Holly Bates is a Brisbane based artist and one half of the rad feminist art-duo Parallel Park, which focuses on ideas of female sexuality, masturbation and same-sex relationships. Rocking knee high boots and a bright orange skirt (which attracted a LOT of love from a passing waitress), the remarkable Holly joined me for some midday caffeine in the heart of Brisbane city to chat about her work.
Hey Holly! We see a lot of sexual imagery in your work. What drew you to explore this theme so persistently in your artistic practice?
I guess I’ve always been a really sexual person, so it’s something that’s influenced me my whole life. I feel like most women go through this growing up - where your sexuality is a really taboo thing and it’s very confusing. You’ll have lots of guy friends and they’ll talk about jerking off, but then when you go to talk about it you just feel really uncomfortable or you’ve never even thought to do it.
You say you've always been a sexual person, does this mean you grew up in an open environment in regards to sex and gender?
No... [laughs] I was very naughty growing up. My parents don’t know about a lot of the things that I did.
Sex just fascinates me. The whole thing with female sexuality is that within patriarchal culture it’s seen as dependent on men. Even as I was growing up I thought that, ‘I need to have sex with a guy, and that’ll make me happy,’ when in fact it was like the least satisfying thing ever! I was so confused about it.
One of my favorite collections of yours has got to be Star Power (2014), featuring famous women like Scarlett Johansson, Beyonce, Marilyn Monroe... can you talk me through your creative process and the meaning behind this work?
That artwork has a lot to do with objectification culture. These women have been positioned for and by heterosexual men as sexual objects. Even though they were kind of looking powerful in these sexual positions, there was still room in the photographs for a man. They were still in a submissive pose where they could be dominated. By putting myself in these photographs as a sex object, they then become the sex subjects; they become the powerful ones and that changes the power dynamic of the image. I think it’s interesting to view sex from a lesbian position because you can be both the subject and the object of desire, you can go between the two.
You also utilise different mediums; watercolor, sculpture, film, photography. Has this been a natural progression, or do you push yourself to create within different spheres?
If I stick to one thing for too long I get really restless and bored, so I like to move across mediums! I’m definitely a concept before materials kind of person, so that process just translates into a lot of different works.
It also has a lot to do with my environment, like where I’m working at the time. When I made the starfish sculptures, I was working in a gift shop and we just had heaps of novelty items. I thought ‘Oh, that has the female form in it!’
Finally, how do you picture your audience responding to your pieces?
I hope that some of them find it funny, because a lot of it is intended that way, even if it’s just within the title! I do target both a female and male audience; I just want to inspire some thought about female sexuality as having its own agency and independency. If women see me being confident enough to do that within myself and within my work, then hopefully that will inspire them to do so as well!
To check out Holly’s incredible work, head to her newly launched website