Tell Laura I Love Her: A Talk About Girl Space

Aimee Knight (Writer in Residence at The Mill)

Mayim Bialik is a neuroscientist, but in most circles she’s better known as the former teen star of 1990s sitcom Blossom. Or for her more recent turn on The Big Bang Theory, in which she gets to play a neuroscientist. Anyway, she says it’s sexist to call women ‘girls’ because it’s infantilising. I think about this (and how much I love the Girl Space branding – in that most delectable of shades, ‘millennial pink’) as Laura walks into The Mill.

A self-taught artist and first year nursing student, Laura Gentgall founded Girl Space in 2017. She tells me it’s an art collective for anyone who identifies as female. It’s a place – both figurative and literal – of support, mentorship and freedom of expression for emerging wom*n artists in Adelaide. Tomorrow night, Girl Space launches a new exhibition at The Mill. Today, Laura and I sit in the gallery, opposite a photo series featuring semi-obscured body parts and candy-coloured excretions. It’s pretty neat.

“This, to me, is an important first,” says Laura. She’s “loosely curated” two other Girl Space shows before – one of them on a fortnight’s notice – but they weren’t as tight, nor as big, as this one. “This has been quite heavily curated. It’s really our inaugural exhibition,” she says.

The works on show were created by Antonia Ditroia, Ban-She, Brianna Speight, Ellie Anderson, Indigo Cherry, Nina Haigh and Sascha Tan (with Laura assisting “on the side like, ‘yeah, you can do this’”). There’s photography, collage, marker on paper, oil on canvas, acrylic on calico, and digital prints on show. 

“Shall we take a little stroll around the gallery?” I ask.

“I'll turn the lights on,” says Laura.

The halogens arouse and I get a better look at Brianna’s photos. Pastel goo spills from an androgynous mouth. Acrylic talons are blue-, pink- and yellow-tacked to the back of someone’s hand. “It’s quite playful, but it’s also a bit grotesque,” says Laura. “Brianna uses a lot of fabrics and textiles to mask the body. She’s finishing visual arts at UniSA, doing this at the same time as her major works for uni,” Laura says.

We turn the corner to Ban-She’s pieces. “She likes painting girls in their environments [but] she really went outside her comfort zone. She’s used to painting ‘what you see is what you get’ art, but she’s gone a bit surreal.” Teeny-tiny femme figures nestle in messy bedrooms. They look like Where’s Wally? and Polly Pocket’s lovechildren.

“It’s a bit of an adventure, picking out all the little details. I love the hanging plant earrings,” says Laura.

“I like the little kitty,” I say.

“And the eyeballs on the antennae.”

“Little Totoro on the bookshelf.”

“It’s so creepy, but it’s good.” It’s really good.

Next we inspect Ellie’s multiple-exposure photos. The prints are almost a metre tall – the largest works in the show. Their striking black and white stands out from the hypercolour pieces we’ve seen so far. “Her work is all about the layers of communication, layers of her life. They’re quite personal,” says Laura. 

She steps me through Sascha’s digital pop art prints, Antonia’s riff on the pin-up girl (ft. her mum, Lisa Simpson and the lady off a pasta box), and Nina’s paintings about her trip to The Top End.

“Are any of the works for sale?” I ask.

“Everything is,” says Laura. I try and fail to maintain a poker face. 

“I know,” she laughs. “I've already put my name on one thing.” She points to the first work anointed with a circle sticker. One of Indigo’s candid snaps, it’s “a love letter to her friends,” says Laura. Urchins swing from a Hills Hoist, steeped in anemoia – nostalgia for a time they’ve never known. My guess is ‘1990’ (the year Blossom premiered, incidentally).

I ask how old the artists are. Indigo is twenty, as are Nina and Sascha. Ellie’s twenty-two, Brianna’s twenty-three and Ban-She is twenty-four, Laura explains.

“I feel like an underachiever,” I don’t mean to say out loud but do.

“It sucks when you see people who are younger than you,” says Laura (also twenty) to me (twenty-nine). I mean, it does and it doesn’t. I want to say that but end up asking:

“How are you feeling about opening night?”

“Excited,” says Laura. “A bit nervous, but mostly excited.”

We talk, off topic, about that for an hour or so (even though we both have shitloads of work to do) before parting ways.

Later, I wonder if Laura knows the song, “Tell Laura I Love Her”, a kitschy death rock ballad from 1960. Released during teen culture’s first light, it tells a lavishly tragic tale of true love cut short by a fatal car accident. It was banned by several radio stations, including the BBC, but it piqued the uniquely morbid interests of pubescent girls, and raced to number one. Young women dig life, death, art, artifice, sleepovers and car crashes in equal measure.

If I’ve learned one thing in my nine and score years, it’s that girls are multitudinous (and it feels good to say so). Give them space and they might surprise you, although they really shouldn’t.

. . .

Girl Space ran from September 8 - 22, 2017 in The Mill’s Exhibition Space as part of FRAN FEST. Centred around the visual arts exhibition curated by Laura Gentgall, Girl Space also presented an all-female makers’ market, life drawing class with Jelena Vujnovic and opening and closing night events. 

