Janet Lilo’s poster creations for our Customs St East Works on Paper project are energetic and eye-catching – but there’s more to them than catches the eye.
The original works from which these posters are made feature masking tape. What made you start working with tape, and how expressive did you find it? I’ve made a lot of drawings and works on paper using different media. In this series, I used tape because it was what I had in my bag at the time. This particular set of drawings (among hundreds of others) were made in response to a long walk I did in Normandy, France, in 2014. I walked from the city of Rouen to the coastal city of Le Havre. I had intentions of recording that walk digitally through video, sound and photographic image – which I did do but what also came out of that was a huge series of drawings.
These works have never been exhibited in a New Zealand public space and when I was asked to submit for the poster project it made complete sense to present actual works on paper as opposed to a digitally manipulated print. Tape is fun. It sticks. It’s difficult. It’s fast. It’s bold. It pops. It has an interesting language with line and increased depth depending on how you use it. It can bend, crinkle and fold. It can be sculptural. It can also be quite flat if you are careful with it. In this case, the tape has been ripped and in some places cut to give it a real hand-made look.
You’ve created public art like the banana lightboxes on Karangahape Road, and works that are in the Auckland Art Gallery’s collection that use video and neon lights and other things. What do you like about working in this two-dimensional medium in such a public spot? What I like about using a two-dimensional medium in a public spot is that it carries with it a whole new set of challenges to navigate. Britomart is busy. Everything is visually busy. Traffic, people, movement, architecture, sound, aroma, day and night… all of these things contribute to an interesting setting for a work to sit. I tried to select something that wasn’t as linear, straightforward or obvious. Something that wasn’t realistic and needed a bit more imagination – but simple and every day.
Posters are so interesting because they are essentially a form of advertising with some kind of message to take away. These works are very personal, they carry with it a difficult journey in a time of my life where I found a bit bravery and vulnerability in myself. Those things won’t necessarily translate on to a fast walking person passing by or someone stuck at a traffic light but it’s there, I’m there as a set of gestures in the mix of many others.
You’re an artist and you’re also a parent, and you say you’re trying to raise good, solid feminist men. What are your top parenting tips for achieving this? I say that I am trying – the essential word is trying! I have three sons and as a woman, that statement has underlying humour attached to it being a mother of three sons – but also is a serious comment that I do want my sons to be aware of their privileges – not just that, but many things. Much like the banana light poles on Karangahape Rd with neon messaging. A message that sits between cliche and serious (or moments before gimmick) depending on the mood at the time of reading.
Essentially, I hope my sons continue to be kind to others and themselves in life. My parenting tips are that parents should not necessarily rely on other parents parenting tips because every household is different. Every child is different. Every family has access to different resources. Some struggle with money, some with time, some with communication, some with enough sleep among many other things! But a piece of very good advice a friend once told me was that, whatever you do, create your own special family traditions for your children. Things that you do specifically together as a family, regularly. Personally, for me, it is also very important to expose my children to as much diversity as possible, whether cultural, gender, social, political issues etc. I also hope that they feel comfortable to use their imagination confidently for the rest of their lives.
You’ve just been to the big art biennial in Honolulu. What was that like and what did you do there? It is a real privilege to represent Aotearoa in a Pacific-based Biennial. Other Aotearoa artists included were members of The SaVage K’lub with Rosanna Raymond, Mata Aho Collective, Jeremy Leatinu’u, Ite Uhila, Natalie Robertson and co-curator Nina Tonga. To have a presence in this context was a real learning experience for me – as it should always be – challenging in the way of navigating yourself in a place that has its own set of social, political, cultural and economic struggles, history, stories or values. As a commissioned artists, you have to think about what you add, what you take away and hopefully the work communicates that awareness.
For this project, I created an installation that was made up of over 200 handmade laptops with hand-cut bumper stickers. The bumper stickers read: MAKE WRONG RIGHT NOW as an ode to the Biennial title and line from Hawaiian poet, ‘Imaikalani Kalahele. Powerful words. In terms of the space, the work was specifically made to fit an old dance room in the Hawaii State of Art Museum in Honolulu. The room is not a usual exhibition space and because it is an old dance studio, all four walls are covered in mirrors. I wanted the work to compete with the mirrors and not the other way around.
What are you working on at the moment? I’m working on my next installation for the Maori Moving image show at The Dowse in Lower Hutt, curated by Melanie Oliver and Bridget Rewiti. The show has already started but my temporal installation will be up in June and July.