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.
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
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
Yesterday two women came and built with me. Wrapping, twisting, layering. I warned them in advance to bring messy clothes, and they weren’t afraid of heights or climbing. Sometimes climbing, sometimes clambering, we found ways to get up, stay up, and be there together. It’s hard to explain how much it meant to me to have this female company. I’m queer, and I spend much of my time at home with female bodied or identified folk. Or people with experience of being female; people with experiences which means they can hear me, see me, make space for me. People who are aware that sometimes you have to create space so others can speak. It never ceases to amaze me how much airspace cis men take up with their talking and telling. The silences we find ourselves in, and watch each other in, are the reason I wanted to only work with women. I wanted female hands on this sculpture which is so much to do with expressing my female, femme identity here in India. I don’t know how else to do it; I don’t have my wardrobe, my swagger, my community. I feel looked at enough, and don’t want to stick out any more. I bought jewellery, even just to wear inside, to remind me of the outrageous, eccentric shine I love.
But I have my practice, and I know how to be brave with that. Priyanka and Varsha made me feel so much braver, with their immediate enthusiasm, excitement and encouragement. Both artists, they had a beautiful visual sense, and the work seemed to grow like a truly living thing in response to their touch. I felt nourished, and seen by them. I unfolded a piece of glimmering pink chiffon fabric, and the noise Priyanka made was a moment of recognition and affirmation for me. Yes, it’s beautiful! Yes, for no reason other than sensual, yummy beauty! These pieces are a gift, from a woman who identifies as ‘obsessed with recycling’. She told me they come from another woman, who had collected them for forty years, ever since she had a sewing machine. They are the second blessing on this project, and they are absolute treasure to me. We sift through them, looking for the pieces which are equally light, to drape from the ceiling like soft petals.
While we are building, Varsha says to me ‘I’ve always wanted to build something like this. Like a treehouse!’ And that is how it feels. The femme treehouse, taking up space, spilling over into the road. No men came to talk to me today.
In the afternoon, I take us for coffee. It began to rain torrentially, and we sheltered under the eaves, laughing as a fat raindrop fell exactly into one of our coffees, splashing us with its force. I had been worried to come out to them; I didn’t want to ruin this natural closeness which felt so good. But we talked about marriage, and I threw it in there, my big queer, eccentric wedding. They were wonderfully fascinated, wanting to know about the dress, the ring, how it is to get married where I come from, and bemoaning when the law will ever change here on same sex marriage. We talked about how in love I am with my sweetheart. We talked about Indian weddings, ceremonies, and how both of them would rather elope.
Feminine space is precious, and sure, it should be everywhere, anywhere, but it isn’t. Today I felt like there was a small space I had created, and we kept creating together, which allowed me to breathe easier, feel myself reflected, accepted, and encouraged, in female company.