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Louise Meuwissen is an Emerging Crafter and Artist
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Louise Meuwissen is an Emerging Crafter and Artist
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Louise Meuwissen is an Emerging Crafter and Artist
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Conversations
24 April 2014

Louise Meuwissen is an Emerging Crafter and Artist

Interview by Katherine Wilkinson

Standing in front of Louise Meuwissen’s Cosmos (Time Warp), the winner of the Dumbo Feather award at Craft’s Fresh! exhibition this year, I found myself being drawn deeper and deeper into the piece, subconsciously shuffling further and further forward to look at its details. Thick wool, another shuffle, glossy beads, shuffle, fine thread, shuffle… By the time I came to, I was cross-eyed with a dozen questions that I needed to ask Louise straight away.

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Discussed in this Story

What’s it like to be an emerging artist today?

I mean it’s hard, but really exciting. It’s the sort of thing that one has to dive head first into, one has to be working all the time and be excited about what one’s doing. You have to seek out opportunities to make opportunities for yourself. But I think that it’s incredibly rewarding. There are so many things happening, in Melbourne particularly, that facilitate emerging artists. It’s a great place to be and a great time in history.

But it is a lot of hard work. Getting your name out there and actually having an audience for the work you’re creating is quite difficult. A lot of people don’t really care about art that much, there’s a very limited community of people who have an interest in the arts in this country. Getting it out there more broadly is difficult.

I imagine you know before you get into it that this is going to be a hard path, what was it that made you not care about the difficulties and decide that this is what you want to do?

For me, I don’t know if it’s the same for everyone, but I think that I’ve always been an artist in the sense that I’ve always been a maker of things and I’ve always had a particular view of the world that may be slightly different to the norm. That might sound a bit pretentious, but…

There was a moment when I was quite young, when I was maybe 17, when I was seriously thinking about doing a degree in law or psychology, or a double degree in those things, and going down that very academic and more traditional path. I realised that whilst that might be rewarding in certain ways, there was nothing that was going to be able to beat being an artist.

Maybe it would be hard, but if you’re passionate about something, then that’s definitely what you should be doing with your life, rather than just conforming to other people’s expectations. Just because something is hard doesn’t mean that it’s not worthwhile.

Once you’ve made that decision, was it hard to go through with it?

No I think coming to that decision was the harder part; juggling different expectations and how I thought about things and realising that it was probably never going to be something that made very much money… But once I made the decision that that was what I was going to do, it was the best decision that I’ve ever made and I’m was so thrilled with it, I haven’t really looked back. It’s been an amazing journey really.

"I guess that is what all artists are essentially trying to do, they're trying to create some kind of manifestation of their view of the world and what they think of the world"
Louise Meuwissen

Fresh! is an award for craft, and you were talking before about having always been a maker of things, but you’re also an artist—what are your thoughts on the relationship between craft and art?

For me as a maker, and definitely prior to having an education in fine arts, I never really saw that much of a distinction between craft and art. I just put all of the creative endeavours under one big umbrella. I also viewed art, and all of the things that would be under that spectrum, as problem solving. So for me often when executing an idea for a work, it would just make sense to use whatever medium best fits the type of project that it was. So whether that was making a painting or a sculpture or something that would fall under craft, it never really mattered. It was just picking really any of the creative endeavours.

It’s interesting because there has been a bit of a distinction made between the two things, and maybe also, in a lot of ways, a looking down upon craft as a practice, which I think is really sad because I think that art needs to be more democratic in the way that it functions. The idea that only a certain, small proportion of people are capable of creating things, is very elitist. It makes out that anyone else who is creative in some way isn’t good enough, doesn’t quite get it, or they need to have gone to a university to know anything about art. And I think that that’s really limiting. It puts people off the arts as well, which as I said before I think is a real problem in this country.

I think that the relationship that exists now between the two is really interesting. There’s been a real resurgence of the handmade and people actually enjoying things that they can see that someone has made and is not mass-produced. I think that craft is definitely on the rise. Even with websites like Etsy, that is plainly seen. People are going crazy for these things—

Definitely, there’s a huge movement happening

—Yeah, and I think for young people as well, craft has actually become kind of cool again, which I think is awesome. You won’t just see 90-year-old women knitting anymore, there are actually young people, both men and women, who are engaging in these practices and don’t think that they’re daggy.

It’s not just like, you’re a loser because you can make something! Whereas I think that previously that was kind of the perception around it, that it was just really daggy. But I think that any creative endeavour is amazing and that the more that people do it the better they’ll get.

Were you drawn to it because of the creativity of it, or because of that tangible aspect of making something with your hands?

