SALA Podcast

The SALA Podcast aims to engage South Australian visual artists and arts industry professionals in interviews about their arts practice and creative lives, and in discussion about topics relevant to the arts. The SALA Podcast is available wherever you get your podcasts (Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, PlayerFM, Podbean, Amazon Music/Audible, iHeartRadio, Listen Notes).

See below for the latest episodes and accompanying show notes, images, and transcripts. Some older episodes have been moved to the Podcast Archive.

Episode 22 / Artist Interview: 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.

Steph  00:19
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.

Steph  01:02
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?

Tony  01:20
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.

Steph  02:24
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?

Tony  02:42
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.

Steph  03:27
And you have quite a collection of quite old antiquated lenses, don’t you?

Tony  03:31
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.

Steph  03:56
Wow, still getting used!

Tony  03:58
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.

Steph  04:12
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?

Tony  04:27
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,

Steph  04:46
Right, so not the kudos in a way.

Tony  04:47
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.

Steph  05:42
Wow yeah – no small feat!

Tony  05:45
I’ve got a few bits out, but not much.

Steph  05:48
Amazing. And is it true that you -coming back to your processes- is it true that you developed photographs in coffee?

Tony  05:57

Steph  05:58
Pray tell, what was that about?

Tony  06:00
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.

Steph  06:24
And print them in coffee as well!?

Tony  06:25
And then put them back up on the wall the following week for people to come and see

Steph  06:28
of the cafe? Amazing.

Tony  06:30
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.

Steph  06:52
Yeah well you” have to let us know to look out for that one.

Tony  06:55
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?

Steph  07:38
But shot?

Tony  07:40
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.

Steph  07:56

Tony  07:57
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.

Steph  08:06
Oh, wow. So it was from in the family, amazing. So you get to play mad scientist sometimes too.

Tony  08:12
That’s the enjoyable bit.

Steph  08:13
Yeah. Oh, that’s fantastic.

– Musical interlude –

Steph  08:21
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?

Tony  09:08
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.

Steph  10:38
I imagine you might have been the oldest one there?

Tony  10:40
No I wasn’t, but there were also 12 students from other schools who had come to study photography, and wet photography,

Steph  10:49
So a bit of a melting pot of interested parties.

Tony  10:51
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.

Steph  11:25
Oh, that’s good of you.

Tony  11:27
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.

Steph  11:59
There you go -just as well, you applied yourself then!

Tony  12:01
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.

Steph  12:27
Yeah, a juggling act.

Tony  12:28
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.

Steph  12:43
Right, getting an image one way or another.

Tony  12:46
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.

Steph  13:02
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,

Steph  13:47
and putting a tiny hole in them?

Tony  13:48
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.

Steph  14:11
Yeah, I bet.

Tony  14:11
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.

Steph  14:31
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.

Tony  14:45
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.

Steph  15:48

Tony  15:50
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.

Steph  16:08
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?

Tony  16:20
That’s a train, the National Railway Museum is across the road.

Steph  16:25
I can see it. Oh, yes, there it goes. So apologies for any interruptions in the background.

Tony  16:30
I didn’t even notice it because I’ve been here so long I just tune it out.

Steph  16:34
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.

Tony  16:47
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.

Steph  16:57
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?

Tony  17:19
Well, they’re not wins as such. They’re the finalists. Yeah,

Steph  17:22
Yeah yeah. So I use the term in a career way.

Tony  17:26
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

Steph  17:35
-throw your hat in the ring?-

Tony  17:46
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

Steph  18:23
yeah so you were in good company.

Tony  18:24
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.

Steph  19:19
It’s amazing, isn’t it?

Tony  19:20
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.

Steph  19:33

Tony  19:33
So they’re hanging at the moment

Steph  19:35
-in London!-

Tony  19:35
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.

Steph  19:48

Tony  19:49
So in the end between he and myself, we had 10% of the photography on the walls of that exhibition.

Steph  19:56
Amazing. Well, well done. That’s a great comeback from not entering for a few years.

Tony  20:05
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.

Steph  20:37
That’s a big compliment.

Tony  20:40
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.

Steph  20:48
Oh wow, take in in your stride!

Tony  20:51
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.

Steph  21:02
you might have to part with that word

Tony  21:02
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.

Steph  21:15
Yeah. So it’s a great transition period.

Tony  21:18
Yeah, it is a transition period. It’s obviously, until I start getting work, and it’s an expensive transition period.

Steph  21:24
I bet!

Tony  21:26
You know, getting getting all the works off to different parts of the world, the prints.

Steph  21:31
Yeah, there’s a lot of logistics there isn’t there.

Tony  21:33
And just printing and framing, and shipping, and shipping back if it doesn’t go anywhere. All costs money.

Steph  21:41
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?

Tony  22:04
Yeah it did. The National Portrait Gallery framed them. So they that was their contribution, they paid for it.

Steph  22:14
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.

Tony  22:28
I have a website, but I don’t have a commercial website, I have a website just for my own. Yeah, it goes up and there’s no sales from it.

Steph  22:34
But there’s a portfolio in a sense. Yeah,

Tony  22:37
but I just don’t have an e-commerce website, which is what I’m in the process of doing.

Steph  22:44
Gotcha. Gotcha, Oh, good. So we have got somewhere we can-

Tony  22:47
I’m not totally a troglodyte.

Steph  22:51
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?

Tony  23:04
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

Steph  23:42
in prize money? yeah so that should be impetus enough.

Tony  23:47
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.

Steph  24:00
Great to know that there is that diversity of work that you can get in.

Tony  24:05
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.

Steph  24:14
Yeah, might not even call themselves an artist. Amazing. That’s very reassuring – it can be done.

-musical interlude-

Steph  24:38
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?

Tony  25:13
I don’t know.

Steph  25:15
Just your knack?

Tony  25:18
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.

Steph  26:32
It’s a nice way of reframing the act of having your photograph taken is that it’s actually collaborative.

Tony  26:37
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.

Steph  27:20
That’s a really lovely way to break that down.

Tony  27:22
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.

Tony  28:24
nerve racking in a way.

Tony  28:26
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.

Steph  29:14
and popped them on?

Tony  29:15
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.

Steph  29:35
And that was it. Yeah. So I guess you’ve got that sort of system figured out and

Tony  29:41
and sometimes I actually give the camera to the person so they can look through and look at me and see what sort of

Tony  29:46
get a sense

Tony  29:47
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.

Steph  30:19

Tony  30:23
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.

Steph  30:32
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

Tony  30:43
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.

Steph  31:05
And you’re sort of reading the direction of the natural ambient light.

Tony  31:09
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.

Steph  31:22
There’s a lot of moving parts at a festival.

Tony  31:24
So I don’t have a tripod, don’t have lights, don’t have reflectors. Just use the light as it comes.

Steph  31:32
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?

Tony  31:43
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.

Steph  33:59
‘Cause you look down?

Tony  34:01
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.

Steph  34:51
Yeah, wow.

Tony  34:52
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.

Steph  35:04
So taking these portraits actually is a little window into meeting such a diversity of people?

Tony  35:09
Oh it’s fantastic.

-musical interlude-

Steph  35:23
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?

Tony  35:41
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

Steph  35:57
a solo exhibition or?

Tony  35:59
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,

Steph  36:25
yeah so it’s quite biting conceptually,

Tony  36:28
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.

Steph  36:47
Was it all mediums or photography?

Tony  36:48
All mediums

Steph  36:49
Oh, wonderful.

Tony  36:49
Yeah. So there was a little bit of photography. There was glass artists who made that piece for the exhibition

Steph  36:57
is that glass?

Tony  36:58
It’s glass, it’s called ‘Shandy‘.

Steph  37:00
Oh, yeah. That makes sense.

Tony  37:02
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,

Steph  37:23
choice words?

Tony  37:24
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.

Steph  38:21
Yeah. Wow.

Tony  38:23
 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.

Steph  38:44

Tony  38:46
And it was for free. They basically gave me 80 rolls of film to take to Syria.

Steph  38:50

Tony  38:51
Got written a note about what I was doing. And so with my 100, I took 180 rolls of film to Syria.

Steph  38:57
Oh my gosh.

Tony  38:58
I gave about 30 or 40 of them away to photographers in Syria, because they were finding it hard to get.

Steph  39:04
Wow, I don’t even want to think about taking that film through the airport.

Tony  39:08
Well we went through, there were 22 opportunities for it to be searched, as in go through the X-ray.

Steph  39:15
Oh my gosh.

Tony  39:16
And in the end, it went through three, because I managed to convince everyone that you don’t put the stuff through.

Steph  39:22
Yeah. And that can be a hard sell.

Tony  39:24
Yeah, well it’s not that one dose of radiation cooks the film, it’s just like

Steph  39:32
the build-up?

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,

Steph  39:53
oh dear

Tony  40:02
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

Steph  41:01
a bit of shift?

Tony  41:01
but the black and whites were fine,

Steph  41:03
Oh perfect.

Tony  41:04
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’

Steph  41:22
that’s the one

Tony  41:24
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

Steph  42:28
pretty tight timing.

Tony  42:29
Yes. It could have been worse six weeks later

Steph  42:36
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

Tony  42:48
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

Steph  43:47
Oh dear!

Tony  43:49
So they were tapping me on the shoulder with a machine gun and saying, oh, you can’t do that.

Steph  43:55
And I bet you stopped

Tony  43:56
Yes I did, I turned around to take photographs in the other direction.

Steph  44:00
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

Tony  44:16
So it’s a few exhibitions we’ve had been contemporary art exhibitions. So it started with ‘Rust‘.

Steph  44:23
Yeah, so that was the beginning, gotcha.

Tony  44:25
Then it was salt, tar, smoke, knot, grit, grain, bridge, vessel.

Steph  44:25
That’s quite a few!

Tony  44:27
So that’s nine. And the next one’s booked for the same space in Hart’s Mill for February.

Steph  44:38
I won’t push embargoed details then.

Tony  44:44
That’s if COVID permits.

Steph  44:47
Yeah, yeah, but a very established sort of model now then.

Tony  44:51
Well yeah there’s 40 or 50 of us now.

Steph  44:53
Yeah that’s a sizeable fleet!

Tony  44:55
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

Steph  45:44

Tony  45:44
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

Steph  45:56
oh graffittied?

Tony  46:11
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

Steph  46:53
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.

Tony  47:07
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.

Steph  47:44
If you build it, they will come!

Tony  47:45
But generally if you if you’ve been in it, you get invited again. Yeah.

Steph  47:50
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.

Tony  48:09
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

Steph  48:31
I do love a big print.

Tony  48:34
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.

Steph  48:50
Big prints!

Tony  48:52
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.

Steph  49:09
So you don’t really want to put archival, top quality

Tony  49:12
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.

Steph  49:37
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.

Tony  49:48
So I will give you the name of the next one:

Steph  49:50
Yeah, good. Yeah,

Tony  49:51
It’s called hold

Steph  49:52
hold! That’s nice

Tony  49:53
As in the hold of a ship or the embrace

Steph  49:57
different ways you can read that.

Tony  49:59
Well the words we’ve used…

Steph  50:01
they’ve all got double meanings

Tony  50:03
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

Steph  50:19
Well, may it continue.

Tony  50:19
Thank you

Episode 21 / Artist Interview: 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.

Music: Sky 5: The Rise, The Walk, The Hope – Monplaisir

Steph  00:18
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.

Steph  01:14
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.

Steph  02:16
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.

Steph  02:34
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.

Steph  04:01
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.

Steph  04:24
And now that you’re some years out of art school – because when did you graduate?

Jasmine Crisp  04:28
ah 2017 with honors

Steph  04:31
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.

Steph  04:38
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.

Steph  05:55
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.

Steph  06:28

Jasmine Crisp  06:28
Yeah. Or a tale?

Steph  06:31
Yeah. There’s still plenty to be drawn out of them, I guess.

Jasmine Crisp  06:36

Steph  06:37
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!

Steph  08:35
 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.

Steph  09:17
Yeah, I can see that.

Musical interlude

Steph  09:31
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.

Steph  11:19
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.

Steph  13:54
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.

Steph  14:20
They’re not mutually exclusive.

Jasmine Crisp  14:22

Steph  14:23
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.

Steph  14:38
Oh that’s a good tip.

Jasmine Crisp  14:40
But you don’t want to miss out on those beautiful moments too. Yeah.

Steph  14:44
What a roller coaster.

Jasmine Crisp  14:46
I know. You get some really special people. Yeah. Oh, good.

Steph  14:51
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

Steph  16:19
that gratitude

Jasmine Crisp  16:20
Yeah, yeah. Just to see impact happening tangibly and instantly.

Steph  16:26
Yeah, tangibly is the right word isn’t it.

Jasmine Crisp  16:30
Mm, so someone you never knew that you would reach. Yeah.

Steph  16:34
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.

Steph  16:45
A lot of quiet folk.

Jasmine Crisp  16:47
 Yeah, for sure.

Steph  16:48
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.

Steph  19:12

Jasmine Crisp  19:13
So suddenly, what was their home wasn’t really theirs anymore,

Steph  19:18
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

Steph  20:40
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,

Steph  21:24
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.

Steph  21:36
It’s so nuanced isn’t it.

Jasmine Crisp  21:37
Yeah. And I want to go back. So yeah, it’s really strange.

Steph  21:41
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.

Steph  22:22
God, there’s a lot in that.

Jasmine Crisp  22:24
There is enough for a lifetime of work, I think.

Steph  22:27
Well that’s good.

musical interlude

Steph  22:38
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.

Steph  23:08
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’

Steph  23:18
Oh, in that sense.

Jasmine Crisp  23:19
Yeah like ‘I’m never gonna win this major prize’

Steph  23:22
Haha, so you’re still processing?

Jasmine Crisp  23:24
Yeah, yeah I am. I don’t know… yeah, quite how to…

Steph  23:28
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

Steph  23:35
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.

Steph  23:51
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.

Steph  24:10
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
 Yeah, beautiful.

Steph  24:19
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.

Steph  26:45

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.

Steph  29:35
Oh well congratulations again.

Jasmine Crisp  29:37

Steph  29:38
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

Steph  30:25
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

Steph  30:47
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.

Steph  30:48
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

Steph  31:46
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.

Steph  32:01
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.

Steph  32:47
Yeah. And as a viewer, once you’ve clocked that you can see it across the practice. So that’s great.

Musical interlude

Steph  33:15
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.

Steph  34:03
Ooh, when, what month?

Jasmine Crisp  34:06
Mid-year, yeah.

Steph  34:07
Are we allowed to know where or is that secret still? We can keep it secret.

Jasmine Crisp  34:12
Yeah, stay tuned.

Steph  34:17
 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.

Steph  34:34
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.

Steph  34:48
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.

Steph  35:33
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.

Steph  37:55
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.

Steph  38:07
Thank you. And yes, we’ll be watching on keenly what you do next and figuring out where that show is gonna be.

Episode 20 / Artist Interview: Shane Kooka

In this episode, Steph catches up with Shane Kooka, whose art takes many forms, including painting, drawing, murals, and tattoos. Shane’s interest in art started at an early age and became an important way for him to connect with culture. Today, Shane works at small and large scale, making his mark on bodies, garments, buildings, and more. In this interview we hear about the role of collaboration and variety in sustaining his practice, and some of his work in Tarnanthi.

