Propping, Stacking, Leaning, Hanging – A Chat with Eve Armstrong
Wellington artist Eve Armstrong grew up in the Hutt Valley and has an ongoing relationship with The Dowse. She is currently working on a new exhibition for us, Rise, opening 10 August. Curator Emma Bugden recently visited Eve in her studio and asked her some questions about her work and practice.
What’s a typical day at the studio for you?
It can depend on the project I’m working on and which stage it’s at. At the beginning of any project I usually spend a lot of time in the exhibition space and surrounding environment – looking, walking, thinking, writing, drawing, taking photographs, talking to people, researching, reading – just taking things in. From there, if it’s a sculpture-based show then a studio day usually starts with testing materials and approaches.
My work is typically made in quite a precarious way – different components are arranged rather than being glued. There’s often a lot of propping, stacking, leaning, hanging – constant making and re-making with a few ideas on the go at the same time. I like working with objects and materials in quite a gentle way – so not changing them too much or trying to disguise them. As I work, one idea will lead to the next so it’s a case of constantly playing with ideas and materials. I call these ‘rehearsals’ as I always assemble and finalise my work in the gallery space. I find I have to respond and think through a space in quite a physical way so it’s important to me to actually make the crucial decisions in the gallery. That said, I usually have a few plans and starting points, but remain open to them changing.
My day also involves hunting for materials, typically at the local tip shop, op shop or hardware store. I have my camera at hand too. I’m constantly looking at ways we experience, order and manage the physical world, for example through retail displays, maintaining the streets or trimming a hedge. I’m interested in the material world and our experiences with the stuff that surrounds us.
How would you describe your work?
My work often has a sense of being precarious and temporary. I’ve described it as pausing in a space. The sculptures I make are usually disassembled and go out into the world again. I have often made large works that are also quite vulnerable – a sculpture made of entirely transparent, used plastic packaging or rubble from demolished farm buildings.
I have used found and second hand materials for a long time like cardboard, second hand furniture, packaging waste and rubble, although I’m also starting to use new materials now too. I don’t really use traditional art materials like paint or clay or bronze. Regardless of the materials the works I make are usually very tactile and colour is an important element.
What kind of experience do you want people to have with your work?
There’s no one way that I’d like people to experience the work and I usually work with layers of meaning so that you can engage with the work in a formal way – through colour, light, composition and so on. Alternatively, the work might suggest other ideas – working with found material brings many cultural and social associations, so there’s always an opportunity for me to work with those ideas.
I often think about the work I make as nudging people to have a closer relationship with the world around them – to be more attentive to the stuff and experiences that we encounter.
I’d like the sculptural works that I make to resonate in quite a physical way – I don’t mean through the work being interactive, but that the work registers physically in your body. This might be through a feeling, an aesthetic experience or something else. This experience also relates to my process of making – I often become engaged in my work through a physical process – thinking through making and doing.
Did you always know you wanted to be an artist?
There are some creative people in my family so I was lucky enough to be exposed to art and design at an early stage, whether through my Mum’s collection of books on artists or my Aunty and Uncle who constantly have a creative project on the go. I always loved art at school and studied art and art history throughout high school in Lower Hutt. I also loved English and was very interested in being a journalist. I didn’t think I was good enough to go to art school so I started down the journalism path. Somewhere down the track I ended up going back to art, first through some short courses, then studying textiles at Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology, then transferring to study sculpture at Elam School of Fine Arts in Auckland. It was a very gradual process. Opportunities to exhibit came during and after art school and then I just kept going from there.
Your work really takes shape in the gallery space – how do you know when it’s finished?
There are many different possibilities for the work I make and in the past I’ve called my work ‘arrangements’ to reflect that. In a sense, the work is what takes place in the space with the time I have (and the preparation and many ‘rehearsals’ that have come before it). I know a work is finished because it feels right –it’s resolved but also has a sense of openness and possibility.