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).
Episode 31 / Carly Snoswell
In this episode, Steph catches up with Carly Snoswell to talk about her practice and her new show, Day One, at Post Office Projects. They trace the development of her practice from learning to sew as a kid, through art school, residencies, and studios – shoutout to the ‘art wives’! Tune in for some lovely musings on fandom, textile practice, and too many accidental sewing puns.
- Helpmann Academy Sanskriti Kendra Residency in New Delhi, India
- Jenna Pippett
- Kate Kurucz
- Roy Ananda
- Feelin’ Fine at CACSA Project Space
- Why artist Carly Snoswell thinks Beyonce is a Port Supporter – [Adelaide Review article]
- Crochet your Character
- Steph Cibich
- Rosina Possingham
- Since 1989 (Port Banner artwork) at Floating Goose Studios
- Day One, at Post Office Projects, Port Adelaide.
Hello and welcome to the SALA Podcast. My name is Steph and in this episode I caught up with artist Carly Snoswell.
All right, Carly, thank you for catching up with me to have a chat about your practice. I know we didn’t go to your studio because there are some very friendly budgies making noise, so [it’s] hilarious that there are magpies also singing outside. Hopefully they won’t interrupt us. But maybe you’ll feel right at home? Before we get started all acknowledge that we are meeting on Kaurna Land and pay respects to Elders past, present, and future, and you also work your studio and exhibitions often are on the same land as well?
All right. So where do we start? Should we do it chronologically and start with how you came to be an artist.
Sure. Well, I guess I grew up, always enjoying making things. So when I was a kid, I used to stitch lots of things. And I learned how to knit from my mom when I was like nine. And I think when I was 12, I got my first sewing machine. So they always really into textiles and those kinds of processes. You see they’re stitched by number kits. And then in high school, I remember really want to do fashion design, I wanted to go into that.
You were a cool kid!
Maybe. And I can’t really remember what kind of made me shift, I think going to art school was more, I guess, knowing that I could do any different kind of art making and not being limited. So it’s like, Oh, I could go to art school and do clothing or fashion if I wanted to. And actually ended up steering more towards sculpture and installation through the, what’s it called, bachelor of Visual Arts SA back in the day. And I think I finished up there in about 2012 with honors maybe. And then kind of following that did a couple of residencies overseas. And I guess through art school, like the textile course at UniSA wasn’t huge. Yeah. And I actually didn’t enjoy it a lot. Because it was a lot of things that I already knew, I didn’t feel like I was maybe pushing myself or learning new skills. So I ended up doing things like jewellery, and ceramics and printmaking and other kinds of techniques, and majored in sculpture. And so coming out of art school, I was doing a lot of sculpture and installation work. And it kind of wasn’t until I went to India through the Helpmann Residency, and then did another residency for six months in New York, that I started doing textile processes in my practice, I think kind of realizing that, ah, I can use these really humble making skills that I’d learned when I was a kid in my art practice, and also kind of trying to scale down my practice a bit because I was traveling and make smaller works that I could take home with me or could travel well. And I guess that’s sort of where the textiles came from in my work.
Yeah. So did you sort of have to make a decision to go actually, this is a worthwhile technique, because there is stigma attached to textiles.
Yeah, and I think maybe at the time, I wasn’t seeing a lot of textile work around when you know, if I’d go see exhibitions, or I’d see what was happening in the art world as a whole. Whereas now I think Textiles is really really big and popular. And it’s definitely kind of a more accepted and more. It’s kind of in fashion in
Yeah it’s very in vogue, excuse the pun.
Yeah, so then I was like: stuff it. I’m just gonna do it, because it’s what I enjoy doing the most.
Yeah, and you know, a lifelong thing. I definitely didn’t know how to sew at twelve.
Yeah, I made my first pair of pyjamas when I was twelve.
Gosh, you were way ahead of us. Yeah. Cool. And so rounding that out. So yes, you work in textiles. And so and what other mediums still influence your work or come into your work? Or has it shifted back and is it dominated by textiles?
It’s pretty dominated by textiles at the moment. There’s a bit of mixed media kind of stuff and you know, using objects or using collage or things like that, but generally it stays pretty textiles. I’m pretty I like I don’t know how to explain it. I like how I like textiles being, everything’s attached in some way or sewn or woven, or, like I couldn’t make things where things were just stuck down or painted on. Like, it would feel like cheating. Whenever I run workshops with kids and they’re like ‘I just want to to glue these on’ I’m like nah-ah, gotta stitch it.
That’s great. And so there’s quite a history with those mediums that you have, you know, got that familiarity with and honed over the years. But the actual themes of your work, I mean, a cross section, a glance at your website yields, you know, references to Beyonce, Port Power the football team, Lisa Simpson; what’s kind of the thread that’s run -excuse that pun also- What are those themes that you’re exploring?
Well, I guess I it all kind of started I was doing ah, I just remember being in my studio and wanting to practice this particular embroidery thread that I learnt in India. And
Like a stitch?
Yeah, a particular stitch and it’s a stitch they use to sew the mirrors onto their saris. And I didn’t want to do that, because I didn’t want to be just doing the same thing. I just was interested in that the way that that was stitched. But so I wanted to stitch something circular. And so I ended up having getting like a hole punch thing. That was like about an inch, you know, wide and had these Beyonce calendars. And so it was just about like
as you do
yeah, I love Beyonce. And so it was just like, had that in my studio. So I was like, Oh, I’m gonna use it with last year’s calendar.
Yeah, good, you wouldn’t want to butcher this year’s.
Yeah, and stuff started like punching out one of the image to get just a nice like, warped, pixelated picture of Beyonce and kind of stuck it down really loosely, so that I could then stitch it onto the fabric, as just a way of practicing. And then from that, I then, you know, started to, using the same stitching method, sewed sequins around it. And that slowly kind of grew and grew. And I was like, Well, I think there’s like something in this.
[in unison] …something in this.
Yeah. And, you know, I spoke to a few… I was at Mint Studios at the time, which is on used to be on Wright Street with Jenna Pippett and Kate Kurucz and they’re my art wives. So always talking to them about whatever I’m working on. And I was kind of like: I don’t know if this can be an exhibition, but I kind of really want it to be. And through a bit of like, talking with them and talking with some other artists and curators kind of got that encouragement of that, you know, ‘these are great’,
yeah and tease that out.
Yeah. And like, spoke to Roy Ananda about fandom and that started.
The guru. And really opened up this whole world that I kind of didn’t know about, but it was so in already. Yeah, I was like, oh, cool, like art can can just be about, like, these wonderful things that are part of our identity in our lives. And yeah, so that show
isn’t it terrible that that feels wrong?
I know and it’s like ‘oh but it’s not art’ and it’s like, but it is.
But it is, yeah.
and so that kind of grew into this big show that was at the CACSA Project Space back in the day. And so that was sort of my first big show on fandom and it was all about with these Beyonce kind of shrines, they ended up being
they were very shrine-y and fringy
Yeah so had all the like, kind of natty, you know, tacky, embellishments, which is really fun. And, yeah, following that, I was in like, Oh, this is, it was a new world for me. In terms of my practice, like previously, I’ve done a lot of work about the kind of repetitive processes in textiles or in sculpture making and how that can be meditative. But it didn’t go much further than that. And then this felt like that devotion and obsession would come through that fandom and into these objects. And so I wanted to research that more. So I ended up applying and doing my masters. And it was all on fandom. And that’s where Port Power and the Simpsons kind of came into it. Because they’re two of my, well that and Beyonce are three of my biggest kind of fandoms. And they are all from such different worlds and different meanings to me. And so yeah, through that, I wrote my thesis and had my exhibition, ‘Beyonce is a Port Supporter’.
I love it
And that was all about projecting your own fandoms onto like, other fan… people.
it’s like this intersection isn’t it.
Yeah, like well, I’m a Port supporter, so Beyonce would have to be a Port supporter, right? Yeah.
Yeah. And that’s nice, because it is that proximity of the thing that you’re so invested in? Yeah, well, of course. Yeah. I can speak for us all.
I have kids ask me and they’re like “IS she a Port Supporter?” I’m like, yeah!
I’ll ask her; I’ve got her on speed dial. That’s so good.
Um, Yeah, and so I guess, through that, just researching, fandom more and finding the particular niche subcultures of fandom and how, particularly the kind of fan textile and handicrafting community is quite large and quite strong in there’s so many different little pockets in there of different amazing things.
Well I loved the… self confessed: I don’t know anything about football- but reading a little bit about the banner making and how interesting and ritual or you know what that process is like.
Yeah, well, I went and attended and participated in the banner making back in 2017, or 18.
And it’s the one that the players run through, isn’t it?
Yeah. And so that’s all part of it is like these people that make the banner. They do it in two hours as well. Phenomenal. Yeah, like, yeah, the size of a basketball court. And they do it in like a gym. Yeah, on the basketball court. And everyone has their like job and their role, like there’s people who do the big background, there’s other people who do the letters, and everyone knows what they’re doing. Everyone has like a place and a purpose. And they’re all there for this joint love of this footy team, and for a lot of them
for this thing that will be broken.
for this thing that will only last for like, five minutes on game day. But it’s all part that’s such a huge part of their identity is loving Port Adelaide and being part of that community. I felt so heartbroken for them the last few years when banners weren’t able to be made for the game, since like, for them, that would be a highlight of their week as well. And such it’s not about the like, actual physical thing. It’s about coming together as a community. And I think that’s what I really liked as well, is like making something together, and that connection you have with people. So that’s something that I try and strive for in my work as well. That kind of…
well I guess that object kind of represents that devotion? – broken or not.
Yeah. Well in this not many clubs that still do that anymore. Like a lot of them have, you know, reusable banners, they stick lettering on or stick things on
which is admirable
which is better for the environment
yes, just like as much as that is probably a smarter thing to do. It’s just like, doesn’t have that feeling. Yeah.
That’s I guess that’s what it is. It’s capturing that. Yeah, that feeling.
Then, interesting. I’m definitely jumping around a bit here. But the Crochet Your Character project with Steph Cibich, and a few other hands involved. Like that was interesting that it built on your practice a bit more in that you then got audiences involved in the making. They weren’t just witnessing it or being told how great it was. It’s like, No, you’re involved now. Can you tell me a little about that?
Yeah. Well, Steph invited me to be part of that project. And I think it was immediately following my master’s degree. And I was super kind of hesitant, but interested. And I was like, Oh, I don’t really know what to do for this, but it sounds really interesting. And so I had to, like, really think about my practice, because, you know, the work I make is so detailed and involved. Like, I can’t make, like 100 artworks to fill a vending machine, because I don’t know how I would do that and be able to keep the like integrity of my work. And, you know, it’s a bit, it’s different if you make something that’s easy to replicate, like on a physical level, but my work just isn’t like that. So, and I had been to Japan on a residency not long before that. And I was super interested in the vending machines in Japan, and a lot of the kinda, they do a lot of the, like, lucky dip kind of thing, where you just get a thing and you don’t know it’s gonna be a mystery box, or there’s another word for them… anyway. And so, I had made the Lisa Simpson coat as part of my masters
which part of the research had been looking at these crochet and knitting patterns that fans make for fans to make their own fan object. So it’s like, as a fan, creating something that other fans can engage with their own fans? So this is funny, like, it’s not making something of that thing that someone just buys and has, it is about making an experience. Or making the experience of fandom. Yeah. Which is a little bit like convoluted and funny, but so that’s like, oh, I can make something similar or like making the experience of making one of those artworks. So through that I developed the crochet pattern and made these little kits. And yeah, I worked really closely with Steph and Poss, Rosina Possingham, on the kind of graphics of it all. So to make it this really cool packaging design, because we wanted it to be accessible as well. But then still wanting to make some kind of artwork for it. So I did, part of it was like one in 10 of the packs contains a mini artwork. So it’s like you could get the kit to make your own or like, you could be lucky and win the little artwork. So I liked that kind of chance element to it as well, which was really fun. And then it was fun seeing people get them and, you know, show them unboxing it and if they got the prize, or I think the like only one little downside is crocheting can be quite tricky. Some people, like got them for their kids, and they’re like, oh, it’s way too hard. I was like, yeah, it’s not super appropriate for like little kids.
They might come back to it
But then some, you know, diehard crocheters and craftspeople out there would send me their little creations and got Yeah, quite a handful of funny little creatures, which is really, really nice. And yeah, it just went absolutely bonkers. Like, it sold out in a week I think of being at the art gallery, and we’re like, Oh, my God. So I’m madly. Steph was like making packages like putting kits together and I was madly crocheting little artworks.
Will I mean, yeah, that went pretty good then.
Yeah, I think in the end, like, it was about 500 or so that was sold through the thing. And So I was making like 50 little characters.
Wow You had to be productive.
Yeah, I felt, I did feel like a bit of a machine.
yeah you were the machine!
And now, by the time anyone listens to this, it will be SALA Festival and your exhibition at POP / Post Office Projects will either be open or nearly open. Can you tell us about this body of work? Because it’s yeah, it’s been a little bit since your graduate work. And it feels like it’ll be a big one.
Yeah. So it’s yeah, it’s been a while since I’ve had kind of a major show of just my work or something that’s not in a group show or like another kind of workshop project or something. And there has been probably a bit of a kind of thematic shift in my practice in the past couple of years. So this work is basically exploring themes of fertility, motherhood and homemaking through small textile pieces. So basically, for the last couple of years, I’ve been tracking my menstrual cycles, for fertility reasons, and also health reasons. And I guess through that tracking, I found myself quite obsessed with this idea of like, ‘what day am I in my cycle?’ And ‘what does that mean?’ And what ‘how should I be feeling?’ And ‘what should my body be doing right now’ and going through this like, real emotional up and down, both of hormones and then of kind of wanting something and then feeling like a failed or feeling like things aren’t going to plan? And so I guess I wanted to harness that obsession into something. And in a similar way to the fandom and that kind of idea of obsession and devotion, creating something out of love, this was out of something cathartic for me, was making these pieces. So taking kind of all of these, these numbers and tracking and making something helpful out of it, I suppose. Because often the kind of obsessiveness can be really unhelpful too, but it’s hard to like break out of it.
yeah, or do something with that.
Yeah. Yeah. So yeah, for the show. It’s going to be I think, about 25 to 30 works, each work representing one of my cycles over the past couple of years. And with the numbers reflecting like the length of each cycle, so you know, one piece will be say, have 24 on it in some way. And one piece might have 28 and kind of goes, fluctuates between all those different numbers and
That’s quite a lot of time represented, isn’t it?
Yeah. Yeah. And kind of looking at that as like this idea of passing of time, but also, I guess, giving a bit of a moment each of those cycles and
everything that was in that
yeah, and giving some importance to the, the tracking of it all and the you know, it’s something that a lot of people don’t talk about a lot as well. And so trying to give voice to all those feelings and emotions,
yeah, all the energy spent. Yeah. And there’s such a nice, well, nice, interesting parallel between, you know, how disciplined and meticulous and constant you’d have to be with that tracking. And, you know, this sort of similar devotion then of the techniques of textiles. And there’s sort of data in that, you know, yeah, -I don’t know a lot about individual stitches- like on-one-off-one or whatever. There’s some sort of parallel there, I’m sure. Yeah. And just that discipline, I guess. And it’s quite interesting.
Yeah. Well I like to kind of set myself challenges when I’ve got projects or shows or big work sort of having like, I want to do this much. And so I guess it seemed like a really mammoth task at the beginning. And now that I’ve kind of gone through it and coming out the other side. It was a lot, but it felt like it needed to be done as well. So yeah,
I love that you’re like, ‘I’m going to do this impossible thing’. And just do it.
It always works out.
Oh, dear. I know, you said that the theme of this work is a bit of a departure from what you’ve done in the past. Are there any -I’m trying not to say the word ‘threads’- running through that? I mean, perhaps not specifically to fandom, but through that honoring of textile or anything like that?
Um, yeah, I think, because I did think it was like a huge departure, like you said, and making something quite different. But I guess I can see the connections between that sort of obsessiveness and repetition, and using textiles and craft making as a means of pouring those kind of feelings and emotions into something. And then, similarly, I think, in my past work, I’ve used a lot of, you know, traditional ‘woman’s work’ techniques, in a way of like, elevating that crafts, making techniques to a more, you know, high art. Yeah, that kind of the dissection between highbrow and lowbrow still follows through in a lot of my work and still seeing it. And I guess it’s that same of like it follows that kind of idea follows through in lots of maybe health concerns, or, you know, with ideas of fertility or health concerns of people with uteruses. And those kind of challenges that in the past, people wouldn’t speak about, because like, ‘oh, no, no, that’s TMI’. And that’s, you know, that’s not our business. So we don’t talk about that, or it’s like, uncomfortable or a bit,
it is almost a similar dismissal of
Yeah, and you know, those things traditionally happen to women as well, which is a kind of common theme in all these things. So, like, I work with lots of different people of different ages in my kind of other jobs and have had some, like, older people say to me, like, ‘Oh, why would you want to talk about that?’ Because coming from a very different generation, it’s just not spoken about. And it’s quite amazing how, through making this kind of work, and having these conversations with people so much is, so many people are coming to me and talking to me about all these things I had no idea about within their lives. And I think, which is really nice to
like a catalyst
Yeah, I guess for people to share and say, oh, yeah, you know, ‘so and so I know went through all this’ or ‘I’ve had similar struggles with this health thing’ or, you know, giving people permission to talk about it as well, which I think is nice
if they hadn’t had the space before to be able to share that. It’s so interesting.
I know that you said that you had some great interactions with the vending machine works. But do you have any other great, maybe in-gallery memories of people interacting with what you’ve made?
Yeah. I think making work about fandom is always good, because it’s a point of entry for the people. And that’s always a goal of mine, when I’m making art or thinking about art, is trying to make things accessible and I don’t want to be excluding people and thinking art isn’t their thing or something. And yeah, particularly when I had the big Port Adelaide banner at Floating Goose. And that was part of SALA in 2018, I think. And yeah, it would sometimes get like people walk off the street that just like, oh, this is about Port Adelaide, isn’t it? I’d be like, Yep!
So good because that’s got the, Floating Goose is just all one window on one side.
Yeah such a great frontage in such a public space, which is really good.
And that was a very glimmery work, real visual feast.
Yeah, And it was just fun to then talk to people about it in that way of ‘Oh, and this is art?’ like, yeah, sure is.
That’s so Good.
So that’s always a fun, I guess, side product of making art. That things that are Yeah, just, you know, pop culture.
That they are probably also fans of as well. Yeah. It’s funny connections. Because I think yeah, I think you did talk about in some past interview about the that nature of the fandom and those connections can be unlikely but then so intense based on you know, that inherent knowledge of you know, whether it’s Simpsons quotes, or, like knowing, you know, you’ve always got that friend that go or they’ll love this, you know, little niche little meme or something like
that. And I, I always, I do make a lot of particular Simpsons works, that are works that are kind of like little nuggets for fans of Easter and other people like, that doesn’t make sense. Yes, it does.
But it’s worth it for the one person that goes,
yeah, pretty much just Roy and Jules. Yeah.
Hahah Roy you’ve been outed. Love it. Well, thank you for chatting to me. Can you let us know for anyone who’s been intrigued by this conversation: where can we follow along with your work? And and where is the show again, this SALA?
The show will be at Post Office Projects (POP), which is in Port Adelaide, St. Vincent Street. And yeah, so people can find out more about my practice on my website, which is just http://www.carlysnoswell.com/. They can look at my Instagram, but I haven’t really been using it lately.
We’re all guilty of that.
Yeah. So trying to kind of separate myself from that sometimes, but But yeah, I plan to start some kind of mailing lists. Hopefully.
All right. Thanks so much Carly
No worries, thank you.
Episode 30 / Mark Valenzuela
In this episode, Andrew Purvis chats with Mark about his journey as an artist and his current exhibition, ‘Still Tied to a Tree’ at Adelaide Central Gallery. Tune in to hear about his influences and connections to his practice – from Filipino culture, to chess, to the fictitious villain General Zod.
- 2022 SALA Feature Artist
- Still Tied to a Tree at Adelaide Central Gallery
- Book: Mark Valenzuela by Belinda Howden, Anna O’Loughlin [Wakefield Press]
- Paul Pfieffer
- Cristina Taniguchi, Maria Taniguchi
- General Zod [Wikipedia]
- Agimat (amulet) [Wikipedia
- Opposition (direct opposition) in chess [Wikipedia]
Kate Moskwa 00:01
Hello and welcome to the SALA podcast. Each year SALA’s Feature Artist is aligned with the recipient of the SA Living Artist publication. This year, that’s Mark Valenzuela. In addition to this publication, his work is featured in a solo exhibition at Adelaide Central Gallery. Please enjoy this interview about this exhibition and his practice.
Andrew Purvis 00:42
I’d like to begin by acknowledging that the land we meet on today is the traditional lands of the Kaurna People, and we pay our respects to Aboriginal Elders past, present and emerging. We pay a special welcome to any First Nations Peoples joining us today. Adelaide Central School of Art is very proud to be hosting the SALA Feature Artists for 2022, Mark Valenzuela. Not only has Mark pulled off a pretty spectacular installation of work in our gallery with his exhibition, Still Tied to a Tree, but this year sees the publication of Mark’s new monograph, which has been written by Belinda Howden and Anna O’Loughlin. And you also have an installation of work at the Art Gallery of South Australia Mark. This talk is happening outside of the gallery for the simple reason that it is just so full of work at the moment that we couldn’t possibly hope to cram all of you in there, alongside an exhibition full of drawing, painting, ceramic and installation work. If you haven’t had the chance already, I urge you after the talk to head on in there and check out the show. But, Mark, I thought for our conversation today… Hello, welcome.
Mark Valenzuela 01:56
Hi. Thank you. Thank you, Andrew.
Andrew Purvis 01:59
It might be an seeing that this exhibition and this conversation is happening at an art school. I thought we could start by talking a little bit about your own training in visual arts. Yeah. So reading an essay in your monograph, I can see that you didn’t have access to a visual arts course at your university in Dumaguete City in the Philippines, you had to design your own arts training, didn’t you?
Mark Valenzuela 02:21
Andrew Purvis 02:23
Can you tell us a bit about that?
Mark Valenzuela 02:24
Yeah, sure. Well, there was Dumaguete is the central part of the Philippines. And that’s how I met Anna as well. And that’s where I met Anna. And it’s a small town, university town. And there’s plenty of writers it’s sort of like the center of the writing world in the, in the Philippines. But the problem is, there’s no fine arts there yet. So during my time -at the moment, there’s two or three now- but during my time, there’s no fine art. So the closest to fine arts was engineering. But before that, I even went to accountancy and management.
Andrew Purvis 03:07
These are not things that people consider very proximal to the visual arts.
Mark Valenzuela 03:11
Not very, but in terms of materials. The reason why I took engineering because of yes, the closest thing to fine arts. Because of that, they talk a lot about materials and research about different materials. And I said to myself, like, oh, this could be the best approach to it. But other than that, I’m also practicing by myself already by going to, you know, sorry, you’re not meant to do this, but, stealing books in the library. In the Philippines, you can’t borrow books, you can’t bring it home, so or else you’re going to be staying in the library, up to 7pm or 9pm, during weekend. So in order for me to access all of that, I have to throw them in the window, and then yeah, but I return them. So. So that’s one way of educating myself in art.
Andrew Purvis 04:03
I love that we’re starting off this conversation with a confession.
Mark Valenzuela 04:06
Andrew Purvis 04:07
I think you had a pretty interesting strategy for the books that you selected as well by examining the library cards as to who’d been reading them in the past?
Mark Valenzuela 04:17
Well yeah. Yeah, yeah. So I look at the artists that I admired, because in that town, it’s actually an art, art, art artists’ haven. So people like Paul Pfeiffer used to study there. And you know, work. Cristina Taniguchi and her daughter, Maria Taniguchi. They’re pretty well known in the art world at the moment. And and I just look at the names that, you know,
Andrew Purvis 04:17
yeah. So you’ve read everything that Paul Pfeiffer’s read.
Mark Valenzuela 04:42
Yeah. I think so.
Andrew Purvis 04:48
I think the fact that you are self taught and you kind of designed your own artistic course probably explains a lot about the diversity of your practice; you seem equally equipped to work across drawing, painting, ceramic objects. But this was all self taught by you?
Andrew Purvis 05:04
Well you were telling me about this and I found it really interesting: the access to materials and this concern with materials that drove you towards engineering, it is quite a different environment that we might take for granted here in Australia, to collect materials to pursue your ceramic practice was a lot more involved than going over to the shop that’s adjacent to an art school and buying a kilo of clay. What what would be involved for you?
Mark Valenzuela 05:04
Yeah, it is. The reason why I’m doing drawings and paintings a lot in my previous life is that because that’s the only it’s quite conservative the place as well. So, you know, it’s still painting, painting and drawing drawing. So that’s why it’s probably a good one because I was able to really learn more about drawings. But way before then I’ve been drawing and making paintings. But when I went to the study, when I went studying in the university in Silliman University, provide me a lot of competitions, because there’s a lot of people like creative people around. So yeah. And then, of course, engineering, ceramic. That’s how I learned about it
Mark Valenzuela 06:11
Well, I used to gather my own my own materials, like I source my own clay, I dig my own clay, I go to the mountains and look for clay paddy, that works with my work, but it’s just basically terracotta, like, lower firing clay. And before I went to engineering, it’s all about just, you know, randomly learning it on the spot, like, but engineering provide me a research background to my practice. So like, I tested clay and how high I can reached temperature with the local clay we had. And it’s a bucket material is, everybody knows, Clay, if you’re, if you’re in the Philippines, like everybody knows terracotta, everybody does use terracotta as a material for the, for their practice, because you can really access it. Like you can access it in your backyard. And indeed and that was a start. And then I go on and on and processing my own clay, drying my own clay, building my own kilns, and yeah,
Andrew Purvis 07:16
I think that sort of DIY ethos of having to make do with what you’ve got, but also not stop with what you’ve got. But to actually sort of like build your own kiln and your own firing.
Mark Valenzuela 07:27
Andrew Purvis 07:27
Equipment and things like that has really served you well, in your practice, it has opened up doors to not being limited by processes that you’ve been taught or materials or facilities that you have available to you.
Mark Valenzuela 07:39
Yeah, it does. And also like, it gave me a like, unlimited resources of creativity, because during the process, the process itself is an art practice. And it’s an art form, you know, like even building a kiln, there was a time that I build the kiln around the work. And when I noticed that it like, oh, the work inside looks really good. But the outside too, you know, the kiln itself, and the art to firing as well. So, so on the way, there’s plenty of things like you sometimes, you know, take it for granted in exhibitions because an exhibition is a product or it’s an object. But there’s a lot of things going around that or before that before you see the object,
Andrew Purvis 08:31
or the process of the making the work can be as interesting
Mark Valenzuela 08:34
or even more interesting. So yeah, for me.
Andrew Purvis 08:38
When you were in the Philippines, a lot of your activities and some of the work you were making was tied up as your role as a protester and thinking about that political dimension of your work, did that heavily influence your art practice?
Mark Valenzuela 08:52
Yeah, with us? All everything in the Philippines again, as well. Sorry, if I keep on mentioning the Philippines, because I live there.
Andrew Purvis 08:59
It’s pretty fundamental to you, to your life!
Mark Valenzuela 09:01
I lived there for 32 years. So anyway, up almost everybody like artists, I know, it is a big part of their practice, because it’s the only way to actually change the system. So artists plays a big role in the Philippines, like they are the front-liners of change in my country. Right. Yeah. So this speak a lot about the administration, whoever the administration, who said whoever running the administration, so and I’m part of that, so and, yeah,
Andrew Purvis 09:36
So it’s an ongoing thing for you.
Mark Valenzuela 09:37
Ongoing thing for me. And so I go in and out of that, because sometimes it can be scary, too. But yeah, and
Andrew Purvis 09:44
and dangerous for you
Mark Valenzuela 09:45
and dangerous for some artists. But yes, part of our, the way we operate our practice.
Andrew Purvis 09:54
And I mean, I think that that goes back to that point that you were making about the process of making work. A lot of political work gains its power by how and where it’s engaged with, it’s often exhibited in the public space. It might be displayed at demonstrations or things like that. And I think that that’s something that is part of your practice as well, this idea of A) putting work in the public space. But also this real concern about the performance of installation or display. Can you tell us a little bit about maybe the works of yours that you’ve made in public space? And how that works?
Mark Valenzuela 10:32
are talking about the Philippines?
Andrew Purvis 10:34
We can talk about Philippines or here. Yeah.
Mark Valenzuela 10:36
So the ones that I made here is, yeah, so it’s reinforced by my act of putting works around public places and public spaces. And I get fascinated, I guess, this this these things are quite -to be honest- came later in my practice. So and that’s the reason why probably because the when I started exhibiting in Manila, Manila could be like there’s hundreds of exhibitions every day, and… No not every day, every week. But there’s a lot of exhibitions, hundreds of galleries, and you can you can even make a living out of it, you know, like, you know what, I mean? You don’t have to cook dinner, you just go exhibitions every night, so
Andrew Purvis 11:23
Oh that kind of living, Okay, all right. I think that was different from what everyone was imagining.
