an interview with fresh! winner aaron billings
Meet the winner of this year's frankie magazine prize at Craft Victoria's Fresh! exhibition.
There’s a lot to take in when viewing Aaron Billings’ intricate quilts. Drawing on the legacy of the AIDS quilt memorial (a movement that celebrated the lives of people who died of AIDs-related causes), Aaron’s final patchwork of fabric and delicate screen prints intrigued and impressed us in equal amount. In fact, we were so impressed that we awarded Aaron the frankie magazine prize at Fresh! 2019. Melburnians can catch the exhibition, which showcases some of the best stuff made by craft, design and fine art graduates, from now until May 4th at Craft Victoria. In the meantime, find out a little more about Aaron's winning works below.
What drew you to quilt-making in particular? I was drawn to quilt-making for a few reasons. Initially it was a way of using scrap material and test prints in my studio, left over from screen-printing projects or abandoned embroidery projects. Then I started thinking about how to situate my work in a political context. I am a first generation Irish migrant, and a grateful uninvited guest on Wurundjeri country. I am also a queer cis male. I wanted my practice to reflect my subject position and I really think quilting was a good way of braiding those strands. Quilting has a relationship with the AIDS quilt movement, a massive piece of folk art documenting the lives lost to HIV and AIDS, but it also has this association with essentialist femininity.
What kind of reflections on your identity you were having when making these quilts? The AIDS quilt is an already existing, ongoing project and I am not contributing to that. I am inspired by its legacy and the political potential of such a personal project. My quilts are only from my own perspective; they are not documenting a past or remembering key figures (like work I have done in the past). These quilts are about a projected queer future; my own queer future, that I will share in with the people around me. In that way, they are self-portraits. They explore the intersection of the abstract political and the intimately personal.
Is there a running theme throughout your work? There are many running themes. Thinking about alternatives to capitalism is a big one. Resisting homogenisation and 'homonormativity' is another big one. I am also interested in the male form, particularly the feminised male form, or versions of masculinities that queer and mess with gender representation.
How long did it take for you to make the quilts? These quilts are hand screen-printed, beaded, hand-quilted and bound. They took about seven months to make.
Are there any downsides to quilt-making as a medium? Well they take a lot of time, but really, it's a great medium because you can use waste to make something beautiful. They're also easy to transport if you don't have a car.
Where do you do most of your creative work? I do most of my work at Pink Ember Studios, which is an artist collective and studio space that I helped set up in Coburg, Melbourne. I set up Pink Ember with my sister Aoife Billings, Gemma Flack and Frances Cannon. Pink Ember is an open plan space, so there is a lot of interaction and exchange of ideas which has been fundamental to my work (and my sanity).
Who are some crafters we should check out? Ruby Hoppen, Paul Yore, Holly Leonardson, Grayson Perry, Louise Bourgeois – just to name a few.
And visual artists you should check out: Eloise Grills, Marc Pearson, Rachel Ang, Mira Schlosberg, Leonie Brialey, Lazy Willy, Frances Cannon, Gemma Flack, Bailey Sharp, Mandy Ord.
Where can we see more of your work? You can follow me on Instagram @dillings, or you can come visit me at Pink Ember studios, 40a Ohea street, Coburg. We are open 10am-3pm on weekends.