Date 2 February 2021 Words Francis McWhannell Photography Pippy McClenaghan
Owen Connors (b. 1992) is a Tāmaki Makaurau/Auckland, Aotearoa/New Zealand-based artist and poet with an interest in the mystical, and in craft and cooperative making processes.
Their superb 2019 exhibition, SISSYMANCY!, at play_station gallery in Te Whanganui-a-Tara/Wellington, comprised a series of patchwork and quilted banners. The works were intended to recall quilts produced collaboratively in commemoration of people who have died of AIDS-related illnesses.
Although fabricated by Connors, they developed out of motifs provided by queer artists from around Aotearoa/New Zealand. The artists were invited to ‘draw a future world’ together, by engaging in a mail-based variation on the ‘exquisite corpse’ game (in which one participant draws part of a figure on a piece of paper, folds the paper leaving a few linking lines visible, then passes it on to another). The resulting banners—each with several interconnected bands of imagery—were suspended from rotating devices, which produced strangely melodious clicks and whirs.
Standing still, you were presented with ever-changing pictorial conjunctions: a body of work consistently present but never at rest. There was a certain coy evasiveness to SISSYMANCY! If you were attracted by a particular passage, you had to pursue it. Evasiveness is not uncommon in Connors’ work.
Robbie Handcock—an organiser of play_station and contributor to the banners—recently reminded me that Connors’ 2016 poetry book, how to appear to disappear, was composed of black text on black paper. This is not to say that the artist is hiding things, exactly. Rather, they seem to be acknowledging complexity and multiplicity in communication, summoning those who wish to access their work not only to devote time, but also to accept irresolution.
Recently, Connors has produced drawings in coloured pencil, presenting portraits of their friends at the online May Fair Art Fair, and images “derived from transmissions received in the presence” of two AIDS-related memorials as part of DUIRVIAS, a duo show with Laura Duffy at Blue Oyster in Ōtepoti/Dunedin.
The works are figurative, yet they remain tricky to read. Some are dream-like, while others are coded, nudge-and-wink—as things so often are in queer contexts, and among friends or chosen family.