Q&A : With Annie Edney – Part 2
The Annie Edney Interview : Part Two.
After ten years of success with her clothing label ‘Waisted Talent’, Melbourne Artist Annie Edney decided it was time for a new challenge…
In this instalment Annie talks about working on festivals with local Australian communities and gaining a deeper understanding of Aboriginal culture. She also discusses achieving her masters in art education and how that experience changed the way she approached art completely.
By : ZH
When you stopped Waisted talent was it because you were not having the same amount of fun or was it more that you wanted to try different things?
I did want to try different things. I stopped doing secretarial work because I wanted to explore my creativity. And by the time we were doing Waisted talent there was so much admin, and… people are really scurrilous about owing you money. I had one guy that owed me AUD$10,000 and he would never pay any of it.
I found myself chasing money all the time and I thought to myself, ‘this is not what I want to do’. And so much admin, and book keeping, you know, the time I got to be creative was around midnight (laughs). So I just thought, ‘I don’t have to do this’. And I. Was just exhausted honestly, you do not do 16 hour days for a decade and not end up feeling exhausted.
After Waisted Talent you spent many years travelling around Australia. You worked amongst different communities and in some of the most unique parts of the country. What greater connection and appreciation did you forge for the land you lived in and the communities around you from working and travelling in this way?
While I was doing those big community. Projects a big and very important aspect was to engage with the Aboriginal people in the areas I was going to. Kind of at the beginning of the 1990’s, white Australians were beginning to become more aware of the value of Aboriginal culture, and starting to do things like wanting to have ‘Welcome To Country’ ceremonies.
I mean, now we say, ‘I acknowledge that I am on Wurundjeri Land and it’s unseeded land and I pay my respects to elders past, present and emerging’, that’s common, we al know those words now. But then it was not common.
But, I had the advantage, or the wonderful experience of working with a woman who knew about this, and when we were living at Phillip Island said, ‘I want to have a Welcome to Country’, for this new festival that they were starting up.
So it was my job to find the appropriate Aboriginal people, and that began my understanding, limited though I still feel it is. But I think I have a greater understanding of Aboriginal culture than a lot of white Australians.
And so, I felt those events that I was making were white mans Corroboree’s. My intention was to celebrate the land and the natural environment, and that’s what at the very base of Aboriginal culture. So I always made great efforts meeting them, finding our who was the appropriate elder that I should be meeting and talking with.
They communicate incredibly thoroughly the Aboriginal people but you have to wait until they have done that before you have got an answer or a confirmation of their willingness to become involved with what you’re doing. But I just learnt a lot about aboriginal culture about human relationship with land about respect. And I feel very privileged and honoured to have had those experiences.
Very unique and remarkable experiences to have gone through.
Yeah, yeah… I wrote a book about it. Just one copy (laughs)
What is it like working for art galleries and having your work exhibited?
(Laughs) Very different from all that work. And I find it quite challenging because I think at heart I’m a bit of an introvert (laughs). If I’ve got a context, and a role to play, and a job I’m fine. But just going into a space where I don’t know anyone and being a character is… and I don’t drink anymore, I could probably do it more when I was a bit of a drinker. And also economically and in a business sense it is a whole different ball game.
Up until I started thinking about and exhibiting my work every think I made from fashion up to these events I made it and I got paid for it because even though there was no profit in those events they were all funded and there was someone in the community getting funding which included my artist fee.
So, all of a sudden I’m looking at a situation where as an artist I have to buy all the materials, I pay for the studio, and my time is not paid four by anybody. And then I find a gallery that likes my work and me enough that wants to show my work. And then I have to pay for the gallery, anywhere from AUD$1,500 to AUD$4,000 for three weeks (this is the kind of current going rate).
Then you put the work on the wall, you might have to frame it first or prepare for exhibition which is a work in itself, and then you hope that someone is going to come and see it, maybe even buy it.
It’s all kind of precarious. What is the way it is. I think one of the things I did through Covid was to get to be feeling strong and confident enough about my work to be able to attract buyers. I’m not a sales person (laughs). I feel like I am super confident in this work and actually can’t wait to exhibit it.
How do feel when you see your art being featured in a gallery?
Well it’s pretty amazing. And it’s very interesting to be relatively anonymous in a crowd and watch peoples reaction to your work… that’s quite rewarding. The red dots are even more rewarding.
The red dots?
When they sell your work in a gallery they put a red dot on it.
What’s the most memorable reaction you’ve had to your work?
I really love it when people see things in my work that I haven’t deliberately put in there. And they get a sense of something, it has affected them, you can tell it has had an impact on them. But it’s quite a different impact, it is quite a different thought process it provokes, than the one I was having while I was making it. And I love that!
I thought for a long time that good art is something that constantly speaks a different story. So, you might have something hanging on your wall and in one mood you see one thing, or in a different light, it’s got something else to show you, say to you, a different story for you to engage with.
You’ve also worked a lot with fire, creating installations for festivals such as ‘The Collingwood Children’s farm Winter Solstice Bonfire’ and the ‘Woodford Folk Festival’. What is it about fire drawing that intrigues you and what goes into making these installations?
