Brigita Ozolins by guest writer, Clare Longley
Brigita Ozolins is a talented, successful contemporary artist, academic and lecturer of 15 years at the Tasmanian College of the Arts, University of Tasmania… a little intimidating for my first contribution to Design Satellite! Not to mention she was one of the first artists David Walsh commissioned to create a permanent installation at The Museum of Old and New Art, a contemporary art museum, etched in to the side of a cliff in Tasmania and dedicated to themes of sex and death.
Ozolins’ parents’ came to Australia as post-war refugees from Latvia in the late 1940’s. They met at a midsummer night celebration (held in winter in the southern hemisphere) in Melbourne, where Brigita was later born and raised. It wasn’t until the 1980’s that Brigita made the move to Hobart. But when the relationship that brought her to Tasmania ended and she was offered a job as a librarian in Melbourne, she unpredictably declined. Something about Tasmania, the place she now calls home, drew her in and has kept her content within its tender arms to this day.
Being involved in a dramatic near death accident prompted Ozolins to study fine art at the Tasmanian College of the Arts. She speaks of this decision as a great turning point. Whilst she “was always good at art in school”, the kind of good that means you can draw with a reasonable sense of realism and keep your visual diary up-to-date, it wasn’t until she studied art at university that she gained a broader understanding of art and eventually, understood what it means to be an artist.
Ozolins now takes great pleasure in teaching students at the Tasmanian College of the Arts describing it as “such a privilege – I see it as a two way process between the students and myself and really hope that they get as much from the exchange as I do. It’s so exciting to see the work that the next generation of artists are producing and to engage with their thinking.”
Although the cultural landscape of Tasmania continues to broaden, it is still vastly different to that of Melbourne. I imagine this is something that might influence Brigita’s practice, especially her works that reference identity (such as The Secretary, 2015). Brigita explains that her location does not consciously inform the way that she goes about her creative process, but does play a part of some kind; “I have developed an interest in some aspects of Tasmanian history, such as my fascination with Australia’s first novelists and for an aesthetic that has been termed the ‘Tasmanian Gothic’. There is a palpable sense of history here that is ever-present in the environment – in the sandstone buildings, in the brooding sky, in the permanently dramatic backdrop of Mt Wellington – in a way that is just not so evident in big cities like Melbourne. Here, you can so much more easily imagine the past in the present moment.”
Currently, Ozolins is working on several projects while juggling her lecturing position at the Tasmanian College of the Arts. She continues to make work about the fascinating lives of Australia’s first novelists, Mary Grimstone and Henry Savery, who both wrote their books in Tasmania in the 1820’s. Partnering with Roar Film, the Tasmanian Archive and Heritage Office and the university’s School of English, she has applied to the Australian Research Council for funding to extend this line of research. She also recently collaborated with Hobart based Liminal Studio and Inspiring Place on a design competition for Immigration Place in Canberra and is now working on her first commercial exhibition for Hobart’s Bett Gallery to open in early 2016. Ozolins will exhibit for a third time in Riga, Latvia, in the newly completed National Gallery of Latvia.
Ozolins’ work now spans across a number of mediums, including digital imaging, video, performance, writing and installation, tackling weighty themes of language, identity and history. Most famously, her permanent installation Kryptos, was installed at MONA in 2011, the year the museum opened. Walsh first propositioned Ozolins to create this installation in 2005 when the concept of the museum was in its very early stages and before Walsh’s ground breaking conception re-arranged the reputation of Australian arts institutions. Ozolins spoke about the two months she spent completing her work at MONA, taking breaks between personally gluing thousands of letters and numerals to the walls of her installation to walk around the site, which was still under construction, watching artists come and go as the museum went up before her eyes.
Curious about the pressure and privilege of having your work permanently installed in such an iconic location, I asked Ozolins what it feels like when she visits this work now. “Whenever I visit Kryptos, it is with a slight sense of trepidation – I’m not sure why – but as I move through the work, that trepidation abates and I feel surprised about how the work still manages to affect me. In fact, every time I visit, Kryptos seems a little different to how I remembered it previously. I also feel a sense of amazement that I actually created the work… did I really do this?”