In the lead up to Open Studio Night on Tuesday 4 April, resident artists Danielle Reynolds (VIC) and Jenn Garland (WA) caught up to interview one another about their influences and respective arts practices.
DR | How do you think your work as a social scientist informs and contributes to your art practice?
JG | I think essentially both my science and art come from the same place. They’re both driven by curiosity, and concern about what the future holds in terms of our relationship to the environment. I was involved in some interesting research with an applied mathematician to measure the different ways people think about the future and metaphorically understand nature. Despite the thematic similarities, my art is really a reaction against scientific paradigm. In science there’s the assumption that research and researchers are logical, neutral, and objective. This means the issues of morality and values are often deliberately ignored or overlooked. Abstract concepts are also often excluded from science, such as being, knowing, and identity. In my art I embrace subjectivity and things that can’t be logically known. I try to find a space between sorcery and science-fiction. Instead of ignoring human contradictions and our dark conflicted drives, i deliberately seek them out. I use art to ask questions rather than trying to find answers.
JG | How would you describe your approach to the making process?
DR | Your last statement about using art to ask questions rather than trying to find answers is also really fundamental in my own practice and approach to making. I’m very interested in ways of working that don’t necessarily comply with traditional ‘success models’ of which knowledge accrual is a big one. For me, my approach to making draws on ‘not knowing’ as a tactic I use in the studio. I always start work from a position of questioning, the questions change but the approach is consistently open and malleable.
DR | So what kind of questions do you ask when making your work?
JG | There are two parts to this. There are conceptual questions, and those about the physical process. All of my work is driven by the same basic conceptual questions. For instance, why are we attracted to danger and destruction? Or at least, why do I find myself so drawn to things I’m terrified of? What is our relationship with the natural environment? How does the relationship reflect our past(s) and influence our future(s)? In terms of the physical process I ask myself: How much abstraction is needed to be open-ended but still suggestive? What experimental processes can introduce chaos and disorder (like oxidisation, melting, decaying, corroding etc)? what forms are evocative? And what do I actually enjoy making? I enjoy making detailed, precise and labour intensive work but balance this with processes that are random or uncontrollable.
JG | I’m really interested in your tactic of challenging dominant ideas about knowledge and success. What drives your interest in this?
DR | Well I’ve always been drawn to working in this way (‘not knowing’, open questioning) and throughout my honours year I was able to begin to understand and articulate that there is a connection between this way of working and my queer identity. In Queer Art of Failure, Jack Halberstam (queer theorist) discusses how forgetting, losing and looping can all be seen as modes of alternative operation to heteronormative structures. Essentially, rather than working in a way that operates vertically (“onwards and upwards”) I use strategies like ‘not knowing’ that embrace a more lateral direction.
DR | I was going to ask you about ethics in art practice and how you navigate that personally, and then I considered the recent example of the Whitney Biennial. Have you read Hannah Black’s open letter about this? What do you think we, as artists need to learn from this?
JG | To me the incident highlights the need for critical reflection about how to address what Hannah Black described as the “barbaric realities of racial and gendered violence on which our lives are founded” without translating the suffering of oppressed or marginalised “into profit and fun”. The challenge is to acknowledge the privileges accorded to us by intersecting social identities, without reinforcing power hierarchies or risking appropriation. This is an ongoing challenge for me because I don’t think it’s possible to investigate the natural environment without addressing colonialism. Recently I’ve been focusing on a gendered rereading of landscape, drawing on eco-feminism. But just as I connect the destruction of the environment to gendered violence, I see the connection to violence against Indigenous people. This is particularly relevant in Australia, but difficult for white artists to deal with.
JG | It’s a good question, how do you approach the issue of ethics and responsibility within the arts?
DR | Yeah, there are a lot problematic ways that a range of ethical issues are dealt with: either disregarding reality entirely; acting as an authority; OR directly tackling issues experienced by marginalised people (outside one’s own experience) and profiting off doing so. Approaching ethics and responsibility in my own practice, I try to always think about what my work might be doing or saying that could be/is problematic due to my own ignorance and privileges. Mostly I try to constantly stop and ask myself “what is this doing, what is this saying and who I am I talking for or over by saying it.” I guess self-awareness, self-evaluation and self-criticism are pretty crucial in the process of making, because as this example reiterates, the system is so geared towards favouring and commending the voice of white artists, that the responsibility is on us to be accountable to our work – and the meaning it generates – in its formative stages.
Join Danielle and Jenn at Open Studio Night to hear more about their art development and practice. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org or book in person at Box Office