Artist Profile - - CONTENTS - by Bridget Ma­cleod

Emily Floyd’s works are im­me­di­ately invit­ing. Be it sculp­ture, print or pub­lic art­work, Floyd’s bright pal­ette, ex­pertly ren­dered geo­met­ric forms and the in­cor­po­ra­tion of text in­vite in­ter­ac­tion. But while the works are ac­ces­si­ble, they are never sim­ple. Each is im­bued with hours of re­search and a vast knowl­edge of topics rang­ing from al­ter­na­tive ed­u­ca­tion, to fem­i­nist the­ory, to ty­pog­ra­phy. Re­ject­ing the pres­sure on Aus­tralian artists to think glob­ally, Floyd is par­tic­u­larly in­ter­ested in lo­cal so­cial his­tory and draws on her An­tipodean con­text. Born into a fam­ily of toy­mak­ers, Floyd learnt the craft early and still works with the ma­chines she grew up with. These were not mass pro­duced toys, but beau­ti­fully con­structed wooden ob­jects that were in­spired by Eastern Euro­pean tra­di­tions with roots in Mod­ernist move­ments. They also con­nect to the idea of tac­tile learn­ing, which has in­ter­ested Floyd through­out her ca­reer. And just as the right toy can en­cour­age ac­tive think­ing, Floyd’s prac­tice re­veals that in­ter­ac­tion with con­tem­po­rary art­works can lead to great pub­lic ben­e­fit and ed­u­ca­tion.

I’m In­ter­ested In your back­ground, and how you feel this in­flu­ences your prac­tice to­day?

I’ve al­ways made art­works, but I didn’t go straight to art school. I did a de­gree in So­ci­ol­ogy and Psy­chol­ogy, stud­ied graphic de­sign and then I went trav­el­ling. When I re­turned I learnt metal work, and no­ticed that the work I made was re­ally huge. When I fi­nally made the de­ci­sion to go to art school in my mid-twen­ties, I ap­plied to both the sculp­ture and sil­ver smithing de­grees at RMIT, and the lec­tur­ers looked at the fo­lio and said to me “you’re a sculp­tor.” My back­ground in toy mak­ing has given me an un­der­stand­ing of ob­jects – their re­la­tion­ship to the body and to the world, as well as the ide­ol­ogy that can be em­bod­ied within them. I was for­tu­nate be­cause this is an era where art schools strug­gle to teach skills, and do­ing all these dif­fer­ent things meant that I came to art with a good deal of tech­ni­cal un­der­stand­ing.

Your work con­tains a wealth of ref­er­ences. What ma­jor sources do you draw from? do you think it’s im­por­tant that peo­ple pick up on them when view­ing your works?

I al­ways ap­proach the mak­ing of an art­work from a po­si­tion of learn­ing, be­ing cu­ri­ous about new ideas and em­bed­ding them into ob­jects. I read a lot of books, look at archival ma­te­rial in li­braries, lis­ten to the ra­dio and en­joy ex­per­i­ment­ing with new tech­ni­cal pro­cesses in the stu­dio. I’m re­ally in­ter­ested in how knowl­edge can be con­veyed, and am drawn more to the his­tory of di­dac­tic art. I’d rather look at an enig­matic il­lus­tra­tion than a sub­lime paint­ing. I def­i­nitely don’t ex­pect the au­di­ence to be across all the ideas that I am in­ter­ested in, in any case I hope most things are thrown out the win­dow by the time the work comes to fruition. I think it’s im­por­tant for art­works to go through many stages of trans­for­ma­tion to avoid the lit­eral.

Will you have an idea for a work and in­ves­ti­gate it, or will you read some­thing that then in­spires a work?

I look at the con­text of where the work is go­ing to be. For ex­am­ple in 2008 I was in a show called Op­ti­mism at Gallery of Mod­ern Art [in

I’m re­ally in­ter­ested in how knowl­edge can be con­veyed, and am drawn more to the his­tory of di­dac­tic art.

Bris­bane], and the work wouldn’t have been made if I wasn’t go­ing to present it here, so I felt it was im­por­tant to use it as a start­ing point. I wanted to think about that idea of op­ti­mism in re­la­tion­ship to Aus­tralia and in par­tic­u­lar Queens­land, which drew me to ideas of Per­ma­cul­ture. Af­ter I have cho­sen a set of ideas I look for forms and mo­tifs in the re­search, a fig­ure that can an­chor the sculp­tural forms – for ex­am­ple the Rus­sian domes, or the gi­ant egg, or the fe­male eu­nuch form. A mo­tif pro­vides a hook and makes the work more ac­ces­si­ble.

What role does ac­ces­si­bil­ity play in your works and how im­por­tant is it to you?

