This article was first published for Artery on 08 January 2014
Interdisciplinary artist Keg de Souza is not the sort of person to shy away from a challenge. When she started building her first inflatable artwork, Gigloo/Esky back in 2008, she had no idea how to thread a sewing machine let allow how to construct a blow-up igloo. ‘That was a bit of a learning curve,’ she laughs.
Experimenting, collaborating and learning new skills are integral parts of de Souza socially engaged practice. Using various media, such as video, inflatable architecture, installations, printmaking, text and illustration de Souza’s work investigates the politics of space; exploring urban environments, the communities that live within them and how they perceive themselves.
‘I don’t go in with an agenda,’ de Souza says. Rather her projects develop through dialogue and observation of a community to produce work that reflects them back to themselves and a wider audience. ‘It’s a reciprocal learning process.’
For instance at last year’s Auckland Triennial de Souza presented Tropical Thunder, an inflatable created from locally purchased plastic tablecloths, which she used to frame a discussion space and house local knowledge food maps. The work reflected the vibrant Pacific communities of Otara in South Auckland but also commented on the appropriation and commodification of Pacific Islander culture.
Similarly, Vertical Villages, a collaborative artist-led project between de Souza and Indonesia artist collective ruangrupa Artlab, used installations, text, maps and community events to reflect the experiences of international students living in Sydney’s CBD. It was presented at 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art in Sydney in July 2013 and at the 15th Jakarta Biennale in November 2013.
Originally trained as an architect in Perth, de Souza’s career path veered into art after living in Sydney’s Broadway Squats in 2000 where she was a founding member of the SquatSpace Artist Collective. After they were evicted the following year she returned to university, completing a Bachelor of Fine Art in Time-Based Art in 2004.
De Souza’s practice has continued to blend her interests in environmental design, architecture, social issues and art. Many of her projects highlight ways people navigate and form communities within the larger formal infrastructure of a city, from the kampungs of Indonesia to Montreal to the streets of her local neighbourhood of Redfern.
In May 2013 de Souza was awarded an Australia Council for the Arts Creative Australia Fellowship for an Emerging Artist to assist her to take advantage of recent international invitations and further develop her body of work. It provides her with $60,000 over two years, which as she explains covers the basics of life, like rent and bills, allowing her to concentrate on her practice.
Already her Fellowship has supported her participation in events, such as the Auckland Triennial and the Jakarta Biennale. This year de Souza will undertake a residency at the Delfina Foundation in London looking at the Politics of Food. She will also travel to the Isle of Skye for a residency at ATLAS Arts in Scotland and to Indonesia for another residency in Yogyakarta.
In the second half of her Fellowship, de Souza plans to develop a number of site-specific book-based sculptures in New York as well as a series of conceptual and sculptural books on radical architecture and utopias.
The Creative Australia Fellowship is a chance to really push yourself de Souza explains, and to take up opportunities she might not otherwise have been able to consider. It gives you the feeling ‘you can do everything’ she enthuses. ‘