Hello and welcome to the SALA podcast. My name is Steph and today I’ll be catching up with Shane Kooka, who is an artist working across paint, murals, and tattooing, and who is currently exhibiting as part of Tarnanthi. Before we get started, I’ll just thank Post Office Projects for giving us a space to catch up and have a chat, and also acknowledge that we are meeting on the traditional lands of the Kaurna People and pay my respects to Elders past, present, and emerging.

Shane, thanks for having time to catch up today. I know you’re very busy.

Shane Kooka 
No problem. Thanks for having me.

Maybe we’ll start from the beginning, and get you to tell us a bit about how you got into the visual arts.

Shane Kooka 
So I started pretty young. I remember my mom always doing like, pottery and always kind of creating something around the house. It was more so just kind of just like drawing and just kind of any type of art that she kind of felt like doing at the time. But it wasn’t until probably about 13, 12-13 years old that I started really taking an interest in art. Yeah.

And what kind of mediums did you start with? Did you try a bit of everything that she was doing? Or?

Shane Kooka 
Yeah, so I was I was always kind of into drawing quite a lot. My dad had tattoos. So like, that was something I noticed kind of early on, that he had pictures on his skin, which was pretty interesting to me at the time. And then kind of being in hospital and spending a lot of time with my mom. So actually, yeah, after kind of like growing up, just drawing in the household with my mom, I guess, I ended up getting in a incident where I received third degree burns to like 30% of my body. So I was done at a park and there’s an incident with another young young guy around the same age as me and which resulted in me being burnt. So I spent about nine months in hospital recovering from from burns, serious burns, and was in an induced coma and had like, you know, fair few skin grafts done. And yeah, it’s pretty, pretty traumatic thing to go through as a young kid at the time. And then, but you know, the result of that was, I got to ask a lot of questions about my mum and her family and my Nana. My Nana’s was born in on an Aboriginal mission called Cherbourg in Queensland. So she was born there. Her parents were Stolen Gen from Central Queensland and a place near Winton. So my Nana kind of grew up there and moved off. And then my mum was born in Dampier, Western Australia, and I didn’t know where that was at the time, it’s actually on the other side of the country. So having these conversations with a mum really interested me about wanting to learn more about my Nana’s cultural heritage, and I just seen these drawings of, you know, Aboriginal artworks and these these Aboriginal men painted up in their traditional, you know, painting like the ochre in that and it just really intrigued me to want to learn more about this art. And that’s kind of that kind of sparked my, my interest as a young person as took me on my journey as like, you know what it is to be a young Aboriginal man. And so the result of you know, being burnt was the kind of hard part but the good stuff that come out of that was yeah, really getting to learn more about my culture.

Yeah. An unexpected catalyst, I guess, isn’t it? Yeah. Wow. And did you begin drawing sort of on that journey to healing? Or did you spend a bit more time learning before you sort of got into making?

Shane Kooka 
I think I was always just kind of into drawing and like coloring in, and graffiti, obviously, as a young man, as young fellow was always really interesting to me by this graffiti tags and had

Mark-making from the beginning!

Shane Kooka 
yeah, it was kind of like, yeah, the original markmaking

On skin or a fence

Shane Kooka 
Yeah, whatever, whatever we can find at the time. And then yeah, so I think it just kind of went from back from drawing into graffiti, and then learning about culture and doing a bit Aboriginal dancing and just kind of going back and forth into all those different kind of art mediums I guess, yeah.

So it was multifaceted. So it wasn’t just visual arts so dance as well see, really throw yourself into that.

Shane Kooka 
Yeah dancing for me was kind of like one of the -obviously besides just like drawing- but dance for me, it was the the first kind of opportunity I had to really connect with other Aboriginal people and learn about culture. So I had a local young man at the time called Jack Buckskin, who was my mentor at school, and my mom become very sick after I got out of hospital, she needed a kidney transplant. So as my mom got sick, I kind of really disengaged from school, but it was good to have him because he said to my mom, Shane’s not going to go to school and learn that way, we’re going to go teach him some culture. So I got the opportunity to go and dance with him and, you know, Uncle Stevie, and Jamie Goldsmith as well. And so that I really those are the kind of the memories are hold real close to my heart. This is the first time, you know, connecting with my culture. So

yeah, and to be embraced like that by a community.

Shane Kooka 
Yeah, absolutely

what a journey and then maybe get coming to the present: can you tell us a bit about if you had to describe what your work is about in the present day? How would you.. how would you put that into words?

Shane Kooka 
Yeah, it’s kind of crazy, because my art kind of… I’ve got a good friend Tom. And he says that my –Tom Readett– and he kind of says that my art kind of has no boundaries, again, that goes on anything like skin to murals, large scale murals to digital artwork to, you know, fashion and clothing, I’m really interested in as well. But I think what I think it’s kind of my arts kind of gone for kind of circle back to that kind of back to dancing, like how I kind of really learn about culture. So I’m at the moment, I’m really, really loving what I’m doing in and it’s um, I’m taking kind of the mark making that we make on our skin with paint and digitalizing that and then blowing it up to large scale. So taking the marks that I put on my body, something that I look at as a form of identity and then placing that on onto buildings into different pieces of, you know, different materials. Yeah.

And that’s so interesting, because it’s not necessarily obvious that that’s the level of process that you’ve gone to to make that work.

Shane Kooka 
So yeah, I’d actually like I’ll make the marks with my hands as I would like on my own body when we’re painting each other up. And then, yeah, I’d like digitalize that and then and then blow it up and try and recreate it is a little tricky sometimes, on a large scale. Yeah,

Well the best things are always a challenge! And you are exhibiting in multiple places as part of Tarnanthi this year, which is the statewide festival of visual art. Can you tell us about where people can see your work and what you’ve got on display?

Shane Kooka 
So I’ve got a collaboration, collaboration exhibition with Elizabeth Close and Tom Readett and that’s the Hahndorf Academy up in Hahndorf. And that’s called LT3. So ‘L’ for Liz, ‘T’ for Tom, and then ‘3’ for Third, which is my graffiti like lettering

Shane Kooka 
like alias?

Shane Kooka 
Like an alias; it’s kind of well known now. But yeah, so that’s how that name came about. But so that’s one and then the other one’s ‘Shine Bright‘ at the Women’s and Children’s Hospital, which is where I spent quite a lot of time recovering from those burns. So that’s quite special to be exhibiting there.

So there’s a real tangible connection for you there.

Shane Kooka 
Yeah absolutely. So I spent a lot of time in there. And that’s kind of where the interest for wanting to be an artist started I guess.

And again, another full circle, you know, putting work in there for other people that are at hospital to, you know, stroll -because it’s a nice, long corridor, I’ve just come from the hospital- and yeah, you got center stage on that wall.

Shane Kooka 
Yeah that’s nice.

And they, you know, you’ve got sort of canvas works in the hospital, or is it was it on board?

Shane Kooka 
Yeah, so in the in the hospital it’s just some canvas artwork that, yeah, I think I’ve got two or three pieces there, I believe. And then at Hahndorf me and Tom and Liz have put together an exhibition, Liz’s got a few wooden shapes that she has cut out and painted and me and Tom had worked on two little murals. One was like a calligraphy piece with the photorealism eye, and the other piece was a piece that I’m pretty proud of, so we actually got to paint Jamie, who I got to dance with when I was younger, Tom painted him as part of the mural. And we you know, we asked him if we could use this portrait of him and he was pretty stoked for us to do that. And in the background, it’s kind of like this, like dotwork lettering, style stuff that I’ve been using with like woodburning but also with tattooing. So I’m trying to link what I’m doing in with the, with the tattooing in with, like the wood burning stuff, and then also into the mural as well. And then I’ve also done some markmaking of those, like body paint kind of images, or different kind of laid in amongst each other. But yeah, that that by far probably be one of my favorite pieces that I’ve done. We also Liz was actually in hospital the week that we were painting that so we we took some of these wooden shapes that she had created, and we use them as a stencil to put some artwork in the background.

Oh that’s a great way to incorporate that. Yeah.

Shane Kooka 
Yeah, so that was nice. That was probably one of my favorite murals I’ve done in recent years, I think.

Yeah yeah. And it sounds like you do a fair bit of collaborating. How did you, you know, sort of get to be doing that and is it largely because of the camaraderie between you guys anyway or ?

Shane Kooka 
Yeah, I don’t know. I think we just kind of, I’ve always kind of found that it’s I really like my art more when I’m working with other people. It kind of pushes me to… pushes me in a different direction sometimes and I just think it’s like a lot more fun working with people that are enjoy working with us rather than working on myself on large stuff. So it’s always nice to have someone to chat to while you’re spending long long days painting big murals. But also, I think it’s just, I think that, kind of, for me, I’ve always kind of painted with other people. You know, doing graffiti when you’re young, you go out with your mates and that’s what you do. So I’ve always kind of spent time with either my mom or with my friends painting. So for me collaborating, is not really something that’s kind of new to my practice.

No you wouldn’t even question it

Shane Kooka 
Yeah, even till now, I didn’t even really think of it three like that. Like,

yeah, like oh yeah it’s got a name.

Shane Kooka 
Yeah. So I think I think with my I’ve obviously do my own stuff – tattooing is a lot like that. But in a way, you’re still collaborating with who you’re tattooing, so.

Yeah that’s true. That’s quite cool. Well, it keeps it interesting doesn’t it

Shane Kooka 
Yeah, for sure.

And then, speaking about your tattoo practice, how does your visual arts practice intersect with that? Do you sort of think of them as all together? Or distinct?

Shane Kooka 
yeah, I’ve definitely tried now to link what I’m doing with my other projects in with my tattooing, just so I’m not jumping from one completely different medium to another, doing completely different styles. So I tried to link him in with, over the pattern work that I’ve used throughout all my other work. But that’s kind of been tricky when working with some people, some people obviously have set ideas on what they want. So I think my studio that I’m working with at Black Diamond, they’ve been really awesome with supporting me to work with clients and how to negotiate that so. But uh, definitely now going full circle with the mark making and all that other stuff. I’m thinking that yeah, I just try to, I think, for me to be able to create, you know, evolve this style. So no matter what I’m painting at all still represents me is something I’m really trying to dive into

Yeah, that’s really cool. So then it’s one hat at a time.

Shane Kooka 
Yeah. Yeah, for sure.

That’s cool. And another feather in your bow [cap] – I hope I’ve got that saying right- would be, like you said, working in fashion and doing all these other little cool things. Have you got a favorite little project that you’ve done -or not necessarily little?

Shane Kooka 
Yeah, like, I think it’s, I think, I don’t know. Like, it’s, it’s pretty crazy. I obviously love, I love when I get the chance to do some lettering as far as like doing graffiti pieces. I think lettering is always something that I really enjoy doing. I painted in New York when I went over to run the New York Marathon. So I painted I went to the South Bronx, and for me, that was pretty exciting to go back to like, you know, where graffiti started and, and do something.

and leave a mark.

Shane Kooka 
Yeah leave a mark. Especially we, at the time when we went to New York, it was it was at a time when the flag rights have kind of been up in the air as far as like, Aboriginal people being able to use the Aboriginal flag. So you know, graffiti lettering, a lot of people kind of leave their message when they do their pieces. And for me, that piece I wrote above it like ‘free the flag’. And for me, that was pretty awesome to be able to go overseas and do a graffiti piece and share that message on kind of like a national level because I was getting a lot of I was kind of in the spotlight a lot for doing the running. But it was awesome to be able to take people back and show them that no matter where I go, I try to always take some time out to do some art where I go. So that was pretty special for me to be able to do that, I think that’s one I’ll look back on in time and be really proud of. I’ve also, you know doing the Adelaide Crows football guernsey with Eddie Hocking. That was that was pretty amazing experience to like, spend some time with him and help him share his story. So that’s something I really enjoyed doing as well and also getting to do the Aboriginal dance in a walkout for Tai Tuivasa in the UFC when it came to Adelaide. That was pretty special to be able to do the dance for him, but then also to be able to paint him a pair of UFC gloves and send them over to him for him to keep, which was something that I shared recently that I don’t think a lot of people hadn’t seen that back then. So to be able to reshare that sparked quite a lot of interest as well.

Yeah. And again, it’s all these connections, isn’t it? That’s what it comes back down to I think.

Shane Kooka 
Yeah. It’s just special to being able to take my art and then put it into sport. Because that sports obviously… saying that’s been a big part of my life as well. But yeah,

so, but not something that people often see a connection between the Visual Arts and Sport and nice to be strengthening that.

Shane Kooka 
Yeah for sure.

musical interlude

Shane Kooka 
Yeah, I feel like I was just gonna say with the navigating commission work with personal work for me sometimes hard because I’m finding that I really have to kind of take time out to like, do my own personal work. And that’s why instead of trying to take time away from commission work to do personal work, I’m trying to really evolve my style. So it really is stuff that I enjoy doing. So I think I’m trying to get back to that mark making and, and sort of that identity, I think, even if you’re not, you know, Aboriginal person, we all have our own identity. So I think that’s something that’s very relatable for everyone. So that’s kind of that’s kind of the main way I’m kind of pushing my art at the moment is to try to really dive into identity. And yeah, that’s

and if you’re doing that through those commissions, I guess you’re not having to go, ‘oh I need a cut time out of this to do what makes me feel good’ because you’re actually pushing them in blending them together. Sure. I

Shane Kooka 
feel like I’m in a pretty, pretty amazing or pretty great spot to be able to have people so trusting me to, to do my own stlye. So they kind of give me the creative freedom to dive into that. And it still reflect what they want, but them giving me the freedom to create the stuff that I’m really happy and proud of.

yeah, it’s a lot of trust.

Shane Kooka 
Yeah, for sure.

musical interlude

So you work from skin to canvas to buildings; do you have a favorite scale to work out? Or just having a variety is good?

Shane Kooka 
Yeah, I like the being able to spend some time into one and then kind of go back to something else. I think, if I was to do just one art form, like just paint canvas, or just to be tattooing, I feel like I would be limiting myself. And I feel like I just don’t want to ever get bored. So I think it’s like good to be able to jump from one to the next thing and kind of go where I feel I need to be. But in saying that I swear it’d be pretty frustrating for people trying to work with me if they’re wanting digital work and I’m like, oh, sorry, I’m tattooing at the moment. And then I’m constantly being asked like when I’m going to be back in the tattoo studio and I’m painting these large murals, so I think sometimes it’s hard for people to kind of keep up where I’m at at the moment.

That’s alright, you’re an enigma

Shane Kooka 
yeah, I just don’t like frustrating people people too much.

Nah that’s good. Go with it. Go where you gotta go. Do you have a favorite memory of someone either engaging with or like, you know how sometimes you can watch people react to your work without them knowing? Do you have like a favorite memory of that happening? Yeah,

Shane Kooka 
there’s probably like a few. I remember me and Tom painted portraits of our mums. So it was like the first time I kind of had done a portrait and it was one of the first times me and Tom had collaborated on a on a larger mural using aerosol than that don’t know Tom, generally an oil painter, but he’s also now pretty established in aerosol as well. But it was one of our first ones and we painted our mums for Mother’s Day.

oh that’s lovely

Shane Kooka 
And I just remember like, yeah, bringing my mum there and we turned this corner and I was like, just have a look at this wall. And she’s like, she had to look at it for a second then she’s like, just started freaking out. And then me and Tom were just like cracking up laughing together. And then like, just to see her reaction was like, pretty special. And there was another one where I had a really… One of my best friends, his mom has been so supportive of me for for a long, long time, with my artistic career and always asking when the next exhibition is, so she can come and I had one, probably a few years ago at Cold Krush, in Unley at a graffiti art studio and store / gallery. And she come there and my friend said ‘oh just letting you know, my mom’s going to want to buy up a painting tonight’ and I was like, ‘Yeah, that’s cool. Let me know which one she likes. And I’ll and I’ll gift her a painting’ because I know that she you know, she always supports me. So I want to be able to give something back and it’d be nice to have something hanging in her house. Yeah. And then he came up to me, he’s like, he’s like, ‘Bro, like, I’m really sorry about this, but she like loves the most expensive painting in this place hey’.

