You are delicate enough, you are strong enough, 1510 x 2020mm, pastel, charcoal, graphite on paper, 2016
It is 3 weeks into Covid 19 lockdown in Aotearoa New Zealand. And I am thinking, as I often do, about the places that art can occupy. And what it’s for. There is a lot of amazing things happening online: galleries showing how people wear their favourite jewellery, or tours of galleries, or artist studios. I don’t really have any great ideas yet about my work operating online. What is stimulating my imagination, is thinking about our humble fence. It is the part of our home that faces onto the road. It is the in-between. It is the place that all these people who I’ve never seen before walk past, in their bubbles.
I don’t know what to do with it yet, or if I will do anything. My partner and I talk about painting it a bright colour, leaving messages, offering connection outward. I was talking to everyone on my daily walks (from a safe distance) until recently. Then I heard that we aren’t supposed to do that. People started keeping their dogs on leads, in case they transmit the virus. I find this increasing lack of physical connection tiring; it saps me of energy and motivation.
It’s been a while since I made a big installation, but when I do, they use structures that already exist, and local materials, and things I’ve collected, to talk about different ways of being here. Often of shelter, protection, and different kinds of spaces that we might build for ourselves. Ideas are mere threads at the moment, but I did collect and trim some branches that started to feel like a boat. Our tree is shedding its leaves. It’s autumn, and our pumpkins are orange. I remembered harvest festivals from when I was a child. Offerings and plaited bread and piles of vegetables, to say thank-you. Sculpture has lots of functions, and lots of different names.
I am wondering what I should do, and listening for small messages. Meanwhile, I rake the leaves, I mulch the beds, I lie upon the earth and try to let go.
I let the memories come, of things I have built, and the reasons and spaces they lived in for a while. The conversations they started, because they were in public space. The shared language of sketch books, when we had no words in common. The conversations that begin from questions, because the thing being built is not a building, but it reminds this person of something they built, or wanted to. The making, the re-making. The imagination that allows us to build anew, to make new connections. To not be limited to the spaces inside; the ones we thought were the ones that mattered.
‘Witch Stick’, paint, wood, fabric, sequins, glitter,2018.
These small pieces are made from a myriad of materials collected and worked with over years. In my mfa a lecturer commented that’s there’s a kind of ‘patina’ to my sculptures. I think of that patina as also energetic, the layers of making, effort and feeling. The patina is what is woven into the objects that go live with someone else, and I imagine those qualities unfolding for them wherever they hang the piece. #witchsticks #sculpture #siantorrington #process
This is the work I got reminded of this week:”How you have held things”, commissioned by Christchurch Art Gallery as part of their Outer Spaces project while the gallery was closed after the earthquakes.
It was a moment when I really realised (got told) how much art still matters, even after such a traumatic event. I built it with a team of installers, on a site where a house had been taken away. I listened to people’s stories: the earth became liquid, everything smashed. I looked at the ways buildings were being held up:by scaffolds, wooden towers of effort to retain part of what had been a home. Because a part still connects us to the whole.
Christchurch cathedral is lit up at the moment at night, to signify that work on it is coming. It is broken, beautiful, shining and being held up. We are so fragile and strong, just like this.
I worried while I built this work, in the snow and mud, that it was too messy (always messy). That it is not a bronze-is it what people want here?
At the opening, people hugged me, and cried, and said ‘you got it’, ‘that’s just what it was like.’ they told me things I’ve never forgotten. They showed me that yes, we are messy, and beautiful too, and being seen like that and honoured in our beauty and brokenness, is worth it.
This week I’ve had some affirming conversations with wonderful installers and curators I’ve worked with on past projects. Affirming because they have helped me to resee the connections between my community engagement work, storytelling, sculpture, and empathetic listening. The alchemy of being a channel for individual and community stories. And going big! To celebrate the forging of connections I’m gonna post some big installation works this week and share the stories of them.
This is “Soft is stronger than hard” at City Gallery in 2010,the year I graduated with my mfa. It was looking at the spaces that are not usually noticed, the spaces where the gallery is working hard. It maintains temperature, lighting, and structure, in unnoticed ceilings. This work brought attention to those and the effort that goes into maintenance, as the effort that goes into our own maintenance of a ‘public face’. The complexity and mess colour and wilderness that is the living energy behind, above, inside us,as well as our buildings.
These drawings are a suite of images drawn from photographs taken by Ann Shelton in the 1990’s of the queer Devotion parties in Wellington. Big, extravagant dance parties, when space was still cheap! I’m inspired by the home made costumes, full sized horse carousel, and the big reminder that dancing and celebrating are an essential part of our shared culture. These pieces are available from the studio, and I will donate 20% of sales to Outerspaces – Te Kete o Te Kahui- the umbrella group for Naming NZ, School’s Out, and Tranzform.
I’m known as many things, and one of them is ‘The one with the colourful hair.” That hair has been created by Gale Walker, at Just Teasing, for the last 15 years. We met when I arrived at the gallery to be told that 5 of my artworks had been bought by the same person. I had to meet her! They were assemblage works, kind of votive pieces, built around images of Friday Kahlo. I was discovering how to use assemblage, layering, a thousand pieces to build up a whole that was intricate and colourful.
