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

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Janet Lilo

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.

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