Artist Interview: Nike Savvas - Art Collector

18 May 2010

“I like the repetitive process,” says Nike Savvas, and looking at the precisely crafted objects in her latest exhibition in Sydney, it’s a good thing she does. She talks to Australian Art Collector about how she copes with repetition, and the egalitarian power of colour.

Nike Savvas, Sliding Ladder, 2010. Wood, wool and steel. Installation view. Courtesy: the artist and BREENSPACE, Sydney

Let’s start with the premise for the exhibition, the “sliding ladder” equation. What is it and how have you used it in the works in this exhibition?

Sliding Ladder is named after an algebraic equation (x2/3 + y2/3 = L2/3) that gave rise to string art in the 1960s and 1970s.

In this I reference optical art (eg Riley) and, in a broader sense, use this as a means to address different perceptual modalities.

You’ve chosen a very DIY aesthetic, with raw wood and knitting wool. What drew you to these materials?

The wood is treated hoop pine, but yes, I have chosen domestic low-brow materials to make the work.

I like the idea of using materials from the real world and turning them into high art.

I do this as a way of blurring the boundaries between distinctions.

I have an aversion to boundaries and categories. These cause a lot of the world’s problems and grief in the lives of individuals.

I try and mess things up, break convention, create seamless contradiction and confusion between disciplines, and blur distinctions between what sets them apart from one another.

As we’ve come to expect from you, colour is again a huge part of your work, this time with the brightly coloured yarn you’ve chosen. Where do you start when you’re thinking about colour for a particular work?

The way I use and create colour in different series of works varies.

For example, Anthem 2005 (the Carny) transcribed a music score into colour and light by using club lights and smoke effects.

It took six painstaking months to transcribe The Carny score, nominating certain colours to represent musical notes and colour effects to be the musical instruments. The process was part scientific and part intuitive.

I would also spend a week playing with the space adding my own idiosyncratic sensibility to what was in effect a three dimensional painting with light. No music is heard in this piece.

The colour scheme of Atomic: Full of Love Full of Wonder comes from the Australian desert landscape and consisted of 70,000 balls painted in a variety of different shades and hues.

The Sliding Ladder series uses wool as a container for the colour and is based on my intuitive responses to the geometric forms that I play with. The forms set up a number of propositions that I then respond to.

I avoid making my colour choices too polite and familiar. I try to problematise them by creating discords that work well together.

Above: Nike Savvas, Sliding Ladder, 2010. Wood, wool and steel. Installation view. Courtesy: the artist and BREENSPACE, Sydney

A few years ago you received a lot of attention for Atomic: full of love, full of wonder – and a lot of sympathy for the hours it took to create! The works in Sliding Ladder, which rely on precise geometry and repetition, also look like they took no small amount of time. Why is repetition and patterning so appealing to you? And how do you keep yourself focused when you’re facing a repetitive part of the construction?

Again, repetition is used in different ways for different works. I like the repetitive process.

When I’m working with others (as in the case of the Atomic piece) the repetitive aspect or perceived workload becomes much less of a task as a result of the conversations and interaction between the ball threaders.

It becomes more of a communal activity that creates a space for discussion and exchange and, through this, becomes a meaningful experience.

As I understand it, you’ve recently returned to Sydney after a number of years working in London. When did you come back and what’s it been like settling back into Australia?

I never really left. It was more a case of living between two countries. It’s a reality for artists working internationally to have a nomadic life. I love Australia. No matter how tough life gets you always have the blue sky and sunshine to make you happy.

I’ve read that you think it is important to make art that engages with everyone. How does this egalitarian aim take shape in your work?

My work reaches a broad audience because of the type of work it is.

Colour has a primal effect on people and colour is a main feature in my work.

My installations are immersive and create an interaction with the viewer’s personal and physical space.

I also borrow things from the real world that instantly connect with the viewer. I use a number of devices that, on the whole, allow for multiple modes of engagement.

It’s important for me that viewers engage with my work on their own terms. In this way it acts to validate and acknowledge their reality, experience and humanity.

Above: Nike Savvas, Sliding Ladder, 2010. Wood, wool and steel. Installation view. Courtesy: the artist and BREENSPACE, Sydney

Jane O’Sullivan

Nike Savvas’s current exhibition, Sliding Ladder, will be on view at Breenspace in Sydney until 5 June 2010.

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