I found Gale in her salon, had a hair cut, and we’ve been friends ever since. She’s a wonderful Wellington character, moving here at a time when she says ‘Everything felt possible.’ She has certainly made things feel more possible for me, especially through her dedication to beauty as a life enriching element. Artists don’t always have money, but my one non-negotiable all these years, has been my hair. I go into her salon, all minty green, soft pinks, and welcome. And have an experience of beauty and treats. I always come out energised, and feeling more hopeful.
Gale commissioned a large window piece from me when she moved to her new salon on Willis St six years ago. It’s still there, made from lace, glitter, pieces of fabric, beads and pattern.
This year, it is 25 years since Gale opened the salon, and she celebrated with a wonderful party, a slide show of Cuba St and all the great haircuts, and 8 new commissioned pieces, crowning the mirrors. For me, it was a reaching back into a previous art making style, while bringing all the learning I’ve done in between. These pieces are always based on a wallpaper, which then becomes the framework for embellishment and, of course, beauty.
It’s been such a pleasure making these pieces. I particularly love commissions when they are made for a specific space – listening to the dreams and needs of the client, and figuring out how to create for that particular place. These are being well loved so far, and if you’re inspired to bring beauty to your place, get in touch! Always interested to talk and share ideas…
Studio Outings is a new concept in exhibiting that I’ve been building up to over the last couple of years. I’ve been trying to find the thread that joins everything together. Ever since I began making art, I have been interested in what allows us to do it, what is hard about it, what is easy? Many of us think we are no good at it, or believe only some people are good at it. I began making art as an adult in an old church in Naenae, where I built myself a studio space in which I decided everything was allowed. All feelings, all expression, all attempts. This felt like the only way I could carve out enough space to just try things out, fail, and try again. So began my explorations into creative practice.
Since then, I have made all sorts of things, some of which I love, and some of which really challenge me! But they all come from my experiences, my body, and what I am capable of that day, with the resources I have. So my job as an artist is to let them come through, and work to accept them, just the way they are.
So I’ve begun to think of creative practice as a combination of learning skills, but more importantly, creating safe and encouraging space for whatever comes out, and then getting to know it.
This is the sentence I came up with:
When I say I’m an artist, people often say “Oh how lovely!” Like it’s a really pleasurable, relaxing thing to do. And sometimes it is! But lots of times it’s a battle against all the voices that have told us that what we are making isn’t good enough, doesn’t look how it’s supposed to, or like everyone else’s work. But what if what you have to say is valuable, just because it’s your own unique way of seeing and saying it? If only we could get it out, past the inner critic /s.
The way I make things is playful, experimental. I try my best to loosen up, to be curious and not fearful, to see what is here, to engage with materials, people, stories and spaces. The things I make are often complex, interwoven, and ‘messy’. This is how I experience the world, as lots of things that are all true at once. I try to put those things together on the same page, in acknowledgement that life is complex, messy and beautiful.
Studio Outings is a format where I regularly invite you in, to see how I make things, and how I work to facilitate other peoples’ creative ways of thinking and making things too:
I want to share the work I make, and I hear from people how much they love living with it. One recent buyer shard how she sees her piece as the space between dream and reality, and lies in bed gazing at it, reflecting on the softness and mystery there.
So Studio Outings will continue to exhibit my work, with opportunities to buy pieces to live with. I’m collaborating on this with the wonderful Margie Beattie, who is helping me to connect my work with people who’d like to adopt a piece.
Studio Outings also offer opportunities to get closer, with this one including visits up to my work space, which people really enjoyed!
I want to share not just the art I make, but also the methods I use, and what I’ve learnt about how to think creatively. I mapped out the story of everything I do, including classes, team building, storytelling, and service design.
Here’s some of what people say about engaging with the methods I share:
“You are teaching us to be able to deal with change.”
“We Don’t Have To Be the Building has been a reflective and cathartic experience which has given voice to those who were, and often still are, silenced.” Project participant
“As policy makers we often don’t see the people we make policy for. You have really brought their stories to life, bringing them into the room. It’s challenging to see them, and we need this challenge, we need to see them.” Ministry for Primary Industries
What I have learnt in over a decade of creative practice, community engagement, teaching, and sharing people’s stories through workshops, drawing, and public art, is that it’s hard to find out and express what we think, feel and experience. But only by doing so, can we create the kind of workplaces, homes, and society that we want to live in. We have to be able to hear each other, have empathy, and figure things out with everyone’s voices being heard. I can help with that!
The next Studio Outing is in July, and focuses on classes, but in the meantime, talk to me about how I can work with you!
Book me for:
Telling stories with impact using context specific language, and visual elements drawn directly from the people whose stories you need to tell.
Team building that builds strong connections across your whole team.
Capability building workshops in customer centric thinking, design thinking and problem solving.
Service design that finds and fixes the real problems.
Customer consultation through empathy interviews and community engagement, bringing you insights that will help you work more effectively.
Find out more about my classes here:
And here’s my LinkedIn profile: