15:23
Absolutely, and like, it’s also it’s important, I guess, to have that access to a site and the support that goes with it to be able to do these kinds of things.
Henry Wolff 15:33
But it was an incredible experience. We started with a mindfulness and kind of yoga session led by Steph Cibich, who you’ve had on here before…
-who’s a a delight-
Henry Wolff 15:47
…but from there, the group considered questions around care, like ‘what does can mean?’ ‘Where does care come from?’ ‘Has the nature of care changed or shifted?’, particularly in recent times, and then listening became an integral tool for myself in this process, I collected the responses and from them, a smaller set of breakaway groups were formed, where we looked at how you can actually translate those thoughts and ideas into movement. Which is easier said than done.
I was hoping you just tell me; how do you translate those ideas?
Henry Wolff 16:28
and particularly, because like, I love working with people who haven’t got like a dance background or a background in choreographed movement, because they’ll bring to a conversation like that, where you’re asking them to articulate a thought or an idea into movement; they’ll bring to it like a slight naivety, but a naivety in the sense that it’s unclouded.
Yeah, it’s not informed by anything other than what they think or feel
Henry Wolff 16:54
Exactly. And generally, that’s positioned within either their lived experience or popular culture, and I think like you get these unexpected outcomes. And like at the workshop, we had very different, kind of, responses from all the different groups that were there. And whilst it wasn’t the intent to take those movements and use them for myself, it was much more to gain kind of an insight into how people were thinking about care, through the body, as well as through how we speak about care. But post-workshop, things really started to pick up.
It’s a big, big project,
Henry Wolff 17:35
Oh it is insane, it was, it’s been very ambitious. So I started with, I reached out to the most incredible writer and poet, Lur Alghurabi, whose current move towards more existentialist writing, had just recently, at that point, blown my mind. And she said yes to coming on board with like a phenomenal way of writing and has worked with me to bring all of that kind of information that was collected, on like thoughts on care, and all of that kind of stuff into a sophisticated, but yet non-didactic text, so that it could be used for the voiceover for the piece. And alongside the kind of development. So there’s a lot of different things that have been happening alongside, on top, of each other. Once it’s been, it’s been a trick just trying to keep track of everything and make sure that it’s all progressing within the time frame that you that you’ve got.
Well I’ve assumed you’ve been too busy to even have a conversation with for months. So yes, it’s been big.
Henry Wolff 18:42
And I think as well, because it’s like, it’s such an intense time thinking about care, and ensuring that you’re positioning yourself through empathy, it takes an emotional kind of exhaustion on you as well, which by no means, like I’m not saying that I’m unhappy with that, I think it’s just
you’ve got to acknowledge it though
Henry Wolff 18:59
Exactly that like prolonged states of empathy does slowly wear you down. But alongside that kind of development of that dialogue, that text for the voiceover, we actually filmed five/six/seven hour shoots across the end of May and the start of June.
Oh my goodness.
Henry Wolff 19:22
Which, as I said, it was quite an ambitious undertaking as there was a lot, a lot to coordinate logistically, particularly as I work with a small production team, where I operate as a director of sorts. So for each shoot, we would have the videographer that I work with Jai McGregor, a production assistant who has always actually been my sister, Ingrid Wolff. She’s brought…
Who is also lovely
Henry Wolff 19:45
I know – and it’s this beautiful thing that because she exists in my work, and behind the scenes of my work, that it means that she has a good touchstone for asking on like, ‘does this make sense with what I’m trying to achieve?’. ‘Does this make sense with what I’ve already done?’ It’s nice having that kind of person, someone who’s that close to me that I can talk that kind of stuff through with, and she’ll give me an honest answer.
Sisters are good like that
Henry Wolff 20:14
But the brilliant thing is well is she brings along to each shoot her toy Poodle, Oliver, he’s kind of like,
Can this get any better.
Henry Wolff 20:24
But like it, besides the fact that he is like the most divine little animal ever, it’s really is really an incredibly valuable tool, when you’re working with people that might be feeling anxiety, might not necessarily know how to kind of feel when they’re in front of a camera and stuff like that. Or even just if you’re meeting that because as I said, it’s a production team; it’s a small one, but if you’re meeting these people for the first time, and you come to that set, that shoot, it can be a great way to break down that kind of barrier and start that conversation across people. Because I think like, when I first started working with a videographer, we actually, it’s crazy now thinking about it, but we actually met the first time when we started shooting.
Henry Wolff 21:11
And if it wasn’t, I think for having like my sister [and] Oliver the dog on set, it wouldn’t have been as easy I don’t think because they remove some of the layers of stress that go with that and make it a bit easier to kind of navigate. But alongside that kind of production team, I also -for this one- have had the performers that included the writer Lur Alghurabi, also my good friend Jingewi Bu, who is an incredible artist in her own right
and a previous episode of the podcast I might add
Henry Wolff 21:51
And then there was also Heidi Kenyon and her two children, Indigo, and Iris. Heidi is another incredibly close friend, and she’s very dear to my heart and another fantastic artists. And there’s also my old friend Jamilla, who is also an ongoing kind of collaborator, so she was in my work last year, worked with me on ‘Ourselves’, which was done for Bus Projects in Melbourne. And it was actually a really beautiful thing, because knowing that this was about care, I kind of extended to her the option to invite – I extended this to everybody that was invited to be part of the work- that they could bring into that conversation, somebody that they had a kind of relationship with care with, or that represented care for them. So she invited along a good friend of hers Erykah Jennette. And the beautiful thing that happened as a result of Jamilla, having worked on past projects with me, is that instead of myself kind of giving prompts to Erykah as like, as a new kind of introduction to my practice; Jamilla was actually doing that and taking some of the movements, you could see that she was intuitively taking some of the movements that she’d learned through the last project and sharing them as an exchange with Erykah and that just kind of was like: this is cool. This is this is not only like the kind of progression of like a practice, but it’s also a progression of people and their understanding of movement with context to my practice, which just phenomenal to see.
Henry Wolff 23:32
And then the last people, obviously my sister Ingrid is in as well, and my mum, Mary-Anne. Yeah. But it’s one of those crazy things that what you see play out in the work, the acts that each performer undertake, are gestures that come from each person’s understanding of themselves. The spaces that they are in, but also their own ideas of care and the maturity of the relationships that they’re sharing.
Yeah, that’s interesting, as well isn’t it.
Henry Wolff 24:06
And I think that comes as a result of that emphasis on intuitive unchoreographed performance. Because I understand gesture as a form of language. And when untempered by choreography, it allows us to express more of our interior landscape. And the work in all of its nuance complexity, at its core, asks us to like slow down and consider how we connect with ourselves, with others, and the surrounding world. And maybe potentially through that reflection, we might understand and value togetherness more, or at least that’s the hope. I think, in this piece.
It sounds like you’re well on your way to achieving that, I think.
Henry Wolff 24:52
but the thing is, it’s a slow process when and when you come back to thinking about empathy, like it’s not a quick game like, it’s something that you have to work at incrementally over time, particularly, from looking at relationship-building as a feature in my work; it’s not something that happens overnight.
There’s nothing instantaneous about that level on any level is there
Henry Wolff 25:12
But I think that, you know, you have been quite prolific in your making, and I think that, I know that I can see that overarching endeavor. And, you know, the, you do create a space where that can be considered and maybe I can touch on the everyone’s favorite art buzzword, ‘the liminal space’, you know, it’s got to come up. But you know, the choices around, you know, the grading of the films and these kind of spaces that sometimes, you know, almost featureless, but still a space and the way that the scope for vulnerability and, you know, reflection, are much more, what is the word… that’s the space where you can really project that in there and, and read into that those.. it comes across the breadth of your practice, you know, it’s, it’s consistent. And it that, you know, it’s not just the gestural language and the movement, it’s all of these other -the rest of the mis-en-scene, if I’m going to be lazy and term it that way- all informs that endeavor. So I think this is really strong
Henry Wolff 26:27
Absolutely and like, um, it’s something that like, I am continually returning to an interrogating like, because a lot of that kind of understanding of how I construct an image is based off of all of that understanding of image making that comes from my background. So it’s taken, it’s taking still a long time to really unpack why it is what I do. But particularly when we talk about these idea of like liminal spaces, or the kind of how, essentially, like it’s this constructed world that I’m putting together, and that’s that kind of tension that I’m understanding my practices is kind of walking the line between, like the fantasy, I guess, and that kind of fiction, but using fiction as a tool to really narrow in and drill into
‘the real’ I guess
Henry Wolff 27:26
Exactly, exactly. That, like, sometimes we understand real emotions, real kind of things better through fiction, because there is that kind of space to highlight, or in the instance of my work, that they are quite minimal kind of costuming, minimal kind of scenes, as such, that then allows such a strong emphasis on the relationship between the figures, or the relationship between the figure and the environment that they’re in, really kind of emphasizes that moment as a result of that.
I absolutely agree. Yeah, it’s an interesting tool, isn’t it to be a little less real to drill into the real but and yet, it’s, it’s so simple, it works. It’s a great lens, excuse the pun.
Henry Wolff 28:28
I guess, due to the way that I work in a slightly back-to-front kind of manner, where editing takes on a significant role in the articulation of meaning, filming actually represents only the midway point for me. It’s when all of the research development and planning actually comes together into footage ready to use as a material to be worked towards a final piece. I start the editing process by storyboarding the sequence; looking for how meaning can be derived from visual association to begin with, or at least the meaning that I’m trying to kind of evoke, or have been building towards, for example, in this one ‘CARE’. But this process can take a really long time, and it takes like a lot of back and forth. A lot of self questioning, a lot of self editing
A healthy part of any practice!
Henry Wolff 29:30
but through this, I build up the work, which generally results in a number of different kind of draft versions, which then I reach out to different people for their input on, which has primarily been conversations with my mentors Hoda Afshar and Eugenia Lim, who have been phenomenal in shaping where my practice is now, that I think that they took all the stuff that was kind of there and gave it a real kind of direction and support to actually refine it into what I am and do now. I can’t even begin to express the kind of gratitude towards both of them. But slowly with that kind of support, and I guess like the support of the kind of network that I’ve been working with to create the project, because I share kind of content and drafts with the performers as I’m going through, we slowly the build towards a final work.
So that’s really collaborative, in a sense, you know, there’s that many eyes on it.
Henry Wolff 30:27
Oh it takes forever!
But worth it, I’m sure!
Henry Wolff 30:30
Incredibly worth it, because I don’t think I would feel comfortable. Like, I don’t think I would feel comfortable putting work out into the world if I didn’t know that everybody who was part of making it, understood it, and were at peace with it as well. Yeah. Because it just it would be wrong.
Yeah, only using them for one part of that process.
Henry Wolff 30:53
And particularly the idea of only using them, I think is, is really difficult, because I don’t see my practice as using people that they have been invited, and that they’re coming in to share their story to be part of a narrative, on care, on support, on visibility, or whatever it is that I’m chasing at any point in time. But yeah, alongside the actually, the incredible thing that I’ve been able to do with this piece that is really, it’s incredibly it’s transforming my practice is actually working with a colorist. And it’s the first time I’ve ever had the opportunity to do that, largely because I’ve had funding to be able to support that. But a colorist is someone who specializes in the colour editing of either still or moving image. And I’ve been very, very lucky to work with the same person who does the coloring for a number of significant Australian artists, including Hoda Afshar, and like Hayley Miller Baker. He’s over in Melbourne. And it’s it’s just been such a crazy kind of experience. Because he has such an experienced eye. And it really has changed how I look at my own work as resolved.
That’s great. Yeah.
Henry Wolff 32:05
Because I think like I was showing you some of the footage before that, like, just how lush some of the colors become as a result of somebody who just knows their craft so well. And like, yeah, this I can’t even explain how like I’m like wow.
I mean, I think also the fact that you have been doing what you do for long enough now that you appreciate that other level that’s also about how it doubles down the meaning, you know, you know, we’re talking about the leaves looks really lush, but they weren’t overpowering the scene and the velvety tones and the softness of skin. And I mean, hark back to the days -also as an early image maker- where you just crank the contrast and think that you’ve done a great job and, look at us now! Everything’s subtle and soft! I see you.
Henry Wolff 32:58
Oh my God, that’s, that’s, that’s that’s the vibe. But I think like the wonderful thing that because like, even though I do speak a lot about like fashion and image making as a strong kind of point of reference for me, that, like I have been engaged with art in a formal kind of level on the 2D kind of surface for a very long time as well. But that was a really strong part of my youth going in, like my parents were really supportive earlier, that kind of passion for making and art and stuff like that. And they sent both my sister and I to art classes, I think when we were like, eight, we’re doing like watercolour classes, it was everything. But I think like, and I’ve spoken like to different people about this that I understand colour in the work that I do from a kind of painter’s perspective; I don’t see my work as paintings, but it’s that kind of formal training that informs how I use colour in my work. Particularly in how you can create depth or different kind of meaning through colour. I find it a very fascinating thing.
I love that you’re drawing on all of these different things.
Henry Wolff 34:12
I know, it’s like some weird kind of mixing pot / crucible of all the things, all the things,
all the things, but it works. And it’s lovely that you can see: yeah, I got, this is informed by this thing, and this is informed by that. And, you know, I don’t think you’re missing anything at the moment, I think you’re doing alright!. And, you know, finding ways to, you know, working with your colourist for the first time, you know, filling in anything that could build that practice is… It’s great to see I think that’s what I’m trying to say.
Henry Wolff 34:46
And like I think because unfortunately, I don’t think we talk enough about those kind of options of like taking your work to a colourist here in South Australia. Like we don’t talk about that as an option for like how you can elevate your work or how you can explore a different trajectory with your practice. I think that there’s, it’s, it’s like you can’t do it all. Like, especially like, with projects like this where there are so many facets that you need support from people who have specialized in their fields to make sure that the product that you’re producing at the end of it represents what you’re aspiring towards.
Yeah I don’t think if you tried to do it on your own, some of those works just wouldn’t have looked anything like… I mean, half the time, there are some where you are in front of the camera, so really, would have been hard pressed to do that yourself. So yeah, I’m glad that, you know, that’s something that you figured out quite early on. And the work is all the better for it.
Henry Wolff 35:49
Absolutely. And I think that was a big thing that Hoda and Eugenia as mentors really kind of instilled in me is this understanding of that you should invest in people; invest in people so that they can support you to kind of make the projects come to the fruition and come to the realization that does the best justice to yourself, to your own practice, and to the people that you’re trying to create with. But also, like, I haven’t even finished talking about the goddamn layers of this project still, like there’s also the bloody audio, but we’re still doing like the we’re doing for the work like alongside editing visuals and stuff.
Yeah … it’s everything
Henry Wolff 36:29
I know, it’s everything is mostly like, I’m obsessed with video work and moving image. But, God, that is…. it’s a beast. You’d think it’d be easier than like photography and but like, no. And it’s expensive. But with the audio for this one for ‘CARE’ I am, I actually really enjoy constructing soundscapes myself. And it’s one of those kinds of things that, particularly when it means that I get to play around with sounds from either the sites that we’ve been filming at, or capturing sounds from places where the work might actually end up being shown. And those kind of come together. I’m not I’m certainly not a whiz at kind of putting together sound pieces, but I do like putting together white noise kind of tracks and stuff like that. And particularly for ‘CARE’. There’s this kind of meditative background soundscape that I’ve built, that I feel complements both the visuals and the voiceover that’s going on with it, but not in a way that’s overpowering it either as well. But for the voiceover as well. I’ve actually worked with Jesse Budel to record my own voice, which the choice to use my own voice was actually a really tricky thing to come to.
