Not Her First Rodeo, Minna Gilligan in conversation with Emma Nixon.
EN: In the catalogue essay for Rhinestone Cowgirl you speak of Madonna’s different phases, defined by her albums, do you see the phases of your own life and practice as being defined in the same way by your exhibitions?
MG: In a sense yes, there are obviously different eras, which depended on; was I in a relationship with this person then? And what music was I listening to? What was I wearing? All of these things come together as a particular time point in my life - as it does for a lot of people. But I always had very strong associations between what work I was making and what was happening in my life but I think that was less constructed, like that’s more of a natural way that things grow. But with this show I was particularly conscious of wanting it to have a theme, and a recognisable aesthetic that it was referencing. I sort of heightened that by using my social media to tell people about the inspiration, and the imagery I was looking at. So it was definitely more curated for this. But there’s always things defining the work you’re making and how you’re living your life at that point. I always look back and can recognise different things that were a common aesthetic or a common feeling or something of a particular time. But Rhinestone Cowgirl was much more pronounced and deliberate.
EN: When and how did Rhinestone Cowgirl come about?
MG: Well, I always liked the daggiest music ever and occasionally I’d really listen to a song that would come out and I’d find it like the most profound thing ever. Glen Campbell’s song “Rhinestone Cowboy” came on shuffle one day and I was like oh that’s a such a funny, melancholic narrative and it was just a great example of the kind of music I like. The kind of longing, melancholia like The Carpenters and yeah it came on and I thought it would be interesting to take that idea and narrative and make it more feminine, to be Rhinestone Cowgirl which opens up all this stuff like Dolly Parton - it kind of started there in the sixties and seventies. And then I realized I’d had my own Rhinestone Cowgirl experience when Madonna released “Music” in 2000. So the idea sort of began there. My focus started very narrow, then I realized it was bigger than I thought and that it related to a lot of things I’m interested in, including Madonna and the idea of reinvention, and I just love the idea of the glitz and glam and what that connotes and brings up.
While the aesthetic references in this body of work have shifted to be more abstract and symbolic, these paintings actually operate as an organic extension of the way I’ve always worked. The sourcing of fabric is a type of collage, reaching into the world and pulling something from it to ‘add’, to use retro and kitsch colours and patterns loaded with the weight of memory and experience. My works have always been adorned, previously with collage imagery, and with paint that soaks into the porous fabric. This time the idea of adorning is more obvious – the sequins that inhabit each work, the luxury and maximalism of that really adds a weightier presence to the work that I love. The tie dying is more obvious and unapologetic, forming big, looming shapes and rounded, bleached-out ghost orbs. The building up of these works, the ‘adding’, drawing from my plethora of influences of retro, kitsch, psychedelia, allows me to create these atemporal realms of nostalgia for a time or place that never actually existed. In these works, that time and place is the narrative in the Rhinestone Cowboy song.
EN: When you reference reinvention, it reminds me of your blog post “Stepping Back (So far)” where you discussed the problematic of competing not only with others but also with your former, younger self and living in the shadow of your past. Is this decided self-reinvention a response to that?
MG: Yeah that’s a great analogy, competing with your past self. I definitely feel that I want to push myself further with every exhibition I do. I wanted to make paintings that were a step up for me and that were unapologetic in what they are, like they are pretty crazy. I also wanted to reinforce that I have these kinds of ideas and make these kinds of things as well as existing online. Obviously that’s not the only reason I made this body of work but I had a real desire to prove myself and reiterate that I wasn’t trying to make something that was a product or for a specific brief or just to put on Instagram.
EN: Was this shift in your practice impulsive or inevitable?
MG: I guess both, I mean it was needed because I always need to feel like I’m developing, otherwise I feel stagnant, and I want every show and every work I make to be better than the last, in my eyes and hopefully in others. It was also driven from an inner self, to have this step up.
EN: With this exhibition you brought such a strong and extended skill set, with the sequinning and tie dying of shapes. Could you say something about how you pushed yourself with this work?