Mark Valenzuela 11:30
And and yeah, so it’s very space-bound. Not very performative. There are few, but you can only count them in the fingers on your in your fingers. So when I came here, this provide me a lot of having a big spaces to do things and, you know, your work don’t get damaged or you know, things like that. So there’s a lot of freedom in the street to so there are spaces like that in the Philippines. But as far as I said, it’s not that much compared here. So most of my, the street part of my work is actually when I moved in Australia and visited Indonesia as well, because Indonesia is very big in performative art and street art as well. So yeah.
Andrew Purvis 12:22
And when we’re talking about here, you the street art that you’re exhibiting, it can range from stencils, but also include some ceramic, which is pretty unusual.
Mark Valenzuela 12:30
Yeah, yeah, yeah, definitely. Because it’s the idea of occupying space. So yeah, so the object will leave it there. To it occupies space for a little bit. But sometimes forever. And, yeah. So and then and then stencils of course. The only problem with stencils is that it occupies space longer, because with ceramic, it becomes an object. And people love objects.
Andrew Purvis 12:33
Mark Valenzuela 13:04
Andrew Purvis 13:08
But this idea of territoriality, of occupying space is certainly something that is very much an undercurrent of the current exhibition. But it runs through quite a lot of your work. Do you want to talk about how that idea of territoriality stems from both your upbringing, your life in the Philippines and what you encountered when you came to Australia? Those differences in public space maybe.
Mark Valenzuela 13:35
Yeah, that’s a very difficult question. Yes. Well, I’ve been talking about territoriality in my work for like, ages already. And that’s probably because of my upbringing as well. And I live again, I came from the Philippines and the Philippines is always subject for outside forces all the time. So there’s always, you know,
Andrew Purvis 14:01
there’s colonial influences
Mark Valenzuela 14:02
yeah, yeah. And there’s always a threat of invasion, you know, like people grab our lands and stuff like that. So that’s an ongoing problem and phenomenon in the Philippines, even up to now. So that probably is one major reason as well. So and but also my dad used to be in the military. So there’s a lot of that. There’s a lot of that. And when I came here, it’s a different world again, right. So the way we define the rat race here is very different again.
Andrew Purvis 14:34
Yeah. From our conversations, it ranges from this geopolitical sense of like national boundaries and territorial borders. But also when you arrived in Australia, you were telling me about the way public spaces divided up the sort of backyard fence; the difference between noise and density you experience in the Philippines as you experience here. Can you talk a little bit about that that different experience into the environment, of moving through these different cities.
Mark Valenzuela 15:04
You know, the I forget that the which, which Superman movie it was like when General Zod came to Earth and sort of like the
Andrew Purvis 15:20
is that with the Phantom Zone
Mark Valenzuela 15:20
Yeah, and chasing Superman somewhere. And that the edge of Superman is that his system adjusted already to the environment. He can hear things but he can also block things. Like, you know, background noise
Andrew Purvis 15:35
his super hearing is so sensitive but he’s learned to live in a noisy planet.
Mark Valenzuela 15:41
Yeah. So and then Zod can’t take that right, because it’s new for him. So it’s a bit like that for me, you know, and I’m not saying that I’m Superman or
Andrew Purvis 15:48
you’re General Zod!
Mark Valenzuela 15:50
you know, but it’s a bit like that for me, like, you know, I even made a show about that called Terraforming. So it’s about, you know, how you adapt a space, right. And then also, when you come to a space, there’s a pre-existing noise or background noise that you it’s you’re not accustomed to, you know? In the Philippines we hear a lot of background noise like roosters crowing because they’re farmed and farmed to fight, and stray dogs, hundreds and millions of stray dogs and stray animals and then and of course, we live really close to each other, you know, that provided us, you know, like a beautiful background noise that I sort of missed. When I came, I used to be critical about that when I was there. Because there’s some there’s no private space, you know, like, When can I have privacy? I have to climb a mountain, -which is for real- I have to climb a mountain to get my own space, you know? So yeah,
Andrew Purvis 16:50
and you can get some clay while you’re there.
Mark Valenzuela 16:52
Yeah. But here when I arrived here, it’s a bit different. It’s so quiet for me. And I can hear my, you know, my tummy rumbling. You know, I can hear it. Like literally, I told my friends about it. One in Thailand said like, ‘isn’t that beautiful? You can hear you can hear everything?’ Yeah, it’s beautiful. But sometimes also it could be isolating as well. Oh, you hear a lot? You see a lot. I know. Yeah, you hear a lot. You see a lot, but not so much noise that so much background noise, but you hear a lot. Because everything gets magnified.
Andrew Purvis 17:32
Yesah, To use another superhero analogy, it’s a bit like Daredevil, who’s able, whose smell and hearing is more amplified and can sort of like pick up on things that other people don’t notice. But there’s a really nice work in the Still Tied to a Tree exhibition, which is the ceramic leaf blower and on the end of the leaf blower is a is not a nozzle to blow air, but is a human ear.
Mark Valenzuela 17:56
Yeah. So the human ear is like way, way back, to my probably 10 years in my practice. But I just use the ears now as you know, as leaves. I made this leaf blower actually inspired by a work because of this guy
Andrew Purvis 18:15
You’d better say who this guy is, for the recording
Mark Valenzuela 18:17
It’s Andrew Stock. And he showed me this work of a student of yours?
Andrew Stock 18:23
Mark Valenzuela 18:24
That is a leaf blower. And I said to myself, Oh, this is really I thought this was really an Australian thing, you know. So in my neighborhood, like, wherever I go, I can hear leaf blowers -that’s probably the new background noise. And it’s beautiful, because I tried it. It’s beautiful when you’re on the side where the trigger is, you know, but if you’re the opposite of that side, it’s not so much. It’s very, like annoying. So that’s probably is the the background noise that I’m talking about here.
Andrew Purvis 18:54
And it’s a background noise that speaks so much about control of space and sort of like pushing the leaf out of your little plot of land and things and
Mark Valenzuela 19:01
and making everything tidy. Yeah, yeah. Has to be tidy.
Andrew Purvis 19:10
So that that leaf blower, the human ear, I think evokes a lot of your your work which, while it can deal with political ideas, they’re often couched in very surreal, sometimes humorous, but often disturbing imagery. Can you tell us where these strange creatures, severed body parts, and sort of odd amalgamations come from? Is that just the way your mind works or?
Mark Valenzuela 19:34
Yeah, a little bit of that, yeah. Probably drinking so much coffee as well. No, another thing is animism, which is again during the pre-colonial Philippines, that’s our belief system. And even now, you know, when the Spanish arrived during the 1500s, they brought in another belief system which is Christianity, and then Islam as well came in from the south. And all of these, you know, get sort of like, mixed up with animism. So our belief system now is quite combination of those different religious belief system and, and plus animism. So I’m quite familiar with it. So that’s another thing like in terms of figuration when people make in the Philippines, you can say you can see like, oh, it looks very surreal was actually way, way before then. Yeah. Because it’s, it’s about our culture before… before colonialism. So. So there’s a lot of we believe in, like, the world is inhabited by good and bad spirits. Like, almost everything, even natural disasters or natural phenomenon. Like, we believe that that’s the spirit guiding that or
Andrew Purvis 20:56
and objects as well
Mark Valenzuela 20:57
and objects as well. So that’s why my work is like that, like, they look like, you know, animated objects, you know?
Andrew Purvis 21:06
Yeah. And it feels less unusual if these objects like a leaf blower suddenly takes on this kind of organic life of its own. That’s really interesting.
Mark Valenzuela 21:16
Yeah. So, and then also, the way I put my works together, even I have this big idea, but in between the works this tiny little, yeah. meanings into it. And I love I love that in my work as well. So and then in in that is, again, that is again, very backed up by the by my my background, cultural background, which is, you know, mythology belief system and stuff like that. So, if you go in the exhibition there, that particular work there in front of you, the banana heart that is
Andrew Purvis 22:04
so Mark’s referring to the banana hearts that are suspended inside these steel armatures that kind of that hold them in place and look like they’re kind of draining them
Mark Valenzuela 22:13
That’s really an amazing work, not because it’s my work, but I just love I just love the way I was able to manipulate the material or the whole, the whole idea and put it here. And, and it’s actually those three banana heart there that the transformation of the banana heart into this… you know, Superman, what do you call that, the logo of Superman?
Andrew Purvis 22:41
yeah, Superman’s sort of chest emblem with the ‘S’ inside
Mark Valenzuela 22:44
And then it turned into that,
Andrew Purvis 22:47
yeah, so they object to that marks describing as a banana heart that on one side features the silhouette of Superman’s distinctive sort of diamond shaped chest emblem, that then morphs into an intermediate shape and then finally changes into the ace of spades,
Mark Valenzuela 23:03
the ace of spades.
Andrew Purvis 23:04
Yeah, and I really like that work because there is such a kind of polar philosophical difference between what Superman represents and what the ace of spades, that sort of reset Motorhead kind of symbol of chaos maybe?
Mark Valenzuela 23:17
Yeah or even, you know, the spikes of gates and fences? Yeah, so, there’s a lot of, you know, there’s a lot of, again, that goes back again to territoriality and gatekeeping. Again, which is big, big, you know, layer in my work. Yeah. And, and, and I tell you a little bit of story of the mythology behind bananas.
Andrew Purvis 23:37
Please, Yeah. Go for it
Mark Valenzuela 23:38
Well, it’s, it’s, at a certain time, you have to catch this sort of like a pearl before the banana heart blooms. So according to our belief system, way before the Spaniards again, you have to catch it on the right time, and to give you like spiritual… if you catch up on the right time, you have to wait there under the banana tree or the banana shrub. You have to wait for that little pearl or sort of like
Andrew Purvis 24:11
Mark Valenzuela 24:12
that drops from the bottom of the banana heart before it blooms. And it gives you it was believed that it gives you a supernatural powers like powers and makes you invincible and somehow like, you know, impenetrable by bullets and stuff like so. So amulets and stuff are, you know, big thing in the Philippines too.
Andrew Purvis 24:35
Wow. So that artwork is sort of showing an almost kind of mechanized factory production system to extract that mystical essence.
Mark Valenzuela 24:44
Yeah. And based on an animism again, there will be like creatures from the underworld waiting for it as well. Like, but they cannot access it directly, they have to wait for a human being to catch that right moment before it drops. And then suddenly they’ll take -these creatures waiting- will take that away from the whoever capture it. So this, I like the metaphor of that in terms of a lot of things in the Philippines and here from patriarchy, you know, even violence as well as well sort of like accepted phenomenon.
Andrew Purvis 25:23
I think that’s an interesting thing to touch on, because while your work is very dense with this kind of mythological and cultural elusions, there’s also an undercurrent of violence in in a lot of your work, these sort of severed body parts, but also, the current show is filled with these ceramic versions of curved rebar that have been bent into butcher’s hooks. What does this motif of like the butcher’s hook, and this kind of undercurrent of violence represent in your in your practice?
Mark Valenzuela 25:51
Well, violence and fragility, they go hand in hand. So and that’s one reason why you ceramic, so I just use the object without, so I’ve been using ceramic for that reason. And, and violence, obviously, it’s my background again. So you know, and how, you know, the beauty of clay, the beauty of clay is that it can, it can mold it, it can, it’s very malleable, you can touch it, and it’s very therapeutic at some point. But you can also freeze its form. And you can also mimic other materials without losing its, you know, its own personal characteristic and identity. And you put it in a kiln, when you put in the kiln, it becomes an object. Because you fired it, becomes solid, and yeah, it lasts forever. But if you drop it, it breaks. So there’s a lot of, sort of, like violence in the material, if you if you just look into the material itself, and even firing in a kiln. I mean, who wants to be inside a kiln?
Andrew Purvis 26:58
Mark Valenzuela 26:59
So yeah, so I love that with clay, I love that. And, and then the butcher’s hook, of course, like when you look at the butcher’s hooks it’s… the form itself is very violent already. And then, and then you get this hooks made of clay. For me, that’s really fascinating. The, the, you know, the opposite. Sort of like they have opposite, you know, purpose somehow, you know, like, the butcher’s hook has to stand weight, and, you know, and then but Clay; Clay defies it by saying like, ‘Oh, it’s fragile’. In the streets in the Philippines, it’s a lot of butchery, metaphorically and literally. So there’s a lot of, you know, butcher’s places in the street, that’s one of those things then cock houses as well, the fighting cock roosters and the tires, the vulcanizing tires as well. So these are the streets, these are the street art in the Philippines.
Andrew Purvis 28:00
Yeah, and that sort of furniture of the streets in the Philippines comes into the gallery and fills the space in your exhibition.
Mark Valenzuela 28:06
Yeah. So in have been talking to Anna about this, about the theory of opposition. And just by the way, my, the structure of my work is about chess; the structure of my work is based on chess, because I play a lot of chess. And there’s one thing in, you know, in chess, that’s called the opposition, that theory of opposition, direct opposition in particular, which, you know, you left with a king and on both sides King on the same file on same rank, and then you get a pawn, that if that gets promoted at the eighth rank, it becomes easy for you to win the game, of course, obviously,
Andrew Purvis 28:49
because it becomes a queen
Mark Valenzuela 28:50
it becomes a queen, right. But if you’re the defender, you prevent the king from occupying a space in the middle. And you don’t want the pawn to… because once the king occupies that… a king with a pawn that occupies the middle already the space in the middle, because there’s a gap between two kings. Once the king with the pawn occupies that, that automatic, automatically the pawn behind the king becomes a queen. And and then the other way around, if you’re defending it, you prevent that by doing the opposition. And my work is it’s it’s it’s like that. So when I first came here you know, it’s a bit quiet for me. So, I said to myself, I’m going to fill the gap, like there’s plenty of gaps and spaces, I’m going to fill it up a bit. That will that will actually help me navigate the space as well.
Andrew Purvis 29:51
So your art strategically is like a counter-move to the environment that you’re in.
Mark Valenzuela 29:55
Exactly. And when I go to the Philippines I do the other way around. I make this like really pristine in one work, minimalist one. Like, ‘what? It’s only two works?’ Yeah, because it was different there as well. It’s crowded so. So I like that, I like that.
Andrew Purvis 30:13
I really like it. That sort of connection to chess, which I understand is a really is a huge interest for you and something drives you, it’s probably not something that is visible on the surface of work. But this understanding of the strategies of chess or the approaches to playing that game really inform the way in which you work even on a meta level of how you decide you make your exhibitions. And we were talking before, and you were describing the show that’s in the gallery now, as an ‘intermediate stage’, I know there are intermediate moves in chess as well. But what did you mean by by this exhibition in the gallery now as being an intermediate stage for this, this work?
Mark Valenzuela 30:52
Well. I always find a space or a gallery or any other spaces for exhibition, sometimes it stops a certain time, certain moment, it begins in a certain time, it stops on a certain time. So sort of like, I want to expand that because for me, sometimes, or most of the time, my practice is about now it’s more of like putting things together. So I have this creating an object thing, and and the object thing, and then put them together and make an immersive installation. But sometimes it’s tough. And I don’t want it to stop. So my way of doing it is, this is just happens lately, because I sort of like find it very, very, you know, like, annoying at some point that we get accumulate, we get works accumulated, particularly artists like me, that makes a lot of things, right. And they culminate, most of the time after the exhibition in a storage.
Andrew Purvis 32:02
Mark Valenzuela 32:03
So part of the big part of my practice is reconfiguring and putting things up, bringing new meanings to my work again,
Andrew Purvis 32:11
and when we were talking about this from a kind of animus perspective, maybe, you were describing things that end up in storage is, they’ve died.
Mark Valenzuela 32:17
Yeah. So they sort of like they die, or they become dead. And because you know, how work becomes dead when you don’t look at it, or you don’t engage in it, but it becomes alive again, when you look at it. I just want my work to be at some point dynamic. and I want it moving. You know, so this exhibition, I sort of somehow design the structures and, and the works that will fit in my studio in the future. So my studio is the another space that I could keep on reconfiguring keep on changing the meaning of the works. And it’s endless, the endless possibility that it’s like, again, it’s one of those chess thing again, like, you know, when you’re when you when you you’re playing chess, you get, you have this, plenty of lines that you can go and branches and branches. When you go to your space. That’s, that’s millions of possibilities. And, and the meaning changes from time to time, the way they’re very different to the way we put an object and its function. And look at an object and its function is sometimes boxed into one meaning. So
Andrew Purvis 33:33
I think it’s a really interesting way for an artist to think about their practice to not consider an exhibition as a terminal point as a culmination like, this is now done. And you take works from previous exhibitions, sometimes you reconfigure them rework them, but sometimes you just transplant it from one show to the next, and it feels a lot more sustainable. And a lot more integrated into a continuing practice.
Mark Valenzuela 33:57
Yeah, exactly. Because that’s, that’s what probably all artists are facing right now, after an exhibition, we’re gonna throw these things. Not everybody gets acquired or, you know, being loved. So, I mean, not everything this end up in a bin or sometimes recycle bins, or they sometimes, you know, grow what I mean Grove, you break them if they’re ceramic, so, yeah, so I, sustainability is a big thing. Like, how do you? How do you do the I think it’s time to do that as an artist, you know, planned it ahead, probably, that’s the planning stage that I that every artist should reconsider. So that they just, I mean, from timber, to nails to everything, they shouldn’t just go in and be and they should.
Andrew Purvis 34:47
I’d love to touch on some of the specific works in this exhibition as well while we’ve still got a little bit of time. One of the most distinctive techniques that you use is using the surface of a ceramic object is a space for drawing. That happens a number of times in the show, but I’m thinking particularly about the aliwarus creature that is suspended high up on the wall in the gallery. How do you go about achieving this effect of using the ceramic surfaces as a surface for creating a drawing?
Mark Valenzuela 35:17
Well, also, I really love drawings at lot. love to draw a lot. So I used to draw everybody that shows everyday anyway, including you right?
Andrew Purvis 35:29
But to varying degrees of proficiency, but yeah, I think you’re better at it than I am.
Mark Valenzuela 35:33
But again, like the sculpture itself, I will or the installation itself, I love to look, I love to look at it as a drawing. And one one thing that I actually get fascinated with is like when you covering instead of glaze covering the work. And I used to put drawings a lot on the work on an object, but that will give you again, you focus to an object, right. So now I look at the work now in a distance, more from a distance of drawing makes sense, it looks like the whole installation is a drawing. So ceramic ceramic pencil is one thing I sometimes use acrylic stencils and stuff but I seldom do that in my work in my on my ceramic, what I do, what I use is the pencil, because it looks like it looks like pencil but it’s not. It’s a it’s made of clay. And then you fire it high, and it’s retains, it becomes part of the clay. So it’s like
Andrew Purvis 36:39
there’s a huge sort of textural similarity between that clay pencil on the surface of the clay and the wall drawing that you create in the gallery as well. They look very similar but they’re actually completely different substances.
Mark Valenzuela 36:51
Yeah, because it can erase. I used to make fun of, when I was in the Philippines I had exhibition like when material is quite new there. And I used to used to tell people like because some some some collectors in the Philippines it’s funny because they tried to erase it, like, Oh, can you erase this? Yeah, I’ll give it to you if you can erase it. It’s gonna, it’s quite funny, it becomes embedded in the work and becomes the work itself. So that’s the beauty of it.
Andrew Purvis 37:16
But this new body of work also shows a lot more experimenting with glazes. I feel like that’s, that’s quite a bit of a departure for your practice is that can you tell us what’s been going on in the studio?
Mark Valenzuela 37:26
Well, well, I tend to, even though I have in forms I have I have this, you know, I don’t want to control the form, I just let let let play with the form the way I play with the clay and then let the form sometimes comes out. But in terms of glazing, I’m worried about it so much. And I think I mentioned it in one of the talks in AGSA that I never… I build kilns, right and I fired anagama kilns as well I even built an anagama kiln on here with my partner in the south in Normanville. So I used to fire with anagama with using other people’s work, not my work design. And I’m worried that it doesn’t come up, right. I’m not experimenting with other people’s work.
Mark Valenzuela 38:16
But it’s just I know that it doesn’t work with my work because there’s a tendency with object that when you put it there with all the glazes you’re wasting your time, you could be a waste of time, you know, the whole thing. And as sort of like even the same, the same concept with glazing that could the firing could ruin a work, you know, and then it’s not like a cup that you could, you know, make it into one of those seconds that you can, you can still reuse it but when it comes to sculpture, it’s it could die quickly
Andrew Purvis 38:48
well it’s really interesting. I mean you you are a chess player, and that is a game of skill. And glazing is a game of chance, I think is what you’re telling me.
Mark Valenzuela 38:57
Well, it’s not a game of chance – with natural ash it is a game of chance, but with glazing using glazing materials that is a precise science as well as a science that and that’s pretty predictable. At some point, my only worry is that when I put that in my work it I could I couldn’t imagine it as quick as that it just just doesn’t work yet and I can so glazing is new to me. So no no no not sorry. not new to me but new in my work. And this time around, I just let it loose. So what you see there is a mixture of different glazes that I don’t even know why I just put them in one one thing work out and I just repeated it.
Andrew Purvis 39:43
It’s a really exciting sort of variety of different surface textures and colours and an effects of the glaze.
Mark Valenzuela 39:49
Yeah it’s amazing because it it’s it’s a kind of glaze that flows really when it’s high temperature it flows down and I’ve sacrificed a lot of shelves.
Andrew Purvis 39:58
Yeah you were saying
Mark Valenzuela 40:00
Yeah, because it gets it gets stuck in the shelf. Right. But also the movement can see the movement. Yeah. Like the movement of glazes makes the work alive. Yeah. So that’s why, like, probably I’m gonna sit over that surface for a bit. Yeah, not but not forever.
Andrew Purvis 40:22
Another element of the show that I really like is there’s a sequence of small drawings, which you call your ‘brewing drawings’. And these are part of a daily ritual that you took, can you tell us a little bit about the role that habit and ritual plays in your practice, and for listeners at home, I will just let them know that before we sat down to talk, Mark has brought his entire kit in here to brew us, he’s going to get a top up, he brought his kit in here to brew us a cup of coffee, and he’s just getting a little top-up of coffee now. So I think that this is a this is a big ritual that’s a big part of your work as well.
Mark Valenzuela 40:54
Same as a space-making too, like I’ve been thinking and been saying about this forever to my all my friends that I want to make a space same as, very similar to tea ceremony, and then I make a space made of ceramic, like or other found objects, and then I brew coffee there, and then have conversation because that’s… usually with the coffee, it’s it’s quick, it’s fast, we love to just drink it and go, right. So sort of like I want to put back ritual in my work. And brewing drawing is again, a thing that you know, I do I do everyday, every morning. So every morning I draw parallel to if you follow my Instagram, you can find that there. So this drawing is this brewing. And so related and and the reason why I love that is that it, it brings me back to the detail of my practice, you know how chess is the structure. And almost like, my strategy in my art practice in my art making. And each line, in order to go through each line and opening, you go back to the detail, which is very important as well. And then coffee, give, gave that back to me, you know, that attention to detail again. So and then focus into making fun object I used to the problem is I used before, I used to have this conflict in myself about making an object a non-object. And it’s a beautiful comment that I received from an artist somewhere I met in Northern Territory and a really good artist, and she she just called my work as an object. And at that time, I got really, you know, like, it went into my head, in other words. So I said, like, I’m not gonna make I’m not just making an object. So there was this conflict in me, like, how can I make an un-object? You know, and, and then the performance probably is one way to do it. But also, and then I just this, you know, like, I was able to have this, you know, realization like, well, it could be an object that criticize an object, you know, could be an object that is an anti-object. So now I just said, like, Alright, back to details. Don’t worry about the object/non-object thing they’re just all, you know, a perception thing so.
Andrew Purvis 40:55
But I think that’s a really nice comment, because it kind of takes us full circle back to what we were talking about before this idea of your practice not being restricted to the to the object in space. But considering that process by which it’s made, considering how something is fired, what it’s surface is like and how it exists in space, and how it might move and change over time. I think that’s a really fascinating aspect of your practice that I love that we have this opportunity to have this conversation because it really comes out. And I hope people get the opportunity to revisit Mark’s show during its run here because it will grow and change
Andrew Purvis 43:52
It will grow and change. And the more you go in there -it’s an it’s an immersive work- the more you grow in there, the more you see things as well. Yeah, yeah. So it brings you back to the individual piece, the object, which is not necessarily an object.
Andrew Purvis 44:13
Mark’s right, you will see more things that more often you go back there, he has an incredibly dense and complicated practice, which maybe can’t be unpacked in an hour’s talk, but maybe you might be able to find more by reading this book. But we also have a few minutes now for some questions from the audience. So does anyone have any questions for Mark?
Audience Member 44:37
How do you think traveling has… do you think it’s improved your work or do you it’s changed it in a certain way?
Mark Valenzuela 44:44
Yeah, it does actually. Like even just coming here in Australia. There was a time in my life like probably the five years of my life when I live here, I still consider living here as travelling because I still I perceive my, you know, my where I come from, or the country where I come from as the home and I found it very difficult to. Anyway. So yeah, it does a lot. So when I came here it changed my, my practice, it changed my practice a lot. And then of course, going somewhere going to exhibitions in Southeast Asia, every time, it’s important. Traveling is important. It opens your, you know, your world, in many ways, you know, sometimes we, you know, as a practitioner, you end up like just staying in your studio. And working, traveling provides you a community that you realize that, oh, in other parts of the world, you get community there as well. So and you see other people’s work other people’s properties, and it helps you a lot. It’s like a natural critic. When you see they’re like, Oh, I’m doing worse than what she’s doing. And then you change, you grow from that.
Audience Member 46:08
I just want to go back to what is perceived criticism of being working toward an object is, is it possible to sort of see what I’m thinking anyway, what we do when we we make things when we are making objects? But it’s because, I think this is what you were alluding to, because they they communicate, therefore, it’s in the communication with the artwork is, they’re still objects. And if noone sees them, if they’re locked away after an exhibition in storage, they’re objects,
Mark Valenzuela 46:46
yes they’re the objects,
Andrew Stock 46:47
but the art happens, as it were. And these objects are transformed in relationship with other than themselves. So the audience
Mark Valenzuela 46:58
yeah, and it gets animated. Yeah.
Andrew Stock 47:00
Yeah, it gets animated. Is that what you were kind of alluding to?
Mark Valenzuela 47:05
Well, whatever you do, I mean, everything is an object anyway. Yes. So the only thing is, you don’t want it to be just what I meant about becoming an object is tied to a single meaning. Yes. And I don’t mind that. But recently, my practice, I think, I mean, in reality as well, you know, things change, you know?
Andrew Stock 47:31
For me, it’s always been a classic case of the political meeting the metaphysical.
Mark Valenzuela 47:38
Andrew Stock 47:39
and creating objects that purvey the meaning, and the journeys of that process. Yeah. Which you arrive at through the very physical process of making an object, and those ideas then solidify the object, which is now an artifact, because it generates meaning.
Mark Valenzuela 47:59
Yeah. It’s that’s a very complex question there, Andrew.
Andrew Stock 48:09
Yeah, well, it’s to a complex guy.
Mark Valenzuela 48:12
Yeah. So yeah, so again, the is, again, the object becomes just an object with a single meaning. And, and, for me, that’s quite static for me right. And in my practice, is what I’ve been saying that I want my work to be more dynamic at the same time moving, moving, and, and it changes it morphs into something else, it morphs into, into another having a different meaning depends upon the space, because the idea is the space always change the, the inhabitants and vice versa.
Andrew Stock 48:49
So the context changes
Mark Valenzuela 48:50
The context, yeah, the context change. So in that way, in some way, want to retain the like, and if you just put one meaning to it, and that’s it, that’s, that’s That’s it, you know, put a line to it. That’s a box, you know. And, it becomes it becomes simplified, it becomes simplified. So I don’t want that. So I wanted this. That’s what I said, your question is complex, and the work the object, the object definition is very complex as well.
Audience Member 49:23
Do you think about how the audience will understand the work? I mean, every audience member will have a different view of what an object is, what a given object means. Do you do put together, do you assemble your exhibition on the basis of a vision you have? Or is it in response to what you think, viewers might understand it to me?
Mark Valenzuela 49:46
Yeah, that’s a very good question a bit of both for me, because there are times that I, of course, consider the audience as part of the space right, and the way they react and the way they perceive the object that I’m making or the space that I’m making is, is, you know, they become part of the I mean, the audience will be part of that as well. So the reaction is one thing. But also there is a thing sometimes that it’s just about me. You know? I mean, why not? Like, sometimes you need it, sometimes you need it, sometimes you can see the audience, sometimes not. Because in the end, you know, it’s about you something, probably most of the time. I hope I answered that question. Well, so that’s why it’s a bit of both, it’s a bit of both. And you can do play both as well, like you can consider the audience and at the same time, it’s about you. But that’s pretty stressful, at some point,
Audience Member 50:50
The art here is in a school. The art at the Art Gallery of South Australia is in a museum, yet, they have complementary functions. But you might not, well you might have, thought about what work you would put here, what work you would put there. Is the work that’s in the Art Gallery going to be changing, is that going to be evolving?
