Emma Coulter is a visual artist who creates site-specific work, likening architectural spaces to canvases for her abstract painting. Emma was supported by a Cultural Trust grant to undertake a series of sculpture workshops and an artist residency at Adhoc, Germany. Here she discusses the impact of the residency on her career, how the skills she developed during this time are manifesting in her practice and her recent commission at the Museum of Brisbane.
What drew you to visual arts and site-specific work? Where did your journey with art begin?
My site-specific works, which I call spatial deconstruction works came out of my two-dimensional painting practice, which I had been developing for years in a mostly self-directed way since completing my undergraduate studies at Queensland University of Technology.
Having been travelling along making my work for many years, in 2012 and 2013 I was invited to make installation projects in Melbourne CBD. Though my practice had been a predominantly gestural abstraction, it had been moving towards more geometric and harder forms for a few years and this was a great opportunity to test the volume of my knowledge.
Having made some formative tests, it felt like the right time to work on a concentrated project within my art practice to explore the connection between site and painting. At the same time, I also wanted to focus on the criticality within my practice, so I embarked on completing my Master of Contemporary Art at the Victorian College of the Arts (VCA). I had a loose idea in my head and I worked with the space in a very intuitive manner, much like the process I was using at the time to create an abstract painting, but instead, using the architectural space as the canvas support.
How did the residency and sculpture workshops further your artistic practice?
The residency that I undertook in Germany at Adhoc, provided an opportunity for me to make my first site-specific, spatial deconstruction work in Europe, co-locating my work with international peers in non-objective site-specific art. I believe that this recognition has led to other opportunities here in Australia, such as my recent spatial deconstruction commission for NEW WOMAN at the Museum of Brisbane.
The technical skill development aspect of the trip has also been important for my practice. Through a series of sculpture workshops that I undertook in London, I developed new mould making and casting techniques and gained specialised knowledge in the assembly of new materials for my practice, such as resin, jesmonite and concrete.
I believe that this formative skill development will continue to manifest in my practice over the next few years as my work continues to grow through the experimentation of sculptural processes within architectural space.
Was there a key lesson or takeaway from your grant experience you can share?
I think that when you have ideas in your practice propelling your work you have to keep pushing forward with it. Keep testing, keep pushing, keep experimenting, keep challenging, keep making.
For me, as a mother of two small children (both under two at the time of my residency) the idea of travelling without them to pursue my own practice was quite a daunting process. However, having received the invitation to be part of the program from Adhoc, and then having had my idea endorsed by The Ian Potter Cultural Trust through the grant, it really helped me to pursue my goals, and importantly to show others that my ideas were really something worth pursuing.
I would also say to other artist parents, that it can be done, and it is important for your practice to have that time away from them to develop your own work. Don’t feel guilty about it, and understand that you will receive judgement from other people around you about your decision, but that you don’t need to take that on board.
You recently completed a new commission at the Museum of Brisbane. What can you tell us about this?
I was thrilled to be invited to create a new spatial deconstruction work for the Museum of Brisbane, for NEW WOMAN. An exhibition that ‘reveals the art, personal stories and enduring legacies of Brisbane’s most significant and groundbreaking female artists over the past 100 years.’
I grew up in Brisbane and completed my two undergraduate degrees at QUT (Bachelor of Visual Arts and Bachelor of Built Environment), and it is for certain that those influences have had a significant bearing on my practice. Specifically, I think the use of colour within my practice is something that I developed whilst working in Brisbane, whereas the conceptual side is something that I have developed whilst living in Melbourne.
For the exhibition, using my restricted colour palette, I have created a new work in the Dome Gallery, Spatial deconstruction #21 (portals). Drawing upon the inherent structure of this space, and through the imposition of my language of colour and geometry, the work wraps around the thresholds of the space, connecting the interior surfaces, and the three rooms of the exhibition, to create a painting that can be physically entered into.
Through my work, there is a conscious aim to challenge the hierarchy of the art institution and fine art by blurring boundaries between place, painting and the viewer’s experience, so this has been such a fabulous opportunity, as it is my first serious museum show to date.
What do you envisage for the next stage in your career, and how has a Cultural Trust grant helped your career journey?
I see the audience for the field that I am working in and my work as being part of a global network. I have been slowly building this network of relationships over the years, and I hope to continue to grow it so that I can continue to make my works both in Australia and overseas.
I hope to further extend the conversation between architectural space and my sculptural practice over the coming years, to take it beyond painting and more into constructed elements and environments.
I believe that receiving The Ian Potter Cultural Trust Grant has given me the opportunity to build a platform for both of these goals to be realised. Specifically, through the creation of my first site-specific work in Europe, and the lifelong acquisition of new skills, materials and knowledge.