“I went through my ruff phase first, and then I moved onto corsets,” Chelsea Farquhar says, sifting through an assortment of brightly-coloured fabric, ribbons, rope and beads in her West End studio.

“They’re actually really easy to make because they’re segmented – it’s just a lot of sewing. It’s fun playing with different ways of making them, using different kinds of boning like wood, and rope.”

Back in 2020, Farquhar relocated to Melbourne, where she ended up spending much of the year in lockdown while completing Honours at the Victorian College of the Arts. At the time her work was sculpture-driven and often quite serious, but soon these colourful, anachronistic experiments began creeping into her practice.

Now back in Adelaide, Farquhar’s patch of ACE Gallery’s upstairs studio space has become a place of play and collaboration. The wall above her desk is plastered with polaroids of her friends, many of them artists and performers themselves, modelling a range of corsets, masks and gloves in hot pinks and yellows, against a baroque curtain backdrop set up in the studio.

Photos – including pictures of friends modelling pink corsets, and an equine muse named Embers – decorate the wall above Farquhar’s desk. Photo: Jack Fenby

“They’re really beautiful, and they’re really fun to make,” she says of the pieces. “I use really cheap fabric, which is appalling; the pink in there is $2 satin — it’s called ‘party satin’, and it is disgusting.

“I wanted to have a confusion of era; I wanted to displace the viewer, using contemporary, cheap fabrics that would never have existed a hundred years ago. I really like that relationship with this old style of making ­– it added to the bizarre, dreamlike element of it. Rather than taking you back to one place, the corsets, the ruffs are all from different places and times. I like throwing them together and building this confusing, playful world.”

Beads and leadlight are among the colourful materials Chelsea Farquhar uses in her arts practice. Photo: Jack Fenby

Since moving in at the start of the year, Farquhar has primarily worked on a suite of video tableaus entitled Fluttertongue, created as part of Guildhouse’s Collections Project and screening at Adelaide Festival Centre during SALA. While the Collections Project series has usually invited artists to pore over the physical archives of local cultural institutions, Farquhar’s work drew inspiration from the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra as a “living collection”.

“They have a ‘living archive’ which includes all of the players,” she explains. “So I spent some time interviewing players, watching rehearsals, and doing some research through their catalogues, and looking at sheet music – which is where I got the title of the show. It’s a musical phrase, an instruction, and I liked the idea of this really strange word that sounds a bit cheeky.”

A video still from Chelsea Farquhar’s Fluttertongue work. Photo: supplied

Farquhar says she isn’t a musical person (“I called the conductor a composer – the double bassist laughed in my face”), but appreciated the spirit of collaboration, play and history that runs through the orchestra’s work.

“The video is really strange, kind of surreal and dreamlike. And I really like historical dress, and old ways of making things. I did play with making instruments for a while,” she says, unveiling a flute made from a hollowed-out gourd, “but in the end I went for visual loudness.”

While Farquhar says she’s an outsider to the world of fashion, she admits that corsets are “having a moment” right now. If the studio seems a little empty at the moment, it’s because she recently sold many of her pieces on Instagram to fund the purchase of her new studio companion, a chihuahua named Halloumi.

The cheesily-named puppy isn’t her only four-legged muse: one of the polaroid models is a friend’s horse, who features in Fluttertongue and a leadlight work that will appear in another upcoming exhibition.

“His name is Embers – he’s just a little baby,” she says. “I met him one day and just became obsessed with him; for months I couldn’t stop thinking about putting a ruff on this horse. We put the ruff on him, and he was happy for a moment, and then he went and rolled in a giant puddle.”

Embers wears a ruff in a video still from Fluttertongue. Photo: supplied

The inherent flamboyancy and theatricality of a majestic horse in a ruff – even one covered in mud – resonated with Farquhar’s time with the ASO. But, at this particular juncture, she is content not to overthink things.

“It brings me a lot of joy, and in my practice at the moment I just want it to be fun and silly and hopefully not too serious. I’ve made serious work before and I just need this space to be good, and happy. It probably won’t always be like that. But this is a year of developing skills, and playing, and then looking back I can see where all the pieces came from.”

Farquhar and her studio companion Halloumi. Photo: Jack Fenby

Fluttertongue is showing on the outdoor media screens at the Adelaide Festival Centre until August 31 as part of SALA. Chelsea Farquhar will speak about her work and her research through the Guildhouse Collections Project in an “in conversation” event at the centre at 2pm on August 16 (details here).

In the Studio is a regular series presented by InReview in partnership with not-for-profit organisation Guildhouse. The series shares interesting stories about South Australian visual artists, craftspeople and designers, offering insight into their artistic practices and a behind-the-scenes look at their studios or work spaces. Read our previous stories here.

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