Fremantle-based artist Olga Cironis is a veteran of Sculpture by the Sea. As her latest work, Hush, invites the bottoms of Perth to take a (shiny) seat and contemplate the ocean, she talks to Nina Levy about her work, her creative process and why she loves living in WA.
Nina Levy: What was your earliest experience of art?
Olga Cironis: Growing up in Europe I was surrounded by art. My earliest memory of art is of a wall painting or a copy of a painting on our lounge room wall. The piece was somewhat dark, of an early evening scene with a dirt road cutting through the centre of the image, fading into the distance. Large silhouetted trees hung over two people sitting side by side, their heads bent downwards, on a heavy wooden carriage pulled by two horses heading away from our gaze into the fading light. This image has never left me and I often wonder what became of the work.
NL: At what point did you know that you wanted to be an artist?
OC: I still grapple with that question. There have been a few times I wanted and tried to give up art. But I always began making again, so I guess it’s now a healthy, cheap addiction. But I never just knew or decided, it just happened.
NL: Your tertiary training was in Sydney – what brought you to WA?
OC: The landscape and the horizon is what brought me to WA. When my parents told us, as young children, that we were moving to Australia and showed us a map of Australia all I could see was the word Perth. Guess it was the closest name on the Australian continent in the direction of Europe.
I first visited WA in 1988 while still in my first year of a Bachelor of Arts at Sydney College of the Arts (Sydney University), not knowing anything about WA and that’s the way I like to travel. After numerous visits, a year living on a boat and a residency at Bunbury Regional Art Gallery in 1998 I decided to give living here a try. After a year or so I met my partner, father of our daughter Maya, and I’m still here. I love living in Fremantle, swimming each morning, the bleaching light and the smell of the coastal bush.
NL: Looking at your back catalogue your work feels eclectic in terms of the materials and methods used – can you talk me through your creative process? How do you move from an intial idea through to finished work?
OC: There is order in all these eclectic choices of materials and methods used. I experiment with and use different materials and making processes to add meaning and to prompt some kind of experience triggered by bodily memory and associations. I don’t for one second believe that any of my works are complete without acknowledging the history of the materials used.
Also I value and use the creative process as a meditative time to revaluate what it is that I want to communicate. In addition, I play, use chance and experiment as I make, pulling apart cultural and social norms to create different ways of being and seeing.
But there is order in chaos and a familiar thread that links the works, like a slow meandering journey. Over the years I have worked with numerous materials that are seeped in particular symbology and history like feathers, blankets, hair, steel, gold and so forth. My ideas and interests have evolved over time but are ultimately still born from the same foundations – trying to make sense of the world. I know you may think it a cliché but it’s true. As a migrant woman born to refugee parents I may have a lot of sorting out to do (ha ha).
NL: So much art is about looking not touching, but for 2020 Sculpture by the Sea (SxS) you have made Hush, a work that invites the viewer to become a part of the art, to touch not just with hands but with bottoms! What inspired you to make this work for this year’s SxS?
OC: Most of my work is made with the purpose to be touched and physically experienced. I am interested in the idea of belonging, identity and time that marks the space between bodies, the body in general and the cultural historical taboos around touch. Guess it has to do with my cultural background where touch is very important versus this Western culture where we are suspicious of touch.
I wanted this piece to be the place of meditation and contemplation, where the noise is hushed by the stillness of being in the moment, a place of experiencing our connection to nature. On the other hand, there is the joyful physical delight in having our arses marked by our historic greedy desire for gold. But mostly I use gold in my work because in alchemy it represents perfection of mind, spirit and soul and is a symbol for sun which, in this case, embeds itself perfectly in the gold surface of the chair, reflecting outwards creating a shimmering presence especially when the sun is low on the horizon, a unique WA experience.
The gold leaf is tangible, symbolically very valuable but in this state fragile. Over time the gold surface of the metal chair will be worn away due to the elements and people sitting on the gold chair. Hush will return to its original aluminium chair, based on a domestic wooden carver chair and Warhol electrical chair. Gold comes from the earth and returns to the earth. Chair stays.
NL: You’ve exhibited at SxS Cottesloe numerous times – what is it about this platform that draws you back?
OC: I like being part of SxS because it brings art to the people. I love watching how people interact with the works, how art can transform and touch people and how art can bring people together. SxS is a unique community event that is priceless.
One thing that comes to mind is the first “live-in performance” I did at SxS in 2014, titled: Our Place. We installed a simple donga on the beach and fitted it out with verge-recycled furniture (but for the bed that was sponsored by European Bedding). Over the duration of the SxS exhibition I lived and made art in the donga. In the last week a number of families were invited to stay overnight. During these three weeks I met people from all over the world. One night a drunken young man and his friend came to give some grief. At the time I had a friend over for dinner and so we invited the boys to join us so as to calm them down. Later when we were sure they could drive we sent them home. That weekend one of the young men came back with his family to show them the sculptures.
Now that is what I call priceless. This of course was only possible with the curatorial and financial support and sponsorship from SxS and Cavalier Portable Homes. That is why I keep working with SxS, because they give something powerful to our community and bring us artists together to exchange ideas.
Pictured top is Olga Cironis’s work for Scuplture by the Sea 2020, ‘Hush’. Photo: J. Wyld