Aimee Knight is one of the inaugural participants in The Mill’s Writer In Residence program. Other works commission day Aimee were published by CityMag (read Peter Fong: Drawing from nature  and Botanic Poke with tattoo artist Nadia Suartika). Applications for the second round of the Writer in Residence are now open. Find out more here.

Ignition / Australian Dance Theatre

Erin Fowler (Co-Artistic Director of The Mill)

Is history linear or cyclical? Can we learn from the past and change our futures, or, are we forever repeating ourselves? Our histories, both personal and global, are constructed through reconstructions, reinterpretations, and unavoidably biased retellings of moments in time.

This was the starting point for my latest short dance work, Epoch, created on the Australian Dance Theatre dancers for their upcoming Ignition season.

Prompted by Artistic Director, Garry Stewart’s theme for the season, ‘History’ I was interested to look at the philosophy of history in general.  Is history predetermined? Are there broad patterns and cycles we can discern through study of the past; and, if so what is its ultimate direction? Or, do we progress in largely irregular ways, a group of individuals operating through our own agency?

For me, these questions had a clear parallel to movement and choreography. It was fascinating to explore loops and cycles within phrases, patterns and movements on the stage.

Time is our one constant and - much like dance - is only ever in the moment. Each performance is in fact a moment in history - a happening, an occurrence. This is what I love about dance, about live performance. The audience and the performers are part of a shared ritual in time.

Much like the way we go about our daily routines, no one performance will ever be the same. Though you could argue each performance is the same, through repeated steps and sequences, there is a magic in the aliveness of the performance, in the presence that both performer and audience bring.

Like history, the audience, our witness, will walk away from the experience and make their own version of the event. They will construct their own memories and interpretations of this happening, making their own meaning and judgments. As a maker of the work this is what excites (and daunts!) me most about the process.

In a way, this is the very purpose of the theatre. An opportunity to be immersed in an experience, a story, a sensation – and to then create your own meaning from it. However, I have noticed that contemporary dance seems to suffer from this concept.  

“What is the meaning of those steps?” the audience may ask. Or what I most commonly hear following a show “I don’t know enough about dance to be able to make meaning from it.”

But just as each individual is valid to make judgments of the world, I invite you, in the theatre, to feel valid and empowered to make your own judgments and interpretations of the work. Whatever they may be. Be thrilled, confused, be surprised. Construct your own history.

Epoch will be performed as part of Australian Dance Theatre’s Ignition Season running July 9th, 12th, 14th,15th and 16th at 8pm at the Adelaide College of the Arts Main Theatre. The season will also include works by local choreographers Thomas Fonua, Katrina Lazaroff, Lina Limonsani, and Matte Roffe.

PHOTO CREDIT: © Chris Herzfeld, Camlight Productions

DANCERS: Zoë Dunwoodie, Thomas Fonua, Matte Roffe, Ellya Sam, Felix Sampson and Kimball Wong from Australian Dance Theatre

OTHER LINKS/PRESS

The Advertiser - Australian Dance Theatre revives Ignition for a public season at Adelaide College of the Arts 

Dance Magazine - History is reinvented with the re-launch of ADT’s ‘Ignition’

CityMag - Australian Dance Theatre revives Ignition

Youtube - Australian Dance Theatre's IGNITION 'history'

The Mill: Berlin

Amber Cronin (Co-Artistic Director of The Mill)

Amber has spent much of 2016 exploring arts practices in Indonesia and through her travels in Europe. She also spent time visiting The Mill’s partner organisation, ilDance, in Sweden. We asked her to tell us a little about her adventures so far, and what she was going to be bringing home to us…

A friend gave me a book to read while I was travelling through Europe this summer, a quote stuck with me… “Is not an event in fact more significant and noteworthy the greater the number of fortuities necessary to bring it about?”  This is certainly true of The Mill and sometimes its time away from your projects (like i am lucky enough to have now) that helps you to see just how much of yourself you’ve poured into them and appreciate all that has transpired to make them so.

The Mill came about from a need for space, yes. But it came about because Erin and I both witnessed this in relation to our own practices- visual, musical, dance and movement based work, and more specifically: Adelaide based works of ourselves, friends and networks, and each decided to do something about it on our home turf, in Adelaide.

For us it seemed like space was one of the biggest limitations in the development of creative work for our peers, particularly in dance. This had and still has many layers: How work is created in space, the development space itself, the space art work takes up, our studio spaces- where we were working from, our sacred spaces, our hidden spaces, our private spaces, performance spaces, public spaces. Spaces for people.

For Erin and I, The Mill as a project has been life changing and (we like to think that) it has been for others too. For us The Mill has been a space that made what we do exist in real space and time. For us it was creating a lifestyle that we loved and committing our energy to that in a tactile, tangible way: ultimately we built it for other people. Yes, it has allowed us to create across the globe, it has been a platform from which we have developed, grown, expanded our own stories, but really we built it so that others could do this same from their space, and they have developed, outgrown, moved away and come back- The Mill sitting in the midst of it, like the family you know you can always come home to.