Mark Valenzuela 51:13
I added a few bits there. But that’s based, the exhibition that is based on the the collections that works that they acquired from me during the Biennial. And I get the point that this there are limits there as well. So but maybe,
Andrew Purvis 51:30
whereas here we have no limits.
Mark Valenzuela 51:33
I like that
Andrew Purvis 51:35
I might’ve put myself in for something there.
Mark Valenzuela 51:36
But I have a few options that I could interchange the duckies. But here, I love it. I love that. I love it. They’re different. And when I decide because when I when… if I’ve given the chance to occupy two spaces, I will make it as fluid as I can. It’s not like this object only belongs here and that object belongs there or that work belongs here, that work belongs there; I want them to be really related because it’s made by myself and it’s all about, again it goes back to me and I made those works. They’re all related, as they fall into one flow according to the way I live my life.
Andrew Purvis 51:39
I think that might be where we need to leave this conversation. Thank you all very much for joining us and can you please thank Mark Valenzuela.
Photographs from Still Tied to a Tree at Adelaide Central Gallery, 2022.
Episode 29 / Josh Juett
In this episode, Steph catches up with painter Josh Juett (and Winsor the lorikeet) at his homestudio ahead of his show LOST IN THOUGHT at Praxis Artspace. They chat about the early days of his practice (including his first sale, a seascape for $1 in primary school) and through various artistic and musical influences that Steph definitely had to google later. Tune in to hear about his new work that broaches new mediums and the rationale behind the exhibition.
Hello and welcome to the SALA Podcast. My name is Steph and today I’m catching up with Josh Juett. I’ll just note that we’re catching up in his studio, which is on a traditional lands of the Kaurna People of which sovereignty was never ceded, and these lands are of continuing importance and acknowledge the Elders past, present and emerging.
Now, Josh, it’s hard to look at you with a straight face because you’re sitting opposite me with a bird on your shoulder. Who is this?
This is Windsor.
Okay, cool. All right. Windsor, Josh, great to have you both on the podcast. All right, well, maybe we should go chronologically and go back to how you became an artist: whether you knew that you wanted to be an artist, or whether it’s something you found your way to. How did that go?
Ah, look, I don’t know. I think like most artists, you tend to just say that from when you were a kid, you were engaged with different creative pursuits, I suppose. Or you just had an affinity for different types of arts. But yeah, I don’t know. When I was younger, my mom used to always say that I was just like, the kid that would always want to take home, like a refrigerator box from kindy or something. You know what I mean? Like if they’re getting a new piece of appliance or something. So I was always bringing home like
…to draw on or just like to be in?
I don’t know – to make a cubby out of or something I suppose?
You could say that you could see the potential in materials from an early age
Haha yeah I suppose you’re right. I think, yeah, I don’t know, I was always obsessed -I suppose that’s why I included so much of my work now- but cartoons, especially. And I always wanted to draw like, I was always redrawing Pokemon characters and stuff like that
Oh you were one of those kids.
I was, I was. Um, but yeah, I don’t know. I think I didn’t really get into painting until I was a bit older. Because obviously, that’s a little bit more technical, I suppose. But yeah, I’ve always drawn. Yeah, I didn’t I didn’t really get into like painting painting until I was like late high school.
Okay, which is still early.
Yeah, I suppose I like I think, like I always drew and then when I was a teenager, and like, graffing was cool. That kind of like, pulled me back into art. And then like, I started seeing that there was a bunch of graffiti artists that would also do like kind of character-based work.
Haha you look so unsteady with that bird. No poop on you yet, but.. you know..
No, there is. There definitely is
Oh there is!
That’s totally fine.
Sorry, for everyone listening at home. *giggle*
Um, yeah, I don’t know. I think I’ve just always loved being creative. Yeah, I don’t know. And whatever I can’t really, like, before we started, I was telling you about, like, when I was in school, we’re doing like a drawing class. Actually, this is a different one. But like, we’re doing a drawing class. And the teacher asked us to draw, like a sea scene and the winner of that won a dollar. And I won, and I suppose that was,
was that the beginning of your art career?!
The beginning of my career: winning $1 in primary school. I think it probably would have only been like Year 1 or 2 or something.
Well, you know, that’s pretty good. And I heard you drew a really good bin once.
I did draw a very good bin once. Yeah, I think the bin was probably more of a big deal because I remember like… So as the sea scene was more of a situation where you made it, and then you just gave it and then like, I just got given a dollar. And then I was like, you won with no real elaboration on it. But the bin was like, everyone’s like, ‘Oh, my God, this bin is amazing’.
It’s interesting, isn’t it that you know, having an audience receiving the work versus it just being done? And there’s no real, like, fanfare or resolution? Yeah, yeah. Interesting.
Yeah. It’s funny, because I was thinking about it before, like the idea that the bin… drawing a bin; it kind of relates to the type of work that I’d still do now. it’s funny, because it’s like,
yeah I see that
I always paint kind of either dirty things like the kind of mundane but in a way that like, putting it in the context of an artwork makes it feel…
It’s a new light, literally, like…
It’s.. it’s you know how, like, you know, it’s the idea of like painting things that are beautiful. You know what I mean? Like, and taking something that everyone be like, Oh, you don’t do paintings of bins or drawings of bins because they’re gross. Like, we don’t want to think about bins and I’m like, no, no, let’s put it lit and in this scene with other things that we also shouldn’t talk about.
That is such an interesting tie back to school. Amazing Yeah. Well, maybe we will move on to what your works do tend to look like and tend to feature so there’s Yeah, often these mundane objects and like a light source. I don’t know if you’re staging these or just kind of like bringing it forth. What can you describe the sort of most common things that feature?
Yeah, for sure, for sure. I think for me personally, whenever I think about like making a piece I’m like, think about it in terms of, I suppose that’s why most of them are low light, like set it in dusk because there’s not like a harsh indirect light across the whole scene. I tend to like whenever I do a painting like that, I’ve got like a couple in this new show, but I always feel like they are a little bit less moody or they’re a little bit more boring in my mind, because like, all of it’s lit, and there’s no like drama.
So I think, for me personally, whenever I start about a piece of work, I tend to think of it as like a really dull, indirect light for the whole background. So obviously I said at dusk, like fits that bill but yeah, and then like a fairly harsh direct light coming from the front, which creates a lot of like, dramatic shadows and stuff like
and it’s like so much easier to a lot of my work is like imaginative I suppose, like, where I’m taking your reference, but I’m also not, I’m, what’s the word? I’m like, moving beyond it, in a lot of ways where I’m like to make everything come together. Like I often try to like ignore the reference and just take it my own way.
Take a few liberties?
Yeah, because also like, you know, I’ve never wanted my work to be like… *sigh* did she just shit on me.
That was on the couch that time. Maybe Windsor is has had… we should bring her up to the mic.
Say some parting words.
She’s not having it. Look, I knew you were going to be difficult.
We can take a break too and let Windsor go
It was nice while it lasted.
I’m gonna clean myself up now.
She gets nervous around new people
That’s great, though, even though we had to put her back that still so great.
Haha I don’t know
So we were at ignoring the reference like to bring it all together?
Yeah, cuz I feel as though like I want… like growing up was always far more interested in like, you know how like, nowadays, you’ll have like, a video game that’s like realistic lighting, but like non-realistic subject matter. Or like the rocks are kind of, like, cartoony, but they’re still realistic because they’re lit and I don’t know. I just like
Like that kind of bit of both?
Yeah. It’s like realistic, but it’s not
It’s a bit uncannny, isn’t it?
Yeah, yeah. Yeah. Yeah.
Okay, cool. I think you achieve that, actually. Yeah,
Maybe? I mean, look, yeah, I, yeah. I never wanted to be like, because I’ve done it before, where you just like copy a photo, and you just paint exactly the same. And, like, that’s fine. But it’s a little bit boring. And also, like, like I said, if you try to unite like a bunch of different references, like it’s always better to take liberties in being like, okay, it doesn’t have to be like, 100% realistic?
But anyway, yeah, like, I was saying it umm… I had a point, and then it immediately left my mind
um it was about the light?
Oh yeah so the lighting so so like, I like to think of it as like a there’s like an artificial source that’s on the character. So you know, if you can imagine someone’s like, gone into a forest or field at dusk, and they’ve just like, put a light on a toy and then they’ve photographed it.
Yeah, yeah yep, so there’s sort of nice, balanced light in the background, but the subject’s got that nice direction.
Direct light. Yeah. And I think as well, like, it kind of says something about the idea that this object is like, has importance because you know, if it was lit with everything else, it would kind of just feel like it drowns in with the background,
but if you the spotlight the bin
if you just spotlight the bin, then it’s like *chef kiss*. yeah.
Amazing. And do you like actually… I mean, I know you said you have references, but then sometimes you have to ignore them; do usually spotlight an object and do it that way? Or are you just pretty good at going ‘okay, if the perspective of the light was this way…’ and just kind of imagining?
bit of both
bit of both? ok cool.
Yeah, I think like nowadays, I’m spending a lot more time like taking my own reference photos, because I have like struggled in the past where you have to, like, adapt a reference that doesn’t quite fit. And it’s just like the worst it’s, and it’s so like, it just makes the process not fun when you have to, like sit down and imagine every piece of… or if it doesn’t quite fit or like you know, you have a reference that’s lit from the left and your painting has light from the right and you’re like ‘ah, I guess it would be like this’ and it just it just never looks as good. It’s always way more stressful. So I think like nowadays, I tend to spend a little bit more time getting good reference.
Yeah, yeah. And that pays off in the end it
Oh it makes it less stressful. Let’s put it that way.
Haha, I love it. Coming back to the objects and what their significance is. Like I know you mentioned, yeah, some sort of pop-culture, Simpsons references..
Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.
Wh… yeah I don’t even know how to phrase the question. Wh- What? Why? Why. Just Why. Why *laughing*
Just Why. yeah, I don’t know. Look, it’s so funny. I’ve like… I was worried about this interview because I’ve been feeling a little bit negative about how many like pop culture references and I was like ‘oh don’t come across like you’re like super anti your art’. I think like, it’s super common for artists to be extremely critical of what they do. I think specifically, using like, heaps of pop culture references has been like a cause of concern. I think like I grew up on, and I was inspired by, in the early days, by an artist like Greg Simkins, and like Alex Pardee like Ron English, and they’re all like West Coast artists. And they’re like, suppose they’re mainly concerned with like, a movement called Pop surrealism. And that’s literally what they do. They include so many of their work is about pop culture, mostly. So I think like, I was always just, like, super keen to get into that style of thing where you’re, I don’t know, you’re, I suppose you just commenting on culture. Like, it’s so funny, because it’s like… I was saying to someone, the idea that you can’t not reference things in art, like you’re always like, inspired by something that came before you. Like, you can’t create anything in a vacuum. And I think for me, like cartoons and pop culture is like what I grew up on, like, so I can’t help but want to include it in my work. And I think, to feel like, I can’t do something makes me want to do it even more. But, you know, it’s so interesting. Like, I’m always like, concerned with coming across like a fan artist.
Haha Oh yeah yeah yeah.
Like, if you look at, okay, let’s look at like, like Warhol, for instance, like, what, is he a fan artist of Campbell’s Soup?
And so yeah, like, I don’t know. I like including it. Because it’s like, who I am like, Like, it’s like he wasn’t; he didn’t just paint soup because he loves soup? I don’t I don’t know why he did it, I don’t know heaps about Warhol. But like, he was making a comment on culture, I’m assuming.
And I think as well, I always draw things back to cartoons and pop culture, because I always attribute that to why I became an artist in the first place. And yeah.
and to not include, like you said, to not include that would be sort of disingenuous. And I think
And but it’s, and it’s more, I don’t know, if you speak much to like, because a lot of it’s like paper cutouts, and they’ve got these textures that are just, I’m just like, Wow, you really made a rod for your own back wanting to paint that crumpled piece of paper. Yeah. But maybe… is there an element of… where am I going with this? Oh, it’s gone.
It’s gone! Haha.
Haha, we’re one to one.
Okay. Yeah. Like -let me know, when it comes back and I’ll cut off what I’m saying.
It was something…
Yeah, something amazing, I’m sure. I tend to want to include things like paper and, and all of that. Like, at the moment, I’m doing a lot of stuff with like, stuff projected onto surfaces and stuff like that. Because like one: It’s kind of like a technical challenge. Like, you know, let’s see if I can paint this like, super complicated thing. Because I mean, and I suppose that’s like, related to, like Robin Eley‘s work.
. And I’m just like, Oh my God, how do you spend that much time on that? Like there is you’re just insane. Yeah. So like, I’m certainly I think the paper in the beginning was definitely inspired by Robin Eleys. ‘Cause I was just like ‘I want to paint something that’s just like…’, like one object that takes a lot of time to do I think like the paper…
It adds a depth and dimension as well.
The other reason I do it is because it’s like kind of bringing the 2d into the 3d. Like it’s a way of like translating like 2d animation into 3d space, which like, yeah, I feel like every series I start I’m like, ‘okay, how am I going to do 2d this time?’ Like, what what am I going to do this time round? Like so? Yeah, like paper, stickers, just painting the thing in 2d space on top like, or, like projected. It’s just Yeah, I don’t have like yeah, it also kind of makes it unintentionally surreal, I think as well like because you just wouldn’t see that like, if I’ve paint like a scene of an apple and a toy or whatever it’s like that could you could be walking through the woods and that could be there like by accident or whatever, but I don’t think you’re gonna see like a piece of paper or a projected thing or
meticulously cut-out and kind of dropped against something
Oh dear. *pause* I’m still finding that thought.
Yeah I can feel it
It was really good!
I mean, it relates to the show.
It’s somewhere in here.
Can you speak a bit more about the way that you title the work or like how you like… do your feelings about a word change, and then do you title it at the end? Or what’s that relationship like?
yeah, titling work is an interesting one. I think like, like, every work kind of begins at a different point. And then the different point, I think, sometimes I’ll like have a name a title that I’m like, ‘Oh, my God, I have to make a painting about that’, because the title is so good. And other times, like, I won’t even be able to come up with the title like I’m titling some work at the moment. And I’m, like, I’ve no idea what to call this. And other work, I’m like, you know, I like to do like most of the stuff that I do like to do it instinctively. So I’ll kind of just like stare at the painting and be like, ‘What is this about?’ So there’s painting in my show… And this is, yeah, this is kind of I don’t want to come across as like the ‘pop culture guy’ or ‘the Simpsons guy’ especially
but some of the good ones are!
I just can’t help myself. I just cannot help myself.
He’s already dead!
Yeah, I’m doing a painting that’s like about work and the pressures of being an artist, I suppose. And it has the word ‘work’ in it, basically. And it’s about obviously work. And I was like, Okay, it’s called ‘All work and no play makes Homer something something’.
And the thing is, I’m like, that’s such a good name. I love that. But on the other hand, like, Oh, my God, everyone’s gonna be like, dude, just get off the Simpsons man. Like we get it, you like The Simpsons.
But isn’t it good because it is an inroad to like.. okay, my bent -You know, one of my ‘things’- is the Simpsons, but it’s an inroad to very valid subjects
until I get a cease and desist from Disney. And they’re just like, bro, you gotta relax.
I don’t think they listen to this podcast.
I think that’s a safe bet. Yeah. No, I think you’d be fine. But yeah, so basically, like, most the time, I’ll just stare at it. And I’ll be very conscious of what it’s about. Or maybe I won’t, and it will just be related to the subject matter, but and I’ll just kind of like just just just wing it, like, kind of it’ll just come to me. So sometimes, like, the title is really interesting, because the title kind of goes a long way to like, conceptualize the work, like someone will see it and they’ll be like ‘oh I don’t get it, it’s just a thing’. And then they read the thing: ‘Ah, I get it. Now it makes sense’. And I think the title like is important in that regard. Sometimes, like, I’m concerned with giving too much away. Like, I like the idea of it being ambiguous. But at the same time, if the title is too ambiguous, then and you don’t give people anything, then they’re like, ‘I don’t even know where to go with this’. Like, you need to have some entry point like, even if it is kind of… is ‘innocuous’ the right word? Ambiguous? Yeah.
I love it. Ah, okay, hang on. We did that. So we’ve already kind of answered influences, have we?
Kind of. I’ve got a lot more to say about influences. I honestly, like I take influences from everything. Like, like, all my work is mainly based on like, my personal experience. So, you know,
anything’s game This is the new way forward.
anything is game. I think when I was growing up, like, there’s certain things that, like, dramatically changed the way I was working or thinking about my work, like, like, Otto Marseus van Schrieck like, when I read a book about him. I was like, ‘Oh, my God, I’m doing this’, like, it is not often situations like I don’t know, for me anyway, as an artist where like, you read something, or find someone that you’re just like, this is the new thing that I’m doing. I don’t see any other like, there’s no other path for me. Yeah, this is the new way forward. So I think when I saw his work, I was like, Yeah, I’m gonna work like this from now on. And that was a huge, like, path that I went on, but um, alternative to that, like, there’s a rapper that I really like, and like, his lyrics are like super allegorical or metaphorical. Like he he kind of like talks around everything, like he who never just say,
he’ll never come out and say it
like, just like, directly, and like, I just loved the fact that, you know, some of his metaphors might be generic, and everyone’s like, Oh, that’s, that’s this because everybody knows that that is this. But there’s a lot of them that is, it’s like, you’d have to ask him because he’s, it’s too obscure. And I’m like, I love the obscurity. I love the idea that, you know, he’s the gatekeeper of the the meaning of his work.
So like, I just love that I think as well like, you know, he, he paints a picture, you know, like he, he
can we ask who he is?
No it’s a secret Hahah no it’s not a secret. It’s Aesop Rock. And yeah, like he, he’s very good at like painting a picture with his words. And I love the idea that -I’m trying to think of a good one right now
well you won’t now, because you’re trying to think of one. Ok
Okay, no I named a painting after a lyric in one of his songs, which is such a soft boy thing to do. But um, it was like, the painting was about, like, people ignoring science, it’s about climate change, basically. So it was about people like ignoring science and all of that. And it was colonize earth. No, ‘Colonize Mars on Earth Day’. And I was like, Oh, my God, that’s such a good line. I think I made the painting based on that, like one line. Yeah. And like, he’s just I mean that, like, that’s a fairly easy one. But he’s like, he’s a genius. He’s an absolute genius. So I think like his ideology influenced the way that I think about my work now.
Yeah, I like that ‘talking around’ kind of thing as well.
Because like, that’s the interesting thing. Like, I feel as though I’ll do a painting and to me, it’ll mean something, but to someone else, they’ll be like, I’ve got no idea what that’s about. Yeah. Or like, it’s something completely different. I think, like, I do have a painting in the show that will the show that we’ll discuss later. But that’s like, ‘Every Car I’ve Ever Owned Has Been A Piece Of Shit’. And I think it’s like, it’s pretty obvious what that one’s about, right? Like, it’s kind of on the nose. But I think if it didn’t have that title, you would be a little bit more like, oh I don’t know. But even in that painting, for instance, like, you know, super obvious title. And I think, you know, people will would look at it and they’d be like, I get a general idea of what he’s talking about. But also like, you wouldn’t know exactly what I thought when I’m talking about that specific thing. Like there’s yeah, there’s, I mean, I can give away what’s in it. Right? I don’t think Patty would be angry. Like there’s, there’s a little…
your show will have been opened. Shall we just say what the show is? Let’s go into the show.
Nah that’s a secret.
So LOST IN THOUGHT,
Yeah. So it will be open by the time this episode comes out.
Yeah and the nightmare will be over.
Yeah. You’ll be much more chill haha. All right. Yeah. So the car the car one?
long story short, like, basically my point is, is that like, sometimes I’m really proud of the metaphors that I’ve come up with. And like, even though I want it to be ambiguous, I want to tell people, how good is this thing that I come up with?
That reminds me of that thing, where it’s like, ‘I really want to be mysterious, but I can’t shut up’.
Yeah. Yeah. Like, yeah, in this. Like, there’s a there’s a little car, because obviously, it’s about cars. And the car is a piggy bank. And I was like, oh my god, I love the idea that it’s a car that you just keep putting money into. I mean, you could take it out with the money bank, but like,
don’t really that far into it.
Yeah just ignore that bit. Just the fact that you just have to keep putting money into
And so yeah, the show will be at Praxis in Bowden. And do you have the… which room are you in in the gallery?
The main gallery
Yeah, love that. That’ll be cool. And wait, I think I read [that it’s] not just paintings?
It’s like a lot of things. I wanted to kind of go all out.
Have you done that before?
With stuff other than paintings?
Yeah like is it sculpture?
It’s like I mean, you can see them over there, the like, aluminium paper sculpture things, until it’s like large. That’s one aspect of it. So like there’s a there’s a diorama.
There’s a diorama. There’s like I taught myself how to do pottery, like, throwing on a wheel. So I’m gonna buy this, like, inherently they were supposed to be like props just because like basically the whole
it’s a big room.
It’s a big room. Yeah. And I was certainly conscious of that in the beginning. But um, I like had the idea that I wanted it to be like, aesthetically, feel a lot like a museum. And I went to the art gallery slash museum. And I noticed like the art gallery had like rooms, I love the rooms where it was basically like, a wall, and it had like paintings and pottery and a chair attached to the wall. And I kind of liked that aesthetic. So I was like, Okay, let’s make a bunch of pottery that will attach to the wall or put in display cases or whatever. So like, I was kind of trying to run with that very…
It’s sort of that institution?
Yeah, like I was just more eclectic like,
the chair on the wall
Yeah. I think like, the whole idea for the show, is that it -and forgive me if I don’t say this as fluently as I’d like- but the idea is supposed to be that basically, like you go about your life and you are surrounded by objects that hold like a certain significance to you as an individual, like, you know, you have a certain experience with this object. And that kind of influences how you see that object.
And, like, that narrative kind of like tells the story of who you are. Because you know, if you were when you’re a baby, you’ve got no reference to anything like you don’t know what anything is. So you’re just walking around touching things, feeling things. And that’s like, creating, like an identity for yourself where, you know, like, if you were… weird example -I don’t know why this popped into my head… it’s because there’s a cushion sitting next to me: If you’re a kid, and like you constantly got beaten up by your sibling with cushions, and like, all the time, just create a trauma, like you’re gonna be scared of cushions, like, Yeah, that’s distinctly different to someone that only used cushions for their intended purpose. Yeah, right, like, so. I think the whole idea and like, it’s mostly the objects that I speak of, in the show are mostly toys and, and some other things, but, or like narratives about my life. But I think the whole point is that, you know, the things that are in the show, are significant to like me in some way. And I think the whole idea is that someone could be like, what does this toy mean to you? And there’s something that relates to even if I don’t like, I’m drawn to it for a specific reason, because of the life that I’ve lived, you know, whether it’s like, you know, a toy that is from a show that I’ve never watched, I’m still like, that is from a toy from a show that I’ve never watched. You know what I mean? Like, yeah, so regardless of what it is, like I have got an experience with it – unless it’s something I’ve never seen before in my entire life, but even then, it’s like, ‘this is something I’ve never seen before’. Like, it reminds me of these things. Like I think, like you get to a certain age where you’ve like, had an experience with every kind of thing. And that experience is like who you are.
You’re gonna have a thing about cushions. Yeah.
So yeah, like so. So I suppose to tie back to the show, the show is a collection of those things and like in a personal Museum
a personal Museum! I like that. Yeah.
I think I was talking to Andrew Purvis about the idea that, I can’t remember what he called it.
It would have been something clever.
It was it was definitely clever. Like, argh I don’t even want to say it now because I’m gonna butcher it and then he’s going to be like I didn’t say that.
We could dub his voice in
Haha yeah please. The idea of like, collected I think he said, like Dutch collectors that would just have like, their own personal museums that were supposed to be like, indicative of who they were, if I basically exactly what I’m saying, but I suppose they they got to it before I did.
But yeah, you can basically walk into this space, and you can know the artist without knowing the artist. Like, I think you would walk into LOST IN THOUGHT and you could go like, okay, this person likes cartoons, I think that’s very clear.
And I think you can kind of like, I mean, you’re putting it through your own personal filter, but you can kind of interpret what that person might be like, or because I think like, a lot of my work is is drenched in pop culture, but also, like, kind of it feels um
it’s weird talking about your own work
yeah no I was gonna say like whimsical, but is that it’s kind of up myself, isn’t it? I tried to make it humorous. Like, it’s kind of on the nose. Like, it’s a bit silly.
Or it’s like, kind of gory or something like, but in a weird way
it’s not one pidgeonhole-able thing
And I wonder what it will be like, I mean, I’ll probably be able to answer this by the time this comes out. But whether you know, the amount of time that people spend in this space will like what that will be like, oh, yeah, there’ll be some immediate things like the Simpsons, or, you know, yeah, but yeah, those more nuanced things that when you spend time with a piece, or spend time with the room, you know, the difference between one work and the collective experience.
Will be very interesting. Not that you have to comment on that, but it’ll just; I’m looking forward to it
Nah look it is going to be very interesting because like for the show, specifically, I kind of wanted to go all out. So I’ve like I’ve like for the opening I’ve hired a musician to play like cello, because I thought that would be kind of like I wanted to have like control over the mood of it. And like, so we kind of like landed on something that was ‘moody and contemplative’ is the way that she phrased it and I was like, Yes, I love it. But also, like, I’m in discussion with like an actor friend who wants to do like, I want him to do like a guided tour, like an actual museum. So we’re going to like, kind of come up with that. And I also had the idea of doing like an audio tour. So you would go to the front and you would be given a cassette player and you can kind of go through and listen to
a legit cassette player?
Yeah, I couldn’t. I was like, I’ll buy an mp3 -it was so much cheaper to go like an mp3 player, but I was like, it has to be a cassette. I can’t not do -and corded headphones.
That nice satisfying *imitates sound of loading a cassette player*
Yeah. And I liked the idea of that tying into the theme of the show and all of that so like you know,
It’s that’s nice to have that big picture.
Yes I just wanted it to be more than just like ‘come and see these paintings’ because like you know, you can see the paintings online -Not that that’s the same as seeing them in person- but
we won’t enter into that
yeah, I really wanted to have an experience that goes along with the show itself. Yeah, so yeah, like I’ve framed everything; I’ve got the diorama; I’ve got a display cases and musicians and actors and
the kitchen sink
The kitchen sink! The kitchen sink. It has been very stressful. I’ll be perfectly honest.
Yeah, it always is! But it will be worth it. Absolutely. Well, I won’t tease out any more trauma from you. But um, where can people -apart from going to the show- where can people follow along with what you’re doing in your practice? Are you online? Are you on the ‘gram?
Yeah, I’m only on the ‘gram. I feel like I don’t have the stamina to take on any other social media pipes, but
One is enough.
What’s the handle?
And even even Instagram is there’s a lot. I think it’s, well I know that it’s, it’s Josh Juett, but it’s ‘Jvett’, J V E double T.
Yeah. It’s yeah, it’s annoying because everyone’s like it’s Josh Jvett but it’s Josh Juett but the V is supposed to be like the the Dutch ‘U’ I think back then they would do a V and it would be pronounced as a U. Which is cool, right?
I mean, I’m no authority.
All right. Wonderful. Thank you for your time today and we will all get along and see the shows. Sounds good. Thank you.
Episode 28 / Catherine Truman
Catherine Truman joins Andrew Purvis to discuss the dynamics of artist residencies, the importance of a self-imposed ‘pause’, the desire to artistically locate the person behind their research, and the beginnings of her work from her time in residency at Carrick Hill. This episode was recorded as part of the Adelaide Central School of Art’s ArtSpeak Program.
Episode 27 / Rosina Possingham
Andrew Purvis catches up with Rosina Possingham to chat about her intricate photographic processes (that dote on old and new technology), collaboration & experimentation, and her recent work on ‘the Patch’ in the Adelaide Park Lands. 🌳
Episode 26 / Tom Borgas
In this episode, Tom Borgas and Athanasios Lazarou make time to chat about Tom’s practice; from feedback loops, to making the unseen seen, and the weather conditions that constitute a ‘Tom day’.
This talk was hosted by the Adelaide Central School of Art as part of the ArtSpeak program.
Photo: Thomas McCammon
Episode 25 / Heidi Kenyon
In this episode, Andrew Purvis of Adelaide Central School of Art speaks with artist Heidi Kenyon as part of the school’s ArtSpeak program (recorded live). Heidi’s work ‘We shall by morning inherit the earth’ featured in the exhibition Neoteric at the Adelaide Railway Station in March-April 2022.
- Heidi Kenyon, We shall by morning inherit the earth, 2022, Pleurotus ostreatus and citrinopileatus, timber and mixed media, dimensions variable. Sound by Ben Davidson (Ben Sun) using electromagnetic sequences generated by the fungi.
- Neoteric Digital Catalogue (pdf)
- ‘It is the job of artists to open doors and invite in prophesies, the unknown, the unfamiliar; it’s where their work comes from, although its arrival signals the beginning of the long disciplined process of making it their own. Scientists too, as J. Robert Oppenheimer once remarked, ‘live always at the ‘edge of mystery’—the boundary of the unknown.’ But they transform the unknown into the known, haul it in like fishermen; artists get you out into that dark sea.’ A Field Guide to Getting Lost – Rebecca Solnit [goodreads]
photograph by Rosina Possingham
Hello and welcome to the SALA Podcast.
