Interview: Bridie Gillman

Bridie Gillman / Overnight (Monkey Beach) (detail) / 2016 / oil on canvas / 137 x 366 cm

Bridie Gillman is an interdisciplinary artist whose practice is focused on the nature and process of negotiating cross-cultural experiences. By drawing on her time spent in Indonesia as a child and further travel as an adult, Gillman's work articulates experiences of existing between places and cultures. She is also a co-founder of STABLE, an exciting new Brisbane-based Artist Run Initiative (ARI) @stableartspace.

From 25 September - 1 October Bridie gave us a glimpse into her practice on our Instagram @inresidence_ari. Interviewed by Meg Slater.

Meg Slater: Tell me a little bit more about After, the self-published artist book you produced. What inspired you to adopt this format to showcase some of your recent paintings?

Bridie Gillman: I’ve been thinking about making photobooks for a while with different collections of my photographs, but never got around to pursuing it. The decision to make After was quite an impulsive one. It contains a body of paintings made in the months following the death of my uncle. I wasn’t consciously making work in response to this loss, but upon reflection, I realised the work really echoed that period of grief. I had a very strong urge to recognise it as a body of work with personal significance, before the paintings got separated and went off in different directions. Producing a book felt like the right way to do that, as it can be quite an intimate way to experience an artist’s work. After is in memory of my uncle, Peter Glass.

MS: You are a co-founder of an ARI - STABLE. I have a few questions about this exciting new venture.

A. What prompted you to establish an ARI?

BG: Yes, I recently co-founded STABLE with Alexander Kucharski. We’d been talking about doing something together for years but it gets a bit scary when you start looking at commercial leases. I realised the store room under my house had the potential to be an interesting space, it just had to be emptied and tidied up. Easier said than done! After a few years of lots of ARI activity, it dropped off a bit this year, so it felt like the right time to introduce a new space to Brisbane.

B. What can we expect from STABLE going forward?

BG: At STABLE we will present monthly exhibitions in our physical space, interspersed with curated online exhibitions, with an emphasis on diversity of medium and identity of artists.

C. Why do you think ARIs are an important platform for emerging artists?

BG: I think ARIs are important because they provide an accessible space for emerging artists to present their work. This is especially important in Brisbane, where there is a smaller pool of galleries and art spaces. ARIs also provide a platform encouraging of experimentation in one’s practice, which is great for both emerging and established artists. I’ve grown with the support of experimental and artist run spaces in Brisbane, and I’m hoping STABLE positively contribute to the community that has given me so much.

MS: Despite their lack of figuration, your paintings are experience-based. In many of your takeover posts, you explain how you integrate colours and forms associated with certain memories into your paintings, particularly those you have collected through travel. What led you to express your ideas and feelings through abstraction?

BG: While I majored in painting in my undergrad, I’ve only been painting again for the last two years, after a four-year hiatus. The other aspects of my practice that I focused on during that break were made in response to a particular experience of place, so it was only natural for that way of working and thinking to seep into my painting practice. In terms of why abstraction specifically – it wasn’t really a conscious decision, it’s how I have always painted. I think an abstract work can convey a lot, it just might take a bit more time to figure it out. The titles of my works are pretty important in providing a bit of context on the particular memory or experience being expressed.

MS: You have completed several residencies in Asia. What is involved in preparing applications for these programs?

BG: The first and most important step is figuring out where you want to go and what place would be most beneficial to your practice. It’s essential to think about and research the location. Ask yourself - why is that place a good choice for me and my practice? I’m interested in how residencies act as a conduit to build relationships that would otherwise be difficult to build. I think it’s such a great opportunity to spend an extended period of time in one place; to get involved in the art community. It’s a privilege to be welcomed into that community, so in turn I think it’s the artist’s responsibility to then maintain those relationships long after the residency is over.

Otherwise, it’s just like preparing an application for anything else, good supporting images, concise writing etc. I haven’t done one for a little while, I’m currently researching to hopefully organise one for next year.

Two weeks ago I got back from a trip to Malaysia and Indonesia. I was in George Town, Penang, an island off Malaysia for the Obscura festival of photography (more on that tomorrow) and to touch base with the place and people I met when I did a residency there in 2015 with Rimbun Dahan for 3 months. Residencies are such an amazing opportunity to respond to new locations and material. You get to know a new place and the artists and art spaces within it. Being in a new place is particularly pertinent to my practice as that experience is what I respond to through my work, whether it's through video, sculpture, photography or painting - my experience of place, usually a new or unknown place, but also maybe not so new. I found it very interesting returning to Penang and noticing the different way I saw it. The work I did in 2015 was quite bright, I was attracted to the yellows, teal and sweet pinks of the heritage buildings. But this time I saw past that and it was the more subdued greys, greens and rust that attracted me. I wasn't planning on it, but I wanted to respond to this through drawing so I set up a temporary studio and did that for a few weeks in between festival events. I don't do much work on paper so I'm not too pleased with what I did but it's a start, I want to push that side of my practice when I get back in the studio this week! I could go on and on, but that'll do for tonight, Bridie @bridiegillman #inresidencetakeover

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MS: Based on some of your takeover posts, it is clear that you are passionate about art from the Asia Pacific region.

