Q&A/What to SEE/Multi-arts/Visual Art

Danielle Freakley peels back the layers

18 May 2022

A local artist with an international reputation, Danielle Freakley seems driven by a desire to find out what we really want to say to each other. And ahead of her exhibition at Moore Contemporary, she tells Nina Levy what she really wants to say.

Two members of the general public face one another. Poised on a volcano-like sculpture, each is miked.

This is Equal Opportunity to be a Dictator, by Seychellois-Australian artist Danielle Freakley. It’s an interactive work that, as the name suggests, gives participants the opportunity to dictate what the other will say. The power doesn’t rest completely with the dictator, however, and that’s where the fun lies.

At a glance Freakley’s back catalogue – seen at the likes of London’s Tate Gallery, Performa – Performance Biennial of New York, Venice’s Arte Laguna Prize and Sydney’s Museum of Contemporary Art – seems characterised by diversity. Now it’s sculptural, now it’s an installation, now it’s performance based, now it’s participatory.

Danielle Freakley sits at right angles to the camera, gazing into the distance. Her hair is long, dark and curly, and frames her face.
Artist Danielle Freakley pictured at Moore Contemporary. Photo courtesy of Moore Contemporary and Danielle Freakley

There’s Your Second Hand, in which Freakley collects second hand clothes donated by members of the general public, promising the new owner that they will “unconsciously inherit certain thoughts and behaviours from its previous owner”.

There’s Hear the Call, which invites people to communicate with ghosts of many kinds; the deceased, your past self, a fictional character.

There’s The Quote Generator (2006-2010), which saw Freakley speak only in referenced quotes when out in public for some years (check out video footage on her website).

While her works have specific names, Freakley doesn’t view them as discrete, but rather as ongoing and interconnected, part of her ever-unfolding practice. One of several common threads seems to be the importance of subtext, of the layers of possible meaning beneath more superficial words or images.

So perhaps it’s no surprise that, in an interview ahead of her upcoming exhibition at Moore Contemporary, she chooses to answer Nina Levy’s questions with layers of subtext.  In this interview you’ll see Freakley’s unedited thoughts distinguished from her edited answers with strikethrough font.

NB: should you wish to quote Danielle Freakley’s answers in this interview, please copy the quote with strikethroughs where indicated. 

Nina Levy: Danielle, how do you describe your artistic practice?

Danielle Freakley: Each work has its own life. I try to figure out what it wants; it is fed, it grows with or without me. Each work has its own life and its own needs.

But as far as methods, I don’t have one answer and then when I do, my methods change next week, next year; that undoes what I just said. We make art so we can feel it, so it can happen and you judge for yourself and don’t contaminate your thoughts by being spoon-fed through the grandiosity of the wanker artist telling you how it should be, what their practice means, the behind the scenes of the magic. Why pull back the curtain to see the sad person pulling levers?

I mean, it’s a job, it’s my main source of income, it’s not a hobby. I kind of hate telling people I’m an artist and describing my practice because people say “if you love it”, “if that’s your passion” and yuck, it’s romanticised shit, and they talk about it like it’s not work… IT’S CALLED ARTWORK TO REMIND PEOPLE IT IS WORK yet they still forget.

It’s a fucking slog when this is what you do for a living, it’s work every day… and like running any business, you have to deal with all kinds of red tape, admin, contractors, institutions, deadlines, pressure, things not arriving, people seeing at your most vulnerable, people encouraging you to be vulnerable, dealing with galleries and all their expectations, limitations etcetera.

It’s love only a small portion of the time, the rest is just stupid fucking admin but nobody wants to hear that, the life of artists is romantic? It’s rough. The visual arts are generally the lowest paid industry per capita. It’s a slog to survive.

NL: Your work is multi-disciplinary in a way that I don’t think I’ve encountered, at least not in Perth, so I’m interested to know, what you have studied?

Artist Danielle Freakley in her studio with work in progress for ‘On Your Behalf’. Photo courtesy of Moore Contemporary and Danielle Freakley

DF: Undergrad cert in VR [virtual reality], AR [augmented reality], I have a masters in Fine Arts, small course on curatorial studies… (but I might not be a good curator, since you have to be super tactful)

Over the years I’ve listened to probably near a thousand lectures, texts etcetera, in psychology and sociology, concerning interpersonal communication. It’s probably a bachelor degree’s worth of time I’ve spent listening to lectures (I listen while I work making sculpture, or walking) but I have not officially studied sociology, or psychology… just armchair study.