When i asked residents to tell me what it was like for them (and validate that i hadn't created it all in my head) they told me that having a space like this inspires them to get up in the morning, that its a space to be yourself- but be a professional- a space where those two things can intersect. They tell me about the community, the encouragement, the accountability and the friendships born from the space. Some tell me about the relationships spawned (and babies!) which are now embedded in their lives. For most their responses are rarely framed around the space physically, and rather what a space has been for them in terms of new social, professional and personal 

Here are some residents words (to prove i didn't make this up): “Although I have been a practicing artist for quite a while, having a studio at The Mill has given me a lot of stability in being able to focus on my arts practice and my small tintype portrait business.  One of greatest benefits of The Mill is its diversity.  Many ‘Artist Run Initiatives’ which offer similar support and stability tend to have a very narrow focus—supporting mostly visual artists.  The diversity of The Mill, where we work alongside shoemakers, furniture makers, illustrators, writers, designers, curators, etc, as well as those within the ‘traditional’ visual arts disciplines, helps to foster collaborative relationships that wouldn’t seem possible elsewhere.  This diversity brings opportunities for networking and developing our practice.  It makes for a micro-community where we develop a strong sense of place.” 

“The Mill is somewhere i can always turn with my artistic expression and be guaranteed a ear that will listen, a supportive group who propel each other to achieve…and that is why i need The Mill, because they help everyone there to achieve, and we do.”  

...

The physical space we created to overcome physical limitations quickly gave way to a space which became more than bricks and mortar, it is an emotionally charged space. It gave way to Erin and I holding space for people, and it gave way to people holding space for themselves. 

Last night i attended an arts event here in Berlin. It was in an arts space in the basement of an apartment, entry through the Hof- one of those venues that couldn't exist anywhere else. The space featured a gallery, small bar and a stage upon which the audience silently drank up a collection of performances, music, poetry, some harp playing and opera singing and then danced into the night.

When i talk about The Mill people tell me its not about the physical space, but it is. Like this venue, without the physical space we would have nothing to unite under- last night couldn't have happened if someone hadn’t created the physical space for these people to come together. To create a community, with the intention to be a safe space for creation. A community that filled the physical space with traces of itself, the space that stands as an archive, it was the context for that culmination of people and their art to exist and be shared.

I was struck by how a place like this could exist and under one roof unite an otherwise disparate audience, we were there together to witness these people so wholeheartedly being true versions of themselves and it struck me that spaces such as this venue and The Mill become a physical echo of the people which inhabit and activate them. Events like these remind me how art is all about the creation of little worlds, and spaces like this providing framework for these small worlds to be shared.

One of my favourite parts of running The Mill’s space has been watching artists move in and transform their space. To create their own studio or office in a physical way, putting themselves into the space; watching the shell of a space becoming an extension of their practice and a part of the artist themselves. They transform the space so that it becomes a context that they can exist in, a frame in which they fit perfectly. 

In a way, the most powerful things about The Mill (and other collective working art spaces) is that it allows people to a chance for the creation of these little worlds. Within their little world people can have feelings about things that are sometimes extreme, dangerous or just something that doesn’t fit into their lives anywhere else. It gives them a platform to explore this in their art and share it, thereby opening these little worlds with other residents and allowing a platform for the work to exist in the world.

In German Language, I have been considering the word: Heimat, the definition denotes the relationship of a human being toward a certain spatial social unit. Home, or space that is reminiscent of our homeland. I think that this language concept perfectly summarises what a space like this is for creative people, the way that space can become an extension of ourselves physically and spatially realised.

For me, Art itself is a way of framing the world, of taking one portion of the world that exists and framing it as an idea. Everyone in our space at The Mill comes together, united as a community- framed within the context of the physical space. A space which is an archive of all the artists that have been there, and will be home to the artists that will come in the future. It is about the physical space, the physical space is a frame which offers us a space to exist truly as ourselves. 

Sometimes real life is not objective, and existing as an artist in our bedrooms, garages, kitchen tables: we can never get the complete picture. Life is chaotic and continuous, events and things that happen to us are engulfed in the flux of everyday. To have a space which is totally and completely dedicated to your craft is something i think many 9-5ers take for granted. As an added layer, i think that the interest that we have in art is because its not like real life, its encircled; it has a confine; and why shouldn't the space in which we create it have a confine too?

Back to my opening statement, The Mill was born off the back of a number of fortuities, stars aligned to make this reality, the journey that i walk which is now possible for me. Erin and I didn't know each other before we decided to work together, our meeting was by chance, and it bought me back to Adelaide. For the project to exist Erin and I have relied on each other, friends, peers, advisors, loans, grants, ideas, pasta, laughter, family, events, partnerships and we have never had a road map or known which direction we were headed in. We never knew when we were ripping up floors and building a space that it was going to create this ripple effect and change our lives in the ways it did, but thats true of all big life experiences. You just keep taking the opportunities that present themselves. The space was created by a number of fortuities, yes- but it is the result of the imprint of every person since who has left their mark on the space. Its their space. All the people who have had studios or joined our community and a space where it was okay to be exposed, to take risks, change your mind, and learn.