Suite 7a is an independent arts business. Born out of a City of Sydney studio residency and frustration with the industry. The first projects to come out of working in the space were organised by Rafaela Pandolfini with Ainslie Templeton; Session Vessels held off-site at Airspace Projects in 2018, followed by An Unintended Consequence (of labour) at The Downing Centre window boxes.
Exhibitions were also organised in the physical Suite 7a premises at 66 Oxford St Darlinghurst Sydney. In 2018 and 2019 there was a series of exhibitions in the hallway of the building including solo presentations by Rozsa Erica, Marilyn Schneider, Dylan Nicols, Robin Clare and Kevin Cheung, as well as 2 shows in the studio space by Rebecca Scibilia and Elise Peterson.
Hana Pera Aoke: Kia ora koutou Priscilla. First of all I wanted to check in and see how you are and send all my love to you. It is such a strange and stressful time of uncertainty and it is a huge relief for me that we are both in places in Aotearoa that have not got cases of the delta variant. We both moved back to Aotearoa around the same time and because of the virus, both of us have come back to our home towns, family and smaller art communities, so I feel like it is interesting to reflect on how these changes in your life have perhaps shaped your output? I'd also then like to know if you could speak broadly to whether this time of uncertainty and ongoing crises has in any way affected what you have been drawing?
Priscilla Rose Howe: Kia Ora Hana, sending my love to you also angel. I am doing okay and have been spending my time in lockdown drawing and reading books, in the sun if I can and lots of river walks. What a great question! I was living in Melbourne and had to move back quite abruptly as I lost my work there and had the realisation that I couldn't realistically/financially stay there. Once I had moved out of the quarantine hotel up in Auckland down to Christchurch with my fam it felt like I was back at square one in a sense? Like I had no job, no flat etc. I started to really focus on my mental health and make an effort to look after myself. I decided to watch things that brought me happiness/nostalgia - like re-watching Round the Twist, things like that. So yeah... I guess consuming content that sparked my creativity and focusing on myself and what was important to me really shaped what I was interested in drawing.
H: For me, I find your drawings a nice mediation on the idea of creating or building new worlds, ontologies and ways of being. They often make me think of David Lynch's work, particularly the most recent Twin Peaks series, because your work can be unsettling, other times humorous, cheeky, familiar or childlike. When you start a drawing what are you thinking about? Is it an intuitive, meditative kind of process? There's definitely a queering or discombobulated sense of time and narrative, but could you speak to these inner worlds you have created?
P: Oh yes I love David Lynch's work haha, he was pivotal actually. The first film of his I saw was 'Eraserhead' with my parents when I was a teenager. I loved the otherworldliness of the film ESPECIALLY the lady in the radiator. It's funny, I was just thinking about the scene in the second Twin Peaks series *SPOILER ALERT* where Josie dies and she's on the door knob. Second series is definitely my least favourite but I love this scene. That and the lady in the radiator illustrate a supernatural unfolding in the domestic setting so well. Lynch does this so perfectly which I reckon comes from his own experiences.
My practice is veeeery intuitive, I never plan my drawings they create themselves however sometimes I'll be like "ooh I want a log cabin vibe" or "I want an Akaroa vibe or a West Coast vibe" haha. In terms of these worlds, I guess a lot of it comes from my obsession with phenomenology and the absurd. I'm super fascinated in the unknown realms and supernatural shimmers that can sometimes appear in the everyday domestic setting My ghost experiences shape my work and the worlds I create in a subconscious way I believe. They tell me that there are realms that exist outside of this physical one.
I am also inspired by theatrics and new ways of being. I was at an elf/mystical themed party at the beginning of the year and there was a person there who introduced me to the concept of a "shirty" where you wear a dress shirt with no pants. I loved that because I often find myself doing that to my figures. New ways of dressing/performing that are outside of "societal/expectations". I view my drawings as a way to explore other modes of being that exist outside of the capitalist, hetero-normative and straight and narrow system. I want my body to bend backwards and wind and twist.
H: There's a feeling of childlike wonder to the idea of being 'shirty' or of bending your body backwards and winding and twisting it around. For instance children are so much more intuitive to making art than what happens when you go through an institution, like art or design school and you have to always explain your decisions. I'm always amazed by how they see the world and their bodies. It's so fluid and inspiring. Would you say that you have been actively unlearning a more institutionalised way of making? How has living with a small human shaped the kind of work you are making?
P: Oh definitely childlike! And I really value childlike wonder and imagination as an adult. Living with a 4 year old has been so inspiring; she's a very imaginative kid and she just says things how it is! She can literally turn rocks outside into worlds with personalities and storylines. I find myself as an adult really trying to delve back into that childhood intuition and curiosity when I'm making art or even when I'm dancing/moving my body for sure. A practise that is really important to me is when I have time alone in my room to dance, I like to create big ugly movements especially and it feels very liberating; like I'm creating a space to be myself and exist outside of societal expectations.
H: There's so much joy in your work, and joy is something I feel is kind of lacking in a lot of artists' work, especially in Aotearoa. Do you think this intuitive way of making comes from a place of joy or of wanting to be in spaces that prioritise playfulness, fun and joy, especially given the state of the world?
P: Oh that's great! Joy is so important. I get so many varying responses like creepy, ugly, elaborate etc. Because I never plan out my drawings and they come from such an intuitive space they open up potential for so much interpretation which I love. Joy and playfulness is very important to me as an artist and motivates me to keep doing what I'm doing, so I guess yeah! It's a wanting to be in spaces that prioritise playfulness for sure.
