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    Australian women in art: Emily Floyd

    emily floyd

    By Annette Wagner

    Emily Floyd’s work needs little introduction, and for some EastLink Melbourne commuters, you’re lucky to appreciate a glimpse of her almost symbolic signage work daily with her public art installation of an enormous black iron bird and yellow worm (Titled: Public Art Strategy, 2008).

    Read into that what you will as this is exactly Emily’s point. Her work is an ongoing investigation into texts, typography, literature and ideologies.

    Honestly, it’s not often you get the opportunity to ask questions of someone who’s work you admire tremendously, and while I’ve been enamored and thrilled with the depth of Emily’s responses, I’m not surprised. Her bold and colourful work provokes discussions about design, cultural and political ideas, and provides spaces for social interaction and community engagement that I’m pleased to say even my own children enjoy.

    Emily graduated in sculpture at RMIT University in 1999 and has exhibited widely since, including Heide Museum of Modern Art Melbourne, Monash University Museum of Art Melbourne, MCA Sydney, Anna Schwartz Gallery Melbourne, Dundee Contemporary Arts Scotland, Seven Art Limited New Delhi, NGV Melbourne, and Queensland Art Gallery Brisbane. She has multiple awards, completed public sculpture commissions, and is held in major collections nationally and internationally, including the V&A Museum in London.

    In my Q&A with Emily, she reminds us that it can be a big step to say ‘I’m an artist’, that turning off technology can be liberating and analogue methodologies are considered the new avant-garde. A response that resonated most with me was “…success for all artists is about making better work and achieving a connection to an audience, no matter how small”.

    Emily Floyd. Photograph by Sean Fennessey. Courtesy of The Design Files.  (1)
    Emily Floyd. Photograph by Sean Fennessey. Courtesy of The Design Files.

    Growing up with makers, then studying graphic design, before focusing on sculpture, all evidently contribute to your exploration in contemporary art. How long did it take you to realise you were destined to be an artist, and build the confidence to commit wholeheartedly, create and exhibit your own work? 

    I started exhibiting formally in my final year of art school, although I have always made artworks and experimented with different modes of display. My grandmother made wooden block sets in our family’s toy workshop in Melbourne when I was growing up, she would never have thought of herself as an artist but had an excellent ability for abstract composition. I enjoyed assisting her to do this work and it helped me develop the skills I use today. My first exhibition was a collaborative project at an artist run space in Melbourne’s Nicholas Building called Talk, that was in 1999 and I was 26 years old. It can feel like a big step to say “I’man artist” and something that some women find pretentious or confronting, for me the decision and confidence has been cumulative.

    Lecturing in Fine Art at Monash University, you noted that today students have grown up with the internet, and are not just interested in one discipline. It is evident that you yourself are comfortable with the fusion of ideas and processes, working with many different materials in sculpture, and printing, to name a few mediums you explore. Do you have a preferred medium or material to work with? If so, why and how does this engage your imagination and abstract thoughts? 

    This year I’ve been making a wooden sculpture and block-print installation for an exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney called Telling Tales: Excursion in Narrative form, curated by Rachel Kent. I’ve made hand carved letterpress typography using cyrillic fonts developed at the Moscow based institute “Polygraphmash: Laboratory of Special Graphic Forms.”  Following the fall of the Soviet Union in the 1990s, type designer Lyubov Kuznetsova digitised the Polygraphmash font archive as an online resource, it has been amazing to research and work with the typographic legacy she assembled, including font books by mid century book designers Solomon Telingater and Galina Bannikova.

    Your work, especially public sculptures, explore many references to font and colour, shape and size, material and movement. How important to you is interaction and the process of engagement with your work? 

    The process of engagement is the moment when art enters life, so it’s very important. Participatory art can have a social function when integrated with other strategies, including research and media communication. I try to make objects and situations that facilitate direct engagement for an audience, for example a forthcoming hands-on typography workshop at the MCA makes the proposition that design can exist in support of political and social change.

    I’m also mindful we’ve come to expect a great deal of spectacle, movement and direct participation from contemporary art, but active engagement can also involve a quiet afternoon wandering through a museum or cultural space, reflecting on diverse ideas and forms that are discovered rather than overly presented, it’s a fine balance and I would hope that art offers an alternative to the relentless engagement of Capitalist junk space.

    Floyd_venice2
    Emily Floyd’s ‘Labour Garden’, 2015. Installation view ‘All The World’s Futures’, 56th International Art Exhibition, Biennale di Venezia, Venice, 2015. (Courtesy of the artist and Anna Schwartz Gallery).

    With references to Dada, Bauhaus, Russian Constructivist, and folk culture, your work demonstrates your passionate research and the exploration of contemporary social, cultural and political ideas. How do you see new technologies enabling your work and facilitating the translation of our culture today? 

    I usually begin in the studio with analogue methodologies because it helps me to think things through in a material way: reading, writing, cutting out objects, printing and collaging different images. The turn away from digital technology can be liberating, I am finding students and young artists who have grown up with digital technology often view analogue systems as a new avant-garde, which is interesting. Once I have worked something out by hand though, I’m happy to leave Middle Earth and work with new technologies. In the studio we use laser-cutting and CNC routing processes, 3D printing and modelling, graphics software, ink jet printing and scanning, a lot of cut and paste.

    As an Australian Woman in Art, and beyond the specific political and ideological issues involved in the subjection of women, what does success really mean and how has it been achieved so far for you here in Australia?

