QCP is taking books of sixteen Australian photo-media artists to PhotoBook Independent (1 – 3 May 2015). This series of focus interviews gives an insight into the selected artists.
How did you get into photography?
I have never studied photography but have always used the medium to support other forms of practice for example in the early days I used a camera to augment my silkscreen prints. More recently (2005 -) I have used photography to capture the ephemeral street works I made by inscribing abandoned furniture with quotes and homilies. Initially the photographs served the function of documentation but over time I realised I had developed my own particular approach to staged photography.
How did you arrive at the decision to create a photo book, and how is working with a book different from working on an exhibition?
Publisher Helen Frajman at M.33 approached me about publishing a book and it seemed like an excellent opportunity to collate and reflect on a very large body of ephemeral interventions on the street. Initially this work with trash lasted as long as it stayed on the street however the photographic record extended its temporality and the book was an good opportunity to review the project in its entirety.
Tell us a bit about your book featured at PhotoBook Independent.
As Long as it Lasts is a collection of photographs and an installation that records and interprets my ephemeral text interventions on urban waste. Over the last nine years, I have transformed hundreds of abandoned objects on local streets with stencils of quotations and truisms sourced from the public domain. Originally I wanted to rework the discarded objects to reveal the tensions that occur as a suburb becomes both more desirable and simultaneously more homogeneous. As the project developed the intention became less about the social and more concerned with impermanence and the passing of time.
Initially, the photos were intended only as documentation, but over time I realised that they were becoming a body of work in their own right – the result of a set of repeated processes. I always stencil the furniture where I find it – I don’t move it to get a better location or image – and I always take the photograph immediately after applying the text.
As a result the photos consistently reproduce the prevailing light and weather conditions, factors beyond my control. It is here I recognised the role of chance as a consistent component of my practice: chance determines what gets dumped and where, how it congregates, how it interacts with the landscape around it, but also when I encounter it.
Consequently the images draw upon, but sit uncomfortably within, the conventions of the staged photograph and the documentation of an event. In the later photographs I have purposely exploited that tension. The end result is that the photos reflect the banality and uncertainty of everyday life, just like the texts and the pieces of furniture on which they have been applied.
Since the project began in 2005, there has been little discernible change in the type and variety of objects abandoned on the streets. Yet my response to them has shifted and in curating this exhibition I have grouped the photographs into four series of work that roughly correspond to distinct (but overlapping) time periods.
The first series – The things people told me (2005) – is concerned with the fragility of life and its circumstances. The texts were based on stories told to me by homeless people and others at the margins of society.
The second series – The things people said (2005–11) – generally appropriates other people’s quotes: poets, politicians, writers, thinkers and artists (though some of my own thoughts are also included). The quote are selected in response to the materiality of the particular object – its scale, condition, colour etc. – and its location on the street.
For One thing leads to another (2011–13), the third series, I used vinyl lettering instead of spray-painted stencils, and applied the quotes to abandoned TVs. The text was often sourced from obsolete websites and blogs. In other words, I was working from screen to screen: redundant words, digital detritus cluttering up forgotten corners of cyberspace, is re-animated by applying it to an obsolete analogue technology that is cluttering up the street.
The final series, The Call of Things (2007–13), appears to anthropomorphise abandoned items of furniture as if they are speaking on their own behalf.
For more information about Julie Shiels, please visit her website.
Banner image: As Long As It Lasts cover