Have you done that before?
Henry Wolff 37:55
I’ve only used parts of my voice… that makes that sounds odd: in the sense of that like, so for ‘Ourselves’ with Jamilla and Jasmine Crisp, we so the starting point of that was to actually do interviews with each of them around the idea of vulnerability. And those interviews kind of informed the whole process of the development of the work. But then also I use them as like segments of them as the final voiceover and like soundscape for the final work. So my voice was in that set as well. But with like it was just some sections. But this time, it’s it’s me talking my whole way through the work, which
much more intentional.
Henry Wolff 38:45
Yeah, absolutely. But as I said, it was a tricky decision to come to, because I think that there’s a lot of different narratives that are involved in the work. But what I came to in the end was this understanding that with my previous work ‘Sibling’ and ‘Kin’, which both have family members in them, and heavily kind of influenced care. I understand care as a work as representing the culmination of these into a trilogy where I am the narrator in those works, whether literally, or just because they are works built from my perspective, particularly looking at how those relationships impact my identity and how they kind of inform how I’ve grown through my life and stuff. Particularly when it comes to the fact that ‘Sibling’ was with Ingrid. And looking at particularly how siblings can support one another and it’s a bit literal at points
It was literal, yeah
Henry Wolff 39:49
like, I think that that was important to have in that work because I don’t know how else you would have articulated that but
Not with that same weight that it came across.
Henry Wolff 40:01
Yeah. But and then ‘Kin’ had my dad become involved, which was a very it was it was a difficult work to put together ’cause like we don’t have the best relationship, it’s a very tumultuous one that he was still like totally into and supportive of being involved with my practice, and how we communicate that kind of relationship.
It’s really incredible to have the opportunity to do that, and the willingness.
Henry Wolff 40:58
Again, as I said, it’s been a very ambitious undertaking this work. And I won’t lie, I am a bit tired.
I think you’re allowed to be.
Henry Wolff 41:06
But I am very proud of what we’ve created. Not only does it represent things that I value deeply, but it’s also realized in a very visually poignant manner. But most importantly, I think it’s, it’s meant the opportunity to work and create with some of the most incredible people and actually pay them as well, which is something that I try to do the whole way through my practice. But there’s been around 20 different people involved with this project, like directly involved, that doesn’t count the kind of numerous people that you talk to when you’re developing or getting approval for filming on a site or something like that. And then, like, for example, when we were at the Hampstead rehabilitation center, that the staff there were so encouraging and supportive of what we were doing. and they would come across and ask us what was happening, tell us different stories about the place that
Isn’t it so interesting all those little other peripheral stories that come in and no, and care and consideration from those on the sideline.
Henry Wolff 42:10
Absolutely. And particularly, because this whole piece was filmed outdoors, that you’re always quite, I guess, vulnerable in a sense, not in a kind of, like only in the sense that anybody can come and join in on what you’re doing and talk to you and engage with you. And you’ve got to be prepared with that kind of vulnerability to the world, which I think is important in how my practice kind of talks about vulnerability is using that as a tool for understanding of how that body exists within these kind of semi-public semi-private spaces. But the brilliant thing of working with like that 20 different kinds of people, has also meant that with that support with the funding, that I’ve actually been able to inject I think around $16,000 back into the creative ecology, which, like, is insane for a sole trader, I think and same for an artist, and I don’t know when it will happen again. But like, I think it just is much about care as what you actually see in the work is being able to support people not only through empathy, as I’ve spoken about throughout the conversation but like also actually being able to follow that back up with here’s some money that I appreciate what you’ve done for me and how you’ve kind of engaged with this.
Brilliant through and through. noone can see the finger-guns you just did – the beauty of a podcast!
Ok Henry you’re being very vulnerable in letting me throw you some questions you haven’t prepared for Yeah, what’s been your favorite moments of someone else experiencing your work? If there is one.
Henry Wolff 44:08
I think that the the one that probably, it’s happened a couple of times, but the one that hits home the most is when somebody tells you that they’ve nearly started crying or they have cried at your work. And like I remember, I won’t say any names or anything like that, but like I remember somebody reaching out to me through social media to say that when I did sibling and release that and the first time around that, like they said, I don’t even have a sibling, but I started crying when I watched that work, which that I think is is it like it’s something that cannot you can’t anticipate at all. And I think that’s the other wonderful thing about how people engage with your work, particularly when you put so much kind of, of yourself into them that like you got to be ready for so many different kinds of perspectives. The weirdest, the wackiest one that I’ve had, it was a dude came up to me in the middle of the gallery when. And it was actually again in response to ‘Sibling’ but he was like, ‘Oh my god, I thought you were gonna get crucified!’ And I was like, in what world? where are you coming from? Like, I think it’s this beautiful thing as well. But like, we all carry so much… we’re such meaning-making machines that like, we really carry like so much to work and like, especially I think with my practice where it does leave so much space for interpretation that the mind can obviously wander…
yeah, a lot of takes, a lot of different takes. Well there you go. Well, I almost feel like I should wrap this up so I can let you get back into it because that’s a full plate. But I’m really looking forward to seeing the work as part of SALA and I hope that everyone gets to check it out. It’ll be online, so there’s no reason not to. Well, thank you, Henry. It’s been a delight.
Henry Wolff 46:07
Thank you Steph, it’s always good to chat with you.
Episode 15: 2021 SALA Feature Artist: Roy Ananda
In this episode, Christina catches up with our 2021 SALA Feature Artist, Roy Ananda. Tune in to hear about the artworks that you see on the SALA poster and program, the role of humor and fandom in Roy’s work, the work he’s exhibiting in SALA, and the new book about his work. So get comfy, press ‘play’, and get in on many an inside-joke!
- Untitled, 2006, Fabric, coat-hanger, fibreglass, dimensions variable
- Bugs Bunny – ‘The Grey Hounded Hare’
- Aether Drift, 2013, timber, acrylic paint, fixings, aluminium trestles, 300x600x500cm
- Monograph – Roy Ananda
- Roy Ananda: Further Annotations at the Art Gallery of South Australia (AGSA)
- Annotations series
- Olafur Eliasson, Dark matter collective, 2018, 217 partially silvered glass spheres, paint (black), stainless steel
- Peter Booth, Painting 1982, 1982, oil on canvas
- Sol LeWitt
- MF Doom (member of hip-hop duo Madvillain) / Madvillain – ALL CAPS
- Fransisco Goya in the AGSA collection
- Giovanni Battista Piranesi in the AGSA collection
- Albrecht Dürer in the AGSA collection
- Death notice, 2016, digital print on newsprint paper, 15x7cm
- SA Living Artist Publication
- Christopher Orchard: The uncertainty of the poet, Peter Goldworthy, Margot Osborne, Roy Ananda, Julia Robinson, Rod Taylor
- Peter Goldsworthy
- Andrew Purvis
- Bernadette Klavins
- Sean Williams
- D&D / Dungeons & Dragons
- Wakefield Press
- A house falls on Buster Keaton
- The Empire Strikes Back (Star Wars: Episode V)
- affirmational fandom vs transformational fandom
- Roy Ananda 2004 SALA Keynote speech
- ACSA / Adelaide Central School of Art
- Adelaide Central Gallery
- Supreme Library at Adelaide Central Gallery
- Slow crawl to infinity, 2014, Plywood, timber, fixings, 550x700x1050cm
- Thin walls between dimensions, 2018, MDF, timber, acrylic paint, fixings, Dimensions variable
- ‘Easter egg’ (noun) 1: a chocolate egg given at Easter, (2) an unexpected or undocumented feature in a piece of computer software or on a DVD, included as a joke or bonus.
- CACSA / Contemporary Art Centre of South Australia
- (Dueling rapiers): Roy Ananda, Untitled, 2015, swords, steel, springs, motor, and micro-controller, dimensions variable
- Alexander Calder
- Inigo Montoya vs Man in Black
- 501st legion
- Darth Vader / Boba Fett
- Roy Ananda, Autobiography series
- Melvyn Bragg
- @roy.ananda on Instagram
Galactic by Seb Jaeger
Hungarian Rhapsody No2 by Hans Liszt performed by Brent Tucker
Hello, welcome to the SALA Podcast. Today we are talking to our Feature Artist for 2021 Roy Ananda. Today we are meeting on Kaurna country, and we’d like to acknowledge Kaurna Elders past, present and emerging, and we’d like to acknowledge that sovereignty was never ceded.
Galactic by Seb Jaeger
Alright, so I suppose the first thing is to introduce Roy, and maybe you can tell us a little bit about your practice as an introduction?
Roy Ananda 01:03
Sure. Yeah. My name is Roy Ananda. I’m a visual artist based in Adelaide, and I’ve been practicing for approximately the last 20 years, and very happy to be the SALA Feature Artist this year. So my practice is fairly diverse. It sort of encompasses sculpture and installation, drawing, occasionally dabble in text and video and even performance and things like that, and spans a lot of different territory, but for this current show, and recent work is often fixated on my kind of own pop-culture fandom and where that, yeah, how that sort of spills over into my life as an artist.
Excellent, and as the Feature Artist this year, you are on the SALA Posters, you’re on the SALA Program, you’re on the SALA Snapshot; you’re everywhere! Can you talk us through the works that people might be seeing on the cover? So the heart jumper work, and then also ‘Aether drift’?
Roy Ananda 01:59
Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, no, it was really nice to have two covers actually because it could show, you know, even though two is not a breadth, that still kind of shows different dimensions of the practice. So yeah, there’s two images, one of which is on the SALA the full program, an untitled work, called ‘the heart garment’ as a sort of shorthand, which is a 1:1 scale red skivvy, that whereby a kind of a oversized cartoon representation of a heart is kind of exploding out of the chest. And this was, yeah, it’s sort of an older work from about 2006, that comes from a suite of works where I was sort of taking tropes from the world of cartoons, things that are peculiar to that cartoon world and trying to go ‘well, what would that look like as a physical object?’ So that kind of Bugs Bunny, sees the attractive female rabbit and his heart jumps out of his chest and think, well, what would that look like and what would it do to your skivvy? (If that was a real medical condition.) Yeah, and the other work, ‘Aether drift‘ is a much more kind of austere formal kind of work, which is another dimension of my practice, I suppose. So it consists of two kind of aluminium trestle a-frame ladders, that are being kind of overtaken or intersected with this floating field of hexagonal grid forms. Which I guess has a sort of slightly science fiction aesthetic to it. That’s on the cover of the SALA Snapshot and also on the cover of the monograph, which I think is there because graphically it’s quite a strong image, but I just thought as well, that idea of a, you know, a mundane object like a ladder being overtaken by this more fanciful form that seems to belong to a world of science fiction, that intersection of the day-to-day and the fantastical, I thought was a nice… emblematic of my practice in a bigger sense.
Absolutely, and I think that’s one of the things that we respond to so well in your work: that sort of almost daydream-like quality to it, of seeing something that is potentially ordinary, and then sort of extrapolating out from that, and what could it be and, and how could it interact with other things in the world. And so with that in mind, thinking about the untitled heart garment, you might be able to solve a little quandary that has been coming out in the SALA office. So would the heart then retract back into the skivvy? Or would the heart always remain outside of the skivvy and you would have to just carry it around under your arm for the rest of your life?
Roy Ananda 04:22
Well, this is the thing, isn’t it? I mean, the choice of skivvy in the first place. I mean, I would never wear a skinny, but really imagine myself doing so. But it seemed to be if you’re sort of transposing that Bugs Bunny trope into a human being. It seemed to be maybe that character would be like a hopeless romantic, that is always falling in love and so is the skivvy would get stretched out and maybe not retract. Like it would just be sort of flopping around all over the place. And I don’t know why I thought a romantic poet would wear a red skivvy but that in my head that made sense at the time. So I think that yeah, to solve the quandary yes, it doesn’t have the elasticity it once did and it does trail around.
Excellent, excellent. I think someone owes me five bucks. Now, we sort of touched, I suppose, on some of the works that have already been made. But you’ve got quite a lot of new work in SALA this year. Can you talk us through, I suppose, Supreme Library at the Adelaide Central Gallery first, but also the works that you have in the Art Gallery of South Australia as well?
Roy Ananda 05:23
Sure, I might start with the Art Gallery of South Australia works, because they’re sort of part of a continuum of existing work, you know, some listeners might be familiar with. So that’s part of an ongoing series of of what I’m calling my annotations, which whereby a taker, an existing image, and it might be, you know, a film still from a feature film, a day-to-day object, an infographic, or an existing artwork, as is the case with the AGSA project, and transpose it into a kind of blue outline diagram that’s numbered, and then the numbering corresponds to giving this sort of fictional provenance to the component parts that are all sourced from various -usually fictional- sources or pop-culture sources. So for that, AGSA project, you know, AGSA has got such a great collection and I was spoilt for choice about things I could annotate, but annotating one work that’s up currently, which is Olafur Eliasson’s ‘Dark matter collective‘, which is the work with sort of 200+ spheres on a beautiful kind of steel armature. And a work that hasn’t been out for a while but but one that loomed large in my childhood imagination, which is Peter Booth’s, ‘Painting 1982‘, which is a kind of nightmarish vision of sort of hell, I suppose, with sort of people eating one another, and demons and carrion birds and things like that. Yeah, so I’ve annotated those two works. And based on this sort of fiction that those works are made up of, well the Eliasson work is made up of 200 different orbs and spheres and crystal balls from things like Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter. And that the the Peter booth work is made up of, you know, various notable cannibals from horror films or, you know, piles of viscera that could be attributed to different death metal album covers and things like that. So yeah, those annotation works are kind of ongoing and are, I guess kind of, you know, meant to be humorous and meant to be a sort of gentle self-parody about my own tendency to see everything in kind of pop-culture terms, which I think is, you know, true of a lot of people of my generation or, or not even necessarily a generational thing, but but with my interests, or, you know, with the people that engage very heavily with with make-believe, and fandom and things like that. I suppose the nature of those works is that often, like, say, with the Eliasson thing, I’m trying to come up with, you know, 217 different spheres. So I do start with things that I’m a fan of, but inevitably, I have to look further afield to other areas of pop-culture that maybe aren’t as close to my heart. So while I really enjoyed those annotation works, part of them feels a little bit disingenuous, because I’m making lots of references of things that aren’t necessarily close to my heart. So that’s a roundabout way of saying the work for the Centrals show ‘Supreme Library’ I’ve taken my own collection of pop-culture paraphernalia as the starting point and attempted to catalog it and wrestle with it in terms of, yeah, these sort of long lists and these isometric diagram/collage diagram kind of things that, that try to map patterns through it. So yeah, I’ve cataloged about 4,300 individual items. And we’re currently sitting in my my sort of den of fandom with, with all my records and all my D&D books and comic books and things like that in it. Yeah, so the work is, yeah, kind of attempting to grapple with all that data. And again, it’s while it’s is about my collection specifically, hopefully, that’s not the primary thing that people need to know to get into it or find a way into it. I think it’s also hopefully a little bit of a, again, maybe a gentle parody of the human tendency to catalogue and archive and put systems on things that are maybe quite unwieldy and not particularly systematic.
Yeah and are those sorts of systems, something you’ve always gravitated towards? Because it seems like something that has sort of come out again, and again, in your practice, even in some of the more, I suppose formal works about, you know, grouping things together, or like things or imposing rules upon yourself. Yeah, how does that work?
