Deb Mansfield: Interview – Sasanki Tennakoon

Deb Mansfield, Watch them swing, 2014, photo-tapestry, edition of 5, 46 x 46 cm

Deb Mansfield, Watch them swing, 2014, photo-tapestry, edition of 5, 46 x 46 cm

The first half of 2014 has been something of a whirlwind for Australian photomedia artist Deb Mansfield. Whilst uprooting her Sydney life to take up a permanent post lecturing at Newcastle University, Mansfield has participated in solo and group shows at Firstdraft and Breezeblock, Sydney and Sawtooth ARI, Launceston amongst others. She has also been working towards her current solo show, Get out of the Water, currently showing at Ryan Renshaw Gallery in Brisbane.

Recurring themes in Mansfield’s body of work are inquisitions into the realms of the in-between, littoral zones and liminal spaces and the concept of the armchair traveller. Her choice of media has been predominantly photo-based, from ephemeral photographic emulsions transferred directly onto gallery walls to explorative video works. The most noticeable shift in her recent practice is the incorporation of textiles, specifically tapestry.

With the show opening in Brisbane and a long drive back to Newcastle over the weekend Mansfield was generous with the little time she had spare for a quick Q&A with RAVEN about her current exhibition, space travel, toxic mud and the intrigue of the in-between.

Deb Mansfield, I'll be there soon, 2014, Photo-tapestry, edition of 5, 66 x 89 cm

Deb Mansfield, I’ll be there soon, 2014, Photo-tapestry, edition of 5, 66 x 89 cm

What is your current exhibition at Ryan Renshaw Gallery, Get out of the Water, about? 

It’s about the instability of island crossing and space exploration. The majority of the works in Get out of the Water are photo-tapestries, made from appropriated images of Balls Pyramid Island (the worlds largest volcanic stack rising up out of the ocean), and The Challenger Disaster (1986).

Is there anything in particular you would like the audience of this exhibition to take away with them? 

Err.. a work. That’d be handy. But failing that, a curiosity for my practice.

How would you describe your current practice and the themes in focus?

My practice is photomedia based, and I’ve always researched spaces of in-between. Previously I’ve done that with tidal plains and littoral geographies, but now I’m more interested in looking at the in-between through the act of travelling to remote islands or into space; those difficult journeys.

Deb Mansfield, All you fisherman, 2014, Photo-tapestry, edition of 5, 89 x 66 cm

Deb Mansfield, All you fisherman, 2014, Photo-tapestry, edition of 5, 89 x 66 cm

What is it about the in-between that piques your curiosity and when did that become a primary feature of your work? 

The in-between has always been there from early on in my practice, but it’s an ongoing process of trying to wrangle it into something that I’m happy with. I like that it’s an idea/space that isn’t beholden to binaries – or at the very least, their fixed-ness. I see the mercurial nature of the in-between as somewhat radical, which is a good space to be thinking about and responding to as an artist.

When and why did you begin to incorporate tapestry into your existing photo-media practice? 

In 2007 I started using the photo-tapestry process. I was very tentative because it’s a fairly loud form. But since then, I’ve been researching and testing what I can technically do with it so that it’s not just a wow factor thing. I have discovered that it works really well with colour gradients and digital glitches e.g. banding and pixilation. That’s what I’m going to be concentrating on this next year.

Which three artists have left a lasting impression on you, historic or contemporary?

In this moment, I would have to say Miro (particularly his large tapestry works), John Sayles (filmmaker) and Kate Bush.

Deb Mansfield, The sea is going down, 2014, Photo-tapestry, 66 x 89 cm

Deb Mansfield, The sea is going down, 2014, Photo-tapestry, 66 x 89 cm

No one waits for you quite like I do draws on imagery of outer space and the universe. If we could somehow wrangle sponsorship and the backing of Richard Branson, would you go to the final frontier?

Yes! Although on second thought, I would be vomiting the entire time (I get dizzy getting up from the kitchen table), so maybe I’d have to give my ticket to a friend. The sound for No one waits for you quite like I do was made by Jaytee (musician), and on our first meeting when we were watching and discussing the video, he knew the names of all the planets, moons and galaxies by sight. I think he’d make better use of it – as long as he brought me back an I went to Enceladus and all I got was this lousy t-shirt souvenir.

Your exploration of the in-between and littoral zones has taken you to some interesting destinations. Can you share any memorable moments while you were on location? 

I once did a performance piece, Dump/Fylling, with Camilla Birkeland where we crawled around in the mud at Brisbane Port for a few hours. That is not too out of the ordinary, except the site had previously been a rubbish tip during the decades where environmental responsibility was nil, so the toxicity was something else (there were whole cars underneath the mud). We did the piece and walked away with hundreds of little cuts all over us and our skin tingled weirdly for days afterwards. I’m surprised that I don’t set off the scanners at airports.

Get out of the Water, until 27 September 2014 at Ryan Renshaw Gallery, 137 Warry Street, Fortitude Valley, 11am-5pm Wed to Sat; (07) 3666 0350, ryanrenshaw.com.au

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