In Conversation with Abbotsford Convent Artist-in-Residence Minna Gilligan

    Step into Minna Gilligan’s maximalist heaven, where feminine iconography is celebrated and freed from a traditionally male gaze, and colour reigns supreme. Currently undertaking her residency at the Convent, Minna has transformed her studio space for visitors at Open Spaces on 17 and 18 November. We chat to Minna about her art, her inspirations, and the importance of having ‘a room of her own’.

    You are the Abbotsford Convent’s artist-in-residence for the second half of 2018. Did you have a clear idea at the outset for what you wanted to achieve during your residency?

    I had a fairly clear idea of what I wanted to achieve, just not a super clear idea of how to pull it off. My original application of entirely collaging the space still rings true, and at this stage I am nearly at completion. At the beginning, though, there was some trial and error. As the walls of the studio are heritage listed, it took some time to come up with a method to stick things to the walls without actually sticking things to the walls. Now that I am nearing the final stages of the installation, it is immensely satisfying to see my originally rather floaty and dreamy idea actually exist in front of me.

    You will be presenting ‘A Room of My Own’, the project you’ve been working on as part of your residency, at our Open Spaces festival on Saturday 17 and Sunday 18 November. Can you tell us a bit about what you have in store for visitors?

    In ‘A Room Of My Own’ (in this case, my Abbotsford Convent studio), I have entirely collaged the walls of the space. I have drawn from my collection of 1960s and 1970s books that I have kept since 2009 for the printed material, most of which is in colour. The installation acts as a sort of elaborate, psychedelic wallpaper, and utilizes largely stereotypically feminine imagery of interiors, clothing, flowers and garden landscapes. At the Open Spaces festival, there will also be a real life floral element to the installation, which will be created by The Wilde Bunch florist (my mum!). We are planning to have an entirely immersive experience for visitors, who can spend hours getting lost in the imagery on the walls. An ‘I Spy’ worksheet activity will be available to encourage children to take a closer look.

    How has being based at the Convent affected the formulation of ‘A Room of My Own’? Did you find inspiration in either the physical environment or the creative community?

    What I like most about the Convent studio space is imagining the people who inhabited it previously in the 1960s and early 1970s – a time period I draw a lot of aesthetic inspiration from. The studio I am currently in would have been a person’s room, and I like the idea of reclaiming the intimate, solitary nature of the bedroom. Of course, the gardens at the convent are also of inspiration to me. The Convent has been an ideal place to observe Spring roll in over September and October.

    ‘A Room of My Own’ seeks to reclaim 'stereotypically' female imagery in a way that is not geared towards the male gaze. Can you tell us a bit more about the representation of male and female perspectives in this work?

    My partner told me a story of a mechanics where the male employees had entirely papered the walls of their workshop in Playboy pin ups. I was obsessed with this idea, and in replicating the visual but on my terms – on female terms. In my work, I’ve deliberately used stereotypically female imagery to ‘pin-up’ ­­– to idolise and covet what is usually considered by a large portion of society to be frilly or frivolous (flowers, clothing, gardens, etc).

    I liken the covered walls of my space to decoupage (what some would call a hobby-based craft) but the sheer scale of my installation project elevates it rightfully to an art form.

    The title of the work, ‘A Room of My Own’, seems to be a nod to Virginia Woolf’s landmark feminist essay ‘A Room of One’s Own’. Can you tell us about why you chose this title?

    I chose ‘A Room Of My Own’ as the title because I was forming this metaphor in my head at the time about the contemporary online ‘safe space’ being likened to Woolf’s ‘Room of One’s Own’. Also, harking back to the idea that the space used to serve as a bedroom for a woman, possibly many women before me – I wanted to highlight the ownership, the female ownership.

    In living in the #MeToo era, slightly changing the title to ‘A Room Of My Own’ instead of ‘A Room of One’s Own’, allows me to have ultimate agency over the space, and to crown it a ‘safe space’ for women, persons of colour and those who are non-binary, trans, or part of a minority group. I crown my installation a ‘safe space’ with gusto, in the face of the looming and utterly dismal reality that it is impossible to maintain a truly safe space in these times.

    Your aesthetic has been described as ‘a playground of colours’ and often references imagery from the 1960s and 70s. What do you find so inspiring about this era?

    The 1960s and 1970s are inspiring to me aesthetically: the unapologetic use of colour and pattern, the attitude that ‘more is more’, technicolour and kitsch. Looking through the lens of retrospection allows for huge oversights of gritty, problematic reality and I am under no illusions that the 1960s and 1970s were entirely some sort of magical, sunshine, lollipops and rainbows time. My rose tinted glasses pick out the visually appealing bits, and sprinkle them throughout my work.

    Your residency at the Convent comes to a close at the end of December 2018. What’s next for you?

    I am taking part in a couple of regional exhibitions that run from late 2018 to early 2019. Other than that, I’m hoping for some relaxing time over the Christmas and New Year period, as this is the first year I haven’t had an exhibition deadline straight up in January or February!

    You can visit ‘A Room of My Own’ at Open Spaces on 17 and 18 November, alongside a whole host of art, design, markets, live music, kids programs, and more to explore. Read more from Minna on her blog and Instagram.