Anita Holtsclaw, visual artist

My main creative process is play ...

Tucked up in inside a heritage-listed building on Edward Street, Brisbane-based artist Anita Holtsclaw has been shaping enormous swathes of transparent toile into sails and waves, editing video projections shot off the coast of Bundaberg and crafting soundscapes to reimagine the 1970s voyage of Dutch artist Bas Jan Ader. As the culmination of her time as the Metro Arts 2014 Artist in Residence, Anita’s free exhibition searching opened yesterday and will run until Saturday December 6, with an artist talk on Wednesday November 26. Following the awarding of the inaugural QUT Visual Art Showcase Award last week, The Weekend Edition popped in to Anita’s studio to take a sneak peek at the artist’s incredible large-scale installation.

How would you diagnose the health of the local arts scene right now?
I think that despite the major visual art funding cuts from the government at both the state and federal level, the art scene in Brisbane is still quite healthy. It’s the people here in Brisbane who are powering that, by putting their own time, effort and money into creating some great spaces for contemporary art. There is always room for more artist-run initiatives in the Brisbane art scene – they create a fantastic platform for experimental art. These spaces are hard to run without the some funding support and I think that unless the political situation changes in Queensland, we will sadly see a decline in art spaces across Brisbane.

If you were to take a visitor on an arts tour of Brisbane, where would you stop?
I have a friend visiting from London later this year and I have an itinerary planned out! First, we’ll go to Boxcopy, a space we co-founded with the other very talented co-directors back in 2007. From there, we’ll head to the Institute of Modern ArtMilani Gallery and QAGOMA. If we have time, we’ll catch the CityCat between the UQ Art Museum and QUT Art Museum. Finally, if it happens to be an opening night we’ll go to Inhouse ARI or Spiro Grace Art Rooms.

Your new exhibition searching imagines what might have happened to Dutch artist Bas Jan Ader on his attempt to cross the Atlantic Ocean for his final work; what can art admirers expect to find inside Metro Arts this month?
searching will combine some of the materials I work with such as voile, digital video and sound to imaginatively recreate the sails of Bas Jan Ader’s boat Ocean Wave. As well as the sails, I’ll be using the heritage wooden floors of Metro Arts as an expanded boat’s deck with surrounding waves sculpted out of voile. This exhibition will also feature a moving image and sound component that will shift and change throughout the exhibition dependent on the light conditions of each day.

How would you describe your creative processes?
My main creative process is play. When I use this method, I try to listen to the work to see what direction it takes me. For this show, this process has involved spending time in my studio intuitively sculpting fabric into wave and sail forms. At the same time, I’ve been thinking about and revisiting Bas Jan Ader’s work. I discovered his work over ten years ago and I keep coming back to it again and again. It took me a few months in the studio before realising that what I really wanted to do in searching was explore my relationship with his work.

The video for the exhibition was filmed off the coast of your hometown of Bundaberg. What can you remember about your childhood growing up there?
I had a really wonderful time growing up on the coast at Innes Park. I’m the youngest of four children and have two very giving parents, so my childhood was always filled with hilarious family times. When I wasn’t busy running around with my sisters and brother, I remember going for long walks along the coast in front of my house, exploring the rock pools, seeing how the waves crashed upon the rocks, and looking out toward the horizon at the ships passing slowly by. My parents, sisters, nephew and niece all live in Innes Park so I go back now quite regularly to visit them and on each visit I still go for a rock walk. It’s still one of the spaces where I find it easiest to think and is often where I think about and record new works.

You’re now based in Brisbane, what do you love about living here?
I’ve been living in Brisbane for just over ten years now. What I like most are the people who live here. I have some truly wonderful friends who have helped, supported, encouraged and laughed with me over the years. These people, and the various initiatives, spaces and projects they run, make Brisbane a really great place to be.

Congratulations on being selected as the Metro Arts Artist in Residence for 2014! How has the 12-month program benefitted your artistic practice?
I’ve been deep in a PhD for the last few years, so my residency at Metro Arts has given me space to think about and make art outside of the framework of that. Having the studio has pushed me to explore and play with new materials, methods and approaches to making art, as well as re-working old favourites such as digital video, editing and voile. This year I’ve started working on a series of live performances and embroideries, which exist alongside my video installation practice. These new playful approaches to making art found in the studio have taken my practice in unexpected directions. Another great part of having a studio at Metro Arts is the option to test out new works at their Friday Night programs.

You’re also co-director of feminist artist collective LEVEL, can you tell us a bit about LEVEL as well as some of the workshops and picnics the group has held?
LEVEL is an artist-run initiative and feminist collective, co-founded in 2010 by Courtney Coombs, Rachael Haynes and Alice Lang; Caitlin Franzmann, Courtney Pedersen and I joined in 2013. LEVEL focuses on generating dialogue around gender, feminism and contemporary art through exhibitions, discussions, workshops and participatory works. LEVEL is interested in models of collaboration and collectivity, and a commitment to critical engagement with the diversity of women’s contemporary arts practices. We’re keen to strengthen relationships between artists, writers and curators, so that women in art get to build a range of professional networks and have challenging conversations. In the past year, LEVEL has held a variety of projects that include an International Womens Day Forum, banner-making and star-weaving workshops, participating in a political march, curating an exhibition focused on social practice at The Block as well as holding feminist picnics at the MCA in Sydney and Gallery of Modern Art in Brisbane.

Where would you love to exhibit your work one day; what’s the dream?
My ideal exhibition space is the Turbine Hall or the Tanks at the Tate Modern in London. These spaces combine a unique presence from the past with possibilities to transform and experiment in their vast open spaces to create immersive contemplative works, such as Olafur Eliasson’s The Weather Project from 2003.

What messages do you hope to convey through your art?
In the past, my works have created spaces for fragmenting the experience of cinema and observing the patriarchal constructions of gender in screen media. searching builds on these interests to explore how landscape in cinema is used to alter our conceptual and sensory experience.

What influences and inspires your work?
I’m influenced by film, contemporary art and the landscape, in particular the volcanic terrain of Queensland coast.

Only a Brisbane local would know… how the sunlight moves through the trees as you drive back from the coast.

Perk up … Scout, Petrie Terrace.
Relax … friends’ backyards, New Farm Park and the beach.
Indulge … Northey Street City Farm Organic Markets, Windsor.


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