You are delicate enough, you are strong enough, 1510 x 2020mm, pastel, charcoal, graphite on paper, 2016
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.
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
I have been thinking a lot about skills. About how they take time to learn, and there is no way around that. There are so many hand skills here; people making everyday, useful items by hand. In the market there are piles and piles of small clay bowls for incense, and outside temples there are huge baskets filled with stringed flowers. Everything is arranged beautifully; useful, and temporary. The flowers last perhaps a day, and are remade all over again. They are made and remade by women (as far as I have seen) sitting on the street, with baskets of pinks, whites and bright oranges. Flowers adorn womens hair and gods in temples. After my sweetheart bought me a string of these, I became fascinated with how they are tied together. I asked Suresh if someone would teach me how to do the tying. Mona, his housekeeper said yes, and brought flowers and string.
We sat outside in the shade, flowers between us. Her small and nimble fingers started spinning like the wind, while my mind tried to work out what it was she was doing. She showed me. She showed me again. My fingers were clumsy; unable to bend or move. My mind was in my hands, telling me how hard it was. I think it’s always like this with a skill. The mind tries to understand it, but that is not where it is learnt. When I have learnt drumming, it is like this. Listen, watch, repeat. Follow with the hands. As soon as the mind gets involved, saying “whoah it’s so fast”, I can’t do it any more. Once I had sort of grasped the idea, I tried to let my hands do the work. I watched how confident her movements were, and tried to fake it till I made it; just breathing into my hnds and letting them pretend they knew what they were doing. That made it go easier, like the flowers were more comfortable with a firm grip. But still, I was useless. Clumsy and slow, but determined. She spins them together as if the wind is on her side, tying and pressing so that there are no gaps at all. Mine flop and slump, falling off after a few seconds because I haven’t been able to pull them tight at the same time as holding them, at the same time as tying the knot.
And I love it. It is humbling, and releasing. I am an unskilled person from somewhere else; unskilled at this thing. She is kind. She tells me to practise on newspaper, and shows me how to fold it. Then she tells me that when she first learnt, she spent three days doing it.
This is how I resolve my approach to my project. The reality is, I don’t belong here. I am transient and this is not my country. I spent the first week frozen in fear about repeating an ugly colonial pattern of taking from other cultures and claiming it as ones own. I don’t want to just use what is here to make myself look good. I don’t want to try and comment on a culture which is not my own; one which is ancient and complicated and which I know so little about. I am comfortable listening, looking, taking in. I am uncomfortable being asked what I think. I don’t want to try and reduce anything I see here. India is many, and I love being in a position of nowhere firm, everything shifting.
But I do want to communicate, and connect. Three months is too long just to look, I have to get involved. I keep trying, and making. Most of all, I want to connect with women. I want to be somehow accepted. I feel so grateful when women smile at me on the street. After a few days, when I am feeling deeply homesick and anxious, Mona comes upstairs to my studio to visit. She comes in, looks at everything, then starts picking up materials and showing me how to use them. She draws on the floor these patterns which are drawn in a kind of chalk dust, for blessing, good luck, good fortune. This is my understanding so far. They grow from the middle and spread out across pavements and doorsteps, based on lotus forms sometimes, so related to the womb, to women, to the mother goddess I am told. She draws swiftly and easily. I drip dust from my hand in clumps. But together we make something which I think is pretty beautiful. Part lotus, part body, and all I really care about is that we did it together. We tie some flowers together, and I finally work out the part I’ve been doing backwards. I feel so happy, delighted, and I sit and string flowers for ages. We’re joined by another artist, who translates for me and tells me that Mona says she likes my work. I’m so surprised, like astounded. I realise how much fear I have, that what I’m doing is not ok. I think this is pretty common for artists, but when I am working in another culture, the sense is heightened with awareness of so much history and abuse of culture by white colonisation. The relief I have at hearing this is palpable; my shoulders drop as I ask, ‘but even though it is so messy?’ Yes comes the reply, because it is messy, this is why she likes it.
I know that the answer is always through the materials, through making, and a dear artist friend reminds me of this. The flower tying shows me that this clumsiness, this trying, this shonky version of something which people here are so skilled at, is my way of making here. I am not an expert. I am learning.
The three of us sit, tying together. I realise how lonely I have felt; that this is the kind of atelier I want. She talks about how it reminds her of her grandmother; says she can hear her, telling her needs to get better at these things. They are female skills and maybe we are always and never good enough at those. It feels like that’s a part of being female everywhere; that we are never doing it quite perfectly, and always being watched to see how hard we are trying. Making things with these women is a little space where those things can come up, over hand work, over and under and back the other way than I thought it was.
I want to make my own kind of offering towards these incredible skills which I see everywhere. Skills which are a part of life. Skills which do not make people rich. Skills which are hard to learn, and essential to life. To join together, beautify, bless, carry and build.
Fort Cochin has the best walls I have ever seen. The first one I see is opposite our guesthouse, where we arrive late at night. It is the wall of the offices for the Kochi-Muziris Biennale, which none of us knew existed until we came here. It is painted with an intricate mural of interlocking shapes creating vibrant figures in movement and transformative dance. While we are here, we ask questions about the biennale; find out that it is a huge international event. We piece together galleries, artists, a catalogue and residencies to form a map of an ambitious and visionary event. There are beautiful high ceilinged galleries next to crumbling buildings overtaken with vines and creepers. Everything is alive here, everything grows, and nothing is what you expect.
In the morning, we walk down streets with ancient walls made of brick, plaster, and layers and layers of paint. Each layers moves, cracks and is held together with moss and vines. Texts are erased by green growth and rain and heat. The word clad comes to mind; one layer is clad with another, and another, until they bulge with time, addition and decay.
There have been some graffitti artists here, and I can only presume it is they who have left paste ups of pink leopards and women weaving in paper on these painterly surfaces. They must have been put up a few weeks ago, although it could have been days because of the hot, wet climate which roughs up paper pretty fast I imagine. Parts of them have been sloughed away, so that the images become part of the pinks and ochres layered underneath.
I don’t like to photograph people while I travel. Without their consent that is. I feel like it’s part of a colonial sense of entitlement to feel it is your right to snap away without any consent from those you take a photograph of. I think the last picture I took was many years ago, of a woman in her hijab in Morroco. Her glare was fierce and furious, and I was sure I never wanted to do that again. Confronted with my own lightness of looking by her rightful possession of her own body, I felt ashamed and wished I could give her image back to her. I had no right to it.
So my images are of walls. To me, they are intensely beautiful. They show the actions of people, weather and time. They are enough of a record of this place.
Artist Alliance asked me some questions about my studio this month. It was really good for me to have to put some of these things down in response….. Studio interview
there’s lots of pictures too…. like this but more more more!