Jacqui Stockdale: Dolls of the Dead - Art Collector

Issue 45, July - September 2008

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Jacqui Stockdale tells Alexie Glass she is intrigued by the potential of meaning to linger in objects like masks that were created with shamanistic intent.

Jacqui Stockdale has, in the past, been a wandering soul. Widely travelled, her practice traverses a personal cartography of associations that weave irreverently between history, folklore, indigenous cultures and the carnivalesque.

Raised in regional Victoria, she graduated from the Victorian College of the Arts in 1990 before spending a few years in Hobart to study video and filmmaking. She later moved to Sydney where she shared a neighbouring studio with artists such as Del Kathryn Barton and Lara Merrett, while integrating herself into a colourful burlesque community.

In 2000, she accepted what she thought would be a six week appointment as the Arts Officer at Berrima Prison in Darwin. In the three years that followed, she worked with a broad range of inmates, from Caucasians and Indigenous people – primarily from Northern Arnhem Land and the Torres Strait Islands – to Indonesian fishermen and boat people, guiding them as they created confronting self-portraits, or learned life drawing with wardens or other prisoners acting as sitters. The experience expanded her field of reference and encouraged Stockdale to explore identity and the way its amorphous qualities are affected by closed, hermetic conditions like prisons or studios.

When she returned to Melbourne in 2002, Stockdale began a series of portrait photographs using hand-painted backdrops inspired by the colonial picturesque and the works of John Glover. Recently, however, she separated her painting and photographic practices. Human subjects are now confined to the digital realm, while in her painting, she arranges collected objects to create illuminations and unexpected relationships.

Her forthcoming exhibition, Some kind of coyote, developed from a trip to Mexico in 2007 as artist-in-residence with Circus Oz. Stockdale initiated the residency in 2004 and has travelled widely with the troupe, drawing audiences and capturing performances and backstage activities. While in Mexico with Circus Oz, Stockdale also experienced the Day of the Dead festivities. Drawn to the luminous colours and vibrancy of the Mexican rituals, she was enthralled by the dolls of the dead and the animist beliefs they evoked.

Back in her studio in Melbourne (in the same warehouse as sculptor Kate Rohde, a frequent collaborator), she has assembled objects from her travels into a vast collection exploring the idea of the ‘soul’ of non-human and inanimate entities. In her work, she plays with this potential of meaning to linger in objects like masks that have been created with ritual or shamanistic intent.

Sitting amidst the hoard of folk and faux objects in her studio, it’s hard not to think that Stockdale has created a unique realm of magical thinking. This is a place of collapse and possibility, of worlds outside our own, of worlds without end. So I ask her where to next, imagining her to be gypsylike, in a permanent state of movement and flux. Instead she looks at me steadfastly, with her arms folded across her pregnant belly, and says, “I’m less nomadic now; the nomads are in my work. I’m here to stay.”