She’s got good taste!

Shane Kooka 

Yeah, and I was just like, ‘she can have it’. And then and he’s like, ‘are you serious?’ Because like, I think it was like worth, like, you know, a fair few thousand dollars. And I was like, yeah, if she loves it, I want to give it to her. And then so we went up and put like a red sticker on the painting and then she come back over, like two minutes later. And she’s like, ‘Oh my god, I love that painting. I can’t believe someone bought it. They’re so lucky.’ And she was like, freaking out because like someone had bought this painting, and she was like, just pretty much saying how lucky they are that they get to keep this stuff and just turned around and I was like, ‘you know who bought that?’ And then she’s like, who? And I was like, ‘you bought it. And then she’s like, I didn’t buy it. And I was like, Nah, you didn’t buy it, but I’m giving it to you. And then she just like started like crying and then it was like it’s made me pretty emotional. But I think you know, art’s a gift. And if you can’t give it then, you know, sometimes it’s good to do it for yourself, but I think like times like that, you know that means more to me than selling a painting.

Yeah, yeah. Especially if you’ve been there supporting that whole journey. That’s really lovely. And then what about looking forward? Like do you have any future goals or do you feel like you’ve hit most of the big ones?

Shane Kooka 
Oh it’s just been crazy. Like I like growing up I used to love like Anthony Mundine and then I got the chance to like design his boxing shorts. And I was like, that was just ridiculous. And I look at those things now, it’s like sometimes I just put so much pressure on myself because I’ve done so many had so many great opportunities and I put a lot of pressure on myself and what I’m going to do next, but I think I’m just really like loving getting back to doing some work for myself and going back to canvas and taking some of that stuff from the tattooing and the large scale murals and then refining it right back to do some high quality artwork for the gallery space. So I’m really enjoying that. And I think that yeah, I’ve maybe being able to put on a few more exhibitions and collaborate with a few of my really good interstate friends that are artists as well, I think would be awesome. Once, once the board has everything open back up and we can move around a little bit more freely. So I think, yeah, collaborating with some of my friends interstate and getting to go visit their country, and even going back to my country. So I’ve never been back there yet. It’s something that I’ve been meaning to do for a while. I was meant to do it last year but then because of COVID… I actually trained up to run the Gold Coast marathon, just so I could get over there. So I trained up for like three months, and then three days before the race, it got canceled so I was kind of shattered that I had been running every weekend and didn’t get to go back to the country.

But not in vain

Shane Kooka 
Yeah. So I think going back there and really connecting back to country and seeing how that inspires me and pushes my art in another direction. I’m sure it will take me in another direction. And that’s just saying I’m looking forward to doing as well.

Yeah. I’m sure it’ll give you heaps to keep you inspired. Yeah, when you finally get there. And then maybe we will round out the interview with: what is the most important thing that you get out of being an artist like personally?

Shane Kooka 
I think. I think for myself, it’s just nice to be able to connect with with other people. And it’s a way of, for me, me being an artist, my mom’s still her health hasn’t been good over recent years, so she can’t work. So think, for me to be able to continue to being an artist, in a way helps me, you know, get to have her involved in art, like she can’t go out and do art herself so much. And you know, she can’t probably do as many things as maybe she would like to do but, in a way, art pushes me to go do those things and then bring it back to her and to be able to bring her with me when I do workshops at schools and do stuff like that. I think it’s pretty awesome to be able to give her the opportunity because if I maybe if I wasn’t doing these things, and maybe she would have a, you know, maybe a different outlook on life. But I think being able to bring her out and still get her involved in in try to inspire her to keep her creating. I think that’s something for me that I really take a lot of pride in is making sure that my mom’s right and she’s getting to fulfill herself.

Yeah art’s kind of interesting in that it is a journey that you can come along without having to sort of physically come along on that journey.

Shane Kooka 
Yeah, so I think she’s always the first one to ring me up if I post something on social media and I haven’t sent it to her first. She always brings me up and goes, ‘your sister told me that you posted this picture, what is she talking about?’

No you’ve always got to tell mum first! Oh, that’s good advice to round out on, I think. Yeah, thanks so much, Shane, for having a chat and we’ll all be eager to see what you do next.

Shane Kooka 
Thank you very much.

Episode 19 / Artist Interview: Gemma Rose Brook

In this episode, Steph catches up with artist Gemma Rose Brook. 
Gemma is an emerging artist who paints from life, so it was only appropriate that the interview take place cross-legged on the spring grass of Brownhill Creek Recreation Park. Tune in to hear about the mindfulness of Gemma’s practice, the stories behind some of her works, and her first solo exhibition coming up in November.

Hello and welcome to the SALA Podcast. My name is Steph and today I’m catching up with Gemma Rose Brook who is an emerging artist who paints from life. We are actually sitting in the middle of a park, this is Brownhill Creek isn’t it?

Yeah, it’s the Brownhill Creek National Park.

And we’ve got the creek -audibly, I hope- splashing around in the background. There’s like bugs everywhere and butterflies and lots of spring flowers. So yeah, it’s a shame it’s a podcast, not a video.

That’s okay.

I digress. And yeah, actually, as we’re enjoying this lovely scenery, I will just acknowledge that the Kaurna People are the traditional owners of this land. Sovereignty was never ceded, and I want to pay respects to Elders past, present, and emerging. Gemma, thank you so much for making time to come and chat today.

Honestly, it’s my pleasure Steph.

Yeah, nice to be able to catch up out in nature, because this is, this is where you’re most at home, isn’t it? You know, this is where you’re… have you painted from this specific spot before actually?

um, I yeah, for my graduate show, I did a lot of paintings up and down Brownhill Creek

Perfect. Well this is very appropriate then. That’s awesome. Well, maybe we’ll take a chronological bent on this and start with how you came to be an artist; where you found your beginnings.

Yeah for sure. I mean, everybody has, you know, foundations in their life that then grow into them studying art school, or then becoming a practicing artist. And I was really lucky that I had a family that was very outdoorsy, and took me out into nature as a way to connect and to shape who I am. And, you know, it wasn’t always pleasant -you know, sometimes they would take me on hikes that weren’t, you know, we’re climbing a mountain for three days with backpacks on my back; or other times, yeah, it was coming to where we are today and having picnics with the family and connecting in that way…

So really outdoorsy

yeah, really outdoorsy. Canoeing, surfing, and yeah, hiking, and all that sort of stuff. So yeah, for me, being in nature, and painting this way is, yeah, in essence, a part of who I am. And we also had this really special relationship with a plein air painter called Tom Carment. And he is a family friend of ours, and a very well known painter in Sydney. And he’s now my mentor, like I did get a fellowship, through Carclew and to work with him, which has been really special. But obviously, we’ve certainly built a really nice relationship around painting and life. And we still chat often about those things. But yeah, I also studied nutrition and dropped out to go to art school.

I didn’t know that!

Yeah, so did nutrition because I thought, you know, that was like a proper career path, whatever that means. But yeah, I, I couldn’t really do it. And I ended up going to art school and actually doing a short course at Adelaide Central School of Art with Melanie Brown, who is a family friend of ours, as well as a really amazing painter. And then, you know, three weeks into the short course I enrolled in the, in the degree course. And I enrolled in knowing that this is exactly what I wanted to do with my life. And yeah, from that, I’ve, you know, worked at the Art Gallery of South Australia and did an internship there and sort of learned a bit more about the art world as well as what it means to develop your practice. But yeah, all throughout art school, particularly with Tom and the outdoorsy stuff. It sort of leant towards plein air painting and connecting to my experiences and yeah, I guess fresh out of art school. I got the fellowship working with Tom and then I also got the studio space at Carclew, and so yeah, there’s a lot of foundations there that that really made me into the artist I am now.

Yeah. And when you say, you know, ‘when I finished art school,’ that was only, what?


Yeah, so we’re only talking a few years!

Yeah. Really, really recently. Yeah all the Carclew support happened last year predominantly. So yeah, I’m so fresh, but I’ve been to, um, yeah, just keep going. And I’m so grateful for all the support in different aspects of my life, then that helped me sustain that.

Yeah. No that momentum is great. That’s fantastic. And just to cover our ground: what do we mean by ‘plein air painting’ or ‘painting from life’?

Yeah, for sure. So, plein air painting is, you know, ‘in the open air’, it’s a French term that comes out of Impressionism predominantly. And so yeah, open air or painting outdoors is kinda like that. And I, yeah, mostly paint outdoors, but I also do paint interiors and, and still laughs as well. So um, I would call myself a plein air painter, but I’m also a painter that paints from life and who paints their experiences.

Cool alright, so take that with that context of… painting from life is nice, that’s a great catch-all for what you do. And, and on that note, I’ve really enjoyed reading about the way that those different aspects of your work shape your practice. So yeah, like I think of plein air painting as, you know, finding a nice group of trees, and plonking yourself down in front of them -and obviously, they’re not going to move away- Yeah. So that’s quite a really basic, you know, thought

understanding yeah

Yeah, but yeah, drawing from life; you are drawing much more roundly than that. You know, considering, I think the choice of words was thinking of your work as like a painted journey, or like a diary of your lived experiences?

Yeah for sure

That’s such a lovely sentiment, and I guess what I’m getting at is like, you know, is it fair to say that painting is more than something that you’re just skilled at and enjoy and that it’s actually forms a bit more of a mindfulness practice as well?

Yeah, for sure. I mean, I’ve got a really ‘Yogi’ family as well and outdoor family. And in a way, like, the theory around yoga of like, you know, you’re still, but there’s still things going on inside you. And there’s things going on around you. So yeah, painting has a similar theory around spirituality or self for me, and yet, it’s not just plonking down in front of trees like you said, it’s it’s taking that time to create a dialogue between yourself and the environment around you. And so that’s why for me, it’s not just plein air outdoors, it’s also can be your interiors, or, you know, objects and still lifes that you find around in your life and, and what not. But yeah -does that sort of answer the question?

It does, yeah. And that, yeah, unites that it’s not just about ‘outside-ness’ that are choosing to respond to, you know, not from a photograph, but from that moment in time.

Exactly. Yeah. That moment in time of how you’re feeling, and also how you’re seeing

Yeah, that’s really nice.

Yeah. The other thing I could also add is that, you know, it is a mindfulness meditation, the whole unpacking my paints from the car, and like going and setting up, and putting the paint tubes out. And yeah, like the grounding and a way to connect to where I am at that moment in time.

Yeah, there’s a bit of ritual in that isn’t there

Yeah, it’s definitely a ritual and I guess that’s mindfulness too hey

yeah, absolutely. Yeah. And process. That’s really nice. And now while we’re, we are talking about outdoor scenes, anyone who follows you on Instagram will see that you are quite adept at finding the odd vista or really picturesque landscape. How do you always seem to be finding these every weekend?

Yeah for sure. Well, I go hiking a lot and I’ve got lots of family members who are into hiking and my partner’s really into hiking and rock climbing and that’s what we just do with our spare time

so super outdoorsy, really.

Yeah, like we went canyoning in the Blue Mountains last year and was just a really intense thing to do and somehow I managed to find myself in the middle of the canyon, but then you know, like, the next day, we already happened to be there and you know, I always just bring my paints in the back of our campervans, and then when I see the spot that I want to paint or I have the urge to connect like we were talking, before I just go for it, and I just spend the time doing that. And I guess I’m always looking for those opportunities outside of the city to, to reconnect, and part of living in Australia is that we do have really beautiful places close to Adelaide that maybe some people don’t, like, seek, and I just make the time to reconnect and visit those places. Yeah. And I’m also chasing light and yeah.

Yeah. As evidenced by the fact that I have never been to this spot.

Yeah. And it’s only like, 10/20 minutes from the city, right?

Yeah, yeah, max. There you go. And I guess if you’re making a practice of, you know, always bringing your paint kit, and you’ve got a pretty tried-and-true little setup, then then really, you’re actually also opening yourself up to, if you see something, you’re not going, ‘Oh, but I left my paints at home’, you know.

Exactly. It’s always in the back of the car. Yeah. Like I always have them. And you know, like, half the time I’m living in Adelaide Hills, which is always helpful. And yeah, and like, you know, I was just living in Ernabella for work

Plenty of beautiful land up there.

Exactly. Living on on Anangu land and painting on Anangu land alongside the wonderful community who was there really encouraging of my practice outside of helping them in the art center, and you know, the red earth and the blue sky is such a contrast to the Adelaide Hills, and I’m always looking for different experiences to influence me and part of Yeah, having a campaign is a gateway to to find those vistas that you see, but I don’t always live in you know. Nine to five, I’m, you know, working in a community art space or doing my laundry, and then, you know, one day of the week I get to go and connect out in nature, and that’s how I live my life. Yeah, it’s not all Instagram vistas.

but the outcomes are pretty sweet.

musical interlude.

And actually, question, talking about the sort of practicality and or sort of functional way that you have to approach you know, being so mobile with your work: How do you feel about like, the scale and size of your work? Like, is it just, you know, dictated by functionality? Or do you think that it’s really appropriate in how it communicates your intention?

For sure. I mean, there’s definitely two sides of that. Being an oil painter who’s a plein air painter is crazy. Honestly, it would be easier if I just stuck to watercolors or acrylics, but you know, oil just seems to be the challenge that I need in my life. And so that’s what I go for. Yeah, I mean, mostly, I paint small. And I think that’s what you’re referring to. And there is some practicality, but also some beautiful meaning behind that. But yeah, I have been painting, teaching myself how to paint big as a challenge as well.

Oh, cool!

So I have got like larger canvases. Which are insane, because most of my paintings no matter what size they are, have to be finished within an hour before the light changes too quickly. So yeah, but I do like the idea of like, what you’re alluding to that each picture is like a little, journey or moment. And that is definitely true. And I feel like yeah, practically it’s easier to transport small paintings, but also yeah, they allude to those moments

and it aligns with what you’re sort of saying

Yeah, what I’m saying so yeah, I guess to sum that up, it’s practicality, but it’s also what works for what I’m trying to say about telling a moment in time of how I’m feeling and my experience.

Yeah, and I think also when you see them installed in those, like, you know, seeing some in a group, and they become… you become more aware when you see it installed that way that they are these little vignettes; these little moments, and they I think that’s the whole continuing the vision is you know, down to the install and how it’s presented. And I think that’s what really drove it home for me and I started to really go ‘okay I think I really get what Gemma’s saying in her work’, which I is really cool.

Thanks! That’s so nice to hear and I really appreciate that.

And also I didn’t actually realize what kind of scale you’re working with until I saw an install, because they just look so big because of the detail.

Exactly they’re really detailed because I, I sit on the ground, and they’re really close to me. Even though at art school, they always told you to move back to look at your work. I sit really close, like on the ground without an easel and I’m really like hurrying to like, get all the detail in within the hour, but yeah, I think there’s something super cool about having, you know that salon hang that hopefully can tell a story.

Yeah, it definitely does. Yeah.

Musical interlude.

