It has been an exciting start to the year for recent graduate Emmaline Zanelli. She won the biggest award up for grabs at this year’s Helpmann Academy Graduate Exhibition, the Watson Award (worth $7,500) with her series Please Touch. She was also selected to be part of the prestigious Hatched exhibition, currently showing at the Perth Institute for Contemporary Art, where her work was highly commended.
“My work tends to be about sensuality, sexuality and human connection,” Zanelli says. “More and more there is an underlying theme of gender in my work. I don’t make a point to argue in writing to accompany my work or publicly say it’s about gender but it’s there.” Zanelli, who now mainly works in performative photography originally set out to major in drawing at art school. She held exhibitions at Urban Cow Studio and Espionage Gallery of illustrations and drawings but after a year off in 2013 she returned to art school refreshed, with a new vision to focus on photography.
Emmaline Zanelli, Please Touch, 2015
“Photography made my practice open up,” she says. “It’s a really free medium to work with because you can be making a sculpture or painting or creating an installation and then it can be solidified with an image. I love that freedom.” Winning the Watson has given Zanelli the opportunity to expand her practice. The generous financial component allowed her to print the series Please Touch in a larger format for Hatched, buy her own camera and temporarily rent a studio space at Fontanelle. “Mostly it has validated my work,” she says. “I was really shocked to be commended for a work that I found to be quite experimental and messy and less refined than I thought it had to be. It’s given me a heap of confidence to be more experimental.”
Emmaline Zanelli, Smashed Venus, 2015
Please Touch was a challenging work for Zanelli to make as it was deeply personal. “I was reflecting on a particular sexual experience. It was really interesting how layering, performance, photography and elements of sculpture allowed me to create something that was really exciting visually but, still through those layers, allowed me privacy.” Zanelli has work in a couple of group shows in the second half of this year but she will be spending most of her time focusing on a solo show at the Contemporary Art Centre of South Australia (CACSA)’s project space in February 2017. The work she is creating for CACSA will be connected to the Please Touch series in the sense of the physical use of an image. “It will be focused more on actual physical sculptures with images rather than sculpture that I have photographed and framed on the wall. It will be a combination of both. I’m really excited about it.” emmalinezanelli.com Header image: Emmaline Zanelli, My Brother’s Delicate Prize (detail), 2016