How would you describe your artistic practice?
Experimental and interdisciplinary. In addition to being an artist, I also work in cognitive neuroscience research. I have always had an interest in science and I approach art from a similar perspective to the way in which I approach my scientific research. I take an idea or a hypothesis and I research the background of that idea. Whether it be scientific, cultural, emotional or artistic technique, then construct a method for experimenting with or testing concepts and technique, and work through the experimental process by seeing what works, what doesn’t. From that point I can then ask why doesn’t it work, what could work better and come up with new hypotheses to start researching again to see what other methods have been used that did work and how I can build on those or create new methods drawing on concepts from other disciplines. Particularly at the moment I’m drawing on techniques from medicine, surgery, hand-crafts, sound, and lighting. It sounds like a very clinical process, but it’s actually quite intuitive and I think having learnt a lot personally about each discipline from doing cross-disciplinary work, is that both art and science can learn a lot from each other. I think I’ve become a better, more structured, methodical artist since studying science, but my experiments are very expressive and intuitive which draws on my artistic background. And I think that science could learn a lot about not being so rigid and focused on building on and replication for publishing literature in one specific area that thousands of people are working on, rather than drawing on various common points of reference from many different disciplines, seeing those potential connections and thinking outside of the box to come up with novel research theories, from looking at the way artists and other creative people view the world.

I also am pretty focused on female empowerment in some of my more illustrative works. Again drawing on medical theory to reconstruct the deconstructed image of what makes a beautiful woman.


Artist Studio Sydney by Create or Die with Artist Tanya Duckworth

What revives your creative spirit?
Music! Science might be the skeletal structure that I build my art around, but music its soul. Playing music with friends, just being around live music, listening to music while I’m working, it’s like my meditation. I don’t think I could survive without music. Between art and music, they are my therapy and can either ground me or elevate me, or both. I’m classically trained in piano, but last year I started teaching myself guitar and took some Taiko classes, and I feel like it has really freed me musically from my classical training. I’ve found a whole new outlet in guitar and drumming. I mainly learnt guitar so I’d have something to sing along to, although it’s actually freed me to get a bit more adventurous with piano.

Tanya Duckwork artist at Create or Die

What makes you keep going?
Why would I want to stop? If you love your work, there’s no reason to think about stopping, you keep going because it’s what propels you. I can’t imagine ever not making art, or music, or wanting to learn more about the brain. Someone asked me the other day “what do you think you would want to do when you retire?” I was puzzled…I’ve never thought about retirement.
My retirement plan is to become a human rights lawyer haha…but still work in art and neuroscience!


Olfactory Neuron Design

What is the last dream you remember?
Ooo! That’s a good one, because it’s still so vivid and I have already started making an illustrated book out of it. I was seeing this guy for most of last year, he seemed like the most amazing person on the planet, and as it happened, he had adoring female fans all over the world. I was his “Sydney” girlfriend. I had this dream a couple of weeks ago that I was with him on a date, he had these incredible ethereal aqua blue eyes, and he took me into a room that looked like an old Professors office at his work, it was so vivid. There were all these beautiful books on the floor to ceiling shelves, antique wooden desks and furniture, warm and dimly lit lamps, a little old elegantly carved upright piano in the corner. At the back of the room to the right, was a shiny black door. We sat down on an old velvet couch and he gave me a cocktail and we started chatting about science, laughing etc. As I was drinking and laughing, his form began to change. His previously long elegant pianist hands, became sharp and claw-like, and his laugh became an echo in my mind. I felt myself growing tired, and I couldn’t hear his words anymore, but I could still see his mouth moving and a smile that was more like a self-satisfied grin. His eyes started bulging, and by this point I was feeling very tired. He took my hand and led me to the black door. When he opened it, it was a lab, and on the shelves, were jars with what looked through my blurred vision like dolls. He started touching my face and I felt as though I was getting smaller and smaller just being in his presence, in that room. I was physically shrinking, and I could feel my brain dissolving, getting smaller. I woke up at that point with a headache, but when I woke up I realised that the dolls weren’t dolls, they were women! Each of his women, a specimen from every corner of the globe. Shrunken women in jars, being collected on the shelf in the lab. I’ve had a lot of dreams like this in the past few months, so I’ve been creating a visual journal to turn into a body of work and a picture book.

Tanya Duckworth artist at Create or Die

What advice would you give an artist changing from one medium to another?
Go for it! I change my mediums all the time. I started out as a commercial photographer, then did a lot of figurative and portraiture work both in photography and painting, I progressed that into experimental photography using chemistry, light and photographic emulsions to create biological forms in the darkroom. My work then evolved into expressive paintings using sculptural mixed media, and now I work with hand stitched paper sculpture! I think you really grow as an artist when you experiment with different mediums. I think the key to changing mediums is to just experiment a lot, ask advice from other artists who are experienced in that medium. Research, experiment; repeat.

Do you have any rituals?
Creatively or in general? I try to do 20-mins of yoga when I wake up and before bed, and I just don’t feel as good during the day if I miss that. I’ve been really slack this past 6-months and it’s starting to take its toll on my stress levels. I don’t really have any creative rituals, but I probably should have…I’m a bit of a compulsive list maker, does that count? I suppose I keep a journal by my bed because often I wake up in the middle of the night to jot down ideas or sketches or poems.

What are your creative outlets?
Art, music and dance too. I really want to get back into some dance classes this year.

What is the hardest thing about your practice?
Time! Trying to balance work, research and studying with being a practicing artist is challenging. I also tend to get most creative at night, which doesn’t fit well with regular work hours, so generally my sleep suffers. Coffee is my best friend.


Tanya Duckworth

If money were no object, what would you do?
Travel and seek out PhD and research opportunities overseas, both in neuroscience and art.
I would still want to work in neuroscience, but I’d have more freedom to work on my own projects, meet with international researchers and attend conferences. I’d also be able to do more international residencies…just seek out inspiration in nature and other cultures. I think really, it would just allow me the time and freedom to do exactly what I want to do both scientifically and creatively, rather than work on projects that pay the bills. It would also allow me to set up not for profit projects that use creative therapies to help people recover from trauma and see how well those projects work in different cultures and environments both locally and globally.

What do you see yourself doing, when you are say… 50?
I’d like to be exhibiting more frequently by that point, with more international connections. Hopefully lecturing and working as a Professor somewhere, sharing ideas and helping others to discover the fascinating interjection of theories while working in the newly evolving field of interdisciplinary arts and sciences!


Tanya Duckworth artist at Create or Die

What are you currently working on / what’s coming up for you?
At the moment I’m working on expanding my sculptural neural network based on the neurobiology of love and heartbreak-withdrawal. I have made a couple of prototype neurons and I’d like to make a large scale neural network that spans the ceiling of a gallery incorporating elements of light, sound and scent. The concept focuses on love as an addictive neurobiological drive, and heartbreak as a physiological withdrawal process rather than an emotional grieving process. I’m heading to New York in April to present my research on this topic across both art and neuroscience at an interdisciplinary conference called Double Dialogues, and then publish some of the research behind the artwork.

What does “Create or Die” mean to you?
Create or Die has really become about community to me. The network of people I have met since being a resident has just been so supportive and inspiring. This residency has really reinvigorated my dedication to my art. I live to create and creativity is my personal therapy that gets me through the tough times in my life. It’s why I chose to focus my research on examining the neurobiological aspects of art and creativity in healing. I think for creative people; it really is what we live for. I’d like to be able to bring that to people who are struggling to find purpose in life, particularly after experiencing trauma.

Tanya Duckworth_Create or Die Artist