In conversation with Roseanna Parkes – Briony Roelandts

'Dendrophilia' (2015) inkjet print on silk

I had the pleasure of interviewing Canberra-based artist Roseanna Parkes. Roseanna is studying a Bachelor of Visual Arts at the ANU School of Art and will graduate at the end of 2016.

Briony: Thank you for meeting with me Roseanna. Tell me, what’s your medium?

Roseanna: Photo media. So there are conventional types of photography, like darkroom printing, but I like to push what photography can be. For my Grad show I did quite large prints on silk, it was an installation work of trees that are quite vaginal. They had an environmental and political agenda.

B: Tell me more about the trees – where did that idea come from?

R: Trees, to me, represent women, both physically and spiritually they give us oxygen, life. I had spent a lot of time down at the Tent Embassy and was talking to the uncles and aunties, so the idea came through that too.

B: Going down to the Tent Embassy, were you looking for inspiration?

R: I’d always been curious about it. My friend Belle went down there during the Enlighten Festival in 2015 and came back to class and was telling us all about it. I was like ‘I’ll just go down there and check it out’! At the time I had a documentary project for my major, so I ended up doing large format film portraits of everyone down there, at that time. I started hanging out down there more and became in raveled with the place. I have experienced a lot from my time there which intrinsically effects my thinking process.

'Uncle Chris at the embassy', 2015 4x5 negative.

‘Uncle Chris at the embassy’ (2015) 4×5 negative

B: Are you from Canberra?

R: No, I was born in the Northern Territory, then I lived in Armidale NSW, and then moved here at the start of high school.

B: Tell me about how photo media differs from traditional photography?

R: It’s more open than traditional photography – you have more space to explore what photography can be. It doesn’t constrict you to using a camera either.

B: In terms of themes in your work – what do you like to explore? What are you interested in depicting?

R: Its’ all pretty self-centered (laughs). It’s based on your own feelings and your own views of things. At the moment I’m doing more environmental, hippie, greenie stuff. I’m doing cyanotypes and natural dying. Cyanotype is a chemical process. You mix 2 chemicals together – I’m doing it on fabrics – so I put the fabric in the sun and it reacts to light. Then you wash it to get a solargram print. I’m doing cyanotypes of bodies – there’s a stencil of a body and I’m tie-dying it with natural dies. They’re going to be in a show on August 25 at the Alliance Francaise – the French Learning Centre. I got an exhibition award there when I graduated my major. The cyanotypes are bright blue, representing the sky, and the dyes are earth pigments, representing your connection to the earth and that’s why I’m using bodies – its about our bodies and our place.

B: Tell me about One Night Stand?

R: I did it in my second year for a conceptually-based class. We had to pick a word from the dictionary with our eyes closed and then an object out of a bag, and conceptualise an art work from it and create that art work. I got “tea pot” and “frost”. Frost is harsh, but beautiful, and tea is comforting – and you both have them in the morning. Also at the time, you know, first year uni, you’re pretty rambunctious! Having a lot of, you know… sex with someone that you don’t know very well. So from that I went out, got drunk, with the intent of sleeping with someone and photographing it on a disposable camera. I printed the photos out on cartridge paper. It was fully disposable sex… the only thing that remains is the film.

'One night stand' 35mm negative, 2013.

‘One night stand’ (2013) 35mm negative

B: Tell me about to some of your other works. Are they intended to have feminist undertones?

R: I have one called ‘GirlGang’ – triple exposures in the studio on 4×5 film. It’s about sisterhood and girl gangs. When you spend a lot of time with your female friends, you pick up the same mannerisms and you’re all kind of intertwined in some way. It’s inherent being a female (and a feminist) You’re a woman, you’re going to express how you feel as a woman. Of course (my artworks) are going to have feminist undertones.

'Roseanna, ellen and cat' 4x5 negative, 2015.

‘Roseanna, ellen and cat’ (2015) 4×5 negative

B: What artists inspires you?

R: The classic ones – Tracy Moffatt, Sophie Calle – who does writing and photography – and tells normal life stories, but from her perspective, as if they are the worst experiences. I really like her work. Rennie Ellis – I’ve always been pretty into him. There are famous artists who inspire me, but it’s generally people I know to be honest – my peers, my relationships, my friends, and just conversations I have that burst thoughts. It’s always good to go to galleries and look at what everyone else is doing. But, yeah, it’s conversations I think that are super important to have as an artist.

B: Where to from here?

R: Being out at the Tent Embassy… there’s just so much trouble I can cause! Making politically engendered artworks to have a voice, to give other people a voice, to just let other people know what is on. People do not seem to know! Uncle Chris is an Arrente man. His land in the Northern Territory is currently occupied by the American Army Base called Pine Gap. So he’s been stirring up trouble there and there’s going to be some stuff happening this year.

B: Tell me about the role of art in sending those messages.

R: Well everyone can look at art. Art’s easily accessible. All you have to do is look at it and interpret it. It’s the easiest way. People aren’t going to sit and listen to someone if they don’t want to, or read a massive book if they don’t want to. All they have to do is either listen to music or look at visual art to get an idea about what’s going on. You can be bluntly political in your art, or you can be subtly political. I think I’m subtly political. I think that’s good because people think a bit more. You get a bit turned off if it’s openly political. If it’s subtle it leaves room for your own interpretation and thought.

B: What’s you background? How did you get to this point?

R: Well my parents are hippies. They’re continual interest and exposure to the environment, to the bush… I spent a lot of time in the bush growing up. I have really beautiful memories from being out there. And I think being in Canberra as well.

B: What has your experience been studying Visual Arts at the ANU School of Art?

R: It’s been really good! I started in 2011, then took two years off, and then was part time when I went back. Uni’s hard and you’ve got to take it easy because it can be very draining. But I did see a lot of changes… a lot of cuts happening. When I started in 2011 we had about 5 teachers – a part time/full time mixture – but now we’re down to about 3. That’s been the most noticeable change. But it’s still a massive community, especially the School of Art. It’s not competitive, its supportive, which is really important. We support each other, we help each other out, throw our ideas back and forth. I don’t think I would be able to do that degree without strong peers.

You can explore Roseanna’s work on her website http://www.roseannaparkes.com.

Briony Roelandts

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