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A visual examination of female equality, experience and identity: RIGGS & MILLER

From the creative hub of the Fremantle Arts Centre a new collaboration between emerging artist Jess Miller and established artist Rachel Riggs has formed.

Connecting through mutual ties to the UK and the nature of their works which explore the female experience, this duo is set to present a joint exhibition at the PS Art Space from the 10th to the 23rd of September. Magazine 6000 spoke to Riggs & Miller about their diverse works and creative inspirations.  

 What can you tell me about the connection and mentorship between the two of you? How did that come about?

We both met at our Artist in Residencies at Fremantle Arts Centre. I’d been curious about Jess’s artwork, and when she moved next door to me at FAC, we immediately struck up a conversation and found we shared the same views and ideas about the objectification of women, the male/female gaze and the inequality in female artist representation. We’re both Northerners from the UK and also share a humour that is part of our expressive work. As Jess is an emerging artist and I’m more established, we are also supporting each other in professional development and mentorship.

How did the idea for a joint exhibition form and how did you land on themes exploring the female experience?  

We had epic conversations about the arts and feminism, our life experiences and shared frustrations, often difficult and different themes of attitudes to women, social history and the patriarchy, everything we put into our artworks. After a while Jess said she wanted someone to collaborate with, and so did I, so we decided to create an exhibition of our collected works, to make a conversation about the current landscape of female equality, female experience and identity.

Jess Miller: Girl Relaxing (2021), oil on board 140 x 140 cm.

Jess- you study the contemporary present of the female experience through various forms including reality television and pop culture. What is it about the format of reality television and pop culture that speaks to you and influences your work?  Do you think the portrayal of female-identifying people is evolving in these formats or is stagnant?

I am ever intrigued by the nuances of public self-presentation on social media platforms. I employ these platforms for research as it’s so available to me and I find conflicting and contradictory ideas of womanhood inform my work as I find similarities to my own experiences or find inspiration.
Reality television is fascinating from a sociological point of view, regardless of its nature. We love to watch others live their lives and comment on them. There are moments in some of these shows that are reminiscent of busy renaissance paintings, with groups of people drinking, arguing, and fornicating all for the viewer’s enjoyment. I scale these moments back by presenting solitary figures in deep thought, reflecting on a past self, embarrassment, guilt, shame, and regret.
Projecting a chosen or still developing identity across public platforms, being influenced by current trends or your cultural-specific norms is tricky but has become part of everyday life. I’ve traversed through many versions of myself, presented them and reeled them back in to deliver an updated version several times. There will likely be more in the future. The portrayal of females/wxmen within these formats is always evolving and will continue to evolve as tastes, interests, acceptance, confidence and the world’s attitude towards females evolves. It can’t stagnate because it’s all delivered by individuals who will inherently change throughout time. While my work can be satirical, I’m celebrating the freedom of these behaviours. It’s valiant and liberating to be whatever you feel like being so publicly.

Rachel Riggs: Women’s Business (2021), Mixed media 30 x 20 cm

Rachel- much of your work explores the social and cultural attitude to women, past and present. What do you draw on to inform your interpretations of the past and present for women?

I’m interested in the darker undertones of historical and literary depictions of the female, such as the Suffragette movement or the story of Jane Eyre. I collect & research found objects and materials, vintage papers, women’s magazines- these inform the artworks – femmage. I often feel compelled to make something beautiful from what is commonly discarded by society. And I like to identify past representations of the female image in vintage women’s magazines and other print material, looking at past attitudes and reframing, giving agency and voice to hidden stories

What responses and conversations do you hope to elicit from these works? 

We hope that viewers can find some relatability while experiencing both our works.Broadening the spectrum of conversation around female experience considering the past, present, and potential future is something we both attempt to invoke. 

We try to highlight cross-generational issues, conversation about traversing the landscape of womanhood, reflecting on the past, how far we have come and what work is needed to protect women and enable equality for all. We hope the work stirs up a mixture of thoughts and emotions, just as life does.

Duchamp once said, “The creative act is not performed by the artist alone; the spectator brings the work in contact with the external world by deciphering and interpreting its inner qualifications and thus adds his contribution to the creative act.” Realistically, we cannot hope for anything more than for it to be viewed. Whatever conversation or responses come from this will be warmly welcomed, be it love, hate or impartiality. 

The RIGGS & MILLER exhibitions runs from the 10th to the 23rd of September at PS Art Space in Fremantle. Gallery hours are Tuesday to Saturday 10am to 4pm.