Roy Ananda 09:23
Yeah, I mean, I think that’s that’s a good point. I really have always enjoyed the interplay of systems or parameters and improvisation or spontaneity. So yeah, as you say, even in more formal works (works that don’t have these overt narrative or pop-culture touchstones) there will always be some, yeah, some set of rules that I’ve devised for myself, all that emerge through the material play that kind of govern it. Yeah, and I’ve always enjoyed art forms that have very identifiable conventions, but then kind of muck around with them or musical forms that have… you know, the way jazz improvisation can have a lot of structure underneath it, but still be quite spontaneous and things like that. Yeah, and I quite enjoy artists that use sort of procedural generation and very systematic things. You know, I love Sol LeWitt’s variations on incomplete cubes and things like that. So yeah they’re close to my heart.
This might be a bit of a left-of-field question, but in imposing so many rules and systems upon yourself, do you aim to work within those rules really stringently or do you aim to break those rules that you’ve created for yourself?
Roy Ananda 10:37
Um, I try and be rigorous about sticking to the things that I’ve set for myself, like, I’m a big advocate of the productive relationship of constraint and creativity, both, you know, as a big part of what I do in my teaching, for it well, for any art school lecturer, I think, you know, we’re always devising briefs and things that are paradoxically limiting students’ options with a view to being a catalyst for their inventiveness and things like that. So I try and ‘walk the walk’ and ‘talk the talk’, in my work. For example, with this particular thing of the collection, you know, big part of it has been scanning or photographing covers of albums and things like that. And then, you know, manipulating them on Photoshop into this isometric projection for the collage and stuff like that. And it was interesting going through and, you know, particular albums or films are things that loom really large in my fandom, but I don’t have a physical hard copy of because it’s something that I’ve got as a download, or you know, that I engage with through a streaming service or something like that. So I sort of found myself going out and buying these records and DVDs that I’ll probably never play the record, because I’ve got the mp3. But, phwoar, I’ve got to have MF Doom’s Madvillain in there, because otherwise, you know, what will people think of me if it’s not in there? You know, so sometimes those rules, you know, I adhere to them almost, to a slightly daft extent.
That’s really interesting that so much of the cataloguing almost reveals yourself, not only your interest, but as you say, like, what would people think of me if I didn’t have this seminal album? Yeah. Do you feel like -maybe even looking at AGSA’s collection- that our collections reflect ourselves?
Roy Ananda 12:23
Oh, yeah, certainly. I mean, yeah, I guess to any extent, any artwork is sort of a self-portrait. But yeah, I mean, I guess, yeah, this is like the bibliography to my life in a way. I mean, AGSA’s collection is so fantastic. And it kind of… I think we forget how much is there because you know, the proportion that’s actually out on display is so small, but it blows my mind that, that we’ve got full sets of, you know, all the Goya prints and Piranesi‘s prison series and Dürer, and all these sort of incredible things that, you know, and I guess we could kind of make an appointment, go and look at them. And, you know, if they’re even if they’re not on display… anyway, that’s by-the-by
Don’t tempt me!
Roy Ananda 13:05
Yeah, so I mean, in terms of that, what that collection says about us as a state, you know, it’s another way that we punch above our weight in the visual arts, I think.
Fantastic. And obviously, you know, we’ve been talking about your fandoms, and I suppose anyone who knows your practice really well, would be able to pinpoint some things that are that they know that you’re interested in, like Star Wars, D&D, The Simpsons, you know, particular, you know, rap or even language. How does fan art differ from contemporary art?
Roy Ananda 13:42
Well, how long have you got? Yeah, so I actually did my master’s degree pretty much around that topic. There’s no short answer, I guess one of the big points of view is, I guess there’s this thing that we call fan art that might exist in certain platforms, like websites like DeviantArt and things like that, which I think of as being quite distinct from the work that I might make that could be, you know, maybe called contemporary art that uses fandom as a subject matter, or often as a method or methodology, maybe. I suppose one of the key, there’s key points of difference, I guess, like, audience intention and things like that, I guess a lot of fan art is purely celebratory of the subject. You know, it’s it’s reaffirming and reinforcing people’s love of a particular franchise, you know, within that there are… that’s not the blanket rule. You know, there are, there is fan fiction and fan films that are, you know, challenging and subversive. And, you know, the idea of slash fiction, for instance, where, you know, someone might write some Star Trek fiction in which Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock are romantically involved or something like that, so that, you know, they change narratives up to be more inclusive or represent different kinds of experience. But yeah, I suppose frequently fan art is purely celebratory, whereas I guess what I’m trying to do is certainly, it is celebratory, but I suppose there’s also a… maybe critical’s too strong a word, but there’s a sense of, you know, when I make an artwork about Dungeons and Dragons, and about, you know, me mocking up a death notice for the newspaper for my character that’s died. You know, that’s, that’s meant to be funny. It’s meant to be human. It’s meant to be, you know, a sincere thing about how he invested we get in the fiction, but it’s also a self-deprecating thing that it is sort of preposterous for a 40 year old man to pretend to be an elf for eight hours on the weekend. Like, it’s daft, but it’s sort of wonderful. So it’s worth both celebrating, and generally poking fun at, I suppose. And I suppose a lot of fan art is intended for a fairly closed loop of like-minded fans. And I would hope that a lot of the work I do around fandom has layers for people that share in those fandoms. But for someone that’s not the least bit interested in Star Wars, or Dungeons and Dragons, they can still engage with just the sense of play and the sense of a human being being enthusiastic about something. I think that’s compelling, even if you don’t share the same object of enthusiasm.
Yeah, absolutely. I think that’s one of the things that does draw people to your works is just the the sheer pleasure and the sheer joy that you can feel from someone engaging with something that they love. And you know, in many ways, perhaps the thing that someone loves is art, and by engaging with your work, they’re engaging with their passion, by proxy. Because obviously, you’re the Feature Artist, because you’ve received the South Australian Living Artist Publication, it would be really remiss of me not to ask you about the publication and how it evolved and happened. And sort of, I suppose, you know, those links to the work as well.
Roy Ananda 16:50
Sure, yeah. I suppose the important precedent for this particular monograph is actually Chris Orchard’s monograph from a few years ago that I was lucky enough to work on. And I think Chris broke the mold a little bit by having multiple authors, and particularly including Peter Goldsworthy, the novelist and poet, and Peter wrote really beautiful poetic responses to Chris’s work. And so yeah, I kind of we when we put our submission together, so that the four people involved in myself, Andrew Purvis, who is a writer and curator and artist, who’s written kind of the big, more conventionally academic piece of writing for the book; Bernadette Klavins who’s an emerging artist and writer and arts worker, who’s written a number of short form pieces about particular strands of my practice; and then also Sean Williams, who’s a very accomplished and highly regarded fiction author, particularly writing like writing a lot of speculative fiction, fantasy and science fiction work and having written for very long-standing franchises like Star Wars and Doctor Who, as well as his own work. So he’s written some really fantastic short-form pieces that, yeah, variously using constrained writing strategies, like acrostics and things like that, or writing using conventions, like, you know, a script that’s like an example of play that you might see in a D&D rulebook or yeah, literary mashups combining M. R. James and Clive Barker, and branching path fiction and all these kinds of things. So using these literary forms that that sort of might appear in the various fandoms that I engage with. So yeah, it’s it’s a little bit of an eccentric book in that way. Like, it’s got a lot of text in it that’s not kind of conventional arts writing. It’s got really extensive footnotes where we’ve all chipped in to the footnotes and almost having little kind of conversations and little, almost little disagreements or, you know, like one-upmanship with trying to outdo each other with obscurity of our references and things like that. So it’s quite playful. And obviously, I’ve got a lot of work that reproduces well in photography, but but works that might have a video component or a sound component: we’ve tried to do little things with typography and layout that where those things become kind of an analog of those works that that don’t necessarily reproduce well in a static image. And, yeah, the funny little things like, you know, tables for procedurally generating the basis of a Roy Ananda artwork you can do by rolling dice, and again, things that, you know, they sound sort of gimmicky, and I guess they are, but I feel like they’ve earned a place there because they are really part of those worlds of fandom and that the work is sort of surveying as well. So I’m really grateful that Wakefield was so amenable to some of our little offbeat decisions and things like that. And the design work that Liz Nicholson did on it is phenomenal, you know, what we handed her was this very dense, unwieldy manuscript and she’s just laid it out so beautifully and made it really clean and easy to read and engage with.
That’s fantastic and it’s nice that it’s not… it’s it doesn’t seem so academic. It seems like something that is approachable and playful and fun to engage with. Obviously, this isn’t a retrospective of your work, it does cover some of the breadth of it, but it’s really focused on, you know what you’re going to do next, I suppose How does your early work respond to the concerns of your contemporary practice? And are they still there? Are you still exploring them? Or have you moved in a completely different direction?
Roy Ananda 20:18
Yeah, I mean, I suppose there’s sort of this adage that, like, I remember when I was an art student, Chris Orchard saying to me, or he said, you know, he always says this to all his classes, ‘you only ever made one work’. And I remember the time being kind of sort of appalled by that and thinking, ‘No, that can’t be’, you know, 19 year old me going ‘No way, man, I’ve got heaps of ideas’. But the more I go on, the more I think it’s true. And I you know, it’s not literally that you’ve only got kind of one trick up your sleeve, but that there are long-standing concerns that that manifest themselves to kind of no matter what, and I think earlier on in my career, I used to think that I did have these two distinct streams that maybe could be ascribed to the way we talked about those two cover images, you know, that there was this sort of strand of work that was very sort of materially-based and process-driven, and quite formalist, and then there was work that kind of was more humorous, or used cultural references and visual puns and things like that. But the more I go on, the more I think those things are all kind of one in the same. So, you know, certainly in the book, there’s really early work from when I was just out of art school that that cleaves to a much more kind of formal thing. But then within a few years of that I’m doing things like the heart garment, the sort of odes to Warner Bros. cartoons, or slapstick comedy and things like that. So, and that’s where those lines started to blur that, you know, the physicality of Buster Keaton, you know, having a building fall on him but he manages to be standing in the right spot where the window frame falls around him safely or something like that, you know, that that raucous over-the-top physicality was always in those those more sort of formalist works as well. So yeah, I might have lost track of your original question. I think it was about contrasting the back work from back then. And
yeah, I suppose, like, did it the concerns that you were, you know, interested in, in your early work, respond to the concerns of your contemporary practice? So I think you’ve answered that really well. One thing that I’d like to bring up is that I think in the book, there’s some of your childhood drawings. Do you want to speak to that? Because obviously, that almost extends your art career even further!
Roy Ananda 22:26
Yeah, there’s a Yeah, there’s quite a nice fullpage reproduction of an image, a drawing of Yoda I did when I was about three, which would have been Yeah, I guess pretty much hot on the heels of seeing The Empire Strikes Back in the cinema. Um, yeah, I think there’s some I think there’s like a little portrait of Bert and Ernie from Sesame Street in there as well. In fact, I was kind of thinking that that appeared where I was trying to make that distinction between fan art or there’s a sort of a term in fan art was coined about 10 years ago ‘affirmational fandom’ and ‘transformational fandom‘. So affirmational fandom is, you know, when you perhaps write fanfiction that really reinforces the conventions of that particular franchise or if you’re into cosplay, you might make a you know, an Iron Man costume or something that’s very faithful to the to the ones that appear in the Marvel films. But transformational fandom might be one whereby, yeah, you may be you, you rewrite a narrative to have queer protagonists or you reimagine, you know, you make a… I went to a convention years ago, and someone made a really beautiful Iron Man, like a steampunk Iron Man full of gears and cons and things like that. So that would be an example of, of transformational fandom. So my early fan art, you know, I without blowing my own horn, it’s pretty good likeness for 30 year old of Yoda; the Burt and Ernie drawings from the similar era are not too bad either. So, you know, that was me, being an affirmational fan, but now now more of a transformational fan maybe. But yeah, but bless to my mum for keeping all those drawings and documenting them and writing exactly how old I was and things like that.
Yeah, obviously annotation runs in the family.
Roy Ananda 23:58
That’s right. Well she was a teacher/librarian… So that’s, you know, I’ve still got a lot of books of hers that have got all her marginalia and things like that, yeah.
Fantastic. Did she helped with the bibliography?
Roy Ananda 24:12
No, I not as such. But, yeah, only through genetics, maybe.
I don’t know if you would agree but, to me, there seems to be a lot of contradictions in your work: so you might have very ephemeral sculptures that don’t use ephemeral materials, or, you know, have a work that seems kind of flippant, like the heart garment, but, you know, is really considered and in both its make and the sort of ideas behind it. How do you think you balance these contradictions in your practice and what is their contribution to the success of your work?
Roy Ananda 25:00
I suppose with a lot of work that involves humor, or involves sort of a visual pun, or an I-get-it moment or something like that, I’m always very conscious that, you know, we sort of talk about one-liners in art, and we sometimes talk about it like it’s a dirty word. And certainly there are one-liners that are not very sustaining, but there are one-liners that that stay with you and keep making you think. And I think that, you know, I’ve certainly made a lot of one-liner works that are pretty forgettable or, you know, once you get the joke, you kind of can move on and not stay with it. But I don’t know, I suppose that having that tension between, yeah, something being flippant, but also a bit earnest, or a bit melancholy or something like that, or, you know, it’s something that sort of quite a… has a high visual impact or a quick read, but then, you know, it does have this care or attention to how it’s been made. I don’t know, I suppose in the same way, a compelling story has a narrative tension in it, you know, an artwork that has some sort of tension between elements. That is maybe part of what makes it sustaining or… Hmm, did you have, CP, did you have a particular thing, when you talk about an ephemeral work that’s not ephemeral material, or, what did you say an ephemeral work that’s got long lasting materials.. did you have a particular work in mind?
Yeah, I was thinking of your, well a few of them actually. One of your works that you did that I saw when I was a student way back when, where you wrote your name, in paint, all over your studio wall in different colors hundreds of times knowing that you would have to paint over it. Or the more formalist works, where all the wood was painted different colors, and they would sort of come together in different assemblages, but then be removed from the space and you’d have to unscrew bits and pieces to take them apart, and then in the next show, they would come together in a different formation. So they would never sort of stay the same. But they would always be made of materials that potentially could have lasted much longer than their short life span.
Roy Ananda 27:03
Yeah, sure. Sure. Yeah, I mean, I think something I’ve always enjoyed is, is the like the logistical problems of sculpture, and how that then feeds into the making process and becomes a driver for the work as much as any kind of outside idea. So all those works that, yeah, that reuse materials, I always enjoyed how the materials bore traces of those previous states and carried that into the next work and things like that. Yeah, and that kind of that sort of that that sense of, a lot of my big structures and things like that, I think in a sense, are really just, you know, an extension of that cubby building impulse, you know, that kind of makeshift make-do, you know, quickly map out a space or takeover space and make it yours, if even for a short amount of time. You know, it’s not that different to putting a gingham tablecloth over a car table and it becoming a fort. So I was looking through the SALA archives the other day, and I found one of your keynote speeches from 2004. Maybe
I was gonna say I’m not good enough to remember the exact date. But I was reading through it in preparation for this interview, and one of the wonderful things that you talked about is the South Australian arts community and what sustains you in the arts. Can you talk a little bit about what sustains you now, in your arts practice?