MG: From that drive to develop the work, came the thought, what else am I going to do that’s different but still the same, still mine. I was in Spotlight and saw this whole wall of sequins and I was like wow that’s so cool, maybe I could do some sequinning or embroidery on the work, which I thought would be so fun. I didn’t realize how manually intensive this would be until I was doing it. But it was still this really nice process, I just love sparkly things and they fitted with the idea I had. So I taught myself to sew them on. I’ve always worked with fabric dying, but this time I researched how to make shapes with the dye through tying the fabric in certain ways, it was really interesting and I liked spending more time with the works as fabrics. The process starts first with finding the fabric in an op shop, which can be when you least expect it, and you’re like oh perfect! And then I go through the process of bleaching parts out, tying and putting different colours in, dying it and drying it, and then going for the sewing element, which was new to my process. I spent so much more time with the works and I was really invested in the process of making them and once I stretched them onto the frame it was like wow, a great feeling. Then I would add some elements of paint, but that was really a subtle process compared to the rest. Usually the paint is like the big crazy thing but this time it was more of an embellishment as the last step.
EN: In your past shows at Daine Singer’s, you’ve invited other people to write the catalogue essays, why did you choose to write the Rhinestone Cowgirl essay yourself?
MG: Probably because I’m a control freak, but also because I’d been thinking about the idea for so long I felt I had something to say, and to convey that to someone else and have them write about it seemed redundant. I can write, so I can just write it. And I really loved the writing process and consolidating my thoughts on paper. So it was a really positive thing for me actually.
EN: With your social media you put so much online and are so honest and open with your followers, which obviously people love, but you do question in your essay whether it’s a curse? Do you find that sometimes it leaves you feeling a bit vulnerable?
MG: Definitely. I’ve always loved being online. I had a blog when I was 15 and I loved it, the imagery aspect and the documentation aspect, all of it. But it’s left me vulnerable so many times and as I said before, its this thing that some people – not all, I’ve had a lot of support – struggle to reconcile that I’m an artist with ideas and also personally so visible on Instagram. I can see that it takes a long time for mentalities to change about what you can do, as an artist. Because I just want to do everything and sometimes people just say pick one thing to be really good at. But I’m actually a bit down on Instagram at the moment, because it can just be so unsatisfying- though it’s given me so much satisfaction too. There was this meme going around recently and it was like “Instagram gets deleted and you’re no longer a model, or a nutritionist, or an artist” and it’s so true. It’s so inconsequential but its been a good platform for me. I don’t know, I go through phases. It can wear on you and you can put so much value on the online presence when it doesn’t actually mean anything.
EN: In the essay you talk about trying on these guises, and different personas, and how that differs and protects the authentic self? How would you describe the real or constant Minna?
MG: That’s hard, I try to be pretty authentic in the work I make but obviously myself online is curated and very thought out and presented in the way I want it to be. Me eating cereal is pretty authentic, I love doing that!! EN: Do you have a favourite? MG: I have a combo of 3 different cereals every morning, it’s Weet-Bix, Weet-Bix bites in honey flavour and Cheerios in honey flavour all together, its really good, that’s been a real constant in my life! Hanging out with my family or I suppose any time I’m uninhibited and unselfconscious, so not online. I am uninhibited and unselfconscious in the work I make but it is with the idea that I will have an audience for that later, whereas when I’m with my family I’m being me.
EN: So what’s next?
MG: I’ve got a small show at Bus Projects in May and I’m starting back teaching at Monash University and I also work at Art Guide Australia so I’m pretty busy for the first half of the year. But really I just want to get more time in the studio and focus on my practice. And I’m working on something really big for an institution next year but I don’t think I’m allowed to talk about it yet!
 Gilligan’s blog post discusses how one can only be the effervescent new kid on the block for so long before having to enter the “post-honeymoon art world”. Audiences can then question why you aren’t afforded the opportunities you were as a break out artist, often causing the artist to feel like they have to compete with their unattainable former self.
Gilligan, M. (2016). Stepping back (so far). [online] Minnagilligan.com. Available at: http://www.minnagilligan.com/2016/10/stepping-back-so-far.html [Accessed 10 Feb. 2018].