In Conversation with Cassie Thring - written by Melanie Cooper

Working across the fields of painting, ceramics, printmaking, photography and video, Cassie Thring’s practice as a cross disciplinary artist is richly engaging and draws on her ideas of community, histories and perceptions of the every day. She generously extends her approach to making to sharing with others within the arts community. With Jane Skeer, she has curated the Suburban Version for two years running, is consistently involved in SALA exhibitions and events, and facilitates an art club for the residents of Helping Hand Aged Care in North Adelaide [2]. She has recently returned from an artist’s residency in Venice and has already made plans to reunite with the group of women she worked with this coming September in Cape Town, and in India the next.  Her studio space at the Floating Goose is as intriguing as her work, and it was among an eclectic collection of tools, books, pictures and materials that I was able to ask about her practice and current approaches to making [3].

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Unchartered Waters - In conversation with Cassie Thring [1]

Written by
Melanie Cooper

MC: We have been talking about our mutual admiration for Nick Cave and the grief we can only imagine that he brings to his work and performances following the tragic loss of his son. You mentioned the idea of sharing in a collective grief, and whether we should embrace that. I am wondering if any of that kind of thinking underpins your own practice?

CS: Well, it has been recently, especially with that FELTspace show [4]. That all sort of came together and it was very personal, but it was also a very collective thing because everybody had their own responses to the work. So, yeah, I think there is something in that, whatever the emotions are around grief for different people.

I have always found it easier to talk about celebratory things, so it was very new territory for me, but I think that the term ‘collective’ also taps into me as a maker, and how I am making things now. I feel like I am always collecting things and working through things. It is a process of resolution and just trying to work out what I am doing. And so, with the stuff I made for  The Obscure Camera at Adelaide Central School of Art (ACSA), it was kind of like ‘What am I doing?’ [5]

I wasn’t sure where I was going but I was in the studio making, working towards something that wasn’t always that clear to me. And yet it sort of just appears.

MC: It’s interesting you say that, because thinking about the work you made for FELTspace and a couple of other projects you have been involved in now, I can see how you have really been pushing all those ideas. It really is a body of work that you are producing and positioning across different venues. As someone else looking at your work it very much makes sense to me. I mean, it is very much like you are exploring and really pushing your practice in all kinds of exciting ways.

CS: Well, the work in ACSA is a map and it is called The Where. It has a key and you know that the key is meant to locate you within that map. But of course, you can never be located in that map because the key doesn’t even make any sense. So, how do you find or know the unknown? How can you see things if you don’t even really know what they are? So, it’s about exploration but you are within such extremes that you don’t even know what is there. But you know you’re searching for it.

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MC: Do you think about that in positive terms? For example, in terms of possibility rather than with a sense of overwhelming loss or melancholy?

CS: Yeah, I’m starting to think like that. I’m an optimist and so I think that there could be terrible things out there, but conversely there could be amazing things out there. And so that is where my head space is and why would you put so much effort into all that searching if you only thought that there were going to be dragons out there anyway? (laughs) I think any explorer goes out there with great hope! Don’t you think?

MC: Absolutely. And risk! Do you think that you do that in your practice? Given that you work across the disciplines, do you often feel as though you are taking a risk?

CS: I hope so! I hope that I am pushing myself all the time. I feel that I am pushing myself a lot more now. At the artist talk at ACSA the other day, a guy asked me about my cyanotypes that I am making by hand, handing over to a printer and then getting them blown up by a machine [6]. He asked if I thought I was messing with the integrity of the work? He wasn’t saying that I am, he was just interested in the process. For me, the good thing about art and making is that of course there are no rules, there are processes and it is up to you to choose what to do with them. And for me, I’m just grabbing bits from everywhere to try and articulate the meaning behind my work. In the studio, I’m just in that constant state of play without any predetermined outcome to a certain extent.

And so, it does open you up for all kinds of risk taking and you don’t know if it’s going to work. You invest a lot of time making things that might not be successful. I do think that is a strength of my practice. I am prepared to take risks without really knowing how it's going to turn out.

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MC: And what happens when it doesn’t turn out? What do you do next?