H: Could you speak a little bit about the materials you have been using? I've noticed that your more recent works have drifted away from coloured pencil and more into monochromatic charcoal.
P: For sure. For this series of drawings I've been really enjoying playing with graphite as I can create a lot of richness and depth in the work. The shading and toning process is different and can take me a lot longer! During lockdown this has been really cathartic and expansive for me. A film that I love and inspires me greatly and especially for this series is "Night of the Hunter" a 1950's b&w film. It explores child fantasy, grief, loss and joy and the shadows and depth created through the monochromatic medium are stunning. I find with black and white there is a lack that I really like - there's more of a sense of the unknown.
H: Finally, what projects are you working on at the moment and what direction, if any, do you hope your work to head into?
P: At the moment I am working towards "Cruel Optimism" the New Artists show at Artspace! It's very exciting because I'll be working with artists whose practises I really admire and it gives me a great opportunity to expand my practise. After that I believe we will be doing the Te Tuhi billboard together ;). In terms of my direction, in all honesty I'm just going with my intuition and what feels right. I'm in the stage of my career where there will be a lot of trial and error and I'm open to learning and growing as much as possible! I want everything to be organic and feel natural.
Victoria Todorov & Ainslie Templeton
Ainslie: To speak of high and low culture meeting in an era where the biotechnologization of the body and efflorescence of microscale mediatised cults-of-personality have become de rigueur is to enter the territory of post-cliche: Victoria Todorov prefers using and abusing when it comes to her stunning interventions into the language of contemporary art. It has been a thrill to see her photorealistic paintings circulating in this year of years, and to see them featured recently at Suite 7a, where I am told there are more coming. Below we discuss the works, and the narratives of beauty, loss and wellness that informs them. What are the works that you have given Suite 7a?
Victoria: I have given Suite 7a a series influenced by the online communities of bimbofication, pro-plastic aesthetics and an admiration for the process of transformation to express oneself. A few of the works feature Lolo Ferrari, a French erotic actress and cultural icon starring in the Television series Eurotrash. Lolo was a complex and divisive beauty, who had a dark reality and suspicious death. I am personally mourning loved ones this past 2 years so I wanted to do some celebration of life with underpinnings of struggle and vulnerability.
Ainslie: I'm sorry for your losses darling. If the paintings are in part a response to mourning and a celebration of life, they are extremely gorgeous and provocative (the many faces of hot pink) at the same time. In Wonder of Scam, the splodges and brush strokes are presented like in a makeup estore, while the shifty main subject gives a feeling of exploiting / being exploited that feels very knowing and sexy to me. That's not Lolo is it?
Victoria: Thank you love and it is exciting for me to hear your interpretation! I have been looking at a lot of makeup textures and layering lately. The lady in the picture is Angelyne, Angelyne is an American singer, actress, personality and model who came to prominence in 1984 after the appearance of a series of iconic billboards in and around Los Angeles, California which read only & and pictured her posing suggestively. - Wikipedia. I am always interested in the evolution of social media, the Myspace-era aesthetic influencing me a lot. So naturally I started to think about pre-Internet and Angelyne kind of was an influencer / presence via print media. I like the way she marketed herself mysteriously, behind a fan, and monetised any interaction. I love her personal style and use of colour, it has informed so much of the colour palette in works in development. I think they just made a TV show about her too which is nice!Â
Ainslie: How do you think you and your work would thrive better there versus here?
Victoria: I feel I would be safer, happier and enriched in the US. A lot of what I consume is American, the people I am friends with online are from there. I feel so much potential in the Big Apple, it is hard to describe what I think the US represents but I just really adore it. There is more diversity in general - it's not perfect I am sure. I am wanting my Carrie Bradshaw moment like anyone. The people in the US also understand me better. In Melbourne I am relegated and they are only interested in ticking boxes or some unrelated agenda which gets gold stars for them perhaps lol. But in saying that, I have some other artists and wonderful people who genuinely support me, often not in the system if that makes sense?
Ainslie: I love cutting observations of desperate Melbourne people - it's hard to know where different systems begin and end, if that makes sense. We haven't ever met irl Victoria, but over the last few years I feel like I keep encountering total acolytes of yours. This year especially, it feels like your work is getting the wider traction and excitement that it commands. What's shifted for you in 2020, if anything?
Victoria: That is real sweet and it is sometimes you just connect in this effortless way, it is so nice. Melbourne can be insular, cruel, tall poppy, edge but on the flip it can be standard, accessible, surface, basic. I sit outside of it all and am too Paranoid / anxious to engage traditionally with it. That is why I am grateful to Suite 7a for letting me energetically be in beautiful Sydney, I am into the idea of living a Sydney lifestyle. I think: Vitamin D, vitality, love, good taste, juice, polished and glam. I am not sure what has changed this year, perhaps being more vulnerable made some people interested, or something in the work resonated more. On a personal level, it has been a spiritually exhausting year for me, but lined with hope. I am excited to be working with several people I respect and admire so much on upcoming projects.
Archival shows at Suite 7a in the Hallway & Studio including Rozsa Erica, Marilyn Schneider, Xu Jing, Dylan Nicolas, Elise Petersen, Robin Clare, Rebecca Scibilia & Dylan Nicolas
Suite 7a, Oxford St Darlinghurst