A sort of self interview/You can create other worlds

The following are my answers to some questions put to me by the Inner West Council for inclusion in their Art Post newsletter, which was supposed to be published to coincide with my recent exhibition at Chrissie Cotter Gallery, but, due to some administrative confusion, wasn’t. Perhaps this is self-indulgent, but given my responses to these questions it seemed to make sense to publish this myself.

Emma Davidson- A Dreamy Disposition copyright 2011

How would you describe your approach, the concept and methods used in your work ?

I think it’s easiest if I start with zines. I’ve been making zines for a long time. Zines are where a lot of my fascination with old books and cut-up techniques stems from, as well as where my love for typewriters and photocopying and all sorts of obsolete and semi-obsolete printing techniques comes from. I started making zines as a suburban teenage punk in the 1990s. One of the techniques I learned from zines was appropriation: stealing elements from newspapers, old Scouts’ Annuals, out-of-date encyclopedias and ‘Look and Learn’-type children’s books from the 60s and 70s. These kinds of books remain the basis for almost all the art I make. You quickly discover, through the act of cutting up a book (once you get over the guilt of doing so) that you can re-code the ‘common-sense’ messages contained in the original text. You can create other worlds. Lots of artists have made this discovery, and it is the basic starting point of all my work. Zines and punk also gave me a great love for and belief in the importance of making things myself, from scratch. When people hear the term ‘DIY’ they might think of home renovations programs, but to me it means being in control of the means of production, as individuals and communities. That’s an idea that underlines my whole outlook on life, including my art.

In terms of what my work actually looks like, it usually consists of a bricolage of found objects, images and text, mixed with images and text created with a variety of cheap printing techniques: Letraset, typewriter, stamps, stencils, woodblock prints, solvent transfers and photocopying. I make a lot of small pictures that are easiest to describe as collages, but perhaps are closer to decollage: the technique of removing or reducing the elements of a composition to the point of abstraction. I’m not so interested in making what you might call ‘naturalistic’ resolved collages, where, for example, a woman’s body is spliced with a flower or kitchen appliance, such as in the work of an artist like Linder (whom I greatly admire). I am often more interested in what is in the background of a found image than in the subject which occupies the foreground. I’m interested in how text can interact with an image to evoke an idea, or feeling.

What most engages you through the art process?

Material processes engage me. I am interested in how things work, how they are put together and how they can be taken apart, what their limits and potentials are. Usually when I make a new work I start with whatever material I have at hand and – it’s a bit cliched – I let it tell me what to do. The material always suggests something that it could or should be. There is a lot of chance and randomness involved in how I actually come across the materials I use in my work. Someone might give me a block of wood, which suggests a wood carving, or I might find an old children’s book on the side of the road, which will suggest some sort of cut-up. I’m constantly engaged by the potential for almost anything in the world to be transformed. Occasionally I will visualise a work entirely before I create it. For example, in this exhibition there is a prototype collaborative writing machine that I fully sketched before seeking out the materials to make it. I initially decided I needed three school desks for this work, so I went to Reverse Garbage to see if they had any, and lo, there were three desks of exactly the variety I had in mind sitting out the front, as if I’d willed them into being. I’m not superstitious, but these things happen. Objects and images that fit my aesthetic lexicon resonate with me, and immediately occupy the foreground of my attention: they hail me.

Tell us about the themes behind your work?

Whatever materials I end up using, the themes I work with are always the same. Basically, I believe that the world is not as it should or could be. I think this is a point of material reality that bears repeating, so I repeat it, again and again, in all the work that I do. The specific theme that I have imposed on this particular exhibition is ‘time’, because this exhibition relates to one that I had at CCG nine years ago, whose theme was ‘space’. In this current work there are a lot of elements that deal with ideas of temporality in some way or another. There’s the fact that this work consists of things that I have made over quite a long period of time. There are individual elements that were very time consuming to create, and things created by repetitious print techniques. I’m interested in reflecting on the amount of time I’ve spent on work (waged-labour) compared to the ‘non-work’ activity of my art, and the preoccupation in my art with old and obsolete materials.

What recent experiences have most influenced you?

Studying the history of typography, learning to ride a motorbike, taking apart a small motorcycle engine, helping to organise Other Worlds zine fair, the work of mysterious feminist art gang of two, Dexter Fletcher.