My work is def­i­nitely geared to­wards a more tac­tile en­gage­ment, and it is an as­pi­ra­tion for me that the au­di­ence has the free­dom to in­ter­act with a work if it’s pos­si­ble. I guess like all is­sues of free con­tent, the ques­tion is who sup­ports its pro­duc­tion, and I can’t al­ways af­ford to do so. I’m al­ways try­ing to jug­gle the dif­fer­ent con­tra­dic­tions around value and free ac­cess to works. Many works I’ve made can’t be touched be­cause some­one else al­ready owns them, so it’s no longer my choice. But peo­ple reg­u­larly send mes­sages of com­plaint to me that they’ve seen one of my ex­hi­bi­tions and they were not al­lowed to touch any­thing!

I imag­ine venues also have their own re­quire­ments re­gard­ing the pub­lic’s in­ter­ac­tion with the works.

Some­times it’s not man­age­able. If you want to have a tac­tile work in a mu­seum you have to ap­proach it col­lab­o­ra­tively. You’ve got to work out how it’s go­ing to be man­aged. For ex­am­ple I made an in­stal­la­tion for chil­dren at the Mu­seum of Con­tem­po­rary Art Aus­tralia, and the ob­jects were so small that there could have been prob­lems in chil­dren throw­ing them at each other – ba­sic is­sues of man­ag­ing a group. And museums have mas­sive num­bers com­ing through now – in 2013 the Na­tional Gallery of Vic­to­ria clocked 800,000 peo­ple through Mel­bourne Now. So it’s an is­sue that you have to solve to­gether.

Do you like this col­lab­o­ra­tion, or do you feel like you lose some of the con­trol?

No, I think it’s good. I’m for hav­ing lots of dif­fer­ent ways of work­ing, and think that’s the only way artists can sur­vive now. I don’t ap­proach it like “I’m a ge­nius, I’ve got to be un­com­pro­mis­ing, you’ve got to fol­low my way.” I ap­proach art in a col­le­gial way – “what can we do to­gether?” But then some­times it’s just nice to be in the stu­dio, to make some­thing small, and it’s just for me – I con­trol all el­e­ments of it. And if I don’t like it I can throw it away. That’s also a very im­por­tant part of any artists’ prac­tice I think.

I imag­ine that un­der­tak­ing a large-scale pub­lic art­work is quite dif­fer­ent. How do you man­age this process?

With the big projects, you start off with lots of meet­ings, which can be re­ally frus­trat­ing. I might put for­ward an idea to ten peo­ple in suits, and some of them like it and some don’t and some have re­ally inane sug­ges­tions, like “is it go­ing to at­tract snakes?” Every­one looks to you

to drive the project for­ward and to be flex­i­ble at the right mo­ment. It’s a creative process, but it’s more akin to the pro­cesses of ar­chi­tec­ture I guess. It’s not for every­one, and pub­lic art can have a ten­dency to dis­si­pate an artist’s prac­tice. I’m con­scious of that, and so fo­cus on why it is good to have this work in the pub­lic sphere, on how my work might find its lo­cus in pub­lic space and why it is good for peo­ple to in­ter­act with art and feel like they own it. And maybe be­cause I came from a back­ground where the pub­lic good was al­ways cen­tral, where com­mu­nity was re­ally im­por­tant and there was a kind of utopian veil around it, I’m al­ways will­ing to have another go. Even though pub­lic projects can of­ten fail, that’s what Utopia is about – when it falls apart you try again.

Do you ap­proach works cre­ated for sale at a com­mer­cial ex­hi­bi­tion dif­fer­ently to lareg com­mis­sions?

No, not re­ally, I think all my work has al­ways been re­ally im­prac­ti­cal! Even the small things are not very prac­ti­cal; they fall over in peo­ple’s houses! I have been work­ing with Anna Schwartz Gallery for over a decade; Anna ap­proaches con­tem­po­rary art with the same ex­pan­sive vi­sion as a pub­lic mu­seum, so there’s al­ways been the op­por­tu­nity to make a ma­jor pre­sen­ta­tion.

I’m in­ter­ested in your art mak­ing process. Can you tell me how you go about start­ing a work?

I work in three main lan­guages. In sculp­ture I make a lot of mod­els, pro­to­types and draw­ings. Be­cause I work through con­struc­tion, I draw di­rectly onto wood and then cut out and com­bine things to­gether. It’s like draw­ing in space. In print­mak­ing I use a lot of graph­ics pro­cesses – work­ing with [Adobe] Il­lus­tra­tor, then go­ing to print in screen or plate. De­sign­ing pub­lic pro­grams is very much a col­lab­o­ra­tive process – work­ing out what are the ex­pec­ta­tions, who are the au­di­ences, how many peo­ple, where’s it go­ing to. It just de­pends on the dif­fer­ent con­texts. There are lots of pro­cesses of mak­ing, and I use them to com­mu­ni­cate the ideas, to get things hap­pen­ing, but I also see them as works in them­selves.

Tell me about your stu­dio prac­tice – where and how do you work?

I’ve got two stu­dios. I have a wood­work­ing work­shop in my back­yard where I work on the ma­chines that were in my fam­ily’s toy work­shop when I was grow­ing up. By about 2000 these kind of man­u­fac­tur­ing in­dus­tries had all but died in Aus­tralia, so I took the ma­chines and I do the same thing with them that was al­ways done, just in a dif­fer­ent con­text. And then I’ve got a clean stu­dio space at the Ab­bots­ford Con­vent, a com­plex in Mel­bourne, and there I do all the paint­ing, print­mak­ing and works on pa­per.

