Artist Interview: Parallel Park

Interviewed by Meg Slater

Parallel Park / Sexual Athletics

Together Holly Bates and Tayla Haggarty are Parallel Park, a collaborative artistic duo creating experimental and engaging mixed-media works. They tackle heavy themes pertaining to gender and sexuality in a light-hearted way through the use of satirical, tongue-in-cheek humour. I recently had the opportunity to sit down with the artists for an interview about the creation and ongoing development of Parallel Park, their work for Shift 2, and their thoughts on Brisbane’s art scene and unique ARI culture. For more information about the projects that Bates and Haggarty are currently working on for Parallel park, make sure you check out their website.

MS: How did your collaborative practice, Parallel Park, come about?

TH: Parallel Park first developed in the third year of our Bachelor’s degree at QUT. We had been dating for about six months and were working in the same studio space on our individual artistic practices when we started brainstorming and developing ideas together.

HB: We were constantly sharing our thoughts and opinions, and we would often fell into discussions that would result in the production of a mutually shared idea. We would often argue about who the ideas belonged to, and then decided to tackle the ideas by creating artworks together.

MS: What are the positives and negatives associated with working together?

HB: The first positive is the fact that we are dating. We have such an intimate relationship, and this allows us to be 100% honest with one another. There is no tip-toeing around the other person’s feelings.

TH: Yeah, there’s no bullshit.

HB: If there is something that Tayla has done that I don’t like, she’ll know about it in about five seconds (laughing). Overall, it’s just nice to have an honest collaboration. I don’t think that I would be able to work with someone in this way without being as honest as Tayla and I are to each other.

TH: A negative is that because we both have our individual practices as well as the collaborative practice, sometimes it is difficult to know where to draw the line and know when to stop collaborating and function as individuals. Holly is the first person I tell my ideas to and, naturally, she provides me with her feedback. This makes it hard to say ‘okay, stop - you do you and I’ll do me’.

HB: Another positive is that Parallel Park is a great experimental space where we can play with ideas that do not necessarily fit within a theoretical framework.

TH: Yeah, it (Parallel Park) is kind of like a safety zone. It allows us to take on bold ideas that we probably could not handle on our own. It’s like yeah, let’s make 101 concrete dildos. Alone no, we could not do that, but together, easy breezy (laughing).

HB: Yeah, that’s right. Double the hands (laughing).

MS: What are the central themes of your practice outside of the scope of this exhibition?

HB: Our collaboration focuses on the external influences that impact on lesbian sexuality. We also often address the intricacies that exist within our romantic relationship.

TH: We integrate humour into our work and like to draw on a variety of different mediums to convey this subject matter.

HB: Basically, we are influenced by a combination of issues that exist within a bubble that we share.

MS: What work will you be showing in Shift 2?

HB: We will be exhibiting Pussy Presence.

TH: Pussy Presence is a scent that has been developed by Parallel Park.

MS: How will your work respond to the exhibition’s overarching theme of displacement?

TH: To respond to the exhibition’s theme, we are taking a comedic approach. We will be focusing on the physical element of displacement; namely, the lingering/coming and going that women experience when they interact with each other.

HB: An example would be walking past a woman on the street, and taking an interest in her, but not knowing if she is gay. How can you tell? We can’t just make assumptions based on clothing or personal style. Female sexuality is so fluid. It’s about seeing or having a brief encounter with another woman, and being overcome with a feeling of unawareness that subsequently gives rise to a feeling of physical displacement.

TH: Yeah, and you become completely engulfed in this beautiful woman in a matter of seconds, and then she’s gone, and you immediately feel a sense of displacement because that instant connection is lost. It’s almost like the encounter never even happened. On a broader level, we are also referring to the idea of a romantic bubble that is shared by two women who are in a romantic relationship, with the ‘pussy presence’ being your other half, your lover. We are always together, and when we aren’t together, we feel displaced from one another.

