Kelly Reynolds makes art when she feels like it. This statement does not imply a lack of seriousness; her instinct to make is embedded in all parts of her life and is felt with urgency. Kelly rarely works in her studio, instead she makes as she moves by improvising and playing as she navigates daily life.
At the end of 2017 Kelly finished a visual art degree. Like so many strong students optimistically discovering the potential of art practice she left tertiary education with first class honours, an unfathomably large student debt and no job. Around that same time, she moved to the city with an air mattress in a pint-sized van named Ladyboy, signalling the start of an intensive period navigating urban spaces, art practice, housing and (un)employment.
This story is written from within the trouble.
In the back of Kelly’s tiny van bounces a crate containing a salvaged tin of black house paint, gloves, a basketball and some rags. The camera is kept safe on my knee and my legs tangle against the too-close dashboard. We are driving around looking for op-shops, while scouring the verges for hard rubbish mattresses.
Kelly is looking for mattresses because they are weighty, a literal drag, the most cumbersome part of moving to a new house and hard to dispose of. Illegally dumped mattresses cushion the Adelaide suburban streets where, taking on rain and dog piss, they proudly display their intimate stains to the world.
Kelly seeks out the really filthy ones and the ones with patterns. Heaving them upright, she props them against neighbouring hard rubbish or nearby fences and points their bloated faces towards passing traffic. On these makeshift noticeboards she paints weighty words in thickly scrawled letters. I witness her writing the following confessions while I take quick photos and nervously scan the traffic for police or council workers:
I have worked 0 hours and earned $0 dollars
Centerlink pays me [‘to do this was written’ on the end of this statement then crossed out]
I have stolen from an Op Shop
I masturbated the other day
I have $3194.10 in my bank account and no job
I have been ignoring my mothers calls
I own a air bed [i].
The work starts to take form and Kelly begins to refer to it as Sole Trader, evoking the tax category that Australian artists operate under. Later a selection of her photographed mattresses are printed in black and white and pasted all over the façade of Holy Rollers Studios as part of the exhibition Psychache[ii]. A larger color print is glued sagging off the wall inside. But I am getting ahead of the story: the first site of the work is the streets where it troubles people’s front verges and where hard rubbish collection schedules determine the length of these audacious un-commissioned exhibitions.
There were other mattress paintings too, ones that I wasn’t around to witness. These went further into reflections on poverty, labor and homelessness. As the project progressed she found herself drawn south towards the housing trust areas she grew up in, searching the verges for some harder to grasp feeling. For Kelly utilising public space and being out of home are familiar experiences. Growing up, she navigated foster homes and homelessness, often making do with other people’s things. She describes that time to me as a constant improvisation where she was performing the everyday with a changing cast of new, too-friendly strangers[iii].
Kelly’s way of living knows both the fragility of survival and the thin, permeable boundary where safety gives way to improvisation. Her make-do methods are like the ‘tactics’ of Michel De Certeau. He identifies the potential of using a system towards one’s own ends when seizing opportunities, taking on joyful discoveries and enacting cunning manoeuvres that are ‘poetic as well as war-like’[iv]. As she moves through the streets Kelly leaves open texts for others to translate via their own pleasurable and unhappy experiences. The space of the work is urban, and traversed at speed. Her acts of occupation are seriously playful and often adversarial.
Sole Trader is located in and on edge zones whose transitory nature makes them dangerous. These are territories with contested ownership, somewhere between public and private space, where once cherished domestic objects become waste. Most of the mattresses Kelly utilises are illegally dumped. Her painted writing is the second illegal act – one that puts rubbish to new use as subversive billboard confessionals.
‘Queer is a continuing moment, movement, motive – recurrent, eddying, troublant’[v]
Queer is a useful term here, not (only) because she is gay but importantly because the work locates and speaks from the political and social fringes, outside of arbitrary normality. Sole Trader was made on the verge of the street, then pasted on the outside of the gallery that remembers being a church and is still a cultural institution. The mattresses stand as signpost-like witnesses to Kelly’s daily experiences of being queer, poor and an artist. Navigating the world queerly is to create disruptions that problematise the norm. Kelly is often body-scanned by questioning eyes that want to detect boobs or balls. No answers are easily observed, leading to recoil, embarrassment, questioning and occasionally to trouble. It is clear that ‘the personal is [still, daily, dangerously] political’[vi].
The mattress writing happens most days and then suddenly and inexplicably I don’t have anything else I feel compelled to say she tells me.
Inside the Holy Rollers gallery space a larger than life-size mattress print proclaims: I am sorry but not for this. She isn’t sorry for breaking the law. She isn’t sorry for approaching art practice and the gallery (church) with playful irreverence, nor for unsettling the good people of Prospect Road. Kelly’s apology goes much further into intimate personal sorrow – and you are invited to follow her - but only via the memory paths made by your own truly weighty troubles.
Images 1, 2, 3 and 4 are documentation of Sole Trader in progress, photos by Sasha Grbich. Image 5: Sole Trader installed outside Holy Rollers, photo Kelly Reynolds. Image 6: Sole Trader installed inside Holy Rollers, photo by Sam Roberts.
- Written by Sasha Grbich
[i] I have indicated Kelly’s words (written and spoken) using grey. When writing on mattresses she was working speedily and sometimes made errors, these have been preserved.
[ii] Psychache, curated by Ray Harris and Adele Sliuzas. As I write this the exhibition is still open at Holy Rollers Studio (which was a church, is now a studio and sometimes a gallery) in Prospect from August 1-25 2018.
[iii] Kelly’s words come from conversations with me, and there are too many of these to record or recount accurately. She has read this document and corrected her words to her memory and liking.
[iv] Michel de Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life, University of California Press, Berkley, 1984.
[v] Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, Tendencies, Duke, 1993.
[vi] This quote is carried by the many voices of second wave feminism protest movement, possibly most loud in that mix is that of American feminist Carol Hanisch.