Gabrielle Mordy and Emily Crockford are Wonder Women.
A few months ago we received a parcel from the incredible group of artists who make up Studio A. Getting to know this organisation and their Artistic Director Gabrielle, has been an inspiring experience and a fitting opportunity for a Full Moon Blessing project.
Studio A is a Sydney based working studio that supports the practices of artists living with an intellectual disability. In championing the work of their artists, Studio A helps them forge professional pathways through networking opportunities in Australia's broader art community, exhibitions, weekly workshops and a professional space to practice.
Emily Crockford's name came up early in our talks with Gabrielle, and in celebration of the Winter Solstice month, we could not be more excited to share the artwork Emily has produced in response to our Awakening Cheetah Pony booties. Emily's work is bright and intricate, and something we think is truly radical, yes!
Interview by Alex Birch, Images Art Directed by Emily Crockford and shot by Emily Johnston
GABRIELLE MORDY, CEO and Artistic Director
Where did you first recognise the need for a studio that champions artists living with intellectual disabilities? Tell us about how you became involved with this program.
I originally trained as a visual artist and anthropologist, I had no career plan or expectation to work with artists with intellectual disability. But, back in 2006 I casually offered to volunteer as an arts worker at Studio ARTES, a not for profit creative arts organisation that provides creative programs for adults with disability. It was here I first encountered the quality of work being made by artists with intellectual disability.
I was still at university at the time, and what struck me working at Studio ARTES was the difference in opportunity available to artists with intellectual disability compared to similar aged students at university. Artists I worked with at Studio ARTES often showed more dedication to their arts practice than my peers at university, yet there seemed so little opportunity for these artists to access any specialist tuition or support to further their talent and exhibit their artwork. I noticed the lack of opportunity for these artists to exhibit their work in relevant platforms and to connect with other like-minded artists beyond the community of Studio ARTES.
In response to this need my colleague Emma Johnston and I began curating artwork from Studio ARTES into inner city Sydney art galleries. The response to the artwork from both the audience and the artists was unequivocally positive, our first exhibition sold out on opening night. From there we designed and received funding for a project where we linked an artist from Studio ARTES with a mainstream artist with an aligned artistic practice. The artists worked together for ten days and at the conclusion of the partnership, they exhibited their work. The success of this collaborative project sewed the seeds for Studio A to be born.
Move forward a few years and Studio A exists with an annual exhibition program and a rich network of collaborating artists we work with regularly. Studio A artists also regularly connect with Sydney’s art schools undertaking residencies and exhibiting.
In your time with Studio A, what have been the most satisfying and challenging projects that you’ve overseen?
One of the most intensive and rewarding projects I have been involved in is birdfoxmonster.
birdfoxmonster is a multi-sensory visual arts feast made in collaboration between James Brown (composer), Emma Johnston (visual artist), Meagan Pelham (visual artist and poet), Elias Nohra (digital artist), Skye Saxon (visual artist), Thom Roberts (visual artist) and Scott Wright (director) with support from Kitchen by Mike, Mud Australia, Erth and Studio A. We use the term ‘feast’ very literally. The work occurs upon a long, thirty-seat dining table, which also serves as a projection screen and stage. The audience sits around this table and is fed a three-course meal as the artwork takes place. Digital projections bring the tablecloth to life while the performers act both on top of and around the central table.
Studio A artists Thom Roberts, Skye Saxon and Meagan Pelham drive the creative vision for birdfoxmonster. Thom, Skye and Meagan all have established, individual arts practice as can be seen by looking on Studio A’s website www.studioa.org.au
Each artist’s creative practice is very different from one another, but they share an interest for masks, performance, and, especially, the alter ego: Meagan with her ‘owl bride’ character that appears in many of her drawings, Skye with her association to foxes, and
Thom with his invented ‘Budgie Key Note Monster’ persona. These invented characters and the relationships between them are at the core of the birdfoxmonster concept. The broader birdfoxmonster team have contributed their skills in music, performance art, digital technology, sculpture, culinary arts and mask making.
birdfoxmonster is part of Carriageworks 2017 artistic program, so if you are around Sydney in September grab a ticket and come check it out! You can also view a three-minute snapshot of the work via http://www.studioa.org.au/exhibitions/
Emily wears Awakening Cheetah
Studio A has a series of exciting goals for the next three years. Where do you foresee the growth of the enterprise will lead?
Studio A’s key and constant goal is to support great artists to make great art. And to get this great art seen! A central challenge we encounter in achieving this goal is a common assumption that artists with intellectual disability cannot make good art. I almost daily encounter people who assume an adult with intellectual disability cannot be a proper artist. Studio A’s mission is to counter this mis-assumption. And in the process we aim to make Australia’s cultural life more interesting, diverse and equitable.
To achieve our exciting goals Studio A needs particular systems and resources to support our artists and our business. As such, we are focused on achieving some key strategic initiatives. We want to relocate our studio to the centre of Sydney. We are currently located in the northern suburbs of Sydney, 45 minutes from the CBD. A central location will make us much more accessible and will make it easier for us to continue partnering with artists, designers, galleries and more.
Studio A are very inspired by some of international counterparts including the supported studio Creative Growth in San Francisco. In the US artwork by contemporary artists with intellectual disability are held in the collections of major institutions like the Museum of Modern Art in New York. And major designers like Marc Jacobs have licensed images from such artists.
Our vision is for a future where Australia’s art and design world benefits from the contribution of artists with intellectual disability – there are radical times to come!
What are three things you always say ‘yes’ to?
Jamaican dancehall classes
Shoes with leopard print...that includes yours Radical Yes!
Experiencing new stories and artwork made by great artists from diverse backgrounds
EMILY CROCKFORD, Visual Artist
Your work is incredibly striking and vivid. What inspires you in the development of your pieces?
I love Posca paint pens. I love the bright colours I can get from them. I love the rainbow colours of artist Rosie Deacon and her tricks & surprises...she loves to hide koalas in tress! I am inspired by TV shows like Bold & the Beautiful, Home & Away, Neighbours and Dancing with the Stars.
Tell us a bit about your creative process. Do you have any rituals or habits that you always follow?
First I do research. I look for an image I like. I look for art images on the computer. I like portraits, koalas and monkeys. I want to dance with koalas in the water. I love kings and queens.
What does it mean to you to work with Studio A? How has the program informed your art?
I love working in the Prop Collective and working with each other. I love it. It is like a family. At Studio A my art has gone good good good good. Since coming to Studio A I feel like a gold star genius. And I love meeting new artists through Studio A.
What has been your proudest creative achievement to-date?
Exhibiting at Underbelly Contemporary Arts festival in 2015. I made a strawberry and koala cake and danced in my artwork.
What does being radical mean to you?
Rainbow colours and being the best artist I can be. Being an adventurer.
Emily Crockford's visual response to Awakening Cheetah