Roy Ananda 28:34
I haven’t gone back and looked at that speech, but I would hazard a guess that it’s probably much the same things. What sustains me? I don’t know – I think it’s I think we’ve got a really lovely collegiate community in.. well I can only really speak for Adelaide, one can tend to be too capital-city-centric, but I guess it is my experience. But I guess, curiosity, like seeing what you’re going to do next, that sort of a rather insular way of looking at it, but But no, I look, I think I’ve had a very, I’ve been very lucky with a lot of the opportunities that have come my way and obviously tried to make the most of them and things like that. You know, teaching is a really important part of my practice – tt’s, you know, it’s the bread and butter, but it’s also incredibly rewarding and… I don’t know, just that sense of having Yeah, having to kind of talk-the-talk and walk-the-walk. It’s a good sort of reality check for in an industry or in in a field of creative endeavor that can be very inward-looking and yeah, kind of breaks that closed loop of me just going ‘oh what else can I do with Star Wars?’
I suppose talking about that sort of closed loop and working on your own and, you know, for many artists, they, they very well may work in isolation and not collaborate with others. How was the process of collaborating on the book? I know you mentioned that, you know, you’d worked with multiple people, and obviously, it was a very playful process, but you can you dig in a little bit more to what that process actually was?
Roy Ananda 30:02
Yeah. So I guess I think, when we proposed, when we put in the application to ArtsSA, I should say, the Department of Premier and Cabinet, we… I think there was a good sense of who would be doing what and kind of what the roles would be, you know, but yeah, a lot of that developed organically through the course of doing it. We’d met very regularly and shared a lot of drafts and kicking around ideas, and, you know, or Sean in particular, wrote a lot of pieces, a lot of propositional kind of things that didn’t make it into the book for various reasons. You know, so there was kind of an editorial process that happened between us all there. Yeah, no, it’s sort of Yeah, it all sort of grew very organically, and particularly that the in Andrew’s long essay is, can kind of be read in two ways. In some respects, it is the most conventional piece of writing; it talks about my work, in broad thematic things. And, you know, it’s beautifully written, it’s poetic, but it also stands as a kind of an academic piece of arts writing. But, and you can kind of read that as a standalone piece on its own. But then if you read it in conjunction with the footnotes, which as I said, are kind of quite extensive, you get into this whole conversation that’s happening between the four of us and there’s this sort of color coded with notes and little conversations taking place and little text within texts and micro-fictions and things like that in there. And I think that’s where you most get a sense of what the process was, like it is, is this quite conversational thing that’s, that’s going on in this… within the trappings, you know, we think of referencing and footnotes as a rather dry sort of trappings of academic writing, but we’ve tried to be quite playful with it in that sense.
Was it interesting working -I mean, Andrew Purvis is also the amazing curator at Adelaide Central Gallery – was it interesting working with him as a curator on the one hand, but then also as a writer, and academic on the other? And was there I suppose a relationship to the book and the work that was produced for Supreme Library?
Roy Ananda 32:07
Absolutely. So I should say the title Supreme Library as well: it was was procedurally generated, it comes from a website called fantasynamegenerators.com, that I use a lot in my gaming life. And I was sort of like, ‘oh, what fictional library names would it sort of spit out?’ And, uh, you press generate, and the first batch of 10 that came out ‘supreme library’ was in there. I should say that I think of that as being more the supreme in that sense, it’s more to do with supreme pizza than it is to do with ideas of supremacy or being the best or anything like that.
A little bit of everything.
Roy Ananda 32:41
Yeah, exactly. Yeah.
Did you try and pick anything off, or?
Roy Ananda 32:46
No onion, but extra anchovies. No pineapple either, thanks.
Oh divisive! We lost half our listeners!
Roy Ananda 32:54
That’s it. Well, you know, I’ve just gotta run that flag up the flagpole I think. But no, again, in putting forward the application, you know, I didn’t quite know what the show would be. Other than it would be sort of another entry in my kind of big, ambitious, monuments to fandom and that started with ‘Slow crawl to infinity‘ and then continued with ‘Thin walls between dimensions‘, which was the work for the Adelaide Biennial, that was the ode to D&D. But I felt strongly that the show and the book should have more in common than just being launched at the same time. So that that sense that the strategies and the processes that went into making that book, or go into making any book but particularly with some of the offbeat decisions we made about the format and the use of the book form, that they would sort of, those strategies of, you know, archiving, cataloging, pattern-making within within a body of material, would sort of feed into the show as well. So that sense that both, yeah, the show and the book have come out of the same methodological approach we could say, or something like that, was was quite important. So all those meetings around the book were, in a sense, kind of laying groundwork or almost like research for the show as well, and vice versa, probably.
Fantastic, and a little wookie told me that there’s quite a few easter eggs within the book.
Yeah, there are these little little kind of acrostics and wordplay and a lot of quotations and things that are that are attributed but a lot that aren’t and that there as little… yeah, easter eggs is a good word for it I think.
I suppose we’re wrapping up now, but any artist who’s been fortunate enough to be in the gallery and you know, watching people experience their work, I’m sure would have some funny anecdotes. Do you have a favorite moment of watching someone experience your work, or a favorite moment of any of your works? Not that you have to pick favorites…
Roy Ananda 35:06
I’ve got a couple, if I may. One of my absolute favorite encounters of watching someone engage with my work was at a show called CACSA Contemporary 2015, which was across multiple venues, it was a group show, sort of a survey of South Australian artists that was put together by the Contemporary Art Centre of South Australia, which no longer exists, but I had a kinetic work in that which was a pair of dueling rapiers that were on a mobile-like structure, kind of Alexander-Calder-esque structure with a motor, and the thing would spin and the two swords would sort of have this infinite duel and sort of clang together. And I remember on opening night, Sam McMahon and a friend of his were basically maneuvering themselves around the work and sort of following the swords and having this -as if they were having a duel- you know, a la, you know, Inigo Montoya and Man in Black and sort of trading verbal sort of repartee. I thought that was absolutely fantastic. That’s exactly the response I wanted or the thing I wanted that work to trigger in people so it was lovely to see someone with the confidence and that that sort of extrovert personality to do that in a crowded opening, I thought was fantastic. Another really fond memory is at the launch of ‘Slow crawl to infinity’ at the Samstag Museum in 2014, which is my monument fandom, specifically Star Wars, and that work recreates the scrolling text from the first Star Wars film in this sort of plywood structure. And I was really lucky to have representatives of the 501st Legion, which is like the premier global fan organization of Star Wars fans and the Adelaide chapter of that who make the most fantastic, you know, screen-worthy costumes of key characters. So I had Darth Vader there, and Boba Fett, and some stormtroopers and some Imperial Red Guards, you know, in costume at the opening, and at a certain point, they sort of came up to me and were quizzing me about the work and they were like, ‘Oh, I noticed you’ve used the text from ‘A New Hope’, but what’s your favorite Star Wars film?’ and I was like ‘oh obviously, ‘Empire Strikes Back” and the were like, ‘oh, okay, that’s alright’. And they gave me this little, this little medallion; I don’t know what it’s called but I know it’s very rare for anyone outside of the organization to get one. And I know Sean Williams has one too, for his contributions to the Star Wars universe. So I felt very honored to get that thing and to have that endorsement from, you know, I mean, I’m a I’m a dilettante with Star Wars fan. And but these guys are the real deal, you know, so that was a great honor.
Fantastic. Do you mind if I give you one of my favorite memories of your work?
Roy Ananda 37:39
A long time ago when I was -well, hopefully not that long- when I was in uni, you had a series of books where you’d made imagined covers for them that were, you know, sort of various memoirs, and I forget the titles, but I was there with an ex and he was picking me up from uni and he was like, ‘Oh, my god. Do you know how famous your lecturer is? He’s got like, 20 books written about him, look they’re all out there. That’s incredible!’ And I just did not have the heart to tell him that you had made up all those covers.
Roy Ananda 38:17
Oh, that’s very sweet.
And maybe I’ll send them a copy of this book.
Roy Ananda 38:23
Well, we had a similar experience to that at home because I’ve just got the books on a shelf at home and Julia, my wife, had her book club friends around one day and who are sort of a lot older than her but then they saw this shelf of books now looking through it and they were like ‘oh, I didn’t realize Roy was so famous’ and they picked one up and it’s got this very clearly photoshopped picture of me sitting on a couch with Melvyn Bragg, you know, Melvyn Bragg is quite young in it. And they were like ‘he knows Melvyn Bragg’, I was like ‘excuse me, how freakin old do you think I am?’ Like this photo was clearly taken in the 70s. But no, I’m glad that they had that sense of verisimilitude that they can suck people in.
Absolutely, absolutely. Fantastic. Well, thank you so much for both submitting to this interview and for being the Feature artist for 2021. Obviously, we I think we’ve touched on all the different places people can see your work, but is there anything else you’d like to mention, anywhere else people can get to know your work and what you do?
Roy Ananda 39:19
Sure. Yeah, so the two exhibitions are ‘Supreme Library’ at Adelaide Central Gallery and ‘Further Annotations’ at the Art Gallery of South Australia. My website is RoyAnanda.com, I am on Instagram at @Roy.Ananda I think, although I tend to just post you know, fan stuff, not as much art stuff but yeah, my website and the two exhibitions are probably the best places to catch me.
Awesome. All right. Give us a good Simpsons sign off.
The hardest question in the entire interview!
Roy Ananda 40:03
Well, yeah, I suppose I suppose in in keeping with the odes to Warner Bros. I suppose ‘that’s all folks’ would fit the bill.
Hungarian Rhapsody No2 by Hans Liszt performed by Brent Tucker
Episode 14: Interview: 100 Barossa Artists
In this episode, Steph caught up with Renee de Saxe, Kirsty Kingsley, and Rebecca Reynolds, who are the driving force behind the 100 Barossa Artists project that took place in SALA 2020. Tune in to hear about how they managed to put on such a big project, the importance of the ‘clubhouse’ in art, and what they’re planning to do next.
• Renee de Saxe [Instagram]
• Kirsty Kingsley [Instagram]
• Rebecca Reynolds [Instagram]
• 100 Barossa Artists [website]
• @SheIs_art_barossa [Instagram]
• @100BarossaArtists [Instagram]
• 100 Barossa Artists exhibition: An unveiling of self-reflection [article]
• 2020 SALA exhibitions mentioned:
– 100 Barossa Artists at She Is gallery
– Future Artists at She Is gallery
– 10 Digital Artists in the main street of Tanunda
• Barossa Regional Gallery [website]
• Over 3,000 people at Greenock’s Wanderlust [article]
• Clarice Beckett at the Art Gallery of South Australia
• Jane Skeer [website]
• Uki, the country town with the hippest post office in Australia [article]
• Buy Grapevine Charcoal
• Steinborner & Reynolds family vineyards [website]
• Barossa Grape Vine Charcoal Workshops
• 100 Barossa Artist book
• She is pop up gallery receives SALA award [article]
• Joe Cornish dance work [YouTube]
• Passage exhibition for SALA 2021 at Karrawatta, 164 Greenhill Rd, Meadows
Episode 13: Indigenous Cultural and Intellectual Property
In this episode, Steph talks to Charisma Cubillo, a solicitor at Terri Janke and Company, about Indigenous Cultural and Intellectual Property (ICIP).
- Terri Janke and Company
- ICIP / Indigenous Cultural and Intellectual Property
- IP / Intellectual Property – a term that encompasses a range of legal rights such as copyright, patents, and trademarks.
- United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
- Dr Terri Janke
- True Tracks Workshop
- Australia Council Protocols for using First Nations Cultural and Intellectual Property in the Arts
- Screen Australia: Pathways & Protocols: a filmmaker’s guide to working with Indigenous people, culture and concepts
- Australian clothing brand Zimmermann apologises for copying traditional Mexican design (news.com article)
- Chanel’s $2,000 boomerang sparks complaints and confusion from Indigenous Australians (ABC article)
music: ‘Pinky’ by Blue Dot Sessions on freemusicarchive.org
image: Charisma Cubillo, photo by Jamie James, artwork: Bibi Barba, Terri – Butterfly Flowers Dreaming, 2020
Episode 12: Curator Interview: Steph Cibich
In this episode, Steph Fuller chats to Steph Cibich about her practice as an independent curator, and what it was like to win the City of Onkaparinga Contemporary Curator Award as part of the 2019 SALA Festival. Tune in to hear about how Steph found her way to this role and how she curated an exhibition in the midst of a pandemic.
- Art History Curatorship Alumni Network (AHCAN)
- City of Onkaparinga Contemporary Curator Award
- SALA Awards
- Material Connections at Floating Goose Studios
- Sam Gold
- Harriet Mckay
- The Bait Fridge
- Arlon Hall
- Sauerbier House
- Thingness of Stuff
- That’s good squishy – The Simpsons
- Art Vending Machines Australia
- Carly Snoswell
- ART WORKS emerging curator Guildhouse x City of Adelaide
- Approaching Midnight at FELTspace
- Doomsday clock
- Emilija Kasumovic
- Steph Fuller
Episode 11: Artist Interview: Jenna Pippett
In this episode, Steph asks artist Jenna Pippett about her practice and her new exhibition ‘From Czechoslovakia with Love’ at Post Office Projects. Jenna’s work explores at her maternal family history through moving image, photography, installation and performance. Tune in to this episode to hear about the incredible discovery that inspired her exhibition, and how she makes very personal subject matter accessible through humour.
Jenna Pippett! Thank you for finding the time to talk with me today.
That’s ok, thanks for having me Steph – long time fan.
I’ll get to your recent opening in a minute but first I just want to find out about what makes you tick as an artist. Could you just speak generally for a moment about your arts practice and what that is?
Yeah. So my arts practice kind of examines my own personal family history, personal family history rather, specifically concerned with looking at my maternal side. So my grandparents and mother moved to Australia in the late 60s and I’m interested in looking at the events that led to that and memories surrounding their emigration and relatives that remain and yeah kind of examining those memories and connecting with that culture
And what kind of media do you work in when you’re doing that?
So often the outcomes are photographic or video, sometimes it can range from like documenting a performance or perhaps a live performance.
Yeah I guess the media that I work in is dictated by a lot of the evidence or original source material that I find, and yeah the best way of interpreting that is to kind of honour that medium and um, working with that to explore those outcomes. But yeah often they involve mt own participation and the participation of family members. Yeah.
Cool, so the choice of medium is really driven by what you’re really inquiring about.
Maybe we’ll jump into talking about your show that’s just opened?
Yeah, so the show at Post Office Projects, which is the inaugural exhibition of the space which I’m very honoured to have been asked to open the space. The research that kind of inspired this show which is called ‘From Czechoslovakia with Love’, was about 18 months ago I got my hands on some documentation from the Czech Secret Police. So my grandparents and mum fled then Czechoslovakia in the late 60s because of communism and Prague Spring. And at that time, people were being surveilled by the secret police, which could be you know, your neighbour, anyone who’s you know reporting on anyone. It was a time of great unrest for my family and they felt they had to leave. And they left under the guise of going on a holiday. So they packed up their things, pretending that they were off to Austria for four days, but really they didn’t tell anyone that they were leaving, then left the country and Australia were accepting immigrants, migrants, people seeking refuge; and so they hopped on a plane and made a kind of split decision – it was Canada or Australia – and ended up in Australia, ended up in Adelaide, ended up in Kaurna Country. So the documentation that I found – to loop back – was the secret police documents, the surveillance documents on my family. So there’s a, um, I’ll have to search for the name for this.. I can’t think of it off the top of my head. . I think it’s the Study [of Totalitarian] Regimes.
But yeah so the information has been made accessible to I guess victims who have been unfairly surveilled by Czech government agency, which was founded in 2007, and their purpose or aim is to repatriate that information to people so you can apply to have a record of these documents sent to you. And I did that, and got this 90-page document that included photos of my grandparents, and a lot of their personal details, and interviews from family members and employers that spoke about why they left and if they knew why they left, and distribution of assets and all that kind of stuff.