    Contemporary cultural institutions present a kind of democratic ‘balance of power’ so the fact that Australian and International museum collections are full of artworks made by white, male artists makes an unprecedented opportunity for women artists, we can offer a counter position, what they call the ‘feminine multitude’.

    I feel extremely fortunate to be working in this time because I know how difficult it has been for previous generations to find a voice. Success for all artists is about making better work and achieving a connection to an audience, no matter how small. I hope to have the opportunity to continue researching different approaches to language and my next step is a project exploring invented languages in the literary genre of Feminist Science Fiction.

    A good dose of statistics is always reassuring, two Feminist art blogs I love to read, both exploring ideas of success and failure in the art world, are Countesses and Natty Solo. As well as looking at the data they are brilliant artworks in their own right, affirming that by inventing new contexts, we can make our own success.

    Emily Floyd is represented by Anna Schwartz Gallery, who I would like to thank for their assistance in coordinating this interview.


    Posted by: Tess McCabe
    Categories: Interviews with Creative Women | Comments Off on Australian women in art: Emily Floyd
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    Creative blues: five common fears and how to beat them

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    By Emma Clark Gratton

    Working for yourself or passionately following a creative project requires a level of mental toughness and self-confidence that is hard to maintain. Dealing with rejection, financial challenges, working long hours with just yourself as taskmaster… all these things can build up until you are having an existential crisis before your morning coffee.

    To make it even more difficult, these days of stunning Insta feeds and #humblebragging tweets can feel that everyone else is kicking goals while you are still slogging away. The reality? Even Frida Kahlo and Gertrude Stein and Madonna have done crappy work, and spent days pottering around in their pyjamas eating toast and not producing much. The people who are at the top of their game aren’t talking about it on Facebook, they are simply doing the work.

    Here are some of the most common fears, self-doubting phrases and negative feelings that crop up, and how to deal with them.

    I don’t deserve this!

    You do. Whether you are taking the giant leap of quitting your day job, or simply ditching a family Game of Thrones marathon to dig out your old painting gear, all creative pursuits are worthwhile and valid. At the risk of sounding like an inspirational Instagram post, we only get one life, so why the hell wouldn’t you give it your best shot?

    It is not a matter of ‘deserving’ or ‘earning the right’ to be creative. You don’t need to justify it to anyone!

    But (insert name here) is already doing this waaaaay better than I can!

    You know the feeling: you’re feeling pretty good about yourself, chugging along on your creative projects,when a friend/colleague/stranger makes a big announcement. Perhaps they have an amazing book deal, or a huge solo exhibition, or they landed their dream creative job in Japan. You hug them and celebrate, but deep, deep down you feel a little stab of “Why not me? What is wrong with me? Do I suck?”

    Morrisey even wrote a song about it: “We hate it when our friends become successful”, which goes “You see, it should’ve been me / It could’ve been me / Everybody knows / Everybody says so.”

    This is a hard feeling. This feeling doesn’t make you a bad person (you can be genuinely happy for someone and still be slightly jealous at the same time), but it can be useful to examine that feeling further. Remind yourself of all the cool stuff you HAVE done, and the awesome things you are planning to do.  There is room for all of us, and there is plenty of work to go around.

     I don’t know what I’m doing!

    Want to know a secret? Nobody actually knows what he or she is doing. It is a total ruse! Making mistakes, failing spectacularly, and starting again is all part of life. There is nothing you can’t find help on, either online or by asking people who have done it before.

    When you are feeling overwhelmed and lost, try to cultivate a “what if?” attitude. Just try something that feels like a fairly good idea, then go from there. And remember, no one was born knowing how to code, or design, or knit. Learning new things is part of the fun!

    But this is too scary/hard/overwhelming!

    All the best things are scary. Sometimes, jumping in headfirst is the only way to give yourself the kick you need. But if you are feeling overwhelmed, then break the task down to the smallest component that you feel comfortable with. Want to start your own Etsy business but feeling totally overwhelmed? Just start by making a list of the kinds of thing you could sell. Take tiny, incremental steps towards your goal, then use the momentum to keep going.

    I’m too poor/lazy/busy!

    Well then, do what you can. Anything is better than nothing, right? Even the busiest working mother with multiple kids and a busy job can find time to crochet a few rows before bed, or scribble out her plans for starting a ceramics business. Work with what you’ve got. Heaps of resources and creative inspirations are free: go to the library and borrow art and business books, practice your floristry using blooms from your garden, or write your novel on your lunch break from your desk job.

     

    Generally, a good way to deal with these kinds of doubts is to allow yourself to fully experience the negative feeling, acknowledge it, and then get on with your day. Let the fear and negativity in, say hello to it, but don’t let it stop you from getting on with being awesome. A favourite quote of mine is “A garden grows where you water it”, which means the things you nurture and pay attention to are what will grow the fastest. This goes for thoughts and actions as well as gardens: prioritise your creative pursuits and see what happens.

    If you are genuinely struggling with anxiety, depression or feelings of overwhelm, I cannot stress the importance of talking to someone. Talk to your partner, your mum or a friend who gets it. Otherwise, seeing a counselor is an excellent way to sort out any issues in an objective way, and can help you get back on track. You don’t need to be in the depths of depression to seek professional help. In fact, seeking help when you are feeling good can help you handle the more serious emotions when times are tough.

     

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    Posted by: Emma Clark
    Categories: Advice and Tips, Finding Balance, Growing a Business, Starting a Business | Comments Off on Creative blues: five common fears and how to beat them