This episode is a live recording of ArtSpeak, which is a series of talks run by the Adelaide Central School of Art that have been recorded in collaboration with SALA Festival.
Sorry everyone, lost track of time there. Just getting my breath back from running up the stairs. Thank you very much for joining us. I’d like to acknowledge that the land we meet on today is the traditional lands of the Kaurna people. We pay our respects to Aboriginal elders; past, present and emerging. We’re very fortunate today to be joined by Heidi Kenyon for this in conversation session as part of the Adelaide Central School of Art’s ArtSpeak Program. Heidi is exhibiting currently at the Neoteric exhibition in the city, with her new work…
‘We shall, by morning, inherit the earth’
Thank you, I always get it in the wrong order.
Me too, actually.
So I won’t give too much of an expanded introduction, Heidi, because I’m really interested to hear you talk a little bit about your journey from art school, to being a professional practicing artist where you are now today.
Thanks, Andrew. Yeah, and with that in mind, with the slides, I’ve gone kind of right back to the beginning of my art career. So, with art school, I’ve realized in thinking about this question how much I’ve gone back and forth over the years. So I originally finished art school – so all my art school has been through UniSA – so I initially started at Underdale campus and finished in 2005. And then, when I left, I wouldn’t have really considered myself a professional artist at that stage, but with kind of dabbling in things and working in retail and then it was probably when I went back to do my honours degree, which is where this body of work came from, that my work as an artist really started to gain momentum. And also, I think, pushing more confidently into sculpture and installation. Because I started off in painting, and kind of dabbled in a bit of everything. So there’s a bit of glass and jewellery and metalwork and kind of tried as many things as I could. And then…
I think that’s really interesting, because you can see that material versatility come through your practice now.
But you don’t see a lot of painting.
Yes. No, not at all. And yeah, and you know, I wasn’t bad at painting. But I don’t think I was ever going to get anywhere with that or have… I guess, I realized how much materiality and …that sort of act of making and feeling and kind of unraveling or playing with was such an integral part of what I was interested in. And I was actually um – and as you know – and I can talk about this a bit later, but I started a PhD this year with Steven Carson, Uni of Tasmania, and he was back then Head of Sculpture [at UniSA] and was the person who said, “why are you doing painting? You should be doing sculpture”, like okay! So yeah, I think there’s those little turning points when you don’t necessarily know it at the time but looking back, you can kind of start to see how things evolved. And then out of honors, and so I finished in around 2008. And I was fortunate to be shortlisted for some art prizes and exhibit this work in Hatched at Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts, which I think was really pivotal in terms of growing my networks and meeting other artists and being able to contextualize what I was doing in a much broader perspective.
Hatched is a wonderful opportunity for something like that. So when you say this work, you’re talking specifically about the cut leaves? The shadows?
Yeah, yeah. So I sort of cradled them in a shoebox on the plane, so they didn’t break and was given a very hard time by Monte Masi, who was the artist that year in […]. It was a funny time.
He’s much more caring for graduate artists these days, now that he’s got his new position here at the school.
That’s great. I love it. But yes, it was, you know, those times I guess, that we’ll have when you’re immersed in things, and you’re trying new things and meeting new people. And that was quite a big turning point. And then I guess, on from that I focused a lot on applying for grants to produce new work and showing at spaces. You know, artists run initiatives in places like FELTspace and Project Space at CACSA, which for those of you don’t know, was the Contemporary Art Center of South Australia on Porter Street but then combined with the Experimental Art Foundation to become…I always get my acronyms mixed up. And what did I do from there? So then I got the Ruth Tuck scholarship, and I was able to do some travel. And I went to New York and the UK, and did a workshop with a bunch of other artists around the world kind of working collaboratively, which I can talk about a bit later, but just continue through. And then yeah, continued working in the arts, I guess, in terms of how have I sustained this as a career, I haven’t really ever made a lot of money for my practice, I’ve been able to, you know, sometimes break even or get grants to make work or occasionally make work that’s perhaps saleable, and not fragile installation, one off pieces, but I’ve focused on work in the arts more broadly. Outside of that I sort of worked or worked in retail, but I’ve worked at Hahndorf Academy for a while, and, you know, teaching workshops and those sorts of things, which I found has given me a bit more freedom to pursue my ideas without, you know, I mean, like, even if you were focused on trying to make money, who can do that? Not many people. And then –
– but most recently, you’ve been working with Guildhouse?
most recently working with Guildhouse. So then, yeah, so then I did a master’s degree as well. And then, after that, had been working as the Guildhouse Program Officer, and yeah, just continuing to … what was I going to say before that? I did some more travel, remember travel, when people did travel? That was great. So yeah, I got this Qantas Award, which gave me 10k, just to use in flights, which was amazing. So that really helps my professional practice and did a residency in Venice. And so that’s the images of stuff in Venice. And then working in Guildhouse, which has been great to, I guess connect, you know, Guildhouse has almost 1000 artists members, and so you are very kind of connected to the pulse of what’s happening, but being able to use the skills that I’ve gained over the years to help other people in their professional development.
I think it’s something that often is underestimated that value of an artistic community – of being connected to something, of seeing what other people are working on. And often, it’s what drives us knowing that there are other people out there making work.
Definitely. And it can be, you know, a lot of people do get that sense when they’re in art school, or they’re having critiques or regular forums and things. But once you’re outside of that environment, it can be isolated. Particularly if you’re not working in a shared studio space, or, you know, in recent years, with COVID, and restrictions that we’ve had less kind of in person, events and things.
Totally, and it’s interesting, the way you frame the discussion about your artistic career talking about these roles in the arts that have supported you and enabled you to make work. But I think that it is also something that, you know, informs work or, or can sort of drive work as well.
Absolutely. Definitely, I think that’s been a really critical part of what I’ve been doing. For sure.
Heidi, it’s a really beautiful image, when you talk about going over to the Hatched show cradling your little cut leaves in a shoebox on your lap. And it does make me think, it sort of almost neatly summarizes a couple of aspects of your practice, the idea of care, and also the working with natural materials. I think there’s probably a few people in this room that might not have had the chance yet to see “We shall by morning inherit the earth”. Is that right? Can you tell us a little bit about what that installation looks like? What the different elements of it are?
Yeah, absolutely. So the exhibition space is in the railway station. And it’s a quite grungy renewal SA site like beautiful, old building with lots of character. And so there’s a small kind of room tucked away, fortuitously, in part of that space, and when I was talking to Ray Harris at the beginning and was saying that I want, you know, that I might have to construct a space or I want to kind of create a darkened space. And he said that actually there is this little room, which is great because there is a beautiful dilapidated wall, and it’s just perfect. So I’ve created this immersive installation where the participant or the viewer is invited to enter this darkened space and come and sit at ground level inside a circle of growing mushrooms. And so there is a few sensory elements to it. So there’s quite an earthy smell of the mushrooms on the straw, which wasn’t something that I’ve given a lot of thought to really but it is something that people have commented on a lot, the smell. And what I’ve done is I’ve connected the mushrooms to some equipment that reads electromagnetic energy. And I sent this data to my brother, who’s a London based music producer, and has created a soundscape for this work. So you come into this darkened space and see the mushrooms and then you hear the sound was just kind of synthesizing various notes or chords that have been assigned to the varying energy levels. I did a period of recordings over probably a couple of hours and was sent snippets and then yeah, as those levels change, they’ve been assigned different sounds. So you’re invited to come in and sit with the work, and yeah, listen to it, and I guess, you know, witness the detail of it, and I wanted it to be something that was quite intimate and kind of maximum like one or maybe two people at a time.
It’s a very contemplative meditative space that you’ve created. And I think what you allude to that sort of like the depth of the sensory experience, because beyond the visual to the auditory and the and the olfactory as well, is a big part of creating that kind of nestled sense with that work
Definitely. And it took me quite a while to work out some of the detail of like, how I was going to light the work, or how I was going to place the mushrooms I was gonna make, you know, well initially, I wasn’t necessarily thinking of boxes, like I thought there might be some earth elements are on the ground, but kind of nutting out those details was a bit of a tricky one for this work. But what I always knew from the beginning was the type of experience that I wanted it to be. So that came first, I guess that sense of slowing down, being in the space, having those sensory elements having a darkened space coming down to ground level, you know, and even that kind of circle element, those are the things that I knew that I wanted, and then it was kind of working backwards, or testing things out to kind of pull it together.
This work isn’t the first time that you’ve worked with not just natural materials, but living organisms. I’d love to hear a little bit more about some of those works. But I’m also interested in how you would like audiences to read these works. Do they have an environmental context to the way you hope they’re understood?
Yeah, definitely. Definitely, there is an environmental context, but I guess, I’ve never made that really overt so I have kind of focused a bit more on the relationships and trying to convey a really clear environmental message. It’s more about how we are connected to other living things and what our relationships are, what our empathy might be, for those things or how there might be similarities. I mean, there’s lots of interesting stuff about mushrooms. You know, mushrooms are more related to humans than they are to plants, they take an oxygen and they release carbon dioxide. But yeah, it’s kind of about interconnectedness. And I guess, some of those themes of interconnectedness go back through my practice in general. So if it’s not natural materials, I’ve worked a lot with found objects, and have looked a lot at manifestations of memory or meaning and objects and rituals. But I guess, with this work, it comes from examining some ideas around sustainability more consciously, and how the context of empathy might prompt social change.
Previously, some of these works that have that have articulated sounds from natural organisms have worked with trees and pot plants. There is that sort of sense of that shift towards, as you say, trying to have a more empathic engagement with these things, thinking them less as decorative items and more as living organisms. What is the shift from the plant to the mushroom bring to the work?
Part of it part of the reasoning behind that was around sustainability and the idea of like growing my own materials. And, yeah, like you say it’s, you know, instead of kind of like some of them have used sapling trees, but you know, they’ve had to be in pots, or I’m taking them from a nursery context into a gallery context. And then I then kind of donated trees to different people and community groups and stuff. So they have a life beyond that exhibit. But again, I like this idea of seeing kind of a full cycle and being in that from the very beginning. So seeing these mushrooms come from, you know, and they grow very quickly, which has been the biggest challenge of this work, but they’ll go from, you know, smaller than your fingernail to as big as the palm of your hand, sometimes within a matter of days. So I have just worked out I’ve almost done 100 harvests for this exhibition. And I’ve had to be in about every 36 hours to change stuff over and clean them up and rebag them. I hadn’t anticipated the level of care and maintenance, that would be required to have constantly fruiting mushrooms over a period of six weeks.
That is fascinating, because it talks about the the, the variability of natural materials, and it also goes back to this idea of care which is abig part of your work,
I think, because there’s been such a time commitment that’s involved, like it feels like they have become children in a way and that you round the clockness of it, and misting them and checking on them and checking on the humidity. Like it feels like the time that’s spent breastfeeding a baby or like I have other times in my life where I’ve gone. Yes, that kind of sense of losing your sense of time and round the clock, and I’m dreaming about mushrooms every night. Every waking hour.
It’s very much an intimate relationship. I’m assuming you’re not eating them?
I am eating them as well, which is even weirder. And that came up in one of the artists talks we had the other day. And I’m like, ah, yeah, it feels feels a bit strange. But also gifting to many, many. Yeah, lots of gifting of mushrooms to to volunteers during the show, and friends and neighbors and anyone who will take them.
And I think you were telling me that one of the reasons why you need to get them out there is quite quite a unexpected one as well.
Yeah. So they say if you don’t harvest them once they get to a certain stage of growth, they’ll start releasing spores, which actually looks quite beautiful in the midst of stuff that happens, but not so great for public health. So some people do have allergies to mushroom spores. And I think even if you don’t if that keeps happening, and it builds up over a period of time it’s not so great. So yeah, it’s important to be really onto it and really on to the weather as well. So that last week, we had a period of quite high humidity, and everything just went nuts, you know, the ones growing at home and my bathroom, the ones in the show, and everything was just going crazy. So I had to be in everyday for a period of time. Um, but yeah, I think also working with that because I’m using straw as well. And I’ve developed a bit of asthma and have to make sure that I use a mask every time I do it now but that repetition of that constant exposure to it like I’m yeah have started getting bit chesty. I’m getting blisters from pushing this trolley of mushrooms. And I’m sure we’ve all had works where yeah, you that repeated act, you start to kind of take that on that it manifests in physical ways, which I think maybe next step is thinking about sustainability of practice, as well as sustainability and environmental theme.
Yeah, well, it is very much like a little ecosystem that you create them and that the mushroom is not the only living organism in there thinking about the audiences and yourself about how these things interact, and the influence they have on each other, I think gets back to the core of the work
as well. Absolutely. So yeah, the core of it really is about that interconnectedness. And I think I mean, there’s a lot more research coming out about the role of mycelium networks and how baguettes nutrient extract exchange and how trees can kind of look after other family members or send nutrients and send warning signals and you know, it’s the oldest mushrooms the oldest living organisms on Earth, I think. But um, yeah, there’s, yeah, there’s the more that you delve into it, it goes so deep. It’s really interesting. And what was it gonna say about that collaboration and nutrients, that sort of relates to Part of the reason of connecting with my brother as well and having been separated from him from a period of time because of COVID. That the we can often be on the same wavelength. So we might not talk for months and months, and then we’ll both be, you know, bringing something up and really on the same page, or have these points of crossover that I don’t necessarily have in the same way with anyone else in my life. And I think it’s interesting, you know, we can be so far apart and kind of be circling back to the same thing. So there’s some kind of parallels.
Yeah, absolutely. And do you think that’s fungal spores that’s connecting? Definitely. Yeah, definitely. Yeah, that’s a really interesting thing. Because the music that your brother has created for this work, sound is has been a has been a repeated element in your work. And also, I think we have images in here of your quite spectacular piano shifting through the wall work as well. So the motif of sound, the idea of sound is something that ties into Yeah, absolutely. Do you want to talk a little bit about what sound and music means for you? And how do you see it operate in your practice?
Yeah, absolutely. So when I first did that piano work, it was in 2009. So not long after leaving Art School for the second after finishing honors. And there was a site specific work for FELTspace, because you can stand in the doorway, and see both halves of the piano. So it looks like it’s pushing through the wall. And there was a funny story that that time that building used to be shared with the housewives association of South Australia, which I didn’t know was still a thing. But it was a thing in 2009. I don’t know if it’s still a thing. But I used to have meetings there maybe once a week or once a fortnight, and one of the women was outraged that the landlord had, she thought that the landlord had let me cut a massive hole in the wall and push a piano through it. And sorry, I was thrilled with that feedback that I had carried off the illusion like I made it look so real, that it was believable that it had happened. I guess.
Similarly, as unbelievable what you actually did, which was to cut the piano is
a bit ridiculous. And mostly done by hand. Because, you know, I chose a really strange angle. And so lots of like tape and laser pointers and different measuring tools. But yeah, hacksaws and Japanese saws have developed kind of a very specific attachment to very particular types of sores from using that work, which I think some people I’ve become known for using, particularly these Japanese saws,
I know you can make great recommendations of like, ‘This sword is perfect for cutting a piano’.
exactly, this is good to know. So if anyone wants to know, you know, I’ve got the Intel. And so what was I gonna say? I guess I’m interested in in it might be found objects and things in general. And I talked a little bit back to kind of memory and traces, but I really like kind of analog technologies. And I guess, the art effects of music. And so I’ve done some work with records and always cassette tape and, and the regional showing of this piano work, there was no sound. And so I liked the idea that there was some kind of embodied sound or sound that was felt, and that pushing through the wall was a little bit about cheekiness, or maybe there was something slightly sinister, I’m not sure about this idea of a little bit of a kind of animism thing. But thinking about Yeah, if sound became movement, what would that look like? Or how can something kind of take on those memories of what it’s been used for, and then show those in some kind of playful way.
And to me, the works often speak quite a lot about translation, that idea of like, translating the biological processes of the plant into sound, and similarly translating that sort of idea, the white move, music might move through a space into a visual language with the piano.
Absolutely. And I’m glad that you brought that up because I didn’t bring it up as the first thing I wrote here, which I didn’t say was then I think it’s about communication. So making viewers or participants kind of aware of a presence or giving a voice to something as this gesture of connection or collaboration. So, I’m glad that you understand my work better than I do.
We’re just collaborating.
But yeah, definitely, it’s that gesture. And, you know, obviously, I guess it’s a bit like, you know, putting out messages for other planets. And then this idea that someone would find those things. And this is a load of rubbish. This has meaning less than the piano, or the mushrooms might think, What the hell are you doing, but it’s that, so it could be lost in translation, but it’s that idea of, yeah, gesture, or reaching out or looking for a point of connection with another thing. And, you know, with the plant stuff, and with the machine stuff, you know, awareness of our own conductivity. You know, we conduct electricity, too. So what what do we have in common? And I think the other thing about music is just being inspired by other creative media in general, which I think a lot of artists do. So whether that’s music or literature, or other things, that there are those, you know, when you’re making work, and you listen to something over and over, are those things that kind of plant in your subconscious? Yeah, absolutely.
I think that you, you raised something interesting there with, you mentioned, just as an aside that this idea of like sending messages out into the cosmos, and this idea of communicating with something that maybe can’t communicate back or, or something that might not even be there looking at a lot of your past works. Using the Camera Obscura or shadows, some of the sculptural interventions with a disembodied white hands and the piano, they feel something almost spectral occurring. They’re very beautiful, but it feels a little bit like they kind of hold the spaces that they’re in, is that a deliberate effect that you’re aiming for with your work?
I think so I think it’s, yeah, I’m very happy with that reading of it. And I guess, throughout my practice, what I’ve been really interested in doing is using very everyday very familiar objects and materials and natural materials, and perhaps shifting something called presenting something in a new way, so that there can be a little bit of a doubletake or a little bit of a slowing down, or layers that reward curiosity. So sometimes I’ve been so caught up in some particular detail, a piano is a good example, or even this mushroom, which some people have gotten into the space and missed entirely. But sometimes I’ve been so caught up in something. And I’m saying to my partner, I just want to do this to a level that like, I don’t want anyone to notice it at all. And it’s like, you don’t want anyone to notice the work. Yes, they get that sense of if someone does take the time that something may unfold, or become visible, or there might be Yeah, I guess, you know, there’s a touch on animism and some of it but also thinking about phenomenology and how we focus on sensors and experience and some ideas around reverie and memory and absence and presence. The Camera Obscura is quite an interesting one camera obscures you know, the history goes way, way back, that we used in the 1600s by people intentionally to kind of trick viewers or trick people that they were what they were reviewing were manifestations of the culture of magic or visions into the future. So it’s, you know, it’s for those of you that don’t know, it’s very simple thing, the camera obscura or the pinhole camera, you know, you’ve got a hole for light to pass through. And if you have a surface for that to focus on or a screen of some kind, what you get is an image of what’s outside, back to the front and upside down. And it’s just the way that, you know, lenses work that cameras work that our eyes work. It’s a natural thing that happens,
but it certainly makes it feel very uncanny. Sort of familiar but strange at the same time.
Yeah, but I love that idea that they were used to, you know, trick people. And so yeah, that definitely ties into it.
Well, with what you’re saying as well, your partner’s response to this idea of you working on something until your intervention becomes invisible. And it seems to me that what you’re striving for there is to create a sensation of magic in that encounter; that this is just something that has occurred.
Definitely. Yeah, and I think that yeah, I think one of mine now we have artist statements that we recycle and use over a number of years. And I think the word ‘magic’, was in it. I don’t know if it’s actually still in there, but was definitely in there for a long time. So yeah, you’ve hit the nail on the head.
You touched on this before, but you also work collaboratively. ‘We shall, by morning’ features sound elements created by your brother. But you’ve also worked with other artists like Rosina Possingham, and Laura Wills and your nonhuman collaborators as well. What does this strategy bring to your work? Is it a matter of ceding control or something else?
I think that is an interesting aspect for sure. I think. Collaboration over the years has been has been something that I’ve pursued quite intentionally as a professional development exercise. So I’ve created the work one of the slides that you’ll see with this, I can’t remember what I called it. But this work that I created with Rosina Possingham and Laura Wills. So there was we did a workshop with the South African artists called Francois Knoetze. And his idea was The Art of Mongo, which was making things from rubbish or recycled materials or discarded materials. I’ve lost my train of thought. So I think that that one was a very collaborative finding that we all just kind of kept bringing bits to it and seeing how it unfolded. But outside of that, I’ve pursued collaboration of things that sits quite outside of my practice, I’ve volunteered as a performer in a few works by David Cross, who’s a Melbourne based artist, and he was previously based in New Zealand. He makes these kind of performance and installation, inflatable works that ask people to enter into or interact with in different ways and push boundaries around, you know, some of them have had things which are like a great height, and there’s kind of a fear of falling, or yeah, there’s some interesting things that happen that fit very much outside of my practice, but I’ve learned a lot from being involved in those kinds of works. And I’ve been involved in some performance with Henry Wolff, and yeah, and their practice in kind of moving image and photography and performance and ideas of care and vulnerability. And there are, I guess, similar themes in my practice as well. But their work is, you know, the end product is very different. And, yeah, I’ve learned so much from, you know, workshopping some of those ideas. And one that I want to go back to in one of my initial points of travel, I did this international artists workshop in the UK, where we were asked to work collaboratively with 17 other artists on a piece for a festival, which was kind of a music festival music arts festival, but it was, it was a big ask. And there was a period of I can’t quite remember, maybe a couple of weeks or something. And a lot of the artists there were sculptural installation artists. And I think the people involved thought that we were going to create something or fabricate some kind of thing. And we all just ended up doing these little performative interventions. But it also turned a little bit into Lord of the Flies like trying to work collaboratively with 17 other people from very diverse practices. I definitely had a few moments of like, hysterical crying and laughing at the same time and just like not knowing, you know?
Well, absolutely. It sounds like pushing the sort of limits of collaboration, a wonderful way to sort of start well, maybe a terrible way of starting a collaborative practice, but also really interesting to see the limits of it. Right from the get go.
Yeah, it could have been a great reality TV show that one, I think. But yeah, I can seem to keep out of control, I can be a bit of a control freak in my own practice, but then, you know, also set myself up for things like the mushrooms, which I can’t, you know, I can’t control the weather. There are so many things that I can’t control and so there’s that push and pull between, you know, having a vision or perhaps having some kind of obsessive perfectionistic tendencies, but then putting yourself on the line or pushing those limits to being open to what’s possible. Oh that’s what I wanted to say, actually, I have a little quote, sorry, I feel like I’m ranting. It’s a wuote from Rebecca Solnit in a book called A Field Guide to Getting Lost, that really resonates with me in terms of thinking about how you want unable to experience your work or maybe having, you know, having some ideas or things that inform it that like leaving that openness for things to unfold, and I guess ceding control in that way. So she talks about the idea or the form of the tale that’s not yet arrived or what must be found. It’s the job of artists to open doors. And inviting prophecies, the unknown, the unfamiliar. It’s where the work comes from, although its arrival signals the beginning of the long disciplined process of making their own. And so she talks about scientists doing this too, but they transform the unknown into the known, haul it in like fishermen, whereas artists get you out into that dark sea. And I love that idea in that image. And I guess, particularly in working with some technologies that, you know, there might be a biology aspect or physics aspect in the sense of the electromagnetic energy, or the sound or the kind of photographic stuff. But I like to just kind of mess with it in a way or push into what I don’t quite know and see what happens. And I think that’s one of the most interesting things, for me about making work making sure that you leave that space to see what can unfold, because, in a lot of ways, the end product for me, I guess, in my practice becomes a lot more interesting than if I had a very clear idea of exactly what I wanted for the begin from the beginning. And that not be open to some of those, you know, and sometimes it’s even things that go wrong, or things that don’t turn out, as you expect, but you discover some magic in that
absolutely sort of building in that element of chance or risk to open up the possibilities for discovery, even if it’s the discovery of dark water or the unknown. I think it’s a really fascinating way of being aware of how you work and being able to build that that search of the unknown into your own practice is marvelous.
Yeah, and risky and can be quite stressful. But I think it pays off.
I’d love to do a little bit of time for questions. But I did want to ask what you’ve got coming up next, because you did allude to a PhD project that you’re working on.
Yes, I’ve just started a PhD with the University of Tasmania, but working from here, but I’m hoping to do some field trips when it becomes easier to travel. And so the, the scholarship that I applied for, was centered around sustainability and using recycled materials, or reused materials and objects, which hadn’t ties into my practice really well. But I thought, it could be a really good chance to more deeply examine my practice with some of those lenses in mind. And the way that I’ve positioned my starting point is thinking about collaboration with nature with other living things kind of as a driver for social change. So that is, the sustainability aspect is one of sort of moral philosophy. And, yeah, I’m also really keen to investigate my local environment, more than I guess, now having a studio at home in in hills, and having moved from Boston and previous to that being in the city to a much greener space has been something that, I guess was became more important with the pandemic and having two young children in an apartment and you know, public spaces suddenly being closed down, but also the weapon that I showed earlier with the hands and the rocks was based on thinking about my daughter going out and collecting rocks and filling her pocket with rocks and always bringing these kinds of things home. And, you know, that ended up in the washing machine or in corners of the house and rocks and pebbles and bits of nature. And then I had that realization, I thought maybe she you know, it was annoying and frustrating, but maybe that actually is the most important thing. Like maybe that is she’s trying to fill a gap or there’s something that we’re missing that we need to prioritize. I think I’ve gone off on a big tangent.
Thank you. Maybe now we have any questions for Heidi
I’ve got a question for Heidi. It’s definitely seems like you have really wide-ranging research interests. And this latest work with the mushrooms it just seems like a huge field that you could just get lost in endlessly. You know the scientific aspects, the anthropomorphic aspects, everything. But I guess, how do you… what is your strategy for not getting lost in the endless curiosity of all these fields and materials and processes that you utilize… because your work is so tight. And so discrete, the outcomes. I guess, I’m amazed that you can find the pathway to a very particular experience and material outcome. Do you have a strategy for that?
That’s good to hear, actually, because I think sometimes I feel like my work is too meandering, or that it’s too… Yeah, it’s an interesting question. And I, I’m not sure what my so I feel like sometimes I do just get lost. That maybe there are things that I always come back to or circle round with. So there’s always some stuff about sensory experience, and there’s always some clear ideas about site-specificity, that put those boundaries on the work. So how I want people to enter into a space or what I want to be felt or perceived that kind of put some boundaries on it. I was thinking too -and I wouldn’t recommend this as a strategy- but I think one of the things that I do is maybe really go too far and push too hard, like this mushroom work that I’m spending, you know, 35 hours a week maintaining to the point where I’m like, ‘I can’t look at mushrooms anymore’. So I will just flood myself with things to a point of saturation, that I then need some space from it, which Yeah, I don’t think is an amazing strategy.
I’m sure that’s just the spores talking
Maybe they’re in my brain. But yeah, I think there are probably some clear ideas about experience that always come into the work or about aesthetic or about the idea of different levels, or layers or, you know, having things to unpack or discover, and there’s always some aspects around memory or traces of the past or coming back to materiality and the object itself and what I can learn from that, or how I can unpack that. I’m not sure how that answers your question. But yeah, I think it’s, you know, it’s going out by then coming back in and each time you gather new information, and you re-position Yeah, during that fieldwork and then circling back. And things like this are really good opportunity to, you know, you don’t necessarily you wouldn’t necessarily do this of your own accord, you know, sit down and go back through your practice and doing those things does help contextualize and position where you’re going in the same way that art school can do that or, you know, talking with peers or having critiques all those things kind of help, position or provide some framework.
Wonderful. I think we’re gonna have to leave it there. Heidi, can you please join me in thanking Heidi Kenyon.
Episode 24 / Jess Taylor
In this episode, Andrew Purvis of Adelaide Central School of Art speaks with artist Jess Taylor as part of the school’s ArtSpeak program (recorded live). Tune in to hear about Jess’ journey since art school, the ethics of creating artwork within the genre of horror, and what draws her to the mediums she uses.
- Primordial at Hugo Michell Gallery
- Primordial (JessTaylorArtist.com)
- View Master at FELTspace (2014)
- Contemporary Art Centre of South Australia (CACSA)
- Floating Goose Gallery
- Deborah Prior
- ACE Open Studio Residency
- NAVA membership
- Lenticular prints
- What is 3D Rigging for Animation & Character Design? [article]
- Francisco Goya
- Chaïm Soutine
- Francis Bacon
- the Chapman Brothers
- Francisco Goya, Saturn Devouring His Son
- Scammells Major Grant
- Jess Taylor, When I die, I’ll die on time, 2022, 3D printed resin and paint, 35 x 21 x 13cm, ed. Of 3
- Cordyceps is a genus of ascomycete fungi
- Jess Taylor, Now I love You In The Dark, 2022, 3D printed resin and paint 37 x 62 x 18cm, ed of 3
- Agisoft Metashape (formerly Agisoft Photoscan)
- Midsommar (2019 film)
Hello and welcome to the SALA Podcast.
This episode is a live recording of ArtSpeak, which is a series of talks run by the Adelaide Central School of Art that have been recorded in collaboration with SALA Festival.