‘criminal proceedings’: my grandma was quite shocked to see that word attached to her name as she’s a very proud law-abiding woman and yeah obviously it was a very different time.
Wow, what an amazing way to research that work.
Yeah definitely,. I’ve always been fascinated with family history and history in general, my dad is a history teacher, so maybe it’s something that I’ve kind of grown up with. But also you know, my mum being born in a different country, I’ve certainly felt that yearning to understand a greater picture and situating myself within a cultural identity and understanding.
And is the work, when you make work like this, is it motivated more by what you get out of the process of making rather than the outcome? Or where does that sort of line sit between the experience for you and the experience for the audience.
Mm I think that, as artists, we all should and primarily do, make work for yourself first.
Because you’re the one that goes through those processes and has that exploration and research and knowledge gain but, you know, there’s certainly an element of considering how other people are going to interact with the work and view the work but I’m selfish just like all the other artists and you know, fascinated by those processes and learning new things in my making process.
And having just had a little preview of the current show, I think it is a blurred line because your very authentic endeavour to find out more does feel very generous (as an opposite word) to me as a viewer that I get a peek into your world and your history so it’s interesting isn’t it that it all rounds out in that way.
Oh thanks Steph. Yeah definitely I think that as humans we’re fascinated as to where we’ve come from and so perhaps my research might make people reflect on their own history. We’re only I guess in the modern world and.
What we ate last week, people might post that on social media but two generations back you might not know the name of a grandparent. I think it’s an interesting, rich area, and we can all get so much out of researching where we’ve come from and how that informs out identity.
And so, you’ve talked about this document as being a bit of a jumping off point for this show, I imagine that’s a pretty unique way to find this information and do that research, have your previous works come from more of an oral retelling and sort of relying on family and memory to inspire the works? Where does that sit?
Yeah definitely. I think you definitely get to a point where you are researching family history and you just come up with names and censuses and there’s only so much that was recorded back in the day. So a lot of what I make work in relation to is anecdotes, memories; it’s also kind of bridging a gap. So you might have an image and some video documentation that were taken from the same day and so you kind of fill in those gaps and try and position yourself within that context, but for this it was quite different because, coming across this new information and so much of it was really exciting and I imagine it will be fuel for future works definitely. But the work that is exhibited at Post Office Projects doesn’t literally kind of translate any of that information found, it’s more about the way that the information has been made accessible and given back to people who have been surveilled. I see it as like a shift in power. So I’ve exhibited 8 poster works, there’s a video work, and I guess kind of an installation as well. And the poster works all take cues from communist-era propaganda, so there’s lots of flags and strength and power and I‘ve hung everything a little bit higher than normal to make it have a big presence in the space. It’s a gorgeous space as well with beautiful high ceilings as well so that helps and there’s a big black curtain as you walk in and I think drama is definitely dialled up to 11. But yeah, so the text on the posters is all Czech, my family’s native tongue. However, I’ve inserted my own image in place of the people originally depicted on the posters and the text is actually quite intimate and personal phrases/sayings/instructions that my grandparents have said to me and my brother growing up. So there’s that shift of very public instruction from government and positions of power and how to direct the community, but the phrases that I’ve included are like ‘why won’t you eat the cake’ (which is the image that’s been circulated for a lot of promotion of the show); there’s one that basically just depicts the only animal words that I know in Czech, it says like ‘animals: cat, dog, lamb, frog,’ so it’s more of an interaction on the Czech words that I’m familiar with, that I’ve grown up with, that run parallel with my English language abilities. I certainly don’t speak the language and I would love to be able to speak the language; I’ve attempted to learn a few times but I think I need to seek a more structured learning environment. But yeah, they’re quite intimate, personal sayings, and when someone says ‘oh, do you speak the language?’ I might know ‘hello’ and ‘how are you?’ and I know silly little phrases that my brother and I picked up like ‘wipe your bum’ and I know how to say ‘toilet’ and a couple of swear words but they don’t feature in the show.
-or this podcast.
13:00 [short musical interlude]
And we were just chatting downstairs about the video work, can you talk a bit more about how that came together?
Yeah so the video work, it’s a 5 minute piece, and the first minute is kind of a close-up of my grandmother, her hands in her kitchen making schnitzel which is a food that brings me a lot of comfort and takes me back to growing up and I still have that real sensorial reaction to those smells and tastes and it’s slowed down and put to the music of the Czech national anthem which is quite a punchy little minute. It was originally a longer national anthem but when the Czech Republic and Slovakia split, they also split the national anthem which I find to just be a fantastic story.
It’s so literal!
Yeah! ‘You get this, we get this’, ‘you get the kids on weekends!’
So it’s this beautiful poem that describes the land and the visual qualities and also this big sense of pride. I first came across the song when my grandma thought it would be fitting to play and my grandfather’s funeral and she was like when it played on the loop soundtrack ‘oh we should stand up’ and just kind of realising that real pride that my grandma has for her country and has for her current country of residence and since then I couldn’t stop thinking about this song and putting it to very domestic visuals of her taking care in preparing a meal for her family and the very tactile qualities of chicken breast and hands and flour and egg, then there’s a nice 4 minute ASMR sizzle of the schnitzels cooking and definitely don’t visit the show on an empty stomach.
Yes I can definitely vouch for the ASMR qualities being real. It’s a very nice – I don’t want to say juxtaposition ‘cause that’s so cliché’ but it’s so nice to have the very public anthem but then to have that kind of relent and just have those very, those sizzling sounds and you really get drawn into the intimacy of that moment. I never thought I’d describe chicken schnitzels as intimate but there you go.
They can be! Yeah the play on public and private. Like a very public national anthem very public messages and very private intimate messages
It is very lovely. And I’m glad that Ba-
dressed up in her nice frock as well
Yeah she’s put on her best outfit just to view her sleeves
Well I appreciated it
And on that note, it looks like you do feature your family members quite a lot in your work. Sounds like you’re quite comfortable in being so visible in your explorations of your history and heritage. How do they feel about being involved?
They are willing participants. My grandma comes from a very different world and she is more than happy to – she’ll do anything she can to help family members and to assist in my interesting projects. But I don’t think she quite grasps the projects but she’s more than happy to help out and I think she understands that a lot of my practice focuses on care and understanding – which, you know, is something that she can communicate. But she’s always like ‘oh Jenna, nobody wants to see me’. And maybe they do!
17:15 [musical interlude]
And I’ve just realised that I don’t know much about how you got to this point and your journey as an artist – can you take us back a little bit to how you got to where you are?
Yeah so I graduated art school, I went to Adelaide Central School of Art in 2012. Completed my honours and absolutely loved the artschool environment, it’s such a nurturing place and really helped connect me with my future peers but yeah after that I’ve been heavily involved in arts community, and started up a studio with a fellow graduate Kate Kurucz that ran for 3 years in the city which was so wonderful and also joined as a co-director at FELTspace, an Artist-Run Initiative. I also work at Hugo Michell Gallery and can only advocate for working in the arts as a wonderful way to being connected with the Adelaide art community in a variety of ways as well as obviously being a practicing artist. It’s a thriving community and supportive if you want to throw yourself in there and get involved.
So you’re everywhere?
Sounds like you’ve been involved with a lot of Artist-Run Groups I take it that that has been really important to the development of your practice and so forth?
Yeah definitely. I can only encourage people, you know, emerging, budding artists to get involved with the community. And volunteering for spaces; potentially being a co-director of an Artist-Run Initiative really gives you additional insight behind the fourth wall and fascinating industry experience, you meet so many people and it’s a great way to connect with your community. I know that Artist-Run Initiatives are always seeking volunteers, whether it be to sit the space / keep it open. Even just being able to spend additional time with an artist’s work is invaluable and something that I can only urge people to do.
And is Post Office Projects an ARI?
No I believe that Eleanor calls it a CRI, like C-R-I, a Curator-Run Initiative. Trademark, copyright, all that kinda stuff. But so Eleanor is the director and she has a board but she also has a team of curators who help manage and run the space, which is a fantastic counterpoint; she’s got lots of connections to emerging curators in Adelaide and a fantastic opportunity for artists who are involved with the studios here or the exhibition program to be able to access those minds and make new connections and who knows what the future holds.
I’m really excited to see what’s in store
This is the first solo show I’ve had in Adelaide in a long time, like I’ve done lots of ARI’s interstate, but it’s really different exhibiting in your hometown. It’s a different kind of pressure as well. Like ‘mum, please come!’
Wait so, first solo here?
It’s my first solo in Adelaide in a while – I had a little solo, my first show was at ARTPOD because I won an award from Helpmann grad show (City of Adelaide Award), and then I showed at FELT, then at ACE across space when it was briefly there for a year. It’s my biggest solo, floor plan wise
And ceiling height wise?
Yeah totally – the square meterage is off the charts.
Do you have a favourite memory of audience interaction with your work or a bit of feedback?
I think every artist feels nervous putting their work out to audiences which is maybe a good thing because it shows that you’ve really considered the ideas and you hope that people respond to it. But I get all kinds of different reactions to my work. I think often my work sits within a like nostalgia, relate your own experiences so I’ve had people get quite emotional as a response to my work because it makes them reflect on you know, their own relationships, particularly maternal relationships, because that’s a lot of what I look at. But my work also (well I hope) has a bit of humour in it and I want people to be able to access it through a humorous connection. I’m open to all reactions, and not all the work that I make is supposed to be funny but I think that humour is a good entryway into understanding and letting your guard down and being able to connect with something on maybe a more personal level. I’m open to all reactions as long as someone doesn’t take offense to what I make.
How could anyone take offense when you’re feeding people at your shows as well!
Yes I have made works in which I have had performative elements. It was a couple of years ago now at Holy Rollers Studio, for SALA – oh wow great cross-promo – yeah I made this work which was called Beranek which is lamb, and is a little lamb cake, and I found this mould, a cake tin mould of a lamb at my grandmother’s house. and I realised we used to have this lamb cake at Easter time, and that my grandpa used to bake the lamb cake. And at the time he had been living in a nursing home, needing some more assistance.
And so the video piece which I made for the show I had baked the lamb and then taken it to the nursing home and shared the lamb cake with my grandparents. It was certainly a very genuine way to connect with him and his dementia. Taste and smell are really strong memories and sometimes he wouldn’t quite able to realise if it was me or my mother and those blurred memories but in the performance piece I made a number of different lamb cakes which I shared with the arts community. Food is certainly a way in which many cultures are able to express love and care and a genuine connection to people. It was nice, I made a lot of cakes, had a pretty weird looking freezer in the lead up to that performance. But yeah, it was a really great exhibition and a fantastic performance night. It’s something that should happen more, and great to see those performative practices come together and activate a space.
On that note, I want to get back downstairs and have another look at the show and I encourage everyone to come and have a look. What are the opening hours? I’ve put you on the spot
The opening days are Wednesday to Saturday, certainly check the Post Office Projects website for times. I know that there are a couple of public holidays coming up… Easter.
Oh yes, that old chestnut
Get yourself some lamb cake!
Brilliant, alright, well I hope everyone gets a chance to come and see.
Thankyou Jenna, and see you around the place
Thanks for having me Steph
Episode 10: Artist Interview: Jingwei Bu
In this episode, Steph visits multidisciplinary visual artist Jingwei Bu at her home to talk about her arts practice, and the work in her exhibition ‘Life Maps’ at The Mill. Bu’s work spans drawing, painting, sculpture, photography, installation and performance, but revolves around key concerns: the pencil, line as performance, and connection.
Hello and welcome to the SALA Podcast.
My name is Steph, and for this episode, I paid a visit to visual artist Jingwei Bu to talk about her multidisciplinary practice. Jingwei’s visual art journey started in her birth-country of China, where she learned to draw with charcoal. Her natural curiosity pushed her to seek deeper meaning beyond the craftsmanship of drawing, and today she works across drawing, painting, sculpture, photography, installation and performance as means to express her ideas and experiences.
This interview was recorded at Jingwei’s home on Kaurna Land, and I want to acknowledge the Kaurna People as the Traditional Custodians of that land, and pay my respects to Elders past, present and emerging. As you listen to Jingwei share her experiences of her own culture, I invite you to be mindful of the culture and traditions that have been witnessed and nurtured by the land of the Adelaide Plains, and are of continuing significance today.
[Music – Komiku]
Thanks Jingwei for meeting with me today. We’ve just had a lovely tea ceremony at your lovely house and I’ve had a peek in your studio – I know you said it’s a mess but I thought it was quite a little insight into your mind as an artist. How would you describe your arts practice.
Yes absolutely. First of all I have to thank you so much for this opportunity to talk about my art journey. I would say I’m still on the way learning. But what the good thing is – I feel like I’m starting to feel where is the track and the pathway. That recently I have done a lot of performance, art performance as you have noticed probably. And actually when I reflect on what I have been doing the last years, I have done a lot of performance already. As my buddies from art school -I’m still learning in the Adelaide Central School of Art, and this year I’m doing my third year. A lot of my classmates and my lovely tutors [are] very supportive- they honestly pointed somehow in quite a few units that I’ve been doing (sculpture, CSP [means contemporary studio practice] and even drawing or painting), they somehow mentioned that ‘Jingwei you are quite strong with performance art’. I think it’s true, that actually I had a few years of stage-play performance experience back to university time, that I, with a couple of friends made a few interesting stage-plays, we wrote our own script, and directed, and played leading roles, which was actually quite successful.
I didn’t know you had that sort of theatre background
Yeah that was quite [a] long time ago and actually I miss that feeling, that I become someone else and telling stories of not only theirs in the same time and through their story I’m expressing myself too. And I do feel that whenever I step onto the stage: it’s my time.
Yeah, and actually on that note of expression, I saw on your website that I mean obviously yes you’ve touched on that you have a plethora of different media that you work in… but something that stood out to me was the way that you put that ‘art is another one of the languages that you know’. So you can speak multiple languages and art; you sort of framed it that that’s just another one, another extension of your self-expression, and I found that quite beautiful actually.
Yeah I do feel, I mean since actually only this year, I started to feel confident about speaking with art. That’s because for the past almost 20 years I’ve been migrated from here to there into different culture I try to fit in, try to learn try to cope, that’s a very difficult journey that makes me feeling getting lost. Not only about identity, it’s also about the value of myself, within the society. Because I’ve been constantly changing country to leave. And every time I move I feel like a plant is pulled out from the soil, and you only just have a little bit [of] root developing, and the soil and become a little bit solid and get the nutritions for the body, for the soul, for everything; and then I have to pack up and move and starting from scratch to learn where to shop, where is the supermarket and how to drive in this country – the other country you drive on the other side, in Australia you drive along the left-hand side – all of these things are so challenging.
In terms of languages: none of the languages [that] I got to know, including my mother tongue Chinese, later on English and German, I would admit that none of them are fluent enough to me because I constantly change and then also I’m learning – still on the way. But art is different. Whichever next station I would go, moving to another country, [where] I couldn’t speak their language, but art is following me. That I can present my art and people see it and through what I make, they understand.
Yeah, and connect with me.
That’s so beautiful
[Music – komiko]
Now you’ve got an exhibition that’s just opened at the Mill called ‘Life Maps’, can you talk a bit about that work and that exhibition.