To be quite honest with you I don’t know. It’s always been something that I’ve done. I mean that sort of question wasn’t something that I would have asked myself at the time, and then it just became something that I did. By the time that I was actually old enough to be questioning what I was doing, it was already just something that I did.

I think that it can be cathartic. People that are makers need to make, I definitely find that I’ll go a bit nuts if I don’t make anything for a certain amount of time.

It’s not a compulsion, but it’s just a really important thing for you in your daily life, that you have that outlet—

Yeah I think so, and for some artists there definitely is a compulsion. I’ve heard people express it in such a way, that I just need to get this thing out of me, which is an interesting way to talk about making something. And I think that that translates across different art forms as well, not just visual arts but also literature, music, performance and dance. But it’s a strange human behaviour really to spend time making things that often don’t have an explanation as such.

You mentioned earlier that you’ve always had a bit of a different view of the world—what did you mean by that?

I guess the area I grew up in, it was just very conservative. Everyone that I met had a very, not limited, but just conservative view of the world. To them a good life would be to follow the basic Australian dream of working really hard and buying a house, which is really admirable, but for me that was just never really enough. I didn’t like the idea of just going and working everyday and being so exhausted that the people in my life didn’t matter, that I would be so tired I’d just veg out in front of the TV, and never really engaging with the world more broadly or being critical of things that were occurring. I think that maybe that was why art was so appealing as well, because it was a profession that was based around that essentially. You do have to be engaged and critical.

When you’re starting a piece, what inspires you?

With the way that my practice has developed, because I work quite intuitively, often ideas link from whatever it is that I’ve been working on before. Often inspiration will come from what I’m working on, or while I’m working I’ll have an idea for something else and experiment with that when I’m finished with what I’m working on, or sometimes I’ll drop it and start the next thing straight away.

Is that a benefit of the work you do being so intricate and labour-intensive that you have time for ideas to percolate?

I think it is, because the embroidery is quite monotonous in the sense that it is labour-intensive and it’s a lot of the same thing over and over again, you do have a lot of time to think separately to the task at hand. I daydream a bit and will be thinking about other ideas, so that will range from things that are going on in the world that I’ve heard or read about, to something mundane like a conversation that I’ve had with someone earlier.

In terms of visual things, I really like things that other people think are ugly. I’m not squeamish at all and it always surprises me when I remember that other people are. People often categorise things by beauty and ugliness into categories of good and bad, and so if things are seen as being unattractive in someway, they’re obviously useless. And it’s like, actually that’s not really the case at all. I suppose my inspiration comes from that quite broadly, and then anything that falls under that could be something that I find inspiring.

Where did that come from? That interest in what so many people would just disregard.

I think it’s something in me, and that sounds a bit like a non-answer, but I have always been a collector of things, I would always notice things, even as a young person, maybe it’s because I daydream a lot or because I’m looking around and noticing weird little occurrences or looking at the bubble gum on the pavement and seeing if there’s a pattern in it, or something like that. [laughs] I think it’s because I get bored easily and it’s entertaining for me. I do like beautiful things and it makes life more fun and interesting if you ca try to see the beauty in things I suppose. Our lives can be so mundane but they would be really boring if one didn’t try to do that.

I started a series while I was studying painting at the VCA of scrap heaps, and I just thought that they were really striking and I guess that’s where it started because there’s waste, there’s stuff that people would completely disregard, it’s going in the bin, and taking the time to create a detailed, intricate painting of that was really fun for me and I just really liked the forms and the colours, and to try to re-envisage that.

That’s so interesting because one of the things that really strikes me about your work is that it is so beautiful, but you can still see that interest in things that are overlooked.

Oh, thanks.

For me it’s basically a hijacking of an understanding that human beings appreciate things that are beautiful, and me being one of them. People will pay extra attention to things that they find curious or beautiful. Taking advantage of that persuasion is a technique that I’ve adopted in my art practice to try and get people to engage with the work.

I guess that is what all artists are essentially trying to do, they’re trying to create some kind of manifestation of their view of the world and what they think of the world, what they care about and what they think are issues that other people should care about.

How do you feed your inspiration, that interest in the grotesque?

I do it in a couple of ways; by just living and taking photographs of things that I find interesting in my day-to-day. I seek out images of things that I think fit that description. I guess the other thing that happens when you’re an artist and people start to recognise that you have an interested in a particular thing, is that within your own community people will start directing you to things as well. One of the things that I’m particularly interested in is mould and decay and stuff like that, because that’s usually what people find really unappealing and is common to all of us, if it’s in your bathroom or in a teacup that you’ve left lying in your bedroom for a really long time. Now what will happen to me is I’ll get photos sent to me of other people’s experiences of that, so they obviously think of me when that happens to them, [laughs] so I’ll get people sending me gross things, which I get really excitied about [laughs]

So the camera roll on your phone must be pretty interesting?

