You are delicate enough, you are strong enough, 1510 x 2020mm, pastel, charcoal, graphite on paper, 2016
In 2017 I started teaching my own classes, in my own way. It’s really all about process, permission, and expression. I will teach you skills and techniques, but it’s more than that. It’s the privilege of being a guide for you to find you own way of drawing, through a series of guided exercises and experiments. I love it, and it feels like another part of my practice to develop the teaching I’ve been doing in a tertiary context for the last 7 years, into something that is much more Sian shaped. Interested? Get in touch because I’m running a range of classes this year. The first one is here:
Here’s some drawing from the last class…
And here’s some feedback:
“There was a LOT of ideas and methods covered that I’d never have thought of alone, and have been able to take at least a chunk of that away and apply to what I do away from the classes. I have attended beginner drawing classes before where I was shown techniques like measuring, line, value, etc, and that is all extremely important and valuable, and needs tons of practice (for me at least). What you put into this course was the part that turns mechanical lifeless drawings into something personal, something intimate, and eventually something of real value. That’s not possible to read in a book, no amount of words would cover it as well as 4 short sessions did, and I’m sure that is only the beginning. What worked for me was that the approach of this class was so different to others on offer.”
It is the last day of 2017 here in Aotearoa, New Zealand, and as usual, I am taking some time to reflect on this year. Usually I do this with pen and paper, but this year I thought I’d share it with you here.
It’s been a year of big change, with some serious illness (five bouts of flu) meaning a lot of time spent at home, thinking and developing new ways of working that aren’t quite so draining energetically. A lot of that has been drawing energy that I’ve been expending far outside of myself, back in; a process of gathering everything closer.
Body is a mighty teacher, and this year she has shown me that the support and appreciation I need will come through continuing to build a practice that brings people together in various ways through expressive art making. At the beginning of the year I spent a week inviting people to come and be drawn on one long 10 metre piece of paper at Toi Tu in Auckland. Conversations, relationships, connections…
This work was part of an exhibition that showed a range of works that I’ve been developing around intimacy, starting with drawing myself, then developing systems to support fully informed consent around other drawing other peoples’ stories and images. How to ask properly, respect and honour the gift of people letting you look, listen and be together.
My next project was to ritually let go of my role as a contract lecturer at Massey School of Fine Arts, where I have been for the last 7 years teaching drawing, sculpture and making processes. I wanted to honour the relationships I have valued, as well as give a significant gift to the students, particularly those grappling with issues around gender identity, cultural identity, and sexualities. The show ‘Te Aho Mano / A Thousand Strands, showed work from my Asia New Zealand residency in Bengaluru, India, as well as new work and collaborations with Anahera Gildea and Leilani A L’iga Pua. You can hear those here:
Anahera and I ran workshops where students and staff were invited to discuss what they are working on, what helps them to say what they need, and what holds them back. These conversations mainly focused on feminism and how we can stick together, as well as new models for critique.
Full disclosure and acknowledgement has been a theme for me for some time, and in the show I included my book collection of inspirational and foundational writers for me. I was delighted that the books were re-ordered every time I cam into the show, telling me that people were using the comfy seats and having a read.
I was determined to honour and finish We Don’t Have to Be The Building in 2017, which I did by taking the works to Auckland as posters with the help of Pride and Phantom Billstickers.
With the support of many of you pre-purchasing copies, I also made a publication about the project, including colour posters of the final work, lots of reflection on the process, and an essay by Ellie-Lee Duncan. Thank-you to everyone who made this possible, including Creative Communities funding and The Armstrong and Arthur Charitable Trust for Lesbians.
The publication was launched in November at the HELP fundraising exhibition, where I also spoke and showed works in support of the cause of supporting survivors of sexual violence. As part of the week I ran a drawing workshop upstairs at Thistle Hall where we used drawing to express some of our feelings and responses to the #metoo campaign.
As part of my work revolution, I’ve brought my teaching practice closer to my art practice, and begun teaching my own workshops. I was delighted to be funded by Toi Poneke to trial a six week Queer and Trans* drawing class, building community and creativity together.
The success of this told me to keep going, and two more rounds have been supported by Rainbow Wellington, one still to come in 2018!
