Art We Heart: Emily Parsons-Lord

December 23rd 2016

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Installation view of ‘The Confounded Leaving’ an air artwork by Emily Parsons Lord in the 2016 Primavera Exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney.

There’s something lingering in the space between you and your screen right now.

No, it’s not your waning concentration or that residual hunger for food you’re too full for. It’s air – and for artist Emily Parsons-Lord, it’s so much more than just empty space.

Air is both ungraspable and invisible, and we forget about it all the time. Yet in Emily’s work, it’s a playful material exploring the very space and reality in which we exist. Working with both sculptural installations and performance, many of her works find meaning through conversation, responding to current discourse and dialogue around climate change, science and the environment. But she’s not doing it to be moralistic, rather it’s a means to something far more poetic.

She’s traversing the human condition, asking what it means to be human in this universe at this time. How do we feel comfortable with our obscurity? And what better way to feel small, than to stargaze?

Trawling through the international star registry, she came across a myriad of stars that had been bought and named for loved ones. Professions of love lost, desperation, hope and change gave way to ‘the only lie I ever told was that I never loved you’ and ‘you change my world Trev’.

Besotted with these grand gestures and their invisibility, Emily participated in the 2015 Proximity Festival with her work You Will Always Be Wanted By Me – a collaborative performance that invites artist and stranger to engage in fifteen minutes of seduction. Yet perhaps a more old timey seduction than you’re thinking: “Together we’d sit down and make it [the star] out of powder, put it in their hand, light it up like a smoke bomb and we’d stargaze at it. It’s trying to make visible this big holler to the universe.”

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‘The Confound Leaving’, Primavera 2016, Museum of Contemporary Art. 

Emily is working with the familiar, but she’s not letting you get too comfortable. In her most recent work, The Confounded Leaving at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Emily installed a tiny copper button about the size of your thumb, inviting guests to sample Future Air. Self-coined and self-made, Future Air is almost 6-7 times heavier than the air we’re used to breathing, bestowing you with a Morgan Freeman-type low and sultry voice.

Alluring with all its pressable potential (and guaranteed good times), it’s easy to laugh your way around the museum’s warning: Future Air, when released, will last for 12-16 generations in our atmosphere, that’s around 300-400 years. But “it’s meant to have that tension. Maybe it is irresponsible, but I’m doing it really responsibly and consciously.”

Our agency as audience members is playfully triggered and transformed at the line between curiosity and responsibility, making us ponder the invisible space around us, and more importantly how much do we care. Emily’s work prompts change – you might find yourself breathing deeper, running or moving quicker to feel the air around you, or just looking that bit closer. Emily’s work takes the space between us all and embeds it with meaning and thought.

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‘You Will Always Be Wanted By Me’, Proximity Festival 2015

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‘The Airrarium’, Underbelly Arts Festival 2015

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Gabby Chantiri