Can you talk a bit about your use of materials? Why did you use brown cardboard and blue adhesive vinyl?
The work is based on the signage we see in water related businesses so I wanted to develop a body of work that both resembled and somehow distinguished itself from this style. I sourced the blue adhesive vinyl from a local sign writer – it was easy to access and cheap. I am also a lot more comfortable with cutting than painting or drawing. Generally these signs are blue on a white background. The contrast between the glossy adhesive vinyl and the brown cardboard works well in this instance to distinguish the works from conventional signage. Also – I like the palette of brown and blue together.
In your statement for the show you mention. Previous works, such as Archipelago and Municipal City Baths do you see this work as an extension of those? Can you describe those works in more detail?
The exploration of ways to evoke the atmosphere of water without actually depicting water is a key concern in my practice. This has led to an interest in environments where humans interact with water like bathrooms and swimming pools. Municipal City Baths was a chalk line drawing at the Bluestone Building in Maribyrnong – here I mapped out the space as though it were a swimming pool. The use of chalk on concrete – these dusty, dry substances – formed a counterpoint to the materiality of water and so led the viewer to a consideration of the substance of the implied material. This work was a turning point for me because it gave me a sense of the connection between water (and by extension environments like swimming pools, baths etc) and the maternal. The empty swimming pool is a metaphor for many things but for me it is most redolent of the absent mother figure.
Archipelago was a frieze work, a drawing of islands. It is related to the Study for World Series in its evocation of lots of individual worlds that are connected to each other. The work was both drawing and collage in brown and green pencil on dot matrix printing paper. Again, there was no depiction of water, just the inference of water through the islands. Each island was gridded with small brown squares, as though densely populated. It grew from a series based on the dense geometric patternings to be found in aerial views of Melbourne.
Has water always been a focus in your practice?
Not so much water, but the absence of water has been a key focus. There have been other things too though – the house and its entrails as vehicles for landscape and portraiture are things I’m also interested in. I have also done a large body of work depicting legs – these stem also in a roundabout way from my fascination with water – let’s call it a mermaid complex and leave it at that for the moment.
Are the worlds and water motifs drawn from the commercial realm of water-related products and experiences? Or just an artistic interpretation?
Yes and no. The series kind of started off with direct references to recent water related businesses and motifs and then I decided that the designs in many of them are too busy (and complex). I was lucky enough to visit the Maritime Museum in Perth where I saw some old lobster boxes from the forties and fifties and I really preferred the simplicity of these designs (which I used for Tackle World). Towards the end of the series I started more free form references to abstract paintings that I like.
For me there is a kind of dark narrative that develops when looking at this work. These worlds seem volatile- they look fun and light hearted on the surface but then again if you swim you might sink- I don’t know if it’s just my reading of the series. Was this intentional?
I’m glad to hear you say that because yes, absolutely there is a dark narrative that actually has more to do with the travails of dealing with the art world than any water related enterprise. I did enjoy the play on words with the works (eg. Spa World – Spar World) and there is a decisive dip in the proceedings which leads to Drain World and Sink World. I tried to end things on a bit more of a positive note with Tackle World though. The Hook, Line and Sinker World at the end (without wanting to spell things out too much…) is a reference to the entirely farcical nature of the art world – the feeling that we’ve all fallen for a big hoax but there’s no easy way to escape. I think that’s the only world that’s not based on an actual enterprise. There really is a Tackle World, for example.
Can you tell me about the short story that accompanies this exhibition?
Louis Mason wrote the story for the exhibition. We had spoken previously a bit about different authors and Louis had recommended to me the fantastic article by David Foster Wallace about going on a cruise. When I invited him to write for the show, he came over and looked at the works and we had a general chat about the aesthetics of water related enterprises which led to a discussion of theme parks, subterranean worlds and again, David Foster Wallace. What resulted was a free form interpretative piece of writing that weaves in these shared interests. I would like to see more art writing like this – instead of advertorial puff pieces, works that are an independent aesthetic response. There are some great details in the story – like the white uniforms with emblazoned logos – that relate directly to the works in the show.
Any artists or works in particular that influenced this show or your practice in general?
The ubiquitous oeuvre of water related businesses was certainly influential and whilst people associate this kind of signage with areas close to beaches, it’s actually everywhere. I found a lot of interesting imagery at Richmond Baths and Brunswick Baths for this project.
Robert MacPherson is a key influence, particularly his early collaboration with a sign writer and then the later Mayfair series which is based on roadside signs. Also, it’s not easy to do a series of blue collages without thinking about Matisse’s decoupages – a show I would have dearly like to have seen last year at MOMA. Closer to home I like to look at the work of Rose Nolan, Lizzie Newman and Peter Atkins.
You are also a curator. Have you always worked as an artist and a curator simultaneously or is it something that you switch in between? Did you study both Fine Art and Curating or end up becoming one through studying the other?
I studied Art History at a time when the teaching was quite removed from the process of making – it was all masterpieces up on a slide show – totally romanticized. When this study led to work in a commercial gallery and to meeting practicing artists, there was a degree of frustration that led me to want to work independently. I have made my own artwork and curated exhibitions since 1996.
Because I haven’t been to art school I tend to look closely at the practices of the artists who I curate into exhibitions. This includes things like working methods, skills, studio set ups, time allocation, all sorts of things. I had a seven year break from making art because I struggled with the ethics of being a mother and having all these responsibilities and spending time to make art – now that I have a bit more time I am happy to be making work again. The distinction between my curatorial practice and artistic practice is that the former is compromised by the need to earn money.
Any upcoming projects that you’d like to share?
Yes, I’m looking forward to starting a new body of work called Blood, Sweat and Tears.