I’ve also been teaching at Gordon Harris my Expressive Drawing class, which I will run again in 2018, along with Life drawing at Toi Poneke, and Where do you get your ideas from? Excuse the glare, all the drawings were proudly hung in the front window of the shop!
Some drawings found their homes with buyers, including these ones:
And some others featured in art awards around the country, including the Parkin Drawing Award;
So that’s some highlights! In 2018 I am looking forward to more teaching, developing new collaborative workshops and relationships. I will be working on some commissions, some exciting shows, and ways to keep sharing my practice. Happy new year, may it bring you everything you need.
This drawing was selected for the 2017 Parkin Drawing award, and is currently being exhibited at The Academy of Fine Arts on Wellington waterfront. All the finalists are here:
I did two interviews; one with Artists Alliance, one with Phantom Billstickers, about this project. Read more here:
With the help of GABA, Phantom Billstickers, Artist Alliance and Auckland City Council, we took all 16 works to Auckland as large scale posters that were installed in Silo 7 on the waterfront. It was an amazing experience to simply send a file to be printed rather than the usual carrying masses of drawings, sculptures and materials with me to install. Now I am wondering where else we could go……. here are some images.
My current project, ‘We don’t have to be the Building’, is exciting (and terrifying!) for me because it brings together my art making practice, writing, and community engagement, in a new form of research and public presentation.
I am looking at queer activism around Homosexual law Reform 30 years ago, and what queer activism is today. I’m looking for my own whakapapa through layers of written, drawn, and embodied history. Some of it is challenging, beautiful, sad and brave, and there’s still so much to fight for. I want to represent it all as a series of many truths all together, and they will be in the lightboxes on Courtenay Place from 1st August.
It’s a huge process. I am looking through the Lesbian and Gay archives, interviewing activists from then and now, drawing people, running hui, discussions and doing interviews. I’m generating both academic and what I’m calling embodied research – creating intimacy through korero and presence in drawing and making together across identities and generations.
Much of queer activism is based in telling our intimate stories, about our bodies, and our sexualities. It’s brave, challenging and vital work. This project will show some of my story, and those of others. It will weave together an assemblage of art making and writing not to create answers, but to offer diverse truths and experiences through drawing, collage, photography, and words.
Every part of this project is both an offer and a call out, to see who answers. I’m reaching out to my community, in all its diversity, fragmentation and glory. For a fairly private studio artist, it’s incredibly vulnerable, but I know it’s the right thing to do, and that I have all the skills to do it. But I do need a little help.
I have been generously funded by Wellington City Council, Creative New Zealand, Rainbow Wellington, and The Armstrong and Arthur Trust, so my production costs are covered, but I need help to create time for myself to do it all. I need to work on this between now and August, so I’m asking for $7500 through a Boosted campaign to support me which you can find here;
Boosted is a funding platform for the arts run by The Arts Foundation. Any donation you make is fully tax deductable.
I am hugely grateful for all support offered, great and small.
Drawing it Out invites lesbian, bisexual, queer, femme, butch, takataapui wahine, trans*, and female-identified people to participate in an embodied research project on our sexuality. If you have experience of female-identified sex, now, in the past or would like to in your future, then this is for you!
I’ll draw whatever people offer me. It might be your finger, arm, dildo. The resulting collage will help form a sense of what we want to show/conceal.
Drawing sessions are available between 11am and 8pm on March 7th, 8th & 9th, 2016; please contact me to make a booking.
This is part of a wider project, We don’t have to be the Building, that uses HLR30 as a prism to reflect on queer female sexuality and activism, in our past, through our whakapapa, and today. The drawing becomes a site of acknowledgement. A consensual survey of our bodies and sexuality. A document of intimacy and sharing.
The drawings will form part of the artwork exhibited in the WCC lightboxes on Courtenay Place in August 2016.
Bookings: Phone or txt 021 1080 540 or use the contact form below to send me an email. (Your details will not be displayed here.)