Yes, yes; it’s quite exciting. This work, I started to do it since 2016 I would say. Even though before that I was just preoccupied with lines, lineworks, I’ve been playing with lines in all sorts of different ways. Like I draw hair, I draw how the hair forms into shapes and figures and even could tell a fairytale and developed a body of work called ‘hairy tale’
And then the lines goes to the Life Maps because I had a project in my art school, it’s about durational movements, you can do everything for a long time. And I picked a pencil, I just started to draw. I liked the feeling of using the pencil and you know touching the surface of the paper and the subtlety of the lines, the thickness of it and the textures, and I was keeping doing this kind of durational movements – or [as] I call it later: performance- for five years already. And I do feel it’s like somehow performance because I imagine the paper is the stage.
I’ve been eagerly searching space since twenty years when I, you know, moving around I didn’t have the opportunity to meet people who can offer me a stage to keep my dream, my passion about stage play. And suddenly I feel like ‘oh wow; the paper is my stage’, I can just imagine the shapes, forms and dots, numbers; lines are dancing, you know, doing all sorts of movements and even telling story and somehow can scream; can cry; can laugh. And they sometimes fight against each other, overlapping, they cover up each other and sometimes they support each other and build up a new shape. Oh I just enjoy it. It’s just infinite, infinite stage.
Yeah that’s really great to get that context because we go and we, as the audience go and see the finished work on the paper but to have that context of that actually as the paper as a stage where something has played out and a performance has happened is really insightful and interesting.
I do appreciate a couple of mentors from my art school and my graduate buddies they picked it up this word about performance and also Adele, the art curator from the Mill. During the first meeting with her she pick it up about the performative quality of the lines and the whole drawing movements. And that give me more confidence about [it], also reflect about the whole practice, it does, it does have very strong performative qualities of it.
Yeah it’s really interesting the way that sometimes we need someone else to point out those things that, even though it’s your practice and you know it so well, that sort of outside perspective. We were also talking a little bit earlier about how nice it is to have a bit of time between some of your old works and then look at them with fresh eyes, and you’ve got your new website so that’s something that you’ve been able to do?
Yes absolutely, I did benefit from reflecting my old works, from the previous 10 years, or even 25 years. Because I start my art journey very early, even I didn’t that it’s art. It’s only about, it was making; it was craftsmanship. I learned from the craftsman/master teacher to draw portraiture using charcoal powder. I was only teenage at the time, something like 16, 17. I enjoyed the focusedness of observing the texture of the skin and hair and clothes that people wear. And I was sitting there for a couple of hours until midnight to draw one portrait until my parents reminded me “go into bed, it’s too late”. Many times when they’d wake up they’d realise there is light still in my room. I was focusing on doing that, I enjoyed it, but after many portraiture I’ve done for my neighbours, classmates, relatives, I started to feel like, tired about it. I thought ‘is that what it is? Can I do something else?’ So I didn’t think about art, what is art? I didn’t know that. Until recently I reflected all these things and I organised my website. I had my website two years ago for my Life Maps things only; I didn’t put everything on it, and until recently I think: ‘I have to sit down and reflect’ in order to being prepared for my third year, because third year is about creating something new. Or you talk about new, but it’s built up on top of what your previous practice. So I have to know what I , what have I been done?
What you have done?
What I have done.
So I suddenly realised oh my god I have done so much and all sorts of things. And then, the best thing through, you know, spending the efforts organising all this onto website, is that I found the connection. Among all these different areas I have touched: drawing, painting, performance, installation, even sculpture, and you know I found actually, I wasn’t really jumping around with ideas, I was actually following something. There is one thing I have been following is something from my heart; from the instinct, from the bottom of my heart. Whatever I’m doing is from the wish and the hope or the need that I want to express myself. Currently, I need to talk about my journey, reflecting on my life, you know, the strugglings, as in migration, or as an art student, art learner, and the confusing about life, about art, etc. Or about the current issue happening around in the community or society. For example, the bushfire at the end of 2019, I was frustrated, you know, for my kids, for my kids’ future, for the animals (I love animals) and I was tearing all the time, I was stressed, I was depressed by the future of us, everyone. And I was worrying that the bushfire would burn the city eventually. So then suddenly I go very grateful I got the space offered by Dare Hair, they had an empty space beside their shop and I used that space to throw all the concerns out through making a site-specific installation. Using my previous sculptures of a couple of panels of plaster sculpture using the collections of my rubbish, and applied my previous ideas of using the plastic bag (transparent ones) and to wrap the mannequins as dressed figure is a metaphor of ourself. That’s just really from my concern that we’re only focusing on developing and consuming then and that we’ll just become like them – we don’t have a soul anymore.
Yeah that’s quite a yes, ever-relevant but particularly after we’ve been through those bushfires
I do have to mention on thing that I particularly have the impression of the temperature, at the time it was 42 that day
And you were performing in that space?
Yes as you imagine then my face looked so red, because the room doesn’t have air conditioning, no fans, I had to shut all the doors and windows to have the quietness of create a serenity space for praying. I put all my concern and wish and pray into that continuous movements of changing, changing the materials on the site. It’s hot; it’s suffering. But I feel like I’m sharing the suffer with animals, or the plants or the bushfire. Anyone who has been suffering in the bushfire. I feel like if I couldn’t go there to save you, I’m with you; I’m with you; I’m with you.
So a bit of an act of solidarity with that suffering.
[music – Komiku]
Now I’ve read that there’s a performance with the Life Maps exhibition at the Mill, is that yet to happen?
Exactly it is happening in two days. On this coming Sunday, 1-3 o’clock in the afternoon, it’s an opening event organised by the lovely team from the Mill. Very supportive. It’s a very special performance, it means a lot to me because it’s about the loss of my mum two years ago. It’s exactly the same time, it’s February and March
Two years. So two years ago she spent two months in the ICU. How do you say it?
Intensive care unit
Intensive care unit in the hospital here in Adelaide, February and March.
So it is coincident…?
It is coincide that my solo exhibition Life Maps just happened in this month
oh – that is a coincidence
Coincidence. Yeah, so I talked to the team in the Mill that I want to perform for the… not mourning any more – I think I’m over it. And also because my mum is Buddhist, and I have been learning and study Buddhism too. And mum had a very beautiful Buddhist chanting ceremony in ICU she was staying there for two months, every day the nurses and doctors would play the Buddhist chanting for her. Ending up, the whole ICU team started to google ‘Buddhist chanting ceremony’ etc. Yeah, I really appreciate that, and they allowed us to invite -very quietly- a couple of Buddhist friends chanting with me,
In the hospital?
In the hospital. 36 hours before the point of mum passing, and 24 hours after.
36 hours because they realised that mum can’t be back, they called me ‘Jingwei you have to come, any time mum can be gone’ so I then drive to there, stay there, beside my mum for 56 hours that’s why I said I have to perform this. This one is brewing for two years already. I just desperately want to express this – for my mum, and for the ICU team, for everyone who has been with me to support me in that terrible time of losing my mum. For the performance I will start with rope to form a sculptural 3 dimensional Life Maps on the floor, with the projection of the numbers in the ICU from the monitors.
Right so you actually were taking that in in that time noticing those numbers and I guess monitoring…
Yes, I took the photos of the screens because I wanted to compare if my mum [was] getting better. I don’t have the medical background, it’s very hard to understand the medical language, so from the numbers it’s very easy to compare – why this number is getting so much different from yesterday, yesterday was 89 why today is [it] 130. So there must be something wrong. So every day I just took pictures and compared with the previous one so I accumulated a lot. But these numbers hid in my camera roll in an album that I dare not to open it and look. Yeah, until recently that I think I’m over it and I use numbers into one of the art projects in the art school and I started to really really be strong to face it. Because I use a lot of numbers in my life and my drawings and I think why not, I use all these numbers into this performance and then I’m completely healed from this, I can face it when I can print them out and pin it on the wall to share with my peers, with other artists and turn it into art I’m over it and also I’m stronger and I definitely see life journey differently.
So yeah come back to the performance. After forming the 3d sculpture Life Maps,
Was that rope did you say?
Yes rope, 20 metres long rope
So a silhouette, a sort of shape on the ground?
That’s right. The rope somehow is the extension of my life, my mum’s life, also is actually: it’s the pencil, if I say is the extension about the performative drawing on paper. Now this is the pencil to draw the line.
Yes, it all comes back to line.
Sure, it remembers the same consistency in terms of the art forms. But after this would kickstart another durational performance, 56 hours, which is the time I was with my mum. And I will perform in the space, on the opening events, and I would invite the audience [to] walk around and do their own viewing and chatting while I was just quietly going to perform just in the site. Also for the whole exhibition period time, I will perform this everywhere I go. Possibly in my school, in my studio, in my home, on the street, in my park while I walk my puppy Milo. When there is chance, I will perform it and accumulate it into 56 hours
Wow so it’s not just in the gallery; it’s spilling into the rest of your life.
I definitely get that impression that you’re never not an artist, you never switch off, you are always thinking as an artist and experiencing the world as an artist. I have had the pleasure of knowing Jingwei before our meeting today and yes that’s the one thing that comes across the strongest, it’s a way that you see, interpret and experience is through that creative lens.
Yeah I do feel like every minute I’m making art I’m creating, I’m writing, or performing or even in the kitchen when I see the food and utensils I turn them into art. I do feel like I live in art. Thank you for picking it up, that’s a beautiful sentence to think of. And I appreciate people around me started to realise that art is my language even though I’ve been struggling with my language in my school. Ah I can’t believe now I can speak so much and I can ask you questions and I feel like I’m happy with my speed of my language I used to, I spoke very quickly because I desperately wanted to express my feelings but vocabulary and grammar were not adequate and I used a lot of facial expressions, hands, and body movements. And I don’t like it, I hate that. And if I speak my mother-tongue I wasn’t like that; a much quieter speaker somehow… probably.
We’ve spoken about the Life Maps as the performance, can you speak a little bit more about the – because it’s quite a long time that you spend with each of those works, and like you said it’s almost that the paper is a stage and that little journey plays out on that paper. Can you speak a little bit to how we might interpret the icons and the lines and the numbers on those life maps and what they can represent?
Yes absolutely, I would love to share with this experience. It’s a long journey for me to brew it and to really consider it as my, not everyday practice, but whenever I need it. I do feel like I have to feel to do it then I do it. I used to plan to do it every day, and I did it, I did it for a couple of months that I do a short version of Life Maps in order to get the meditative effects to calm me down have a little peace among this chaotic family life.
But later on I feel like I don’t want to block me in, into something, because I feel like the beauty of this body of work is the freedom; intuitive. If I block myself into a ritual it doesn’t have the original intention of it. Then I stop [trying] to do it every day, then I start to ask questions, when I have time. I say ‘Jingwei do you want to do a Life Map today?’ ‘Yes I do’. ‘And how long do I have to manange before picking up the kids?’ or something. Ok, I have one hour and I do one hour. I have ten minutes: I do one ten minutes. I also have to mention that not all result is visually beautiful. Somehow most of time: ugly – visually. I mean, in terms of artistic, visual, aesthetic thing.
I slowly, slowly, accept them. I used to hide them, tear them up, throw them into the bin
But now I said, of course I don’t care, leave it or keep it, or document it – I don’t really care because the process is more important that I’m with the lines. I’m with the tip of the pencil and that brings me to the peaceful land. And I have peace and I have a rest and my brain comes to another purified moment. That is beautiful whatever result it is.
And also I have to mention whatever appears in front of you during the exhibition you see the very intense and look like very chaotic textures of the pencil strikes on the paper – it may not mean that I was in struggle. It may mean that I was in peaceful land. Yes that’s amazing, that surprised me too that somehow I, when I show you a beautiful lines repetitive of the beautiful short lines you feel the peace in it. Somehow I was doing it with struggle; stress. Anxious sometimes. That I then do the very peaceful steps. I call it mindfulness walking.
Oh like walking on the paper
Exactly, it’s by the monks doing workshop in the Sri Lanka temple,
They have bare feet, they walk in carpark in front of the temple. Just focusing on the steps: left right, left, right, and just follow the very slowness of pace.
So I then develop it onto my paper, I imagine I’m walking. And focusing only on the steps. Focusing only on the left, then right, then left, then right. Then trying to capture the sound of the encounter of my paw…?
The heel? Bottom of your foot?
The bottom of my foot touching the ground, whatever on the ground, concrete, grass, little rocks, whatever. Feel it sometimes painful, sometimes itchy sometimes oh nasty – some bird poo there. Anyway, so I was doing very short version of these to calm myself down. So actually it’s the other way around, when you try to interpret each Life Maps I’m showing at the Mill, what you see is not what I was ..
It’s just amazing
It is, so we’re seeing a process, we’re not seeing a product we’re seeing that meditative process that you went through. That’s so fascinating, and I love that it always comes back to that pencil and that line and the way that you put yourself into that.
Thank you Jingwei, I’m really excited to see the show at the Mill and what else you get up to with your arts practice. It’s ever-surprising and yet always coming back to that same core thread. So thank you for that context.
Thank you Steph.
Episode 9: Artists in Schools: Louise Flaherty & Jane Mant
In December 2020, Steph caught up with artist Louise Flaherty and educator Jane Mant to talk about their experience of the Schools Artist in Residence Program, presented by SALA Festival in partnership with Credit Union SA. Louise worked with Jane’s students in the wake of the December 2019 Adelaide Hills bushfires, connecting the students to their local landscapes through drawing.
Episode 8: Social engagement and working with communities
This episode takes us back to the 2018 SALA Forum for the second session of the day: Social engagement and working with communities, a panel discussion featuring Daniel Connell, Laura Wills and Paul Gazzola.
Episode 7: The Department of Non-Corporeal Affairs
This episode takes us back to the 2017 SALA Forum for a Q&A session from The Department of Non-Corporeal Affairs. Andrew Purvis and Sasha Grbich take us through what non-corporeal means, and what necessitates a paranormal research office in the City of Adelaide.
Steph Fuller 0:07
Hello and welcome to the SALA Podcast. In this episode, we’re revisiting a Q&A by the Department of Non-Corporeal Affairs featuring Andrew Purvis and Sasha Grbich. It was recorded by Channel 44 during the 2017 SALA Forum in the ACE Open building in Adelaide, with Andrew and Sasha dressed in skye-blue coveralls presenting to a seated crowd.
Andrew Purvis 0:42
Before we begin, I’d just like to reiterate Chris’s remarks before and acknowledge and pay our respects to Aboriginal elders past and present and recognize the fact that we’re meeting today on Kaurna land. The Department of Non-Corporeal Affairs is a pretty new department, probably not very many of you know who we are or what we do. We do have a website set up, you can reach us at www.noncorp.com, and we’ve been getting a few emails through to that website, a few inquiries. So I thought maybe one of the best ways to introduce ourselves and let you know what we do and why we’re around is to read out some of those questions that we’ve been getting over the website, sort of, we can do a bit of a back-and-forth and interview each other. So I should introduce myself: My name’s Andrew Purvis, this is Sasha Grbich.
Sasha Grbich 1:34
Okay, well, yeah, thanks, Andrew, and also thanks SALA for letting us come and speak about our department because, like Andrew said, we’re a fairly new department, so any chance that we have to get out there and speak to people about what we do is really important for us. So I guess I’ll start off with a really simple question, we often get asked: what is non-corporeal? And why do we call ourselves The Department of Non-Corporeal Affairs?
Andrew Purvis 1:58
Sure. Well, at the basic level, thinking about what the word means: I, Sasha, most of you in this room, are corporeal -it’s a bit of a mouthful- which means you have a physical reality, it means that you can be touched and touch others. There are members of our community who are non-corporeal, these are people who have no physical presence, how they might manifest is in a range of different ways. You might have come across non-corporeal citizens of Adelaide who are ocular appartitions, or maybe -sorry, I shouldn’t discriminate, they might be present in this room right now- maybe you are a smell. Maybe you are a sound, or maybe you are a cold spot. I don’t know how you might choose to manifest or maybe there’s no choice in the matter. But that’s what we mean by non-corporeal.