Are you inspired by any particular artists or designers, etc?

I am inspired by all my friends and comrades who are zine-makers, writers and musicians, who are too numerous to mention. I am very inspired by all the people who are involved in putting on and participating in the annual Other Worlds zine fair in Sydney, and the people involved at the Sticky Institute, in Melbourne. One of my biggest and most long-standing influences is graphic artist Gee Vaucher, who created the style and did all of the album artwork for UK anarcho-punk band Crass. I also love the work of British graphic designer Julian House, and find I have to put a lot of effort into not overtly ripping him off. Another favourite is German typographer and designer Wolfgang Weingart, whose whole career has been an experiment in exhausting the graphic potential in the material objects around him, whether they are designed to be used in print-making processes or not. I am a great admirer of Zurich and Berlin Dada, Russian Futurism and other movements of the early and mid-century Modernist avant-garde. I’m very influenced by my haphazard readings of the Situationist International, but in particular by the work of some of the artists involved with the SI, like Asger Jorn, Gil Wolman and Constant.

My favourite contemporary artist is mysterious Sydney-based feminist art gang Dexter Fletcher.

What messages are you aiming to communicate through your work?

There is an element of nostalgia, or a sense of being out of step with time (or temporal homelessness, as I like to think of it) in my work. This has to do with the materials I use, and the movements I look back to for inspiration. As much as I am critical of a lot of what is written in old books of the sort I use in my work, there is also a lot that I admire in them. Being designed for children, they are written in a tone of bright-eyed wonder and optimism about the world and the future. That not all the futures confidently predicted in these books were achieved gives them an air of melancholy.

One of my other favourite artists/musicians, the late Trish Keenan from the band Broadcast, once said of her preoccupation with the look and sound of the 60s and 70s that you can imagine a version of the past with all the sexism and racism removed, a utopia that helps you reposition your orientation in the present, your trajectory for the future. In popular science fiction from H G Wells onwards, time travellers have to wrestle with the temptation to alter something in the past that could change their destiny, or even the course of history. By travelling back in time could it be possible to restore in the past new, radical possibilities for the future? And what is it about our experience of the present that makes such a drastic intervention seem necessary? These are questions that preoccupy me a lot, and they constitute something of the ‘message’ I would like my art to convey. I suppose I am more interested in asking questions than telling people what they should think or feel about my work, or anything else.

Prototype simultaneous collaborative writing machine

All or nothing promo

Or, The Typing Pool

I’ll be in residence at Frontyard the week before my show All Or Nothing opens at CCG (see previous post).

I’ll be looping a long piece of paper through two or three typewriters.

This is an open invitation for participants/typists.

You can type whatever you like – pre-written/thought things, spontaneous whatevers, shopping lists, demands, pictures, nothing.

Depending on how I rig it, two or three will be able to type simultaneously, hence the title.

The more eagle-eyed among you will notice that this is just a way to facilitate Hanging Out.

Tea and biscuits likely.

I’ll post exact times I’ll be at Frontyard here – email or comment for further details.

If this works out it may, with everyone’s consent, be included in the CCG show.

Facebook event here.

Some notes on new old work


In 2010 I had a solo exhibition at Chrissie Cotter Gallery in Camperdown. The show was called “The White Room, or, Astronauts are not Excitable”. Its theme was space in the various ways that concept can be interpreted: space travel (I built a life-size replica of an early NASA space capsule), the spaces we find in our lives to do creative work, the spatial dynamics of minimal collage.

Since then I’ve made countless (mostly unexhibited/unpublished/not widely distributed) small collages, drawings, prints and zines through which I have explored my interests in life and art: utopia, photocopying, communism, cheesy television sci-fi, childhood/childish dreams, outdated encyclopaedias, obsolete printing techniques, stationery, amateurism, hobbies, modernism, punk, zines and so on.

In 2018 I am going to present this body of work in a new installation at Chrissie Cotter Gallery. Whereas the theme of my earlier CCG show was space, the theme of this one will be time: the time I’ve spent over the past decade on work (waged-labour) compared to the ‘non-work’ activity of art; how human cultures across the world describe experiences of temporality (uchronia, nostalgia, saudade), and the preoccupation in my art with obsolete materials.

The show will be called All or Nothing. I’m going to use this blog as a place to record my ideas about what it is that I’m doing.