Conversation with Tom Borgas

Exhibition: Built Constructs, Adelaide Town Hall – 20 November 2014 – 30 January 2015

Tom Borgas’ hyper-coloured topographical objects have a way of imprinting themselves on your memory. Fresh out of Honours, Tom Borgas is one of Adelaide’s leading emerging artists bringing colour, pattern, geometry and a classic combination of order meets chaos. When Tom popped his head into the Art Pod I stole 15 minutes of his time, while he munched on his lunch I heard more about what he has been up to lately.

Let’s play some word association… Uh oh

Just say the first word that comes into your head…

Bicycle Stolen

Colour Mustard

Food Bahn Mi

Sky Blue

Beer Hoppy

Australia Scared of the land

Hah! That’s not one word! Has it got to be one word? Hyphenated: Scared-of-the-land

Beautiful! What have you been up to since you finished Honours last year? I had a super busy start to the year with lots of shows including CACSA Projects Space, FELTspace and a solo show at Hill Smith Gallery. In August I took work over to Perth for the PICA Salon, which was great. The second half of the year has been a bit quieter but there’s been a lot of getting ready for the start of next year. I also spent a month travelling overseas mid year, a trip partially funded by the Hill Smith/Friends of the Helpmann Academy Travel Prize awarded as part of the 2013 Helpmann Academy Graduate exhibition.

What part does architecture and design play in your practice? I guess put simply, architecture frames space. To me, architecture is just big art like a series of big objects in space. My work involves putting objects in a pretty careful considered space. I think that’s the way I think about what I do. Is that it is about the object and it’s about where that is in the space. That to me is just as important as making the work. Like in architecture, the way that people respond to the work within the space is important too. You can’t separate those things. They are interrelated. Sometimes the space can be online as well. I think a lot about how my work engages in that kind of space. For me, it’s a different kind of site. My work deals with the narrowing divide between digital and analogue or virtual and real– it makes sense that it has a presence in both.

Tell me about your works in Built Constructs One of them is a work from my Honours year but presented differently on a plinth. It was part of a larger network of stuff and originally had a fluorescent light hanging over it. It looked like artefacts in a museum or specimens in a lab – lit by super white light. The addition of the light was about trying to present them in a certain way. The light in different spaces can change the look of the work quite significantly. I guess the way I install my work is often driven by the documentation that I carry out as I’m making things; documenting it to say put on Instagram or as images for my website. I want the work to read similarly to the way a photo of it might and sometimes that means taking a bit more control over the way it’s presented, especially when it comes to things like lighting. Rather than relying on certain conditions in a gallery, the work’s a bit more pre-packaged. It’s like BYO DIY!

What role do you think power has on your work, like the visual impact of your work and the resonance? You asked me about design. I think that’s got a lot to do with it…

Framing… Exactly. My work always has an aesthetic entry point. The thing I always have to be really careful with is that it’s not overly resolved aesthetically. There needs to be something else there that holds people’s attention–something incomplete or slightly unsettling. I think so much stuff that’s designed becomes really flat!

Your work is so opposed to design in a way. It talks to it, nods at it but then goes in another direction. Totally! There’s some kind of feeling that you’ve been lured in by the aesthetic appeal of the work but then there’s something more going on, which I actually find a bit of a reflection of my sense of humour. Sometimes I’ve tried to explain to people that my work has a dry wit to it and often people don’t get it. It’s very subtle but that makes it funnier for me. It’s a little bit sneaky.

How do you find teaching impacts your practice? It’s been great teaching at Uni. I find it helps me to think way more openly about the variety of ways people approach art and the different ways art can be successful in different formats and in response to different ideas. It really stretches me to have to think like that. Obviously you’re going to come into contact with a range of people who think about art lots of different ways. It’d be so irresponsible to push people towards the way that I think about things. It’s quite challenging. For me, it’s a different way of being creative. There’s lots of problem solving and helping people to develop and extend their work. It’s a bit like a mirror sometimes as well. You find yourself encouraging someone, “Be more ambiguous! Be more courageous!” and sometimes on reflection you realise, “I need to do that.” In first semester I taught Visual Inquiry, (essentially an experimental drawing course) and that made me completely reconsider what drawing was for me and how it fits into my practice. Art-wise, drawing is the thing I first started doing when I was a kid. I guess I realised that for me there’s a richness and a history in drawing that I hadn’t really thought about too much before.

Which talks to the work that you have in the Town Hall at the moment Totally. I feel like the work that I make is as much drawing as it is sculpture. The way that I make it is definitely like drawing. As a final piece, they have a kind of fixed state but when I make them it’s so important that I have this option of shaping the form within the confines of the material and its structure. To me, it’s just drawing. It’s understanding the medium and manipulating that to create certain forms or shapes. I find that if I don’t have that option of actively manipulating a structure as a process the end result doesn’t work. It’s kind of dead. That was the main battle with the wall piece in Built Constructs. You challenged me to make a large wall based structure that could sit alongside my pre-existing Postdigital Artefacts (6 rocks) work. I asked myself: how can I make a big thing in a way that means I can still play with the form and then how do I get it to hold a particular shape? How do I freeze something that came out of a moment of spontaneity?

It’s interesting as well because it’s contained in what it is but often your work breaks out into large scale examples of that and so its almost like you’ve contributed a detail of what you do. Which is really nice because it’s focused within a group show. Yeah. It’s like a little snapshot, which relates back again to the Instagram/online stuff. It’s representative; it’s enticing and sometimes seems like maybe it’s a fragment of something bigger but it’s also self-contained in some ways. As an image it feels resolved.