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Marian Tubbs Interview

BACKWASH 1 Sept – 22 Oct 2023
Drill Hall Gallery

The exhibition is titled ‘Backwash’, how do you interpret this idea in relation to your work? 

Initially ‘Backwash’ made me think of adolescence sharing drinks at school sports or parties: “I do or don’t want your backwash.” In school thoughts about backwash were polarising. It could swing between ostracization and intimacy. The pandemic has probably effected this high school dilemma. The loss makes me feel nostalgic about schoolyard naiveté and young friends. 

Since discovering the title of the exhibition I have been reading about the processes involved in the science of backwashing water and filtration. It is helping me to finish a video I started after the 2022 floods in Lismore, where I live. I think about purity, consumption, and even religion. Why do we have to filter our water, who decides what additives are included in the drinking water where you live? 

Filtered and green consumption are as polarising as backwashed drinks. They are both fetishized and shunned. The new healthy thing, the cleanest water, is coveted until a green washing story comes out and the brand is ‘cancelled.’ The dialectic of ‘originally pure’ vs ‘newly pure’ bubbles to the surface and connects filtration to other dialectics, such as ‘old money’ vs ‘new money’, and the habits of indoctrinated class structures.

When you make a work, what are the qualities you would like it to evidence?

Complexity, simplicity, generosity, energy, consideration, experimentation, and intimacy.

I want the work to feel easy. I want the viewer to know I have had a good time making it and for them to have fun with the works and feel someone generous has made something for them, even if the works are chaotic, deal with politics, and require a lot of research and reading in their creation.

Often a work springs from a sensation I have experienced that I do not have immediate words for – so I need to make a work for it. I aim to return to that sensation through the making process, and I stop when there is a sense that I have caught the feeling. 

The titles arrive during making, when the work is almost finished and I understand its tone. I have a library of personal aphorism-like notes and usually they are purchased to sit next to the different works as titles.

How do found materials or ‘poor materials’ influence your approach to making art? 

Found objects and images have been the heartbeat of my analogue and digital practice for the last 10 years. Discarded and ‘poor materials’ are loaded with information, they report on the locales of contemporary value. In this respect they are incomparable to other materiality. It is this quality in objects I chance upon that calls out to me and defines the trajectory of my projects. What is captured from being in ‘real’ phenomenological experience wrestles with what I search for in digital detritus, meme energies, and tech thinking. The push and pull between the two helps me get away from myself and my immediate tastes. Specific materials are themselves the machinery that allow my complicated feelings about authorship to swerve, pivot and produce new metaphors.

How does your practice as an artist sit in the context of a consumerist society / contemporary culture of excess?  

Early writing about my work focused heavily on the idea that I was performing a critique of consumerism, but that was not exactly the case. Pluralism allows us to be many things. The work has never been interested in shaming, but I pay close attention to cultures of excess, value creation and disruption. Empathically, the internet gives us contemporaneous multimodal aesthetic delivery. The acceleration and bifurcation of platforms will continue and I will continue to find visual poetry to sit alongside it. I include the silly or cute image as much as peak design of luxury aesthetics. Works in the exhibition like lazy river and i will do all the work I will just do it all wrong, mimic the whirling speed of today’s tech and image culture. They are layered, verging on chaos but are also contained compositions. I am interested in emergent trends in tech, the potential political consequences of these, and digesting this to arrive at new forms.

Do you have any thoughts on the commerce of art and the art market? 

The art market, like any moneyed institution is incredibly interesting and abjectly banal in its operations. It is porous for abuse and ripe for revolution. In the Australian market, mediocre and hardworking artists with opportunity rise well. My place so far is in the penumbra, I don’t over produce and I have a day job that takes up energy. 

I used to have an indexical theory about art value and words. That is, the abstract painting with scale does not need many words to achieve an applicable value in the market. It is different for the assemblage of ‘poor materials’ which need all the smart words available by the critic to gain in market value. My perspective has changed somewhat, it’s certainly more complex than the above, but it was my starting point to think through the market.

Do you feel that your art questions the traditional structures of visual art?  

Yes, all new work should question traditional structures, but for me dialectics are also at play. At core my practice is formalist. When I was growing up contemporary art was largely dominated by relational aesthetics and I could not get a hold of it. I was more interested in what things looked like, what they could look like, what they shouldn’t look like but despite this succeed in being asserted as art. My enquiry is driven by look and feel. I connect to the history of looking, the cannon, and the historically under-recognised practices that I find along my research paths. Signalling to previous forms is key to continuing discourse and affinities. 

What was your earliest intimation that you were going to be an artist? 

Sensations from play when I was three years old stand out. Things like making mud-cakes with my dad in the backyard and mixing colours for finger painting. Later in primary school I drew this human figure with charcoals and chalk. I think Miss Young hung it up on the class wall. I was surprised by the positive attention. It changed something fundamental for me – I realised I could do something I love and receive a little pat on the back.

Are there aphorisms, or words of advice you were given which you sometimes bear in mind when you are making a work? 

I had a lecturer in art school who painted funny dogs in surreal settings, he told a 19-year Marian that she could not solve the world in one painting. It helps to think about this still; takes the edge off.

The Drill Hall Gallery acknowledges the Ngunnawal and Ngambri peoples, the traditional custodians of the Canberra region, and recognises their continuous connection to culture, community and Country.