I N T E R V I E W
Leafa Wilson of OLGA GALLERY
By Elaine Gyde
You’ve lived and been working creatively in Hamilton for a while, have you been able to find the answer to a question that occasionally tends to define the city: does Hamilton have a visual art scene? Kirikiriroa - Hamilton... does it have an art scene? Hell yes! This is one of the city's best kept secrets! There is a huge network of artists: loads of semi-professionals, amateur, Sunday painters, international artists, street artists, curators, art writers and dedicated scenesters for sure. Yes, there is an art scene.
And where is the centre of that activity taking place? Well, there are so many places where art is taking place and being made. In artists' private studios, at art school (Media Arts - Wintec, at the University) there are regular exhibitions at The Calder and Lawson Galleries curated by Steph Chalmers, Curator of the University of Waikato Collections, there are shows at RAMP Gallery at Wintec, there are tons of 'fringe' art events, artists showing works in their homes such as the recent show at Karl Bayly's home, shows in empty shops, shows on the bus shelters by Jeremy Shirley, and other public spaces by artists like TechOne, shows at the new space in Frankton, Artmakers with Sylvie Bolstad and Teuila Fatupaito, there are is the WSA Art School and a gallery upstairs, also there is art in other forms happening all around the city such as the tattoo art that comes out of places like Flax Roots Tattoo Studio in Collingwood Street, there are artists making stuff out at Te Pahu with the McGillicuddies, there's are so many photographers and there is also art happening at student run spaces at the university as well, there's the Wananga o Aotearoa art schools where raranga (weaving, and carvining as well as 2D art is being made and there are loads of the older established artists such as Joan Fear, Gaye Fraundorfer, Ruth Davey, Colin Gibbs. There is also Aesthete Gallery, Soul Gallery, all of these place are devoted to promoting local, national and contemporary art the highest quality.
Are the issues that impact local music, like accessibility and promotion, also problems for artists in Hamilton and how do you believe those problems could be solved? The issues surrounding local music are all due to lack of funds to provide venues that are able to continue and have some kind of foreseeable future. Promotion is one of the hugest costs because of the printing/ time spent on line that it takes to get promo material to the 'audiences' being sought after. Artists on the other hand, while audience is vital, they don't always care so much about drawing crowds so much as getting their work made and up for an audience that gives a damn about art. In saying that, every artist of any kind could probably do with some work being sold in order to continue their practice. Any city's artists and musicians are vital to creating a well-rounded society because often, their work brings about socio-political provocation that opens up conversations that often go unconsidered by many.
Should audiences and community involvement even be a concern for the creative community, if great pieces are being created? Community is important, because everyone is community. Artists are part of that community but are often just overlooked and undervalued because they may not necessarily make art designed to hang on walls or that looks aesthetically pleasing. Sometimes their art is purposefully ugly... so for many artists, not all, there is a huge concern that their art is actually realised whether seen or unseen. I think there is a perception that all artists make art to sell at exorbitant prices, that's a different machine altogether from artists creating art. I think most artists would agree, that to sell a work of art is firstly, a bonus because somebody actually enjoys it and the monetary side is just an added bonus... on the other hand... the work that an artist invests via research, testing and making is worth every penny the buyer pays.
(well... for the most part) I can give you a fair idea of when an artist overprices their work for no good reason except for the fact that they're living in la-la romantic artist land.
What motivated you to open a bricks and mortar space of your very own, OLGA?
OLGA is my own VA or space for me to test the boundaries of or curation+art rules+community. Also to enable artist's work that I really like or a political idea I would like to unearth or just to test what the spectrum of art might look like when I am my own boss. At the moment, I have been too busy to even get there to set up the next exhibition, but that's the part I love about it. It is holey space...there are gaps and there is nothing perfect or hugely expensive about it...artists (with close negotiation with me) show for free. I still have a particular standard. But it's also a space where I want to encourage people to meet and discuss all kinds of things.
What does the day to day work of organizing OLGA look like?
It basically looks like this [ ] and within that space... time and space is actually fluid.
How has the experience of opening and operating your very own OLGA been and what have been the most interesting challenges about opening OLGA?
I love OLGA ... she is a happy little space and she is not that concerned for art wankery. The challenge will always be, trying to NOT slip into conventions of 'gallery' just because of what other people expect. People who know me, know that this is the deal... the work is not meant to be like 'museum' or 'gallery' but they are in this space for a time... then their work will exist forever online on my site. http://olga-va.weebly.com/
I encourage anyone who is keen to submit works for online projects - it can be written or it can be sent as a scanned work ... the image must be accompanied by the details that the artist/ writer would like to be published, otherwise it will go up. I just don't have time to chase people's details. So if you are reading this and you have a work you'd like to test and submit, you'll have to send it (1 - 4 MB jpeg or png file) to email@example.com with your text (100 - 150 words but that's not compulsory) and also I also try to promote people of colour to show their works because there is an apparent gap for experimental spaces for people of colour. I don't care what language it's in either. I will post any works under the tab "Friends of OLGA' which doesn't mean I want to be pals and hang out, but friends with the space... or friends with the loose conceptual space that OLGA is.
Has having the opportunity to independently run a physical space, impacted the way you create your own work? No, not really. I am primarily a multi-media performance-based artist. I make work... or I don't ... most of my work already exists in my noggin.
The OLGA manifesto that features on your website is a beautiful reminder that often spaces in art (and the world) are taken up by the privileged or the highbrow, what do you think Hamilton Underground Press readers can do to help and advance that manifesto? I don't really think I want to illicit help or addition to the manifesto of OLGA as such. But I do want people to know, that art is not always about the panic that is evoked by the 'white cube' and openings and art speak. It's trying its best to be as open as is possible without collapsing and without killing me. Ultimately, it will close, I will move on and open OLGA elsewhere, even if that is just in my head, because OLGA is not really the building, but a manifestation, a performance work of mine.
What is in store for OLGA in 2016? And are there any dream developments that you’d like to see happen? I have loose plans for showing some video-performances by USA artist, Christina McPhee, and performance artist Harpreet Singh of India / NZ. But also I am doing a FREE WEST PAPUA poster intervention in the space so people who care to raise the consciousness around the plight of the oppressed and brutalised West Papuans can all participate by sending in posters for me to install and to support the work of YOUNGSOLAWARA a young West Papuan Activist Group who are always trying to bring attention to their plea for freedom from the military regime decimating their population. Also, I want to bring a few pensioners up to teach them how to paint or to think about how to make a painting at the very least. Elaine Gyde