People and Places in Flux: Pia Larsen in the StudioDecember 2, 2015
Pia Larsen came to WSW from Newtown, a suburb in Sydney, Australia, as an Art-in-Education Workspace resident, working in the Etching and Papermaking studios. While traditionally trained as a printmaker, Pia often pushes the boundaries of what printmaking is, working with many different materials to make both two- and three-dimensional work. At WSW, she straddled this line, working on two projects during her residency: a pair of traditional intaglio prints and groupings of domestic objects in the form of handmade paper milk cartons and pulp-coated bottles.
“The work feels ongoing,” Pia says of her practice, “with one thing always leading to the next.” Pia sees all of her projects as parts of the same story rather than each as its own contained piece. Her work deals with people, culture, places, and communities; she reexamines objects, bodies, and scenes. One project that sums all of this up is Portal, a public installation that investigates and celebrates her own local community and creates a momentary portrait of Newtown in the face of rapid change.
“Flux has always been a big part of my practice,” Pia says. “I’m capturing things that aren’t in a fixed state, so they need to be reexamined to see if they’re still working because so many things are not working in the world.”
In her new etchings, Pia is interested in how people fit into the places and cultures around them. In Hindsight, Pia illustrates herself in a grassy field, her head turned away and gazing toward a Buddhist temple in the distance. Her pose borrows heavily from Andrew Wyeth’s famous Christina’s World. “It was new for me to work in that imaginative space and to really play around with composition like that,” Pia says. Through this semi-fictional space, Pia explores her own relationship to Australian culture—a changing landscape of Anglo-Saxon and Asian populations—and the feeling of longing for the distant and unattainable.
In Divide, Pia distorts scale and space to illustrate the tourist-in-America experience: milling around the feet of Wall Street’s massive George Washington statue. Washington’s looming figure takes up the majority of the page, but Pia draws attention to the tourists, seemingly unaware that they are in the presence of the father of the country they’re visiting.
After finishing the etchings, Pia continued working with domestic objects to reflect how people act within communities and the larger world around them. In Autumn Cocktails, Pia revisited the form of everyday glass bottles. Wrapped in pastel paper pulp, the bottles are reminiscent of Morandi’s still lifes, reduced to their barest elemental forms. But unlike Morandi’s serene bottles, Pia’s hold handmade paper rags to give the illusion of molotov cocktails, harkening back to her recent series Incendiary. In both projects, Pia reflects on this weapon of communal uprising, violence, and protest.
In previous works, like Incendiary, Pia has explored how issues of community, identity, and agency operate in a geo-political context. In another previous series, she juxtaposed her own childhood images with images of Syrian refugees on the sides of handmade milk cartons. There are few things in the world more global and familiar than the milk carton. This symbol of domesticity is used in over 170 countries around the world, acting as the perfect vessel for Pia’s personal and universal narratives.
At WSW, Pia got to deepen her papermaking skills and continue experimenting with her cartons. In the new series Welcome, Pia digitally printed images on handmade paper to document her time in Rosendale, her local community for just a brief time. She then folded the paper into the form of the carton, testing the strength of the cotton-abaca blended fibers. It’s through pushing her materials further and reexamining the world around her that Pia continues to keep her projects feeling fresh.
“I enjoy manipulating materials,” she says. “I’m never really satisfied with the way things are, I’m interested in what their potential could be.”
Pia Larsen is an interdisciplinary artist based in Sydney, Australia working in text, drawing, printmaking, paper, and metal. She received her BFA and MFA from Sydney College of Arts and is an experienced teacher in the visual arts. See more of Pia’s work on her website pialarsen.com.au and more images from her residency on our Flickr.