Interview: Shaun Wilson
Luca Curci talks with Shaun Wilson during CONTEMPORARY VENICE 2021 at THE ROOM Contemporary Art Space and at Palazzo Albrizzi-Capello.
Shaun Wilson PhD, FRSA is an Australian artist, film maker, writer, and educator who for the past 25 years has made socio-political work about memory and places. He has exhibited and screened in over 200 venues including the 72nd Cannes Film Festival, 76th Venice International Film Festival, 11th Venice International Art Fair, 41st Art Cologne, 1st Athens Biennial, Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, the Australian Centre for the Moving Image, Museum of Contemporary Art Fenosa Union, Institute of Modern Art Brisbane, Seattle Centre on Contemporary Art, Moscow Museum of Fine Arts, Centre for Contemporary Culture Barcelona, and filmed collaborative work screened at the TATE Modern, Dundee Arts Centre Scotland, FACT Liverpool, and the Gallery of Modern Art Brisbane. He holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts with distinction from RMIT University (1995), a Bachelor of Fine Arts (Hons) with distinction from Monash University (1996), and a PhD from the University of Tasmania (2005) where he was awarded a prestigious Australian Postgraduate Award (APA) scholarship. His projects and research have received funding from the National Association of Visual Arts (NAVA), Arts Victoria, the Australia Council for the Arts, the Department of Sustainability and Environment, Victorian State Government, RMIT University, University of Tasmania, the ERGAS Collection at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney and private philanthropic funding. He has filmed and directed the slow cinema pentalogy The 51 Paintings Suite and has produced and directed two narrative-based feature films The Last Man in Vegas and Black Garden.
He is currently a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts ANZ, a full member of the Australian Director’s Guild, a film distributor with Bakers Road Entertainment and a Senior Lecturer in Digital Media in the School of Design, RMIT University.
In 2021, Shaun is a research resident with the School of Design, RMIT University at ACMI-X (Australian Centre for the Moving Image) investigating vintage 8mm home movies.
Luca Curci – What’s your background? What is the experience that has influenced your work the most?
Shaun Wilson – I live in Australia and have developed my practice over a thirty-year period which now has an interdisciplinary approach through video, miniatures and painting. The work that I’m making at the moment has obviously been influenced by COVID-19 where I’m involving the pandemic as a thematic in terms of both conceptual and aesthetic levels.
LC – How did you get to your current artistic practice?
SW – I went the traditional Postmodern route of institutional art school, working my way up in and out of academia through to a PhD in the first ten years which also included co-founding an artist-run space in the mid-1990s then continued on the path of full-time practice in-between learning how to make narrative films to then juggle being an artist, a film director, and an academic in that order.
LC – Do you use art to express something in particular? Is it your medium of expression?
SW – I tend not to think of art in my own practice as an expression as I’m more interested in the conceptual and theoretical approaches that my work takes coupled with technical proficiency. I can’t say that I value self-expression, inspiration, or emotion in my work because, in my personal life, those instances mean very little to me where I’m fundamentally devoid of emotion and expressiveness in my day to day immediacy simply because its not something that I’m interested in when compared to more of an academic or somewhat serious approach in creating high art without of course the silliness and elitism that often goes with that kind of space – its more the nature of the artefact being of high art in its affect that I’m interested in but definitely not the stigma of high art as the creator which quite annoys me in many ways on an avatar or narcissistic level – i.e Instagram case in point!
LC – What is your creative process like?
SW – I’m quite pressed for time at every level these days and making art doesn’t necessarily have a set period of manufacture throughout the day when I would normally have the luxury of making that and that only, so the honest response to the question would be that the process of making art simply makes it however I can whenever I can at wherever I can. As I’m an established artist, I have 30 years of experience to fall back on and I know how to make good art quickly without wasting time thinking about it. If I had that luxury in my schedule, I’d certainly employ that method but I don’t so if art-making is going to happen every week, which it does, my process tends to be to fit it in between everything else that I have to do during the week in order to comply with survival via expectations of a job, frequent deadlines, domestic responsibilities, and the rest.
LC – How is being an artist nowadays?
SW – COVID-19 has certainly impacted artists in ways we haven’t seen at a global level since 1945, from health to survivability, to employment, to sales, to public exhibition, to be able to feed themselves and afford basic living requirements, and also in mobility to travel between their studio if they have access to one etc hence I’d safely say that being an artist in 2021 is profoundly impacted by the pandemic, especially from economic indicators that simply have been exacerbated over the last twelve months. That’s not to say that every artist is in crisis at the moment but it’s fair to say that the pandemic has profoundly changed the way that we function even at the domestic space level in such a disruptive nature that in many cases, an artist’s practice is simply forged around the ability to survive.
LC – Can you explain something about the video you have in our exhibition?
SW – The work comes from a larger project that I’m just starting to understand now which response to the pandemic and also the loss of my aunt from COVID-19. I’ve referenced poses from my subjects of characters from German medieval paintings which were manufactured during the Black Plague era and in this, I filmed in my house with what you see in the video during the 2020 Victoria lockdown where we had severe lockdown restrictions lasting over eight months which I believe was one of the longest enforced periods of martial law in the world during that year (which is why we have experienced in our community very little deaths from the pandemic in comparison to other countries who did not initiate extreme and immediate measures of lockdown and the suspension of democracy).
LC – What do you think about the concept of this festival? How did it inspire you?
SW – I’ve been showing with the festival for a while now and have always enjoyed participating in the shows.
LC – What do you think about the organisation of our event?
SW – Any organisation that doesn’t kick me out after the first show (and it happens) is fine with me!
LC – Would you suggest a collaboration with us? What do you think about our services?
SW – Working in the arts is hard at any age and working with artists can be even harder, especially when dealing with the immeasurable and infinite ego of artists who somehow think that they’re important on every nano level when in the case of reality, if you can call it that, they’re not. Damian Hirst once described it as ‘artists are pigs to deal with and in my experience, he was right so the fact that your organisation has lasted this long and provide the service it does I think is a credit to those who have made it happen. The Arts in a professional space is a business like any other industry and there are certain standards to uphold when doing so. I’ve never been disappointed or critical of any of the experiences I’ve incurred over the past five years.
LC – Do you think ITSLIQUID GROUP can represent an opportunity for artists?
SW – In the COVID-era of making art, any opportunity is a good opportunity in my world view – I’m always surprised that organisations have managed to continue through the pandemic. For the few who have remained operational, such as ITSLIQUID, I think that in itself is a remarkable achievement and artists would be silly not to consider the platform for exhibition when opportunities for shows have greatly diminished.