I did two interviews; one with Artists Alliance, one with Phantom Billstickers, about this project. Read more 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.
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.
Today was my third dance class, and I hit something again. I’ve been doing really great with my compassion and expectations; I started by telling myself look, you will be the biggest, most graceless, clumsy and only white person in there. And that’s ok. Totally ok. Be with your own body and see it progress at its own pace. Last week I didn’t have any moments where I thought I would burst into tears from feeling like I can’t do it, but this week I just couldn’t make it through the last hour. I also have another thing to go to; a dance thing which is apparently more of a ‘ritual performance’. I think it’s something I am more familiar with, so that was part of the compassion too, to leave early and give myself a chance to get there.
I guess it’s the self consciousness that gets me, and when my mind gets involved. I’m trying to remember the sequences, and I have flashes of knowing it’s not remembering through mind which matters, it’s trust of the body. That’s where I hit something. It’s a wall of fear, long taught and held, about what I am able to do with my body. It holds my hips tight as I try to move over them, and makes me clumsy. So many times I have heard ‘be careful, don’t hurt yourself, I’ll do it for you, here, let me, that’s too heavy’. And on and on. So it’s a gender thing, and a being controlled thing. And like all the worst kinds of control and fear, it’s gotten inside my own skin, my own muscles. And I want it out. That’s why I’m here, bringing as much softness and compassion as I can, noticing the shifts, congratulating myself like a small child.
She says release, release! And I’m trying. It’s just that my release, my trust in my body is still so quiet. My faith that the floor will hold me take me time to listen for. I want so bad to release. I love that floor that I can sink into. And sometimes I can do it. Today I nearly managed to spin across the floor, something very roughly like a ballerina.
And I know the release comes with grief. Letting go means losing something which has been held. My body has tried to protect me; to clench around the fear it has absorbed. It has responded to the clear and repeated messages, and tightened. Beautiful, wise body.
I have always had lovers who can climb trees, play sports, who are unafraid to move their bodies; who are loose. I long for that looseness, and the ability to try and fail. To be crap, and still be loved. This class is so welcoming, so warm. It’s a place I can try.
Last summer my sweetheart taught me how to throw a ball, and how to hit one. The simple joy of being able to hit a ball. The pleasure of being shown how to move my body, how to make it easier. The sense of achievement was wild, free, energetic and hopeful. It’s not my fault that I can’t spin yet; I need to learn that it is my upper body turning which will guide me. I love being taught. I love to follow the guidance of a wise teacher with patience and faith. I can rest in that.
Today I tucked my head in further and did a forward roll. It was fast, and unthought. She says practice until it feels normal. Trust in doing, in repetition. The stories are old, and need no retelling.
Something like a year and a half ago my body gave me a wake up call. The message was simple and clear; “You have to stop hating me”. I was pushing, demanding, ignoring, piling. So it needed to be clear. I became sick. I was overseas, and it was hard to breathe. Literally, not metaphorically. I’ve read about people who developed vertigo as they climbed too high and too fast in their careers, and I’ve always gotten strong signals from my body. So I listened, though I haven’t always. My chest rattled, and it was hard to walk across the room. It was Christmas, and I gave myself an extra two hours on top of the three they recommend to make my flight. That’s five in total. Five hours. They need to search your bags and put you through the machines. I needed to walk really slowly and repeat; there’s no rush, you can have whatever you want, there’s no rush. People looked at me, but I was incanting my antidote to denial, shame, fear. My body needed to hear that she was acceptable, even when she was weak, endangered, sick, slow. I have been afraid of not being able to afford what she wants, of feeding her what she wants until she becomes unacceptable. I have been afraid of having such a needy, uncontrollable body. So I have given her less, eking it out. We do this with children, the idea that if we only give them a little bit of what they want, they will learn that they can’t have everything, that there has to be limits. But the body expands and pushes, then, when ignored enough, begins to remove unappreciated privileges and pleasures. It’s always been hard to come, but when it becomes hard to breathe, listening gets easier.
The new deal began with trust. Listening and trust, and acting on whatever I heard, no matter how much I wanted to keep doing the same familiar old things. Survival. Expression. Demanding more.
I’m not even sure she is a her anymore. Like everything else in my life, she is a collection of many. Identities, pronouns, names and genders jostle in an embodied stack of being. They aren’t that interested in whether you use he or she because it’s not so much about the outside world, and you recognise them anyway though you may not have the language to speak to them. But your behaviour shows you see them. They don’t mind, because they are in creative space and they’re quite sure of themselves thanks.