This post is a beginning and end of a show, ish. The work began before the proposal, and it will continue beyond this show. But I wanted to be generous, and share what I wrote, and then what became of it. I made a decision about a year ago to start writing proposals that really said what I mean, what I really want to do, and use the language I really believe in. This is the result;
Sian Torrington – Proposal for Feminisms in Aotearoa, Enjoy Gallery
(Show later titled ‘Enjoy Feminisms’ at Enjoy Public art gallery, Wellington. Artists were; Dilohana Lekamge, Single Brown Female, Sian Torrington, Fresh and Fruity, Ann Shelton, Faith, Leafa and Olive Wilson. For more details about the show go here http://www.enjoy.org.nz/node/3665
and for my collaborative writing with Creek Waddington to accompany the work, go here http://journal.enjoy.org.nz/love-feminisms/conversation)
I wish to discuss female sexual aggression and dominance. I want to draw out my own queer body, which expresses its sexuality through diverse genders. I want to address the fear, shame, blockages and discoveries which accompany a series of coming outs around gender and sexual expression. I want to do this in the context of a feminist show because I also want to explore and address the fear of no longer belonging within feminism, of being a ‘bad feminist’. Of returning to the body and finding it changed and changing; an inconveniently uncategorizable process, and so linked to a process-based making.
Uncertainty, passion, expression, weight, effort. Self made, self defined.
And if I can only come when I close my eyes and my cock is half way down your throat, am I still a feminist?
When you do not see your body, desire or sexuality represented, it is imperative that you represent it yourself, and as honestly and in as much of its complexity as you possibly can.
The problem is still the body. My body is queer, kinky, strong, genderqueer, bolshy, sick, sensitive and hungry. It is excessive and intuitive and gut driven. It is all the things it is not supposed to be in a cool, irony driven art world. My life has been a series of coming outs. Feminist, artist, lesbian, queer, femme, dominant, activist, masculine, brute. The work I want to offer for this show is another coming out; of my body and my mission to explore its many rooms, through figurative and abstract drawing. My body and the things that are attached to it which are not imagination; parts of my body which you cannot see but I can feel.
I have always identified as a feminist. I believe that feminist thought, in its centering of the body, has the capacity to disrupt phallogocentric ideals of rationalism, objectivity and straight lines which have no relation to any body. And yet the body feminism represents can, and has, excluded many embodiments that still need and deserve its strength and protection. My feminism is queer, femme, genderqueer, body and sex positive, and includes all who identify as women, have experience being treated as women, and who claim femininity and femme as a place from which to speak.
I find myself feeling like I need to rein things in; rub out the finger prints on the edges of drawings, keep a clean space around the edges and select less rather than more. Galleries are white, clean, and there is an assumption that if you put a lot of things in it, you didn’t make enough decisions. Even though mass is a very deliberate and bold decision. It’s not that you just accidentally ate too much; it’s that you want to feel your body and this is the only way you know how to find your way back to that; to say yes to everything you want to eat. It’s not that you are not bothering to be feminine; it’s that you always felt secretly sexy when you are strong and lifting and building your own way, regardless of whether anyone wanted that. It’s that you are trying to explore something which doesn’t want to be regulated.
Artists make many things, but when we show in galleries, we hide the many in favour of the one final work or body of work. In doing this we exclude failure, accident and the trying energy of practice; the fact that making involves many repeated tryings and failings.
The work I want to make for your show is about being an aggressive, queer, tangled up, sexual, dominant emerging from fear and a busting-out genderqueer feminist person. I propose to make a large-scale drawing on the back wall of the gallery, compiled of many pieces, which shows body, appendages, fucking, being, remembering, becoming. The drawing will be assembled of many pieces which move through figuration and abstraction. The drawing will also be made from partial sculptures, which will extend the work into three dimensional space. I want to acknowledge the slippages, strangeness and mass of simultaneous embodied experience in sexuality and gender. I want to cease censoring and controlling the body and also the work, by including a mass of drawings, experiments and trials.
The drawings and sculptures I am proposing use my body as subject; active, embodied, messy, aggressive, self-formulating subject. The marks and gestures draw and repeat actions that are made in sex; in battling this body, these genders, this sexuality, out of itself. Through intimacy, reflection and interaction with itself and other bodies, it becomes known. Through the process of making, it becomes visible. But what is represented is from the inside. I cannot speak for anyone else, only for me, from me. In this I reflect the highest value of consent; that to be a fully consenting adult, one must be fully informed, and know oneself as fully as possible.