Is this my seat, Steph? Wow, this is all quite new to me so excuse me if I seem to be fumbling my way through things. I’d like to acknowledge that the land that we meet on today is the traditional lands of the Kaurna People, we pay our respects to Aboriginal Elders past, present and emerging. We’re very fortunate today to be joined by Jess Taylor. Jess has recently opened her exhibition ‘Primordial‘ at Hugo Michell Gallery last Thursday, and that show runs through till April 2. So if you haven’t been allowed to see it yet, stay for the talk, but once it’s over, seize the opportunity to get out and see that exhibition because it’s really wonderful. Jess is not just a graduate from the school, but she is also a lecturer here. She completed her honors in 2013. She has also completed a master’s at UniSA, and then enjoyed a residency at ACE Open Studios. But I won’t say too much about Jess’ bio because I do want to talk a little bit about her journey out of art school. So if you could just join me in welcoming Jess today.
I might have given you a little bit of a suggestion as to what the first question might be. But do you want to talk to us a little bit about what your your journey out of art school was like?
yeah, um, so I suppose, like Andrew said, I completed my honors here in 2013. And kind of, the career that I wanted and had envisioned for myself was one of a kind of practicing exhibiting artist. So that has been my career focus to date. That 2014, the year after I graduated, I had my first solo show at FELTspace. I also joined my first artist studios. So for at least the first few years out of art school, that was a really kind of important part of my practice. And part of me finding my feet as a practitioner was finding these spaces where I could work alongside other artists and kind of continue to get that feedback in that peer atmosphere that I’d had in art school. I also presented a kind of large installation work at CACSA in that year. I kind of one of my other life goals as well as to have children so at the end of 2014, I had my first child. 2015 was kind of me getting back on my feet a bit, I was in a few group shows, but kind of got back into things in 2016. So I had a solo exhibition at Floating Goose Gallery, and also started my Masters by Research at UniSA. I’d also always had this kind of idea that I’d really like to lecture one day, and having that postgraduate degree was a kind of prerequisite for that. So that was one reason I went into the master’s program. But also I really wanted to kind of extend this research I’ve done so far on this idea of the interplay between visual arts and horror; you know, horror being something we consider a very kind of filmic or literature-based genre. So that’s what my master’s was about, it was looking at how visual arts might perform the social function of horror. I did that through and graduated in 2018. But that whole kind of postgraduate degree was really great. It gave me the freedom to exhibit quite widely so I had shows in Adelaide, ACT, Tasmania, Melbourne. I collaborated with another artist in 2018, as well that I really respect called Deborah Prior. And we had this kind of collaborative exhibition that we held in Melbourne, and in FELTspace in late 2018. I also gave birth to my second child at the end of that year, so very busy for me. And 2019 was the year that I was awarded the ACE Open studio residency. So that ran for a year, I got a supported studio space above ACE Open, which was amazing. And yeah, that was another kind of opportunity to have that peer support of a kind of new group of artists. A lot of professional development opportunities offered by the staff at ACE to meet other artists and curators and so on. I produced some more 3d printed work, which was shown in Melbourne, and also started working on more virtual reality work which was shown at MOD in 2019. 2020 was kind of a few group shows, you know, with COVID it was kind of a disaster year. But in 2021 things kicked off again. I had a show at JamFactory, which was quite a new kind of audience and context for my work, I suppose. And that was the show that kind of led to Hugo Michell approaching me to have the exhibition which I’m holding now in 2022.
It’s pretty stunning CV for less than 10 years out of art school,
almost 10 years!
almost but not yet 10 years at art school. And I assumed that like a lot of those opportunities, some of those were offered to you. But it sounds to me like you pursued a lot of those, and were very sort of dedicated and did a lot of kind of entrepreneurial work and getting your practice off the ground and exhibiting widely.
Yeah, I think it certainly from my perspective, that kind of initiative, particularly in the beginning, was really important. You know, I feel like I’m kind of just at the point in my career where that momentum has paid off, and, you know, now people might approach me to do things where, you know, in the early days, it was things like, getting a NAVA membership so I could check the opportunities obsessively, and apply for things and you know, throwing many stones at one target and hoping one would hit and that kind of thing. And, of course, in between that, like learning how to go about approaching funding opportunities, so that I could do all of these things. So yeah, early days was a lot of, kind of, I guess, it being driven by myself, but also a lot of kind of luck and opportunities that I’ve been given as well.
But I think I can also detect that looking at your practice, this sense of… there’s no resting on your laurels there. And it’s really interesting to look at the mediums that you use because a lot of people will be familiar with your 3d-printed work. But to go back to some of your even during your graduate work, there was quite a lot of sculptural work, but there was quite a lot of interest in materials like lenticular prints. And even now you’re working with virtual reality. Do you want to talk about your approach to materials and processes?
Yeah, I suppose, you know, the, the kind of uniting feature of the materials, I’m drawn to other materials that I use, I kind of group them as all being these representational digital technologies. So yeah the lenticular prints, which for those who aren’t familiar, it’s kind of those really dodgy holographic… you’d see them and bookmarks on placemats and stuff. And I am a huge fan of gimmicks, so I love all that stuff. But then also, like, I’ve explored a lot of kind of glitch techniques with the video, art and photography, a lot of 3d scanning, which is the basis for my virtual reality works. I suppose I’m just I’m really interested in technology that tries to capture something about the real world. And I’m interested in the ways that it really falls short at the moment. We’re not quite at that technological point where these things produce convincing replicas of the real world, and so I’m more interested in technology that tries and fails, than technology that succeeds at its aims, I suppose.
Yeah, absolutely. I mean, that’s something that I feel that I observe about your work is the sense that the, you know, the lenticular print is an interesting thing but it talks about visuality, that sort of ability, as the body moves through space, to get a different perspective on something, to move around a sculpture or to move through a virtual reality environment as the same. But as you say, interested in this kind of glitch quality of technology failing, it feels that you’re also interested in that materiality of the technology. And I think that comes through the 3d prints.
Yeah, I think certainly, I think, you know, it’s something that I’m always kind of trying to describe, that perhaps is difficult for people to get a handle on. But even the way that I kind of design my 3d printed words, like the models that are used to create those works, and stuff there is this kind of digital tactility -for want of a better word- there’s a way that you, you know, manipulate these 3d objects in this 3d space that is kind of bodily, but kind of not. It’s this weird kind of interplay between us and these technological interfaces. But yeah, and certainly that kind of… the way that we interact with technology, I think is so important, you know, all the technologies that exist are kind of a reflection on us and what we want. And so even when they don’t go quite right, there’s something I find really kind of endearing and engaging. In that we tried to get this thing to do something for us. We tried to realize a part of ourselves or our hopes in this technology, and even if it kind of fell over, I don’t know, I find that a very human thing.
Absolutely. I think that seeing it as an object helps people sort of translate and understand the digital in some ways, it’s gonna tell us a little bit about the actual sort of mechanics of how one goes about creating a sculpture like that, because it’s very different from a lot of the processes that students are likely to encounter at art school.
Yeah. So I suppose that’s the thing. I kind of got into 3d modeling and 3d printing in my honors year. At the time, I was looking at the kind of failures and slippage is that occur when we try and capture something real with technology. So I was taking these not-very-good blurry photographs and stuff like that. But then once I kind of came across 3d printing, I was like, oh, there must be a way to to make real stuff into 3d models, like, how do I kind of go about that. So I tested a lot of different ways of doing that. One of the primary, I suppose, ways I do that in my practice is a process called photogrammetry, which is, you take a whole bunch of photos of something, feed it into a 3d program, and that program tries to figure out what it’s looking at and give you a model. A lot of the models that you see, you know, my 3d printed works, they were made from a much higher grade 3d scan of myself, I was actually scanned when I was pregnant with my first child. So you can see in some of them, I’ve got kind of a belly going on, which is a nice kind of moment in time in my work. But I had this really good 3d scan done. And I had that model rigged up, which is basically a posable skeleton gets attached to it in 3d programming, it’s the same thing that happens like video characters, that allows them to walk and move and so on. So I use that kind of base model to pose it, save it and kind of print it, duplicate it. Another thing that has been a reason why 3d modeling and 3d printing has been such a mainstay in my practice, is, there’s so much ability to kind of interfere with that form in these programs. So you know, I can cut it in half, I can hollow it out, I can turn it inside out, I can attach objects to them or take them away, there’s just kind of limitless opportunities to do things to my body that the real world doesn’t quite allow me to do.
Thankfully. And it’s really interesting, looking back to some of your earliest experiments with that medium, how sophisticated the latest works look, by comparison. Is that something you’ve experienced the technological advances in that medium? It’s quite dissimilar from oil painting, for instance, that your medium that you work in is changing continuously while you’re working in it.
Yeah, I mean, I think there’s, there’s two things that have kind of happened. One is that is this… not so much increase in technological sophistication, more so like that sophistication becomes accessible to your average person, because you know, I don’t have a multi-million dollar budget behind me or anything. Certainly a lot of I get my work printed overseas, a lot of those printers are still just phenomenally outside of my price range. But nonetheless, over the years, it’s become more accessible when I’ve been able to experiment with materials and scale and so on. I think the big part of it is, you know, I haven’t received any formal training in this in this kind of material. It’s all been kind of self directed, bothering people that know way more than me and being like, how do I do this? Lots of YouTube tutorials. So also, I’m always in each exhibition, obviously, there’s kind of a conceptual premise. But usually, I’m also trying to think of some new aspect of modeling that I can kind of master and begin to play with. It’s just an incredibly broad, medium, like there’s so much you can do. I feel like maybe I’m, I’m exploring, like 15% of it. And there’s always more things that I want to get a handle on.
Andrew Purvis 13:31
Wonderful. Jess you mentioned before, your master’s research, and I think that that’s something that I really connect with, in your work, the horror, and particularly body horror, as I read it, in the work plays a large part of your visual imagination. What draws you back to that as a source of inspiration?
Yeah. I think like, you know, there’s the kind of psychological reason of it being this very large, looming interest that I’ve had since, you know, early childhood, which it definitely shouldn’t have been, but it was, so here I am. You know, it’s always been something that I’ve really enjoyed and found fascinating, and I’ve always been really kind of confused as to why horror is a thing that exists. I suppose. It’s always been a fascinating question for me, you know, this stuff isn’t necessarily pleasant to watch, you know, I don’t even enjoy it all the time. But it obviously does something for me. So a lot of my research was trying to unpick, why does it exist? Why are we drawn to it? Why do we keep making it? It doesn’t make a lot of sense to me on the surface. I think, you know, I’m very interested in again, that kind of idea of horror performing a social function. So I think what horror does is it reveals a lot of social anxieties or social fears, it kind of gives form to them, symbolic form, but a form that we can start to kind of interpret and pull apart to kind of understand what’s going on, in a social context a bit better. The other thing that I think it does really well as this genre that kind of sits on the outside of acceptability, is it allows us to kind of question and challenge a lot of those, you know, dominant social ideas that we have, you know, a lot of monster stories are kind of about challenging the status quo and taking down power structures and all that kind of stuff. So I suppose politically, I’m very drawn to that aspect of it. The kind of body horror aspects because so much of my work, yeah, cutting myself in half or, or something like that. You know, I think I’ve become really attracted to this kind of symbolic narrative, that symbolic language that permeates a lot of horror, you know, we have ideas. If we see someone turn into a vampire, we kind of know what that’s about. We know what socially that’s indicating to us. If we see someone become disfigured, we’ve got ideas about what that’s telling us. And so a lot of my work, I’m using this language to talk about, I suppose my own experiences, or my own thoughts and feelings about myself in this language that hopefully people can start to decode, because it relies so much on existing cultural things out there.
I think it’s a really interesting thing to translate horror which we normally encounter in popular culture and sort of time-based media. And the things that an object does in relation to horror, the opportunity to shock or startle kind of evaporates, but maybe you gain something in that ability to contemplate, as you say, its representation as a symbol, you can linger with it a little bit longer. Sorry, did you? That’s just me talking, that wasn’t a question.
Jess Taylor 16:51
That was just me digesting it.
But looking at your works, I suppose that the tableaus are often recognizably troubling. The body is often heavily distorted. But sometimes I feel like the references that are being made are less to say horror cinema, and maybe a tradition of ways of painting and depicting the body that hones in on the visceral or the disturbed, thinking about artists like Goya or Soutine, or Francis Bacon, even the Chapman brothers. Is that a lineage of art practice that you see yourself operating within?
Yeah, definitely. It was kind of a first hurdle, I suppose, in my research that I kind of established like, I kind of felt quite at home with the idea that horror has always lived in the arts, you know, it didn’t just appear as soon as we invented the camera. But that’s not necessarily where everyone else is at in terms of their their ideas of Visual Arts and horror. So I kind of had to go through this process of establishing this long-held relationship between the two. And so I think in the early days, I was doing a lot of work that referred explicitly to older artworks like Goya, who I love and I’m obsessed with. You know, the Chapman brothers are like my heroes, I just, I really like them. But I think the Chapman brothers in particular, why I kind of isolate them as my artistic heroes is, there’s something really in the sensibility of horror that they kind of get, this excessiveness. It’s very self indulgent, in your face, kind of, you know, seems a bit petulant, often in their work, and I say that very lovingly. You know, but also this kind of absurdity and fun and, you know, provocation to engagement, which is so important and something -in a very different way- that I try and do in my work as well. Because, you know, horror is based on this physical, visceral reaction we have. It can’t really exist if it doesn’t grab people to engage with it. So yeah, definitely artists, like the chairman brothers as well, a lot of their work is kind of impossible to ignore, and very obvious in the way that it’s trying to goad you into engaging with it. And so, that cold kind of sensibility, I see is a very horror sensibility. And you know, one that I do try and in a different way, incorporate in my works I suppose.
Yeah, and there are some explicit acknowledgement of sort of like Goya’s Saturn eating his children or the horrors of war painters, which the Chapman brothers have also engaged with it. I think that’s a really nice aspect of your practice this kind of recontextualizing of sometimes familiar imagery that we see from horror, but it takes on a very different reading when it’s your body.
Yeah, and I think that that was the core thing; I did this series of appropriations of famous artworks with this kind of horror tilt to them, I suppose. Horror has always been a very self-referential genre, you know, like, ‘oh, you can’t understand this film unless you’ve like, watched all these other films’. And, you know, there’s all the lore and all that kind of stuff. But I think, in looking at that kind of self-referential thing, which is also such a big thing in the visual arts, like there’s so much you can’t really comprehend unless you have this background knowledge. Because my works exclusively use my own body I started to look at as well how does the context or meaning shift. So I did recreate a version of Saturn devouring his son, a 3d print with myself, and at the time, you know, I was having all these feelings about, you know, maternal burdens, and, and what it is to kind of bring up a child and do all this with a baby and all that kind of stuff. But I think it’s such a different reaction to that work when it’s a woman doing that than a man
They both horrible, but one is horrible in a way that is more socially digestible perhaps.
And the fact that the scan, as you say, was taken when you were pregnant, it is often a reading of that body, of your body, in those arrangements of being maternal.
Yeah, definitely. But yeah, at the time, I was like, Oh, what a happy coincidence. But as I’ve kind of explored these things more, you know, it’s such a big part of my experience, that it’s become such an integral part of the kind of emotional states the work draws on as well. So it’s why I’ve been kind of loath to get a replacement scan made, because, you know, I feel like it’s so important, but I’ll get there one day, I’m sure.
Well, I think that’s a really other another interesting thing is that you work on… am I right in thinking you work exclusively with your own image?
So in all these arrangements, you are both the perpetrator and the victim of the violence that is being committed?
Where does that idea stem from or fit with your work?
Yeah, so I think, at first, you know, like you said, there’s there’s aggressors, there’s victims in my work; I had a great deal of discomfort around putting other people in those roles. Like it didn’t, it wasn’t something that I suppose I was kind of ethically comfortable with, you know, someone comes into my studio and sees a picture of them getting bludgeoned to death, that’s probably like, pretty confronting. Likewise, if I’m like, ‘here’s my painting of you as a murderer’, like it wasn’t really something that I wanted to do. So I made that decision pretty early on, in my studies, that it would be me and me alone. And that kind of gave me the freedom to do whatever I wanted, you know, I could kind of call the shots and define the boundaries and what I’m comfortable with, in terms of how my body is represented in these things. And as my work has developed, this, focus on my own experiences, my own thoughts, or kind of internal states has kind of become a main facet of the work. And so, you know, to me, it just makes a degree of sense that it’s, it’s all images of me, because it’s all about me, as egotistic as that sounds.
No, but I think you raise a really good point that there is an ethical dimension to your practice, particularly when you’re dealing with violence and horror, and things that you do need to negotiate and work out. And I think that’s a very sensible strategy of dealing with those issues as well. I really want to ask about the ‘Primordial’ show. And we’ve got a lot of slides showing of some images from that show. Do you want to tell us where the the ideas that underpin that exhibition came from?
Yeah. So I suppose it’s probably around 2018, that I was kind of transitioning to this practice that was becoming much more explicitly about experiences and moments in time and kind of emotional states that I would experience. And this body of work came about, kind of reflecting on a lot of these experiences and reflecting it kind of, I suppose, where I was at this current phase of my life. And I was looking at these two kind of dual ways of considering that like one that, you know, when we’re born, we’re kind of blank slates, stuff happens to us, that turns us into the person that we are when we’re adults. But then also this other idea that perhaps there are these facets that are just waiting to kind of be revealed by life as you go through; that perhaps there are certain parts of my personality that have always been kind of buried there. And certainly a lot of the works as well, they look at that through a kind of familial lens like looking at how much of myself I can trace back through my father or my mother and things like that. So the title ‘Primordial’ was this kind of idea that I could represent facets of myself that had been there since baby Jess came into the world perhaps, since I was an existence in the world. And I feel like initially, I started to try and branch out a little bit beyond, I suppose the more traditional horror symbolism that I bought in. But also to look at things, like I was looking at a lot of creepy animals and fossils, and just a lot of these ancient dreadful real life things that were kind of playing on my mind a lot. I don’t know, maybe it was just ‘iso’, going slightly mad or something. But yeah, the whole show was basically going through and picking out these kind of pivotal moments where I’m like, ‘oh, that’s when that part of me was crystallized’. You know, or ‘that’s where that came from’, and trying to kind of map out an explanation. As absurd as that is, an explanation for the Jess you see before you today.
That’s really interesting, because I mean, my encounter that show is that I was blown away by the sort of level of visual invention in there. And I think some of what you’re saying about widening your scope of reference to think about biology and fossils, and so forth, the sort of the tooth holes and things like, like emerged from those works are really stunning. I think they’re really fascinating. It’s really interesting to hear about that kind of thought process that underpins that. Was there any shift in your practice in shifting into this sort of more commercially geared realm? Or what has that process been like of having your first solo commercial show?
I look, it was one of those… like I’m a big 10-year-plan artists. So it’s one of those things that I was always like, oh, one day I’ll get a show at Hugo Michell. I kind of always, you know, hoped that would happen at some point in my career, I didn’t necessarily expect it when it happened. I think the first thing like when I kind of got offered the opportunity, I was like, Oh, my God, I need to level-up like so badly. Like, I gotta raise the stakes here or something. But, you know, I was very fortunate in that I got the Scammells grant. So that did allow me to, to level up in these ways, I’ve been playing with increasing and scale and complexity, and just time and installation requirements and things like that. In terms of the kind of, like, professional aspect, I suppose, like, it actually made it kind of really easy in a lot of ways, you know, they’ve been very well organized. I’m also very organized in my shows, you know, if you’ve had so many that you’re responsible for the photography, and the installation, and this and that, like, you kind of develop a level of organization. So that side wasn’t necessarily something I was unfamiliar with. If anything, I was kind of unfamiliar with, like, ‘Oh, you’re handling that for me, that’s fantastic’. I don’t have to worry about that. And that did free me up to really right until the end, kind of consider the installation and, and how I was gonna make these works kind of sing in that that little back space and things like that. So yeah.
Absolutely. Maybe this is a good opportunity to open the floor up to any questions from our audience. And if you do have any questions, please speak up. Your voice will be picked up by this microphone, but you will remain anonymous. Can we even do that sort of like voice disguising, if possible if anyone feels self conscious, but please…
Audience Member 1
Not exactly a question – oh I suppose it is. So I’m noticing that one of the slides that’s been cycling through here was a face with these mushrooms coming out, and my immediate thought was ‘oh cordyceps‘… and is that where that came from?
That’s a really funny one because everyone’s like, ‘Oh, the mushrooms’. What it actually is, is I started to play with like, smoke simulation in 3d programs. So like, I rigged this little model up to have like, little smoke explosions coming out of it. I was thinking a lot about like, hydrothermal vents and the origin of life and like all that kind of stuff way beyond me. So I think that that’s the kind of themes I was working through with that. And I was like, I really need to just start figuring out how to simulate stuff instead of trying to model it from scratch. To spend way longer getting the computer to do it for me, then if I just tried to model it myself, but you know, I learned a new skill so it’s sort of worth it. But I’m totally happy with the other interpretations people have of that work, I think it still kind of fits in with the general theme of the show and the work so.
Audience Member 1
So that leads to a follow up question then: another one of your pieces, it appears that two faces are reaching towards each other with tentacles. Other those actually tentacles then?
Audience Member 1
So yeah, I spend a lot of time rigging up tentacles. I’ve done this for a few works, like I did make an octopus lady at one point in 2019, which was great. These are kind of just bare minimalist tentacles I suppose but yeah, in the same way that the model of me is rigged and posable, the tentacles as well as these posable entities that I can recycle in other works. So, yeah.
Audience Member 2
[faintly] What 3d program do you use?
Maybe I’ll just repeat that question it was being asked about what 3d program you use.
Cool so I use a few. And I am morally opposed to paying for software. So I do not do that ever and I won’t recommend anyone do that. So for like the posing of my model and a lot of the simulations and renders and stuff like that, I use a program called blender. Which just vastest capabilities of anything on the planet, it’s amazing but an extremely steep learning curve that took me a while to, to kind of master that. I also use a program called Meshmixer, which is really cool, because it’s kind of aimed for more high school kids, but a lot of the basic functionalities it gives you – so you can combine models, cut them in half, mirror them, hollow them, and all those kinds of things in that program. And then very rarely, I’ll step outside of that. So I use a program called Photoscan for all my photogrammetry stuff. It’s technically not free, but you can get an education license. And then I use, yeah, like just a bunch of other little programs. If I need something really specific, I’ll just kind of scour the internet until I find something that’ll do what I want it to do.
Audience Member 3
How do you do with drafts of your 3d work? Do you print them yourself at home? Before you send the work to China? Or
Off it goes, and what I get I get. No I think like, so. People often ask me, Do you have a 3d printer? And I’m like, unfortunately not. Because the printers that can print in the materials I do -so I primarily print in resin or nylon. And printers that print at the scale that I do will set you back like 100k. And that’s probably US. So no, I don’t have a 3d printer. For me, I have never really loved the aesthetic of the kind of desktop printers that’s all like red plastic, and you can kind of see the striations and I just I don’t really love that aesthetic. So I don’t kind of do that. And the printing processes are so different that even if you printed a prototype with one of those, what you’re going to get from another printer is going to be so different. It’s not really a worthwhile exercise. I think it’s just like I’ve made a lot of 3d printed work over my career and I’ve kind of got a pretty good handle. It’s been a couple of years since I’ve received something that I wasn’t expecting. So I’m pretty good at knowing the model I get I know what it’s gonna look like when it comes to me. So again, no prototypes, straight to real thing.
Audience Member 3
off it goes!
Audience Member 3
How have you found the sourcing to be from China, has there been an issue around COVID or?
No, like they’re pretty amazing with getting stuff to you. So yeah, for a bit of context, I used to print through an American company. And then I found this company in China, which is super cheap. So allows me to scale up because otherwise like, you know, one of the works in primordial would have cost like $1,800 US which is not quite in my budget. But no, I haven’t so far experienced any delays in getting things although I am mildly nervous with world events, but you know, cross that bridge when we come to it.
Jess I’ve got a question that I’m really interested in what I see is a bit of a shift in your aesthetic towards the gold and the white, which to me evokes a sense of kind of religious iconography or even altarpieces. It’s a shift away from the sort of glossy red that you’ve been using in recent years for some works. What motivated that change?
Hmm So I think like the first thing is I’m very bad at colour I feel. Like I started art school, I wanted to be a painter but it turns out I don’t know what colours are and it just wasn’t where I was gonna go. Often I kind of pick colors for very symbolic reasons. So yeah, I did a whole series called Love Works that were the red glossy ones and that yeah, I feel like doesn’t bear going on about but um, the white and the gold kind of came into play I got invited to do this show or be in this group short jam factory and it was about people who use technology to achieve a kind of craft aesthetic in a way. A lot of people are quite surprised that my works are 3d printed, you know, I get ‘oh are they porcelain or this’ and I’m like ‘it’s plastic’. And so, you know, that kind of prompt, as kind of vague as it is, got me to kind of think about the kind of visual objects that I was referring to, because I always have had this kind of love of ornamentation and old statues and stuff like that, but I kind of stopped and I was like, oh, but you know what? What materials? What aesthetics? Like, what are you trying to get at? So those were the first words I made with this white gold thing. And I was thinking of, yeah, these kind of precious religious social artifacts and things, the kind of objects that would, I don’t know, translate these kinds of imagined social narratives and things in that body of work for that exhibition. And yeah, I think I, I wanted to kind of push that almost altar-like thing in the show at Hugo’s. So I made these kinds of shelves to specific measurements for each of the works. And the ones that sit on shelves, at least to kind of haloed by these gold chains, with little gold teeth hanging off them and I kind of Yeah, I was thinking a lot about altarpieces and offerings and elevating these objects to be these kind of beloved social, semi-pseudo-spiritual things that people could encounter.
Do we have any other questions for Jess?
Audience Member 4
I just wanted to ask is when you get your models from China is there much finishing you have to do?
Audience Member 4
but you apply the gold?
Yeah. So when when you said ‘finishing’ I suppose I interpreted that, for some models and materials you print in there’ll be support structures that you need to cut off and sandblast or whatever. The processes that I use, I don’t have to mess around with that. I do usually paint them all the base colour. The recent works which have been in resin you can get like little color differences in the resin, which is really interesting from something that we think is just going to give you the same thing over and over. There is this kind of individuality to every print. So usually I you know just coat them in white or something to get rid of that. And then yeah, the gold or you know in some of the works you’ll see behind the chain and stuff is all additions I do by hand.
Just as a last question, just from one sort of horror fan to another: Do you have any recent horror recommendations or something that’s floated your horror boat?
Not like incredibly-
So to speak. Sorry I don’t know where that came from.
Not any hugely recent ones. I think the last thing that I actually had the time to watch… because this is the thing: when my children were babies, it was fantastic. Because I’m like ‘they’re not gonna have memories, I can just put what I want on TV’, like, do they even have the eyesight to see what’s going on? Who knows? And so was very comfortable doing that. Now, unfortunately, my son is seven and so like, not ideal. So, admittedly, I don’t get to watch as much as I do. I went through definite like Midsommar obsession because I just thought that was just the most amazing thing. And then got very upset when I read, you know, kind of breakdowns on it on the internet that were all like, ‘no, like, you know, it’s actually a really bad ending because she’s getting fooled into being in a cult’ and I was like, ‘I thought it was romantic, be quiet; that was a happy story for me and now it’s ruined.’
Well I think we can see from your works that are about Romance that your ideas of romance train to a certain direction.
A lot of films I shouldn’t have watched as young as I did. Anyway, yeah, that’s fine. That’s my last favourite that’s churning away.
Midsommar, okay, great recommendation. Thank you very much. Jess. Can we please all thank Jess for her time here.
Episode 23 / Sam Gold
In this episode, Katya caught up with South Australian ceramic artist Sam Gold at their JamFactory studio.
Sam speaks candidly about their journey from art school to the present, including the mentorships and opportunities that informed their exciting trajectory towards interstate exhibitions like Primavera 2021 and securing gallery representation with Hugo Michell Gallery. Tune in to hear about the way that Sam’s training as an Art Therapist informs their reverence for clay as a material, its capacity to echo emotional states, and ceramics as a lesson in resilience and letting go.
- Sammgold.com / @s.amgol.d
- JamFactory / Associate Program
- Primavera 2021 at the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia
- SALA Feature Artist archive
- Samstag Museum
- Helpmann Academy
- Mark Valenzuela
- Australia Council for the Arts / ‘AusCo’
- Duncan Young / @DuncanYoungDesign
- Ivana Taylor / @IvanaTaylorDesign
- Francesca Sykes / @FrancescaSykes_Studio
- Celadon glaze, Chün glaze
- Catapult Mentorship Program / Guildhouse
- Sam’s mentorship with David Pedler & Jane Robertson
- Sam Gold joins Hugo Michell Gallery stable [ArtCollector article]
- Hugo Michell Gallery (SA) / @HugoMichellGallery
- Wet from a moonlight swim, Sam Gold exhibition at Hugo Michell Gallery, 3 Feb – 5 March 2022.
- Bedroom, Kate Power
- Kate Bohunnis / @Kate_Bohunnis
- George Street Studios
- Lou Cresp
- Carclew / Pom Pom program
Hello and welcome to the SALA Podcast. My name is Katya and today I’m catching up with South Australian ceramicist Sam Gold. We’re upstairs in Sam’s studio at the JamFactory, and I’d like to acknowledge the Kaurna People as the traditional owners of the land that we made upon today, and pay respects to Elders past, present, and emerging.
