Emerging Waikato artist and Media Arts graduate Eliza Webster’s main area of study during her Bachelor of Media Arts was painting, but the 23-year-old artist has always found herself working on other creative side projects like civic initiatives, creative enterprise and curatorial work. Starting off her study career as a young engineering student in Auckland it wasn’t until a year and a half later Eliza decided to change paths. She is engaged in multiple creative collaborations and has become influential in the Waikato creative community.
Working out of her gallery studio in Frankton, where she co-runs the Skinroom Gallery, Eliza’s recent works are inspired by internet culture and she is showing them in a joint exhibit this month.
Data by Eliza Webster and Chelsea Peppercorn
Opening Friday, July 21st at 6.00pm, and showing until August 5th
Level 1, 123 Commerce Street, Frankton Hamilton
What were you up to before starting your Media Arts study?
When I left school, I moved to Auckland to study a Bachelor of Engineering, majoring in Mechatronics Engineering at the University of Auckland. I completed a year and a half before I figured out that it wasn’t for me. So I dropped out and worked full time at a Backpackers bar, then moved to England for five or six months in January of 2014. When I came home, I went to see Sam Cunnane about potential art study (he was my teacher at Fraser High), and I ended up starting in the second semester of 2014.
Having returned to your hometown, can you explain how staying in Hamilton to study worked for you?
- I have a really wonderful support network of friends and family here (in Auckland I suffered from quite serious attacks of anxiety and depression due to over-work, over-study, under-sleep, and other environmental issues), so it was important that I look after myself and my mental health in an environment full of people I love.
- Auckland is so expensive and so dense. Hamilton has breathing room and cheaper rent.
- Promises of overseas opportunities through Wintec.
- Compact, friendly community of art people that want to see you succeed.
- Really knowledgeable tutors and fellow students at Wintec.
- Job opportunities within the arts community.
- An existing network of professional people that would be important in promoting my future business endeavours.
- I had spent the last two and a half years away from home, and it was nice to come back to something familiar (although you always get the post-travel blues, home grows on you, don’t worry, and there are always opportunities to move on to new things in the future).
- Hamilton has a really interesting growing community of young creative thinkers making their dreams into realities.
- The opportunity of starting a business with an industrial lease on a building is much easier to do in Hamilton than in any other bigger New Zealand city. The market is open for creative enterprise here, lots of opportunity for growth.
Hamilton has a really interesting growing community of young creative thinkers making their dreams into realities.
How did the Bachelor of Media Arts improve your skill set?
The Bachelor of Media Arts gave me, unintentionally, a really good understanding of a lot of contemporary art history. When the tutors encourage you to look at artist models to contextualise your work, you’re really getting to understand the genre that your artwork fits into.
What was your favourite student brief?
I really enjoyed the colour theory brief in VAP1. But I think I enjoyed the Audience Message Context group assignment the most. I was lucky enough to be a part of an awesome group of people with their own personalities and ideas that all fit together quite well. We ended up staging an exhibition about pollutant waste called “Rat Trap” in the courtyard on Nisbet St, it has since been cordoned off for safety reasons, but it was my first real experience at curating a site specific exhibition.
Tell us about some of your recent work: setting up Skinroom and your role as a curator at Wallace Gallery. You keep busy!
Skinroom started off as a Summer School project in the end of 2015. I’d discussed previously with Geoff Clarke that I had the intention to curate a couple of small exhibitions in pop-up spaces in town, like in empty retail spaces. I was living in Frankton at the time and was walking around looking for spaces and came across the Skinroom building on Commerce Street. It looked like it was empty so I Googled the address and arranged a viewing. Geoff came along, and we agreed to go into business as a gallery together. We signed the lease and got to work renovating the inside. The space had been used previously as a tattoo shop but had been empty for years. We found just piles of stuff, old tattoo needles, bits of old flash, a photocopier (broken), a huge kiln (available if anyone wants it), a safe (that we still haven’t got into), fishing rods and a 1980s dentist char. A group of very dedicated, wonderful friends spent 3 months cleaning the space out, bogging holes, painting walls, learning how to lay concrete, building walls and making the building more secure. Our first exhibition opened in February 2016. The show was a conglomeration of Hamilton art talent, both emerging and established artists exhibited, and the support was incredible, we had the most amazing turnout. Skinroom has been open for a year and a half now, we’ve exhibited 21 shows, and the support from the local community is still really present, and we are very thankful for that.
I applied for a position at Wallace Gallery Morrinsville about a month before I found out that I had been accepted as a part of a group of 6 students from Wintec to travel to Chengdu, China under the Prime Minister’s Scholarship for Asia. I thought I was a wee bit under qualified, but I’d had a bit of experience in curating, and admin at Skinroom, so I gave it a go. I found that I had been accepted for the role, and had to tell Justin (Morgan) that I couldn’t take it because I was leaving to China. Unbelievably, they held the job for me for 6 months while I finished my degree in Chengdu, and I’ve now been the assistant curator/administrator at the Wallace Gallery in Morrinsville for almost 5 months. Just recently I curated an exhibition here entitled The Shape of Things to Come, a show of Wintec graduate work as a look into what happens after art school, and to demonstrate that the end of art school doesn’t mean the end of making art.
I’m also currently studying towards a Masters degree in Cultural and Creative Practice at AUT in Auckland, and have been asked to curate the gallery space at the front of the meteor Theatre on Victoria Street.
What’s your #1 piece of advice for a new Media Arts student?
I’d say treat everything that you do for an assignment as a piece of professional work. If you’re making the work anyway, why not make it to a standard that you can exhibit it and potentially make some cash while you study, or start getting your name out there. You’re studying a degree in Media Arts hopefully because you’d like to continue to work in the creative sector after you graduate, use your time at tech to meet people who you can work with in the future, and treat everything you make as if it’s a direct reflection of you. Go big, too – while you’ve got the facilities.
If reading Eliza’s story has left you feeling inspired then come along for a tour of our campus where you can learn more about studying Media Arts at Wintec.