Janet Lilo is the 2017 recipient of the Auckland Festival of Photography’s Annual Commission by Baker+Douglas, and spoke with D-Photo about her award, her practice, and her plans for the future
There are no confines on Janet Lilo’s work. An artist of multi disciplines, she has explored and worked in a huge range of realms including, but not limited to, photography, video, installation, object, and drawing. And for her Annual Commission exhibition for this year’s Auckland Festival of Photography, she will mix up a couple of those disciplines to present something truly unique for those who visit her work in Silo 6 at Silo Park in Wynyard Quarter, Auckland in June.
“In true form, I am still working on this project, so nothing is set in stone — no pun intended with the silos,” Lilo jokes. “What I can say is that it will be a photographic installation, responding to the theme of identity and sculptural interface of the silo space.”
Not only is Lilo responding to the festival ’s theme of Identity, but she is also factoring in the logistical elements of the silo in which she will showcase her work. Every single thing that could impact the way she communicates her message is being accounted for, suggesting her exhibition will be an exciting and unique experience for those who participate. “The silos are quite difficult for photography, as it is a heritage site that can’t be drilled into, so hanging anything is a challenge. There are also other features to consider, such as the daunting architecture of concrete, circular rooms, existing roller garage, and arc doors. These things matter. In terms of content, I have decided that I don’t want to present images of real people or landscapes, as an ultimate challenge to myself in representing identity. I also want the audience to somehow complete the work with their presence — therefore becoming an integral part of it. Expect something different.”
Associate Professor Linda Tyler, who was one of the selection committee for the Annual Commission, says of Janet’s work, “Janet Lilo uses photography in an experimental and sculptural way, experimenting with both digital and analogue processes. Having explored popular cultural influence from television and music on subcultures in Aotearoa in the past, her focus on the theme of identity in her proposal for the annual commission chimed in perfectly with this year’s theme. Additionally, her proposal addressed the silo site, conjuring with
its associations of storage to derive associations of stockpiling against a future scarcity.”
This praise is mighty impressive, and Lilo is very appreciative of the opportunity the Annual Commission has presented her, saying that she feels humbled to have been selected against two other “amazing photographers who could easily be in this position to answer these questions”.
As is often the case, it ’s difficult for artists to pinpoint exactly what their style of art actually is. Janet is not immune to this phenomenon, mainly because she dabbles in so many artistic spectra.
“It’s hard to really say what I think my style is when stepping outside of myself to objectively respond. I work in a range of media, from photography to video, installation, object, and drawing — but essentially it is process driven, before any preconceived notion of aesthetics,” she explains.
And even when it comes to the creation of her work, Janet often doesn’t quite know what the outcome of her projects will be until the very end.
“I’m interested in experimental documentary. When I begin a project, I never know what it will really look like until it ’s done — and I don’t want to, either. I like to tr y different things all the time, but essentially, my process is always the same; a relentless journey of experimentation and play. Like any artist, there are always parameters that frame the possibility, such as budget, time, space, and
expectation. Is it a solo show? Is it group? Is it local, global, or both? I just tr y to do my best within those, and find ways to exceed odds.”
When it comes to her photography work, Janet was introduced to the concept, and formulated many of her ideas around the way she would adopt photography into her practice, when she took a foundation art course at AUT in 2001. From there, she completed a Bachelor and her Masters in Visual Arts. During those six years at art school, she worked in a range of media, and photography became a serious part of that process, as what she calls a ‘ drawing tool’.
“Since then, I continued to use it often, and, as a result, formulated an esoteric visual language for myself — so you could say there are elements of art school training and self-taught butchery at play.
“I grew up in a family of six children, and my parents didn’t have much money. They worked extremely hard to give us what we needed, and I’m forever thankful for that. When I was around eight years old, we got a camera. Before the age of five, there are no images of me, and a smattering between there and age 10 — so I’ve always wondered what I looked like as a small child.
“Embedded in memory, my siblings and I would spend whole entire evenings going through the same small collection of photos with the same enthusiasm of intimacy and wonder every time. For that reason, my mother made a very special effort when we got older, to have one family photo a year taken until we left home. The most epic family portrait was taken in the mid ’90s at Stuart Riddell in Howick ... I am 14 years old, half lying and sitting upright like a cat on the forest floor. The rest of my family are all positioned meticulously. The image finish is airbrushed matte and the portrait is overwhelmingly huge. After years of small instalments, my parents finally paid it off and received the portrait when I was about 22. I swear, it is the best and worst family portrait ever.”
Perhaps it is this close, intimate connection with photography from earlier years that
has seen Janet continue her interest in the medium. Whatever the reason, it is a medium that she continues to explore to this day.
“I enjoy the endless possibility of photography as an ongoing practice. I enjoy the personal and collective narratives. In the digital age, I enjoy how challenging it is to make good images in a time where we are completely saturated by them. Most of all, before I even think about photography, I enjoy the privilege of being able to look at things around me with great curiosity.”
This curiosity has led her to explore her community in a way that can be quite a scary process for many people — going up to random people on the street and asking to take their photograph.
“For more than a decade, one of the things I’ve done is taken random portraits of people [hundreds, if not thousands], mostly strangers I’ve met on the street or in a random context. I would then email, Facebook, or print these images to send back. I also have a polaroid camera where I could pass on [images] instantly. These images are floating around uncredited in physical and digital spaces — and I love that. My favourite exhibition spaces are unknown.”
Janet’s goals for her future are wide and varied — in keeping with having many touch points across the artistic practice realm, she isn’t limiting herself to just one facet of work and creation.
“My personal goal is to never lose the love of looking, being curious and playful in approach. I’ d like to do more work in my local community arts scene, but also produce solo projects at a larger scale, internationally.”
Explore Janet Lilo’s Annual Commission by Baker+Douglas exhibition at the Auckland Festival of Photography from June 1–20 at Silo 6 at Silo Park, Wynyard Quarter, Auckland. Find more of her work at janetliloart.com.