Hi, Sam, thanks so much for meeting with me today. We’re here in your studio, as we’ve just said. It’s nice and cool in here; I can see you’ve got some beautiful works delicately displayed out of our way just in case we knock anything over. How long have you been here at the Jam for?
I’ve been here for two years. I put the air conditioning on just for you. It’s never usually on for me. So yeah, I’ve been here for two years. The Associate Program started in 2020. And then it was cut, and then restarted in 2021. And recently, we have found out that we are continuing associates for a second year now.
That’s so good. Nice. Now, we met at uni a few years ago now. Yes. So can we talk about your journey from uni?
UniSA which is next door to us, a stone’s throw away
A stone’s throw!
to how you are today -or where you are today, sorry- because you have had so many doors open up for you. So many opportunities. Like it’s as if every couple months ‘Sam Gold’s doing this; Sam Gold’s here; Sam Gold’s now the MCA for Primavera 2021, like you’re just, you’re everywhere.
No it’s so good. Because it’s so nice to see someone still in their formative years as an artist doing so well.
Yeah. Well, I guess, when I first started a contemporary art degree, we were told that every female wouldn’t make it.
I remember that. I remember exactly that tute.
Yeah. Like, the lecturer was just like, you’re not going to make it; the statistic shows if you’re not a male, you’re not going to make it. So I think there’s like this determination. You know, to make it, and I think, you know, I hold down two other jobs just to do this full time. And, you know, there’s echoes in my relationship of just acknowledging how hard you have to hustle constantly to sustain this. It’s a lot of pressure. – but joyful.
Yeah, and that’s what you love and you’re so good at as well. Like, it’s not just for the sake of doing it. So you get such enjoyment out of it. And you can see that in what you do and where you’ve gone with it. And obviously, other people are receptive to that. So you’re doing something that is speaking volumes, and is interesting. And so yeah, from uni to where you are now, out of the plethora of things that you’ve done, what do you think has been a standout? Like a ‘pinch yourself’ moment where you’re like, ‘Oh my goodness, I can’t believe I’m here’.
Yeah, well, definitely being in a national show. But prior to that, and in lead to that -and I think what helped me achieve that- was a mentorship with Kirsten Coelho. Kirsten is, like, you know, a ‘pinch myself’ moment, I cannot believe someone who is so wonderful is in my life and not just as mentor now, but as a dear friend. And yeah, I think, for me that’s something that… a relationship that I feel is going to be sustained for the rest of my life and career and Kirsten’s life.
And Kirsten was also the 2020 SALA Feature Artist
Oh cool! Yes, yes, no, of course -that was that Samstag. So, also being at Samstag was really great, because I got the graduate position after we graduated. And I really appreciate that environment that I’m in there, because the team: Gill Brown, Erica Green, all of them, have been really gracious towards me with their time, like looking at applications, giving advice, you know, always being a sounding board. They come and do studio visits. They’re invested in me, and that feels really nice.
Such good support as well.
Yeah, definitely. Yeah. And I feel like what we were speaking about before with working really hard. I mean, I was doing like 14 to 16 hour days. And I started that last November.
So you’re on a year doing that.
A year of doing that, yes, 16 hour days, but I was doing it seven days a week for a period of time.
And working two jobs as well.
Yeah, that’s, that’s like, if I did, including in that 16 hours if I did a shift at Samstag on the weekend then I’d come here straightaway, wouldn’t leave until it was done. And when I was gas firing, you’ve got to be here from like 7am until like 1am/2am, and then come back and be here and like watch the kiln constantly.
But that you know, all rich things. And I think I’m in a position where I can do that. So I’m doing it, I might not have that. And you know, I want to have a family. So I don’t feel like that’s, you know, I cannot have that kind of a routine. And my partner is also a sole trader and ‘gets it’. So there’s that kind of support, instead of somebody who’s like “be home all the time”. Yes, so thank you Lou.
Your work is really physical, so having to be in the studio or nearby for that many hours: how do you preserve yourself? What do you do like because your work is, you’re using your hands and your shoulders, your arms, it’s all upper body, but as well, it’s actually the rest of your body because you’re always standing up. How do you maintain that physicality?
Well, if I have a rest period, so before November, I wasn’t making as much and I was in more local commercial shows. And if I had like a couple of weeks off of making and would return to making, my wrist that RSI kind of thing. So there’s so much physio that I actually participate in. And have tools at home like a rolling ball and one of those pool noodles.
Which has been really helpful. But I think the one thing I forget to do is make myself food.
Oh I do that. I get that.
Constantly I’m just like oh shoot, got to wait for like dinner?
You need an assistant.
Yeah, I did have friends volunteer and help me with time we did trade where I then taught them something in return. So there was no exchange of finances, but there was exchange of value and time
Yeah, yeah, totally. But yeah, the rest of it is I live really close to the city, and I ride a lot. And there are moments where I think my social life has just not become a predominant, but I think COVID has really supported people not having too much of a wild or big social life. I mean, I’m not a… I’m very much an introvert. It’s really hard for me to be comfortable in big groups of people. So, yeah.
COVID suits you nicely. I think a lot of artists in the last almost two years now have benefited from working on their craft, and just like -for lack of a better word- ‘locking down’ and just focusing.
And with this lockdown, have you found anything new? Or do you think you’ve developed further or learned more, enhanced your skills? Your work is beautiful. And yeah, it’d be great to know if there’s anything that sort of sticks out -have you been able to research something that you’ve really wanted to that you’ve found the time for?
I just keep nodding at you
Yeah I was going to say your head’s going to fall off because you keep nodding so much!
Yeah, no, all of the above. The last two years working on the show for Primavera, it was meant to be in 2020 and then postponed, and I was able to get two massive grants, one from Helpmann. I was kind of given the heads up that I wasn’t allowed to, without supervision, use the big gas kiln here. So I’ve shifted from electric firing to gas firing, which is a very… it’s like driving a manual car in firing terms. So I needed to have kind of like an Occ. Health & Safety mentor. So Mark Valenzuela was the only person who had been recently using the kiln and had really perfected the ramping. So when I say ramping, it’s like the the way that you build up. So you know, when you’re on a hill in a manual car, and you’re holding it? That’s kind of like ramping.
Like a hill-start sort of.
Yes, the hill-start. So he’s really great. And pretty much just did a few with me and -well, he did all of the sessions with me because he was there. But you know, after a few, I really got the hang of it. Each kiln is very different. So I think just having, you know, kind of like a little instructor for a few of them was really great. Mark is a person who’s full of incredible skills. I mean, I’ve picked up using ash glazes because of Mark; conversations, you know, even considerations towards you know, working in studios together outside of Jam when our opportunities aren’t here anymore. So yeah, there’s lots of relationships that have very much developed from that. So I’m very grateful for Helpmann and Jam for doing that. And then I got a Australia Council grant. And that was pretty much the bulk of the money that made the show. So thank you AusCo.
How many pieces do you have there?
10 pieces presented but three of them are in individual parts. So there’s two large-scale kind of ones that are 1.2m in length. And that’s a two part piece. And then there’s a wall piece that’s made out of porcelain in three parts because of kiln firing. So I had to work with these tables here. So these tables I had custom made so that they’re the same height as the kiln so that it didn’t break my back putting them on and off. So I’m not bending all the way down to the floor, up to where I needed to load into the kiln. It’s just more of an easier transition. And then these shelves are 610x610mm. So that was the kind of capacity that I had to make parts in. Yeah, so I would make several of them. And I had a really great team here from the furniture department. Duncan Young, Ivana, and Fran, they were all really helpful and just volunteered their time to help assist me with loading things, shifting, crating and freighting around, so there was like, yeah, beautiful community here. The scale of the work meant that I had to figure things out. So things I learned a lot like gas firing’s completely and utterly different in atmosphere. So all different results. This piece behind you is a cobalt piece, it was one of my test pieces. That was like a metre and 30 centimetres, and it shrunk that much prior to so shrink rates in ceramics are usually around 15-14% for utility ware. But for large sculpture, we’re looking at 30-35%
Wow that’s quite considerable.
Yeah. So you know, counting for those losses; learning how to make things in compartments and segments to make larger holes. Working with porcelain and much finer porcelains. So I am now working with Audrey Blackman. But it took me after I made all the work from Primavera and testing different porcelains to find that porcelain through conversations and Kirsten as well. That, you know, Porcelain is like working with butter. So to build what I make, with butter, is very difficult.
So I work with like, you know, really grogged clay, where I can build incredibly fast, you know, make a piece in a day, which, you know, you don’t want to push things you need things to set and solidify, because movement in water, make clay very malleable. So you want drying times like 15-20 minute like rest periods. So yeah, lots of those kinds of things like managing the whole thing. I’m incredibly organized in terms of this production of things I had like, like beyond checklists of checklists, like daily like ticking off ‘to-do’s. And yeah, it was pretty full on. But this blue is an oxide so I don’t love exhibition work that’s glazes because of risks of fusing things to shelves and the scale of things and… but I am exploring a small gas range of celadon glazes and Chün glazes for smaller pieces. So ones that are between 15-30cm heights. Just for something else, like you know, to keep that kind of continued learning. I do really love glazing and I fell in love with using local materials from the Catapult mentorship. So whilst we’re in lockdown, I just kept busy. So I got a catapult mentorship, thank you guild house, and worked with David Pedler and Jane Robertson. And, yeah, so I do want to make a bit of a considerable shift in my practice from commercial things, because I think it’s taking too much of our world, like digging too many holes into our planet, and start shifting towards more local materials, but doing that in the most respectful way to Traditional Owners. So I’ve been developing relationships since that mentorship with a few local Elders and leaders. So hopefully in the next couple of years, I can shift to more of a predominately local clay material.
That’s wonderful. It’s nice to hear that as well, because so much of your work is reminiscent of the landscape.
Yeah, yes. And I think there’s a beautiful tie to that. Something I think I tried to subtly make a hint at: the idea of our body and our environments, writing our bodies and the memories of our bodies. And that, you know, there is an intrinsic connection.
There’s such delicacy in your work. I remember seeing it.. oh I can’t remember where I saw it now, I think it was in an office space somewhere, and I saw a work of yours. It was ginormous. It was so big. And the person who owned it had said ‘oh it’s actually like quite light and fragile’ and it’s like glass: it’s fragile, but she’s really strong at the same time. Spoiler alert: we lifted it up.
Because I was like ‘I want to know how heavy this thing is’. And he was just like, oh it’s actually really light’. I was just like, wow, for the scale of what this is. It’s so beautiful to see. And actually, you appreciate it more, because what you just said, it ties into that whole… that whole metaphysical … what am I trying to say?
I do that on purpose by the way.
Do you? that’s so sneaky of you
Yeah. I do that on purpose because of weight-bearing things. So if I’m freighting large things, I don’t put bottoms in them because of the added unnecessary weight, and because I can make things from a thick coil. But like, some people expect that ceramics will have a base on it, and need that. So I really want that to be an option. And I really want, you know, my work to be commercially viable as well.
Yeah. Just looking around your studio now. It’s so nice to see vessels that are functional and aren’t.
Yes, yes, definitely. Yeah, there’s a whole range.
A whole range. And, again, just such varying sizes, like those teeny tiny little pots there next to that shell.
Oh, yeah, that’s my local clay outcomes.
See, that’s how small and how troubling using local clays are. There’s no real guarantees.
Yeah. Right. You just get what you’re given.
Yeah, yeah. And they do different things and testing different atmospheres.
That’s great. That’s how you develop and find new things and build from there.
Definitely. Yeah, and I think building from site-specific, with very intentional connections to that landscape is something that I’m interested in. Yeah.
Yeah. They’re really nice. I really, really dig them. With your coil work, for people who haven’t seen or experienced your vessels before… are you calling them ‘vessels’? or ‘sculptures’? or both.
Yeah, definitely, I am absolutely comfortable with them being called both.
They have such… they hold their own sort of story. And looking at them like this one, in particular, look at that big one up there
The black and white one?
The black and white one. I just know, if I, if we turn that around, and I stand on the other side, it’s going to look completely different with the light.
So how you imprint when you coil, it has its own language and no two thumbprints are the same. Which is really nice, because it ties that back into the individual; that no two individuals are the same; no two lives are the same; no two, you know, vistas and landscapes are the same. It’s forever changing. It’s like that old thing we learned at uni I think in photography, that’s like, you know, ‘if you want to take a photo in the sunset, it’s never going to be the same photograph twice’. So you’ve got that split second to get you know, one and you’ll never be able to recapture it again. I find that with your work, that’s really nice to see, because you’ve sort of stopped that moment in time, and it lends itself for you, for the viewer to pause and reflect. Which is really lovely.
Yeah, definitely. I like hearing that!
Do you think… is there anything that you… because your works are so laborious: what do you think about when make them? Are you listening to podcasts, music, are you just thinking?
Definitely. I think I, I guess the reason why I want to make is I think it’s not just about objects and putting material into the world, it’s things that have meaning embedded into them. And I like the idea of what you just said, in terms of the story, everything there is a connection to something like the body, the landscape, and asking questions. If they’re reflective, or make people pause or consider things, or even if someone’s like, ‘yeah, all I see is coral’ like, yeah, then does it make you think about coral then, does it make you think about what’s happening right now.
It’s still a reaction to it yeah.
Yeah. And I guess from my training as an art therapist, and when I worked at the primary school,
I was going to ask, yep.
Yeah. So it’s just this idea of using material as another conversation of processing experiences, all types of experiences, positive negative. I had someone that we went to uni with once be like, ‘well, why, you know, if you’re unlayering all your experiences, aren’t you just putting bad juju out there?’ And I was like, ‘no, no, that’s not the point.’ Like it’s about using the act of making to move through things and work through things and it doesn’t have to be adverse experiences. I feel like moments of pausing and I think moments of stillness or mindfulness is really, really great. And I don’t particularly just make work that’s about being mindful. I think it’s about being in conversation with something that’s tactile and tactile storytelling. Yeah. As opposed to just verbal communication, like if you see a therapist or a friend and you just talk at something. From my training, it’s like you stay in a cycle of that story and you don’t break it; you don’t get hindsight. Whereas you start to see and shift and make an intended meaning into something, you start seeing things in different ways. And different possibilities, maybe problem solving. Maybe celebrating.
Yeah, it’s definitely a sensory experience that you have, most definitely.
How much -just looking back at this cobalt one- you’re saying works lose between… what was it?
30-35. That’s percentage, but it could be like 30 centimetres.
Yeah. Are you devastated when you pull something out of the kiln, and it’s much smaller before you put it in as like, do you take before and after photos
like this is what I hope it stays as, and this is what it’s turned out to be.
Um, I definitely think that in all my years of ceramics, you cannot count on anything to be guaranteed. And I think that’s a really interesting life lesson, you know, relationships that we, you know, are hopeful for, or jobs that we feel will be in forever, or, these kinds of things that we decide to be set on. I think ceramics is this other way of practicing things not going to plan.
This is good practice for real life almost; you can’t put all your eggs in one basket. It’s, as soon as I open up Big Bernard -is it?
Big Bernard, yep
Yep, it’s gonna be something completely different, we’re just gonna go with it, accept it and move on.
Yep. And each kiln will do something different. And like the top of kiln might be different to the bottom of the kiln. It’s I think the variables of being flexible and resilient is huge. And being able to go, ‘I need a plan so that I finish everything two months ahead of time, so that I have enough time to keep making if I need to’. So like, all these other strategies come in place. And I think there’s something really interesting about like, emotional resilience within that. And sometimes like, say, if my partner, and I just like having a moment and we’re just like having a disagreement about something, I’ll just be like ‘just let it go, really is it that important?’ Like no, I’m just gonna let this go.
That’s so nice. I think we could all learn from that. It’s nice to just release, just let things be.
Yeah, well have everyone enroll in a ceramic course.
You’ll learn! The sun will still come up tomorrow, it’s all good. Oh how funny. And you’ve got a few classes coming up that I’m excited for, they’ll be great I’m really looking forward to doing one of them it’s going to be really really fun.
Yes, I’m very excited.
I’d love to go back to how we were just talking how I was saying, you know, you’ve had all these doors open up since we’ve left uni what 4, 5 years ago now? No, I can’t count.
Is that three years ago? Yeah. In three years, you’ve accomplished like a heck of a lot. You’ve gotten so many grants, awards, you’ve been part of so many group shows. You’ve had your own solo shows, you’ve got things coming up, you’re bubbling away, doing things as we can see in the studio now. But one of the big things was you are now represented.
Please tell us more. How did that come to be? Where are you?
I don’t know how it came to be, but I know that I met Hugo at a Helpmann, at the Helpmann-selected grad show. And I nervously made one business card and gave it to Hugo, just for Hugo.
Just one. It’s like the Willy Wonka golden ticket!
Yeah, basically, and Hugo is probably one of the kindest people ever. And I remember looking at Hugo being like everyone just wants to talk to you probably, like, you’ve never really met me, but I just want to be that awkward person that says, ‘Oh, hi. I’m an artist here at this show, just here’s my card if you ever, ever want to call.’
I’m an introvert so please just be nice to me.
Totally. I mean, I mustered up so much strength and was so well received by Hugo. Hugo’s always, since then for the years until, I was represented in like July and had always been sweet and kind at events, said hello and just definitely made me feel like I was acknowledged as a human that, you know, I wasn’t a forgotten face. I definitely didn’t think I was on anyone’s radar. But then before Primavera was announced, Hugo invited me to do a solo. And I did a few like, visits over there to the gallery and it was really, really lovely. They’ve got a great team over there, Ceridwen, Gabby, and Jenna are just like lovely and Hugo sings their praises. And I think that if you ever want to be represented by anyone, it’s someone that’s very intentionally a good person, and Hugo really is.
Yeah. It sounds like they’re an extension of family almost
just loving, supportive, caring, and dedicated to you just want the absolute best.
and incredibly professional, like mixed in with all of that. And it was just such an honor the day that Hugo asked to represent me and I did this really weird thing where we were sitting at his desk and I was so excited that I just like slammed my hands both down on the table and was just like ‘yes!’.
This is happening
And I think I went home and cried.
Such elation as well. That’s great. That’s yeah… you can’t not!
You can’t not. Yes. And yeah, so it was just really nice. And then I think that night, we went and saw Kate Power’s performance for the show ‘Bedroom‘. And we just celebrated by watching Kate. So it was just really, you know, humble and lovely. And since then, just every conversation is always really great.
You’re definitely on people’s radars.
Yeah, you don’t think that though! But like, I think because I’m always just in here making I almost feel like no one even knows your face, or it’s more the work, or anything like that. You almost feel removed from the things. Yeah, so definitely thank you Hugo!
Make one business card and give it to someone you really, really want to represent you. That’s great, what a confidence boost.
Yeah. And I feel like maybe it is the grant or just the track record, or just keeping momentum and moving. I was recently asked by another local artist ‘how did you get that?’ And I was like, I really honestly can’t exactly say that because that’s not for me to say like, I didn’t represent me. But I know that someone believed in me, and that felt really nice.
And do you think like, I was gonna ask a similar question: being so fresh out of uni, it’s a big jump to start a professional career. And I guess for the people out there who are starting, who aren’t sure how to apply for grants, talk to the right people, sort of put themselves out there – because it can be a really scary thing.
Yes. Still is.
Yeah, it totally still is frightening, I can imagine. But is there something that you could… like a word of advice? Or would you say, like just talk to people as nerve wracking as it is, talk to people just yeah, if you believe in yourself that much other people, you know, feed off of it.
Definitely, and also know that you’re not alone. There’s like, we are a small and beautiful community here in Adelaide, but there are lots of us that are emerging and all doing the same thing. You know, I’m inspired by my peers, like Kate Bohunnis also, like, incredibly motivated,
who you worked with at George Street.
Yeah, and we’ve known each other like, you know, 10, almost 10 or 12 years prior to that, traveled to India together. And it’s just like, I have, I think, you know, a lot of people that practice that are constantly doing the same thing. But for people who are leaving maybe uni, I could talk to just you know, really saddle into Helpmann and make yourself known there. That’s a really gentle way of understanding grant writing, applications, communication, networking, and speaking to people
Use your uni tutorers, as well, and lecturers; all of them artists.
Yeah definitely. Exactly. And I think there’s a lot of nice people out there, but what I would recommend, something that does happen to me a lot, is that if you are new and budding, and you do want to bail someone up, maybe take them out for coffee, or offer them something for their time. Because I think no matter who it is, or where you are in your career, always asking someone to value their time, and if it’s not just a financial thing, but really with a ‘please and thankyou’. And that goes a long long way. I think those kinds of things in this industry is really important. You know, every time that Gill or Erica or anybody else or gave me a moment of their time I would be so sincerely grateful and offer them something back. Not as in like my work, but just helpful in another way. Yeah, I think that’s just really important.
Yep. That’s good. build that community up, keep it strong. Don’t be super greedy or anything.
I’m going to go backwards because I just want to know this, If there’s an answer to this, for my own just personal knowledge. Your forms, as I said, have like a life of their own and no two works at the same, no two imprints are the same. How do you – because you work with coils and you build them up and up and up and up in various layers- do you let your works talk to you? Or do you have a vision in mind of what you want the end product to be before he put it in the kiln and it turns into something else? How do you let it be as organic as your works are?
I never draw them. I never have a plan prior to; I will do observational drawings later after firing. Because I think if I set a shape and a form, I am setting myself up for failure. I just know that I need to stick to some ceramic principles of not creating thick walls and thin like these works over here where I’ve gone vertical plane instead of horizontal plane. They’re made on bases. So coiled, smoothed out bases that are either wheel-thrown or hand-built. And then I build and flare out, so I pinch out, as opposed to the coiled wrapping around movement one. Yeah. So those ones, these horizontal ones are technically a lot more thinner and faster to build. These ones I’m making a base and then building out from them. And then wheel throwing then building onto those wheel-thrown forms, I think it’s knowing when to stop so that they don’t bow out and collapse. And not getting too hungry to finish something. So just calling it as soon as the material starts being like, ‘stop’, stop.
‘Stop pinching me’.
Yeah, ’cause I think it’s, yeah, what I said like movement and water; it’s just going to make it like jelly. So the more you do it, and the more you press something, just because you want to finish it. It’s not going to end in a good time.
Yeah. Let it be.
It’s such a nice space in here. I’m so relaxed in here.
Oh, great. I’m glad!
It’s really really nice in here. Just feels like I could do a lot of work in here, just like knuckle down and do everything I need to.
Have you gone over to Sydney to see the work?
February and I’m so excited. So everything was a bit delayed because all the other artists had a few other shows going on. And another artist was giving birth and I think there was just a lot of hoops to jump when the borders were closed for me to get over particularly for work stuff, and they decided to just not put that pressure on everyone and to celebrate in February. So it was really great. Thank you MCA but it’s gonna be really great. And I’m so excited and I’ve had some friends who are over there in Sydney see the show. And I’m just like yeah great! I also think that I’ve got a lot of people to think like photographers and a lot of people who helped because there’s many hands, many hands in this project. So my Instagram is all about gratitude for the next year.
Yeah I’ve gone through your Insta a few times and seen a lot of people tagged in there so yeah, there were many moving parts and cogs that help this machine get to where it is.
definitely and I think the most powerful one is my partner. So thank you Lou
Good resilience Lou, thanks, Lou. And good photography as well my goodness!
I know! If you need someone hit Lou up! Please put that in there.
Is there anything you want to say about your work?
It’s hard sometimes because I think I think there’s like evolving ideas, but underpinning it is yourself as a mirror. Using clay as just a material that holds you. And I don’t want that to sound wanky or anything, because some people can kind of joke about those things. But I, when I teach wheel throwing, or when I’ve helped kids that are facing intense trauma using clay as a material, where you get to witness like, the pressure of like, you know, if there’s something holding in your body, you’ll see that, it’ll show up, and it’s non-judgmental. And it’s a safe place where I think there’s this nice thing about materials as a therapy. And you don’t have to see it as that, like, this kind of idea or things that like I kind of lament on, you don’t have to it could just be like, I just love that blob, or I love this. But I like making with the idea of it, creating opportunities and conversations and maybe creating more connection to yourself and the world. But yeah, I think there’s the when you’re in uni, you learn that… why am I making this? Why does it matter? And how is it important to the world?
And I think I always come back to that like, for me to be a utilitarian kind of ceramicist, to make things for restaurant ware, wasn’t exciting. But, even though I get excited by other people who do make like that and have deep appreciation for it. I am more excited by ceramic as like an installation or a sculpture or an immersive interactive thing. Because it’s an interactive material.
There’s a lot of thought that goes into your work. It’s not just visually beautiful and aesthetically pleasing. Like, as I said, it makes you stop and appreciate it. And you can think while looking at a piece.
Yes. I had a really hard time leaving my role at the primary school. I was there for two years. And I think what I needed to do, needed to be more impactful than that, but still speak to why I cared or why I studied art therapy in the first place or why, you know, places like Carclew that are offering Pom Pom and you know, other workshops that they do like their holiday workshops and things like I just I really believe in that. And I think that this practice and material and creativity and making is a part of everyone’s life in every aspect and everyone needs access to it.
Most definitely, and I think the beauty with your work as well was that there might be a lot of adults who aren’t able to communicate what they’re feeling; what they’ve experienced, whether they haven’t been given the tools or they don’t feel safe, or it’s just not the right time for them to accept whatever they’ve gone through. You provide that.
I’d like to think I do. Thank you.
It’s really nice
Yeah, no, I hope that like people can look at the concepts behind things will be like, ‘what, what’s is that? is it stalactite? Like why?’ And I think there’s that connection back to environments; environments that build up over time, or like termite mounds and how they’re like little things that stack on top of themselves and build up to something bigger. I think there’s these really beautiful metaphors that you can draw out into a lot of things.
I’d love to write an essay,
oh my god, please do
It’s you know that foundation. And you build up and up and up. And it’s just life; you know, you start at age 0 and you build and you learn and you pull and you push and you do this and that and it’s just this ever-evolving thing. And yeah, if you can keep growing and growing and growing, and then if you go too tall, like one of your works might just collapse all of a sudden, or not end up where they should be like all over the floor.
Totally. And seeing the material have like stress fractures. So I think the reason why in grad school when we started putting together like the grad show, and you know, finishing Studio B, I mean, Studio A going into Studio B, I was looking at how I just earth, how earth and cliffs and all these types of formations of earth have stress cracks, and why they have stress cracks and what they’re conducive to. So, you know, being walked on all over the time or like, on a cliff face that’s about to fall off because of atmospheric pressures and all these other types of things. And I was just like, well, there’s so many parallels to our environments and ourselves and think we can take some hints and cues of how to help ourselves better,
Most definitely. Be kinder to ourselves and the planet that we live on.
Yes, yes, definitely. Yeah.
I think that’s all the time we have today. Thank you so much for joining me.
Oh it’s been an absolute pleasure.
It’s been so nice
I’m so stoked that you got to interview me.
Me too – I’m so glad we found some time in your insanely busy schedule.
Well thank you for holding, you know in there. Holding in there? holding on?
We got there we got there. We’re so excited to see where you go next what you’ve got planned for next year. Watch this space. We love our South Australian artist Sam Gold. Thank you.
Episode 22 / Tony Kearney
In this episode, Steph caught up with photographic artist Tony Kearney at his home in Port Adelaide. Tune in to hear about his journey to photography, his highly-acclaimed portrait work, competing with pigeons for exhibition space in Hart’s Mill, and that time he took 180 rolls of film to Syria.
- Kodak Instamatic
- Reticulation, Bas relief
- Mug Shots
- Fixer, developer, stop bath – photographic chemicals
- Atkins Lab
- Marden Senior College
- Tarnanthi Festival
- National Railway Museum
- Olive Cotton Award / 2021 Exhibition Catalogue
- Bowness Prize / finalist images 2021
- Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize
- National Portrait Gallery London
- David Prichard’s portraits of Australian First Nations stock women win the Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize 2021 [article]
- Tony Kearney, Jacob, 2020, (Jacob Junior Nayinggul)
- ‘Dignified, strong, beautiful’: the year’s best portrait photography – in pictures (The Guardian) [article]
- High Ground (2020) imdb
- The 2021 Bowness photography prize selected finalists – in pictures (The Guardian) [article]
- 3 of Tony’s portraits in NPG collection
- Laneway Festival
- Tony’s photograph of Billie Eilish (@BillieEilish)
- Tony’s photograph of Aurora (@AuroraMusic)
- Tony Kearney, Linda Syddick Tjunggkiya Napaltjarri, 2017, inkjet print on paper (sheet: 82.6 cm x 82.3cm) purchased by NPG (Australia) in 2017
Tony Kearney, Wentja Morgan Napaltjarri, 2017, inkjet print on paper (sheet: 82.5cm x 82.5cm) purchased by NPG (Australia) in 2017
- Tangentyere Art Centre
- Rust ‘The corrosion of culture and the culture of corrosion’
- ‘Shandy’ by Deb Jones & Christine Cholewa
- Syria Lost
- Hart’s Mill
Hello, and welcome to the SALA podcast. My name is Steph and I’m catching up with photographer extraordinaire and visual artist, Tony Kearney in his apartment in Port Adelaide, which is full of fantastic objects and things to see. Before we get started, I do just want to acknowledge the Kaurna People as the traditional custodians of the land and water that we are on and looking out upon from this fantastic vantage point, and acknowledge the Elders past, present, and emerging.
