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A Brief Chat with Elizabeth Thomson

Author: Mackenzie Grace Paton, Editor, Friends of The Dowse Newsletter

Despite the hustle and bustle of setup, I managed to sit down Elizabeth Thomson for a quick chat right before the opening of Invitation to Openness: Substantive and Transitive States. Thomson has created hundreds of bronze moths which quietly invade the gallery space.

Elizabeth Thomson, Invitation to Openness—Substantive and Transitive States, 2014. Photo: Tom Hoyle

Elizabeth Thomson, Invitation to Openness—Substantive and Transitive States, 2014. Photo: Tom Hoyle

Elizabeth Thomson, Invitation to Openness—Substantive and Transitive States, 2014. Photo: Tom Hoyle

Elizabeth Thomson, Invitation to Openness—Substantive and Transitive States, 2014. Photo: Tom Hoyle

Invitation to Openness is an installation commissioned by The Dowse. How did your original vision for the installation change or evolve throughout the process?

My original intention was to open with 400–500 moths. But these moths aren’t 3D printed or factory made; I had forgotten how hugely labour intensive they are to make…they are produced with fingers, a few basic tools, a foundry, and an electrostatic flocking process. I discovered too, as I was assembling them that it was important to make each one an individual—even within their families they needed their own identity. I had to find and redefine the character of each one at every stage of the process. I also thought that as this was a project it would be a great opportunity to treat it as a work in progress—with new moths arriving every so often and others there already, moving to another bit of wall. Usually you don’t get the chance to work on an exhibition after it opens, so it’s exciting to be able to add more moths as the exhibition continues. It adds to that elusive quality. Initially I wasn’t going to have the moths placed at extreme angles, but after looking at the way moths settle naturally, that’s what they do. There’s that slight edginess in terms of grouping, with parts that are still and parts that are shuffling. It gives the feeling that it could change at any time.

What kind of response are you hoping to evoke with this installation? Ideally, what are you hoping people will come away with?

The title, Invitation to Openness, is taken from an album by jazz pianist Les McCann recorded in the late 70s—the style is inventive and nocturnal, atmospheric jazz fusion. No voice, just sound. I always liked the title. To listen to the music, you just need to let it wash over you, and that is what I’d like with this project—just a chance to be in the space and spend time reflecting and being absorbed. To think back to those special clear times—to the thoughts and memories and experiences you had as a child. It’s a chance to slow down and take stock, when everything is going too fast.



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