Another thing I wanted to talk about is, this year, we saw a new partnership between SALA Festival and Foodland, which brought an opportunity for three SA artists to have their work featured on a reusable shopping bag. These were available from Foodland stores throughout the festival. And I think they were quite the collector’s item because I’m told that they’ve quite hard to come by now. So had to be quick.

Yeah, I’ve been getting people emailing me saying, ‘do you know where I can get one?’ ‘Which Foodland has it in stock?’ and I just say I’ve got no idea!

This just in: if you see one, snap it up! And so these bags, we featured the work of Greta Laundy, T’keyah Ware, and yourself. Now, your work was a really lovely rendering of a Hills Hoist, titled ‘I was stuck in the dystopia of home’. Can you tell us a bit more about this work?

Yeah for sure. So I painted this work on my partner’s family property in the hills in Verdun. And it’s a very iconic hills hoist. And I really wanted the viewer to connect with the familiarity of the hills hoist and of home, and all of that iconography of that as a way to draw them in, but then I was also connecting with myself and what was happening at that time and you know, it was during the second lockdown in South Australia. And you know, that’s why the title is a bit more like morbid, potentially. Or maybe morbid isn’t the word maybe more like,

It reflects the time though.

yeah just reflecting on how I was feeling and the time and you know, it’s not just happy positive. I was looking at light changing or anything like that. Yeah. So that, that beautiful duality between familiarity and yeah, isolation and feeling stuck. And so it’s a perfect example of, you know, what we’re talking about before, something that’s in front of me, and that conversation between what’s going on in front of me, around me, and inside me.

I think we had that conversation off air, so to speak. So I’ll just rehash that a bit. So yeah, we’re talking about the -this is a great segue, actually- So I really enjoy the way that your quite lengthy titles of your work, give a lot of extra context to the work. So I think my favorite one is, or the longest one that I’ve seen yet, is a lovely sort of lush, green, scene have like a tree-lined gravel road that disappears over a hill, which is very, you know, picturesque. And the title is, ‘I like the sound of the gravel as I drive down this road, just as much as I like to watch the shadows, colors and light change. But mostly, I like that it leads to figs, to morning coffee, and to you’. That’s just so beautiful.

Thank you

And you know, without reading that there’s a whole lot of context that you wouldn’t have got, so what was that work about?

Yeah, so again, yeah, you’re right, it adds more context. And for that one, it’s a love story work that I painted potentially, like three months after meeting my partner that I’m still with now and, again, it’s the road behind that property. And yeah, it’s just a complete love story of meeting him and what it felt like to be in love at that time. And yeah, and I’m so grateful. And so yeah, it leads back into what I was saying about the hills hoist that painting, for me, is just as much about what I’m feeling like in the moment, and that dialogue between me in the environment and so yeah, for this one, I was just totally in love and so happy in that environment in the Adelaide Hills.

Yeah. And I think Yeah, all that other sort of favorites that I pulled out. One of them was, ‘What was it like for Heysen as he saw the light kiss these gums and painted this shady pool‘ or, you know, ‘Did Sauerbier and Trenerry feel like they were on the moon when they sat and painted these same cliffs‘ It’s like there’s, you know, obviously a painting of a landscape is a moment in time but yeah, the titles that you’re providing are giving past and present and future and questioning, and just another context, which yeah, I just particularly enjoy.

Thank you. Yeah, and connecting to art history. I’m always looking at painters throughout history who, who saw the same space as me, you know, 100 years ago or, you know, because ultimately they’re just painting their experience and how they see the world. So, you know, Horace Trenerry and Kathleen Sauerbier were South Australian painters who went out and painted Willunga and that coast and that’s why there’s that Sauerbier House, in Port Noarlunga and that residency. And yeah they used to go and paint that together, and so I’ve visited sites and read that they’ve been and also Dorrit Black‘s places that she’s painted and, and tried to connect to those histories and… Because I’m just a human, seeing the world and painting and connecting. And Heysen too you know, he’s got that property around the corner from the family property in Verdun, and I’m sitting there and connecting and seeing that same light he did all those years ago and yeah. Actually I was really lucky that that work got into the Heysen Prize, I feel really blessed that that was selected last year. And then also that that work, the love story work with Michael my partner was in Youthscape and that allowed me to buy a van

oh with the winnings?

yeah and that is now my mobile studio.

So that’s very serendipitous.

Yeah, I feel really blessed that this is how it’s, it’s all gone in such a short period of time. And yeah, I hope people have listened to this podcast and like now they can see my works with the titles and read them and give a bit more context. They’re not just pretty landscapes and vistas and stuff; they’re also yeah, diary notes into my life or into art history and, and painting.

Yeah. And we should note: what was the name for your van?

Yeah, so I named my van Dorrit, after Dorrit Black.

I think that’s a beautiful tribute.


Yeah. And I also named my past car Lois after Lois Dodd who’s a really amazing American plein air painter.

I love the connection to everyone that came before you. I think that’s so lovely. And it must be like a ‘pinch me’ moment if you know that you’re looking at the same cliffs or the same features of landscape; it’s a timelessness isn’t it?

For sure, yeah. Like the Willunga cliffs at Gull Rock. I like painting there often because of there’s so many painters from South Australia who, who painted that coast land and connecting to that history makes me, yeah, feel like human; like, you know, they were just human people painting there.

Yeah, you can almost jump across space and time. Yeah. Amazing.

musical interlude

A little birdy told me that you have a show coming up. Can you tell us about that?

Yeah, I do. Believe it or not. I have my first solo show, opening in November, at Floating Goose Studios. Hopefully, if nothing goes topsy turvy, it should open on the fifth of November

touch wood

Touch wood. And it’s completely paintings from the desert in Ernabella. And I’m not sure I’m still trying to form what to say about the worklike in an artist’s bio and whatnot. But I finished painting the work and I think I’m gonna call the show ‘Red Earth, blue skies, and Anangu smiles’.

Oh, beautiful.

Because Yeah, it’s just about my experience of living and working in the desert and that environment and but also living in that community and the generosity of the people the Anangu community and Ernabella Arts.

Yeah, are beautiful. And have you have you titled all the works? Yeah.

Um, no, I keep a journal and I actually pull lots of my titles out of my journal as a way to sort of remember those moments in time and yeah, I’ve started thinking about that previously, but I haven’t fully put the titles together. I think I might do that this weekend. Yeah. I hope.

It’s actually quite nice to know that even though the work’s been painted that that isn’t actually the end of the process in the sense that you… I mean I come from this from a photographic lens so you know, you take the photo, but you might need to have a break from it. Yeah. And look at it with fresh eyes and and get a reading on it. So knowing that the titles aren’t necessarily conjured up in the moment is quite nice.

Yeah, I mean, some of them are like I often am either, referring directly to a moment and what was happening in that moment. But yeah, then I am connecting in hindsight as well, because I want to really tell the story of the experience in a way that’s most authentic to myself. And then hopefully, people pick up on that and can understand more fully what it’s all about.

And when you were up, you know, with that red dirt and that blue sky, and it’s a different color palette to the Adelaide Hills. Yeah,

for sure.

What was it like having, you know, facing a new landscape and having a different context? And perhaps different way of tapping into it? Was it you know, working with the community? Was that different?

Yeah, definitely. Um, you know, I really took the time to ease into that environment and that space and, you know, through my work, I got to know people well, and you know, asking for permissions about where that was, okay to paint. But then also learning a different cultural perspective of how to respect the land and be sort of, at one with the land in the sense that a Western perspective doesn’t necessarily have like we have for more conquering kind of attitude.

Yeah, for sure.

Yeah. I can’t see the world the same anymore. I am completely different in the way that I see landscape. And, and, yeah, I really owe that to being in Ernabella and the generosity of everybody there.

That’s gorgeous, yeah. It’s hard to follow that. But um, maybe we’ll bring it back down. And, and maybe, what would people want to know? Do you have any tips for anyone who is thinking about venturing into painting or drawing from life? And and I don’t know, how do you tackle that?

Well, drawing from life, or painting from life is pretty hard. I make a lot of bad paintings, like, you know, like, even though I’ve been doing it for a long time now, like, I’m not, not every painting I make is perfect. And that’s just part of being an artist. And I think that often we present this perfect front. And it’s not the reality, like I make just as many bad paintings as I do good paintings. And, you know, you just get to see the ones that I like. But yeah, to get to the point where I was now I, I really used to just sit on the bus and draw or sit at the cafe and just get a felt tip pen out and draw different things like the lights in the cafe or the grumpy man on the bus or anything like that. And you know, just just do it and try and be confident about it and know that if I make a bad one, I can just make another one -and that I might like that one better. And so yeah, just get a felt tip pen out and start, just start drawing really

Good advice! You heard it here first, folks. All right. I think we’ve had a good chinwag. A we’ll finish it off there and yeah, looking forward to your exhibition. I’m hoping it all goes ahead as planned. And yeah, and then maybe a little rest.

Yeah I think, you know, I’m working full time and painting three exhibitions in six months is, is a good time to have a bit of a rest. But yeah, hope to see people at my show. I’d really be happy for you guys to come up and approach me and ask me anything. I’m always an open book. So yeah, thanks so much Steph, you’ve been so lovely and it’s so lovely to do this out in nature.

Yeah, I hope it sounds as good as we think it did. All right, that’s us, over and out.

2021 Audio Tour: Adelaide’s Public Art

Check out the new do-it-yourself audio tour of public art in the City of Adelaide! Join Steph in this meander around the CBD and find out more about the murals, sculptures and installations that decorate our city. You can listen from the comfort of home or listen along while you walk the route yourself. 

Hello and welcome to a special episode of the SALA Podcast, our Do-it-yourself audio tour of public art in the city of Adelaide. My name is Steph and I’ll be dotting around the city to various murals and sculptures that you can see any time of day or night. You can listen to this anywhere, but if you would like to walk the tour while you listen, I’ll be sure to give you enough time to press pause as you walk to the next stop. Before we get started, I’d like to acknowledge that I’m walking upon Kaurna land. Please join me in taking a moment to consider sites of significance to the Kaurna people that weren’t afforded the same reverence and preservation as the artworks that we’re about to visit. I pay my respects to Elders past, present and emerging.

We are starting our tour on the east end of the city of Adelaide on the corner of East Terrace and Grenfell Street. Here on the eastern wall of Tandanya, the National Aboriginal Cultural Institute, the face of a screen legend looks out over the parklands. David Gulpilil is a Yolŋu actor, dancer, singer and painter. He is known for films such as Walkabout, Storm Boy and 10 Canoes to name a few, but has a lifetime of projects that he’s been involved in. This massive black and white mural was designed and painted by a South Australian artist and Ngarrindjeri man Thomas Readett working with Laura Paige. It was commissioned in 2021 by ABCG Film in collaboration with Tandanya. Now, Tom’s art practice -I hope he doesn’t mind me calling him Tom- is based in emotive portraiture. So it’s really wonderful that he was able to bring that experience and also that reverence for Gulpilil’s legacy to this project. And what an outcome, it’s sort of a three-part mural, or I guess you could say it has three vignettes. On the left, we have a bright image of a young Gulpilil; in the middle, there is a subtle silhouette of him walking through an open landscape, and on the right is a low-key or sort of dark-toned portrait of him in his older years. Each face holds a gaze that sort of peers out across the parklands and presumably watches the sun rise each morning. There’s something really interesting about the contrast between the really hurried commuters that sort of bank up momentarily at the intersection just across from it, and this lifetime that has been quietly but undeniably rendered in paint beside them. I’ll put some links together for anyone who wants to learn more about this larger-than-life personality. Next, I’m going to make my way to Rundle mall at the juncture of Gawler Place.

I’m here in Rundle Mall, facing south down Gawler Place and before me stands a pigeon. There are pigeons all around me in fact, but this one in particular is two meters tall. This sculpture, aptly titled ‘Pigeon‘ was created by nationally and internationally recognized South Australian artist Paul Sloane, and it was crafted out of stainless steel by local manufacturer Iguana Creative. Sloan’s vision here was to raise the status of the humble pigeon from an overlooked creature to the realm of awe and wonder. He says he sees pigeons as proud foreigners promenading through our leisure and retail precincts. They are the quiet witnesses of our day-to-day activities and our observers from day through to night. It’s definitely a choice, isn’t it, to make such a large sculpture of a creature that people often regard as common and dirty. Pigeons are so funny to watch – I mean, that’s much like people watching in the mall, I guess. It’s got these sweet golden feet, and a leg band on its right foot. Christina actually laughed at me the other day for calling it a bracelet, but it’s definitely shiny enough to be one. I wonder if that’s meant to encourage endearment. I mean, pigeons with a band around their leg usually boast some level of importance, whether it’s as a racing bird or part of a scientific study. I’ll give you this much Paul Sloan: it’s worked on me. I think it’s a very endearing part of our mall.

Our next stop isn’t far away at all. Just turn around 180 degrees, and head north on Galwer Place.

Head towards the leafy Arbor and you’ll notice an undulating band of gold, almost like a semi-submerged mobius strip. We are of course talking about ‘Flow‘ created by local artists Laura Wills and Will Cheeseman and fabricated by Exhibition Studios. I encourage you to get up close to appreciate the fine details of this work where you’ll find animals, constellations, trees, textures and other organic forms. I really love the way that this work navigates the other structure, it reminds me a little bit of how you have to duck and weave the foot traffic in Rundle mall on a busy day. The fluidity of the shape is a really nice relief from the functionality of the building surrounding it. And I think that hints to how flow is evident in nature and the seasons as well. So from the seamless transition from day to night, the pull of a river, the upward growth of a tree or indeed the flow of people through the city. Now we’re going to keep heading north up Gawler Place and across North Terrace towards the SA Museum.

Here we are outside the South Australian Museum, with the installation ‘14 Pieces‘ by established South Australian artists Hossein and Angela Valamanesh. Now I didn’t know this until recently, but the inspiration for the work was the opalized vertebral column of an Ichthyosaur which is part of the South Australian Museum Collection. This whole time I had no idea that this water feature was based on dinosaur bones. Very much extinct, the Ichthyosaur was a marine reptile found in the former inland sea, which covered the interior of Australia more than 100 million years ago. What a great way to bring the museum’s collection out into public space and invite passers by to consider the notions of excavation, reconstruction and conservation. To get to my next stop, I’m going to hop on the tram from the Art Gallery Tram Stop and head west down North Terrace to the City West tram stop, all within the free tram zone.

When you get off the tram, you want to head southeast towards the Morphett Street Bridge. As you get closer, you’ll notice a massive pastel mural rising high above a carpark to the east. This is the City of Music Mural by artist Dave Court. So in 2015, Adelaide was designated a UNESCO city of music, and in 2019 Dave Court was asked to depict this on a wall. Now there’s a lot going on here: A) it’s a mammoth wall, and B) how on earth do you represent music or the Adelaide music industry visually? Dave set about this project by interviewing people who work in the SA music industry; people who support, present, and play SA music. Dave looked carefully at the intersection of the visual in this industry, drawing inspiration and elements from gig posters, the WOMAD flags, features of live music venues (like the stripes on the Exeter or the ornamentation of the Thebarton Theater), and plenty more. There’s a fantastic documentary video that I’ll link you to on the process but yeah, the stats I think were that it was about 1000 square meters of wall and they used about 300 litres of paint in 10 days to make it happen.

