I grew up in Wanganui, New Zealand as part of a busy creative family, and always knew I would work in a creative industry. From about seven I had decided that I would be an architect, like my dad, and I never really gave it much thought after that. I was very busy growing up, always creating things, designing costumes, dancing, and making art. There were big discussions going on around me about where I would end up but I was always adamant, I was going to be an architect.
I had a very romantic idea of what architecture was, about the relationship of the body to space, and how the built environment could positively contribute to the lives of those who inhabited it. Architecture filled my life while I was studying it and I didn’t give myself time to reflect on whether or not it was a good fit until I’d already finished my second year. I went on a wonderful summer road trip around the south island of New Zealand by myself and figured out a lot of stuff about myself. I went straight back to university when I got back but only a few months later I knew for sure that architecture wasn’t for me, I was halfway through a five year degree and just couldn’t keep going with something that fit so poorly. So I left, and worked for a while.
Whenever I thought about what I wanted to do it was fairly boundless, I wanted to make things, costumes, environments, objects, to perform and interact with people, and to frame the world in a way that might reveal something new, or help someone understand something about themselves or the environment around them.
After eighteen months of standing still and thinking about what was important to me, I realised I was going to be an artist.
Tell us about your main influences in Art growing up?
I come from a family of very strong and supportive creative people, especially the women, and I often say that my family raised me to be an artist.
My mum taught me to love the possibilities of cloth very early on. She had this huge box of fabric and I used to get inside it and just sit with the cloth all around me, feeling the different textures. She made most of my clothes and let me wear whatever I wanted – even the crazy clothes I had designed myself. It was a lot of fun. My dad passed away when I was a toddler and my mums family is really close so I spent a lot of time with them growing up as well.
My aunties and grandmother taught me how to dye, card, felt, and spin wool, they taught me to knit, and weave, there was always something creative going on, one day we even did paper making and marbling in my aunts kitchen. At some point they all got into book binding and one weekend I went with my aunt and grandmother to a local artists book binding retreat at an old convent in Jerusalem, NZ. For two days we made paper from silk, embroidered and painted, folded pages, and finally stitched our books together.
When I think back on the times I spent doing creative things with these four women I realise how much they shaped who I am. They showed me the power of creativity and community, and that women are strong and can do anything. Especially my mum – she always said that there are no jobs that you need a man for. As well as teaching me how to sew, she taught me how to build things, to use power tools, measure up, how to patch walls, and also about demolition. Being able to do all these super practical things is very liberating.
Why did you choose to study overseas?
I didn’t really choose to study overseas as much as I chose to study at UNSW Art and Design. I went to quite a few open days for art schools at home and the only one that really resonated with me was in my hometown. As much as I love Wanganui I wasn’t ready to move back so started looking at other options. I did some research and then came to Sydney with my mum for the open day. I nearly didn’t get to see the school because it was under construction, luckily one of the A&D tutors recognised a fellow kiwi and showed me around. I just felt so comfortable walking around the campus- it felt right so I went with it. I arrived in Sydney, not knowing whether or not I was in because the university acceptance announcement hadn’t been made yet. It was published in the paper the day I arrived which was pretty cool!
Is the Australian art community/scene different to NZ?
I think they are pretty similar really; the art scene varies so much from place to place in New Zealand, but everywhere has some sort of arts community and you can find amazing stuff in the strangest places. People are more spread out at home and there are fewer of us, so the number of exhibitions and events is slightly less overwhelming than in Sydney but there is a lot of support for the arts and there are creative people everywhere. I haven’t had a lot of experience with the greater Australian art scene so far, but I imagine that it varies slightly from place to place much like New Zealand.
How would you describe your art practice?
I create interactive large-scale installation, performance and soft sculpture works that are activated through touch and play. I often use textile materials within my work, which I developed an affinity with early in life, they have a seductive sensuous quality and I find that often people cannot resist touching them. It is important to me that my works have a haptic quality because so much can be communicated through texture, softness, and feel.
I think that art has the ability to shape peoples perception and understanding of complex issues more effectively than any other communication device. There are many things in the world that need to be experienced to be truly known. In my practice I use art as a vehicle for this experience to take place, exploring themes that can be difficult to relate to, such as the subjective experience of mental illness.
Has it evolved since you started studying?
Definitely! Before I went to art school I would get stuck on the art vs craft fence, I was always creative but I felt like there were certain materials that I wasn’t really supposed to use to make art. Like glitter, one of my art teachers at school hated glitter he said it was for crafts and had no place in the art world. So when I wanted to make something glittery I felt like I couldn’t. Art school has really opened me up to the idea that any material, method, or process can be used to make art. I am much more comfortable with my art making now, and my practice is more me (glitter and all).
What’s coming up next for you?
I’m just embarking on a really busy period of exhibitions, which is exciting. I am part of a collective called Show Us Your Teeth with Amy Mills, Kate Bobis, and Monica Rudhar, and we are curating Waitlisted a group show at Create or Die between the 1st and 4th of October. We will be performing a new piece together for the opening night, and one of my interactive soft sculpture works will be on display there too. Toward the end of October I will be presenting works on body image at Kudos Gallery, Paddington for a show with four other women artists in the textiles field. The Body Politik is open from the 27th of October until the 7th of November.
I’m also in the process of creating new works for a group show of third year sculpture students happening at the end of the year at Airspace in Marrickville.
Catch me this week between 11-14th of September (6-8pm) at Randwick Environment Park where I will be performing for Nox, a light and sculpture walk.
Where do you see yourself after you finish studying?
Ultimately I see myself moving home to set up a studio where I can practice, run workshops, and collaborate with other artists. I miss the ruggedness of New Zealand and the way that you can be in the country one moment, and in the city the next. I don’t really have a timeframe for setting up a permanent studio though – I would like to do an international residency after I graduate and could also see myself doing a series of local residencies in remote communities within Australia and New Zealand.
It is important to me to share my creative knowledge; particularly craft based traditions, as I am aware of how much they can enrich the lives of those that practice them. For this reason I plan to supplement my arts practice through teaching, but as yet haven’t decided whether that will be through artist’s workshops, or at an institution.