CS: Well it is good because then you can just keep looking and thinking. With that work in the ACSA show, I was originally going to make it all with cyanotypes I had made by hand. When it wasn’t working, and it was all pinned up on the wall, I could see why it wasn’t working and so I had to think about what I wanted to get out of the work. I needed to think again about how best to approach it. If this doesn’t work, then what do I do? I always think that is exciting. It’s like a constant process of review and editing back. And this also gives you more confidence to evaluate your own work to a certain extent.

MC: I think it’s also about making discoveries and learning things from mistakes and happy accidents. And failure! Failure is a creative place, I think. And not knowing. Like you were talking before about not having a map and not really knowing where you are going. I think the creative potential of that is enormous.

CS: Yeah, especially with the work that I am making at the moment that is so process based that it offers up so many new discoveries that are sometimes out of my hands. I’m not saying that I don’t have control, because of course I do. But within that, I know that there are going to be some sweet spots that I hadn’t anticipated. And some duds as well. But there will be some really great things that I can just run with. And so there is a certain amount of knowledge behind all of that. But you still just keep your fingers crossed sometimes.

MC: Do you take the same kind of approach when you are working with clay? How does that kind of thinking transfer to that?

CS: It’s similar, like I don’t draw beforehand. I have an idea of what I want, but it never ends up being exactly what I thought. As you are making, a lot of things do make themselves a bit. Andy and I were talking yesterday about how I was done with working with this clay, it was tired and it was sick of me trying to push it into what I want, and it won’t do it. Andy said that it is the same with paint, you get to a certain point where it is just not happening any more, it’s just done. [7]

MC: Yes. I also wanted to ask you about your approach to painting. I love the way that you are painting on glass and reusing old frames. Do you remember what made you start doing that?

CS: Well, I like the idea of no rules, I like the history of the ground. I like painting over old paintings, using scrunched up pieces of paper. I like the history of marks. That gives you a premade history that you can then add to. I had always been interested in painting on glass but I never had. And when I found that I had some glass frames lying around, I took the opportunity.

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MC: It really pushes the idea of conventional portraiture, too.

CS: Oh really?

MC: Yeah, it’s almost like she (the woman in the portrait) is really busting out of the frame, like the old family photos in their decorative frames. It’s really kind of moving past that.

CS: I guess it does make you kind of look at it more. Originally, I wasn’t going to paint out the frames. I was just going to have the figure on the glass. And not paint it all out. But then I decided it just wasn’t working as well.

MC: I think it’s great that you have painted out the frames because it really draws attention to the fact that there is a frame there, but it’s not there. It introduces a funny kind of slippage, I think.

CS: I feel like that is what a lot of what my practice is about, seeing things that little bit differently. But I guess that is the case for most artist’s work. Seeing everyday things or familiar things with just that little bit of a twist.

The Obscure Camera is currently showing at the Adelaide Central Gallery until 20 April 2018.


[1]  This title is adapted from a phrase used by Cassie Thring in conversation with the author on Friday 13 April, 2018.

[2]  The Suburban Version is a curated show of emerging Adelaide artists and graduate students held in the private residence of Jane Skeer in Linden park. This year, Cassie has already been curated into an all-female show at Holy Rollers studio in Prospect. Further, her netball team Van Goal is in the process of planning a performance and/or exhibition as a SALA event.

[3] Cassie is also currently Chair of Floating Goose Studios, Inc.

[4] Here be dragons, shown at FELTspace 1-18 November 2017. This was an outcome of her Venice residency as well. See http://www.cassiethring.com/blog/

[5] The Obscure Camera is a photography group show curated by Andrew Purvis and is currently showing at the Adelaide Central School of Art until 20 April 2018. Artists include Andrew Dearman, Dan McCabe, Cassie Thring and Justine Varga.

[6] Thring’s cyanotypes have been significantly enlarged and arranged together as a much larger work that is then adhered to the wall. Recently, Thring was commissioned to complete an installation of this work printed as wall paper that was then professionally hung in the interior space of an elevator within a private residence.

[7] Andrew Clarke, painter and member of Floating Goose Studios.