Next stop is conveniently close by – just sort of shuffle yourself towards the corner of Morphett Street and Hindley Street and you’ll see a larger than life figure swathed in color on the eastern wall of the Rockford Hotel. This work is ‘She imagined buttons‘ by local artist Jasmine Crisp. This was the first public art commission celebrating the City of Music laneway project in the West End precinct, with the mural drawing inspiration from the namesake of its adjoining Sia Furler Lane. Jasmine Crisp says that Sia was the first act she saw perform at the Adelaide Big Day Out in 2011. It was one of her first concerts, she was newly 16 and felt nervous in the large and unfamiliar crowd, yet Sia’s presence and warmth on stage put the young artists at ease. Jasmine recalls the performer’s theatrical costume and bright crochet, which are elements that are echoed in the mural. You can walk right under this piece so go and get up close and personal and check out the detail of this work. Our next stop is to the east, part-way up Hindley St.

When you get close to the Leigh St set of traffic lights on Hindley, start looking around and see if you notice anything amiss. I have walked past this artwork countless times but didn’t realize it, which I think is a thrill in a sort of hidden-in-plain-sight kind of way. You’re looking for a parking sign. I can’t tell you what it says because it doesn’t say anything. ‘Parking Pole‘ by Michel Nikou is part of the Adelaide Bike Art Trail and aims to mirror what exists beside, it but perform a ‘softening of the rules’. So I guess Nikou is playing on the notion that bronze, which the sculpture is made of, sort of announces itself as art, but by virtue of having a sign showing nothing, this is met with a bit of humor as well. I love that this sculpture has ground in the artist’s actual experience of parking in the spaces around here, and realizing that they really do require a bit of purposeful inspection if you want to avoid getting a fine. I feel like adding a blank parking pole to this mix is a great way to comment on how tedious this experience can be. Let’s carry on a little further up the street towards another bronze sculpture – this one is a little easier to spot.

Opposite the McDonald’s is a tribute to Roy ‘Mo’ Rene, who in the early 1900s became a larger than life stage and radio comedian. The Australian entertainment industry’s annual ‘Mo Award’ for Excellence in performance is named after him. His likeness stands, hands in pockets, looking towards his birthplace, honoring his position as a true icon of Australian culture. Artist Robert Hannaford spent weeks researching the pose and dress of Rene as his famous stage character Mo McCackie. The statue was unveiled during the 2010 Adelaide Festival and I’m told truly captures the stance and temperament of this Australian legend.

Let’s carry onwards to King William Street. From here you can catch the free tram from Rundle Mall to Pirie Street, or you can walk towards the Adelaide Town Hall.

As you get closer to Town Hall, you’ll see why I had to mention this one, a very simple effect but one that I love nevertheless. If you look up to the balcony, you’ll see none other than The Beatles. This glass artwork is to commemorate The Beatles’ visit in 1964 and the 150th year of Adelaide Town Hall. On the 12th of June 1964 more than 300,000 people lined ANZAC Highway and King William Street to welcome The Beatles. The band greeted the crowd from this very balcony and it was the largest gathering they had attracted anywhere in the world. The photorealistic artwork was created using multiple reference images from the band’s time and Adelaide fired onto a sheet of 15mm thick toughened glass. Now we’ll keep on our way towards Grote street for the finale of this tour.

Now it shouldn’t be hard to spot this feature opposite Her Majesty’s Theatre. Jason Sims is the Adelaide artist behind this incredible luminous work, known for exploring the potential of light and reflection to create illusions of space and form. This sculpture ‘Golden Rhombohedron (Obtuse)‘, was commissioned as part of illuminate Adelaide 2021 and is designed to reflect and respond to its surroundings. I encourage you to admire it both from afar, and from up close, because the closer that you get, the more that object seems to reveal a space of infinite intersections within. If this new feature looks familiar to you, you’re definitely not imagining things. This piece has a companion on Bank Street, which is ‘Golden Rhombohedron (Acute)‘, and together they kind of bookend the city’s market to riverbank link. There’s actually a deeper poetic justice here as well -or perhaps, I should say, a geometric justice, I’ll just explain: So a rhombohedron, like a cube has six faces made from the same shape. In this case, the shape of those faces, is a golden rhombus, which gets its name because its diagonals are in the golden ratio. Stay with me. There are two distinct golden rhombohedra: an acute and an obtuse. When brought together, these two forms can be configured to build infinitely upon each other with no void space, which I think is a really lovely way to imbue a sense of fullness and complementary growth between the two sculptures as they stand in our city. These are incredible when viewed by night, and I’ll have you know that they are powered by a 100% renewable electricity, so stay a while and enjoy the spectacle.

This concludes our public art audio tour. I hope that you’ve enjoyed it as much as I did, putting it together. This was barely scratching the surface in terms of how much public art we are lucky enough to have in our city. The city of Adelaide has a great public art resource on its website, complete with a map that you can use to check out all the bits that I couldn’t squeeze into this episode. I’ll pop all of the links I’ve referred to in our show notes and I’ll leave you to it. Happy wandering!

Episode 17: Artist Interview: Bridget Currie

In this episode, Steph caught up with multidisciplinary artist Bridget Currie.
Bridget was the inaugural recipient of ACE Open’s newly formed Porter St Commission, and her resulting exhibition, Message from the Meadow, is at ACE Open for this year’s SALA Festival. Tune in to this gentle discussion of Bridget’s practice of giving form to invisible things, the importance of artwork that ‘resists’ logical understanding, and a hint as to Bridget’s preferred corner of the rabbit hole that is ASMR videos.

Music: Nothing will grow here, Komiko, free music archive

Image: Sam Roberts, courtesy of ACE Open

Steph 00:00
Hello and welcome to the SALA Podcast. My name is Steph and today I’ll be speaking with Bridget Currie who is a South Australian artist working in sculpture, performance drawing, writing, public art, and installation. We found a quiet corner upstairs of the ACE Open gallery, and I want to acknowledge that we made on the traditional lands of the Kaurna People and pay respects to Elders past, present, and emerging.

Steph 00:38
Bridget, thank you for finding time to come and chat with me today in your busy, busy August that you’re having.

Bridget Currie 00:44
Thanks Steph.

Steph 00:46
Before we dive into your recent projects, I’m just wondering if we can go back a bit and have a bit of a background on how you came to be an artist.

Bridget Currie 00:57
Ok, well I was just reflecting the other day that probably I was maybe one of the last class to go through the old Underdale campus of UniSA. So I had my art education there. And I guess, yeah, we had amazing lecturers like John Barber, George Popperwell, Ian North, we had fantastic lecturers who obviously have made a huge impact on me as an artist. So I did my undergraduate study there and finished in 1999, and I ended up doing honors in 2001, so it was a long time ago now. 20 years. And really soon after graduating, I was lucky to get a Carclew studio grant for actually had a studio here at the EAF at the time. So that was a really wonderful grants program that used to happen. I don’t think it happens anymore. That year, Viv Miller, myself, and Sera Waters all received those particular grants from Carclew for a studio, and Viv and I, together with a group of people that included Louise Flaherty, Chris Flanagan and Andrew Best, we started a artist-run space. So we were very, very young. It seems now looking back, but of course, at the time, we didn’t think that. We started a space called Downtown Artspace, which was in a dodgem car rink on Hindley Street, which was the old Downtown. So it was an amusement parlour… do you say parlour, is that right? Yeah, amusement arcade or something. And we got this space for free. At the time, there were no artist run spaces in Adelaide. So we were the only one. And we ended up moving to premises sort of opposite the Grace Emily, eventually. But the gallery ran for around six years. And we started with no funding whatsoever. And was all just very chaotic, and organic. But probably an amazing training for both sides of the equation being working in a gallery sector, but also being an artist. So I’d say that is really a formative influence on my practice, certainly, and, and my my ability to think of myself as an artist, I guess, and to kind of plan for those things. I also studied a Masters by research at UniSA as well. So when did I finish that? Maybe 2005?

Steph 01:18
We’ll be able to Google it I’m sure

Bridget Currie 03:55
Something like that. Yeah. So that’s my my educational background. And, yeah, I’ve always had a very multidisciplinary practice. So I do think of myself as making sculpture, but I’ve always particularly worked with printmaking as well, and drawing, writing, and through my sister who’s a choreographer, Alison Currie, we have done some collaborative work together. So I think I have a real appreciation for contemporary dance particular and this kind of… which I feel like is very sculptural as a medium, but some time-based mediums as well, that I work with. Yeah. I think that I get more and more drawn back to books and making prints and drawings actually, and that’s a really interesting return. So that’s been something that has been going on throughout my practice, but definitely not the majority of my work, but there is a very beautiful publication coming out for this show at ACE Open that, yeah, it’s gorgeous riso printed book. So we’re talking about as an artist book and that’s published through ACE and Person Books and designed by Tyrone Ormsby has done a fantastic job. But that process has been so fun, and I’ve just been really enjoying it. So yeah, it’s something that I’ve think might do more of in the future.

Steph 05:36
Yeah, absolutely, I’ll have to keep an eye out for that one, for sure. And that actually leads us really nicely into diving into Message from the meadow, which, so you were the recipient of ACE Open’s inaugural Porter Street Commission. So a fantastic opportunity to develop, work to exhibit in the ACE Open gallery. And as we speak, it’s installed downstairs and has had its opening and will run, it opened in late July and will run until Is it the fourth of September 2021? Yes. Wonderful. So maybe just thinking about, obviously, I’ve gone and seen the work and, and thinking about the show as it’s installed. But just to hark back a little bit to the development of that work: that work would have been developed in a health crisis during the pandemic. Did the did that have a play a role in the development or the approach that you took to making that work?

Bridget Currie 06:35
Yeah, I think in a couple of ways, obviously, there was obstacles, because of the situation. But definitely, I think my approach has been even more grounded in kind of bodily experience than it may normally have been. Because I have felt -probably as everyone has- the sort of craving to be in a physical space and craving to be in a space that isn’t Zoom. So I feel like everything got reduced to being within a screen. And it’s just obviously not enough, you know, and there has been this tendency to think, you know, beyond 2000 kind of mentality of being like, ‘yeah, in the future, everything will be online and all be on computers, and we won’t need physical stuff’ and it’s just sort of so bizarre that we could even think that about ourselves, because we’re so it’s such a social species of animal, and we need physical stuff, and we need… I heard a amazing musician talking about live performance and how he missed live performance. And I think it would be worse if you’re a performer than a visual artist, but he was saying he missed exchanging molecules in the room. And, you know, yeah, it’s so true, you just crave physical presence. and developing this work has definitely I think it’s kind of pushed me to go in a really into a really embodied space with the work. So it’s very tactile in the gallery, there are a lot of textures. There are a lot of things you can sit on or touch as well as sculptural elements, and, and some felt works with felt and printmaking. So there are lots of sound works in the show as well, which I feel like are also very embodied; there’s elements of yeah, ASMR sound, but also spoken word pieces that are very intimate. And this kind of physical presence and intimacy, I think has become even more pronounced in Message from the meadow. Yeah, so it’s almost a reaction to COVID times, I think. But it was definitely… yeah, some of the work has been cast by Meridian Sculpture in Melbourne, and the bronze works. And that was really difficult because Melbourne was in lockdown, and then stuff kept kept happening, like oh the freight’s on its way -oh, hang on the border’s shut. It was just yeah, there was. There was difficulties that were involved with that. But for me, mainly, I’m in my studio. So actually producing stuff. I’m like, yeah, you know, I’m beavering away in there, not really yeah, it doesn’t touch me in in such a profound way as someone who’s traveling a lot. But definitely, in terms of a kind of reaction to the environment. The show definitely responds to that by, yeah, I think exploring a very embodied physicality.

Steph 09:58
And I think it’s nice, having spent time in those spaces -all of us, you know, resisting the zoom space and all those things- that your show, it’s not just inviting people to witness something, the fact that you can, you know, lie on something and, get really close to these very… what would that feel like to touch and, and have the sounds in your ear, and I encourage everyone to go and ask for the headsets at the front desk and spend that time to be enveloped in those curtains to watch that work. That we’re not just asked to witness something; it’s like no, come and have this experience. And I think that’s just underscored in such a profound way post-lockdowns and pandemic. It’s Yeah, it’s so interesting, isn’t it? And I’d better just in case anyone’s listening that hasn’t been to the show or read about it; and your practice more generally: I like that it’s described as an effort to materialize things that are invisible. Which, yes, sounds really simple but it’s quite something to wrap your head around. And that can be beliefs, and life forces, and yeah, almost things that are almost hard to describe as well. My first experience with your work was actually the outcome of your SALA artist residency at Flinders Medical Center, which was that 2018? Yes, yeah, cool, good. My memory’s serving me well! And that was facilitated by the wonderful team at Arts in Health at FMC. And you – I hope I’ve got this right- you worked with the patients in the pain clinic to materialize their pain into these sort of objects. So, yeah, I’m kind of looking at, you know, yes, you’ve done this before, you know, you are working with the invisible across these different… in different ways. And yeah, I guess my question is, how do you approach that research of your work in becoming familiar with the invisible thing that you want to portray or materialize? Do you- Are you just a naturally very observant person? Or do you have to cultivate a sort of purposeful focus when you’re doing that kind of research?

Bridget Currie 12:16
I do think I am naturally pretty observant and pretty sensitive to both, yeah, physical objects and of emotional states. But the residency at Flinders Medical Center, I did a lot of listening. So I was trying to find people that would be willing to talk to me, because not everyone’s willing to talk about a very personal thing of pain. And the people that I did find to talk to me that were very generous in sharing what was going on for them. And the sort of seed of this research came from the fact that I get migraines and my mother gets very severe migraines. So we both have… migraines are very weird, because you get all kinds, we can get all kinds of visual vision disturbances and very individual to each person. But for me, I have this really clear picture of what the pain is like on my head. So it’s kind of like, if I was to describe it in words, I’d say it’s kind of like a stripe that goes from the back of my neck right over my head, and then covering my left eye. And it just feels almost like a physical thing. Just it’s so yeah, it almost feels like you could touch it. And my mum has a very similar experience. And she also experiences a lot of, well she kind of goes blind when she has a migraine.

Steph 13:56
Wow that’s really intense

Bridget Currie 13:56
Yeah, the very, very strange sensory things. So the the sort of seed of the research was that and then, yeah, speaking to people in hospital, some of the people that I ended up speaking to the most had chronic pain conditions, so they were just living their lives with fairly severe pain. And if you think about living with something, just day to day, it’s just such a massive presence in your life. Most people Yeah, can kind of describe it like it’s a real physical presence for them. But obviously invisible to someone else. And this overwhelming presence, I felt like to be able to convey that someone else through an object or a drawing would be a really interesting thing to do as an artist and the main Yeah, so The main research I did was just speaking to people and writing down their descriptions and then making drawings. I could definitely have more time. More and more and more time to didn’t have, in the end, I didn’t have so much time to make the work. I just spent the time researching with people. And yeah, there’s just incredible descriptions. One woman said, she just feels like her whole body’s covered in black smoke.

Steph 15:32
Wow, that’s such a vivid way of describing that. Yeah.

Bridget Currie 15:36
Yeah. And, you know, but other people have really ideas about color; of rippling movements, and they’re very vivid, very vivid descriptions. But it’s just such a amazing thought that one person’s internal reality is so profoundly impacted by something that cannot be seen by someone else. And yet, these are people that they don’t look physically different to you or I, you know, they’re just, it’s just kind of like, that’s hidden. It’s a hidden thing, and it that their world is so profoundly different to someone else’s experience that. Yeah, and you can I mean, of course, you can think about that more broadly and say, well of course, everyone’s experience all the time, is different to, to everyone else’s, and you never really know what’s going on inside.