(Laughs and stops and thinks) I think as humans we have a fascination for fire. I think it’s not all that long ago that we had to have a very god relationship with fire because it warmed our homes, it cooked up food, it kept us warm and provided light.
And for protection from wild animals who wouldn’t come near you if you had a fire going.
And I think when we see the fire now, live fire, just raw, live flames, something ancient in us jumps to attention and goes, ‘Oh yeah, I have fire!’ (Laughs). And the first team of people that I saw working in this way, that i’ve now worked in for 30 years, came to Phillip Island, made fire drawings and I’m thinking ‘Oh, Yes!’ (Laughs), ‘I want to know more about that!’
They were an amazing bunch of people, the people themselves blew me out because they were so incredible, so talented, so energised and alive.
Initially then we used this paper rope that was a furniture product. They used it in furniture when you were putting in piping. There was a guy up in Northcote (in Victoria) who had this machine that made it so we would all go and buy it from him. Well his factory sold and an artist bought his machine and started selling the paper ropes for a lot more than he used to.
So then I started making my own fire rope and developed a way of making it that… when the fire was burning the fire would initially be a big flare as the fuel burned, and then it burn as a staled cooler flame as the rope itself would burn.
And then at the end there would be this lovely line of like coal. So, by making my own rope, and developing my own way of making rope, I developed more layers in what was going on.
I mean, fire drawing lasts 15 minutes, but the 15 minutes is not your average 15 minutes, you know, you’re in a different space when you are watching that.
And they have to be big. Because when a fire drawings going the line of the drawing can be 10cm wide.
And so, you want the design of the drawing to be quite sparse so you can still read it while these lines are still burning. So, the image needs to be metres by metres, it needs to be quite big.
So, to get it all lit at the same time, and get it burning at the same time, you need a team of people with fire torches. So, that was a lot of fun. Priority always on safety. But training people to move with a fire torch, how to light a fire torch and how to light a fire drawing… you know you are giving them an indelible memory… and many people had that experience.
How man people worked on one installation?
I often made them by myself. But I also had one guy who came and helped me regularly. Because, it’s a lot of work on your hands and knees. Then, if it’s a small fire, only a meter squared, then that’s going to take one person to do it.
But inevitably you get a couple of people just because it looks better… it’s night time, you’re outside, as soon as there’s live fire, that’s where the audiences eyes go. So, you want a couple of people who have been choreographed with simple movement who know what they are doing when they are waving around some live fire.
I think the biggest one I ever made was 6 meters high and about 15 meters across, and I had a very experienced fire Artist come and work with me on that. And we lit the top of it from the back with fire torches on extended poles.
What about fire safety? Where there any special precautions you had to take?
I always had to get a permit whenever I was doing a fire drawing. I lived for a long time up in Albury and the guy who was the head of the rural fire brigade… I’d go ‘Hi George, it’s me Annie!’ And he’d go, ‘oh, it’s you again. Yeah, you can do it.’ (Laughs), he knew that my practice was safe.
With some events you had to have a fire truck come and you would have to keep those guys away from the fire drawing.
In an event you have a crowd of 10,000 people, or more sometimes, and you’ve got the fire drawing ready to go. It’s fuelled., you don’t want anyone coming near it with a cigarette.
The fire fighters (laughs), they are not trained in that kind of thing, they are trained to run when there’s a fire going. So, you’d have to go, ‘take your cigarette over there, please.’
You have studied art in an academic setting. What do you feel you got out of that education and do you feel a formal art education is valuable today?
Oh, definitely. Well, of coursed you can draw to your hearts content without any education, and people do that. I’ve actually done quite a lot of different types of art education and its deepened my inquiring mind. Now I read philosophy. A trained brain is an advantageous thing to have.
It also teaches you so much more about yourself. A lot of people were saying while I was doing my masters – this is so much about learning your own parameters and learning about yourself as it is about learning the tools of the trade. It’s really about what your capacity is. And where you’re fed from, What feeds your soul and your mind and your creative practice.
It sounds like it introduced you to a lot of things.
Well, introduced me to reading more deeply and to writing. Of course you have to write essays when you’re doing that level of study. And into looking at what other artists are doing, because I never did that before.
I knew the people who I learned the work from, and I was learning in a very hands on, person-to-person way, but I wasn’t aware of what artists in New York were doing, or Japan or anywhere else.
So part of an art education was knowing the playground that you were in, who’s doing work that’s similar to yours, who’s doin work on the sort of themes you’re working with or the questions you’re working with. So that’s what I definitely got from doing my Masters.
The challenge for me was I got into my Masters without having a degree based on my work experience, which is fantastic.
But I had no art theory, no art history, so I was sort of in the deep end at a masters level learning about art theory.
Did the lecturers help you through that or did you get by on your own?
Oh no, the teachers don’t have time to catch you up on three years of study (laughs). No, it was just a lot of reading, and underlining and re-reading a sentence 5 times until I understood it. And training my brain basically.
So it was definitely well worth it?