Anita Larkin: Come to me without a word

Anita Larkin’s long-held artistic practice visualises very contemporary feelings – prolonged flux and longing. The artist uses domestic objects and recasts their utility and usual form; they are shortened, stretched, puckered, conjoined and placed in dialogue with one another. There is a strong sense of thoughtfulness and tenderness in her compositions which, with her interventions of care and poetic staging, enliven the objects as actors who convey a reminder to engage in the present, as well as pathos.

In conversation with the artist, she said ‘I love the strangeness of the familiar objects that accompany us through life’ and has noted in the past that ‘I see brokenness not as a state of demise but a point of becoming.’ Therefore, adrift and without a sense of belonging, only longing to become, the salvaged objects used by Larkin may come to her without a word but are steeped in meaning.

Anita Larkin, Beneath the weight of the sheets, 2019, salvaged chairs, sheets, blanket, lead and beeswax, 85 x 125 x 45cm. Courtesy the artist, Defiance Gallery, Sydney and Wollongong Art Gallery, New South Wales

Mending implies care and value. Is ‘not taking things for granted’ a theme in your work, and if yes how did you arrive at that?

My art practice often turns to themes of brokenness and its repair, separation and union, illness and healing. I use broken inanimate objects to reference human brokenness and human resilience and longing. The type of object repair that I am interested in is transformative repair, not a return to previous wholeness or utility, but to view the rupture of the wound as a chance for the broken object to be extended into something ‘other’.

Broken objects by their very nature are open to suggestions of narrative. I like to play with this aspect. They also halt time in a strange, alluring way. They cause us to wonder, about the event of breakage, the person associated with the object, and a moment in time that cannot be relived. I think there is a deep value in brokenness that does not exist in wholeness. Repair is an act of care. It is also a commitment of my time and my body. It requires the same meditative attentiveness as drawing an object. I come to know the object, its form, its surface, and its character through the practice of mending.

And yes, I don’t take things for granted. This comes from personal life experiences, which have been very difficult at times. I lost my father young, my son and I nearly died in childbirth, my mother disappeared, and I separated from my husband. These experiences have made me more resilient and empathetic toward other people. Sorrow is the flipside of love. If we didn’t care so deeply we wouldn’t feel such pain, but we also wouldn’t have known such joy. And there has been a lot of joy in my life. Life is short, and you only get one go at it… I think.

Anita Larkin, The world within (detail), 2019, salvaged beehive lids, light-box, leukoplast, and X-ray of artists chest, 85 x 51 x 8cm. Courtesy the artist, Defiance Gallery, Sydney and Wollongong Art Gallery, New South Wales

As the Auteur, the point of becoming of a broken object must be led by a personal exploration or narrative. What are you projecting or learning about yourself in your work?

I feel like my objects are colluding with me in a theatrical play of some sort. I lead sometimes, but at other times they definitely lead me. I am careful to listen to what they have to say, and sometimes it’s only a whisper. I have noticed that is when I make my best works. The artworks do express something of my understanding of the world and my experiences as a woman, a mother, a lover, and a daughter, but I aim to leave a door open to the observer to find something of themselves there within the artworks as well.

What interests you about equilibrium – as it applies to the object and our bodies and emotional landscape?

We all seem to strive for equilibrium, but it is only ever fleeting, just like a mythical wholeness. It is perhaps the natural state of all things to be in transition from one thing to another – to be in flux. There is no equilibrium, except at that very brief moment in time at the point of change between one state and another. Making a successful, engaging sculpture is about creating tension. Equilibrium would kill it.

Anita Larkin, The bridge between you and me, 2018, salvaged objects, silk, 250 x 200 x 50cm. Courtesy the artist, Defiance Gallery, Sydney and Wollongong Art Gallery, New South Wales

Your arrangements are active and, to give one example among many, in ‘The bridge between you and me’ (2018) the ladders are dressed. Can you talk about the sentient feeling we get from your works?

I like that you get that feeling from them. I aim for that. I keep pushing the making until the objects have, for me at least, a ‘presence’. Objects often stand-in for persons in my work.

Can you discuss the repeated symbols and methods in your work, for example, chairs, ladders, blankets or felted material and the acts of joining or wrapping?

I like to work with objects and materials that have had a direct physical connection to, or enabled a human body in some way. I often observe these things as being embodied, and it is that which draws me to them when I find them. The wrapping, stitching, and felting around objects are acts of care. They are tender processes.

You’ve said that your compositions are a shorthand material language to comment on memory and socio-political issues; obviously we all have our own associations with objects but can you talk in more detail about the socio-political message in your practice or specific works?

This exhibition ‘Come to me without a word’ also touches on domestic violence issues and the abuse of women from my personal point of view. This probably reads most clearly in the work Memories of wounds received and mended (2018), where I used my x-rays as sewing patterns to remake broken parts of a smashed chair. Many women and children are struggling amidst COVID-19 isolation trying to survive in abusive relationships.

Anita Larkin, Night paddling, 2019, salvaged crutches, safety pants, reflective thread, blanket, lead, 154 x 23 x 20cm each. Courtesy the artist, Defiance Gallery, Sydney and Wollongong Art Gallery, New South Wales

The sentiment of your practice is so pertinent to the world right now. Do you see your practice in a new light in “these times”?

It’s been weird to see how relevant to this global event my artworks are. They express the waiting and the separation, breathing and the holding of our breath, union and longing for touch, that is part of the COVID-19 experience. There is a great shift in so many aspects of the world at the moment; I feel like all things are in a state of flux. Prolonged flux.

Artists are generally comfortable with things in flux and with ambiguity, but this has been difficult to navigate, there is a lot to think about and process, more artworks are bubbling up to the surface. The works I am beginning to make now are performative objects that I will enact with my body and film.

Wollongong Art Gallery
29 August to 11 October 2020
New South Wales