Steph 16:38
That’s true. Well, I guess that’s what makes that role so interesting; that you can be that conduit between it becoming palpable to someone else, drawing on that inherent understanding of someone who’s lived that and yet can describe that pain is just… I remember feeling really struck by the role that you could play in that process and that communicating that with a visual language, as opposed to just having to describe it. And there’s something about coming up to an object that it exists in physical space, and it does kind of confront you and challenge you. So that’s my first encounter with your work so I did want to bring that up.

Bridget Currie 17:21
Oh, thanks Steph.

Steph 17:43
Now, coming back to Message from the meadow, I do actually find it really difficult to discuss the work in the sense that, yeah, it occupies a space that’s more about experience and, you know, grounding oneself through the different senses, than perhaps, I can find words to say. Although I have enjoyed reading about the work to find those words. So you know, the combined efforts of the different aspects of the show have been described as actually aiming to short-circuit the logical mind and, you know, the moving-image work described as being about pre-language encounters. Can you speak a little bit more to that?

Bridget Currie 18:26
Yeah. So there’s this idea in Buddhism of a ‘koan’. So a problem or a conundrum -I guess conundrum is a nice word for it- that doesn’t have an answer. So, you know, the one that everyone knows is ‘the sound of one hand clapping’, which is not a very good example, let’s just say that it might be just the idea of a question that doesn’t have an answer. So it’s an invitation to kind of confound your mind. And I often think of abstract sculptures or my sculptures as being ways that that might be a physical thing. So they resist interpretation in the same way. They don’t have an easy answer. They invite… I hope they invite contemplation. So they invite you to kind of stop and yeah, let your brain just kind of go ‘hmm I don’t know what that is, and that doesn’t matter’. Because I think at the moment, in our cultural moment, there’s a great tendency for things to be closed off more than being open. So things that don’t have an easy answer or a kind of soundbite or quickly understood meaning often are just like, left. I think it’s really, really important to go into that space. So go into spaces where you don’t know. Yeah, and people, you know, people like narratives, they like facts; they like a little story to tell them what to think. And I think it’s, in the case of visual art, like, that’s not an easy fit for visual art. And I think it’s really important that visual art doesn’t do that. And that visual art is open to interpretation. Visual Art is difficult and mute and resistant. I don’t mean difficult as in like,

Steph 21:01
challenging rather than soothing too much, I guess

Bridget Currie 21:05
Yeah. I don’t necessarily mean like, violent and disturbing or something, I guess…

Steph 21:12
but I think ‘resist’ is the is the nice word to, you know, it’s not easily categorized. And it’s not, you know, forgettably… yeah -again, we’re struggling with the words.

Bridget Currie 21:23
But we do have, you know, there’s so much spectacle in our society and, you know, exhibitions that are made for Instagram, essentially. And I really hate going into museums, when this this has happened, I find it kind of, if things are over-interpreted in a museum setting, I’m just like ‘just show me the object. I don’t want, I don’t care about your touchscreens. Just show me the thing’, you know, and I worry that now people are so acclimatized to all of that other stuff, that they can’t look at the object and find meaning in it. Which it’s a skill to be learned, I think. And, you know, some people are really sensitive to it. I’m very sensitive to it. Some people aren’t. But I think it’s… yeah, artists should definitely actively resist that urge, like that impulse to over-interpret things

Steph 22:22
to overly-lead or explain

Bridget Currie 22:23
Yeah, absolutely. And overly-produce a kind of experience where you’re kind of like ‘just step back, just let people be’.

Steph 22:33
Yeah. Give your audience a bit of credit, I guess.

Bridget Currie 22:36
Absolutely. Well, yeah, totally. I absolutely believe… you know, appreciation of art is so incredibly democratic. You might meet somebody who, they haven’t been to university, they might be a carpenter or something: they have an incredible physical spatial sense, like, so developed, and so nuanced, and a massive appreciation for sculpture. And or, like, really amazing things to say. You can you can always be blown away, I think. So. Yeah, there’s a there’s a great tendency to not challenge the audience, I think. And I think that just needs to be dialed back a bit. Yeah, but that’s Yeah, so definitely the aim of providing a space in the show where there’s, there’s just space and time for people to be there with those things in that space. But having said that, I also have tried to make… there’s a generosity in the exhibition. So you can lie down on the chaise longue; you can see it in the film space, and it’s warm, and it’s comfortable and it’s very inviting to be in there, there’s lots of different textures. And in a way the audio works, the intimacy of the audio works as well, it really allows a way in to the exhibition. So I haven’t, I feel like I’m trying to open up other avenues that are generous to people to spend time there and not feel threatened or, you know, find ways in that that don’t close off meaning.

Steph 24:28
And that’s a very delicate thing to do. And I do recommend that people get in there before the show closes and put time aside.

Bridget Currie 24:41
Yeah, I think you need around 50 minutes. The the audio pieces are 25 minutes, as a group and the film is 15. Yeah.

Steph 24:53
And I think that’s right, that that there are different entry points across the different materials that if for positions you can be, you know, horizontal, sitting, watching or walking around that. Yeah, I hope that there’s a different entry point for everybody. The other thing I wanted to ask was following on from my struggle to put this into words, are there any practices in your life that actually sit outside of the visual arts -and you know, the whole lexicon that comes with that, you know, we’re talking about the way that a carpenter might have that incredible spatial sense and appreciation for sculpture- is there anything outside of that visual arts world that has built on your ability to navigate your work, you know, such as a practice of mindfulness or meditation, or even, we’ve talked about ASMR, which is Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response, not everyone gets the physical, like neck tingling to that. Is there anything else in that realm that plays in?

Bridget Currie 26:00
I have been, I guess, doing yoga for a really long time. Also, I, you know, I’m not, I’m in no way guru-status but I do have a yoga practice. And I do have a meditation practice as well. Part of the public events for the show, on the 21st and 28th of August, we do have a guided meditation in the gallery. And I have been experimenting with writing in that space. So I think it’s really interesting that we all, nowadays, almost everyone goes to some kind of yoga or mindfulness thing, you know. And the, the language that’s used is its own world in a way. And it’s really interesting, it’s almost like a vernacular poetry that’s not really interrogated by writers. And I’ve been interested in writing in that space. So it’s a big experiment, the guided meditations that we will be sitting in the gallery space, we will be touching some of the objects. And then yeah, I’ve written this guided meditation that will, I’ll be speaking, and we’ll try and meditate in the gallery, which I think would be a fantastic way to experience art. So I really hope it works. It is an experiment. People have been pretty keen to come. So I’m not sure if there’s still spots, but you can have a look on the ACE website and try and book in. Yeah. The ASMR thing: I was at a public program at ACE for Keg De Souza and Lucien Alperstein’s salt banquet, and I was sitting next to Vivian, who used to work for ACE, and she was talking about this thing called ASMR. And I was like, What is that? You need to tell me more about that? Oh, my gosh. And then I went down this massive rabbit hole in the internet, which is, there are just millions of videos of people doing things like tapping a foam roller or folding towels or brushing their hair. And the entire goal of all these videos is to, yeah, induce a kind of strange sensory response in the viewer. And for me, that’s always like a sort of weird tingling on my head on my neck. That has always happened to me my whole life, and I don’t know if people remember at school, you had all sorts of funny games that you would do -particularly girls, I don’t think maybe not boys- but yeah, lots of like, squeezing the neck or touching certain spots on your back, and that that was the goal. So that was to induce the same response.

Steph 26:02
But we didn’t have a language or a name for it, then

Bridget Currie 29:03
No, but it was just kind of like this game you did. And I think one of them is the ‘concentrate game’, if you remember, I don’t know if you did that at school.

Steph 29:11
I didn’t do that one, what was that one?

Bridget Currie 29:12
So that was just you would say ‘concentrate, concentrate’, and then this whole sort of like, choreographed motions that people would do. Yeah

Steph  29:20
Yeah. Yeah, that’s absolutely, that’s what it is, the ASMR.

Bridget Currie 29:24
Yeah. And I feel like oh, yeah, school kids kind of naturally have this thing. They’re like, Oh, yeah, we can make this happen.

Steph 29:31
It’s a bit magic, then.

Bridget Currie 29:33
Yeah. But adults do it to through this bizarre corner of YouTube. So there are some sounds in the soundtrack to the film that play with those ideas. It’s 15 minutes. So that’s nothing in terms of an ASMR video, which sometimes go for 12 hours. And you know, that it’s sort of a different kind of meditation, I guess. But I am very interested in those noises and actually the whole desire to create this in the body, as a response in the body. Yes, it’s really interesting that it’s giant, and a weird subculture. But yeah, really curious.

Steph 30:22
Rabbit hole is definitely a good word for that. I’ll admit that I also, have experienced, I get neck tingles and got it all through school. And I, I actually found my way to ASMR because I was on hold to Optus once for a really long time and the person on the other side had a really calming phone voice and I youtubed ‘someone speaking quietly’, and that’s how I found the rabbit hole of ASMR.

Bridget Currie 30:49
I wonder if Optus knew?!

Steph 30:51
I never told anyone from Optus specifically, but

Bridget Currie 30:56
but maybe someone today was like, ‘do you know how we can calm down people on hold?’

Steph 31:00
For sure. She deserves a raise that’s for sure. So yes it’s it’s quite funny, and that whole… You know, I think that the term ‘ASMR’ is, people are starting to know what it is. And yeah, it was just a really lovely too, because I don’t know how much of that corner of, it’s mostly YouTube where I think people access it. And don’t know how many of those I mean, they call themselves ASMR artists. How many, you know, practicing visual artists in more gallery spaces are actually doting on that kind of knowledge?

Bridget Currie 31:34
Asbolutely no idea.

Steph 31:35
Yeah, I think it’s really interesting.

Bridget Currie 31:37
And isn’t it’s also really interesting, the gendered nature of ASMR. Because I feel like most of the people that make it are women, and there’s certainly something about a quiet female voice that is almost universal to the, you know, medium. And then yeah, this sort of people doing things like taking off their makeup, or brushing their hair. Yeah, like really? A personal care thing.

Steph 32:10
And that close personal attention when it’s role-played on someone else. Yeah, it’s, it’s really interesting.

Bridget Currie 32:17
And I think it is super gendered. And I’m just wondering, then, is the audience for this women or men or both? Or is it just it’s doesn’t matter? Like, it’s sort of the caring woman persona is just pan ASMR it’s just very curious.

Steph 32:38
and I wonder if it will change.

Bridget Currie 32:40
And yeah, absolutely. I mean, some of the, the, some of the really interesting ASMR people that there’s this fantastic guy that did the foam roller tapping, and he was just amazing. But yeah, he was kind of like a quite a burly man. And he struck me as being very unusual in you know, in that space. And that was interesting. Yeah, but it is it’s I sometimes I’m like, Oh, it’s sort of Yeah, it feels like very William Gibson or something.

Steph 33:55
Coming back to Message from the meadow: the Meadow is sort of presented as this concept, but I am wondering if you can speak a little bit more about what that represents.

Bridget Currie 34:07
Yeah, so I became very interested in meadows during a residency in Lithuania in 2016, at a really wonderful institution called Rupert. And it’s incredibly beautiful, timber, contemporary architecture building in the outskirts of Vilnius. So it’s got forest on one side and a river. And then as you kind of walk out of the building this beautiful Meadow space, so it’s quite wild, the landscape around there.

Steph 34:38
I’m just laughing because this sounds like a guided meditation, like ‘there’s a river and a stream, and a forest…’

Bridget Currie 34:43
Well, yeah, it’s a really magical place. And I became very interested in this Meadow space, and I’m just really interested in the democratic nature of it. So it’s, no one plant is dominating. And it’s this very symbiotic ecosystem and also very horizontal. So there’s no things that are like massively taller than other things. So it felt very, like a very beautiful metaphor for a structure that I might like to explore within my work. And I’ve always been very interested in multiple perspectives in my work. So I love the thought of having a macro perspective where the whole exhibition is one work, yet, it’s also lots of lots of tiny details. And so Message from the meadow, the show here, is very much like that. It’s one large installation, but within that there’s so many elements, and they’re all existing in some kind of symbiosis. I also think, the grasslands in Australia are, yeah, something that’s really influenced that and I’m very interested in the Adelaide Plains grass land ecology, which was incredibly rich before colonization. So we had upwards of 100 species of plants in all the grasslands. And most of which are, unfortunately, pretty endangered. So there was just hundreds and hundreds of different types of orchid, and lilies and, and various kind of, yeah, kind of tuberous roots that were eaten as well by the Kaurna People. So there is this kind of ghost landscape of that in Adelaide. And it’s, it’s really interesting to think about. So yeah, the meadow. Yeah. Someone said to me, ‘there’s no grass in the show’. No, no, there isn’t, but there is a kind of structure. And really, one of the problems that I set myself in making this show was, it’s a huge gallery. It’s massive. Every time you go in there, when you know, you have a show, you’re like, Oh, god, it’s so big, what am I gonna do!? And so it’s very daunting as an artist to have a solo show in there. But the problem was solved through the idea of making the kind of habitat for the small sculptures. So the furniture elements in the show, which are made by Dean Toepfer of Mixed Goods Studios. He collaborated with me to make this furniture that kind of exists to form an ecosystem for the smaller works to sit within, I guess, and yeah, that was that. In this instance, that was the solution to the problem of how to show these small sculptures in this massive space. Yeah. So they, they sort of have a structure that is akin to a meadow. Yeah.

Steph 35:59
That’s good. And you couldn’t have, you know, filled filled that gallery, because then you lose the openness of the meadow, so yeah, it all makes sense.

Bridget Currie 38:12
Yeah. And I also really wanted to have quite a lot of light in the gallery. So yeah, it’s it is quite as sparse… oh, sparse is the wrong word because there’s so many things in there.

Steph 38:28
There’s breathing room.

Bridget Currie 38:29
Yeah. Breathing room’s good. Yeah, definitely.

Steph 38:33
And if you’re asking people to, or allowing people to have, you know, these different entry points with these different items, you don’t want too much competing at once, because it is very sensory. So no, I think job well done. Well, I think I’m running out of words to reiterate the show, and I definitely encourage people to get in and see it, because that is the whole reason that we’re here. And you mentioned that there was a finissage event as well?

Bridget Currie 39:05
Yes, so on the fourth of September will be the last day of the show, and we’re also doing a launch of the publication on that date. I think we’ll start it might go from two to four that day, but yeah, that will be the final day of the show.

Steph  39:21
That’s excellent. And if anyone wants to follow along with your next steps, where’s the best places to?

Bridget Currie 39:30
I do you have a website which is just and an Instagram which is @Bridget_Currie.

Steph 39:38
Yeah. Great. Love it. Well, um, thank you so much for for divulging all of the context and backstory to your work and you know, work that represents a long lead up to that, I think as well. So, everyone get in there and soak it up. And yeah, looking forward to seeing what you do next.

Bridget Currie 39:57
Thanks Steph.

Episode 16: Artist Interview: Henry Wolff

In this episode, Steph catches up with artist Henry Wolff at their studio in Post Office Projects, Port Adelaide. Tune in to hear about Henry’s path from design and fashion to visual art, and the way that empathy and care are explored in their image making – most notably in their new moving-image work ‘CARE’ commissioned by fine print magazine and presented online as part of SALA Festival 2021.

