The future of art is accessible and representative – Question and Answer with Amy Claire Mills
As we prepare for the launch of Artful Art Prize 2023, Fiona Bridger met with artist Amy Claire Mills to hear about her creative journey and ask her some questions about her artworks, who inspires her and how she uses creative expression to share her voice and view of the world.
Q -How was your life journey as a young person and how did it shape you into the artist you are now?
I didn’t grow up wanting to be an artist; it found me in a way. I wanted to go into community development/engagement after high school, but I didn’t have the grades to get into uni. As a kid, I missed a lot of school, as I was always in and out of the hospital. I ended up studying photography at TAFE, which led me to apply for art school, and because I had studied at TAFE, it was a gateway into university.
Growing up in a hospital taught me a lot about our communities’ diversity. I wanted to tell these stories and make art spaces more inclusive. This also led me to work with textiles in my art practice because my safest place was always my bed; there is something so nurturing about a soft blanket and a cuddly pillow.
Q – Can you run us through the thought process of you creating the “What’s wrong with you?” art piece, please? What is the story behind it, why this phrase? Why this choice of materials? What is it’s purpose and how did it take you to complete?
This quilt is one part of a larger artwork. There are two quilts in the work, and they face each other like in conversation. The first quilt says, “What’s wrong with you” and the second quilt says, “Are you sure it’s not just in your head?”. This artwork was titled Burden of Proof, and it was made to challenge our understanding and perception by forcing us to confront the language and bias with which we communicate about disability experience. The artwork uses phrases that many people, especially with invisible disabilities, hear every day, phrases that have been used against me. I choose to make them as quilts because I like to create soft, safe spaces for people to confront, explore and deconstruct ableism.
Q – Do you get very frustrated with your disability in regard to creating your art?
Sometimes when I have a deadline, I push my body to its limits. It takes a long time to recover. I can only bounce back slowly, and art can be physically demanding. I haven’t quite learned the art of taking it easy; there have been times when I have been in the hospital with a hot glue gun and my sewing kit creating art.
Q – Who do you admire and why?
I admire lots of disabled artists, such as:
– Bailee Lobb
– Prue Stevenson
– Digby Webster
– Mari Katayama
– Panteha Abareshi
– Carolyn Lazard
– Eugenie Lee
– Jaklin Romine
– Riana Head-Toussaint
– Sue Jo Wright
– Bruno Booth
OMG the list could go on and on! We have so many amazing artists within the disabled community. I admire their strength and vulnerability, art practices, how they make and the daring places they take their audiences to.
Q- If your art could make one change in the world, what would it be?
I like to think of my art as a form of protest that sits within the framework of Craftivism. Craftivism is a form of activism involving craft techniques, such as sewing, to promote political or social change. I want my art to boldly tell the world that representation and accessibility matter. If my art can be a gateway into a more inclusive and accessible world, then I am happy.
Q – What piece are you most proud of and why?
I love all my artworks, but I have a special place in my heart for a quilt I made that says, “Stop telling me about your dead friends”. I have Cystic Fibrosis, which is a genetic degenerative disease. Whenever I would tell people this, they would tell me a story about a friend they had who had died of CF. It got to the point where I would stop telling new people I met because I didn’t want to hear the stories; people didn’t have much empathy to think about how those stories would affect me and my mental health. So, I decided to take back the power and deal with the very heavy parts of disability through humour. I made a massive quilt, and, in the centre, it had that saying.
Q -What’s one key takeaway you’d like to share about the future of (accessible) art?
Things are changing, and there are so many wonderful things to hope for, such as accessible exhibitions, including virtual reality, so that people can experience art from their homes, from a hospital bed, or in a doctor’s waiting room. There are disabled artists and curators out there encouraging non-disabled artists to think about accessibility when they are creating work. Quiet spaces, visual stories and sunflower lanyards are becoming best practices across the museums and arts sector. The future of art is accessible and representative.
Amy Claire Mills is a Sydney-based emerging artist living and working on unceded Gadigal and Wangal land. Her art practice explores identity and self-preservation through immersive installations and performance, by which she becomes both the artist and subject. Her practice critiques and examines the politics surrounding the female disabled body. Using distinctive, colourful and bold mediums her work encourages the observer to challenge their own paradigms and internalised preconceived bias, with the intention of deconstructing ableism.
Amy is the Arts Development Manager at Accessible Arts and has worked with community and art organisations, local councils and fellow artists to curate exhibitions and community events.