My gender has always been a private thing, like my sexuality, my body, all of my spaces. I like to get to know them myself before I share them with others. I grew up without television, relying instead on books and stories; made up and connected with things in the world. My dad used to walk with me and make up stories about magic trees and people and weave them in with reality or his past; tramps, psychics and foraging. We read books of heroic anti-power adventures where I was everyone. For me, the connection between the physical world and imagination was strong. They affected one another, they created one another. And the other world, the spirit world. I come from lines of psychics stretched through both sides, people who knew when to move, and what you needed, just before you did and it wasn’t too late. Or maybe that’s just listening again. There are some stories I know about my ancestors, and many more I don’t. But it doesn’t matter, because I feel them, and they are real.
I realised that when I am in the studio I never hate my body. She is, they are, we are, allowed. Right from when I first ever had my own space, this was the rule. This is the place where everything is allowed. Noone comes in, and nothing goes out, without my say so. Here I am allowed wrinkles, fear, pain, insecurity, exhaustion, repetition and glory. I am even allowed to not be productive. I am allowed to sleep on the floor. This is a recent development and it’s so much kinder than driving through. I drip, collect, stack. I dance, I am quiet. I keep the door closed. I draw in my underpants. I look into my bright eyes and hold my white and lumpy belly. I grow a cock, compress and release dusty palms. I reach, I fade, I build muscles. I ride. I watch myself try to get born, adding paper for the overflow.
It is something about flesh, and action, and movement, the absence of hate. It is also about the decision not to be looked at, and to claim my space. This one room, I have been lucky enough and stubborn enough to hold on to. For ten years I have had a room of my own. Once it was a paper tent. Once it was a tiny room under the house which still had a toilet in it, but I painted it white. Once it was the realm of a book which I could carry with me. I am an expert at making space, and holding it. I watch the birds and how they do it with their mouths. I grew up near a festival which raised a city in a matter of weeks, then returned it to pasture every year. Temporary, but present.
There are materials everywhere. I have had help. Someone has always bought a drawing at the last minute. One time a guy helped me lift a desk.
The world encroaches, always. It has ways of making you behave. It has walls and they are owned. It has fences and barriers, rules and judgements. It has payments which you make for every space. It has boxes for your body, identity, sexuality. Imagination can replace the entire world. Try to stretch it as far as it will go. And then further. Feed it with pictures and stories. Inventing entirely different value systems, ones which reflect what matters to you. Make up words and practice them. We make them real through repetition. Practice. Your survival depends on it. The survival that is, of the one / s you want to be, the ones which are jostling and asking for a way to speak. The ones who will make you sick if you don’t learn how to listen.
Shame is a key method of control. Also wanting to belong. Also wanting to be loved. What would it be like if everything about you was acceptable?
How long is a piece of string? Once I started untying the knots I found the tangles stretched out and out. There are more lines than I knew in every direction and none of them are straight.
I pull a drawing out of the bin. It is dusty and brokenly, heavily overworked. I use it as an example to myself. How far is too far? What is a good drawing?
It seems to me that there are these two things:
The way I thought it should be / I thought it could be / how I saw it happen before / how all of the others said it would be / the way everyone else was doing it / the way it looked before / what they wanted / what you expected / what I expected / what I wanted / what it should’ve been / what I was working towards / what I thought would happen
The way it is.
You try to change your body
You try to accept your body
This, all bodies have in common, they change. Under your eyes, skin changing, mutable flesh, beautiful flesh. Graspable, feedable, flexible, dryable, stretchable, wrinkling, shinking, sagging, filling busting, beautiful flesh, shifting flesh.
I burn my hand on unexpected steam and it makes me lie down, hand in a bowl of water. It sends messages to my heart which are hot and fearful. It sends messages to my brain which centralise the body, which remind the brain it is part of the body, in service to the body. Put your imagination to use. Imagine the water is cooling and cooling. Body says, your thinking is not helping, the emergency is here, we are racing. I burn my hand and time seems to slow down. The time which is driven by a list; what needs to be done by when by who by when by when.
I see myself trying to get born
In a tangle of limbs, boy ones and girl ones and other
they push first, the many fists, thighs
the parts unformed, the parts unmade
the parts undis / re covered, jostle.
All I know are shoulders and the head kept low
If I can keep it down
I can get on through
Before she sees
The gap closes.