A. Why does art from this particular region resonate with you so strongly?

BG: By growing up in Indonesia, and consequently spending so much time in the region, I’ve become more and more interested in the art being produced there. Regardless of that though, I think it’s important because it’s the art of our region, our neighbours, and it demands our respect. I think it’s ignorant not to pay attention to what’s going on in our own backyard.

B. Who are some of the artists from this region (and beyond) who have influenced your practice?

BG: I love Simryn Gill’s work. She represented Australia at the Venice Biennale in 2013! Born in Singapore, she lives between Australia and Malaysia, and a lot of her work is drawn from her experiences in Malaysia. I really admire her poetic approach to the political, and I especially love her photographic series’ Dalam and A small town at the turn of the century. I met and learnt about the practices of Wawi Navarroza and Miti Ruangkritya at the Obscura Festival of Photography in Malaysia recently. I loved that the exhibition featured photographs, sculpture and even painting. Different media was mixed together so seamlessly to explore a particular idea. It’s a track I’d love my practice to go down. Arko Datto’s photography is also very special.

More on the Obscura Festival of Photography @obscurafestival : I first stumbled on it 2 years ago and got to know people involved so I wanted to return this year. It is a yearly festival held in venues around George Town, Malaysia. It attracts photographers and artists from around the world but it’s still small enough that it has a strong community feeling. There’s no hierarchy, everyone mixes and ends up drinking on the street together at the end of the night. This year there was only one main print exhibition (less than previous) but I feel like the presentations, talks and informal discussions more than made up for it. I felt so professionally and personally nourished by the end of the festival, my brain and my heart were overflowing. Images: The print exhibition at the beautiful Hin Bus Depot of work by the South East Asian Photography Masterclass photographers; A talk by Maggie Steber and Tasneem Alsultan; SEA Masterclass photographers artist talk; Round table discussion on Asian photography; Photobook presentation by the Asia Pacific Photobook Archive; Each night ends with a projection screening- this is a snippet by the Rawiya collective of photographers. Bridie, @bridiegillman #inresidencetakeover #bridiegillman #obscura2017

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MS: You are a multidisciplinary artist. You have embraced a variety of mediums, namely painting, video, sculpture and photography. What informs your choice of medium for each new work you create?

BG: It’s not so much of a conscious decision, mainly whatever feels right. I take a lot of photographs when I’m away, and new work may come from that. I paint a lot when I’m at home, thinking about experiences I had while I was away. In saying that, I do think an artist’s choice of medium is important. Earlier this year, I collaborated with a filmmaker to work on a film project in Bali exploring the intricacies of the relationship between Australians and Bali in tourist hubs and areas of exchange. The film will be quite abstract, but I know the ideas that I wanted to explore through that project would have been difficult to express in a painting.

MS: You have experienced a great deal of success as an emerging artist. Your work has been exhibited in and written about by artist-run, publicly-funded and commercial spaces both within and outside of Brisbane.  Do you have any advice for other up-and-comers?

BG: Not sure about that but thank you! I’m still figuring it all out myself so I don’t really think I should be one to pass on advice. But, the biggest thing I’d say is probably just to keep making work, whether it’s practicing the same thing or experimenting with new things - just keep doing. That can be especially hard once you’ve left uni. Also, keep showing – look for, and make, opportunities to show.

And another piece of advice, which I’ve been told and am learning about myself – get used to the rejection letters. Each one hurts, and always leaves me questioning what I’m doing with my life, but I know I just need to keep going and not let it get me down (again, easier said than done).

From Malaysia I went to Jogja, Indonesia. I lived in Jakarta until I was 7 and have been returning to Indonesia somewhat regularly over the last 10 years. These are some photos I took at Pantai Parangtritis a few weeks ago – Photography has always been something I do but it wasn’t until I was doing a residency in Jogja in 2014 that I started to consider it more seriously. They are usually quite formal in composition, with colour playing a large role. Images of in-between spaces and moments that show traces of human interaction yet are (usually) devoid of people. These photos also reveal my growing interest in tourist areas/attractions and the weird things these spaces become. It’s early days but I suspect these may become part of something titled ‘WELCOME TO MY PARADISE’. Bridie, @bridiegillman #inresidencetakeover

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MS: What are your plans for the future? Will you be returning to Asia again anytime soon?

BG: I hope so! I’d like to do a residency next year in South East Asia, but I will return regardless, hopefully to Malaysia for the Obscura Festival of Photography in George Town again! Otherwise, I’m excited for next year’s STABLE program.