Creativity Spotlight: Paula Varjack
Our Creativity Spotlight series features advice on artistic practice, inspiration, and a glimpse into the worlds of artists working in a variety of disciplines.
Paula Varjack is a multi-disciplinary artist creating work in theatre, performance, video, and participation.
"I like to make sure as soon as I get too comfortable in one place I can turn it on its head to find another way in. I think about play and fun as much as I think about craft. Craft is very important to me but so is play, I like to take play seriously. "
Tell us a bit about yourself, your work, your art, etc.
I am an artist working primarily in performance, video, and participation. I make work as a way of making sense of, and communicating with the world. I like making the invisible visible, amplifying marginalised stories and voices, engaging in ways that both provoke thought and entertain. Though I have what some might describe as a socially engaged practice, within it I see entertainment and humour as both powerful and integral.
I like to find the balance between making audiences question themselves, and feeling like they have had a fun night out. I use storytelling to take audiences on a journey, shining light on what some might find uncomfortable, or may not have contemplated before. I create performances as a way of starting conversations.
Central to most of what I make, is a question I am preoccupied with, that I explore through the creation of the work . These tend to be big societal questions. Previously I have tackled: how social media impacts loss; how it is possible to financially survive as an artist; how and why we are drawn to buy the things that we want; and most recently: what it means to be an adult childless/childfree woman, in a society that conflates maturity as a woman, with motherhood. During the past six years I have created performances, installations, sound and video pieces, utilising my training from theatre-making, technical theatre production and filmmaking. I am often inspired by pop culture, particularly through visual media and internet culture. My approach is influenced by a love of documentary and of cabaret. Most of what I make is visually led, and/or interview or research based. There is often a strong sense of theatricality and elements of video and sound design. I have made four solo shows over the last 8 years: The AntiSocial Network, exploring how digital connectivity impacts on coming to terms with loss. How I Became Myself, questioning how much of our identity is open to transformation, and Show Me The Money, exploring the human cost of art in the U.K. My most recent solo show The Cult of K*NZO explored consumerism and desire for luxury brands. It was also a critical success, over a national spring tour last year of thirteen venues, several dates of which sold out.
What does your creative practice look like?
Central to my practice is the idea to constantly be training, reflecting, making, and paying attention to my preoccupations while seeking out new sources of inspiration. I have no hierarchy of high and low culture and think of them quite equally. My process is very much make first critique later. I like to generate a lot of material quite quickly, working quite instinctively and playfully, put it aside and then come back later to revise, rewrite, dissect and edit.
As an artist whose practice developed through a number of artforms and is still rooted in several artforms I also like to allow myself to be quite free with the form I respond with to an idea. So I may be making a video one day, writing a text another day, drawing (badly) another, and then taking photos the day after that. What's important to me is that it feels like its coming from a place that either feels most free, or is deliberately making it more challenging. I like to make sure as soon as I get to comfortable in one place I can turn it on its head to find another way in. I think about play and fun as much as I think about craft. Craft is very important to me but so is play, I like to take play seriously.
What advice would you give to other creatives?
It depends what advice is needed! I think if someone was asking me about how best to keep making work I would probably say something a bit like the above, "make first, critique later" a blank page or screen or empty studio is daunting, but as soon as you start making something even if you don't use any of it you are closer to the thing you will make. You know what you would rather do, or what you might add, or change. You can't do that with an empty page/stage/screen etc.
This is maybe a bit particular to my way of working but I also think about audience a lot right from the very start. I always feel like I don't know what I am saying and the specifics of how I am saying it unless i know for myself who I want to be saying it to. That doesn't mean they are necessarily there in the room, or on the other side of the page or the screen, but thinking of who they might , or who you want them to be, its always going to inform what you say and how you say it. But! if the advice (which it more often is) is down to how to "survive" I would say the number one thing is to accept its a long game, and you need to be prepared at any time for it all suddenly change, even when you think you hit a point where things feel (relatively) stable ... (um... hey) I would also say to never be afraid to ask for help but to know when and how to ask fo help, and that even those who seem so much further along in their career to you are also often so much more precarious then they may seem. Make friends with other makers, as broad a network you can, and talk to them openly about application processes and money. And keep talking about money, regularly. Finding out what your peers get paid is the only way to know you have the right thinking with your own rates.
Plug time! What have you been working on lately?
Last week right in time for Pride I released a new work titled "Coming out to my father" It is a visual artwork, a framed print to be exact, based on an email my father wrote to me when I was 26. When I say based I mean the piece presents the email verbatim. The only changes are the font, the layout, three names and the email addresses. It presents the emailed reply from my father Simon Quin when I came out to him aged 26. It is framed with a choice of frame between black and walnut (black being more my style , walnut more my father’s). It looks forward to when "coming out" is a non event, met with acceptance rather than "tolerance".
I was inspired to make it when my father passed away six weeks ago. It represents to me so much of my father’s character, our relationship , and how it supported me to hold my difference in the world. It is printed as a limited run of 100 prints , all numbered and signed. After this run there will be no further editions.
Profits will be split between Dementia U.K. and Colours Youth Network My father had dementia. Lockdown has led to a spike in dementia related deaths. Colours Youth Network supports young Black and people of colour who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer, intersex (QTIBPOC) to explore and celebrate who they are through meaningful connections to other young people and a team of experienced QTIBPOC youth workers. Both causes feel particularly vital to me right now.
Check out these links for more about Paula's work and to stay up to date with her upcoming projects:
Paula's Website: www.paulavarjack.com
Currently in Development: https://imelania.tumblr.com/ Featured Instagram Content: https://www.instagram.com/explore/tags/mourningwithflorals/ Instagram: @paulavarjack Twitter: @paulavarjack