Steph 00:00
Hello and welcome to the SALA podcast. My name is Steph and I am here at Post Office Projects in Port Adelaide in Henry Wolff‘s studio, and we’re going to talk about their practice today. I think we both want to acknowledge whose land we’re on here as well, which is the land of the Kaurna People, and as we talk about the meaning of care in Henry’s work, I want to hold in my thoughts what care means and looks like in the relationship between traditional owners and Country, and also what it means to Elders past, present and emerging.

Steph 01:06
Alright, Henry, thank you for having me here.

Henry Wolff 01:08
Thank you.

Steph 01:10
I should acknowledge that we already know each other.

Henry Wolff 01:14
for a while!

Steph 01:16
So we have to be a bit serious, although maybe not too serious. All right, so let’s talk about your practice. Should we start with maybe the the media that you use?

Henry Wolff 01:29
Yeah. Because I guess it’s been kind of an organic process as to how I’ve ended up where I’m at. My background is actually in fashion design, where kind of my favorite part of the design process used to be like the photoshoots, because they represented like the realization of all the hard work that you do for a collection in design, and kind of they represented this, this realization of all that hard work. And it’s when that kind of storytelling and the ideas that you have around how we understand fashion, comes to life and materializes. And I think like, I was very fortunate that in like, the first time I ever was on a photo shoot was actually on set in Sydney with a, he was at the time Australian fashion photographer of the year, Georges Antoni. So I was thrust into this kind of world, certainly not pushing that, like I was happy to be thrown into that world…

Steph 02:33
A joyful throw!

Henry Wolff 02:34
Exactly. But like, I was like, I first started in a professional kind of design capacity, at the age of like, 20. And first shoot was over with these kind of heavy-hitting kind of superweights in the industry, and that kind of like, organically as the years went by, it kind of, through the continued exposure to images and image making and the process of image editing and selection, it kind of meant that I slowly started wanting to make my own images. They weren’t great to begin with. Some of them were pretty cringey that like, because I didn’t, I haven’t I didn’t start with kind of, like training as such. I started with, like, learning from essentially the people that I was exposed to, and asking questions of the photographers that were around me, and kind of learning by doing, which is a big thing with a lot of the stuff that I do in my life that experiencing stuff gives me so much of an understanding of what I do. But there’s always been this fascination when it comes to me with imaging people on how you can capture the interior landscapes of people through images, because I think particularly, fashion, doesn’t step into that zone that that was something that I found difficult with that industry is that you don’t have as broad a scope to explore those kind of interior kind of narratives of people. It does unfortunately, lean towards a more aestheticising of things, and which is something that kind of prompted me to move away from that industry and into a more kind of art-based practice and such. But from that kind of starting point I stuck at, like taking photos and stuff for a long time. And I’ve actually been capturing images and working with images now for over seven years, which is a long time in the scheme of things

Steph 04:31
It’s a long time to be you know, really getting comfortable with that language as well.

Henry Wolff 04:36
Absolutely. And like I think it was probably it wasn’t until like four years in that I actually went and undertook proper training. Where I like learned like film photography and stuff like that so that it kind of gave a backbone to the stuff, the understanding of images, putting a technical understanding with that. But the photography that I was doing And kind of just started to organically and naturally grow into moving image as well, which has become like a prominent part of my practice. Because I saw it moving image as the capacity to explore photographic moments in context, in the sense that photography has a capacity to kind of take moments out of their context. And moving image recognizes all that’s existing in a moment, if that makes sense?

Steph 05:30
It almost expands the border of that moment a bit into it, rather than take it out of that context.

Henry Wolff 05:36
And I think that like, I think that’s important for my practice is having that ability to both explore the context, but also take these split moments from it. So that’s where I find that kind of balance between photography and moving image in my work, but from there, performance grew to be an integral element in how I actually define what’s happening for these images in these images. And my knowledge and use of performance allows me to navigate that intersection between authentic intuitive acts and constructed worlds. Yeah.

Steph 06:14
we got deep there.

Henry Wolff 06:15
we did we did we did! But I guess that’s my practice, as such across photography, moving image and performance.

Steph 06:24
Yeah, I was wondering how it all fit together. Because two of those are using that, you know, pre made …no one can see what my hands are doing here, they’re making a frame… using that frame and looking through, whereas performance is, yeah, a different beast. So nice to see how that all interplays.

Steph 07:07
And what kind of themes are you most driven to explore in your work?

Henry Wolff 07:14
I think for me, the most important part of my practice is its consideration of empathy, particularly in context to image making. Capturing a person’s image can be quite an objective practice, particularly when we look at the field of documentary image making. So to navigate this, I employ socially responsive models or modes of research and development to ensure that empathy is really built into all the layers of how a project progresses and how that project is actually realized. I also have a very strong fascination for how people build relationships and connect with one another, which relates strongly back to that emphasis on empathy. Connection, in particular, shows up a lot in my work. And generally, it is positioned as an intuitive knowledge that is kind of articulated through gestural language, and pronounced then through the editing techniques that I use, either in how I kind of bring images together with a photographic in a series, or by the actual literal juxtaposition of images within a moving image piece. For me, connection is a gateway to understanding ourselves in the face of the other, and is essential in the construction of identity.

Steph 08:36
There was a really nice quote, and excuse my shuffling of papers here, that perhaps speaks to that, from Kate O’Boyle talking about Presence at Praxis Artspace. I’ll just read a few lines: “The way we choose to share and claim space in relation to those closest to us becomes a way of knowing ourselves.” Is that what you’re speaking to?

Henry Wolff 08:57
Absolutely, and it is one of those beautiful things with Kate like because now she’s written on two of my works, that it feels like it’s really nice whenever I get to see her and talk about works because it’s like, she’s lived inside my head at some point. And like it just intuitively makes sense; whatever the craziness I’m actually bringing. But it’s funny that you should pick out that piece as well because that was the exact same section that Gill Brown -when she did the opening for that show- pulled down because it was opened kind of… well, we still are living in the kind of post-COVID lockdowns or still living in that kind of reality. That kind of asking that question of how do we take space with other people is so relevant at this point. And I think that even though my practice isn’t intentionally riffing off those kind of ideas, because it’s something that’s present, that idea of connection and support and those kind of things are just something that I find and feel is important and integral anyway, that it just is highlighted by the current kind of social, political climate that we’re in at the moment because of COVID. But yeah. Yeah, like, I think, as a result of that kind of examination that I have of connection, it really kind of gives me this ability using that empathetic lens to find, within my work, notes around things like visibility, trust, vulnerability, and I guess support. So it really does tie back to that idea of how how we take space with one another how we consider that space, and how, how that impacts us and the others that we share that with.

Steph 09:01
Now, you’ve got an exciting project in SALA Festival 2021, can you just tell me everything about that? Sorry, I didn’t guide you much there.

Henry Wolff 11:14
So I’m sharing a new moving image work called ‘CARE’. It’s work that has been commissioned by fine print magazine for ‘pause ~ play’, and will be available to view on their website across August. And I would also like to start by acknowledging that the project was and has been supported by the South Australian Government through Arts South Australia. The project actually started with a conversation with my mum. And as a lifelong nurse, we’ve been recently talking about what actually happens when you transition from being the person who distributes care to being the person who needs that care. And where does the responsibility to care actually flow as a result of those kind of transitions in life. This prompted me to look at what defines my own values of care, and how these are inherited through her lived experience. Yeah, and it started looking at care from a much more institutional point of view, in the sense of that, I was exploring how nurses and like medical equipment could be used as like, metaphors or symbols for an outsourcing of our responsibility to others. However, this kind of approach focused too much on an absence of care, rather than where I think and still feel that the work needed to be. So it asked for a kind of shift into a different kind of… a different perspective on what care actually is and how I articulate that in a work. So to reposition that discussion on care, I reached out to my community, and brought together a group of diverse people to delve into what care actually means. And this manifested in a numerous kind of different ways through like informal conversations, when people would like come to the studio and stuff like that, because I’d have like stuff like I do right now, I’d have images and kind of stuff up on the walls, and we’d have these kind of conversations around what each person’s kind of ideas were. But it was primarily a group workshop that I held here at Post Office Projects, that kind of really repositioned my understanding and the trajectory of this work.

Steph 13:37
That’s quite an interesting way of researching, I mean, obviously, you know, conversations informing, but yeah, to really be active and, and bring people together to, you know, delve into that subject, that is a fantastic way to really go deep into what it means.

Henry Wolff 13:54
Absolutely and I think like, because one of the big kind of things that influences how I research and develop works is looking towards, even though I’m not a big fan of the impact of anthropology, but some of the processes that you can look at, that they use for understanding people; in particular, there’s, there’s a term that that exists within the field called ‘deeply hanging out’, which is something that I’m going is actually also a title of a project that will be undertaking with ADHOCRACY this year, which will look at the same kind of processes. But it’s this idea that rather than just a surface-level kind of understanding of people, that if you expose yourself deeply to other people’s values, way of doing things, and systems of being, that you can understand them from an empathetic lens; that you can come to know them better than what a cursory look would give you, or an assumption on what their life is. So those kinds of processes really drive how I develop the research or how I research and develop the works. So like as a studio tenant here at POP, we’re actually encouraged to host kind of different sessions to further the development of a work and practice.

Steph 15:20
That’s really good to have that encouraged at that level.

Henry Wolff 15:23
Absolutely, and like, it’s also it’s important, I guess, to have that access to a site and the support that goes with it to be able to do these kinds of things.

Steph 15:31
That’s wonderful.

Henry Wolff 15:33
But it was an incredible experience. We started with a mindfulness and kind of yoga session led by Steph Cibich, who you’ve had on here before…

Steph 15:43
-who’s a a delight-

Henry Wolff 15:47
…but from there, the group considered questions around care, like ‘what does can mean?’ ‘Where does care come from?’ ‘Has the nature of care changed or shifted?’, particularly in recent times, and then listening became an integral tool for myself in this process, I collected the responses and from them, a smaller set of breakaway groups were formed, where we looked at how you can actually translate those thoughts and ideas into movement. Which is easier said than done.

Steph 16:24
I was hoping you just tell me; how do you translate those ideas?

Henry Wolff 16:28
and particularly, because like, I love working with people who haven’t got like a dance background or a background in choreographed movement, because they’ll bring to a conversation like that, where you’re asking them to articulate a thought or an idea into movement; they’ll bring to it like a slight naivety, but a naivety in the sense that it’s unclouded.

Steph 16:50
Yeah, it’s not informed by anything other than what they think or feel

Henry Wolff 16:54
Exactly. And generally, that’s positioned within either their lived experience or popular culture, and I think like you get these unexpected outcomes. And like at the workshop, we had very different, kind of, responses from all the different groups that were there. And whilst it wasn’t the intent to take those movements and use them for myself, it was much more to gain kind of an insight into how people were thinking about care, through the body, as well as through how we speak about care. But post-workshop, things really started to pick up.

Steph 17:33
It’s a big, big project,

Henry Wolff 17:35
Oh it is insane, it was, it’s been very ambitious. So I started with, I reached out to the most incredible writer and poet, Lur Alghurabi, whose current move towards more existentialist writing, had just recently, at that point, blown my mind. And she said yes to coming on board with like a phenomenal way of writing and has worked with me to bring all of that kind of information that was collected, on like thoughts on care, and all of that kind of stuff into a sophisticated, but yet non-didactic text, so that it could be used for the voiceover for the piece. And alongside the kind of development. So there’s a lot of different things that have been happening alongside, on top, of each other. Once it’s been, it’s been a trick just trying to keep track of everything and make sure that it’s all progressing within the time frame that you that you’ve got.

Steph 18:34
Well I’ve assumed you’ve been too busy to even have a conversation with for months. So yes, it’s been big.

Henry Wolff 18:42
And I think as well, because it’s like, it’s such an intense time thinking about care, and ensuring that you’re positioning yourself through empathy, it takes an emotional kind of exhaustion on you as well, which by no means, like I’m not saying that I’m unhappy with that, I think it’s just

Steph 18:59
you’ve got to acknowledge it though

Henry Wolff 18:59
Exactly that like prolonged states of empathy does slowly wear you down. But alongside that kind of development of that dialogue, that text for the voiceover, we actually filmed five/six/seven hour shoots across the end of May and the start of June.

Steph 19:05
Oh my goodness.

Henry Wolff 19:22
Which, as I said, it was quite an ambitious undertaking as there was a lot, a lot to coordinate logistically, particularly as I work with a small production team, where I operate as a director of sorts. So for each shoot, we would have the videographer that I work with Jai McGregor, a production assistant who has always actually been my sister, Ingrid Wolff. She’s brought…

Steph 19:46
Who is also lovely

Henry Wolff 19:45
I know – and it’s this beautiful thing that because she exists in my work, and behind the scenes of my work, that it means that she has a good touchstone for asking on like, ‘does this make sense with what I’m trying to achieve?’. ‘Does this make sense with what I’ve already done?’ It’s nice having that kind of person, someone who’s that close to me that I can talk that kind of stuff through with, and she’ll give me an honest answer.

Steph 19:53
Sisters are good like that

Henry Wolff 20:14
But the brilliant thing is well is she brings along to each shoot her toy Poodle, Oliver, he’s kind of like,

Steph 20:22
Can this get any better.

Henry Wolff 20:24
But like it, besides the fact that he is like the most divine little animal ever, it’s really is really an incredibly valuable tool, when you’re working with people that might be feeling anxiety, might not necessarily know how to kind of feel when they’re in front of a camera and stuff like that. Or even just if you’re meeting that because as I said, it’s a production team; it’s a small one, but if you’re meeting these people for the first time, and you come to that set, that shoot, it can be a great way to break down that kind of barrier and start that conversation across people. Because I think like, when I first started working with a videographer, we actually, it’s crazy now thinking about it, but we actually met the first time when we started shooting.

Steph 21:10

Henry Wolff 21:11
And if it wasn’t, I think for having like my sister [and] Oliver the dog on set, it wouldn’t have been as easy I don’t think because they remove some of the layers of stress that go with that and make it a bit easier to kind of navigate. But alongside that kind of production team, I also -for this one- have had the performers that included the writer Lur Alghurabi, also my good friend Jingewi Bu, who is an incredible artist in her own right

Steph 21:46
and a previous episode of the podcast I might add

Henry Wolff 21:51
And then there was also Heidi Kenyon and her two children, Indigo, and Iris. Heidi is another incredibly close friend, and she’s very dear to my heart and another fantastic artists. And there’s also my old friend Jamilla, who is also an ongoing kind of collaborator, so she was in my work last year, worked with me on ‘Ourselves’, which was done for Bus Projects in Melbourne. And it was actually a really beautiful thing, because knowing that this was about care, I kind of extended to her the option to invite – I extended this to everybody that was invited to be part of the work- that they could bring into that conversation, somebody that they had a kind of relationship with care with, or that represented care for them. So she invited along a good friend of hers Erykah Jennette. And the beautiful thing that happened as a result of Jamilla, having worked on past projects with me, is that instead of myself kind of giving prompts to Erykah as like, as a new kind of introduction to my practice; Jamilla was actually doing that and taking some of the movements, you could see that she was intuitively taking some of the movements that she’d learned through the last project and sharing them as an exchange with Erykah and that just kind of was like: this is cool. This is this is not only like the kind of progression of like a practice, but it’s also a progression of people and their understanding of movement with context to my practice, which just phenomenal to see.

Steph 23:31
That’s incredible.