Lately I have been listening to lawyers dissect arguments in cases on YouTube, probably too much. I am getting into legal craftwork at the moment, I love legalese….. uh, crap.

NL: And who you would consider to be your mentors and/or your influences?

DF: Rory Macbeth, Andy Kaufman, Adrian Piper, Gabrielle De Vietri, Sam Vaknin.

NL: Your project Equal Opportunity to be a Dictator was featured “The View From Here”, the Art Gallery of WA’s 2021 showcase of the work of West Australian artists. Equal Opportunity to be a Dictator reminds me of kids’ games (and also torturing siblings by repeating everything they say), but also it makes me think a bit of improvisational theatre. From your perspective, what do you aim to do with this work?

DF: Allow people to ventriloquise each other… a bit.

NL: A number of your works are ongoing – what appeals to you about these open-ended projects?

DF: I don’t want to see pieces as ends in and for themselves, like products on a shelf. I’d like them to continue having some kind of life. Sometimes I also see artworks as a series of rolling experiments. I try again and change the variables over years and see what happens. I prefer longitudinal studies.

Sometimes they may be what Fluxists would call “happenings” and they just happen, appear, disappear, you had to be there at the time. The bulk of my work is undocumented and just happens, appears, disappears in a moment privately with someone… and sometimes I see it as art and sometimes I don’t.

The conversational works that span years, these are art but also not, they are pataphysical, yes and no… nes and yo, they are and aren’t art, they are also just conversation and sometimes documenting them is revolting experience, exploitative BS.

Out of respect, privacy of others with me, they just happen and they could be considered as art but in some moments, they just dissolve into casual conversation. I slip in and out of considering certain works to be documented “art”. But I am firmly in my generation and although the internet was around when I went to school, we didn’t have Facebook, Instagram etcetera back then and we weren’t in the habit of taking selfies, we generally weren’t obsessive annoying paparazzis of ourselves back then, just the occasional snap.

I guess it’s normal to snap it all up now, but to not be snap happy that is to… kind of accept death, that this moment will come, only certain people there will see it, feel it and then it will perish and without documentation.

Some of my artworks have stronger situational ethics around anti-documentation and it’s giving someone privacy, a fucking moment to not feel too “owned” AF if possible.

A sculpture that looks like a shell, pearly and organic. A lit blow torch is being held to the sculpture. We can see the hand and wrist of the person holding it.
Studio view: work in progress for ‘On Your Behalf’ at MOORE CONTEMPORARY. Photo courtesy of Moore Contemporary and Danielle Freakley

NL: Tell me about your new exhibition at Moore Contemporary, “On Your Behalf”… what can visitors expect?

DF: Completely different materials, methods; it looks almost like a group show of several artists, not a solo show… But it is a solo show and all the works do explore the theme “On Your Behalf”, on representing other people and yourself, they all work together. There are electronic objects, sculptures with instruction and invitation, jewellery, videos, drawings/writings on paper and a sit-down interactive piece for the audience to try. That bit is pretty fucking hard to do, good luck if you’re brave enough to give it a go. People hate participation and fucking hate me for it often. The more conservative the place the more afraid they are, Perth is pretty conservative, I don’t know if I will survive here… but sometimes the more conservative, the more people do want to open up and try, or they yearn to, so … depending. Hmmm.

“On Your Behalf” opens at Moore Contemporary, 21 May and runs until 25 June.

Pictured top: Danielle Freakley, detail: ‘For You’, 2019-2022. Volcanic rock, water clear polyurethane, ink. Dimensions variable. Photo courtesy of Moore Contemporary and Danielle Freakley

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Author —
Nina Levy

Nina Levy has worked as an arts writer and critic since 2007. She co-founded Seesaw and has been co-editing the platform since it went live in August 2017. As a freelancer she has written extensively for The West Australian and Dance Australia magazine, co-editing the latter from 2016 to 2019. Nina loves the swings because they take her closer to the sky.

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