In Conversation With Sydney Farey

The first conversation in the EMPOWERED series.

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Welcome to the EMPOWERED series! At the core of this series is the desire to celebrate the incredible achievements and experiences of powerful woman-identifying students of the ANU. More often than not, we (the student body) are blissfully unaware of the triumphs and goals our fellow ANUWD members are kicking across a myriad of areas. My hopes for this series are that it righteously celebrates the successes of the empowered women around us, and inspires others to go out and strive for the highest.

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This week I had the opportunity to sit down with an artist extraordinaire.

You will most likely have seen her work on display in the middle of Canberra Civic, you may have even interacted with it, but you probably wouldn’t have known that she was the powerhouse behind it …

This artist is a local Canberran who has a deep passion for everything visual arts and music related. She’s been living in the ‘Bush Capital’ for the past nine years, however, was born and raised in China.

She’s kept her love for the arts at the core of her university studies, and is currently a second-year student studying a Bachelor of Visual Arts and a Bachelor of Art History and Curatorship.

She is talented, she is fun, she is one to watch so you can name-drop her in years to come.

Introducing: Sydney Farey.

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Where did your passion for art begin?

I have been interested in the visual arts for as long as I can remember! Throughout high school and college, I’ve always wanted to pursue art more than any of my other subjects, but was forced to push art aside and focus on more important things like mathematics and science. In hindsight, I know this was the best decision, and by university I came to the realisation that art is what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.

Who/what inspires you?

People inspire me. I love engaging with people, talking to people, and starting a conversation about art. Different people have so much experience and knowledge in different areas, and I think you can learn so much from your peers and your community.

In what ways do you empower yourself

I tend to care a lot about what people say and think of me. I empower myself by doing my best to embody a ‘don’t-give-a-fuck attitude’ – to a healthy extent of course! I think our time on this earth is way too short to worry about what other people think of you, and your work. I also try to maintain the mindset that anything is possible. This motivates me and keeps me inspired and empowered to do more, and push my own boundaries.

What do you love most about studying art? What have you been involved with on campus?

I love that my lecturers and tutors, as well as my peers, are all beautiful people, and artists who really inspire me. It is such a wonderful environment to be surrounded by people who are really passionate about wanting to help you further your art. I try to be as involved with the School [of Art] as possible. I always volunteer to help out with the annual School of Art Ball, and was lucky enough to install my own interactive artwork at the Ball this year.

Oh, incredible! Could you tell me a little bit more about that installation? What was the source of inspiration so to speak?

Working with my project partner, Byron Williams, the work was an interactive installation piece entitled ‘Liminal Space’. It played with the idea that the Liminal Space is a place of transition, waiting, and not knowing. The work involved a kinetic camera which tracked the movement of those who entered the room. A projection on the wall displayed a digital house with a few people in it. These digital characters reflected the movements of the people in the actual room in real time.

You also undertook a project in Garema Place which looked phenomenal! Could you tell me a little bit about that?

 Of course! I undertook a project last year where I built a “Before I Die” wall in Garema Place, Canberra. This wall is a global art project first started by artist Candy Chang in New Orleans, when she lost a loved one. It has been recreated all around the world, and there are over 2000 walls today. The wall invites people to contemplate on death, and reflect on their lives.

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What inspired you to bring the Before I Die project to Canberra?

 For this project, I think I was inspired by all of Canberra. I have grown to really love this city and all of its diversity and uniqueness. I really wanted to bring the city and its people together, engaging the community through my art.

What were your top three highlights of the project?

 I learned so much through this project. I had never done anything quite like it in the past, especially at such a large scale, so the entire thing was a learning process. It equipped me with skills that I might not learn in a classroom, really pushed me out of my comfort zone, and now I have a better understanding of how one should go about pursuing projects like this one.

An absolute highlight was the moment of happiness and proudness I felt when the project was finally completed, and seeing how successful it was, and the amount of attention it received. I applied to create the wall in July of 2016, it reached completion in November of the same year, and it was finally taken down in April of 2017.

Above all, the main highlight of this project was being able to have a conversation with the people, reading and discussing their responses on the wall. The people and the community are the ones who create the art on the wall, and they’re just as, if not more, important than the wall itself.

Did you encounter any challenges?

 Throughout the duration of the project, I was met with a number of challenges and roadblocks that could have easily convinced me to give up. I was not being paid, and was investing large amounts of my own time and energy into the project before it was even approved. The project involved not only designing the entire thing from beginning to end by myself, but also applying for a grant from In The City Canberra, getting approval from the government and site owners, and much more.

Although this was an incredibly exciting opportunity, I had no training in business or project and event planning, I was on my own and declined help from many people, and was often tempted to give up. Despite all this, I was determined, and effectively completed the project and received the grant money.

Do you have any tips for fellow passionate artists who would want to undertake a similar community project?

The grant I received to create the project was extremely helpful. In The City Canberra provides grants for individuals or groups and organisations to create events and projects in the heart of Canberra. I could not have created the project without the funding. There are so many different grants out there that we don’t know about, I would encourage all artists to seek these grants out and apply for them.

A second tip is to never be afraid to ask for help. I reached out to a lot of people within my network to seek help and guidance when I was met with problems. Some people didn’t offer help, others did, but never be afraid to ask!

And finally, are there any projects on the horizon for you?

I have just applied for some more projects, and sent some proposals out for future exhibitions! This is all very exciting, and I like to try to keep myself as busy as possible with art projects. I have recently been accepted into a Creative Arts and Design Professional Practicum – a six-week program in Indonesia run by the Australian Consortium for ‘In-Country’ Indonesian Studies. I’m really looking forward to this as I’m sure it will be an invaluable experience.