Q&A with Judy Millar: Working in Reverse - Art Collector

Judy Millar, Reverse Cinema installation view at Sullivan+Strumpf, Sydney, 2015. Photo: by Mark Pokorny

Judy Millar speaks to Art Collector about the art of working backwards. Her exhibition Reverse Cinema is showing at Sullivan+Strumpf, Zetland until this Saturday 13 June 2015.

The works in this exhibition are an interesting progression from similar works presented at the Venice Biennale (2011, 2009), Te Papa Tongarewa, The Museum of New Zealand (2009) and Museum Gegenstandsfreier Kunst, Germany (2012). What made you continue to explore these ideas?

The act of taking a painting, lifting it from the flat surface and flinging it into space still has me in its grip. What happens when a flat image is curved in space? What does folded space look like? How many dimensions can be shown simultaneously? These are questions that fascinate me enough to keep me going on.

The exhibition is titled Reverse Cinema- can you elaborate on how this relates to the experience of the installation?

Normally a film audience is stationary and the props and actors move before their eyes. Here an image moves, but it moves over the props and the viewers, who in turn become the protagonists in a never-ending real time sequence. Unless the viewer enters and becomes part of the work they’ll get very little. As a painter I’m known for removing paint rather than simply applying it, for ‘painting backwards’ as Anthony Byrt has written. I understand things by taking them apart. The title Reverse Cinema seemed perfect.

The experience of art is always subjective, but did you have an expectation of how the audience was going to react to this exhibition? To what degree is this taken into consideration during the art making process?

I’m not sure I agree that art is mostly subjective. I’m interested in how our brain patterns govern our perception – how our brain patternation informs our world. Of course the makeup of our brains is in turn changed by experience, but in many ways we are more similar than different and respond to very similar things in quite similar ways. Given that, I assume that if something intrigues me, it will intrigue others.

What has been the reaction to this exhibition so far?

This is the third version of this work that I’ve shown. Reactions, gosh, I don’t know. The true echo from an exhibition usually takes a long time to arrive. It was interesting to have my attention drawn to similarities with Dada film, the light plays of Moholy-Nagy and the Dada use of the fragmentary and broken up image.

The gestural and immersive environment you’ve created provokes viewers to contemplate their sensory realities; projected images, shadows and moving components simulate the sensory experience of the every day. What compels you about the concept of reality and sensory experience?

I’m constantly trying to get a handle on life, to balance my inner or mental world with so-called reality. That’s what I use art for - and it seems to me it is still the most important role art has to play. In this particular work I wanted to include as many overlapping dimensions of a spatial image as I could, to complicate and confuse the layers of reality for the viewer. It can be seen as a space folded in on itself or a painting blown wide apart. It’s a circus.

You’ve split your time between Auckland and Berlin since 2005. How has this influenced your practice?

It’s opened me up to a much greater range of influences. [It has] Challenged a lot of assumptions I had about many things. It’s strengthened my ambition and resolve to really do the work, to not fluff around the edges.

Your noted career highlights include two exhibitions at the Venice Biennale in 2009 and 2011. Does showing at an international art fair of this calibre affect what you choose to exhibit? Do you believe one medium is more accessible than the other?

It’s interesting that you call it an art fair. Admittedly there are aspects to it that resemble an art fair on steroids but it is much more than that. I really believe that Venice must give artists the chance to undertake ‘dream’ projects. Artists should be backed and supported to undertake difficult unruly projects that push the potential of their work. We flock to Venice every two years to be tested as an audience, to change our ways of seeing and thinking and the artists must meet the challenge. Any medium can do this, but the enormity and speed of the Biennale as an event make it very punishing for painting. Venice needs work that is sensational in the very best sense of the word.

Emily Cones-Browne

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