In Conversation Virginia Woods-Jack

"Regardless of how we are all responding right now the ripples of this time and what is to come will impact on all of our work - it will be a defining period in art history and that’s exciting. To be able to look back on where we were whilst looking forward to new possibilities."

As part of informality’s ongoing commitment of providing insights into the art world, we are catching up with other art world friends to see what they’re up to and how they have adapted into a COVID practice.

You’re both an artist and an advocate, can you tell us the inspiration behind the two and how it all came to being?

That’s a great question. I think they grew quite organically alongside one another. I have always believed in the importance of championing another’s work as each person’s practice is a reflection of who they are, how they engage with the world and others. We all have a unique voice and that deserves to be given the room to be heard, in the case of photographic arts to be seen.

I am from the UK, and I felt that there was a distinct lack of visibility for many practising artists in New Zealand, particularly when I first moved here 15 years ago. The gallery scene here is very small, so I wanted to create an opportunity for visibility, relationship building and community where artists, both emerging and established could show their work and importantly talk about their work with others. I decided to keep the focus on female-identifying and non-binary artists as they are underrepresented in the arts globally and that is something I wanted to make a small inroad into changing. With there being so many links between NZ and AU it was always my intention to continue to nurture those relationships and also there are so many fabulous Australian artists that I wanted to know more about, discover and create connections with. Hence Women in Photography NZ & AU a curated platform on Instagram was born, since its inception, two other artists Caroline McQuarrie and Christine McFetridge have come on board, for the future plans, it was important to have a network within WIP to work with and, they are a great support.

Where are you isolating?

I am isolating in Island Bay Wellington New Zealand, it’s about the most southerly suburb on the North Island of NZ with amazing views of the South Island from our wild and beautiful beaches. We have just moved from total lockdown to starting to wake up the economy but there are still many limitations, however now we can get in the sea again – that’s a huge step forward for many New Zealanders – we are a sea nation.

What were you enjoying pre-Covid and how have you adapted this into your new routine?

I was, due to a busy schedule and family, only able to grab moments to be on the beach or up in the hills which I love and I have really been able to take advantage of all this time and our location to do this within the restrictions that were in place during a total lockdown. My work is concerned with our emotional attachment to the natural world, the layers of memory inherent in our interactions with it breaking down that sense of otherness that we seem to have developed towards our beautiful planet. My current focus is on the water so being able to spend time by the water’s edge has been fabulous and has driven lots of research-based reading and thinking. 

What positive impact do you see stemming from this for the future of arts?

What I have loved is seeing how versatile we have all had to be. I think small organisations and individual artists are great at adapting and it has been great seeing large and established institutions being challenged to think about how they can engage with an audience and how important the role of the artist is in amongst all of this. I am hoping that the global access to talks, workshops and exhibitions will continue as it has been amazing and so many positives come from taking away the boundaries of location and also making programs financially accessible to so many more people.

What’s the latest artist, museum, or gallery that has inspired you?

I had the opportunity to talk with Tamara Dean about her practice for Women in Photography, she was open, generous and humble, her passion for her work is palpable and her humility just lovely to be around. There was no visible ego just a sincerity which resonated with our community and I got a number of lovely messages about – not something we always see in established and successful artists like Tamara. The last gallery show that I totally fell in love with was On the Last Afternoon: Disrupted Ecologies by Joyce Campbell here in Wellington at The Adam Art Gallery. It was a survey show of sorts and the installation responded to the unique architecture of the space elegantly. She has a photo and media-based practice and the show presented the opportunity to view a remarkable variety of approaches she has taken in both her chosen media and subject matter.

Planned books / current books you’re reading? 

I usually have a few books on the go, I am just on the final chapter of Disappearing Earth by Julia Phillips which I will follow up with Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa which looks amazing –  when The Guardian described it as a “Japanese fable about an island where the disappearance is a way of life, meditating on totalitarianism and resistance as well as the rhythms of life and death” I am also reading a series of essays by Nicholas Muellner called lacuna Park which I am really enjoying for his insightful observations. I am revisiting the book Olly & Suzi – Arctic Desert Ocean Jungle by my dear artist friends Olly & Suzi for their deep connection and dedication to the natural world. If you aren’t aware of their practice you are in for a beautiful journey. I also have Rachel Carson The Sea Around Us is on order from my favourite book shop here in Wellington.

What channels do you turn to for research and inspiration?  

Books are definitely in my top 3 – I grew up above the book shop my parents owned – they are always a great source of inspiration, so many journeys we can go on through the pages of a book. With Women In Photography, I am always being approached by artists creating inspiring work. NZ is a fairly remote part of the world so the internet and Instagram are definitely my friends but just being out in the world is probably my main source of inspiration.

Top podcast recommendation?

I found a gorgeous series called This Is Love – each episode is a small window into a love that has been instrumental in how an individual has chosen to live their life – the loves are varied and fascinating and it covers so much ground. I am a huge fan of “Radio lab” so many compelling ways to look at the world around us and “This American Life” for engaging human storytelling.

How are you staying informed about what other creatives are doing? 

By all means currently available and possible, which means technology has really come into its own for myself and all of us. Instagram has been amazing and all the artists taking to IGTV to share their stories, ideas, knowledge and journeys. Many great conversations going on at the moment around how we are all feeling in this time and how we can carry forward the positives and leave behind some of the negatives of pre-Covid 19 life, which I think for most of us is that feeling of being time-poor.

How do you think artists will react to our current circumstances?

In the way we all know how to – some people are hugely inspired to create work now that speaks to the restrictions, but many artists I have spoken to feel like they are in a form of creative stasis – regardless of how we are all responding right now the ripples of this time and what is to come will impact on all of our work – it will be a defining period in art history and that’s exciting. To be able to look back on where we were whilst looking forward to new possibilities. 

What excites you about the changes which we are already seeing to museums, galleries and other art-related institutions?

I think I talked about this in an earlier answer, however, what really excites me, and I hope has excited the museums, galleries and other institutions is that there is without a shadow of a doubt a more exciting and level playing field around accessibility for all. Everyone feels welcome and that is amazing.

What painting, sculpture, photograph or artwork would best describe this situation or your mood during this time?

Hiroshi Sugimoto and his series In Praise of Shadow – as with all his work there is time infused into the making of them which I have always been inspired by. In this series, he lit a candle and opened the shutter on his camera for the duration of the life of the candle. Long dark nights and a singular candle for each night created a series of images that, to me, speak to the beauty that is inherent in slowing down and both having and taking the time to take notice and see the beauty where it is – which may well be right in front of us.

About Virginia Woods-Jack

British born, Virginia Woods-Jack is an artist, advocate, a willing collaborator and curator. She has lived in Wellington for the last 16 years creating bodies of work where notions of time, place, memory and personal experience are recurring themes. In recent years her work has focussed on concerns for our environment and its preservation.  Visual threads of quietude, stillness, longing and melancholy weave through her work. Virginia has been commissioned to produce images for Harpers NY, TIME magazine, The Observer and The Guardian Weekend amongst others and has exhibited throughout New Zealand and in festivals overseas including The Month of Photography Los Angeles, Rencontre Arles and The Auckland Festival of Photography amongst others. Her accolades include being a finalist in the NZ Contemporary Art Award.

Virginia is an avid fan of the photobook and has self-published 4 handmade books to date with 2 more publications due to be released in 2020. Her works are held in private collections in NZ, UK, Australia and Italy.

She is the founder and curator of Women in Photography NZ and AU.