HB: There is a bit of anxiety about being able to connect with other people when you are constantly around a person that you have no filter with. You quickly realise that you cannot just expect to understand what you are thinking based on your facial expression or a look that you have in your eye. You have to reach a certain level of friendship and intimacy in order for this kind of connection to exist.

MS: What form will the work that you are developing for the exhibition take?

TH: Pussy Presence consists of three parts: a perfume bottle, lifesize cardboard cutouts, and a perfume video advertisement.

MS: Describe the developmental process involved in creating the work for this exhibition, and the stage of development that you are currently in.

HB: We found an immediate connection between the exhibition’s theme and the idea of ‘pussy presence’, which we had been developing for a while. We’ve always wanted to integrate the idea of scent and its relationship with women and sexuality into our work. After settling on a concept for the work, we spent a lot of time looking at perfume ads, particularly celebrity perfume ads. They tend to be short and sweet, and incredibly self indulgent and tacky (laughing).

TH: Yeah, so we started out by doing a lot of research into different types of perfume ads, taking note of (a) the lack of lesbian narratives, or (b) the lesbian fantasy, which is often used in pop culture to appeal to men.

HB: To ensure that the perfume ad follows a well developed narrative, we decided to create a storyboard, which we have been using during the filming process.

TH: We have been going off script and experimenting as well, which is lots of fun.

HB: We are currently in the editing phase.

MS: What is your ideal place to exhibit?

HB: (to Haggarty) I think that your first preference was a department store.

TH: Yeah! David Jones, Myer and other stores where a wide range of perfume is generally sold. Placing the work in this context and seeing if it would actually pass as a real perfume would be interesting.

HB: I think it would be funny to see people tip-toeing around this work, which invites engagement, in a very elite gallery or some other non-participatory environment.

TH: The advantage associated with presenting this work in a residential space is that the elitism often tied to commercial and publicly funded galleries is eliminated. Residential properties encourage audience participation, which is what Pussy Presence needs. They are comfortable and safe spaces in which narratives about lesbianism can be presented to a wider audience.

MS: There is an element of comedy present in many of your works, such as Sexual Athletics and Tandem. Why do you think it is important to integrate humour into your artistic practice?

HB: Humour is an important mechanism that allows us to examine serious issues from a different perspective.

TH: I agree, plus humour has allowed us to expand our target audience beyond the LGBT community. It’s an inclusive tool that we use to invite participation. Humour is something that is shared and that we can all agree on. It is a universal language.

MS: Are there any individual artists, or other collaborative groups of artists, whose practice has impacted upon your artistic output?

TH: Individually, we both have our own ‘lady-loves’ and inspirational ladies, who are often brought into the mix when we are working on a project together.

HB: When we were in the TATE gallery book store last year, we stumbled upon a book about the work of Tracey Emin and Sarah Lucas that grabbed our attention. It was really interesting because Tayla often identifies with Sarah Lucas’ practice, whereas I tend to identify with Tracey Emin’s work, and there was information in the book about them collaborating with each other when they were both early-career artists living in London. This kind of story is like a dream for us.

TH: On a local level, there are a number of Brisbane-based collaborative female duos that we look-up to, like Catherine or Kate.

MS: What are your thoughts on the ARI scene that is currently emerging in Brisbane?

HB: I think that the surge of ARIs in Brisbane is great. It is breathing life back into the city’s creative scene.

TH: As artists and co-directors of our own ARI (Clutch Collective), the influx of ARIs in Brisbane has been beneficial because it has inspired collaborations and healthy competition.

MS: What can we expect from Parallel Park in the future?

TH: Many things. We have too many ideas.

HB: You can definitely expect more humour and more play.

TH: I think we will be delving into women’s tennis and construction equipment (laughing).

MS: Will you stay in Brisbane?

HB: So far, we have stayed in Brisbane because we have been studying. Also, as an artist, I think that it is great to engage with your local art scene before you go anywhere else.

TH: Brisbane also has such an experimental and welcoming art scene where anything goes. Parallel Park will definitely venture off at some point, but we will come back home.