Yeah, it is I guess. It’s weird, I mean I guess everyone’s is weird because it’s a sort of a personal collection of things that one likes

Yeah, very true. To talk specifically about your winning piece, Cosmos (Time Warp), tell me a bit about its creation.

In a sense, that work was actually a failure for me. I like it now and I think that it turned out well, but it was a failed attempt because I didn’t consider how long it would actually take. What I wanted to make and what that piece was initially being created for, was this monstrous, grotto thing that people could go inside and I wanted it to be this big embroidered room essentially, that was really full-on and maximalist and grotesque. That didn’t come about because I didn’t consider how long it actually takes to make embroidery!

Working intuitively it just happened really. I started at one end and was looking at images and just going for gold. I started working on it and then realised that time was coming to a conclusion, I needed to have it done and a different strategy was going to have to be undertaken. I pretty much would just sit there and work on it really intensively and get really excited when I would find new materials to use. All of the materials were second-hand, a big part of my work is my luck in finding the right items to make it up. So I would go to the opp shop and look in hard rubbish, trying to find whatever would be appropriate

Did that sense of failure impact the piece at all?

No, well I don’t think so. I think that that’s one of the most interesting things about art making, that the failed execution of an idea isn’t necessarily a failure in the traditional sense of the word. It’s an opportunity for a new thing to happen, or for a different way of looking at it, a surprise, you know?

Did it change what you were trying to explore in the piece?

To an extent it did. It didn’t change for me making it, what I was exploring, which was a lot to do with immersion and time, so that was obviously still there in the creation. I think that people can still experience to a degree, but I really wanted that originally to be this incredibly overpowering thing, that was also immersive in the sense that people would actually be physically immersed in the work. I suppose all the intricacy that’s involved in it, that did happen to a degree but maybe not to as grand scale, maybe just with people staring at it intently for a little while and getting quite close to it to see the detailing, rather than being physically being put into a completely different space.

It reminds me actually of what you’ve said in the past about the contradictions and relationship between micro and macro. The piece’s transformation from something that was going to be so big, encompassing and close for a viewer, to something that’s really detailed, but it’s on a wall that you look at almost from a far. It seems to me that that change has added something to the piece—do you think so?

It has done that and it’s interesting because it wasn’t my intent. That is the beauty of art as well; the intent of the artist is one thing and that’s very important, but once a piece has been made and is there to be view by people, to an extent the intention of the artist is, not superfluous but, not of the same importance as maybe the artist would like to think. The audience and their interpretation of the work definitely brings something to the work.

It has been interesting with that micro/macro thing, it does do that. The forms of it are interesting because from a distance it has one form and then that form is repeated on a smaller level and that’s also what I’m interested in terms of the micro and the macro; that there are these similarities that occur in forms that we maybe don’t always pay attention to but they are there and they’re present in the work as well.

How long did it take? I’ve never embroidered but I did a bit of tapestry in my day and I just can’t imagine how long this piece must have taken you!

It took me months to do, but in terms of sitting there with a needle in my hand doing it, I reckon it would have taken maybe 200 hours—

Holy cow!

—then additionally there was the finding of the materials, which was fun because I enjoy that kind of hunt. I don’t know how long that took because, you know, oh of course I’ll go to the op shop and look for art materials, whilst also looking for whatever else was handy. I’m just here to look for beads and thread, oh that’s a nice dress over there! It took months.

When something is so all-encompassing like that, what motivates you to keep creating?

I work really well when I have a project that is really time-consuming. It’s a contradiction in myself because I really like instant gratification and the immediacy of things, but all of the work that I make is really time-consuming and laborious. I really appreciate craftsmanship and time spent on things, so I wanted to adopt those things in my work. It’s useful for me because then I always have a project to keep working on, rather than having to start a new thing every time I sit down at my desk.

The prize is for emerging artists, and that term always makes me think of what’s next, I don’t know why—

I guess you’re climbing through something.

—Yes, definitely. So, well, what is next for you?

I guess I’ll just keep working away. I am really interested in making things that blur the line between art, design and real life. I’m interested in making a body of artworks that are multi-purposed, that are functional and maybe have a variety of functions. I’m interested in making objects especially that retain their integrity when they’re objects individually, but when they’re put together create wondrous environments, like fantasy environments.

I suppose I’ll just keep making, try to execute these ideas, have proposals and try to have shows and just see where the adventure takes me. Hopefully one opportunity will lead onto the next, being out there and trying your hardest, and seizing opportunities when they present themselves to you.

Katherine Wilkinson

Katherine Wilkinson is a Melbourne-based journalist and writer.

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