All right, Tony, thank you so much for making time to catch up and chat about things that make you tick. I guess we’ll start with the core stuff, photography. I know it’s a big passion of yours. How did you actually find your way to the medium?
When I was very young, I can’t remember exactly how old, my parents bought me a Kodak Instamatic. And we’d go on holiday, and I’d take the camera with me and I’d take photographs of things. And the film used to come in a little cloth bag with a tie on it and a tag. And so the tag was the address back to Kodak somewhere. And two weeks later, you got your prints, and the prints were square, and they were beautiful, and I’ve always loved square prints, so I keep on going with it. And then after that, I went to Wellington Polytech to study industrial design, and that was a 36 hour week. And four of those were in a photo lab. So I managed to learn all sorts of things about large format cameras and developing slide film, where halfway through the process, you had to take it out and flash it in the light and then put it back on the spool and keep going. So all sorts of strange, wonderful things, reticulation, bas relief, all those sort of things.
Those words are even at the edge of my understanding. Amazing. And to get even a bit deeper, straight off the bat, what is it about film and analog processes that has maintained and held your interest in such an enduring way?
Well, digital, I’ve sort of got for both, I use analog and digital cameras. The digital I use mainly for when I get invited to photograph festivals or concerts or whatever. And I use that mainly sort of in the evening in low light and so forth. The film, I just love the serendipity of what you get; the potentially the weird results, which turn out to be fabulous. Because sometimes I just enjoy using old and expired film too. So and then that sort of adds another level of ambiguity to what you’re looking at, that you can’t see through the lens.
And you have quite a collection of quite old antiquated lenses, don’t you?
Yeah I’ve got a collection of cameras and lenses which I use. They’re not there for collecting, they’re there to be used. Anything from half frame, which is basically half the size of 35mm image up to I think about 12×16 inch. Yeah. Some big old cameras, my oldest lenses are from the 1860s.
Wow, still getting used!
Yep still getting used! I still crack ’em out to do portrait work. Because they’ve got really beautiful softness about them, and at the same time, sharpness in the focal plane, but softness everywhere else.
Yeah, that’s perfect for portraits, isn’t it? Yeah. Amazing. Well, there’s a deep reverence for objects across the board and, and their functionality, which I guess, stepping back from, you know, your interest in photography. You do love stuff don’t you?
Well I’m an industrial designer by profession – was. And part of that was understanding how things worked, and also respecting some of the things that had been designed in the past by people who are backroom designers whose name never appeared anywhere near the product. So the sort of anonymous products,
Right, so not the kudos in a way.
Yeah, so a bit of a machine-age archaeologist is what I see myself as. I find things that aren’t perfect. So if I’ve got toys, they’re not the ones that sort of are in their cardboard box and perfectly kept from the day they were bought. I prefer to see toys that granddad made for their kids and, and in the back shed and cast them maybe or built them out of wood. So those are the sorts of… that’s where I sit. And I just love the sort of the aesthetic of age texture and in all the fabric of how things were made and where things were made, and so forth. And my one of my passions is, well, one of my businesses, was designing plastic products many years. So I’ve got one of the largest Bakelite collections that anyone has in Australia, in boxes.
Wow yeah – no small feat!
I’ve got a few bits out, but not much.
Amazing. And is it true that you -coming back to your processes- is it true that you developed photographs in coffee?
Pray tell, what was that about?
So we had a – it may have been SALA, I’m not sure- it was a festival. Where Danni, a friend of mine, and myself decided that we’d go to a cafe on a Saturday morning, take photographs of the patrons with a medium format camera. Then develop those negatives in coffee, and then print them in coffee.
And print them in coffee as well!?
And then put them back up on the wall the following week for people to come and see
of the cafe? Amazing.
So there was about 30-odd pairs of portraits and they were called ‘Mug Shots’ because we had them holding the mug looking straight at you and then sideways. So we had the two shots and printed one negative there and one beside it. And it was good, some good fun, and contemplating doing it again sometime somewhere.
Yeah well you” have to let us know to look out for that one.
It worked beautifully. There’s no problems except for think fixer. You can have alternatives to developer and you can have alternatives to stop bath, but fixer is one of the harder ones to find able to find an alternative too. But it was coffee and it had citric acid, borax, I can’t remember – it had a number of different things. But that that’s also how I, I quite enjoy playing. I was recently asked, where I work as a casual looking after the film labs at Atkins. I was recently asked by one of their clients who’d found a roll of Kodachrome, which hasn’t been developed since 10-15-20 years maybe?
Yep. So developed as black and white. So that used all sorts of homegrown chemicals. Home-available chemicals should I say, like borax and all sorts of other things. And we just got we got black and white negatives from Kodachrome.
And so – sorry black and white positives from Kodachrome. So they had their images and they could see them and see what the granddad had photographed.
Oh, wow. So it was from in the family, amazing. So you get to play mad scientist sometimes too.
That’s the enjoyable bit.
Yeah. Oh, that’s fantastic.
– Musical interlude –
And now talking about objects, I don’t want that to sound like the focus of your work because you do have distinct threads in your photographic practice. I think my introduction to your work was this beautiful shallow depth of field, close up macro works of these objects and things that we’ve been talking about. But you’ve also got a very curious eye for scenery and, you know, new visions of the port and a photojournalistic sort of style that you these really beautiful images of Syria, and also a very established portrait practice. Is there a common thread between these approaches? Or does each way of shooting have its own individual appeal or drive that draws you to it?
If there is a common thread, it’s not something I’d consciously do. Let’s go back to where my photography was: so I finished studying and then basically, from then on ’til about 10 years ago, I just used the camera for whatever else does, for parties, for travel – I don’t didn’t use to photograph food, but just film photography of all sorts of things. And then when we moved to the Port, about six or eight years after we moved to the Port, the government said they were going to tear down a lot of the fabric of the Port and replace it with new housing. And so I thought it was about time I showed people what was out there and what was going to be lost. And it turned out that’s when I started to pick up my film cameras again, and so I’d photograph the boat yards before they were demolished, and all the sort of cultural heritage that is involved in that. And the people who were five generations of the businesses were sort of established in the 1860s. And they were getting moved on or kicked out and the buildings demolished. And I thought that was criminal. And I basically wanted to tell as many people as possible about it. So that’s what I was doing. That’s got me back into photography. And then, and then I wanted to use a darkroom. So in about 2010, I went into year 11 photography at Marden Senior College.
I imagine you might have been the oldest one there?
No I wasn’t, but there were also 12 students from other schools who had come to study photography, and wet photography,
So a bit of a melting pot of interested parties.
Yep. So the first year, all I did was just use the facilities to trial alternative processes, and do photography and print all sorts of things. And naturally, at the end of the year, I got my mark and I’d failed because I didn’t do any of the coursework. So the second the second year, which was year 12. And that will cost about $300 a year, by the way, for four hours access once a week. I decided to do the coursework and do my fun stuff, as well.
Oh, that’s good of you.
So I did the course work, handed it all in, then got my mark, and then had a ring, a fellow student who was a year 12 student who, we used to do photographic projects and collaborate on things. And she said ‘shut up’ and hang up on me, because I just got, I think was A plus, with merit, and turned out as the highest mark in the country for creative arts.
There you go -just as well, you applied yourself then!
And I got the invite to go to the Governor with all the other year 12 students who got sort of high marks, and I decided not to. Didn’t really feel like being looked at and pointed out for being sort of a mature age student who’d gone through, but I only did the one subject. It’s not like, you know, they were doing 4 others. I was working at the time, and I was working fulltime at the time.
Yeah, a juggling act.
So I was pretty pleased. So that was because I just played with all sorts of things I made cameras, I made scanning cameras out of scanners, I made all sorts of things. I just played.
Right, getting an image one way or another.
It’s about putting an image on using glass or something to distort or give you a… will give you a perfect image, one on one or the other. And a medium, which is in a lightproof box, which can accept it.
So anything’s a camera.
Yeh well that’s one of the projects I did since then, so I was commissioned by Tarnanthi Festival, an Indigenous contemporary art festival, to go up to Alice and work with one of the art centers on photography without cameras (real cameras). Yeah. So basically going out onto the country and doing things like lumen prints or like going down to the tip shop and buying litter boxes and first aid kits and cocktail shakers, and cake tins,
and putting a tiny hole in them?
putting a tiny hole in them and making pinhole cameras. And because I knew the focal length, and I knew the size of the hole and everything else, I could give them the exact amount of seconds they can open up for whether it’s cloudy or sunny or whatever day. And they’d open them up for three minutes and then put a bit of tape over them and bring them back and I’d unload them and then they’d go out again, and do another one. So, just that was fun.
Yeah, I bet.
So it’s just playing playing with alternative processes. But I also like to be refined in my processes. So when it’s, you know, when it’s film, like large format film, you can’t really waste too much, so try and get as as clean an image as possible and then work with that clean image to make as clean a print possible.
Yeah. And I think oftentimes we don’t think about the weighting of you know, taking the photograph and then the development as still being part of that process and you know, still having control over outcomes in that process.
And it’s not… the obvious difference between digital and film photography is it’s not take the photograph, look at the screen, delete it; it’s take the photograph, wait two weeks ’til you get a chance to develop it. Develop it, it’s still a negative. Scan it, rework it, as in change the tonality, or change the contrast or whatever, and get rid of all the dust because you can have a lot of dust. And then because you’ve scanned it, you can have a two gigabyte scan if you want. And it’s not going to lose anything, it’s just going to be bigger grain on the image. Whereas in digital, if you took a 60 megabyte file from a camera, you’ve got a lot of farting about trying to confuse the, the digital data to make it something that’s two meter square. Which, you know, I’ll print that easily with a negative.
So there’s that difference. Obviously, if you want to spend a lot of money, you can do exactly the same thing in digital, because you can get very big files. But right now you can walk down to the nearest secondhand camera shop and buy an old film camera and you can do the same thing with a scanner. So.
Interesting isn’t it. We’ve sort of forgotten that in a way, the merit of the film camera. And yeah, interesting to know that… is that a train?
That’s a train, the National Railway Museum is across the road.
I can see it. Oh, yes, there it goes. So apologies for any interruptions in the background.
I didn’t even notice it because I’ve been here so long I just tune it out.
There are worse noises. But yeah, interesting that the you know, happenings in the port gave you that very clear impetus to and have something to capture because it could disappear.
Yeah. I mean, some of the first photographs I took I used the first time I was in an exhibition. And so that was my first exhibition where images from the Port.
Right, yeah, well there you go. It’s funny to think about your first exhibition because I know you exhibit so prolifically. And actually that does bring us to some exhibitions slash significant prizes that your work is in at the moment at time of recording. Do you want to tell us about some of your big wins from this year?
Well, they’re not wins as such. They’re the finalists. Yeah,
Yeah yeah. So I use the term in a career way.
Would have been nice if they were wins. So the Olive Cotton Prize for photographic portraiture is a $20,000 Prize, and that’s run by Tweed Regional Gallery, and it’s fairly prestigious as far as getting work into and I hadn’t been, I hadn’t really applied myself to put work into awards for the last three or four years through the personal circumstances. So I decided this year to
-throw your hat in the ring?-
apply for 4 prizes, so put work in to be selected. So I managed to become a finalist in the Olive Cotton Prize, which was fantastic. And that’s been and gone and I wasn’t a winner, but my work was hanging on the walls and wonderful, well known and distinguished portrait photographers who do it as a profession for a living, and that’s their art form
yeah so you were in good company.
Yep. So that was one of the four. And then I got news that I was a finalist in the Bowness Prize, which is a prize for photography total. And that meant that I had to sort of print a 1.5mx1m portrait and frame it and get it across to Melbourne. And that’s on its way back from Melbourne tomorrow. So that’s been and gone, and, again, I was in the company of many renowned and wonderful photographers, whose work I very, very much admire. And then the third one, which really stumped me was the Taylor Wessing Prize, which is a $27,000 prize from the National Portrait Gallery, London, and I got two portraits into that.
It’s amazing, isn’t it?
Well, that’s from 5,400 entries from around the world. They chose the work of 25 photographers. And I had two of them in there, two of the portraits in there.
So they’re hanging at the moment
until early January -I couldn’t get there, would have been lovely. And someone who I’d admired their work for a long time, an Australian photographer, actually won the prize.
So in the end between he and myself, we had 10% of the photography on the walls of that exhibition.
Amazing. Well, well done. That’s a great comeback from not entering for a few years.
And the Guardian UK wrote a review and chose a portrait I did of Jacob Junior Nayinggul, who is an Indigenous ranger in the Northern Territory by day and became an actor for the first time -and a lead actor- in the movie High Ground, and I caught up with him at the Adelaide Film Festival for the gala launch of that movie. That portrait was described as one of the top 10 portraits of the year by the Guardian UK.
That’s a big compliment.
And the Guardian Australia, in the Bowness Prize I was a top 10 Photographer of the Year from the Bowness as far as their collection.
Oh wow, take in in your stride!
Now I’ve got to lose my amateur status, which I’ve been sort of holding on to for so long, I had a card printed when I went to Syria, which said ‘amateur photographer’ on it, and that hung around for a while.
you might have to part with that word
So I’m just starting to get myself a website. I work four days a week at Atkins, so three days a week now will be devoted to portraiture.
Yeah. So it’s a great transition period.
Yeah, it is a transition period. It’s obviously, until I start getting work, and it’s an expensive transition period.
You know, getting getting all the works off to different parts of the world, the prints.
Yeah, there’s a lot of logistics there isn’t there.
And just printing and framing, and shipping, and shipping back if it doesn’t go anywhere. All costs money.
Although I like that you, to get the prints to London, just before [you] told me that you, you know, instead of compromising on size, because I know that you do great big, very commanding portraits -they’re great when they’re at large scale- that you printed them and sent them unframed so that they could then be framed on the other side. Did that work out okay?
Yeah it did. The National Portrait Gallery framed them. So they that was their contribution, they paid for it.
Well do you have any tips for anyone that, perhaps might be working with photography, and that kind of thing? I’m assuming ‘develop a website’ is probably a good one.
But there’s a portfolio in a sense. Yeah,
but I just don’t have an e-commerce website, which is what I’m in the process of doing.
Gotcha. Gotcha, Oh, good. So we have got somewhere we can-
I’m not totally a troglodyte.
My apologies! But in terms of, you know, just throwing your hat in the ring and entering prizes, do you have any wisdoms around that? Or is it just a matter of you’ve just got to try it out?
Oh, try it. With a lot of the major photography prizes. They have people who have taken photographs on their iPhone; they’ve got people who have never used film who have a disposable camera they’ve bought and taken some photographs, and they’ve turned out pretty good and they’ve put them in with a great explanation of what the work is and they’ve become finalists. So it’s not… and you know, the Bowness Prize is $30,000 I think, I think the Moran prize might be $50,000
in prize money? yeah so that should be impetus enough.
And it might cost you $30 to enter. It’s like a big lottery though. Because it’s really up to it depends on who the judges are. And it’s very subjective.
Great to know that there is that diversity of work that you can get in.
Oh you get work from people who have already won major prizes all over the place. Yeah. And they get people whose work has never been seen before.
Yeah, might not even call themselves an artist. Amazing. That’s very reassuring – it can be done.
I’m sure you don’t think twice about this because you’ve photographed a lot of people. And I don’t know how you ask people because you’ve photographed -off the top of my head- Billie Eilish and these people that come over for festivals, these fantastic artists and people that, I don’t know, I would just stumble on my words. How do you not only approach people to sit for portraits, but make it comfortable and get those -because you can tell by the way that people are in front of your lens that they’re comfortable and that’s how you get those beautiful photographs. What’s the secret?
I don’t know.
Just your knack?
I was always shy about portraits. I never took portraits at all. And then I was kind of forced to when I did the course, at Marden Senior College, because there was a portrait component. And that included, doing all sorts of lighting and doing all sorts of things to make the person look beautiful. So what I did is I sort of went through the boxes of rubbish I’ve got around the house here, and sort of established a box of things that could be held or offered. And so I decided to do a series of work, which was called ‘offerings’. And it involved someone holding a piece out to the camera, and then being out of focus in the background, and slightly looking away or doing something that they weren’t necessarily looking at the camera. So that started me taking photographs of people and getting confidence to take some photographs of people. And then from there, I started asking people, if they would like to collaborate with me on photoshoots, where basically the subject and myself co-owned the final results, and they could use them for whatever they want and I could use them for whatever I want.
It’s a nice way of reframing the act of having your photograph taken is that it’s actually collaborative.
Yeah, and I had to ask the subject, if I could use them. They didn’t have to ask me, because I’d already given them that as a gift, or as part of the process. Because the person that you’re taking the photograph of, if they’re not there in front of you, then you don’t get a photograph. So why not share it? Because especially I find that, I’ve actually formalized that quite, with the Indigenous artists that I’ve photographed over the years have basically said that, after costs, we share whatever profits come from it. So if there’s a print sells, or if it’s an award or whatever, they get half.
That’s a really lovely way to break that down.
And it’s not… I don’t get people rucking for it, it’s just something I discuss with them after I get them in front of the camera. They don’t even know that beforehand. But I suppose it’s the collaborations that I did for four or five years after the Marden course, which got me to a style. And from that I got three portraits in the National Portrait Gallery’s permanent collection. And I sort of have the confidence to walk up to someone and ask if they’re interested in having a portrait taken. I might show them some of the portraits I’ve taken in the past. And then I generally don’t waste their time, because they’re people who are busy, and I might only take three portraits total. And that’s it, and then go on to the next person. Half an hour later.
nerve racking in a way.
Well, if I fail in my portrait-taking they just never get seen – just like any other photographer. But yeah, with Billie Eilish, I was standing sidestage taking digital images of her at Laneway Port Adelaide. I was commissioned by Vitalstatistix and Laneway they got the images. And they gave me a pass that let me go backstage and take photographs and Billie’s mum was there. And Billy being only 16 or 17 at the time. I just asked her mum if it was okay, if I could take some portraits of Billie and she liked what she saw, and she said ‘sure’. So we chatted for a while with Billie and Billie pinched mums earrings.
and popped them on?
Yeah. And Billie was all chirpy and smiley and everything else on stage and when talking to me and then backstage we used the backdrop as the photographic backdrop. So it was a dark backdrop to the stage. And natural light. And I took four photographs of Billie and that was it.
And that was it. Yeah. So I guess you’ve got that sort of system figured out and
and sometimes I actually give the camera to the person so they can look through and look at me and see what sort of
get a sense
get a sense of what it’s going to be like. And so and they just hand it back. In fact, when I handed it to Tash Sultana she took photograph me before I knew it. So I’ve got to a process now where if I’m taking photographs of someone sort of well known and didn’t want to waste their time, and it’s not something they’ve come to me for. Literally, it’s I divide my 12 shot film into 4. Yeah, and it’s four people get collected on one piece of celluloid, which is 12 shots long.
So just ask very politely and quite happy for them to say no. And most of the time, I think I’ve only been refused once.
And now that we’re talking about it, you know, it sounds like it’s a very mobile practice in that, you know, you just identify a backdrop or have a backdrop and
mostly identify, yeah, and the camera’s handheld and I hand-hold it down to 30th successfully, 15th sometimes works, but 30th of a second, and take photographs in that light. And that’s just a 1960s medium format camera. And that’s it.
And you’re sort of reading the direction of the natural ambient light.
Well, I just, I actually have a little bit of a cruise around to see where the light’s best or more even, and can work and not getting in the way of people changing sets or changing backdrops or whatever.
There’s a lot of moving parts at a festival.
So I don’t have a tripod, don’t have lights, don’t have reflectors. Just use the light as it comes.
And do you have -it’s horrible to ask you to play favorites, but- is there a standout experience of photographing someone who’s sat for you?
There’s a Norwegian musician I photographed called Aurora. She was just bubbles, she was going all over the place. Had to slowly quiet her down to take the photograph, otherwise, at a 30th of a second it would have just been a blur. But she was lovely. She looked in the camera and she said, ‘Oh, it’s gonna have all that dust on it’. Um, nope. No my cameras, when they’re sitting in the bottom of a bag, they do accumulate a bit of dust as you’re working around. And then another time, I was photographing two women, two sisters. In fact two of the portraits that ended up in the National Portrait Gallery. So Linda Syddick Napaltjarri and Wentja Morgan Napaltjarri from the Gibson desert and they spoke Pintupi as a language. And where they were in Alice Springs, very few people could understand them. And so they chatted amongst themselves and chewed the bush tobacco and said there painting and asking for cups of tea and do some beautiful work – their work’s in most of the major state galleries and the National Gallery. But they’d never been photographed together before. And one of them is I think 74-81 years old, and the other one had a bigger span and she was something like 84-92 years old or something. And they never been photographed together. And so I got them into the gallery space at the Tangentyere Art Centre in Alice Springs. And asked if I could get a painting as a backdrop. And I asked if there was any pre-prepared black backdrops. And there was, so we hung that. And so I took their individual portraits and then I decided to take the pair of them together. And they kept on giggling and laughing and pointing around the room and laughing and giggling and they knew bugger-all English. But they must’ve asked one of the people who work in art centre who I was, and so they’re looking around and I was going ‘come on girls, stop it’. And they were looking through my camera.
‘Cause you look down?
I look down into the camera. And then they both turned to the camera and they started chanting “Tony, Tony, Tony!”. And I thought (jovially) ‘bugger off’. And I did take some photographs after that. And they started singing to me after that. So that was pretty special. So there was singing there. And it was just lovely. With these women who had come in from, met their first white people when they were in their teens and early 20s; never met or never seen anything from a white community before. In fact, one of them got so freaked out [that] her major motif for a lot of her paintings is the scary windmill. And so she would sort of have these scary monsters under the scary windmill because that was first thing she saw.
And I think she went to Hast’s Bluff mission and then sort of moved around on the western side of Northern Territory for a while and then sort of ended up in Alice Springs.
So taking these portraits actually is a little window into meeting such a diversity of people?
Oh it’s fantastic.
Now I think I got to know you just after one of the Syria exhibitions, can you -but that seemed to be like a really significant project- can you detail what that project or series was and was about?
I’d got Brian Dawe to open one of my exhibitions here in Adelaide, maybe 2009, called ‘Rust’, and it wasn’t going to be a series it was just rust, and it was embedded in a Port festival and
a solo exhibition or?
No, I decided to do a contemporary art exhibition where I curate -when I say curate, I’d just ring friends. And it had byline of ‘the corrosion of culture and the culture of corrosion’. And it was about the developers at the time taking away anything that wasn’t heritage listed, and the only things that were heritage listed were stone and brick,
yeah so it’s quite biting conceptually,
And so all the corrugated iron boatyards that have been there for up to five generations they were being threatened with being knocked down. And so I got people to respond to that. And it started out with about 17 artists.
Was it all mediums or photography?
Yeah. So there was a little bit of photography. There was glass artists who made that piece for the exhibition
is that glass?
It’s glass, it’s called ‘Shandy‘.
Oh, yeah. That makes sense.
by Deb Jones and Christine Cholewa. So we had all these works. And Brian Dawe stood up the front and told government, who were in the audience because Brian Dawe was up the front, that the government had sold the community down the river, and many other, more biting,
choice words about how that’s -because he’s born just across the road from here. And so we got to know each other, and then, about five months later, Brian rang me and said, ‘Look, I’m thinking about going back to Syria for a trip, would you be interested in coming?’ And I said, ‘when is it?’ and he said, ‘oh, we’re thinking about maybe six or eight months?’ And I said, ‘Yeah, I think I’d be able to sort of handle getting some money together in that stage and potentially going’. So two months later, he rang me back and said, ‘we’ll been leaving in a month. Would you still be interested?’ and so I sold a few things, and Sandra and I both sold things, and got the money together. And we headed it off to Syria with a small group, ten of us. And I took, I contacted Kodak, and asked if I could buy bulk film from them at a discount.
And I didn’t hear back and then I didn’t hear back. And it was just after Christmas we were leaving. So I rang just before Christmas and said, ‘Look, I really need to know if I can buy film’. I’d already accumulated quite a bit of film in the meantime. And they said, ‘Yeah, I’ll tell you what, we’ll send it off tomorrow’. And so I got 80 rolls of film from them.
And it was for free. They basically gave me 80 rolls of film to take to Syria.
Got written a note about what I was doing. And so with my 100, I took 180 rolls of film to Syria.
Oh my gosh.
I gave about 30 or 40 of them away to photographers in Syria, because they were finding it hard to get.
Wow, I don’t even want to think about taking that film through the airport.
Well we went through, there were 22 opportunities for it to be searched, as in go through the X-ray.
Oh my gosh.
And in the end, it went through three, because I managed to convince everyone that you don’t put the stuff through.
Yeah. And that can be a hard sell.
Yeah, well it’s not that one dose of radiation cooks the film, it’s just like
it’s the buildup. So each time it’s basically… you know, if it was 100 ISO film, by the end of the day, if it’s been through 6 x-rays, it’s acting like 3200 ISO film going through an x ray. It’s just getting more sensitive and absorbing more things. So you get colourshift and all sorts of things that go on. Some people say it’s not a problem if it’s in your hand luggage – well it was in my hand luggage. And when you go to Syria and it’s in your hand luggage, your hand luggage gets taken off and put through an ex-Aeroflot industrial X-ray machine,
which is bigger than Ben Hur. It’s like a washing machine or bigger. And it cooks it. So I arrived in Syria. And the first thing I did after my film, having gone through this massive half-room of an x-ray machine, is I contacted a friend who was a photographer in Syria, he worked for the Washington Post and The Guardian, and all sorts of other major newspapers. And so I got up at six in the morning, walk around Damascus. And took three films, quickly, met him at 10 o’clock in the market and we walked for an hour to the place where they develop film, and we dropped the film off. Went and had a few too many beers together, because we’d caught up and then got back and they’d developed them and printed them, and colour ones had a bit of a colour change
a bit of shift?
but the black and whites were fine,
And I had lots of both, so I just kept on taking film photography. I thought one month in Syria with no film would have been a bit of a disaster, but it was there and I was enjoying it. So I did for myself. And so came back and we had an exhibition called ‘Syria Lost’
that’s the one
where we had with Brian, myself, and Sandra‘s photography, and each printed about a meter square and they were pretty amazing images considering three weeks after we pass through Daraa, which is in the south of Syria into Jordan, the first shots of the civil war in Syria were fired in the streets of Daraa. So up until then, you know, things were going off in Tunisia or down south, and other areas that hadn’t got to Syria yet. And then when Syria decided to do it, the government decided to crack down and took on its civilians. And then after that, and other sort of people in infiltrated the cause of the civilians and turned it into a civil war but with different ideologies involved. So it turned into something more vicious
pretty tight timing.
Yes. It could have been worse six weeks later
and I’m still on the one metre prints – because those ones I think I’ve only seen online so Yeah, amazing. And they are very It does feel like you’re there walking through markets and
I took I took a 1954 Hasselblad with me, which was a supreme wide angle camera and just walked everywhere with that, just taking photographs of people and landscape and and just everything that was in front of me. Because you know, Damascus and Aleppo, cities that have had continuous occupation for 7000 years. So you go into any of those and there’s this fabric from all sorts of different eras in there. We stayed with some Bedouins on the Euphrates River opposite Mesopotamia and an archeological dig, and went out and did some sort of fossicking and plain roaming and archeological digs, we did some wonderful things all through, and had the odd encounter with a with someone with a submachine gun at five in the morning when I was taking photographs, because I’ve managed to be taken photographs in the wrong direction towards military camps
So they were tapping me on the shoulder with a machine gun and saying, oh, you can’t do that.
And I bet you stopped
Yes I did, I turned around to take photographs in the other direction.
What a what a chronology of events. Um, but moving back to the ‘Rust’ exhibition that sounds very similar to another couple of exhibitions that had a sort of single-word premise
So it’s a few exhibitions we’ve had been contemporary art exhibitions. So it started with ‘Rust‘.
Yeah, so that was the beginning, gotcha.
Then it was salt, tar, smoke, knot, grit, grain, bridge, vessel.
That’s quite a few!
So that’s nine. And the next one’s booked for the same space in Hart’s Mill for February.
I won’t push embargoed details then.
That’s if COVID permits.
Yeah, yeah, but a very established sort of model now then.
Well yeah there’s 40 or 50 of us now.
Yeah that’s a sizeable fleet!