Sasha Grbich 3:00
Okay, and that’s a fairly specific use of language there.
Andrew Purvis 3:03
Yeah. Yeah. In fact, that was one of the questions that we got over the website. User CarnivosaurusRex, asked: “The department seems very sensitive in its approach to to language, why don’t you use terms like dead and departed?”
Sasha Grbich 3:19
Well, actually, I just, yeah, we don’t use the D word, dea- no, don’t use it. I think something that becomes clear when we’re speaking about the department is that this is all about fostering positive relations with non-corporeal presences. And to put the emphasis on maybe that split second, you know, that probably not a very good moment when they passed away, potentially, you know, that seems like, against our sort of ethos and aims. And so we’re much more focused on the previous, you know, 50, 20, 70 hundred years, that that that presence may have had. And also, you know, their ongoing presence as a non-corporeal format, that might be very positive as well. So yeah, we try not to, please try not to…
Andrew Purvis 4:06
Yeah, we like to believe that it’s very possible to live a very full and active life/existence as a non-corporeal entity.
Sasha Grbich 4:15
So I’m just following on, you know, in terms of who we are what we do, and we had another question from another user online: Swayze’sNotDead. He says “Are you guys like the Ghostbusters?”
Andrew Purvis 4:32
We get this quite a bit. We’re not interested in busting. We don’t do any busting. It’s not what we’re about. It’s not more interested in. What we’re interested in is really community wellness, about building social cohesion between different community groups between the living and the and the non-comporeal communities in Adelaide. That’s what drives us and getting to know and understand members of our community that maybe you don’t have much common interaction with, or, you know, even perceive on a day to day basis, I think is very important to us.
Sasha Grbich 5:12
Do you have a question for me?
Andrew Purvis 5:13
Yes, I do I keep forgetting that I do. So, I think this question brings us around to the theme of today’s talk, which is about the value of the arts. So, User DuckTailSucks89 wants to know “Why are my ratepayer dollars being spent on this crap?
Sasha Grbich 5:43
And look, it’s a fair question. And I think it’s at this point that we do need to acknowledge the support of the Adelaide City Council. But, you know, but seriously, I mean, there, there is a very serious side to this. For me, and I think for you, and all those others that were involved in setting up the department, which is to say that we are concerned about, sort of, perhaps you might call it a cultural amnesia, a tendency to forget the past very quickly. And we noticed this in Australia quite a bit. And so we believe that this project, amongst many others, is really important in terms of honoring, remembering, and having a strong relationship with the past. Whether it be, you know, the in the last few years or pre-colonial times. So this, for me, is the importance of the department. And also because I think for too long, we’ve treated ghosts as scary.
Andrew Purvis 6:43
Yeah. And I think that’s something that we’re very much about, is this idea of sucking the spookiness out of this idea of non-corporeal presences; a ‘ghost’, if you want to use that term, is a person too. Or was.
Sasha Grbich 7:01
Or a dog.
Andrew Purvis 7:02
Or a dog, yeah. In fact, we don’t entirely know what they were… Yeah, depending on their age, they may be single-celled organisms or something that might go back to the Proterozoic era.
Sasha Grbich 7:12
I have a question for you Andrew: What services do you offer?
Andrew Purvis 7:18
As part of the department -and we are supported financially by the Adelaide City Council- so we are providing services for the citizens of Adelaide and the wider community as well. One thing that we can offer is working as an investigation and consulting service. If you have, or suspect you have, a presence in your home or in your workplace: feel free to either contact us through the website or come into the offices, and we offer site visits, and we also conduct investigations working in conjunction with the City of Adelaide’s archives department to look into the history of your property, whether that be a home or an office and think about who was there before? What was this land used for before, what was this building used for? And maybe we can narrow that down for you. Maybe we can tell you who lived here before. I mean, if you hear a noise in the middle of the night, and you don’t know what it is, that’s frightening. I mean, we’re all scared of what we don’t understand and we don’t know. But, if we’re able to tell you that 70 years before, a woman named Gladys lived in your house, and Gladys had a job and she had a family and she had children, and were able to tell you that, next time you hear a noise them in the night you say “that’s Gladys, that’s nothing to be frightened of”. It’s just like having a housemate; it might be one way of thinking about it. We also are very interested in working as a research hub. So people that want to come into our offices, and just share their experiences, we can write those up and record those experiences. We’re really interested in hearing experiences from people from a different culture who have come here. We’ve already had people come into the office from Hungary and tell us about the spirits they brought with them in coming to Australia. So we’re really interested in hearing more about that. Which I think leads us, Sasha, to you know, the idea that if people don’t want to come into the office, or they don’t have a physical presence and are unable to come into the office, how else can they make contact?
Sasha Grbich 9:34
It’s a really good question. So we also have a website, which is one of the most active sites of interaction I suppose. On that website, we have the ghost registry where you are welcome to submit an experience. If you can’t type, if you’re non-corporeal there is also a Ouija board in the office you are welcome to contact us on. And as always, one knock for ‘yes’, two knocks for ‘no’.
Andrew Purvis 10:07
One for ‘yes’, two for ‘no’.
Sasha Grbich 10:11
So which brings me to an important question. Um, could you tell us a little bit about some of the encounters that have been reported so far, Andrew?
Andrew Purvis 10:18
Well, as I was mentioning earlier, there’s the gentleman from Hungary, who was telling us about the spirits that he bought with him. We’ve had another person come into the office and tell us in quite long detail about an ear infection that they’ve been suffering from for quite a long period of time, which apparently is the manifestation of a non-corporeal entity. And we also received a submission over the website just last night, about a spirit that, in the middle of the night, managed to put on a Fleetwood Mac LP on a turntable. It didn’t start from the beginning of the track, it started from the center,
Sasha Grbich 10:59
Early Fleetwood Mac; pre-Rumours
Andrew Purvis 11:00
Yeah it wasn’t Rumours or anything like that
Yeah. From the center of the LP, so there was no scratch marks, nothing.
Sasha Grbich 11:13
No, gently placed it on, beautiful. Better than I could do.
Andrew Purvis 11:15
Yeah, I mean, really sort of interesting. And I think that that goes towards also, what we were saying before about understanding the interests and the desires of the non-corporeal citizens of the city, if we can get to know them better. If we know what their musical tastes are, then maybe we can live together a little bit more happily. Yeah so…
Sasha Grbich 11:40
You know, if you have a question,
Andrew Purvis 11:42
I’ve lost thread of who has the questions, was it my turn?
Sasha Grbich 11:46
Andrew Purvis 11:50
So another question we received on the internet was, inquiring whether or not we’re in contact with any of the other paranormal researchers or ghost hunters in the city?
Sasha Grbich 11:59
Oh, absolutely. So of course, if we position ourselves within the council, one of the important things that we can offer is to provide a directory of services and projects. And so we are quite interested, we’re also putting in part of the work that we’ve been doing since setting up the department is documenting and pulling together other projects and practices and businesses are in this area. So you know, and this is probably a great point to acknowledge the wonderful Sera Waters who’s been interviewed so far for that aspect of our project with her ghost stories project -and I think I’ve got the title wrong there- but her work is also in the Artpod, and you can view it there. We’re also speaking to paranormal investigators, and it’s fair to say that we’ve been somewhat mentored by Allen Tiller, who is… well you tell us.
Andrew Purvis 12:50
I think is one of the most preeminent paranormal researchers in South Australia. He runs a haunted Adelaide website, he has also appeared on the Haunting Australia TV show, Allen’s approach to ghost hunting is very similar to ours. Allen is also the South Australian emerging historian of the year. And it is his research into hauntings that has earned him that accolade. Allen is very interested in identifying and researching the history of hauntings and understanding where they might come from, what they’re about. He is not, as you might have seen on TV, some sort of… some ghost hunters who are very interested in the scientific and the gadgets and the devices… Allen is much more research-oriented.
Sasha Grbich 13:35
He is, and so he also records ghost voices, which I’m so into. Yes. Okay, so I have a question for you now: If, for example, I had a threatening presence in my house, and they were non-corporeal..
Andrew Purvis 13:51
If they’re corporeal, just call the police.
Sasha Grbich 13:57
Good start, yeah. Could you help me?
Andrew Purvis 14:00
Sasha and I are amateur paranormal researchers. We lay that out there, we’re very upfront. We’re probably not equipped; our skill set is limited, and if there are any hostile or aggressive presences in your home or workplace that are non-corporeal,
Sasha Grbich 14:18
gallery or studio
Andrew Purvis 14:19
gallery, studio, whatever it might be; our recommendation would be to contact a professional or to contact a representative of whatever belief system that you subscribe to. So that might be the church or, or many different faiths. I mean, if you’re an atheist, I believe you can contact Richard Dawkins, I think he really loves to get emails like that. I think he can be a big, big assistance to you.
Sasha Grbich 14:46
And look, just sort of finishing off now: we were talking just before about, I mean, we love the SALA Festival, we love it, but we think it’s perhaps missed something.
Andrew Purvis 14:47
Well, we do think in the way it is framed, and the terminology they use, it is a little bit exclusionary. So as we lead up towards the… the department is has a finite lifespan -as do we all- it will be leading towards a closing around October 6, the actual date is yet to be set.
Sasha Grbich 15:18
You’re welcome to come, everybody
Andrew Purvis 15:19
Yeah. But for our closing event, we are going to be addressing some of the things that SALA perhaps isn’t servicing; the parts of the community that aren’t being service. So we’ll be running the South Australian Dead Artists Festival, and we invite all of you to come along.
Sasha Grbich 15:39
Thank you. Now look, that concludes, I think all the questions that that we sort of pulled from our website and our experiences so far, but if you have any questions yourselves, you’d like… feel free. Yes. Straight in.
Audience Member 15:52
How important are the uniforms to the work that you do?
Sasha Grbich 15:55
Hahaha, so important.
Andrew Purvis 16:00
I don’t think we could do it without it, to be honest
Sasha Grbich 16:06
I hope that answers your question.
Andrew Purvis 16:09
I mean, the uniforms are an acknowledgment that we are largely bureaucrats and we provide a social amenity, that’s what we’re here for. We’re not, we’re not conducting, we might conduct séances, but we’re not sort of like with lit candles and, you know, a skull in the corner or anything like that. We’re trying to take the kind of very traditional sense of the Gothic or horror out of the conversation. That’s not what we’re about. So the uniforms help us do that, and they position us in a certain way.
Sasha Grbich 16:47
I mean, one member of the team might have suggested that she would only collaborate if she had a uniform also
Andrew Purvis 16:53
Yeah I recall a conversation like that, yeah.
Audience Member 16:57
Andrew Purvis 16:59
Okay, well, thank you very much.
Episode 6: Sundari Carmody
In this episode, Kate interviews artist Sundari Carmody about her practice, which gives sculptural form to unseen phenomena. Carmody is drawn to research in the areas of dark matter, sleep and the study of nocturnal creatures, and in her work considers how to engage with universal systems and aspects of being using materials such as concrete, textiles, mist and neon. See her work at ACE Open as part of If the future is to be worth anything: 2020 South Australian Artist Survey.
- BBC Radio 4 ‘In Our Time’ – Bird Migration
- ‘Why We Sleep: The New Science of Sleep and Dreams’ Dr Matthew Walker
- “What then is time? If no one asks me, I know: if I wish to explain it to one that asketh, I know not.” – Saint Augustine of Hippo (354 – 430 AD) in ‘Confessions’.
- ACE Open – If the future is to be worth anything: 2020 South Australian Artist Survey
- Jantar Mantar
Sundari Carmody, One: all that we can see, 2017, neon light with 95% painted black, electrical components, 40 x 40cm
Sundari Carmody, white white (summer and winter solstice), 2017, neon light, electrical components, 70 x 100cm
Sundari Carmody, The Build Up – masks, 2014, installation view, CACSA Project Space. Photography by Steve Wilson
Sundari Carmody, The Build Up, 2014, (Volcano) velveteen, poly-fill wadding, calico, steel, tent-poles, felt and sequins, 163 x 520 x 520cm, (House) painted plywood, mdf and steel, dollhouse lights, 130 x 30 x 40cm / Installation view at CACSA Project Space
Hello and welcome back to the SALA Podcast. I’m joined today by Sundari Carmody in her studio at ACE Open, which is on Kaurna land. And I’d like to acknowledge that sovereignty was never ceded and pay my respects to Elders past, present and future. Sundari is a sculpture based artist working with diverse materials, including concrete textiles, mist and neon. She also works with video and performance. Her practice concerns itself with the question of how to engage with universal systems and aspects of being which linger in the category of the unknown. Her work explores the subjects of dark matter, sleep, and the study of nocturnal creatures. The scope of her investigations take into account the scientific, cultural, physiological and psychological aspects of the dark, and give form to things that are invisible and just beyond the limits of our perception.
Sundari your work explores the unknown and the enigmatic often drawing on our unconscious relationship with the cosmos, and the universal forces that influence our experience of the world, such as seasonal changes in daylight, gravitational pull and planetary motion. Your practice is steeped with symbolism and is also highly theoretical. And I would say that maybe it’s placed somewhere between science and intuition. What percentage of your practice would you say is spent on researching the subject matter, and on the conceptual side of developing the work as opposed to the physical side of making it?
Hmm, interesting that you asked about percentages. That’s a difficult one to answer. I haven’t actually thought about how much I spend on each. There’s probably a lot of researching just because that’s what I’m interested in every day, I’m listening to podcasts, or I’ve ordered a book online about the history of the enlightenment and scientific discovery. And then I’m taking notes as I’m reading, if something sticks out, then I note it down in my book, and then it might feed into an idea eventually, it could be immediately or it could be a few months down the track. So I think it’s probably both happening at the same time. I’m developing ideas as I’m listening to things or reading things.
And how do you know in that sort of research, in those times, how do you know when you sort of stumbled upon like the kernel of an idea that you want to work with? Or how do you know, when you’ve struck something that you want to follow that line of inquiry?
To give one example, I was listening to BBC Radio 4 podcast called ‘In Our Time’, and each episode is about something different. And I listened to a discussion on bird migration, maybe three or four years ago, and the ideas of bird migrate- the theories of bird migration- there’s still a lot that is unexplainable. There’s, there’s a lot of… people don’t know where birds learn, to fly to. It just seems to happen. And I was really drawn to that mysterious force that drives these, these birds to travel thousands and thousands of kilometers each year. And I didn’t make anything right away with that. But I noted it down and I knew I wanted to do something with it. It’s this invisibility in the idea that I was drawn to. And now maybe four years later, I’m, I’m working with with a bird themed sculpture that draws on those migratory patterns.
And do you think, you know, sort of looking at how your artwork is sort of investigating this unknown and the sensations that we as people but also you know, the animal kingdom experience and are influenced by but or not easily definable and are often unseeable, those things that are maybe just beyond the limits of perception. Do you think that you use a lot of intuition when you’re creating your work?
Quite possibly. I think intuition, it’s difficult to measure, if I use it a lot, or a little bit, but there’s always a scientific way of depicting something where it’s measurable, and repeatable. But this is a more poetic interpretation of a scientific idea that I’m more interested in seeing the poetry or the, the mystery of it, rather than focusing on what is measurable.
