Re-building: Emily Collett

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Emily Collett's experimental exhibition showcasing printed images of archived costumes, displayed as they were encountered in their archival home, 2019.

Re-building is a set of four case studies published in the Annual Grants Report 2022, highlighting the vital role of individual artists in the Australian arts and cultural landscape. We caught up with several past Cultural Trust grantees, asking them to reflect on how the professional development experience gained through their grant has led to increasing knowledge, developing access and opportunities, and improving the workplace culture of their fellow artists, thereby further enriching the Australian arts ecosystem.

Emily Collett is a Melbourne-based set and costume designer, whose practice encompasses theatre, dance, performance art, film, and television. She has worked with Rollercoaster Theatre Company, Rawcus Theatre Company, and St Martin’s Youth Theatre, among others.

Alongside this practice, Emily is also applying her expertise to costume research and education as a lecturer and PhD candidate at the Victorian College of the Arts. In 2022 she submitted her PhD for examination.

“My research focuses on the potential of costume for performance as a cultural marker, that is, a nuanced marker (or a sign, or indicator) of the cultural identity of the society which created the costume or set of costumes.”

The journal article, ‘Decolonizing costume: Unpicking ballet’s racist and colonialist stereotypes through Sidney Nolan’s costumes for The Rite of Spring (1962)’ in Studies in Costume and Performance, vol.7(1), written as part of Emily’s PhD research, showcases the value gained from this line of inquiry.

“This article fed into the wider study, which interrogates how positioning costume as a cultural marker can activate multiple histories, realities, truths, and knowledges, changing current belief systems and shifting societies’ relationship between their past and their present. In an Australian context, this suggests that researching performance costume could contribute to reconciliation through truthtelling and exposing dominant histories.”

Well before Emily’s formal research into this topic began, she was supported by a Cultural Trust grant to undertake the ‘Laboratoire d’Etude du Mouvement’ course at Ecole Jacque Lecoq in Paris, France. In describing how this experience influenced her work, she articulates the sense of responsibility she feels to conduct this research.

“The experience itself was influential on my understanding of my place in the performing arts and in the world, specifically in relation to the convergence of tradition and our present. This continues to resonate in my practical design work, my teaching, and my research, which all regularly engage critically with notions of contemporary Australia and our responsibility as creative practitioners to continue questioning who we were, who we are now, and who we could become.”

Learn more about Emily Collett.


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