Interview and photos by Emmaline Zanelli
Local artist Aida Azin recently opened her latest solo exhibition Everything is Stolen at Fontanelle Gallery, exploring ideas of identity and place, and her personal connection with the Phillipines. Emmaline Zanelli went along to the opening and caught up with Aida to talk a bit about these things.
EZ- How has your practice changed over the past year since your last solo show Kalahati Kidz at the Grace Emily? I remember holographic paper on glass, ceramic characters on the window sills and a feeling of celebration in the work…
AA- The work I did for the Kalahati Kidz show was made right after I came back to Adelaide from the Philippines where I'd been spending time with Manila artist, Jeona Zoleta. My approach to making the works were influenced by Jeona and Fontanelle. I was given all this encouragement to loosen up in the studio and play with different materials and colours. So I started experimenting with painting behind glass and reversing the image as well as looking at ways to use the gallery space. The content in that show was about celebrating that I had found a bridge into my half-Filipina heritage. By going over there I met a whole bunch of crew my age who were also experimenting with portraying their cultural identity.
Since then, I've been trying to remember to let go of too many rules, because I think it's more pleasing to look at an artwork that's been done with confidence and freedom. I think I'm slowly gaining more of that in my practice and pushing my boundaries. I feel so good when I try something new and enjoy it - like with Single Use when we collaborated on that large-scale piece and I painted the mural in the gallery to create something site-specific and just free-styled it.
It's been exactly one year since that first trip to the Philippines. (Facebook told me so). In April this year I was in the Philippines again. This time I got to travel to more places and meet new people who were more politically minded. That's what the show Everything is Stolen is about - a political history of the Philippines shared through my own voice. So you can still see my chaotic and expressionist style coming through in the works. That's something that I think I can see developing - my own style. Some of the works are super calm and pared back and some of them are hectic and hard to look at. And that's because it's a true reflection of how I was feeling at the time when I was making them.
I think my practice is gradually moving on from being completely introspective to slowly heading into a more communal dialogue.
If you're of Filipino/a heritage and you were brought up in Australia you might be like me and not feel connected with the Philippines. I didn't even realise that I was missing out on so much until I started digging for it. Now I want to know my language so I can keep going back to my beautiful country. And even though I'm making art for my self, I'm also hoping that it's sharing a story that others can relate to. I owe it to those guys in the Philippines, who shared their knowledge with me, to regurgitate it back to Australia. A country that I think loves hearing what's going on in the rest of the world cos our government is so fucking close-minded and xenophobic.
EZ- Everything Is Stolen was originally to be held in the back gallery only, but with short notice you were given the full space. I saw you painting some of the mural piece last week ( it was beautiful to watch you ) and even though you said you were stressed I think that a sense of urgency has a good impact on making- do you think it does?
....Like at our show Single Use earlier this year- our collaborative pieces were pretty much still wet on the opening night but I reckon we couldn't have made them so wild without the impending doom of the deadline.
AA- Yeah, I thought it was meant to be just the back gallery not both spaces! But maybe that mix up was my fault… ha ha.
It's a good thing that I can make things super quick cos I'm always double-booking myself and that sort of thing so I would be so screwed if wasn’t able to make so quickly. Maybe I'm subliminally doing it on purpose. It keeps me in check. It reminds me that I can't take my artwork too seriously. It will be whatever it's meant to be. But I would like to get more organised….
Everyone knows I have one breakdown per show. I'm a very emotional person so it makes sense that I make my artworks under a bit of stress - helps bring out my personality :)
When on my recent trip, in Manila I had just been invited to do a solo exhibition (the first installment of Everything Is Stolen) at a gallery and I was stoked on the opportunity so I said yes even though there was pretty much only two full weeks to paint all these new works for the show. My friend and I would just hang out at my apartment, which was also my studio, and take naps in between painting instead of actually sleeping normal hours. I went kind of nuts from pushing myself so hard and hearing stories from all my Filipino mates- many were in the anarchist-punk scene, or were students. One of the most intellectual people out of all my friends was a graff writer- everyone had something to say to me. They told me about mining, poverty, rallies, and what the Spanish, the Americans, and their own government have done to the Filipinos. So I wrote it all down. I would take my notebooks everywhere. I had crazy dreams that I would record too. I was sketching everyday. The artworks are a record of all of this. My friends were so generous with keeping the conversations going because they understood how important it is to share knowledge. They saw how it tied back into me grasping my roots. I mean, it didn't matter what I asked, if I had a question they would know it's history - like, "Whose this on the one cent peso?", "oh that's Aguinaldo who's considered a national hero but actually.... he's a traitor because... "
EZ- On that, you keep incredible journals, I see them on our desk sometimes. But it felt different to see their pages up on the walls, collaged and photocopied. I felt voyeuristic twisting my head to read your tiny private journal scrawls and try to decipher the connection between your words and the articles plastered around them. Could you tell me a little bit about these works, does it feel very different to show your journals on gallery walls compared to other paintings or drawings?
AA- I think that when people look at any of my artworks they can see that they are personal, but they could never decipher them accurately. In that way, they probably pick up on my feelings rather than my thoughts. Which is good cos if they were written out plain to see I would die of embarrassment.
The journal pages had to be part of the show because I needed to do something with my thoughts that were written in them. Do you know what I mean? Without going into it, there is a lot of pain in them. From dreams, thoughts, events and memories to note-taking on other people's opinions of the government. Even though my paintings are referenced from my journals, if I had left them to sit in a drawer somewhere I would have been keeping all that anguish inside me, probably somewhere in my belly. I had to make some artworks with them... or burn them.
EZ- In Everything Is Stolen, I walk in and immediately notice how colourful the space is, how beautiful the work is, that big blue wall. It kinda feels joyful- like Kalahati Kidz?
But then I head into the back gallery, I watch a mash-up video work jumping between clips of demolition and dancing. I am standing side-by-side with a man I don’t know as we both move in real close to read your personal journal pages, feels a bit weird. I move slowly back out into the main gallery space. The colour feels satirical now, and the big politician's hand around the cartoon soldier is so much more obvious than before- like the back gallery gives me a new lens that I take back with me on my trip back through the main gallery.
Do you deliberately use satire in your work? How important is humour important in your work?
AA- Mmmm... that blue wall! I want to keep that blue in my mind forever.
It makes me so happy when someone gives me that kind of feedback. You've just described exactly the directional flow I want the viewer to take when they see the show. Have a look around the front gallery, perhaps rest on a few pieces, enjoy the scene of Baguio (drawn from a sketch I did leaning out the window of Baguio Village-Inn) and then head into the back gallery and come back into the main gallery with a new perspective. If the back gallery rattled you, good.
It's strange how colourful my work is when it contains such grief. But I guess there's a point in that, as a friend of mine said, "Filipinos get shit on a lot but we manage to keep keepin on." You know, like keeping positive for the sake of resilience. I think that's where the colours and the quirkiness and satire fit in. I wish I could take everyone on a personal art tour in the gallery and tell them the stories behind each piece…
Go see Everything is Stolen Fontanelle 26 Sixth Street, Bowden, SA, 5000 31st July - 28th August
Gallery is open Wednesday - Sunday 1pm - 5pm
See more from Aida Azin online at aidaazin.com and follow her on facebook or instagram at @aidapplebaum