You work with neon in a number of your sculptures, and in your work called ‘One: all that we can see’, you refer to a contemporary physicist’s hypothesis, that dark matter and dark energy make up 95% of the universe. And normal visible matter makes up only 5%. Coming back to percentages. I love this idea, and I think it really encapsulates that theme that you play with in your work that you were just referring to. Can you talk a little bit about your neon work, that one and the others that you’ve made, and why you chose that as a medium to express some of those ideas?
The material of neon is really interesting. For that particular work, I used them because the idea and the material, both work together, it is about light. And it made sense to use a material that was illuminating; was light itself. And the circular neon called ‘One: all that we can see. It’s it’s a neon bent into a circle. And it’s a white tube, but 95% of it has been blacked out. And so only 5% of it is actually admitting light. And there’s all these pie charts online that refer to the idea that everything that we can see in the universe that is visible, that emits light, or that blocks light. So planets, dust, stars, and galaxies. They’re visible to us. But there’s a whole other world out there that makes up the other 95% that we can’t see. So it made this pie chart become an object that was light, and blackness as well. And the other neon light that depicts two neon lines, neon tubes, rather, that are in the shape of lines on the graph that I found that measure the intensity and duration of light on the summer and winter solstice. So they using a light to depict measurements of light. It just kind of came together. In that way when I was thinking about these lines and how to make them a physical object.
There’s a thread that runs through your work connecting individual experience with the enormity of the universe, and studies of biology and physics, and the forces that rule our universe. Ideas that are both all-encompassing, but also very intimate at the same time, connecting human experience with these giant, cosmological questions. You’ve suggested that maybe through sleep, or the unconscious or altered states of the mind that some of these big questions might be better understood. Can you talk a little bit about this idea and how that relates to your work?
I think the planetary movements and astronomical events that include the gravitational pull of the earth, the alignment of the planets, all these things seem quite big. And on an individual level, they don’t seem to affect us. But then we are deeply affected by the events of the universe and of our solar system. The fact that our Earth revolves around the Sun in a particular pattern, the 24 hour cycle, and a 365 and a half or and a quarter, day orbit, that that is affecting the way we have evolved as humans, but and it also affects our daily rituals, our sleep/wake rhythms… the rhythms of life on this earth are affected by astronomical events. So, I was thinking a lot over the years about sleep, and in the darkness and things that happen in the dark, while at the same time also becoming increasingly interested in astronomy and how this new research and old ideas being revived in astronomy that are being proven or disproven. And these two, these two areas of astronomy and sleep studies or sleep; the experience of the dark. They seem quite disparate, or they seem like they’re unrelated, but they’re completely related. And it took me some time to really marry those ideas together in a really succinct way. And when I came across the idea of sleep, being an astronomical event, it just, it seemed quite simple. Like, it was so obvious, I don’t know why it took me so long to bring those two together. But it is, it does demonstrate to me just how much we are affected by by nature and by what’s happening on this ball that we’re on the floating in space.
I love that idea of sleep as an astronomical event. It really ties that kind of universal with the very personal.
Have you ever played around with your circadian rhythms, you know, practice different sleep cycles or tried to emulate different sleeping patterns that animals and humans have had over the years?
I think I had a long hangover of my teenage years. I think well into my twenties I was sleeping really really late and waking up really late. I’ve worked really hard to adjust my sleep patterns and I’ve read a lot about how to improve my sleep quality as well as my sleep rhythms/cycles. It’s really hard for some people. And I’ve learned that some people… the idea of a night owls and and morning larks. In the book I read, called why we sleep by Dr. Matthew Walker, he refers to the to the night owls and skylarks when he’s talking about the studies that they’ve done on people, people’s sleep cycles. And they’ve put people in bunkers in complete darkness for weeks, I think. And I’m not sure how legal those studies would be now. But he refers to these old studies and they discovered that some people have a naturally 23-hour cycle and some people have a naturally 25-hour cycle. And that’s why we have that division of morning larks and night owls. And so it is hard to switch from being one to the other. And I think probably, like most people, I have a very complicated relationship with sleep. I drink too much coffee; I do all these studies and and then I ignore them all.
Yeah, I think sleep is something that feels like it comes naturally to most of us -obviously, there are sleep disorders and things- but try to mess with those things, it sounds so much easier in theory like wake when the sun comes up. And you know, it’s not always compatible with our lifestyles either. So…
No and Thomas Edison was famously afraid of the dark. And then he invented the light bulb, I’m pretty sure I have the right person. And and just how much that light has affected our sleep. Having light at nighttime when we should be producing higher melatonin levels to get ready for sleep and the light’s messing with that.
Oh, that is a very fun fact. Afraid of the dark. Oh, that’s a good motivation for invention, isn’t it? The passage of time and temporality is always present in your work in some form. So, you know, again, referencing those laws of nature, from the representation of data that tracks hours of sleep, to comparisons between seasonal daylight and the collection of thousands of opium poppy seeds from your own garden over several seasons, and it suggests a real durational work that sort of a thread through your practice. is time a medium for you that you consciously practice or is that part of your work?
Time is incredibly important to studies of sleep and to astronomy. And it’s something that’s really, I think, important in not only in my practice, but I think it’s a reflection on how much it is a factor in the way we live our lives. When people… we talk about time all the time.
Yeah, ha ha ha.
But we do we, there’s so many poems about time, there’s lots of stories about time travel, or… we don’t even really know what time is. I’ve started trying to read more and more about time, from a physicist’s point of view. And it’s very complicated. There’s an astronomer, I think, from the Middle Ages, his name escapes me, but he famously said that ‘if, if no one asks me, I know what time is. But when I’m, when I’m asked to explain it, I know not’. or something along those lines, and it is a mysterious force too, in a way we, we, we can stretch it to be quite long or short. And it seems malleable, but also something that just is like a current and just flows on, without, without any control. It’s beyond our control, in a way. And the whole idea of daylight saving time, it’s very interesting that that humans try to sort of control time, I think there’s all these political ideas of, of time to like the way we set our clocks to be synchronized to the Greenwich Mean Time, because that historically, that’s where they set these things up. And so that there’s it’s a very rich area to explore, and I’m sure I will keep exploring it. And yes, it does. There’s, there’s an element of time with the seasons and with the way that the Earth’s orbit affects the growing of things. So like the poppy seeds that I’ve been collecting, I have to wait for them, I can’t make them happen. They have their own time. And I have to work on their time, each season collecting the seeds, after they’ve sprouted and grown and bloomed and then losing their petals and then drying out. It’s kind of similar to the way an astronomer works. They can’t make the stars appear, they have to wait for them; we’re at the mercy of time.
Some of your work references the black swan metaphor, and uses swan symbolism either explicitly or implicitly. Can you talk a little bit about what the black swan means, in the context of your work?
The black swan, such a beautiful creature – again with the birds. The work of mine that uses the black swan, I think is quite different to everything else, in the way it appears. But there there are a lot of elements of it that follow the same thread. So the black swan was a mythical creature to Europeans, it didn’t exist. The oldest ones that we can see are white, and therefore there are no black swans. And then there was the discovery of the Antipodes and we had black swans in Australia. And it disproved this idea that was completely false. And so the black swans only live in Australia. There used to be black swans in New Zealand, I believe. But these swans were brought back to Europe as novelty pets, I think. But in my work, the way I’ve depicted the black swan is I’ve come across a memoir written by a great, great aunt of mine, who was a nurse, a World War 1 nurse. Before the war broke out. She was living in London. She’d moved from rural Western Australia to London, and was working as a nurse in the hospitals there and she joined the monster march of the suffragettes and she and other Western Australian nurses decided to make a banner. And on that banner, they depicted the black swan. And so they marched, holding this black swan in London. And it’s kind of this interesting for me that I mean, there’s obviously a political aspect of the story that I could have gone down, that I could have followed, and worked with more, but I was just drawn to the idea of this, what was a mythical creature, but is actually alive. And is such a beautiful creature, and then being marched on a banner down the streets of London. And it kind of is like a way of showing a mysterious force or, or sharing, or empowering, something that wasn’t seen; making something visible that was invisible.
Yeah. And on that ‘making something visible’, or, you know, sort of embodying something, your work often alludes to human presence, more implicitly, like the suggestion of a head impression on a pillow. And some of your works refer more overtly to bodies such as the use of masks. And that sort of directly references the corporeal as well as cultural practices. Can you tell me a little bit about cultural influences and how your formative years growing up in Indonesia helped shape some of your arts practice and some of those works that you’ve made with the masks?
Hmm. It’s an interesting question. I get asked a lot. What was it like growing up in Indonesia? And it’s a difficult question to answer because I need to be able to make a comparison. And that was my only experience really, I didn’t have two childhoods that I can compare. Grow growing up in Indonesia, I think, has had a lot of influence on my work, but not in any way that I deliberately make visible. It’s such a rich visual culture there, especially in Bali, which is where I lived, and masks and temples and flower arrangements, paintings, there’s just so much to see everywhere, and there’s a big element of animism. So the island practices Hinduism, but it’s a different kind of Hinduism, where it’s combined with a lot of Buddhism and animism as well. So the trees and rivers, they are personified, and they are revered. And they have spirits, things that we can’t see. But we, as the inhabitants of the island have to pay our respects to. And Bali is quite famous for the way that it depicts its culture through carvings and paintings. But I have been drawn more to the ideas of things that can’t be seen, but are acknowledged as having a presence. I don’t know if ‘being drawn to’ is even the right idea, I don’t think I ever made a conscious decision to incorporate that it kind of just became part of part of how I saw things.
And your work, I think you’ve made a couple of works that sort of hinted at the volcanoes that were part of that experience, and how that relates back to your ‘seen and unseen’, you know, on the surface and hidden beneath the surface sort of themes.
Yeah, I made my very first sculpture was a velveteen volcano, was four meters wide and almost two meters high or not quite. And it’s called ‘The Buildup’, which alludes to this powerful, unseen force deep below the volcano, deep below the earth. So we can see the volcano and the crater. But there’s this terror of the unknown when we see a volcano. We don’t actually know when it could spew up all of that lava and erupt and change everything around it. And it was definitely a big part of the landscape in Bali and the rest of Indonesia. And I think, returning again to the idea of things that we can see are affected by things that we can’t see. And we know that the invisible things are there, because of the way they affect things that we can see, kind of like consciousness and dark matter and dark energy. We don’t know what they are, but we know that they’re there because of the way they affect the things that we can observe.
Like gravitational pull, indeed, and the tides and everything connected. Yeah. Can you tell us a little bit about the new work that you’ve got in ACE Open in the exhibition called ‘If the future is to be worth anything’.
I’ve got a series of sculptures in the foyer of ACE Open, there’s two concrete sculptures, which take up the form of architectural models, and they’re black. And then there’s two other suspended works. One is a brass ring. And the other is a sheer organza piece of fabric that is hanging from the ceiling all the way to the ground, and it has a gold leaf circle embedded in the center of it. And these works, I was developing them, in my mind, I think for quite some time. And I started working with clay while I was away on residency last year in Berlin, and I bought a bag of clay because I knew that I could make a lot of different things and then just put it in a bucket and just smoosh it all down and reuse it and just kind of sketch out my ideas. So I started playing around with these forms that look like architectural sites that are used in cosmic spaces. So like observatories or temples, or just dark sky spaces, where we can observe the night sky with the naked eye. And there are temples that I have referred to in the making of this work. There’s also a site in India called the Jantar Mantar, which is actually a very scientifically accurate site where they have steps and towers that precisely align with certain times of the year, they precisely align with stars that they can observe. And it’s essentially one big sundial, in a way, and I haven’t visited this site, but I’ve seen images of it. And it resembles like a temple, but of science. And I was also exploring cathedrals, while I was away, and looking at thermal baths. And the way that these spaces, they create a mood, or have an atmosphere that is quite different to other spaces. They’re contemplative; there’s the sky and then or there’s the water, and just air. There’s just you in that space, either looking up, or looking in, to yourself. And so the site, the models that I’ve made from concrete, draw on a lot of these architectural spaces will and one, one of them in particular, does actually take the essential elements of a Water Temple in Bali, right next to my mother’s house where I grew up. It has the steps leading into the water. And it’s situated in a valley so the only view is up.
There’s a, particularly with the works that you’re talking about here, a very spiritual element. There’s sort of a, you know, the contrasting or maybe complementary relationship between science and spirituality. And humans sort of grappling with that. Again, these works as sort of have a disembodied, you know, like a suggestion of humans with, you know, steps leading down and things that are there for humans to interact with. But, but again, there’s that absence so that I suppose the audience can contemplate being in that space.
Yeah, that’s right. I think creating a model that is to scale would allow someone to sort of mentally walk through, walk through the space and imagine being in there to scale. I think we’re, we’re a pretty special creature, humans. I think there’s a there’s a lot of hatred, self-hatred, at the moment with with humanity. And rightly so. But I think we also need to appreciate the the specialness of being a being a human. I mean, my cat gazes up at the sky, but I don’t know if it’s the same kind of thing. There’s a lot of wonder and yearning for something beyond that is quite unique to us. We we create so many artifacts, there’s so many relics of spaces and objects that are reaching to the sky.
I think that’s a really nice place to wrap things up with with us gazing into the abyss lying back and looking up into the darkness with all the light and stars and the unknown around us. So thank you for for joining me today, Sundari.
Episode 5: Juanella McKenzie
In this episode, Kate interviews Port Augusta artist, Adnyamathanha and Luritja woman, Juanella McKenzie.
Juanella is the recipient of the Country Arts SA Breaking Ground Award, and speaks to her next steps in developing this work.
Episode 4: DIY Audio Tour
This episode actually doubles up as a do-it-yourself Audio Tour! You can follow along in real life with your headphones in, or simply enjoy tuning in like you would any other episode. Hear from Jacinta Koolmatrie as we roam the CBD and recontextualise some of Adelaide’s sculptures and monuments, visit Troy-Anthony Baylis’ Nomenclatures at the Art Gallery of South Australia and finish up at Nexus Arts with Makeda Duong’s exhibition Mixed Race Female. Each stop falls within Adelaide’s free tram zone and you can press pause as you move between them.
- Statues erase more history than they tell – Jacinta Koolmatrie
- White Australia Policy
- Art Gallery of South Australia
- Troy-Anthony Baylis: Nomenclatures at Art Gallery of South Australia
- Troy-Anthony Baylis (AGSA video)
- The National 2019
- Nomenclatures Act 1917
- Guildhouse fellowship (supported by the James & Diana Ramsay Foundation)
- The Castle (1997 film)
- David McDiarmid, When I want your opinion, I’ll give it to you, 1994
- Catalogue Essay by Daniel Mudie Cunningham
- Meet Your Maker: Troy-Anthony Baylis (Adelaide Review)
- Troy-Anthony Baylis – Instagram
- Nexus Arts
- Mixed Race Female at Nexus Arts
- Makeda Duong’s Mixed Race Sweater: I was born wearing one, and I can never take it off’ (Adelaide Review)
- Makeda Duong and the warp and weft of identity (CityMag)
- Makeda Duong – website
Episode 3: Textiles and Craftivism with Britt Burton & Sera Waters
Christina talks to Britt Burton, Public Programs Coordinator at the Centre of Democracy, and South Australian artist Sera Waters, about craftivism and textiles in art.
Episode 2: Artist Interview with Cassie Thring
- Floating Goose Studios Inc.
- ACSA (Australian Central School of Art)
- Carclew’s Pom Pom program
- Helping Hand (2017 Article)
- The Adelaide Review: Len Harvey is Young at Art
- Nicholas Hanisch
- Good News from Outer Space (praxis Artspace)
Music: ‘Pinky’ by Blue Dot Sessions via freemusicarchive.org