Yeah. People who have shown that the Louvre or the V&A or internationally all over all sorts of contemporary art spaces to others who have shown at the local or have not shown at all before. So it’s a big range, there’s only a couple of rules. One is that all the artists have to bring a plate to the opening. The other is that they all have to ‘sit’ the gallery. And likely you could be sitting, you could be a third year student from AC Arts and be sitting beside your art hero. And, and having a great conversation for four hours while neglecting the people in the gallery
And everyone has to clean up the space because it’s a it’s a pop-up space which we established about six years ago, that we moved into after, after having an established gallery for four years, we managed to convince the government that they could let us use Hart’s Mill as a venue. And so we the first time we did it took us two weeks to scrub and clean 100mm of bird shit and dust and crap off the floor and away and then repaint some walls that were tagged
in in the same original dirty browny-gray color that was on the wall there. So we didn’t we didn’t restore, we we just slightly renovated. It wasn’t pristine. In fact, we’ve got walls in there, which are beautiful peeling paint, and no one’s allowed to touch them as far as we’re concerned. Paint’s been sitting there for five years now, so it’s crusty, it’s falling off the walls, it’s beautiful. So that’s all part of the texture of the space
and the character. It’s a great thing that’s been established. And yeah, to have such a mix of people of different levels, being involved, and you know, everyone respecting the code, because that’s how you sustain something like that.
And it’s great. And a lot of the artists who would normally have their work either picked up or dropped off at galleries, and then at the end of the exhibition work picked up and dropped off, and very little to do with the exhibition itself, have got a big connection with the exhibition and have got the opportunity to hang out with other artists of different levels. And it’s fantastic. So lovely people, lovely friendships, long friendships now. I got another waiting list of about 40 or 50 people who want to get into it.
If you build it, they will come!
But generally if you if you’ve been in it, you get invited again. Yeah.
Oh, well done. And yeah, thank you for pushing these very community-involved events; the care for the Port is palpable and tangible. Yeah, I look forward to seeing the shows when they come about.
Yep they’re good and we enjoy them. And we obviously do SALA exhibitions each year with photography, which got I forgot to mention, that’s analog photography. So that happens in August, when you can have a real exhibition. I think we’ve missed out on one or two during COVID. But they’ve been fun, and big prints some of them up to three meters wide
I do love a big print.
It’s good, good fun. Yeah. And some of those, we get done by Atkins, the smaller ones. And the bigger ones, we’ve sourced a signage printer who makes very good durable vinyl prints.
They’re obviously not as perfect as ‘fine art’ as something that would be on photo rag [paper] with archival links. But that’s for an exhibition where, when we first started exhibiting in the space, pigeons lived in it.
So you don’t really want to put archival, top quality
you don’t really want to. So when Trent Parke and Narelle Autio put their work up, they put them behind glass. But for those of us who sort of haven’t got big frames, or we just sort of pin them up. And so I’ve been sort of stuff you can wipe down with a wet cloth before each day -or maybe during the day.
Ugh, I don’t want to think about it! Brilliant, well we will be keeping an eye out for all these projects. And yes, hopefully.
So I will give you the name of the next one:
Yeah, good. Yeah,
It’s called hold
hold! That’s nice
As in the hold of a ship or the embrace
different ways you can read that.
Well the words we’ve used…
they’ve all got double meanings
more than double. So that allows people allows people to play. But it’s a fantastic space. And I’m lucky enough to once a year or twice a year, give permission to use it
Well, may it continue.
Episode 21 / Jasmine Crisp
In this episode, Steph catches up with Jasmine Crisp at her home studio in the Adelaide Hills. Jasmine paints across small and large scale, with her narrative paintings discoverable in both gallery spaces and on buildings around Adelaide and beyond. We talk about what drives her work, the ups and downs of working in public space, her time in residency in Iceland, and her painting that won the inaugural Centre for Create Health Art Prize.
- Jasmine Crisp (Instagram) (website)
- Adelaide Central School of Art
- SALA Festival Slide Night 2021
- What is an artist residency?
- SíM Artist Residency – Seljavegur, Reykjavík, Iceland.
- NES Artist Residency – Skagaströnd, Iceland.
- Kolin Ryyanänen Artist Residency – Koli, Finland
- Centre for Creative Health Art Prize
- Jasmine Crisp, ‘They had to share (a portrait of Ruby)’, 2020, oil on linen, 91x152cm
- Ruby Allegra (Instagram)
- Portrait of Ruby wins new health-focused art prize (InDaily article)
- Religious Icon paintings
- Brisbane Street Art Festival
- Andrew Salgado (Instagram) (website)
- Beers London (website) (Salgado bio)
Music: Sky 5: The Rise, The Walk, The Hope – Monplaisir
Hello and welcome to the SALA Podcast. My name is Steph and today I’m catching up with Jasmine Crisp, who is a South Australian painter, muralist, and apprentice tattoo artist. Now, we are very lucky to be catching up at Jasmine’s home studio, in the foothills in the Adelaide Hills. There’s a lovely amount of rain for spring day. It’s a little bit atypical, but it’s all lovely and misty up here. And I want to acknowledge the Kaurna People and the Peramangk People as the Traditional Owners of this land that we’re meeting upon. In particular, because, you know, we’re going to be talking about Jasmine’s practice, and how she sort of portrays her subject’s connection to their surroundings through art. So I think it’s important to recognize the long standing and continuing connection that the traditional owners have to this land.
Alright, Jaz, thanks for having time to catch up with us. Maybe we can start at the beginning, that probably makes the most sense. Can you tell us how you found your way to this career path?
Jasmine Crisp 01:29
Yeah, um, it felt like a path I always wanted to do. But as commonly in our environment, people perceive a career in the arts to be a unicorn or somewhat impossible for anyone to achieve. So I really wanted to pursue art always, but wasn’t really sure that it could be an actual job or career until I studied at Adelaide Central School of Art, because I knew I had an interest in art. But it was there that I was surrounded by a lot of serious students and practicing artists in the field that motivated me to take on as a realistic goal.
Yeah. And that exposure to all those people that were doing it,
Jasmine Crisp 02:19
yeah, yeah. Because all of the teachers there are actually, at least in some point in their life, been full-time practicing on us here in Adelaide, and you build a network of people that live and breathe every day, so becomes a reality.
Yeah – much more realistic. Yeah. And how would you describe your practice now, and, I guess what -big question- what is it that you try to explore in your work?
Jasmine Crisp 02:47
Yeah, um, I guess it’s always developing as art practices do. But a primary element of my practice that still holds and maintains is an interest in the human condition, and the human experience of environments and space and objects. So not just portraits of people, but people’s environments, and their belongings and their surroundings and how that impacts their character, or connection to space. Yeah, and sometimes that will be stories directly from my own life; sometimes it’s stories from other people’s lives that I know. It’s always people that I’ve had a personal connection with, and sometimes that also involves telling stories of objects that are, beyond my own understanding, but then become part of a larger narrative, through someone else’s tale or connections of tales as multiple people with the same feeling towards an object. So yeah.
I’m sure there’s a very fancy word for that, that sort of object based-
Jasmine Crisp 04:05
Yeah, it’s not necessarily about the political environment, or the person’s more official or business-oriented status as just a very feeling-oriented direction between people in their space. Yep.
And now that you’re some years out of art school – because when did you graduate?
Jasmine Crisp 04:28
ah 2017 with honors
Yep, cool, which seems like yesterday but it’s actually not
Jasmine Crisp 04:34
it has actually I realized it’s been a little while.
Have you -so you’ve had, you know, quite a few years of practicing quite intensely- have you got a bit more of an understanding now about why you are interested in drawn to depicting people that you’ve encountered and, you know, bringing in the sort of symbols of their personhood… Have you got words for that? Or are you still figuring out why you’re pulled towards that?
Jasmine Crisp 05:06
Yeah, um, I feel like that’s probably the most obvious element to me in the sense that it feels completely authentic. Like, it’s the knowledge that I do actually have from my living experience that I can share and contribute. So I’m not necessarily researching for answers, and I’m not trying to provide a solution; or I’m not trying to, I guess create a specific statement so much as just describe what’s happening and how I’m feeling and how others are feeling and what’s happened to them. And maybe, yeah, not providing any kind of resolution, but presenting that as I perceive it to feel or be.
Yeah. So it’s not it’s not instructive, it’s not preachy, it’s just responding to very real things and – well not ‘just’, it is responding to those things.
Jasmine Crisp 06:05
Yeah, it is, it’s like sounds simple. And I guess it is, in a sense that this is the material in my environment, that is my raw ingredients. And I’m cooking them into something that I feel is only derived from those ingredients. But they’ve been crafted to usually still have a message.
Jasmine Crisp 06:28
Yeah. Or a tale?
Yeah. There’s still plenty to be drawn out of them, I guess.
Jasmine Crisp 06:36
Lovely. And you work across quite varied scale from, you know, I’m looking at works that are sort of quite easily carried by one person; works that might be carried by two people, all the way up to you know, these murals on silos and multi storey walls. Do you think that… does your practice sort of change depending on what scale it’s going to be? Or do you think that it’s just the practicalities of how much paint that you’ll need that sort of come into play there?
Jasmine Crisp 07:12
Yeah, yeah, definitely practicalities is a large element. Because there’s a very different installation process, with a public artwork compared to something made in the studio. But I always like to, I guess I try not to do any kind of project that I don’t actually believe in, and therefore end up making work that is directive of my interests. So like the same passion of wanting to tell stories and include real people that I know in real environments that I’ve seen and captured is really important to me. So original stories and imagery to work from, and stories that I want to share about that imagery in the work that feels closely connected to me, it’s special. But um, I guess the largest difference, particularly with public artworks, is the influence of a client or a commissioner. Because that often dictates a lot of material that I can or cannot include, or perhaps even just starts off with a theme that I may not have, you know, conjured in my own self, but there’s always a way that I can make that mine and make it beautiful, and also make it theirs at the same time -I hope!
Yeah, is that quite a fun process, that having to stew on how to align, you know, the client’s values and yours and find that middle ground or?
Jasmine Crisp 08:44
It depends. Like everything, I guess, sometimes you have really beautiful people that understand and support and the feedback is actually just so constructive to making a design that’s better than what I could have, because their eyeballs are noticing something that my eyeballs have become blind to. But other times it can become, yeah, really frustrating and constricting. Because I want to do something maybe a little bit more honest or a little bit more brave than what I’ll be allowed to do.
Yeah, I can see that.
On the subject of, you know, doing your mural work and that side of your practice: I think anyone who follows you on Instagram gets major envy because you’re just bloody cool as hell out there and your little pink overalls, very much living a dream. But you did the Slide Night as part of the SALA Festival in 2021 and I loved that you really subverted convention in that, you know it’s a slide presentation and there wasn’t a single image of an artwork, and I was like, ‘Ah, you got me!’ like, it was very clever. But you know, to take a slightly more somber tone, it was quotes of things that had been said to you when you’re doing your mural work. And some of them were kind of cute and fun, but some of them were a bit -I can’t think of a different way to put it- but a bit sexist. And yeah, it got me rightfully thinking about… because you don’t really see that and, you know, not that you would try and capture that when documenting that process. But it’s something that maybe doesn’t get spoken about very much.
Jasmine Crisp 10:42
It doesn’t at all, and that’s why I really wanted to talk about it for the Slide Night, because I knew that the audience would be artists as well. And we know a lot about being artists, you know, ups and downs that that comes with. But the public art realm comes with a new set of, yeah, ups and downs that are somewhat unspoken. And it’s become somewhat of an all-consuming lifestyle for me for the past year and a half anyway, so I thought I’d share some tales from those experiences, yeah.
And some of them were sort of ones that you get, you know, it might be slightly different wordings, but you get quite a lot. And I’m sure some that were a bit more niche. But
Jasmine Crisp 11:29
Yeah, well, you’re in the public realm. So you get a great diversity of people I’ll be in, sometimes it’ll be disadvantaged areas where you’re bringing colour to the environment. So you get a mixed response to being present in those areas, a lot of the time on construction sites, where it’s really high stress, and you’re surrounded by a lot of workers. So you don’t have privacy to paint and be, you know, a sombre artist in the studio, you have to really just get it done. And you have deadlines and people pushing you to complete it. Or then other times, yeah, you might be in just the street where, at any given time there’s 150 people around. And yeah, you can’t even look at your phone or scratch your ass really, without knowing that someone’s probably watching you. So there’s a different mental space, physical space, process-based urgency in all of that environment. And people feel very welcome to talk to you and comment on the work, which is actually yeah, really interesting to get that from people that are not artists, and would not walk into a gallery. And yeah, most of the time, it’s really, really rewarding, and people are just beautifully thankful and complimentary, and just glad to see activity in their environment. And especially I notice a lot of people in suburban areas feel like quite claiming of their space in their hood, if you will. So they’ll really be grateful that someone’s putting energy into what they think is something that they own. Yeah. But yeah, there’s other times where, unfortunately, developments have not been made enough to see women on scissor lifts. Or to see women in high-vis, or to see women on construction sites
Jasmine Crisp 12:03
or running a project. Yeah
Jasmine Crisp 13:33
Yeah, yep. I got a lot of people asking how old I am, which is, I think, quite strange. I’ve asked a lot of male street artists and muralists, who’ve never been asked that question. So there’ll be questions that I’ll get based on my appearance, or people asking me if I can do those things by myself in quite condescending manner.
It’s quite patronising
Jasmine Crisp 13:55
Yeah, yeah. But I guess people are still learning. And still haven’t seen that in their environment before. So it’s good to, instead of retaliate or get downhearted, it’s sort of best to, I suppose, try and educate and support people in learning that, like, Yes, I can use scissor lifts and I have female reproductive organs.
They’re not mutually exclusive.
Jasmine Crisp 14:22
Well, it sounds like you’ve found a way to sort of hold space for yourself to not get too affected by those things then?
Jasmine Crisp 14:32
Sometimes. Other times I feel braver than other times. Yeah, yeah. headphones have been great.
Oh that’s a good tip.
Jasmine Crisp 14:40
But you don’t want to miss out on those beautiful moments too. Yeah.
What a roller coaster.
Jasmine Crisp 14:46
I know. You get some really special people. Yeah. Oh, good.
Have you got a favorite little mural moment from when you have been working?
Jasmine Crisp 14:56
There are actually so many. There was A woman once that, yeah, came up to me in the street and tapped me on the back. And I was a bit like, I had my headphones on and she terrified me, ready to sort of ‘karate’, but um, she gave me a box of roses (the chocolates) yeah. And I was like, Oh, well, what are you doing? Like what are these for?’ and she said that her grandma lived around the corner. And that she was very elderly and less able to move and walk and that she had a short route in the neighborhood where she would walk and that she’d now changed her route to come and walk past my mural and watch it as it was being painted because involved some of her favorite native birds in it. And that she hadn’t seen her grandma that energized and happy and moving in a really long time, because, yeah, she was just so excited about seeing that happen close to her, because she wasn’t often able to go much distance with her health. So that was just so rewarding and beautiful that yeah, not only that, that happened and that someone was given energy from something that I’ve made, but also the really giving nature of the granddaughter to tell me and to
Jasmine Crisp 16:20
Yeah, yeah. Just to see impact happening tangibly and instantly.
Yeah, tangibly is the right word isn’t it.
Jasmine Crisp 16:30
Mm, so someone you never knew that you would reach. Yeah.
Yeah. And it kind of puts a face to the people that are appreciating that work as well.
Jasmine Crisp 16:38
Yeah. ‘Cause there might be a lot of people silently that like, enjoy something that you will never know that they enjoyed it.
A lot of quiet folk.
Jasmine Crisp 16:47
Yeah, for sure.
Oh that’s really lovely. Can you for a moment indulge maybe just me, but maybe more people that are listening, in a bit of vicarious travel and talk a bit about your residencies that you’ve done overseas? I think they were quite fond times for you, judging by your happy captions.
Jasmine Crisp 17:08
For sure. That was a really just a huge, significant goal that I never thought I would achieve so soon, basically. Even during my time at Adelaide Central School, I was really aiming to finish strong so that I could, in the future, apply for residencies and get experience so that I could return to Iceland, which inspired a lot of the first paintings I’d made during my study and the direction of my research. And yeah, it was 2019, so only two years after graduating, that I got in to the dream residency I really wanted to do in SíM residency in Reykjavik, as well as NES residency and Skagaströnd in North Iceland, and Kolin Ryyanänen in northeast Finland, that I didn’t know I… Basically, I applied for all of these things that I wanted not thinking I’d get a response and got so much love back that. Yeah, so I ended up spending four and a half months away for that year, predominantly in Iceland and Finland, researching areas that were heavily affected by a significantly changing environment. So I was a guest investigating that human experience of your home changing. And how do you change with it? Or do you change? Do you hate the change? But these sorts of environments. So in Iceland, the first time I went in 2015, they started to have a surge in tourism, and the locals were a bit mixed-feelings about what that would mean. And then visiting in 2019. I already saw the impacted that had occurred. So friends that lived in the CBD had to live far away, the businesses they worked at had all been shut down to accommodate for tourism, because they had a population of 350,000 in their country, and 2 million tourists a year.
Jasmine Crisp 19:13
So suddenly, what was their home wasn’t really theirs anymore,
or unrecognizable as what it was.
Jasmine Crisp 19:23
Yeah. And like their root and culture, all of their spots that were so close to them had been removed to accommodate for visitation. And there are beautiful and important things to that as well; they relied on it for their economy because they don’t have many other resources to share. And then they’ve created a new kind of solidarity with the local people connecting through their language that they’ve maintained, even though it’s such a non-used language in any other country. They keep it so strong so that they have their bond together. And yeah, it inspired a lot more work about just trying to form your own version of home in somewhere that maybe doesn’t always reflect what you knew it to be. Yeah, it’s sort of, I guess, a higher concentration example, or result of a bit of a fear that I have about my world changing or like growing up as a white colonial [descendant] in Adelaide, where I know my body is not designed for this environment, and the environments also becoming harsher. And
there’s a lot of layers to that
Jasmine Crisp 20:42
Yeah, and youth generations having a gap in incomes and just that unsureness about the future where I don’t necessarily want to make specific political statements or cultural statements in my work. I’d much rather I guess, focus on making artworks that say how it feels to be in that situation. Yeah. Not answering again, any of those problems, but just sort of saying, like, we’re feeling them, and this is happening, and this is how some of us are dealing with that. So it was a really interesting and challenging place because I love it so, so dearly. But I’m watching,
watching it change.
Jasmine Crisp 21:25
Yeah. And the locals have generations of attachment to that environment, which is very quickly degrading, because of tourism -which I contributed to by going there.
It’s so nuanced isn’t it.
Jasmine Crisp 21:37
Yeah. And I want to go back. So yeah, it’s really strange.
It’s really strange. Yeah. But I guess that’s, that’s it, you don’t have to come up with a solution to be able to make really valid, you know, -I can’t think of a better word for than ‘documenting’- Yes, the feeling and the layers of that.
Jasmine Crisp 21:56
Yeah. Which is similar… like we’re we’re really experiencing that now in a different way, where our home has changed dramatically, just due to legislation like rules and public health. And that becomes a strange thing of reassessing our own environments and our connection to space.
God, there’s a lot in that.
Jasmine Crisp 22:24
There is enough for a lifetime of work, I think.
Well that’s good.
And now jumping back to the present day: you were just announced as the winner of the inaugural Center for Creative Health Art Prize for your painting ‘They had to share (a portrait of Ruby)‘, which is incredibly exciting!
Jasmine Crisp 22:56
Yeah. I still actually don’t even know how really to respond to that. It’s such a huge, yeah, just crazy thing. I don’t know. It’s someone else’s life. It’s not mine sort-of-feeling.
Like as in Ruby’s like, is that what you mean?
Jasmine Crisp 23:11
Oh, even just like the fact that this has happened is just; I guess it’s one of those things where you think ‘oh I’m never gonna be in a car crash or an accident’
Oh, in that sense.
Jasmine Crisp 23:19
Yeah like ‘I’m never gonna win this major prize’
Haha, so you’re still processing?
Jasmine Crisp 23:24
Yeah, yeah I am. I don’t know… yeah, quite how to…
Yeah, what do you do with that? Maybe put it in a box and you can figure it out how you feel about it later.
Jasmine Crisp 23:32
Yeah. Yeah I think I’m doing that a little bit
Oh, wow. That’s, that’s interesting to hear that actually, that it’s, you know, even as something that’s quite good, you can still be like ‘oh I didn’t see that for me’.
Jasmine Crisp 23:43
Yeah. No, it’s like this big responsibility as well of just like, this needs to be the best thing it can be.
Yeah. Yeah. And that visibility around that as well. I hadn’t clocked that!
Jasmine Crisp 23:57
Yeah. That impact’s ongoing, as well. Yeah, like it will be a forever thing. But I don’t know yet because I haven’t done forever yet.
That’s it. Well, I might quickly do a bit of an audio description of the work for anyone who hasn’t seen it, if that’s cool?
Jasmine Crisp 24:18
Cool, I’ll do a bit of.. I’ll give it my best shot. So the work is called ‘They had to share (A portrait of Ruby)’ and it’s an oil painting on linen. It stands 152cm tall, and 91cm wide and was created in 2020. And the work depicts South Australian artist Ruby Allegra seated on a wheelchair under the running water of a shower. They are in a bathroom with musky pink wall tiles and cream-coloured floor tiles and they are using a gray footstool. The scene is framed by a thin sort of lime-green coloured line which sort of reaches up and forms a round arch, with a blue sky and white clouds in the gap between the arch and the top of the canvas. The scene is framed further by indoor plants, and in the foreground lies an assortment of products that look a lot like they’re from the company Lush; the kind that smell really good. The figure is covered in soap suds with one hand supporting the other arm at the elbow to hold a pink loofa or cloth up towards their neck. Tattoos peek out from behind the soap bubbles on Ruby’s arms, and Ruby is depicted staring right at the viewer. Their mouth is closed and they are not smiling. Their mousy-blond hair is short, and sort of tousled. Their eyes are brown, and they have a silver septum nose ring. And their skin is depicted in sort of warm honey-tones. The piece is full of little details; from water sort of dripping slowly, from Ruby’s chin and from the chair. But also water that’s bouncing really rapidly off the body. There’s this glisten on the wheels, like wet wheels; freckles, and even -which I loved- in the background, the semi-transparency of like a nearly-empty shampoo bottle or something in the background, which I loved. How can you tell us about this work? And actually how, do you know how long it took to make the work?
Jasmine Crisp 26:28
Yeah, firstly, thanks. That’s such a beautiful description. That work took quite a long time to fully manifest. Ruby actually offered themselves to me as a model.
Jasmine Crisp 26:46
Which we deliberated on what story to tell, because I was doing a series of works about taking pride in vulnerable activities at home. So things at home that we do that give us a sense of strength, just even through a mundane task. And Ruby had a really interesting experience with showering and with bathing, because they required assistance to shower and bathe for most of their upbringing in childhood. So they never had a shower alone. And they didn’t really enjoy having a shower like most other people do, because it wasn’t a moment of like warmth and reflection and privacy for them. But yeah, they live in a share house now and they have a shower chair and they have the equipment to be able to shower on their own. And I thought that was a really beautiful example of claiming something that most people will take advantage of to be able to do and to make it like a really big achievement and a statement and to portray their disability with the color and character that Ruby has, which is really positive and really courageous as well, because they’re very vocal about those vulnerable states that they do experience. And publicizing nudity in a usually private space and doing that through art. I really wanted to capture the positivity in the clouds was sort of like a, ulterior dimension where you’re imagining the beauty of the environment that you’re in and sort of that classical dreamscape. Whimsical, positive future energy that a happy sunny sky provides. Yeah, I really wanted to put in Yeah, bright colors that describe Ruby. All the Lush products were part of the household. So it was a sharehouse. And you know you’re in a share house when there’s like seven bottles of shampoo in the shower. And I really wanted to also demonstrate like Ruby as a young person and lives with people that work at Lush, which has its own understood, like quite a worldwide stigma of like, yeah, young, progressive people with coloured hair. And that was all I think, important in portraying their character and their lifestyle and this current moment in time. Yeah.
Oh well congratulations again.
Jasmine Crisp 29:37
One thing I did want to pick up a little bit is to just understand a bit more is the line, like the little arch line that cuts through, does that have a greater significance in your practice?
Jasmine Crisp 29:53
Yeah, I’ve used arches a lot. Um, it does reference to, so like a Christian icon paintings, so the icon paintings depicted relevant characters from religious tales about their significance so that the general public at that time who couldn’t often read or write, could perceive who these people were. And in order to portray that person’s role
and their importance?
Jasmine Crisp 30:27
Yeah, they would use like, really strong symbolism. So really flattened image; direct, quite didactic imagery. So like a flat face, an object that they’re holding, maybe they’re holding the Bible, or they’re holding Jesus because it’s Mary; holding
like a scepre or something?
Jasmine Crisp 30:48
Yeah. Or they have a sheep next to them in the background. That tells you directly who this character is and what they’re doing. And I guess, in order to tell stories in a similar manner, but in a contemporary sense, I’m pretty much doing the same thing. In a lack in a different intention, but to tell this person’s story and their character, I’m very much just selecting objects from their environment that have an understood contemporary, iconic symbolism of sorts. Like, we know what Lush products mean.
Yeah and entail
Jasmine Crisp 31:16
And even though that’s not an official icon, or symbol used in preRaphaelit times, it’s something that I can use. And I like to play a lot with that in a semi-humorous manner, where I’m, yeah, subverting the religious aspect of that and more introducing it as a
it’s a tool isn’t it
Jasmine Crisp 31:47
A tool yeah. It’s a tool, but I’m aware of how it’s been used and therefore I’m trying to use it, in a… it’s self aware. Yeah. But, um, has its own character. I like to think.
That’s so interesting. And so like the positions and poses that your subjects are often in, there’s, yeah, a lot of thought that’s gone into how that will portray them.
Jasmine Crisp 32:11
Yeah, for sure. I’ve, in the past directly referenced specific paintings from history as well, and the poses from those paintings, such as like Waterhouse, or Botticelli to use figures that reference that idea of Venus, or that idea of a muse, or the idea of a Greek mythical woman who may have been mysterious or evil or jealous. And they are sometimes subtle, sometimes not. But it’s something that I really like to play with as a tool for communicating.
Yeah. And as a viewer, once you’ve clocked that you can see it across the practice. So that’s great.
Now looking forwards, what are your next sort of goals for your practice?
Jasmine Crisp 33:20
Yeah, there’s a few, I guess. Because there’s a few [disciplines] now having like muralism, and this year practice, in conjunction with starting tattooing as a new passion and a new medium as well, which I’m just loving so much as a practice. But I really would like to maintain great balance between the studio and mural world because last year was all-mural-consuming. Okay. Which was a great time. But I’m aiming to have a series of new works for a new solo show next year, which is exciting.
Ooh, when, what month?
Jasmine Crisp 34:06
Are we allowed to know where or is that secret still? We can keep it secret.
Jasmine Crisp 34:12
Yeah, stay tuned.
Cool. Oh, that’s so exciting. So you’ll be busily preparing work for that.
Jasmine Crisp 34:21
Yeah. Yeah. And it’s been really special to be, after being in the public realm, to return to the studio and make work where I have free reign, to be as rude and naked as I wish to be.
That’s real power that is.
Jasmine Crisp 34:36
I think it’s gonna be a little bit more honest than it has been in the past because it’s becoming somewhat of like a therapeutic channel to release things that I’m not always allowed to say.
That’s exciting! Colour me intrigued
Jasmine Crisp 34:53
But hopefully still doing some mural projects. I’d really like to do one or two more interstate walls, yeah, after I had a really amazing experience this year at Brisbane Street Art Festival, where I just got to meet the best of the best. And being around those people is so invigorating and just so motivating. They’re just the best people in the world, and it’s those livelihoods and those lifestyles that are just so, yeah, enriching to be around. So i’ll absolutely be still aiming for those projects and for walls that are going to be the most rewarding.
That sounds like a good goal. Yeah. We have been talking for quite some time. So maybe we’ll regretfully wrap up. But I reckon, or maybe we can close with: Have you got a favorite -I know this is a similar question to before, but- do you have a favorite response that someone has had to your work?
Jasmine Crisp 35:57
I have actually a really special one. So one of the biggest artists I’ve always looked up to since I was a little teenager, Andrew Salgado, is a British painter, a figurative painter. Really makes a lot of work about being a homosexual male, and they’re very vibrant and colorful and brave. I submitted my work to Beers Contemporary which is a gallery in London that represents him, and he gave public feedback to my work online. He chose ten artists out of many thousands that applied and publicized it online with written statement of feedback talking about how currently, in the painting world, maximalism (which is essentially how my practice is and looks) is quite unfavoured, and figurative painting in conjunction with maximalism is quite unfavoured as well and out of style at the moment, blah, blah, blah. But talking about the beauty that can still exist in that, and the bravery of doing something that is unfavoured, and the authenticity of the messages that come from making work that maybe isn’t gallery-preferred. And that gave me so much strength. I was actually in lockdown in 2020 when I received that on my Instagrams and I was in bed eating chocolate when I saw his amazing comment on my work that he’d selected, and ended up going for the biggest run because I just couldn’t contain energy, just had to expel it somehow. So that was just a really special moment that an artist that I’d really lived up to had given me their kudos. Yeah, that’s really special.
Well, that’s a lovely note. Well, I think we’ll wrap it up there. Maybe we’ll go and enjoy this rain that’s been sort of threatening in the background.
Jasmine Crisp 38:05
Thank you so much for having me, Steph.
Thank you. And yes, we’ll be watching on keenly what you do next and figuring out where that show is gonna be.