Coffee with Kafei - Clara Bradley.

Foreword: With Koko Mag coming to an end I wanted to preserve some of the better parts of the project and push them out a little further. So all of the interviews conducted as part of Koko Mag will serve as blog entries, featuring the original published article (with some nice extra bits thrown in) and the tear sheets from Koko Mag.

This entry features Clara Bradley, a craftsman from Melbourne, who at the time was gearing up to launch her Tenderness Journal project, we sat down to discuss her work in May 2015.

Clara Bradley, I know you’re a creative being, but were you always so creative?

Well I guess so yeah, I think I was always doing colouring in when I was young.
I tried to get into music – I tried to do the drums when I was a teenager! Tried to? I wasn’t that successful. I
was named after an artist though, so I think I was supposed to at least try. My
mum was always creative, so she as always doing craft, and that just sort of
rubbed off on me.

Looking at your work now though, there are
very clear themes, so what is it that inspires you? 

At the moment, it’s all about intimacy. Not like sexual, or romantic intimacy –
just interactions between people and how that changes over time. This year it’s
all about how technology is affecting that. Interactions and memories, things
like that. Instances of interaction, and how we remember that, and how that
shapes ourselves, I’m very interested in that. Having lots of different selves,
and how they’re negotiating between one another. I’m also interested in gender
structures, and probably more so for myself to an extent I would say gender
dysphoria – the idea of being a feminine looking woman, but not feeling
connected to my reproductive organs or what I’m supposed to be as a woman…
though then there’s a bit of a clash in me constantly using pink. 

Yeah, there is this big fluffy pink
thing above your desk.

Well it’s just like I go into these art spaces and vomit up pink and purple and
leave. I’d definitely say intimacy though, people do often talk to me about
sex, and think it’s about that but it’s not. 

I definitely don’t see your works as a
sexual thing, it’s definitely very sensual, not sexual at all though.

Yeah, and doing the last show which was about friends, and also about being men
both bisexual and homosexual, and wrapping them up in this very feminine object
is quite interesting. There’s obviously no sex stuff happening. 

Your work now is all in sewing and textiles, with some photography thrown in too, would you say you’ve always stuck to the same mediums? 

Well my mum taught me how to sew, and her mum taught her. I think I have, yeah. I’d use my dad’s camera, he didn’t really teach me how to take photos I had to work it out for myself. I obviously majored in textiles, and minored in dark room processing. I think I do that because I like it to have a solid foundation, like in my linear biography, being a craftsman you need a justification to make it more meaningful, and if I can say that it’s inherited then I feel it has more substance. 

Your work has definitely evolved though.

It’s definitely evolved over time, from being two dimensional cross stich, and
now it’s going to be soft sculpture and quite interactive installation, and now
I’m making garments for going on used pillowcases, used sheets. I’m very into
the actual touch, people and tactility.

You did recently open your show
Coalescence, tell me about that.

Coalescence, I think it’s more a scientific term, but it just means two
materials becoming one. So to coalesce is to come together. It’s probably an
idea about our memories coming together. The touch of what I said, touching me,
and my work enveloping them, and then preserving that moment, and then the
audience actually touching it as well. So it’s a full circle of actual,
physical tactility. 

Lovely. What was the experience like opening your first solo show, that must
have been exciting! 

Yeah, it was exciting! It’s not a very big space, so it wans’t too daunting.
I’m a bit of a control freak, anybody who has ever worked with me would know
that. I think though, I have certain skills which I bring to the party. It was
nice to not have to worry about stepping on anyone’s toes and to just be able
to do it. It was extremely lonely though! You get all your friends telling you
that your works good, no one is going to tell you your work is shit, especially
not until you hang it. There’s definitely moments of waking up in the morning
like, ‘is this shit? Will everyone hate it? Is it totally crap?’, but that’s
the whole point of doing art. 

You’re really baring yourself.

Especially because it’s such an overtly
personal thing, it’s like saying these are my family. This is how we feel, this
is our history, and this is how we are together. Have a look at it, it’s on the
wall for your enjoyment and entertainment. 

Like you’ve ripped yourself apart and you’re letting people come in and make

It’s really eviscerating. So that was good. I think it’s a balance between
faking confidence in order to actually do it, and HUGE anxiety. So you’re
orbiting this egotism versus waking up in the morning at 2am being like ‘what
if it’s shit?’.

How long did you spend working on that

I applied for it about a year ago, so I was
thinking about it for a year, and I probably worked on the pieces for about six
or seven months. So I did trials originally I was going to be embroidering on
found garments, and I did one, and I went ‘what am I doing, why don’t I just
make them myself!’ I like the uniformity, I always work in series; so things
being exactly the same.

You also get a little more control when
you’re making every aspect, as opposed to using found garments. 

Definitely! I think it looks more minimal, and calmer, quieter – which is what
I’m really into. I love the idea of, because I’m looking at intimacy in the
digital realm, I love the idea of people not being able to tell if my stuff is
hand made or not. One of the artists in the studio was asking ‘how did you get
the words on there?’ and I was like… ‘I sewed them on?’. 

You can tell they’re not into sewing.  

Yeah. Well the way they’re done, is they’re printed from a computer, and then I
use a lightbox to draw them on and then hand sew them, so they look very
digital. I love that people might think it’s digital, even when the photos are hand
printed. There’s so much touch that’s gone into it, and it’s the opposite of
this digital communications realm – some of the messages are Facebook messages
– but the process is totally analogue.

You do also have Tenderness Journal coming
up, which is a collection of works from various artists. What’s that been like
for you?

