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interview: valentina palonen

Melbourne based artist Valentina Palonen has been exhibiting since her undergraduate years and doesn’t mind changing her approaches. She’s an interdisciplinary artist, at home with sculpture, installation as well as conceptual art. I recently interviewed Valentina during her residency in Tasmania.

You’ve recently completed a residency at University of Tasmania, in Launceston, can you tell us a little about this?
Northern Tasmania is home to some compelling landscapes which have fed directly into my work. During my residency I conducted experiments for The Circle Project, a new series of works which combine casting processes, installation and performance to conceptually empower or ‘charge’ objects. It was a great opportunity to immerse myself in natural environments and collect fantastic specimens which have since been transformed into new works. These works will be exhibited in an exhibition at Blindside Artist Run Space, opening November 2012.

When at home, what is an average day “in the studio” like for you, and for that matter what is your studio like?
At the moment I have a studio in Collingwood. It is overgrowing with anything and everything from sculptures, to interesting sticks I’ve collected, to loads of plastic plants and a life-size foam deer. Immersion is an important part of my making process. It takes me about 45mins to walk there and an average day pretty much involves working on my latest project or projects, as I prefer to have multiple things going at once, until I feel I’ve earned a coffee. Then it starts again.

Your work is predominantly sculptural, with a strong conceptual element. How do you think the viewer responds differently to sculpture?
Sculpture is incredibly tactile, physical. We share space with it- it is another ‘presence’ in the room. I think what I enjoy most about sculpture is that it is inherently experiential; it actually exists as itself, not just a representation. As the viewer, you really can’t help but respond to it. This is my experience of it anyway.

Your sculptures often have a tactile quality to them, as though they would be moist, or slippery to touch, how important is this to your work?
There is definitely an element of seduction, especially in my recent polyurethane works, but this is not necessarily sinister. I seem to be drawn to things in a strange way which oscillates between attraction and repulsion, and these things are often shiny or slimy in nature. It’s a pretty intuitive, even sensorial process. I often first conceive of artworks as malleable composites of colour and form in my mind- more as impressions rather than resolved images.

You’re interested in animism, metamorphosis and fantasy narratives, how do these concerns manifest in your work?
These were the three areas of focus I used to frame my research for a Masters of Fine Art at the VCA, and many of these ideas continue to influence my work now. Much of my practice is concerned with exploring a subjectified or personified view of the natural world, a theme which shares many parallels with animism, metamorphosis and fantasy narratives. By conceptually imbuing my artworks with a sense of agency, my intention is to question culturally ingrained categorisations and dichotomisations — natural/artificial, animate/inanimate, human/non-human — and contrast these with a vastly different conceptualisation of the natural world where things are far less black and white.

What would you like viewers to take away or remember from your sculptures and installations?
I don’t have any particular objective in regard to the viewer. My intention is not to persuade or provoke. In fact, I would prefer my work to sit quietly at the back of your mind and perhaps creep back into your thoughts at a later date. For me, artworks are multidimensional entities open to infinite interpretations and responses, something which often renders them far more interesting and poetic than the artist’s original intentions.

What, or who, is your dream collaboration?
I have to say Kiki Smith would be pretty fantastic, assuming our conflicting aesthetics didn’t get in the way! More realistically, the what, is probably more likely in my case. Watch this space.

Do you have a favourite art gallery or artist-run-space?
I recently visited Mona in Hobart for the first time, which was an incredibly inspiring and exotic experience, definitely a very unique space and collection.

How did you begin your career as a professional artist?
I originally began my university studies in environmental science, but soon shifted to the other side. My background is primarily in sculpture and ceramics and I’ve continued to experiment with different materials and processes since then. I’ve exhibited consistently since undergrad, which I think has contributed to the continued development of my work.

And lastly, what advice would you give to emerging artists?
Be willing to try new things and don’t get stuck on one theme or technique too early. I feel exhibiting regularly is a huge advantage- having a specific timeframe to create work facilitates exciting discoveries and developments in the studio.

Valentina’s next show is Power Things, showing November 28- December 15 2012 at Blindside artist run space, Level 7, Nicholson Building, Swanston Street, Melbourne. For more of her work check out her website!

By Nikita Vanderbyl

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