Henry Wolff 23:32
And then the last people, obviously my sister Ingrid is in as well, and my mum, Mary-Anne. Yeah. But it’s one of those crazy things that what you see play out in the work, the acts that each performer undertake, are gestures that come from each person’s understanding of themselves. The spaces that they are in, but also their own ideas of care and the maturity of the relationships that they’re sharing.

Steph 24:03
Yeah, that’s interesting, as well isn’t it.

Henry Wolff 24:06
And I think that comes as a result of that emphasis on intuitive unchoreographed performance. Because I understand gesture as a form of language. And when untempered by choreography, it allows us to express more of our interior landscape. And the work in all of its nuance complexity, at its core, asks us to like slow down and consider how we connect with ourselves, with others, and the surrounding world. And maybe potentially through that reflection, we might understand and value togetherness more, or at least that’s the hope. I think, in this piece.

Steph 24:48
It sounds like you’re well on your way to achieving that, I think.

Henry Wolff 24:52
but the thing is, it’s a slow process when and when you come back to thinking about empathy, like it’s not a quick game like, it’s something that you have to work at incrementally over time, particularly, from looking at relationship-building as a feature in my work; it’s not something that happens overnight.

Steph 25:09
There’s nothing instantaneous about that level on any level is there

Henry Wolff 25:12

Steph 25:14
But I think that, you know, you have been quite prolific in your making, and I think that, I know that I can see that overarching endeavor. And, you know, the, you do create a space where that can be considered and maybe I can touch on the everyone’s favorite art buzzword, ‘the liminal space’, you know, it’s got to come up. But you know, the choices around, you know, the grading of the films and these kind of spaces that sometimes, you know, almost featureless, but still a space and the way that the scope for vulnerability and, you know, reflection, are much more, what is the word… that’s the space where you can really project that in there and, and read into that those.. it comes across the breadth of your practice, you know, it’s, it’s consistent. And it that, you know, it’s not just the gestural language and the movement, it’s all of these other -the rest of the mis-en-scene, if I’m going to be lazy and term it that way- all informs that endeavor. So I think this is really strong

Henry Wolff 26:27
Absolutely and like, um, it’s something that like, I am continually returning to an interrogating like, because a lot of that kind of understanding of how I construct an image is based off of all of that understanding of image making that comes from my background. So it’s taken, it’s taking still a long time to really unpack why it is what I do. But particularly when we talk about these idea of like liminal spaces, or the kind of how, essentially, like it’s this constructed world that I’m putting together, and that’s that kind of tension that I’m understanding my practices is kind of walking the line between, like the fantasy, I guess, and that kind of fiction, but using fiction as a tool to really narrow in and drill into

Steph 27:25
‘the real’ I guess

Henry Wolff 27:26
Exactly, exactly. That, like, sometimes we understand real emotions, real kind of things better through fiction, because there is that kind of space to highlight, or in the instance of my work, that they are quite minimal kind of costuming, minimal kind of scenes, as such, that then allows such a strong emphasis on the relationship between the figures, or the relationship between the figure and the environment that they’re in, really kind of emphasizes that moment as a result of that.

Steph 28:06
I absolutely agree. Yeah, it’s an interesting tool, isn’t it to be a little less real to drill into the real but and yet, it’s, it’s so simple, it works. It’s a great lens, excuse the pun.

Henry Wolff 28:28
I guess, due to the way that I work in a slightly back-to-front kind of manner, where editing takes on a significant role in the articulation of meaning, filming actually represents only the midway point for me. It’s when all of the research development and planning actually comes together into footage ready to use as a material to be worked towards a final piece. I start the editing process by storyboarding the sequence; looking for how meaning can be derived from visual association to begin with, or at least the meaning that I’m trying to kind of evoke, or have been building towards, for example, in this one ‘CARE’. But this process can take a really long time, and it takes like a lot of back and forth. A lot of self questioning, a lot of self editing

Steph 29:26
A healthy part of any practice!

Henry Wolff 29:30
but through this, I build up the work, which generally results in a number of different kind of draft versions, which then I reach out to different people for their input on, which has primarily been conversations with my mentors Hoda Afshar and Eugenia Lim, who have been phenomenal in shaping where my practice is now, that I think that they took all the stuff that was kind of there and gave it a real kind of direction and support to actually refine it into what I am and do now. I can’t even begin to express the kind of gratitude towards both of them. But slowly with that kind of support, and I guess like the support of the kind of network that I’ve been working with to create the project, because I share kind of content and drafts with the performers as I’m going through, we slowly the build towards a final work.

Steph 30:24
So that’s really collaborative, in a sense, you know, there’s that many eyes on it.

Henry Wolff 30:27
Oh it takes forever!

Steph 30:29
But worth it, I’m sure!

Henry Wolff 30:30
Incredibly worth it, because I don’t think I would feel comfortable. Like, I don’t think I would feel comfortable putting work out into the world if I didn’t know that everybody who was part of making it, understood it, and were at peace with it as well. Yeah. Because it just it would be wrong.

Steph 30:49
Yeah, only using them for one part of that process.

Henry Wolff 30:53
And particularly the idea of only using them, I think is, is really difficult, because I don’t see my practice as using people that they have been invited, and that they’re coming in to share their story to be part of a narrative, on care, on support, on visibility, or whatever it is that I’m chasing at any point in time. But yeah, alongside the actually, the incredible thing that I’ve been able to do with this piece that is really, it’s incredibly it’s transforming my practice is actually working with a colorist. And it’s the first time I’ve ever had the opportunity to do that, largely because I’ve had funding to be able to support that. But a colorist is someone who specializes in the colour editing of either still or moving image. And I’ve been very, very lucky to work with the same person who does the coloring for a number of significant Australian artists, including Hoda Afshar, and like Hayley Miller Baker. He’s over in Melbourne. And it’s it’s just been such a crazy kind of experience. Because he has such an experienced eye. And it really has changed how I look at my own work as resolved.

Steph 32:04
That’s great. Yeah.

Henry Wolff 32:05
Because I think like I was showing you some of the footage before that, like, just how lush some of the colors become as a result of somebody who just knows their craft so well. And like, yeah, this I can’t even explain how like I’m like wow.

Steph 32:24
I mean, I think also the fact that you have been doing what you do for long enough now that you appreciate that other level that’s also about how it doubles down the meaning, you know, you know, we’re talking about the leaves looks really lush, but they weren’t overpowering the scene and the velvety tones and the softness of skin. And I mean, hark back to the days -also as an early image maker- where you just crank the contrast and think that you’ve done a great job and, look at us now! Everything’s subtle and soft! I see you.

Henry Wolff 32:58
Oh my God, that’s, that’s, that’s that’s the vibe. But I think like the wonderful thing that because like, even though I do speak a lot about like fashion and image making as a strong kind of point of reference for me, that, like I have been engaged with art in a formal kind of level on the 2D kind of surface for a very long time as well. But that was a really strong part of my youth going in, like my parents were really supportive earlier, that kind of passion for making and art and stuff like that. And they sent both my sister and I to art classes, I think when we were like, eight, we’re doing like watercolour classes, it was everything. But I think like, and I’ve spoken like to different people about this that I understand colour in the work that I do from a kind of painter’s perspective; I don’t see my work as paintings, but it’s that kind of formal training that informs how I use colour in my work. Particularly in how you can create depth or different kind of meaning through colour. I find it a very fascinating thing.

Steph 34:10
I love that you’re drawing on all of these different things.

Henry Wolff 34:12
I know, it’s like some weird kind of mixing pot / crucible of all the things, all the things,

Steph 34:17
all the things, but it works. And it’s lovely that you can see: yeah, I got, this is informed by this thing, and this is informed by that. And, you know, I don’t think you’re missing anything at the moment, I think you’re doing alright!. And, you know, finding ways to, you know, working with your colourist for the first time, you know, filling in anything that could build that practice is… It’s great to see I think that’s what I’m trying to say.

Henry Wolff 34:46
And like I think because unfortunately, I don’t think we talk enough about those kind of options of like taking your work to a colourist here in South Australia. Like we don’t talk about that as an option for like how you can elevate your work or how you can explore a different trajectory with your practice. I think that there’s, it’s, it’s like you can’t do it all. Like, especially like, with projects like this where there are so many facets that you need support from people who have specialized in their fields to make sure that the product that you’re producing at the end of it represents what you’re aspiring towards.

Steph 35:29
Yeah I don’t think if you tried to do it on your own, some of those works just wouldn’t have looked anything like… I mean, half the time, there are some where you are in front of the camera, so really, would have been hard pressed to do that yourself. So yeah, I’m glad that, you know, that’s something that you figured out quite early on. And the work is all the better for it.

Henry Wolff 35:49
Absolutely. And I think that was a big thing that Hoda and Eugenia as mentors really kind of instilled in me is this understanding of that you should invest in people; invest in people so that they can support you to kind of make the projects come to the fruition and come to the realization that does the best justice to yourself, to your own practice, and to the people that you’re trying to create with. But also, like, I haven’t even finished talking about the goddamn layers of this project still, like there’s also the bloody audio, but we’re still doing like the we’re doing for the work like alongside editing visuals and stuff.

Steph 36:27
Yeah … it’s everything

Henry Wolff 36:29
I know, it’s everything is mostly like, I’m obsessed with video work and moving image. But, God, that is…. it’s a beast. You’d think it’d be easier than like photography and but like, no. And it’s expensive. But with the audio for this one for ‘CARE’ I am, I actually really enjoy constructing soundscapes myself. And it’s one of those kinds of things that, particularly when it means that I get to play around with sounds from either the sites that we’ve been filming at, or capturing sounds from places where the work might actually end up being shown. And those kind of come together. I’m not I’m certainly not a whiz at kind of putting together sound pieces, but I do like putting together white noise kind of tracks and stuff like that. And particularly for ‘CARE’. There’s this kind of meditative background soundscape that I’ve built, that I feel complements both the visuals and the voiceover that’s going on with it, but not in a way that’s overpowering it either as well. But for the voiceover as well. I’ve actually worked with Jesse Budel to record my own voice, which the choice to use my own voice was actually a really tricky thing to come to.

Steph 37:53
Have you done that before?

Henry Wolff 37:55
I’ve only used parts of my voice… that makes that sounds odd: in the sense of that like, so for ‘Ourselves’ with Jamilla and Jasmine Crisp, we so the starting point of that was to actually do interviews with each of them around the idea of vulnerability. And those interviews kind of informed the whole process of the development of the work. But then also I use them as like segments of them as the final voiceover and like soundscape for the final work. So my voice was in that set as well. But with like it was just some sections. But this time, it’s it’s me talking my whole way through the work, which

Steph 38:43
much more intentional.

Henry Wolff 38:45
Yeah, absolutely. But as I said, it was a tricky decision to come to, because I think that there’s a lot of different narratives that are involved in the work. But what I came to in the end was this understanding that with my previous work ‘Sibling’ and ‘Kin’, which both have family members in them, and heavily kind of influenced care. I understand care as a work as representing the culmination of these into a trilogy where I am the narrator in those works, whether literally, or just because they are works built from my perspective, particularly looking at how those relationships impact my identity and how they kind of inform how I’ve grown through my life and stuff. Particularly when it comes to the fact that ‘Sibling’ was with Ingrid. And looking at particularly how siblings can support one another and it’s a bit literal at points

Steph 39:48
It was literal, yeah

Henry Wolff 39:49
like, I think that that was important to have in that work because I don’t know how else you would have articulated that but

Steph 39:59
Not with that same weight that it came across.

Henry Wolff 40:01
Yeah. But and then ‘Kin’ had my dad become involved, which was a very it was it was a difficult work to put together ’cause like we don’t have the best relationship, it’s a very tumultuous one that he was still like totally into and supportive of being involved with my practice, and how we communicate that kind of relationship.

Steph 40:35
It’s really incredible to have the opportunity to do that, and the willingness.

Henry Wolff 40:58
Again, as I said, it’s been a very ambitious undertaking this work. And I won’t lie, I am a bit tired.

Steph 41:05
I think you’re allowed to be.

Henry Wolff 41:06
But I am very proud of what we’ve created. Not only does it represent things that I value deeply, but it’s also realized in a very visually poignant manner. But most importantly, I think it’s, it’s meant the opportunity to work and create with some of the most incredible people and actually pay them as well, which is something that I try to do the whole way through my practice. But there’s been around 20 different people involved with this project, like directly involved, that doesn’t count the kind of numerous people that you talk to when you’re developing or getting approval for filming on a site or something like that. And then, like, for example, when we were at the Hampstead rehabilitation center, that the staff there were so encouraging and supportive of what we were doing. and they would come across and ask us what was happening, tell us different stories about the place that

Steph 42:02
Isn’t it so interesting all those little other peripheral stories that come in and no, and care and consideration from those on the sideline.

Henry Wolff 42:10
Absolutely. And particularly, because this whole piece was filmed outdoors, that you’re always quite, I guess, vulnerable in a sense, not in a kind of, like only in the sense that anybody can come and join in on what you’re doing and talk to you and engage with you. And you’ve got to be prepared with that kind of vulnerability to the world, which I think is important in how my practice kind of talks about vulnerability is using that as a tool for understanding of how that body exists within these kind of semi-public semi-private spaces. But the brilliant thing of working with like that 20 different kinds of people, has also meant that with that support with the funding, that I’ve actually been able to inject I think around $16,000 back into the creative ecology, which, like, is insane for a sole trader, I think and same for an artist, and I don’t know when it will happen again. But like, I think it just is much about care as what you actually see in the work is being able to support people not only through empathy, as I’ve spoken about throughout the conversation but like also actually being able to follow that back up with here’s some money that I appreciate what you’ve done for me and how you’ve kind of engaged with this.

Steph 43:34
Brilliant through and through. noone can see the finger-guns you just did – the beauty of a podcast!

Steph 43:52
Ok Henry you’re being very vulnerable in letting me throw you some questions you haven’t prepared for Yeah, what’s been your favorite moments of someone else experiencing your work? If there is one.

Henry Wolff 44:08
I think that the the one that probably, it’s happened a couple of times, but the one that hits home the most is when somebody tells you that they’ve nearly started crying or they have cried at your work. And like I remember, I won’t say any names or anything like that, but like I remember somebody reaching out to me through social media to say that when I did sibling and release that and the first time around that, like they said, I don’t even have a sibling, but I started crying when I watched that work, which that I think is is it like it’s something that cannot you can’t anticipate at all. And I think that’s the other wonderful thing about how people engage with your work, particularly when you put so much kind of, of yourself into them that like you got to be ready for so many different kinds of perspectives. The weirdest, the wackiest one that I’ve had, it was a dude came up to me in the middle of the gallery when. And it was actually again in response to ‘Sibling’ but he was like, ‘Oh my god, I thought you were gonna get crucified!’ And I was like, in what world? where are you coming from? Like, I think it’s this beautiful thing as well. But like, we all carry so much… we’re such meaning-making machines that like, we really carry like so much to work and like, especially I think with my practice where it does leave so much space for interpretation that the mind can obviously wander…

Steph 45:42
yeah, a lot of takes, a lot of different takes. Well there you go. Well, I almost feel like I should wrap this up so I can let you get back into it because that’s a full plate. But I’m really looking forward to seeing the work as part of SALA and I hope that everyone gets to check it out. It’ll be online, so there’s no reason not to. Well, thank you, Henry. It’s been a delight.

Henry Wolff 46:07
Thank you Steph, it’s always good to chat with you.