Winky face, ghost, monkey… Sharne Wolff on Nell’s real life emojis
Sharne Wolff: This year has been a big one for you – with your work included in the 2016 Adelaide Biennial Magic Object, and currently in the survey exhibition NE/LL at Shepparton Art Museum. Why Shepparton?
Nell: Just because Rebecca Coates, the Director of Shepparton Art Museum asked me. Curiously there are a lot of similarities between my hometown Maitland in NSW and Shepparton in Victoria – they are both regional farming areas, equidistant from state capitals, with comparable populations. But the big difference is that the Indigenous population and ethnic diversity of Shepparton dwarfs that of other regional centres in Australia. This was personified for me at Lutfiye’s Shish Kebab – a Macedonian-Albanian eatery that was festooned with indoor plants and Indigenous paintings. We ate lunch there most days during the two-week installation and not only was it delicious but I loved seeing all the different kinds of people eating there. And, as you probably know, there are serious plans afoot for a new museum so I’m sure we will be hearing a lot more about SAM in the near future.
SW: Did you make new work for NE/LL?
Nell: I made a new installation in an 8-metre long display case. I wallpapered the back and side walls of the display case in prints of my paintings. I’d originally made that print in collaboration with Romance was Born for use in fabrics. There are seven neon ‘drips’ on the wallpaper – the combination of the wallpaper and the neons give the impression of a graffitied toilet wall in a dingy Berlin nightclub. Then, in the display case are some of my bronze and ceramic works, artworks from my personal collection (including works by Jenny Orchard, Ramesh Mario Nithiyendren and my 18th Century rice bowl from Japan) alongside others that I’ve selected from SAM’s 3000-work collection. The works I chose from the collection intersect and echo the prevailing themes of my practice in the survey exhibition – East and West, religious figures and iconography, fonts and handwriting, Australiana and the Australian sense of humour, creation stories, eggs shapes, nature worship etc. The work is called ‘Some of the things I like’. The exhibition finishes in late November but the display case is on show until 19 March 2017.
SW: If you could be remembered for one work in your retrospective, which one would it be, and why?
Nell: You know the monkey emoji with her hands over her eyes? Well, that is my response to this question! I just don’t think like that. I pretty much only think of all the work I want to make in the future! What is far more interesting to me about the survey at SAM is how meanings crisscrossed and accrued over multiple rooms. And how the seemingly divergent strands of my practice and the diversity of materials I’ve employed felt more cohesive than ever before. I’m sure there is something else for me to learn from this show but I don’t know what it is yet.
SW: Your practice ranges across installation, performance, sculpture and video. Do you have a favourite medium?
Nell: Nope. My favourite medium is whatever I’m working on at the time. I didn’t plan it this way, it’s just who I am.
SW: We know your practice has been influenced by music – is there a song that best describes your work?
Nell: Oh that’s way too hard! At the moment I’m really into songs that have extreme tempo changes or that feel like two songs in one like N.I.B by Black Sabbath, Can’t You Hear Me Knocking by The Stones and New Person, Same Old Mistakes by Tame Impala. And on high rotation in the studio is Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and Tinariwen to soothe my soul, The Kills and Iggy Pop to rock out to, Parquet Courts to blow my mind and The Triffids for that sense of Aussie poetry and isolation.
SW: Which other artists would you nominate as important to your practice?
Without overthinking it, my top 10 artists de jour are Colin McCahon, Kiki Smith, Lucio Fontana, Mike Kelley, Sonja Delaunay, Nyapanyapa Yunupingu, ?tagaki Rengetsu, Mabel Juli, Richard Larter and On Kawara. In terms of my art education, I’ve been extraordinarily blessed: studying with Lindy Lee at SCA, under John Baldessari and Joan Jonas at UCLA, and with Annette Messager in Paris were all hugely formative.
SW: What’s another question that you wish I’d have asked?
Nell: Whatever the question is, the answer would be “dark chocolate from Barcelona and Nick Cave’s new album Skeleton Tree”.
* All images – Nell, installation image, NE/LL, Shepparton Art Museum, 2016.
See Nell’s work in NE/LL, Until 27 November, Shepparton Art Museum, Victoria.
…and in Nell’s first book ‘The Wake’, a gathering of spirits, relatives, friends and lovers.
Culminating in the form of objects, Nell explores binary opposites: life and death, happiness and sadness, light and dark. From its inclusion in the 2016 Adelaide Biennial of Australian Art at The Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide, to its current display at the Shepparton Art Museum in Victoria, ‘The Wake’ now also exists as a book on Nell’s practice. The monograph includes words by Julie Ewington and images of the 41 works that make up ‘The Wake’.