Interview: Phoebe Kelly


Phoebe Kelly's practice investigates notions of personal memory, presence and place through the use of analogue photography and video, text and mixed media installation. By abstracting still and time-based mediums and drawing on her own material archive she explores photography’s sculptural potential and examines the constantly evolving relationships that can arise between materials and imagery.

During her takeover Phoebe travelled to the Perth Institute of Contemporary Art, to install her work in the Hatched National Graduate Show 2018.

Interviewed by Soph Kubler

Soph Kubler: As we saw during your Instagram takeover, you’ve just been over in Perth installing your work in the Hatched National Graduate Show at PICA. How has the experience been exhibiting your work in a major Australian contemporary art institution?

Phoebe Kelly: It was an amazing experience to be able to have work exhibited at PICA and I’m so appreciative of the opportunity, particularly getting the chance to meet and exhibit with graduates from across the country. It was also great just being able to work with the team at PICA and get the change to explore a city that I haven’t been to before.

SK: Your work in the exhibition, Holding it there (2017), is a mixed-media installation that combines large, cut-out photographs, laser-cut text on glass and rocks made from plaster. The installation, however, seems very driven by the three-dimensional experience of the photographs. How much do you perceive your installation practice as an expanded experience of your photographic work?

PK: I think I see my installation practice as an extension of my photographic work, as I’ve been trying to expand on these two areas within my practice and find a way to combine them. By doing this, I’ve become interested in the three-dimensional potential of photography and the ways in which it can shift and become something entirely different when incorporated into a space. An ongoing interest is also looking at the interactions and different relationships that occur when photographic material is combined with other materials or elements.

SK: What is the intention behind fragmenting your photographs within an installation?

PK: This work began with a series of photographic collages created a while ago, and after reviewing them over a year later I found that somehow these fragments of images were more evocative for me in revealing the memory of the moment than looking at the whole image. From this I became more interested in the connection between photography and memory, and its fragmented and ephemeral nature. In Holding it there, I wanted to see how I could explore this through installation, by experimenting in creating a fragmented viewing experience of imagery, text and objects.

SK: Your photographs often seem to have a softness that is both warm and melancholic, yet also appear quite spontaneous and uncontrived. How do you approach memorializing a given moment, while remaining in the present in your experience of an object or subject?

PK: I think that I always experience the moment first, and then when I see something that make me feel a certain way I feel a need to photograph it. By capturing these moments I feel like I experience them completely, maybe due to the extra focus on it needed to photograph it that somewhat cements it in my mind. But in a way it does also stop me from just experiencing it and being present which I am trying to do more of, but I always remember the photos I decided not to take.

SK: Do you think using analogue photography in the digitally dominated world has an inherently melancholic effect?

PK: I’m not sure if it’s melancholic, but it definitely has a nostalgic effect. Choosing to use analogue photography makes you slow down in a time when much faster and easier digital cameras are available, which makes you capture things a bit more thoughtfully I think.

SK: How do you think the temporal connotations differ in your analogue works compared to your digital works, say in Memory glitch (2017) or Memory landscapes (2017)?

PK: The added temporality in these works achieves a different effect while exploring similar concepts. There is obviously more imagery shown in these works through the use of constantly flowing and shifting analogue video footage, so the idea of layering time and fragmenting imagery to explore notions of memory might be stronger. However, I wasn’t entirely sure if I was happy with the resulting effect, but it’s definitely a medium I want to continue working with.

SK: You’ve also published your work in a number of print and online publications. I really liked the photo essay, Venture Out: Venice, Berlin and Copenhagen that you published in Decorate Youth Magazine (Issue 16, 2017) as a kind of documentation of your travels in 2016. Is this kind of format important to you as part of your broader practice?

PK: I think that this kind of format is important for me but in a different way. I see this kind of work as a straightforward documentation of a time and place and it provides a way to look back at those moments. Photographs I take while travelling or in an unfamiliar environment are also where most of my material that I use within my works comes from, but I find working with photographic material in different and more extended ways much more reflective and satisfying. However, I still like creating series of photographs from a place or time and enjoy being able to present them in formats such as photo essays.

SK: Are you working on any particular projects at the moment or taking more time to experiment and play-around?

PK: At the moment I’m taking more time to continue researching and to experiment with a few things. I’m travelling overseas soon for 6 months and am planning to be able to work on a few projects over there.

Phoebe Kelly took over the @inresidence_ari Instagram account 13-20 May, 2018. See more of Phoebe's work at her website here.