Challenge it all in your artistic practice

Vanessa Crofskey, Michelle Wang, Hamish Petersen at the Physics Room Gallery, Ōtautahi.
Vanessa Crofskey photo by Freddy Carr.
Vanessa Crofskey photo by Mya Cole.
Artist Vanessa Crofskey talks to Dominic Hoey about her co-dependent relationship with the internet, cancel culture and the freelance challenge.


Auckland based poet, artist and theatre maker Vanessa Crofskey’s work examines the internet and the role it plays in our post capitalist society. 

A source of anxiety

She describes her relationship to the internet as “co-dependent. Like Stockholm Syndrome. The internet is a big source of anxiety for me.” She says, “it’s something I’m very wary and careful of, a place that has defined me, my attention span and the work I do.”

Vanessa trained in contemporary sculpture, but I became aware of her work through her poetry. Her poems are clever and funny. There’s a simplicity to her writing that belies the depth to her work. She’s also not afraid to be earnest in her work, and does not shy away from stating some truth or opinion. Something she attributes to her time on the Spoken Word/Slam community.

Listing lessons learned

She says it taught her a number of things including:

“How to be aware of my audience
To say each word with my full body.
That my voice and experiences count.”

She’s also a theatre maker - last year she was the Producer in Residence at Auckland’s Basement Theatre, where she produced their  Christmas Show. 

She’s not afraid to be earnest in her work, and does not shy away from stating truth or opinion.

Working themes in art  

She says that through all these different art forms the themes she works with remain the same. 

“I have an interest in social relations
Trauma-informed story making. 
Bloodlines, migration,
Being a Libra.
Spreadsheets and emails and the internet.
How we connect and disconnect from the world around us.” 

Vanessa Crofskey photo by Freddy Carr.

Cancel Culture

Another theme Vanessa has been thinking a lot about recently is cancel culture, something she describes as a form of social boycotting. It’s “usually enacted online - when someone is said to be ‘cancelled’ for various bad behaviours. They are called out over tweet, post or status and get put on indefinite social lockdown.” 

While she points out that it can be used to call out serious allegations of abuse or assault, she feels the culture itself is reactive, a black and white way of looking at nuanced situations.

“It is less about holding two sides to a story. Because it conflates all sorts of behaviour together, and all sorts of responses to situations into good-bad binaries, it can mask the proper handling of actual troublemakers.” 

While Vanessa is yet to make art directly about cancel culture, her art practice examines the complexities and nuances around trauma and injustice.

The freelance challenge

Vanessa, like many artists in Aotearoa, finds the balancing act between freelancing, creating art and just surviving exhausting.  

“A month into freelancing, I had to get back on antidepressants.” She dismisses the neoliberal mantra of hard work equaling financial security. 

Vanessa, like many artists in Aotearoa, finds the balancing act between freelancing, creating art and just surviving exhausting. 

“The exploitation within the arts sector is so massive, and it’s the artists and contractors who feel the sting the most.” She questions why artists are essentially punished for doing what they love and are best at.

 I ask her if she thinks it’s possible for artists to live with dignity under current structures.  

“Maybe if arts organisations started paying their artists a living wage fee, if the government could raise the benefit by the suggested 47 percent, if we each got a universal basic income and we made efforts within our culture to societally appreciate all forms of labour.”

Vanessa Crofskey. Photo by Mya Cole

Vanessa’s work also holds a critical lens to the old hierarchies within the arts community. Earlier this year she wrote an essay for Pantograph Punch entitled “There's Something Wrong With Art Writing”. The essay, which she describes “more as a provocation than a full thesis” pushes back against the use of exclusive jargon within much art writing.

While she admits that fine arts is a good vehicle for the work she wants to make, Vanessa thinks it’s important that we examine how history, community, class, and economy inform what we define as art and who gets to make it. She feels like it’s important to reclaim some of the fine arts world, but acknowledges it’s only one piece in the puzzle of how to create social change.  

Written by

Dominic Hoey

7 Jan 2020

Dominic Hoey is an author, playwright and poet based in Tāmaki Makaurau. His debut novel, Iceland was a New Zealand bestseller and was long-listed for the 2018 Ockham Book Award.

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