I am involved. I am implicated.
Thanks to Enjoy Gallery and Harry Culy for the images.
Weaving in, weaving out, is about femininity, expression, colour, difficulty and the skills we have learnt to create homes and spaces for ourselves.
Being on a residency means having to build a temporary home in a new country. This home is made from local materials and influenced by vernacular structures. I think of architecture as how we arrange the spaces around us, including the small spaces. In India I have been fascinated by how things are arranged; the sweets hanging outside a shop, the bamboo scaffolds; bundles of flowers discarded at the end of the day.
I want to make things which have a sense of being alive, growing, exuberance, and reveal their own fragility and the difficulty of growing. We live in bodies which get broken, and I want my sculptures to be like that. Vulnerable and yet brave, scaffold, on crutches and yet still moving.
There are so many hand skills here; everyday, useful items, made by hand. Everything is arranged beautifully. The skills needed to make them take time to learn, and then become part of the body; as natural and unthinking as walking. I became interested in skills because I know they are part of a community, a culture, that we learn and do things together. Also, skills became part of how I could acknowledge my whiteness in this culture. Rather than repeat and exploit a white history of taking from a country, I wanted to see if I could transform it a little, by being humble enough to try and learn, deliberately doing things which are new to me; to make myself vulnerable.
I am very grateful to Mona for teaching me how to tie flowers, and also a new stitch; forms of structure that I have used throughout this project. Learning the flower tying gave me a metaphor for the project; weaving. At the beginning of a residency, there are no connections. As time passes, some threads become connected. With people and places, new routines begin to create form. Like making a nest; a bird choosing available materials to wedge itself into the local environment. Some threads are temporary, or need replacing. Strengthening is required, re weaving in and adding new elements. All are part of the whole.
I’d like to talk about femininity and femaleness. I have been struck by the gender difference in public space compared to what I am used to. The street seems very male to me; places where men drink tea, eat food and congregate. I wondered where my space could be, where I could express myself, and so I have made it. I have heard stories of Rangoli, and connections between femininity and nature here. I think of nature as wild, much stronger than we think, and disregarding of human control. I wanted to build this structure which spilled out onto the street, in the same way that a tree does. Putting aside the rules, boundaries and acceptable ways to take up space, trees just grow wherever they can find a foothold. This is how I made my work, and how I made connections with women here. I trawled face book groups, went to workshops, said yes to every offer of help, and slowly wove myself in to feeling like I had some threads connecting me. Rani pink threads. Through conversations, gifts of fabric pieces, and working together, I have created this show from fragments of stories in which I both learn, and recognise myself.
I am very grateful to everyone who has made this project possible. The women who have come and shared stories, time and energy with me building and installing the show; Mona, Priyanka, Varsha, Bhavani, Bindu, and Vidhna for the gift of fabric. Also to Asia New Zealand for funding this residency, and Shanthi Rd, Suresh and Sandeep for hosting me here. Particular thanks to Suresh for his wonderful knowledge of this city and materials shopping in the heat! Thank you to Shiva for your help, and constant encouragement and energy! Finally thank you to everyone who befriended me here. Being an artist on residency means I am here temporarily, and I am very grateful for warm welcomes, friendship, and delivery of food and drink while I couldn’t walk!
Immersion Acrylic paint, pigment, pastel, charcoal on hand made paper
Heap Fabric, coconut husks
Gutter flower Paper, paint, wool
Absorption Acrylic paint, pigment, pastel, charcoal on hand made paper
Gentle holding shape Onion sack, wool, net, fabric, rope, bamboo
Tied back to shelter Onion sack, wool, net, fabric, rope, bamboo
Two more female bodies (1) Pastel, pencil, graphite, charcoal on Fabriano paper
Two more female bodies (2) Pastel, pencil, graphite, charcoal on Fabriano paper
Ropes (1) Pencil, graphite, charcoal on Fabriano paper
Ropes (2) Pencil, graphite, charcoal on Fabriano paper
Flop and slump Onion sack, wool, net, fabric, rope, bamboo, paper, paint
Weaving in, weaving out (Installation) Fabric, hand made paper, streamers, glue, ribbons, bamboo, coconut rope, fabric, banana leaves, coconut palm leaves, paint, tinsel