Well it’s funny, it’s pretty much my first curatorial debut, and it’s literally
like you have a little idea, you put it to the internet, people give you money,
and then you have to do it.

Yeah you’re bound to it as soon as people start giving you money! 

Yeah and that’s a bit scary. Just like artists trusting me, and me trusting
collaborators. It’s very interesting. It’s been good, it’s quite stressful
though, I think I need to let down the control stuff and let people in to help
a bit more. I’m very excited about it, it’s gone from being a zine to being a
one night exhibition, so there might even be performance, might even have films
showing, hopefully some music, and even just hanging an exhibition in one day
and doing it all myself will be very, very interesting. There’s over 30 people
in it, artists, writers, dancers, film makers. Some people submitted two or
three works, and I picked out of those. I should say, the whole idea obviously
is a big concern of mine personally, and people react to it. I feel people in
my age group, in their 20s right now are concerned by this. The stuff I’ve
gotten back is really poignant, really heartfelt. It’s one thing to look at the
images, but I get the statements and concepts and bios as well. When you read
what people are saying about it, it’s quite heart-wrenching, and to be doing
that by yourself and to want to keep it secret because it’s this new thing
you’re releasing is really hard because it can be so heart-wrenching – so I’ll
just receive submissions and be crying. So it’s good! I think people are
concerned about it, and I think this is the prime time to be looking into that,
because very shortly I think these digital realms will be so integrated into
our lives, more so than they are now, and we won’t even have the capacity to
examine whether it’s good or not.  We
won’t even remember.

It’ll just take over one day, like

That’s exactly what it’s like. 

So what was the catalyst for Tenderness, what drove you to create this body of

Personal anxiety, truth be told. I met someone online, and it was a very
tumultuous, very awful relationship, and I couldn’t process how I’d gotten
there. I was wondering, ‘how did I get here, how did I let this happen to me?’.
I needed answers and I asked the people around me to give them to me, and give
them to me in this format. It’s almost like the document will serve as my
therapeutic process of what happened.

Back tracking to Terminator, are there any
movies or films that inspire you? 

My favourite film is probably Synecdoche, New York. That’s why I have all the
botanical tattoos, there’s a character in that, and she’s this active art
piece, her mums and artist and she gets her daughter tattooed all over with
these flowers, and when her daughter finally dies of something like hepatitis
or something, the flowers die as well. So I loved that idea. It’s a great film, it’s got Phillip Seymour Hoffman.

What about games?  I ask this question
and nobody EVER plays games. 

No I don’t really play games.

So disappointing. I’m such a big gamer, and people are always like… I don’t have.. time… for

Yeah I don’t have time! I just, I used to play the Lion King CD-Rom when I was
really little.

That was such a good game! I used to have that one! It was tough!

Yeah recently I tried to play it, downloaded it and played it. 

Still tough!

Yeah I actually can’t even do it now! 

I remember you had to be so precise with the jumps, I do remember that I had that and
Aladdin.. and they were similar sort of 2D platformers.

I never had that one.  

Lion King was always good, wasn’t it beetles you had to collect?

Yeah, like scarabs I think ? 

That was cool. So glad someone else played that.

And that was about 22 years ago! 

So it’s still inspiring you now?

[Laughs] Well I did try it the other day!

I’m definitely downloading it again someday
soon! I obviously still play a lot of games, as evidenced by my tattoos, and I find myself constantly inspired by them. Right now I’m playing through Donkey Kong 64 again, and it’s like, all my photo ideas involve Golden Bananas and the DK Rap…  What about visual artists?

That’s a hard one, quite a few faves, I think I will always, particular works…
Rachel Whitehead’s ‘House’, is probably my favourite artwork of all time. And
that’s all about solidifying memories, and intimacy  and the way people move through spaces,
things like that. And that was demolished, that was a local council commission
and that got demolished though I love the idea of that no longer existing.
Spencer Finch is probably a big one. I feel like a lot of people who study art
are like “ugh Spencer Finch” whatever, he does a lot of work of like all very mathematical, lots of measuring of
light and colour, in a scientific way, and then adapting it to a space to make
it a visual stimulus but he often references literature as well. Probably my
favourite works of art I think it’s called, The Shield of Achilles – Nightsky
over Troy. It’s based on the autumn power, which is called night sky over troy,
and he has worked out a star map, which is what the stars would’ve looked like
at the siege of troy above troy, and he’s then gotten tin cans and put a hole
and a light in them, and the size of the hole and brightness of the light is dependent
on how far away the star is from earth, and suspended and you lie underneath it.
But it would just look like a fancy sculpture if you didn’t know the backstory.
So I really like a lot of things that have a real concept.

That’s so cool. I wanna see that. 

It’s amazing, you should see it, and then read the poem as well. Look him up,
they have like artwork with information and the poem as well. It’s great. 

That sounds so cool, I like that, it’s very scientific, mapping out the
constellations and the stars, from then. So cool.
 Do you have any tips to give any other
artists or craftsmen?

Always be dedicated, and keep your eyes open. People are going to criticize you
or give you compliments but just be looking around you, and constantly engaging
in what people around you are doing as well. Especially in Melbourne it’s easy
to get stuck in scenes or go to the same places, when you travel you see so
many different things in one day. Whereas here, you’re close to everything and
there’s always so much to do, it’s hard to engage. I think engagement is what
keeps you fresh; and dedication. Dedication to your ideals.

You can find Clara at, or on Instagram at @clara_e_bradley or @tendernessjournal.

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