(Image: Tina Tiller)
(Image: Tina Tiller)

PartnersJune 29, 2023

Pati Tyrell answers the world’s call

(Image: Tina Tiller)
(Image: Tina Tiller)

With his arts collective FAFSWAG, Pati Tyrell has toured the world showcasing queer Pacific arts. In the third instalment of our Art Work series, he talks about the highs and lows of creating content for international audiences.

Pati Solomona Tyrell is an interdisciplinary artist with a focus on performance, videography and photography. He is a founding member of arts collective FAFSWAG, who were awarded an Arts Laureate award in 2020. In 2018, he became the youngest nominee for the Walters Prize, New Zealand’s most prestigious contemporary art prize. This year has seen FAFSWAG travel to Manchester for an arts festival residency, and Tyrell’s short film Tulounga Le Lagi was selected as a finalist for the New Zealand International Arts’ Festival’s Ngā Whanaunga Māori Pasifika Shorts competition.

His ‘average’ work week

To be honest, it’s a lot of admin work, because we’re working on multiple international projects. I just got back from Germany – I was there presenting my short film at a film festival – so a lot of the time we’re communicating with people on the other side of the world. 

The time difference is annoying because that often means Zoom meetings after 11pm in New Zealand. So recently I’ve felt a little nocturnal in that sense trying to keep on the same timeline as our projects overseas. That could look like anything from writing funding proposals to writing budgets.

I’m the main contact person for FAFSWAG during this residency in Manchester at the end of June, so a lot of the time it’s going back and forth around flights, around invoicing. I don’t know how to quantify the amount of time I spend on that. It takes a couple of hours of my day, depending on what they request in terms of information, and then I have to collate with my people, FAFSWAG members, which is 10 people, and say “Hey, can we all look at this information, is this OK with all of us?”.

If you could imagine trying to manage that many people, and then taking all of that information from the collective and bring it back to the management team on the other side of the world who are probably asleep at that time, and then waiting for that to come back and then doing that process back and forth. That takes a lot of my day. 

In terms of my fine art practice I haven’t made anything specific for that since 2016, which was Fāgogo, the work that got into the Walters (Prize) and has created ongoing work for the past six years. Now, I’m finally in the space of doing a lot of research that looks at artists and academics, historians, dancers, and spending a lot of time at collections at different institutions like the museum and libraries.

(Photography: Ralph Brown)

What it takes to make work collectively with FAFSWAG

If we’re in proper production, we try to keep it in the hours of nine to five. Our most recent example would probably be Documenta. We hired a venue over a period of five weeks, so we used that as our base and everyone would come in from 9am, and depending on what we’re working on, start filming, start creating, costumes or even just writing or conceptualising the work.

Tanu (Gago) is kind of our main producer, and he takes a lot of the burden of having to organise everyone. Not everyone is a full time artist, so people have their regular nine-to-fives that they go to every day and a lot of the time those of us who are [full time artists] – so me, Tanu and sometimes Elyssia (Ra’nee Wilson-Heti) – have more time to take on more of the management roles. So trying to get us into the same room is actually quite hard. Working around everyone’s schedules alone is one of the hardest things. 

We’ve been around for about 10 years now and we were a group of friends who wanted to make art together, but now that everyone’s grown up, having families and climbing the ladder in their personal lives, it’s really hard to just be with each other. 

In one of our hui that we had recently, we thought “What if the goal was to try and spend more time together?” That’s our national goal, to spend time together, and then we can also come together for these big international projects.

We know that everyone’s capacity for the FAFSWAG work is different, and it’s really hard, as well as on our mental health. There was a moment around 2018 where we were going back to back to back to back. It was ridiculous, so no wonder now everyone wants to chill and hang out because at the end of the day we’re just a group of friends who have this common thing of art to bring us together. 

(Photography: Ralph Brown)

How international projects are crucial to sustaining his practice

FAFSWAG hasn’t really been making work nationally, we’ve been taking on all of our international appointments. This year we have Manchester from June to July, we return for 10 days, and then we fly to Bangkok. We’re there for two weeks and then we’re doing our 10 year anniversary show at the end of September. Then, depending on our funding, we’ll be going to Canada for ImagineNATIVE for two weeks. 

What kind of support has been crucial

I’ve been fortunate in the last year to get funding for my research, which has helped me survive that year.

We’re trying to formalise FAFSWAG as a business, so that comes with figuring out lawyers and accountants, as well as trying to find an actual venue to work from. We’ve been living and working out of our homes for the last 10 years, making all of this film and digital work – it’s all in the same room. We’re working at an international level, and we’re working from home, that’s ridiculous.

(Photography: Ralph Brown)

The hardest part of the work week

The admin. It’s the most boring thing. As an artist you just want to make, you want to be on the creation road and you want to be doing that stuff but you’ve got to do admin. 

Maybe [also] looking at your bank. Looking at your bank account and realising “Oh, maybe I need to do a bit more.” We recently made a budget as part of our business plan to figure out what our weekly and monthly spending looks like, and we realised how much money we actually need to stay afloat, and that was shocking. 

What would make his life as an artist easier

The thing that would make it easier, just knowing how I experience audiences, is probably people understanding the value of art and how much it actually costs. Specifically for photography – one time someone asked me if I could shoot a wedding for like $300, and I was like “what?”. It’s just that disconnect of what my craft is.

Who is doing $300 weddings? That’s crazy!

What makes it worth it

The ability to manifest and create into the physical world the art that we have in our minds. 

I just came from a meeting where we were talking about how we might not be the most financially stable people in our families, but the experiences that art allows us to have, especially when we’re thinking about international travel – there’s so much art that I get to experience across Europe, across America and Asia.

– As told to Sam Brooks

(Photography: Ralph Brown)

Keep going!