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WWJD? Breakfast with Janet Lilo

WW..D? Is an interview segment where we get to know awesome people that are a part of the creative community in New Zealand.

This week we spoke to artist Janet Lilo about life and the Auckland Triennial. Read more for What Would Janet Do?

What was your initial response to Hanru’s idea of if I was to live here?

My initial response was similar to HomeAKL where I had just finished a body of work looking at Auckland. TBH I know there’s been a lot of funny ideas about ‘aww if you were to live here..’, but I quite liked it. I think it suited me. I have been making a lot of work that has been responding to the locale and I thought that was good. I wasn’t sure how the international artists would respond to it, what they would bring and then what I would bring to that.

But the theme is quite a broad general theme, and so when you’re an artist with small time frames it’s quite useful. Less pressure too because you can make work about home and I think that’s why he chose it.

In one sentence can you sum up Right of Way?

Right of way is an installation that was made up of all the interesting and mundane things (whether it is sound or image), that were taken directly from my neighborhood and driveway.

What was the thinking behind limiting yourself to your driveway?

The theme, but also because I just bought this house and live here with my 2 kids and partner. We’re changing the way we live and starting a new life. I thought it would be nice to mirror that with my new space and with the theme in mind. I wanted to make work that was simple and with some restrictions, I thought that was an awesome thing to do. You don’t necessarily have to go out there and bring awesome stuff in and try to make it make sense you know, you can start inside out. So that was my initial thinking.

Was the process of printing your own photos an important aspect to the work?

Yes. I took them, and then manipulated them; I digitally cut them up in Photoshop (using a painful process) then took them to Harvey Norman to print them out using their DIY machines. From beginning to end with the help of the machines, I processed the photos then hung them on the wall with help of other people. The entire process was important.

Sounds painstaking.

Yea, but I mean the cost of that was so minimal in comparison. But at the same time I like the effect and the process more, it seems crafty and high school. I think it’s a simple process that anyone can do and probably has done. Whether that be jurasealing all of these different pictures on your book to make it look cool or something. It’s the budget way to increase scale, and for all those reasons too it made sense. Me taking all these bits of my neighborhood, then placing them back together in another space is reflective of the whole work really.

Was the Wellington residency the start of the tiled images?

Yea, I have worked with 6×4 images before in top16 and all that, but this is quite a different process. The images are not taken from the internet, they’re my own. My first ‘explosion’ was a bonita banana, I really liked it and thought it was cool. Sometimes, let’s be honest you think it looks cool, and that’s always a driving force. We always think let’s be clever, does it make sense? But I thought you know what, that’s going to look cool! I felt it was a huge risk using 12 and 10m walls 3m high and I didn’t know if it was going to work to be honest. I felt sick the whole time and thought it might look like shit, it might look like shit to some people, but I felt like it was successful, like it was doing exactly what I intended to do. Therefore I was happy.

Did you have any concerns about representing your brother in the work?

No I didn’t. Did I feel worried, Nah. When I make work I don’t set out saying I’m going to have this and this you know. Every part of that work was picked up naturally in an organic way. I was driving down the road and saw a trailer, I thought wow I love that trailer! Kept seeing that trailer and so I took a photo of that trailer. I don’t even know what I want with the trailer but I want it and I want to take a photo of it. Same as my brother he came over after work, he works down the road in Avondale at a metal factory. He came over parked his car in the driveway and went to walk up. I was like hey, stop and I just took a photo of him because I thought that’s my brother, he had just come back from oz, I hadn’t seen him and so I took a photo of him on my driveway. I take photos of people all the time, and document things.

If I hadn’t of included a person or figure in that installation it would be read as some type of architectural thing and I wanted a human for scale. I placed him in front of the televisions so if you watch the videos you’ll be standing with my brother, you won’t be alone. There are so many reasons- we grew up together, because he’s like me, the boy version of me and we have similar upbringing. He classically linked to Avondale. Yea of course he’s a working class guy and he’s an intelligent man as well, but I didn’t think having my brother in my work made my work about this and that but you can read into that ’cause he’s wearing his work uniform. I have another brother who wears a suit coz he’s Christian and preaches. I could have had him on the wall but he wasn’t there at that particular time. It’s not a specific narrative I’m trying to set up however I’m sure there will be conversations about that. You can read it on different levels.

If you have more than one person you start to talk about community, if you just have the one you’re just adding little things.

A lot people have commented on the sound component, can you tell us a little about that?

I took a lot of sound recordings nearly every day around the neighborhood, down the drive and just around the house. I was still editing the work while Angelica Mesetti’s work was playing (in the gallery space next to mine); it was quite loud spilling through. I never used the highest quality sound recording devices. I didn’t want it to be polished, I wanted it to be the neighborhood noises that weren’t that close. I wanted it to be honest like a party next door. Usually there’s constantly music. I wanted to keep it simple and it was all the classic 90s R&B music that I love. You know Tupac, or Monica and Brandy. It’s these classic songs, and I know they’re not classic to everyone.

What’s your favourite Triennial work?

I enjoyed Cynthia Marcell’s video because of the mundane everyday, but there is also the absurd artist intervention. At the AAG I liked Clarie Fontein’s neon signage. It transformed the space hard out and it wasn’t even a scale thing TBH. It was the thing that stood out the most to me in the whole gallery. It works so well on its own and within the context of the room.

Do you have a specific audience in mind when making your work?

It always changes. I think it’s important for artists to remember that too. Sometimes I think artists think its 1 fits all but that’s not true. It depends on the context and I can’t answer that question properly because I make work for specific sites. Even if it’s readymade I make the install relevant to the space. I think something that is just as important as audience is space, and people never talk about that enough. Yea sure there’s the work, but there’s the space and the audience. For the triennial I wanted to make the most of the space. The audience is international, and so responding to the other artists next to you is also a factor. I never say this is for a Maori/Polynesian audience or a NZ white audience, that’s something I try not to think about. I like diverse audiences. It’s unfair if you tailor things to one community. You can talk to different communities in different ways. Sometimes I know some audiences will get it over another, but with clues they will get it. There’s a visual language and spacial language and that’s where I try my hardest to unify an audience. Sometimes messages are stronger, but it doesn’t mean it can’t be read by all audiences. That’s something I’ve been trying to do for a long time. And sometimes I’m successful, sometimes I’m not and that’s okay.

Why do you make art?

Honestly since I was 5 I wanted to be an artist. I love it, it makes me feel alive. I’m not trying to make the best thing in the world I’m just doing stuff that I like. Now I can do art with my kids and we play ‘felts’. There’s something about imagination and wanting to play and explore. Maybe all those weird habits and things I like to do fall within “art”.

Do you have any words of advice for young artists?

Just make it work and no matter your restrictions you can make the best out of them. You can always do it. Hard work and luck are good friends and it will happen. But also be realistic about where you want to go.

You can check out Lilo’s triennial work ‘Right of Way’ at Artspace.

Photo Credit: Artspace


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