When do you like to work?

If I could choose I would work in the af­ter­noon and night, but to be

hon­est I just do ev­ery­thing when I can. I think the prob­lem for artists now is the amount of ad­min­is­tra­tion re­quired to ser­vice con­tent and re­la­tion­ships for art in­sti­tu­tions. My work is ex­tremely labour in­ten­sive so I need to work for 8-10 hours each day in the stu­dio, and on top of this is heaped a huge amount of ad­min­is­tra­tion.

I was in an ex­hi­bi­tion called Still Life ten years ago at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, and when I was look­ing through emails for that project re­cently, I found only one mes­sage for the en­tire show! There has been a huge shift and the time of artists is cap­tured in an un­prece­dented way.

This year marks two sur­veys of your work – one that re­cently closed at Heide Mu­seum of Mod­ern Art and one open­ing in Novem­ber at the Na­tional Gallery of Vic­to­ria (NGV). How did these come about?

Yes I’m very lucky! Both asked at the same time, and through con­ver­sa­tions with every­one we felt there was enough work and ideas for the two. And the col­le­gial re­la­tion­ship was there be­tween Heide and the NGV.

Was the choice of works sim­i­lar for each sur­vey, or do they explore dif­fer­ent ideas and facets of your ca­reer?

The Heide ex­hi­bi­tion, Far Rain­bow, was very much a quiet ex­plo­ration of ideas of al­ter­na­tive ed­u­ca­tion. Each room is like a dif­fer­ent kind of world com­bin­ing var­i­ous ma­te­rial ap­proaches, in­clud­ing as­pects of al­ter­na­tive ed­u­ca­tion that I grew up with my­self. It com­bines au­to­bi­og­ra­phy with works that I’ve made over the past 10 years. The ex­hi­bi­tion also presents an ar­chive of ma­te­rial that my mum col­lected in the ‘70s and ‘80s around ideas of child­hood, child­care and fem­i­nism, and there’s a pub­lic project at the en­trance to the mu­seum.

The Dawn at the NGV is a shift in scale – it shows the larger key works from my ca­reer and it has three ma­jor new projects. The ex­hi­bi­tion fo­cuses on the form of the man­i­festo, the dec­la­ra­tion of ideas. Dif­fer­ent man­i­festos weave their way through the ex­hi­bi­tion and are seen in re­la­tion­ship to each other. In some ways they don’t make sense, they may con­tra­dict each other, or be cu­ri­ously out­moded. The show ex­plores the search for a po­si­tion in a kind of play­ful way.

How did you find the ex­pe­ri­ence of look­ing back over your ca­reer and choos­ing the works?

I’ll have a show and the work will go and I won’t see it again – I’m not like a painter who might have a lot of their work around them all the time. So there were strange dis­tor­tions be­cause I had dif­fer­ent ideas of scale – some­times I thought works were re­ally huge and I saw them and they were small or vice versa. I was also quite ap­pre­hen­sive about see­ing the con­di­tion of works but I’ve been re­ally heart­ened – peo­ple have looked af­ter them so well. It’s like see­ing old friends.

Emily Floyd if rep­re­sented by Anna Schwartz Gallery, Mel­bourne and Sydney

EX­HI­BI­TION Emily Floyd: The Dawn Na­tional Gallery of Vic­to­ria, Mel­bourne 21 Novem­ber 2014 to 1 March 2015



09 01 Steiner Rain­bow, 2006, MDF, two-part epoxy paint, di­men­sions vari­able

02 Ripple 17, 2013–14, unique screen­print on BFK Arches pa­per, mounted on alu­minium di­bond, 110 x 70cm 03 Far Rain­bow, 2014, in­stal­la­tion view, Heide Mu­seum of Mod­ern Art 04 Far Rain­bow, 2014, in­stal­la­tion view, Heide Mu­seum of Mod­ern Art 05 Per­ma­cul­ture Crossed With Fem­i­nist Science Fic­tion, 2008, wood, vinyl, pol­ish, 244 x 300 x 1500cm

06 Work­shop, 2012, steel, 2-part epoxy paint, Fer­rador, di­men­sions vari­able; each let­ter ap­prox. 150 x 150 x 40cm

07 Far Rain­bow, 2014, in­stal­la­tion view, Heide Mu­seum of Mod­ern Art 08 Emily Floyd at her ex­hi­bi­tion FAR RAIN­BOW at the Heide Mu­seum of Mod­ern Art. Pho­tog­ra­phy Daniel Shipp.

09 An Open Space, 2011, wenge, hoop pine, sugar pine, Huon pine, ash, oak, two-part epoxy paint, acrylic paint, Lac­quer, MDF, Ma­rine Bond, PVC/Steel fix­tures and sup­ports, 660 x 220 x 60cm Courtesy the artist, Anna Schwartz Gallery, and the Na­tional Gallery of Vic­to­ria.

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