Bachelor of Arts
Subject Area: Theatre & Performance
Current Position: Video and performance artist
Discipline: Theatre & Performance
Emily O’Connor is an artist working in video and performance with an unusual fascination. She explores what we can learn from insects in rethinking the body, relations and desire. She sees the arts as a radical tool for challenging mainstream “ways of being in the world.”
After graduating from UNSW with first class Honours in Theatre and Performance Studies, she was an intern at the Entomology Department at the CSRIO, where the Australian National Insect Collection is housed. She has also been an intern at the Museum for Natural Science in Berlin.
O’Connor has an individual practice as an artist. She also works in a collective. She is a founding member of performance collective, Hissy Fit, with Jade Muratore and Nat Randall. She is also one of eight directors at firstdraft gallery in Woolloomooloo.
Collaboration is important to O’Connor. It’s a skill that she developed studying theatre and performance. “I have found working collaboratively has given me a feeling of collective strength and has also strengthened my ability to venture forth with my own practice.”
Working with other artists in a collective has practical benefits. There are “more hands on deck” and more “people to bounce ideas off”. Collaboration is also an important strategy for developing the impact of her work. “For women artists working collectively, particularly in performance, we are able to harness the energy and impact of multiple bodies in a bid to occupy more space.”
O’Connor developed her artistic practice through a series of residencies. “Taking time to focus on a project – particularly remotely – has fast-tracked my growth as an artist.” In addition to her internships, O’Connor has been artist in residence at the National Film & Sound Archive in Canberra, Vitalstatistix in Adelaide, Bundanon Trust in NSW and the Performance Space in Sydney. In 2012 she traveled to Skagaströnd in Iceland for the NES Artist Residency.
O’Connor found that there are many residencies out there for emerging artists. “Some will support you financially, some even offer mentorships and guidance. Some require creative outcomes like an exhibition, others focus on the process of making.”
For young artists, O’Connor offers this advice. “Time and energy [is] best spent building a practice through putting your work out into the world. Once you exhibit or perform a work you know immediately how you could work to fine-tune it/ improve it so I like to look at showing work as part of the process of making.”
Building a network is also crucial for survival. “Community is important in the arts and if you can talk with your peers, meet new people, get a mentor or reach out into your community in some way, chances are you’ll find other like-minded people who believe in you and want to support you.”
And she doesn’t shy away from challenges. “Being an artist is hard work. A friend once told me, ‘art creeps in like a spider’. In other words, I often find myself working on projects into the evenings seven days a week. So my first piece of advice would be to develop strict work/play boundaries!”
“Despite all this though, making art has been incredibly rewarding and valuable to me. I have found a strong sense of community and developed real connections with peers. My everyday is creative, thoughtful and varied.