Words Michael Stratford Hutch
Images Michael Stratford Hutch + Emma Magnusson-Reid
Emma is a fine arts student at the University of Tasmania, with a focus on sculpture and printmaking. I’m meeting with Emma to discuss her recent work – soft sculptures of fleshy, bodily organisms that paradoxically repel and allure. They incorporate scavenged materials such as fabric fragments, clothing, hosiery, jewellery, and animal teeth and bones.
Tell us a bit about yourself.
I grew up on a little farm in Tasmania’s North West. I had very creative parents and my self-expression was really nurtured. I’m now living in Hobart, and am in my third year of university. I like making 2D and 3D artworks—they both affect so differently, yet there’s an obvious cross-over in ideas.
You’ve described your childhood as ‘magical’. How do you think that affects your practice today?
Magic is very subtle. If you allow yourself to see it and be affected by it, the energy of it will find you.
Magic is learning about materials, how to convey your ideas. Materials have to be learnt and understood to a certain degree before you can manipulate them in a way that has esoteric power.
It’s unrealistic to think that one person can make things perfectly – we all have our own standards. Materials have limits! They break and die. I feel like I’ve been quite lucky – my work is experimentation that has gone well.
I think of this magic a lot when I see your work. In animating things, you yourself are animated.
Yeah, they draw the magic out of me! It’s reciprocal. These works started out with the idea of parasites, symbiosis, and energy. They’re absurd!
Absurdity is magic, and it’s beautiful. We have to laugh at things and how ridiculous it all is. Contemporary art is absurd! It’s a little bit of a running joke. Some people are just going to look at it and think it’s bad, but other people will pick up on the magic.
Someone may find magic in the monstrous, as well.
It all depends on that perception of meaning and acceptance of magic. I like my work to have beauty and caring and love. I want that to be felt by the people who see it. It’s hard to maintain that notion – some of my work is revolting with the hair and the latex and so on, but it is the combination of that beauty that is so alluring. I’m really drawn to all the paradoxes wrapped up in them.
There’s the grotesque in your work; a balance struck between repulsion and attraction.
What they physically represent are organs; that confrontation of our physical, inside selves. I let people touch them – as if you don’t want to touch them! I’m not going to take that power and exchange away. My works are characters, they have personalities. They are all very different.
Would you say these characters have evolved through your experimentation?
Every time I make a new one they’re evolving off the next. Sometimes I go backwards to revisit work, always trying to get better. Refinement frustrates me, maybe as an institutional notion because there has to be some kind of ‘full-stop’. It comes down to being more particular and more articulate about it. I don’t try to justify it, I just do it. That over-significance of things becomes a hindrance. I feel like my work is an indulgence, visually, I mean.
Sickly sweet, almost, with the pearls sewn in and the reflective pink fabrics.
I scavenge! These things are archives. I feed all of these things into it. It’s a rush finding these new components and adding them in.
It offers clarity when you make a work and you’re actually really happy with it. It becomes an anchor. All people should have some craft of true expression – music or science or anything. It’s human, and it’s becoming less viable.
So, what’s next?
I’m content being in Hobart for some more time. I’d like to go overseas, apply for residencies, make work, have exhibitions. Continue evolving. There shouldn’t be any added pressure!
I think we all have a bit of responsibility for the next generation. I want to help people with my art. It’s sharing that love, being humble. Being interviewed is weird. It’s surreal and conflicting.
But it’s almost like, in accepting this attention, you are suddenly exceptional, you are unique. Not humble.
You can’t feed off that, though! If you stop making work for reasons other than people receiving it, it loses that magic.